hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 22 January 2018

Euro-Populism and the Transatlantic Relationship

Madness is something rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Alphen, Netherlands, 22 January. Last Thursday night in the heart of Berlin I had the honour to give a dinner speech to a distinguished audience on the issue of European populism and its implications for the transatlantic relationship.  The speech took place as part of a conference co-organised by Germany’s Federal Academy of Security Policy and the George C. Marshall Center for European Security Studies entitled Transatlantic Relations: Prospects and New Directions amidst Political Change. Below is my speech in full:


When I was asked me to do this I had a choice to make. First, I could interpret the mission as I chose. So, I have decided to talk about European populism and the transatlantic relationship.

Second, I could offer you yet another politically correct assessment of the causes and nature of populism in Europe and confirm elite prejudices by telling you how ‘beastly’ the populists are (and, indeed, many of them are). However, it is precisely that self-serving, self-denying, somewhat self-pitying and elite self-reinforcing ‘let off’ that has got us in this mess (and, believe me, we are in a mess) and enabled failing liberal elites to avoid their own responsibilities for it. 

My Mission

Therefore, in this brief talk my mission tonight is to offer you the following: a definition of populism, its causes, possible remedies, and finally its implications for the future transatlantic relationship.

Core Message

My blunt core message to you is this:

There are many causes of populism but at its most simple it is the failure of mainstream elites faced with big structural shifts in a big age to allay the often legitimate fears of millions of decent people about the impact of change on their lives. Until our elites in Europe become better at being elites and demonstrate they can deal to effect with big change far more effectively than of late the populists will continue to exploit the growing gap between leaders and led with their half-baked and often dangerous prescriptions. Make no mistake, we are living at a time when all the assumptions that have for almost sixty years underpinned dominant European liberalism are under assault.

A Definition of Populism

All of the above pre-supposed a fundamental question: what is populism? There are several definitions from that range from the benign to the downright sinister. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary drives two such definitions.  The first describes a populist as an, “…adherent of a political party seeking to represent the whole of the people”, whilst the second calls populism: “A political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups”. However, for the sake of this speech I prefer the 2004 definition of Cas Mudde at the University of Georgia. “Populism is a “thin ideology” that merely sets up a framework: that of a pure people versus a corrupt elite.

Populism on the March in Europe

Populism is certainly on the march in Europe (at this juncture I will leave our American friends to their own thoughts about the march of populism in their own country). According to a new paper (European Populism: Trends, Threats and Future Prospects) prepared by, of all people Tony Blair’s Institute for the Promotion of Tony Blair, sorry, Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change, there were 33 ‘populist’ parties in Europe in 2000 and 63 now. Their support has risen from 9.6% then to 24.6% now. In other words strong enough to influence governance, but not lead it. 

What are the shifts/tensions driving discontent, disillusion and Euro-populism?

It would be easy to dismiss such a revolt against establishments as simply due to economic crisis and mass migration.  They are, of course, powerful drivers but there are other factors such as the the decline of democracy in Europe, distract elites and a failure to properly secure and defend the citizen.

The decline of democracy and the creation of an elite caste

The erosion of the nation-state in Europe, often by establishments in Europe firm in their own belief that states cause wars has triggered a profound battle of identity between elites and their own peoples that is reflected in a further struggle taking place between the EU, the state, and the individual.  In the past the most important ‘conversation’ in Europe was that between elected elites and the people they ‘serve’. Today, European elites regard the conversation with each other as being more important and their respective peoples as impediments to their ‘progressive’ policy who must be at best kept in the dark, or at worst manipulated.  The creation of Europe’s elite caste reinforces too often a disrespect for democracy, particularly so if the choices of ‘the people’ clash with elite ‘we know best’ prescriptions.

The result is a growing tension in Europe between those who legitimise power and those who enact it.  Brexit is an example of this drift. Leavers have been pilloried and insulted by the liberal elite for being closet racists or little Englanders. Such people certainly do exist. However, for many in Britain the central issue was clear and legitimate given the evolving and centralising tendencies of Brussels to transfer power from the member-states unto itself: who governs us? It is a question all Europeans should ask.

The impact of economic failure and incompetent governance

The economic crashes of 2008-10 is still impacting people hard on both sides of the Atlantic. Jobs are at a premium, salaries stagnant, unemployment stubbornly high, savings eroding and ends hard to meet for millions of people.  This is classic turf for populists and conditions could not be better for them to flourish. It is easy for European elites to blame global forces, such as the US sub-prime loans scandal.  However, poor choices and incompetent governance are also factors, not least the creation of the Euro for political purposes without any due elite consideration for the economic structures and conditions needed to ensure the single currency helped rather than harmed citizens.

Distracted elites

Liberal elites also seem obsessed with ‘isms’ such as racism and feminism as though virtue signalling to each other and often radical segments of society and change-for-change sakes is more important than building a properly grounded consensus. Do not misunderstand me, as I am also a firm progressive who believes the rights of minorities and the equality of women not only matter but will benefit society as a whole in time. However, the impression is too often given by elites that these issues are at the exclusion of all others and that the rest of society, the majority, is either simply taken for granted or the cause of the ‘problem’. By causing such offence a further wedge is driven between elites and millions of people who would otherwise not dally with populism.  Worse, when mainstream political parties offer no room for dissent on such matters, and imply any such dissent is a form of racism and/or misogyny, the subsequent sense of frustration and offence gives voters nowhere else to go but to the extremes. It is a sense of frustration reinforced when elite politicians put such change down to the consequences of Globalisation or Globalism and that resistance is thus futile. And, it is frustration that is further exacerbated when democracy is reduced to little more than an exercise in rubber-stamping established elites in comfortable power.

