Saturday, 23 May 2015
Alphen, Netherlands. 23 May. British Finance Minister George Osborne is Vladimir Putin’s most dangerous ally. This week it was announced that Osborne is seeking ever deeper cuts to the British Armed Forces, as I warned in my latest book Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (www.amazon.co.uk). If the threat is carried out, and I have every reason to believe it will be, such egregious cuts to an already hollowed-out force will be the greatest act of strategic vandalism to Britain’s influence since the 1930s. It is a decision that not only Britain will come to regret but also the US and all of Britain’s NATO allies. As for the Special Relationship with the US – it is over. It is completely the wrong strategic message to send at completely the wrong time and demonstrates yet again the strategic illiteracy of both Cameron and Osborne. Russia’s President Putin must be laughing all the way to the Baltic States, or wherever it is next he is going to de-stabilise.
The sad story of the Cameron Government(s) and its stewardship of British national strategy, and Britain’s defences since 2010 has been one of dissembling, deceit and outright lies. In 2010 then Foreign Secretary William Hague said that there would be no strategic shrinkage under the Tories. Britain has been strategically-shrinking ever since. Pledge abandoned. Strategic Defence and Security Review 2010 was presented as the big financial hit Britain’s armed forces would have to take to right the economy. After 2015 the British defence budget, we were told, would see a real term 1% increase. Pledge abandoned. In September 2014 David Cameron badgered other NATO leaders for not committing to spending 2% GDP on defence. British defence spending is about to fall in the next year from 2.07% to 1.88% GDP and fall again thereafter. Pledge abandoned. Cameron promised that the current size of the Army would be maintained at an already small 82,500 as part of Future Force 2020. Active consideration is now being given to an Army of 60,000. Pledge about to be abandoned. Worse, Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin has been charged with the task of trying to make the defence budget APPEAR as though it meets the NATO 2% GDP guideline. Pledge about to be manipulated.
The strategic-illiteracy of both Cameron and Osborne was brought home to me in a 22 April mail I received from an official in the Office of the Conservative Party Chairman which frankly insulted my intelligence. The email boldly stated, “I can assure you that the Conservative Party is committed to supporting our Armed Forces and maintaining Britain’s position in the world”. Nonsense! The email then reminded me that, “…no country in the world can invest in, maintain and support their Armed Forces while having a broken economy…” Yes, but Britain resides on this planet not on Mars, is meant to be a leading power, and bad people are doing bad things.
The missive then went on to offer a rosy future. The “…Government plans to spend £163 billion on new equipment over the coming decade”, and the “…Government is committed to spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence…” And then the sucker punch; “…with decisions on spending after the financial year 2015/16 to be determined in the next spending review”. In other words, ‘we told you more cuts were coming. Really we did’. However, the email left the best to last. “I would like to assure you that the UK remains a truly global military power…” What complete and utter tosh!
However, the real ‘cruncher’ came in a small sub-phrase towards the end of the email when it suggested that all the planned investment, “…will keep Britain safe”. It is a phrase Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, the safe-pair-of-hands defence minister charged by Cameron and Osborne with destroying, sorry cutting Britain’s armed forces. First, it is not true. Britain recently had to rely on allies to find two new Russian nuclear attack submarines seeking to enter Britain’s territorial waters. Second, the true test of Britain’s defence is not the immediate defence of the island, but the fulfilment of its commitments to NATO allies, most notably the strategic reassurance, forward deterrence and collective defence of the three Baltic States.
Indeed, although Britain is offering to act as a key element of NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) the coming cuts will emaciate the very forces designed to undertake such as role. No wonder US forces call the Brits “the borrowers’.
Let me be clear; implicit in the new round of planned defence cuts is a form of isolationism that passes for foreign and security policy under this Government and the final and irrevocable British retreat from strategic influence – Little Britain indeed.
Sadly, London is now committed to another Strategic Pretence and Insecurity Review and the appeasement of a rapidly-deteriorating strategic reality at a moment when illiberal power is gaining the upper hand. Therefore, Osborne and Cameron’s strategic illiteracy is quite simply a recipe for disaster as they seek to abandon security to fund ‘prosperity’. In the real world the one cannot exist without the other.
On my extensive travels of late Britain’s loss of influence in key chancelleries has become all too apparent to me. Much of that is due to the butchering of Britain’s world-renowned armed forces which have long provided the hard power foundations for London’s soft power influence.