The failure to secure and defend

The creeping sense of millions of Europeans that their elites cannot be trusted extends in many societies to a growing belief that incompetence is compounded by vague complicity in matters security and defence.  After each terrorist attack in Europe the elite respond with hand-wringing calls for ‘us all’ to stand together against such evil. Equally, elites also too often give the impression that hand-wringing is all they do and that their collective ultra-liberalism not only prevents them from taking real action to stop such attacks, but actively creates the conditions for such attacks to take place.

Elite refusal to understand or empathise with the impact of rapid mass immigration on communities

Which brings me to perhaps the most contentious issue in this speech. Mass immigration of peoples from other societies with other values DOES impact on the indigenous population and does so profoundly.  Recent rates of immigration in many European states is not just a function of natural change, but enforced change seen my many as driven a liberal, progressive elite obsessed with multi-culturalism and/or free movement for the sake of some future higher ‘good’ that many can neither see nor accept.  

This schism between leaders and many of the ‘led’ is made worse by ‘Davos’ elites living escorted and protected lives lecturing the people living on the front-line of such change with such mantras as wir schaffen das. Such ‘let them eat cake’ politics not only creates ever more political space for populists to exploit but raises a fundamental question for modern European society: is there a ‘we’ and if not can ‘society’ as commonly understood be said to exist.

Are the people wrong-headed on this issue as many elites claim? During the height of the migration crisis I wrote a piece entitled Lebanon on the Rhine. My thesis was that it was naïve in the extreme for an elite to believe such a population shift from traumatised regions of the world would not at the same time import many of the problems from which those regions suffer in cities and towns in our own countries.

And then there is the changing nature of elites which is exacerbating the schism between Europe’s elite caste and the people.  Indeed, another reason for populism is the nature of elites themselves (hence the reason I have rather provocatively used it) and the creation of political castes. For example, when I was a kid in Sheffield the MP was always Labour. One could put a donkey up for Labour in Central Sheffield and it would get elected.  However, that ‘donkey’ invariably came from within the community and reflected its majority viewpoint: socialist, democratic and patriotic. Today, politicians are part of a professional political class, normally university-educated party hacks ‘parachuted’ into a constituency or onto some electoral list. They came into politics because they were hooked onto some ‘ism’ or another but know little or nothing of the lives of the people they serve and seem to those people detached from them and their concerns. This is not just a British phenomenon. It is the same in the country I now live, the Netherlands. And, it has been apparent to me in the other European countries in which I have lived.   

How to Counter Populism?

At the start of this speech I offered two what I regard as truisms. First, populists offer no solutions to the very real complexities with which modern European societies must contend. Second, Europe’s elite caste needs to be better at its job.  Let me offer you a third. Until elites stop hiding behind mantras such as Globalism or institutions such as the EU and begin to properly engage citizens on the issues that really matter to them populism will flourish.  Equally, there is a range of steps that should be taken now to prevent populists seizing real power across Europe:

  1. Separate the nostalgists from the pragmatists: There is no room for nostalgia in society we are where we are. We MUST forge new societies and new identities and within the ranks of those who lean towards populism there appears to be a split between nostalgists, who can never be assuaged, and pragmatists open to change if their concerns are addressed.
  2. Make existing systems work: Trust in governance in Europe has collapsed.  National leaders blame the EU and the EU blames national leaders. In fact, all have been pretty bloody incompetent in preparing Europeans for big change.  For example, faith in EU and national government immigration and asylum policies and systems has collapsed. The elite will need to demonstrate they really do function if the trust of the people is to be regained.
  3. Legitimise change more effectively: Tony Blair (again) suggests that populations can be divided into roughly four groups: 30% are supportive of change, 30% implacably opposed to change, whilst 30% are willing to be convinced if change is managed effectively. 10% may properly be dismissed as idiots.  Europe’s nightmare is a coalition of the implacably opposed, annoyed pragmatists and downright idiots.  Rather, European leaders need to focus on building a coalition of those open to change and the pragmatists if they are to re-legitimise their own leadership.
  4. Recognise the scale of the challenge and stop treating the people like idiots to be manipulated for electoral purposes: Be honest with people about the length of time and the cost of dealing with the challenges Europeans face. That begins by an elite that demonstrates it really does have a grip of the big threats Europe faces across the spectrum from economy to security. At present, Europe’s leaders only play at dealing with danger and the people smell their weakness.
  5. LEAD!

The Transatlantic Relationship and the Strategic Implications of Euro-Populism 

What is European populism succeeds and takes power across Europe?  There is one driver of change I have not mentioned thus far: systemic change and the relative power decline of the West.  Populism is toxic because it seeks to turn a national community into distinct and separate communities living parallel lives with profound tensions between them. Populists flourish in division. Worse, they create the space for adversaries, be it Russia, Islamic State or others to exploit growing vulnerabilities within our societies – war at our seams. It is a war that is already being waged.

Over time the lack of social or political cohesion not only undermines the home base upon which all national security strategies depend, it also undermines the ability of our states and institutions over time to protect people and project power.  Be it in North America or Europe if the populists (who are not interested in power simply disabling it) succeed forget the talk of transatlantic ‘pillars’ be it within NATO or with the EU.  And, over time, forget the transatlantic relationship as European states become little more than parodies of power.  Indeed, however militarily strong a state may such power is irrelevant if society is divided and broken. 

Euro-Populism and the Transatlantic Relationship

To conclude, it is vital the populists are defeated for they offer no solutions to complex challenges.  However, elites will only stop such people if they come down from the high horse of vacuous internationalism they have for too long espoused and begin to deal properly with very real issues change imposes on ordinary decent people. Most people are not closet neo-fascists or racists, simply people desperate to deliver for their families, for whom hope springs eternal that (at last) their leaders are listening to their concerns, and that they will be responsibly led – tough, hard choices and all.  Hope, belief and trust.

Walk around Rome and one sees the same acronym everywhere: SPQR - Senatus Populusque Romanus. One can even find it on Roman drain covers.  It is a standard of the late Roman Republic that suggested an ideal of the Roman Senate and people together in power and justice. It ‘died’ in the first century AD when Caesar seized power and turned Rome into an empire.  As Europe stands on the cusp between ‘republic’ and ‘empire’ Europe’s latter day political caste should think hard about how they too convince the people that the Europe towards which they wish to take them is one with which Europeans en masse agree. 

Show me you listen and show me you can lead, leaders, and I might just believe in you as leaders!"

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Snow Meeting 2018: Plans or Planning?

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower,

National Defense Executive Reserve Conference,

November 14, 1957

Trakai, Lithuania. 16 January.  Can NATO and EU states plan effectively for 360 degrees of very different threats? It is with grave concern that I must report that His Excellency Linas Linkevicius, the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, failed this year’s Snow Meeting. No snow! Apart from that the organisation of this superb annual security conference was as impeccable as ever.  With an over-arching theme of keeping the transatlantic bond strong European security nestled comfortably within the Snow Meeting like a Lithuanian lake amidst a forest of silver birch. Sadly, I come away from beautiful Trakai each year with my concerns about European security heightened.  Indeed, Europe’s ‘security’ is fast becoming like a gigantic marshmallow; pierce the thin, crusty edge in places like Lithuania and one discovers a thick gooey core or irresolution and uncertainty at Europe’s heart.  

Eisenhower’s famous quote has often been misunderstood, and the original context forgotten, but it is worth today quoting his 1957 speech in some length.  “Some years ago, there was a group in the staff college of which some of you may have heard, Leavenworth Staff College. This was before our entry into World War One, and in that course it was necessary to use a number of maps and the maps available to the course were of the Alsace-Lorraine area and the Champagne in France. But a group of “young Turks” came along and wanted to reform Leavenworth. They pointed out it was perfectly silly for the American Army to be using such maps which could after all be duplicated in other areas without too much cost – they would get some maps where the American Army might just fight a battle. So they got, among other things, maps of the area of Leavenworth and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and in succeeding years all the problems have been worked out on those maps. The point is, only about two years after that happened, we were fighting in Alsace-Lorraine and in the Champagne”.

Eisenhower went on to explain the distinction he rightly insisted upon between plans and planning. “There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of ‘emergency’ is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you expected”.

As part of the Snow Meeting and as part of a delegation I had the chance to meet the ever-impressive President of Lithuania, Her Excellency Dalia Grybauskaite. What makes her impressive is the clear-sighted understanding she has of her country’s security situation and what must be done about it.  Russia must be deterred with strength so that any irresistible itch President Putin needs to scratch does not at any point involve the invasion of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. 

The problem is that Lithuania is not Europe’s only vulnerable state. My many trips to Rome have also revealed an Italy far more in tune with the tragic and ongoing events to its south and the massive migration flows such chaos is both triggering and enabling. Rome is also far less concerned with Russia, for obvious reasons, than Lithuania, even if Italy also takes its NATO responsibilities very seriously at a time of extended economic duress.  In such circumstances for Rome to establish effective policies and strategies to cope with and manage what looks increasingly like a structural shift in population movement requires a wholly different set of tools than those needed to deter the Russian military.

It is this essential tension which exists between defence of the ‘east’ and security of the ‘south’ and which reinforces Eisenhower’s wise dictum.  In spite of NATO’s sterling efforts to recast its deterrence and defence posture to cope with such a wide array of challenges there is simply not the resources available to provide a credible response to both.  This is important because Friendly-Clinch’s First Law of Strategic Nonsense identifies an inverse, obverse, and not-so-little obscene relationship in such circumstances between plans and planning. Indeed, when planning cannot be properly resourced there is a profusion of plans which may suggest NATO be renamed the North Atlantic Summit Organisation and Declaration-Writing Organisation.

In Europe today there are a mass of plans to deal with every conceivable threat Europe could possibly face. However, in the absence of the sound, considered, co-ordinated and efficient application of necessarily immense resources precious little proper planning will take place. ‘Planning’ requires planners to think big and build redundancy into their plans, precisely because as one of the Moltke’s pointed out, all plans collapse on contact with the enemy. Such planning also requires political leaders to think equally ‘big’ and devote the necessary resources to ensure such planning is sound.  Indeed, it is the ACT of planning which is the central tenet of credible deterrence.

NATO places much faith in its ‘360 Degree Approach’ to security and defence.  In fact NATO has three dangerously separate 120 degree approaches that in effect compete with each other – a growing threat to the north, a profound threat to the east, and a complex and long-term threat to the south. The purpose of planning is ease that tension and craft a credible response to all three. To that end, sound planning would suggests that NATO in partnership with the EU moves to actively support Europe’s three sets of frontline states – Finland, Norway and Sweden to the north, the Baltic States to the East, and Italy, Spain et al to the South. To some extent that is precisely what is being planned for. Or, rather, that is what a lot of key Western European states say that that are planning for. However, the gap between what those states say they would do in an ‘emergency’, and what they are capable of doing, grows wider by the day.