Frankly, I no longer believe any ‘commitment’ Cameron makes is worth any more than yesterday’s newsprint – be it on Europe, the economy or defence.
George Osborne – Vladimir Putin’s most dangerous ally.
Friday, 22 May 2015
Alphen, Netherlands. 22 May. In January 1941 at a desperate moment in World War Two President Roosevelt sent a handwritten note to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in which he quoted Longfellow. “Sail on, oh Ship of State, Sail on, oh union strong and great, Humanity with all its fears, With all the hope of future years, Is hanging breathless on thy fate”. Roosevelt at the time was encouraging Britain to fight on alone against Nazi tyranny. As EU leaders today sit down in Latvia’s beautiful capital Riga they might muse on Longfellow’s poem. Indeed, although the centre-piece of today’s EU summit is the Eastern Partnership and the Union’s relationship with six well post-Soviet states at heart the discussion is really about three fundamental and interlocking strategic questions that will shape the future of Europe and the EU; the Russia Question, the British Question, and the Greek Question. Implicit in all three questions is the biggest question of all; can the EU find a new balance between power, security, legitimacy and freedom.
The Russia Question: Implicit in the EU’s struggle with Russia (for that is what it is) is a fundamental clash of ideas about international relations. It is a clash that places all three Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – on the front-line of freedom. It is also a clash between free sovereign choice essential to any community of nations and the imposition of influence implicit in the renewed sphere of influence Russia seeks.
The British Question(s): There are in fact two questions implicit in the Brexit debate and they concern the EU’s relationship with power and people (it was ever thus). Answering the power question is fairly straightforward. If, for example, Germany and France want Britain to stay in the EU, then Berlin and Paris must finally afford London equal status within the Union. In other words, non-Eurozone states (especially the most powerful non-Eurozone state) must no longer be treated as second-class EU citizens. The people question is more complex. The Brexit debate reflects two very different political cultures; Continental statism and protectionism versus Anglo-Saxon localism and openness. Let me state for the record that I recognise the great work the EU does on my behalf. However, as a Lincoln democrat (note the small ‘d’) I believe firmly that power in a democracy should remain as close to the people as possible. Thus, I have long been concerned about the EU’s appalling and too oft glossed over democratic deficit and the growing distance between the EU institutions and me the people. Britain’s fight is thus every thinking European’s fight against the over-concentration of unaccountable power in a few Euro-elite hands.
The Greek Question: The Greek question raises perhaps the biggest question of all; just how responsible are Europeans as Europeans responsible for each other’s debts, burdens, crises, and indeed security? Therefore, the Greek question is at one and the same time distinct and connected to the Russia and British questions. In effect Athens is challenging Germany (in particular) to answer a question Berlin has long-been dodging; what price leadership? And, does German leadership of the Eurozone matter more to Berlin than a Grexit, which would mark a failure of German leadership? Given the creative accounting the EU has used to give the impression Athens has met its debt-repayment schedule it is an argument that Syriza may actually be winning.
If the EU is to find a new balance power, security, legitimacy and freedom implicit in Riga’s three big strategic questions many of the assumptions that have underpinned ‘Europe’ since at least the 1957 Treaty of Rome will need to be re-thought. Clearly, a new balance needs to be found between the ‘ever closer union’ mantra of Brussels and the growing demand for political localism evident across much of Europe. A new political balance would need to offer far more than the stale and much-abused idea of ‘subsidiarity’. Equally, localism poses another vital question; can Europeans influence their world in the absence of political union? It is a moot point given the EU itself has no strategic culture worthy of the name and yet has successfully contributed to the strategic neutering of states like Britain and France.
Then there is the big legitimacy question. Can the European citizen ever be free if power is removed from democratically-elected national and regional legislatures and invested (often without the express permission of the citizen) in a distant, power-acquisitive political bureaucracy such as the European Commission? Finally, both implicit and explicit in the challenge posed by Russia to the east and ISIS to the south is a further question. Can Europe resist aggression and subversion if it remains so split and disaggregated?
Therefore, today’s debate in Riga is really about the biggest question of all; whither Europe in the twenty-first century? Humanity with all its fears, is indeed, hanging breathless on thy fate.