“There are always the Yanks”, I hear you proclaim. Hold on a minute. The US faces challenges the world over.  NATO plan can only be credible if Europeans are planning at the very least to be credible first responder to major emergencies in and Europe. Which brings me back to my giant marshmallow, which I shall call ‘Kurt’.  Lithuania has increased its defence spending to meet the 2014 NATO Wales Summit defence investment pledge of 2% GDP on defence. Italy is engaged deeply in trying to ameliorate the situation of and situation with irregular migrants transiting North Africa. And yet, too many powerful Western European states talk a lot (President Macron!!!) but in fact reveal little evidence of any real planning or the commensurate investment that would be needed to cope with an emergency that looks ever more likely. Indeed, President Macron looks to me ever more like Tony Blair from 1997 to 1999 – a man with ambitions far greater than the country he leads.

States like Britain, France and Germany are the gooey mess at the heart of European security and defence but which in an emergency would need to act as a critical strategic reserve for the front-line states.  And yet, for all their political ‘plans’ there is no real evidence that they are undertaking anything what might be termed proper strategic planning. They just talk a lot…and send a few troops to Lithuania. 

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.  Speaking of which can we have some snow next year please, Mr Minister?

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The Shape of Future War

“But, the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it”.
Athenians and Spartans

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 January. What will be the shape of future war? The world is fast becoming divided between latter day Athenians and Spartans.  The former is powerful and views it expansion as inevitable and a consequence of its superior open political, social and economic model. The latter is less powerful but ruled by nationalistic and militaristic elites who fear that in time they too will be swept away by a ‘progressive’ West that is now a global idea rather than a place.  This systemic tension not only makes war possible, but will shape the very nature of twenty-first century warfare.
Karl von Clausewitz once said that the overriding aim of war is to disarm the enemy.  The latter day Athenians strive to disarm adversaries through treaties. The latter day Spartans believe the key to disarming an adversary to be coercive power and its decisive application at a time, method and place of their choosing. In Clausewitz’s day one disarmed a state by smashing its armed forces war.  Today, there are so many ways to disarm a state and it is the new ends, ways and means of future war that occupy so much of my thinking and concerns these days.  Somewhere, sometime in the not-so-distant future war will take place. It could well be a big, systemic war in which all Western states will somehow be involved and for all the reasons Thucydides so eloquently describes in his seminal 5th Century BC work History of the Peloponnesian War.

The Shape of Future War
The shape of war is not simply a function of relative military power. How a systemic war is fought is essentially dictated by the political, social and economic nature of the combatants.  Today, there are roughly three sets of systemic adversaries that represent three distinct poles of power in the twenty first century.  The West and its fellow travellers are the Athenian Globalists, who in varying ways embrace the openness that new technology and borderless trade and movement brings, but also wilfully ignore the profound vulnerabilities it generates.  China and Russia lead the Exploiters, Spartan states that seek to ring-fence their own systems and societies behind rigid systems of government from the vulnerabilities of globalisation, whilst at the same time seeking to exploit Globalist vulnerabilities.  A third group might be called the Believers.  Whilst the Globalists and Exploiters are both committed, in their varying ways, to a system of global capital the Believers reject the secular legitimacy of power and seek instead a new unworldly order based on extreme interpretations of faith.  Al Qaeda and Islamic State are the most obvious examples of Believers in geopolitics, but there are others.

The Globalists are the status quo and seek to expand their writ primarily via co-option (Athenian League?) though retain some military means to punish those who challenge the order they have forged. Whilst Globalist elites talk constantly of ‘change’ for them it is as much about justifying elitist decisions to their sceptical, traditionalist peoples, than defending those self-same people.  There are also two wings of the Globalist elite, both of which are pretty hard core and which whilst appearing to counter each other, in fact reinforce each other.  At one end of the Globalist political spectrum there are what might be called the Goldman Sachs Globalists, for whom the borderless movement of capital and the businesses that foster such movement are the key essentials of power. For them nation-states are very passé and little more than second order, local entities that exists to maintain the order they need to do business.  At the other end there are the liberal Globalists who espouse open internationalism based on a vision of the borderless universalism of peoples. For them the nation-state is also an anachronism forged as it was on mono-cultural identities which must also be eroded.
Societal and strategic vulnerability is thus an inherent consequence of the world views of both wings of the Globalist elite. Indeed, openness and vulnerability are two sides of the same strategic coin. Whereas one promotes and exploits extreme openness/vulnerability for profit, the other creates extreme openness/vulnerability in pursuit of ideology. Vulnerability that the Exploiters and the Believers, the Grand Revisionists, are only too happy to use against the Globalists by turning the world they have created against them. It is at this point the shape of future war becomes apparent.

Whilst ostensibly weaker both the Exploiters and the Believers use offset strategies to exacerbate the structural vulnerabilities of the Globalists.  However, whilst the Exploiters systematically analyse and design coercive strategies to achieve their revisionist grand political ends, the Believers are, by nature, far more instinctive and opportunist. Consequently, for both Exploiters and Believers coercion, and its many tools and applications, are ‘values’ to be had at any cost, whereas for Globalists defending against coercion is simply an impediment in the way of wealth-generation and societal ‘renewal’, and thus a cost to be minimised.  Indeed, for many Globalists armed forces are themselves legacies of out-dated states that must be maintained only at a minimum level even if such forces also rely to an extent on what many Globalists see as ‘archaic’ patriotism.  Worse, one great weakness of the bureaucratic Euro-Globalists is that because of Europe’s peculiar and particular recent history many of them are convinced that Europe’s own military power poses a threat unto themselves. For them ‘strategy’ is overwhelmingly a civilian function of law and precept, rather than power, coercion and capability. 
For Globalists systemic war is not just unthinkable (which is why they try hard not to think about it) it is illogical because of its myriad of costs.  In other words, Globalists cannot possibly imagine why someone would start such a war and thus have little interest in it, even if, to echo Plato, war certainly has an interest in them. Still, for all their martial emphasis the Exploiters would prefer to achieve their revisionist aims short of war, primarily through intimidation of the Globalists and their populations. Of course, they prepare for war because the threat of war is central to their coercive narrative, but also because to them as nationalists (nationalism destroys patriotism) ‘war’ is part of the very DNA of strategy. For Believers war is a ‘purifying’ end in and of itself.

The Four Phases of Future War
Future war will thus be about far more than military power. Future war will be a complex matrix of coercive actions all of which will form part of a new escalation of conflict designed to blackmail Globalists into accepting what for them are unacceptable actions. As such future war will essentially concern the application of pressure in pursuit of revisionist strategic ends by exploiting globalist vulnerabilities via a myriad of coercive means of which mass destruction will be only one extreme. For the Exploiters future war will thus involve the application of pressure across a prescribed mix of ‘effects’ ranging from systematic mass disinformation, disorder, disruption and, if needs be, to decisive destruction.

Future war will not begin with any formal declaration, that is far too legalistic, globalist, and anachronistic. Future war could also be ‘gradualistic’ by nature. Future war will begin at ‘escalation level one’ with fake news, and disinformation campaigns that try to turn the now many ‘communities’ within Western states against each other, and exploit further the profound split in many Western states between the patriots (in the literal meaning of the word) and the internationalists, with the aim of rendering such states politically paralysed.  The Believers will tend to focus on these early elements of future war unless they can develop the high warfare means of future warfare the Exploiters are already in train to deploy.
If the fostering of disorder via disinformation fails the Exploiters will move onto ‘escalation level two’ and the next phase of future war– disruption.  Globalism has been built as world-wide web of people, ideas and things. On the face of it, the Internet that has so empowered Globalism has redundancy so deeply built into it that it would be very unlikely to suffer a catastrophic denial of service attack.  However, the systems and infrastructures that increasingly rely on cyber-systems are too often insufficiently robust because robustness implies cost and a constraint on the ‘openness’ the Globalists espouse. The Exploiters, on the other hand, see robustness of their critical infrastructures and systems as the sine qua non of their respective coercive strategies and are willing to impose the cost on their peoples of the closed structures such ‘robustness’ generates. After all, the Exploiters have few shareholders to satisfy.  Crash the critical systems the Globalists rely upon and the unstable societies they have created will render impossible an effective strategic and political response.  

‘Escalation level three’ would see Exploiters seeking to ram home their perceived advantage by reinforcing a growing sense of pending panic they have generated within Globalist societies by stepping up coercion.  This would be achieved by advertising and threatening mass destruction.  This phase of future war would be prosecuted by essentially military means. It could be via use of a limited war that underpins and reinforces strategic revisionist aims, by placing chemical, nuclear and biological forces on full alert, or by a combination of the two.  At this point the revisionist forces, Exploiters and Believers, might even join forces and create a latter day Delian League, with the latter undertaking terrorist attacks against the Globalists to further foster panic. Alternatively, Exploiters would use undercover Special Forces to exploit terrorism as war by other means. Escalation level four? Full on systemic war.
Preventing Future War

Why am I writing this?  The Globalists are in denial that such a threat exists because for both wings threat is politically inconvenient, even if the people sense otherwise. Take contemporary Britain as an example. At one level the current National Security Capabilities Review (NSCR) (or Sedwill Review as it is popularly known) is a useful exercise if it did what it says on the tin: to consider security and defence in the round given the changing nature of threat with the aim of ensuring the efficient and effective application of resources.  Sadly, the NSCR is the now all too familiar cost-cutting politics dressed up as strategy.  As such it demonstrates (yet again) not only that the British elite do not understand future war or are even willing to consider it, they completely misunderstand the utility and role of in the face of such a threat. Any state that sacrifices defence to pay for security, which is the essence of the Sedwill exercise, simply demonstrates it understands neither. Worse, such a state also demonstrates to allies, adversaries, and its own people that it affords neither security nor defence sufficient political priority. Further cuts to already critically over-stretched armed forces simply to meet the dictates of a short-term balance sheet also demonstrate an elite that has not only abandoned any pretence to considered strategy in security and defence, it has also decided that the critical vulnerability it is imposing on its people is a price worth paying for Globalism.
The paradox?  By weakening the security and defence of the European state it is Europe’s own elite Globalists who are helping to create the conditions for future war by artificially exaggerating vulnerability. Instead, Europe is promised new virtual Maginot Lines, such as PESCO, which weaken European defence because it is strategic tinkering that demonstrates all too clearly that Europe’s elites do not believe future war possible and are not serious about deterring it or preventing it. This situation will worsen, particularly in Europe, as the Revisionists systematically exploit social media and the new technological ends, ways and means of future warfare, such as hyper-sonic weapons, Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, big data, et al.

If future war is to be prevented Athens must properly think about war conceptually, strategically and practically.  Western states are in danger of being disarmed by forces ostensibly far weaker if it fails collective to re-capitalise the twenty-first century security and defence of the Western state across the new spectrum of future war.  Therefore, Western states must together begin to re-think security and defence in the round, and the worst that could be done to them and their people. That means looking at all tools of security and defence. In practice a real review would reconsider the balance that must necessarily be struck between ‘unseen’ security and ‘seen’ defence to forge the two into a new form of shield and sword. Why the state? The state remains for millions the focus of identity, the legitimate and most efficient purveyor of security and defence, and the tax-generating source of power.  Only Western states working in harness, and which use institutions such as NATO and the EU as means to a strategic ends, rather than political ends in themselves, will successfully deter future war. For future war can only be deterred demonstrating an ability and a capability to act to effect across the entirety of the future war coercive spectrum.