Tuesday, 19 May 2015
NATO and New Ways of Warfare: Defeating Hybrid Threats
“True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous and conflicting information”.
Winston Spencer Churchill
Alphen, Netherlands. 19 May. This blog is devoted to my report on a major NATO conference entitled “NATO and New Ways of Warfare: Defeating Hybrid Threats,” for which I acted as Rapporteur and which was held between 29-30 April at the NATO Defense College in Rome. Below are the core messages and policy recommendations from the report. A full text of my report can be found at http://www.ndc.nato.int/news/current_news.php?icode=814. My sincere thanks to Major-General Bojarski, Commandant, NATO Defense College, Dr Daria Daniels-Skodnik, Dean and Dr Jeff Larsen, Director of the Research Divsion and his team for their help and support in the preparation of this report.
“NATO and the New Ways of Warfare; Defeating Hybrid Warfare” explored four main themes: NATO’s changing strategic environment, the scope and nature of hybrid threats; NATO’s pol-mil responses to hybrid warfare; and NATO’s military response to hybrid warfare. Hybrid warfare was defined as the denial of and defection from standard norms and principles of international relations in pursuit of narrow interests. Contemporary hybrid warfare is strategic in its ambition and employs a mix of disinformation, destabilising gambits and intimidation to force an adversary to comply with those interests. The essential purpose of hybrid warfare is to keep an adversary politically, militarily and societally off-balance.
Whilst much of the debate concerned the military aspects of hybrid warfare the need for a tight pol-mil relationship was seen as the essential pre-requisite for effective Allied engagement of the threats posed. Indeed, a fundamental issue at debate concerned how to create devolved political command authority in the early phase of a crisis to ensure that military high readiness is matched by the exercise of political agility in response to hybrid threats. Critically, whilst the debate centred on the threats posed by Russia to NATO Strategic Direction East, and by ISIS to NATO Strategic Direction South, such threats and risks were seen as reflective of a more conflictual world in which power is shifting at pace away from the Western liberal states.
Hybrid warfare exploits political seams within the Alliance and societal seams within open societies. Therefore, if NATO is to successfully adapt and adjust strategy, capability and resiliency it is vital that such threats are defined and properly understood and thereafter early indicators established as effective conventional and nuclear deterrence remains the first order principle of Alliance action and high readiness (and high responsiveness).
However, in the event deterrence fails NATO must have the capacity and capability to fight war. That in turn entails the strengthening of societal cohesion within NATO nations, the forging of close links between the civilian and military aspects of security and defence. The future NATO must be built on good intelligence, knowledge, robust command and control, rapid response allied to the capacity to “surge to mass” via a “big, agile reserve”.
NATO’s policy response to strategic hybrid warfare will in effect require reflection on and adaptation of the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept in light of the lessons of hybrid warfare. Effective strategic communications (Stratcom) will be vital both for home audiences and the strategic key leader engagement implicit in strategic hybrid warfare. Such an adaptation and the strategic realignment of the Alliance would in effect reflect a mid-term (five year) policy review of the Strategic Concept for accuracy, credibility and contemporary relevance given the challenges posed by hybrid warfare. Such realignment would need to incorporate the following elements:
Better understand strategic hybrid threats: NATO must establish a proper distinction between and granulated understanding of the threats posed to the Alliance from Strategic Direction East and Strategic Direction South.
Craft a hybrid warfare strategy: As part of NATO’s strategic realignment a NATO hybrid warfare strategy should then be considered and prepared by the Military Committee.
Establish adapted early indicators: Adapted early indicators must be established to enable more agile response to hybrid threats, especially in the early phase of the conflict cycle. This will require a new relationship between closed and open source information and better exploitation of the Alliance of knowledge communities.
Establish a Stratcom policy: Effective strategic communications is part of Alliance defence against hybrid warfare and effective messaging is central to strategic communications. A NATO Stratcom policy should be crafted to counter the narrative at the heart of an adversary’s conduct of hybrid warfare. Particular emphasis should be placed on NATO-EU synergy and tight joint messaging thereafter.
Reconsider information management: To defeat hybrid warfare NATO must beat the adversary to the message. That will require reconsideration of the use of classified information, a move to ensure the early release of mission critical information, and the relationship between classified and unclassified information.
Adapt nuclear posture: NATO’s nuclear deterrence posture, readiness and messaging also needs to be re-considered in response to Moscow’s heightened use of nuclear weapons as part of hybrid warfare. The Alliance message must be clear: Moscow must be under no illusion. The Alliance still understands the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence and Russia will never achieve escalation dominance. Deterrence will thus be enhanced by a heightened role for the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) and a demonstration that since the end of the Cold War NATO has lost neither the knowledge nor understanding of the role of nuclear weapons in deterrence.
Close the conventional/nuclear seam: NATO’s military preparedness and readiness will also need to include exercising and training for the transition from conventional operations to nuclear operations. Specifically, NATO must respond to Russia’s stated military doctrine that seeks to use nuclear weapons to “de-escalate crises” in Moscow’s favour.
Adapt exercising and training: Allied Command Transformation (ACT) must be given a clear tasking to develop exercise and training programmes to reflect recent developments in and reactions to hybrid warfare. Specifically, NATO needs to make far better use of lessons identified and lessons learned from recent campaigns and incorporate them in a ‘scientific’ development programme in which the future force (and forces) are built via a series of linked exercises and defence education initiatives that test the unknown rather than confirm the already known. The two joint force commands and the high readiness force headquarters would have a key role to play in the development of such a programme.
Re-consider the role of Partners: A specific study is needed on the role of Partners in a NATO hybrid warfare strategy. Such a study would re-consider partnership mechanisms in light of hybrid warfare, such as the Mediterranean Dialogue, Istanbul Co-operation Initiative, Partners across the Globe and Partnership for Peace.
Enhance Resiliency: A NATO hybrid warfare strategy would need to properly consider how best to enhance resiliency of Allies and Partners. A particular focus would be needed on the protection of critical national information and infrastructures and consequence management. A useful first-step could be an analysis of key vulnerabilities to better understand how individual NATO nations could be undermined by hybrid warfare. Such an analysis would include a better understanding of how minorities are susceptible to manipulation; the vulnerability of the media space to external saturation; how the lack of a binding national narrative could be exploited; and how electorates could be alienated from leadership during a hybrid warfare-inspired crisis, particularly through elite corruption.
Enhance military responsiveness and agility: Hybrid warfare seeks to exploit the seams between collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security. Therefore, twenty-first century Alliance collective defence will also require a mix of coalitions and Alliance-wide action. The capacity for the rapid force generation of coalitions of allies and partners, supported by effective command and control at short notice will be central to NATO’s military responsiveness and agility.
Establish credible forward deterrence: In countering hybrid warfare forward deterrence is as important as forward defence. Indeed, NATO must not be forced to trade space for time in the event of a full-scale war of which hybrid warfare is but a prelude. Critically, the Alliance needs to consider how best to force an adversary and its forces off-balance, both politically and militarily. Critically, NATO forces must be aim to force an adversary onto the defensive via a counter hybrid warfare strategy that imposes the unexpected on decision-makers. Such a posture will require demonstrable reassurance and readiness.
Reconceive NATO forces: In support of forward deterrence combined and ‘deep joint’ Alliance forces must be able to operate effectively in and across the seven domains of strategic hybrid warfare – air, sea, land, space, cyber, information and knowledge. Critically, the military relationship between NATO’s first responder forces and heavier, follow-on forces many of which may be deployed outside of Europe will need to be worked up.
Implement Wales in full: The September 2014 NATO Wales Summit was a benchmark summit; much like London in 1991 and Washington in 1999 and must be implemented in full. Therefore, NATO political guidance must establish credible capability requirements for twenty-first collective defence that generates a new kind of ‘defence’ through a mix of advanced deployable forces, cyber-defence and missile defence. Strategic hybrid warfare is not simply an alternative form of warfare; it is the new way of warfare.
Monday, 18 May 2015
Alphen, Netherlands. 18 May. This weekend chickens began coming home to roost. A Libyan ‘minister’ warned that not only was ISIS using the Mediterranean migrant crisis to smuggle its fighters into Europe, the militants were profiting from the trade. And, the EU moved to establish a mission that would interdict the traffickers close to the Libyan coast and perhaps within Libya. Today, news comes that the Iraqi city of Ramadi has fallen to ISIS. The Middle East is as unstable and dangerous as at any time since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Worse, the threat such instability poses to the region and beyond is growing, symptomatic and axiomatic of a new systemic struggle. As such the defeat of ISIS will require far more than its military eclipse.