Future war that has already started and needs to be fought. As British General Sir William Francis Butler once said, “The nation that insists upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards”.

Have a nice day!

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

NSS 2017: Making America Great Again?

“This strategy is guided by principled realism. It is realist because it acknowledges the central role of power in international politics, affirms that sovereign states are the best hope for a peaceful world, and clearly defines our national interest”.

The United States National Security Strategy, December 18, 2017
A Happy New US Year?

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 January. A Happy New Year to you all! Look, being something of a sad bastard I spent part of my Christmas reading the new US National Security Strategy (NSS 2017).  In part this was because I wanted to give it the full and proper consideration it deserves. This meant first allowing to die down the now usual Euro-Chicken Little response to anything with the name ‘Trump’ on it.  My considered reaction to NSS 2017? The United States seriously needs allies, and America’s allies really now need to get serious about the world, their place in it, and the continuing ability and willingness of the US to do their defending for them.

The document itself is a serious and concise piece of work written by very serious people. Indeed, it is a far stronger ‘strategy’ than some of the vacuous aspirational internationalism that was published during the Obama years, or its ‘mini-me’ British counterpart which lists all the threats Britain faces, many of which Britain is doing little or nothing about. London only recognises as much threat as the Treasury says it can afford…which is not a lot. As for the EU’s Global Strategy, I tend not to bother with junk mail.
NSS 2017
Fifty-five pages in length and divided into four pillars, NSS 2017 is an elegant statement of the American geopolitical dilemma; powerful enough to be the only global power, but no longer powerful enough to exert its interests or its influence globally everywhere, all of the time.  At a particularly sad moment, and infused with a large glass of Scotch, I read side-by-side both NSS 2017 and the December statement by the European Council on PESCO or permanent structured co-operation. Whereas the US NSS is an attempt to recognise and ultimately overcome US geopolitical over-stretch, PESCO is politics dressed up as strategy and can at best be described as strategic tinkering, at worst it is European defence as cold turkey avec frites.

The critical ‘pillar’ is entitled Preserve Peace through Strength and is where the rubber of NSS 2017 hits the hard road of realism. The analysis therein is spot on, particularly the section on the competitive nature of the world, and the need for the US to exert influence and generate effect. NSS 2017 is particularly effective describing the new balance Washington must strike between protection of people and projection of power in an age in which technology and Twitter merge security and defence…and undermines them at one and the same time.  The main threats are clearly identified: super-revisionists China and Russia; regional revisionists Iran and North Korea, as well medieval revisionists in the Middle East. 
The role of the US armed forces is also reaffirmed in NSS 2017 as central to the American strategic effort, even if the strategy recognises military power is but one facet of American ‘strength’ that stretches from the economic (the deficit?) to the inspirational.  Critically, and very unusually, NSS 2017 has the courage to recognise relative American decline by recommitting America to seek to “renew its competitive advantages”. 

Militant Turkey or American Decline?
Still, reading NSS 2017 I felt qualms of unease that were caused by more than an excess of militant Christmas turkey. You see, NSS 2017 is the ghost of British strategy past, albeit dressed up as Uncle Sam. Indeed, NSS 2017 is a little bit like that American rip-off of the famous World War One poster Your Country Needs You in which Lord Kitchener thrusts his four-digit in the faces of young men about to sign up for the trenches.

NSS 2017 is an exercise in managing relative American decline and, as such, would have been recognisable to a young Winston Churchill.  At the start of the twentieth century Britain still appeared to supremely powerful with the Royal Navy ensuring Britannia really did rule the waves. In 1889 Britain established the Two Power Standard and passed the Naval Defence Act in which London committed to “… a standard of strength equivalent to that of the combined forces of the next two biggest navies in the world”.  However, some thirteen years later, faced with the rise of Imperial Germany in Europe, and yet to conclude ententes, cordiale or otherwise, with either France or Tsarist Russia, in January 1902 Britain forged the Anglo-Japanese Alliance.  By so doing London recognised the beginning of its century long retreat from global power that continues today, albeit it exaggerated by its own numpty politicians.  In 1902 Britain faced strategic reality and abandoned the Two Power Standard and with it any fading delusions of splendid isolation or supreme power. NSS 2017 does much the same for contemporary America.  
Instead, NSS 2017 implicitly reinforces the importance of allies in the pursuit of US strategic ends, and clearly recognises the shifting balance of global power, America’s fading dominion over it, the revolutionary role of technology in security and defence, and the ability of other powers and actors to complicate US strategic choices.  NSS 2017 also reveals the sheer extent of the challenges America faces even if there are so many “Priority Actions” across so many domains that reading NSS 2017 one wonders if there can be anything can be a strategic priority if everything is a priority.

The End of American Exceptionalism?
It is the section entitled Strategy in a Regional Context, which Europeans should take very seriously indeed. The key phrase is a telling one for Europeans: “The NATO Alliance will become stronger when all members assume greater responsibility for and pay their fair share to protect our mutual interests, sovereignty and values”. One could read that statement and suggest it is the NATO-old American complaint about a lack of European burden-sharing.  However, to be properly understood the statement should rather be read against the back-drop of the new strategic context in which NSS 2017 is set and to which NSS 2017 responds. In a sense NSS 2017 is pleading with America’s European allies to finally get serious about defence.  The danger is that Europeans misread that message for America’s need for help is Europe’s new reality Trump or no Trump.  Sadly, experience suggests most Europeans will demur because President Trump too often provides an alibi for too many Europeans NOT to be serious about defence. Put simply, America needs ‘Europe’ to be serious about defence if America is to maintain the security guarantee it has afforded Europe since 1945.

America’s new strategic realism is reinforced by the use of the term Indo-Pacific in NSS 2017, rather than the more usual Asia-Pacific.  Read between the lines and it is self-evident that America also needs the support of all of its allies in Asia-Pacific if it is to maintain the power status quo and thus the security guarantee that Washington has ensured and assured since 1945.  The suggestion therein also implies a possible new strategic partnership with India. A latter day Anglo-Japanese Alliance?
It is Strategy, Stupid!

A clue to the real purpose and utility of NSS 2017 is in the name. It is a strategy. Not only is it a strategy, it is American grand strategy – the application of still immense US national means in pursuit of the highest of strategic ends via a host of considered ways.  As such NSS 2017 is meant to signal to those responsible for its implementation that the White House understands the challenge and will support them with the necessary tools to do the job.  NSS 2017 also sends a message to the allies about the scope, nature and limits of America’s commitment to them. Critically, NSS 2017 also implies a disciplined approach to the application of American power. However, NSS 2017 will only work as strategy if the Commander-in-Chief has the discipline, consistency and commitment to infuse its prescriptions and actions with political credibility. 
This is certainly not a moment for America to be a strategic flake.  Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff is not a man prone to exaggeration but he is worried.  In an interview on 2 January in This Week Mullen said two things that reveal American concerns and one of which should concern the European allies more than it does.  First, Mullen warned that, “We are actually closer…to a nuclear war with North Korea and in the region than we have ever been”.  Second, he said that President Trump’s first year has been “incredibly disruptive”. 

Making America Great Again?

Implicit in NSS 2017 is an American nightmare I have been warning of for some time: simultaneous crises in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Europe that places an already over-stretched American diplomatic and military instruments under unbearable pressure.  If Russian aggression is to be deterred, if Chinese expansionism prevented, and Islamist ideology countered then America will need help.  In other words, implicit in NSS 2017 is an end to the ‘Americans will always be there’ school of thought that has endured amongst allies the world over since 1945. NSS 2017 is thus in part an American call to arms to liberal democracies the world-over. Or, to put NSS 2017 a la mode, America will only be great again with the help of friends.

THAT is the real message of the US National Security Strategy of December 2017. Europe? It is time for delusional Europeans to wake up and smell America’s realist coffee!

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

The Oxford Historian and the Biggar Picture

“The “Ethics and Empire” project asks the wrong questions, using the wrong terms, and for the wrong purposes. However seriously intended, far from offering greater nuance and complexity, Biggar’s approach is too polemical and simplistic to be taken seriously”.

Open Letter from 58 Oxford historians criticising Professor Nigel Biggar.

Alphen, Netherlands. 27 December. Whatever happened to academic rigour and the disciplined professionalism to consider historical evidence from many angles?

On the face it the argument between Professor Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology and some of my fellow Oxford historians over the frame of reference for the study of the British Empire is a storm in a Queen’s Lane Coffee House tea-cup.  In an article that appeared in The Times newspaper Biggar, according to his critics, had the temerity to suggest that the British Empire was not all bad. By way of response a host of Oxford historians penned an open letter of complaint in which they imply Biggar is a right-wing racist bigot for even suggesting such heresy. This is an important argument that is not only deeply political, but goes to the very core of why we study history, and the danger posed by the growing intolerance of the academic political Left.

The attack on Biggar presents itself as being apolitical. It is anything but. Rather, it is yet another example of an attempt by the political Left to dominate British university discourse and to prevent dissent through public intimidation.  By publishing an open letter in The Conversation attacking Professor Biggar and his course Ethics and Empire the aim of these ‘historians’ is clearly to whip up another of those ‘snowflake’ storms of outrage which have become all the rage amongst left-wing academics.
The key political phrase in the letter is this: “For many of us, and more importantly for our students, they also reinforce a pervasive sense that contemporary inequalities in access to and experience at our university are underpinned by a complacent, even celebratory, attitude towards its [Britain’s] imperial past”. The basic premise here is that because the British Empire was intrinsically evil Britain must bear guilt and because Britain must bear guilt it forfeits the right to a national interest. Britain must thus atone for its past ‘evils’ by using what power it has to support others, even if that is at the expense of itself and its own people. The key phrase is “…our students”. By that they certainly do not mean the whole student body but simply those activist students who share their dogmatic, leftist views? What pretentious, pompous twaddle.

The letter goes on, “Good and evil may be meaningful terms of analysis for theologians. They are useless to historians”.  And yet ‘good’ and evil’ as a basis for understanding the British Empire is precisely what these ‘historians’ are trying to impose on the rest of us.  In fact, Biggar takes a morally neutral position in his work precisely to enable a more nuanced study of the British Empire, who and why it was created and how it evolved over some four hundred years. By attacking Biggar in the manner and tone they adopt his detractors simply reveal themselves to be politically-motivated and intolerant and consequently fail as Oxford historians.  Worse, by applying their own left-wing framework of political reference to the actions of people over four hundred years they negate of the very art of the historian by imposing their values on past actions.  As a result, they reduce the moral and ethical narrative of the entirety of the British Empire to a ‘simple’ and absurd equation; the abolition of slavery by the second Empire versus the Amritsar massacre and the Tasmanian genocide, both of which were terrible events, one of which was ordered by a very poor general and which was deemed appalling even by the standards of his day.

The letter also states that, “Biggar sets up a caricature in place of an antagonist: an allegedly prevailing orthodoxy that “imperialism is wicked”. His project’s declared aim is to uncover a more complex reality, whose “positive aspects” dispassionate scholarship can reveal. This is nonsense. No historian (or, as far as we know, any cultural critic or postcolonial theorist) argues simply that imperialism was “wicked””. And yet the letter clearly implies that for the letter’s authors the British Empire was utterly wicked.

The letter goes on, “We welcome continued, open, critical engagement in the ongoing reassessment of the histories of empire and their legacies both in Britain and elsewhere in the world. We have never believed it is sufficient to dismiss imperialism as simply “wicked”. Nor do we believe it can or should be rehabilitated because some of it was “good””. Really? There is no evidence I can see from Professor Biggar’s work that he is endeavouring to ‘rehabilitate’ the British Empire, nor is it the role of the professional historian or theologian to ‘rehabilitate’ anyone or anything.

Why does this dispute matter? The politicisation of history in British universities is more than an academic dispute. It is about political power and the very purpose of universities. Some Oxford historians go on to enjoy glittering careers in politics and the civil service. If their world-view is shaped by those who believe contemporary British policy should be shackled by guilt Britain will decline even further and even faster than it is now. As for the purpose of British universities the danger exists that they will simply espouse a political mono-culture, much like Russian universities from Lenin to Putin.

What are the implications of such political intolerance? A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a leading academic in a top department at a well-respected British university who invited me to apply for a professorial chair.  As you might expect I was honoured but after due consideration decided not to apply.  Now, many of you who read my scribblings know I am no snowflake.  Indeed, I like and welcome robust debate.  Moreover, I do not characterize myself as either a progressive or a conservative, but rather both. Unfortunately, British universities are no longer places where such debate can take place and the academics who scribed the letter simply demonstrate the intolerant refusal to debate that so concerns me. Worse, some British universities are beginning to take on the appearance of state-funded ‘re-education camps’ in which people who do not conform to a political mono-culture are shouted down by the self-important and self-righteous.  If people of my robustness are being deterred from applying for posts, I can assure you that many others are also so deterred.

Why is an open-minded study of the British Empire important?  Many years ago I was invited to lunch in New Delhi. Present at the lunch was a mix of British and Indian officials and academics.  The British (yours truly accepted), determined to uphold the longest apology in history and which is doing so much to suck the life out of Britain’s contemporary strategic mojo, were in full ‘don’t mention the Raj accept to say sorry’ mode.  My line was provocatively different.  India, I said, is an emerging Great Power, Britain is still a power to be reckoned with and there is much we can and should do together.  After several bouts of British official tut-tutting an old Indian lady suddenly averred, “You know things were better here when the British were in charge, but it was right the British left”. 

The British Empire was of its age, and over four hundred years it did a lot of good and a lot of bad when viewed through a contemporary lens. When it was over it was right that it was over.  Indeed, as a contemporary Oxford historian my historically-informed political view is that people should always aspire to the freedom to screw up their own countries.  Here, Britain is again leading the world.

The study of history will always be to an extent political, and there have been well-documented contentions between Oxford historians for centuries that attest to the politics of historical study. However, it is, at best, poor tradecraft to apply the political values of one dogmatic group today to the actions of another group centuries ago. Yes, the study of history must also always be challenging.  At the same time the study of history must always, by definition, seek balance, because a lack of balance leads to the over-politicisation of history and results in abominations, such as Holocaust denial.  Indeed, the problem of politicised history is not solely one of the political Left. The political Right also poses a threat to the study of history by too often championing and exaggerating the supposed actions of the past to maintain historical myths that in turn enable nostalgia as the basis for policy.  Both are wrong and Biggar, it seems to me, is right to challenge both camps to put down the mega-phones and again embrace respectful debate.

It is also a privilege to be a professional Oxford historian. If they do nothing else this group of dons and fellows should aspire to be the guardians of historiography and the art and craft of the professional historian. At the very least that means up-putting with research and topics for research they might find objectionable, if the methodology is sound. Rather, the tone and substance of the attack on Professor Biggar reveals a group of Oxford historians have not only lost balance in seeking to impose a contemporary political agenda on the study of history, they have also failed in their duty as professional Oxford historians and let down their students.

The joy of being a historian is the search for evidence and the debate it engenders. The discipline of the historian is to suppress one’s own prejudices in an attempt to understand the ‘then’ contemporaneous relationship between cause and effect.  Discipline, open-mindedness and tolerance are thus vital because history is always essentially political because so much of it is about power. However, what really saddens me about this latest bout tale of academic mud-slinging is the questionable quality of some of the people at my own university who purport to be professional Oxford historians.

The British Empire lasted a very long time and was subject to many motivations, changes and events. There were also, in effect, two British empires. The first empire was indeed acquisitive and rapacious and began with the arrival of English in India in 1583 and English and Scottish settlers in North America in 1607, and ended with the American Revolution in 1776.  The second empire was constructed after 1815 and Britain’s victory in the Napoleonic Wars, the establishment of British Crown Rule in India in 1858, and was then ‘de-constructed’ (to use academic speak) between 1947 and the late 1960s, with some remnants still extant.  The difference between the two empires was enormous mainly because Britain itself changed and evolved. Thus, the British empires are very much worthy of study, and very much worthy of study through a moral and ethical lens, and it thus very hard to see how such a ‘project’ can ask the wrong questions, using the wrong terms, and for the wrong purposes.

Ultimately, the study of history is about the simple search for ‘truth’ via evidence and respectful debate designed to hone the focus of analysis on events, their causes and consequences.  Ironically, Biggar, who is not an historian, is reminding some Oxford historians that the study of history should first and foremost be conducted without fear or favour. 

Press on, Professor Biggar. Ignore this bout of politically-motivated bullying and remember, not all Oxford historians are against you.

Julian Lindley-French