Now, few who know me would call me naïve and yet I know what I am about to venture will seem precisely that. For all the excellent work being done to counter ISIS I am struck by the absence of a political strategy for the Middle East. ISIS is as much a symptom of several interlocking conflicts that are feeding off each other as the cause and will only been seen off in time by a new settlement in the Middle East that will itself demand the kind of political ambition and vision that none of the key leaders seem to have, be they in the region or without. Nothing less than the re-establishment of strong, legitimate states across the region will suffice; states that able and willing to meet the needs of a burgeoning but deeply divided people.
Something more clearly must be done. The first phase of the mission of the sixty-nation “Global Coalition to Counter ISIL” to “blunt ISIL’s strategic, tactical and operational momentum in Iraq” has met with some limited success. However, there appears little or no consideration concerning the political objective vital to the achievement of a more stable Middle East. Worse, Saudi-led Gulf Co-operation Council air-strikes in Yemen are indicative of an emerging regional-systemic struggle in which the fundamentalist threat posed by ISIS is merging with the struggle for regional supremacy between Iran and a host of other actors.
There is a very real danger that the current struggle between Middle Eastern (and increasingly European) states and anti-state elements could be but the curtain-raiser to a wider Middle East war between states, fuelled and intensified by mistrust between elites and peoples, the mutual hatred of Shia and Sunni factions, Iran and many Arab states and possibly between Israel and an Iran-inspired, proxy-led coalition. Such a war would have profound consequence for the region and the world. For example, Europe is particularly vulnerable to loss of energy supplies from the region and to the further de-stabilisation of its societies by AQ/ISIS-inspired Islamic fundamentalism. Moreover, key Western allies such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are facing profound risks from the current instability that show no signs of abating.
An important first step is to understand the cause of the current conflicts. Arab elites talk much nonsense about the brief colonial period as a way to avoid the consequences of their misgovernment. However, Europeans must bear some responsibility. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in May 1916 the Anglo-French Sykes-Picod agreement was struck. Under the terms of this agreement the Middle East was carved up to serve British and French interests via a series of ‘protectorates’ none of which was strong enough to dominate the region, but all of which inherited ancient disputes and grievances. During the period of de-colonisation in the 1950s and early 1960s it appeared that Arab nationalism would become the expression of an emerging ‘Arab nation’. However, defeats by Israel in 1967 and 1973 and the perception on the Arab Street that Arab governments were in the pocket of a West was inimical to Arab interests enabled the steady rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the creed of the Caliphate as an alternative to the ‘failed’ state. The rise of fundamentalism was further enabled by the kingdom of Saudi Arabia which sought to buy AQ elements off by funding Salafi jihadism both in the region and beyond. The collapse of Syria and the Shia-Sunni divide in Iraq created the conditions for Islamic fundamentalism to mutate into ISIS which now poses a threat to all the states in the region and many beyond.
Achieving a new political settlement will require Herculean leadership and strategic patience, neither of which the West and its leaders possess in abundance. Morevore, there would be many barriers in the way of any such strategy towards such an end: There is no grand strategic political vision for the region; little or no strategic unity of effort and purpose between the US and its European allies; little or no political ownership of any such strategy at the highest levels in the region, the White House and/or European chancelleries; and whilst there is some focus on the ‘tactical’ challenges posed by ISIS (such as trafficking), there is little or no political desire to consider the bigger strategic picture. Worse, behind the headlines there is a profound lack of willingness by leaders on both sides of the Atlantic to properly engage political capital, strategy thinking and/or invest in a stable Middle East.
Therefore, what ‘strategy’ exists is essentially a ‘containment’ strategy. Indeed, in spite of air strikes ISIS is being made to appear stronger than it is and thus able to exploit divisions by choosing when, where and how to act. Sadly, it is inadequate ‘strategy’ made worse by elite European ‘political correctness’ concerning the defence of Europe’s legitimate interests in the region. The situation is further complicated by the new geopolitics and the growing tensions between China, Russia and the West preventing the drafting of political strategy in the UN Security Council.
However, for all the above the status quo is not an option. Therefore, the West must act. If not the current struggle will see one or a combination of the following outcomes: some form of Caliphate in parts of the region which will lead to a protracted struggle (possible and extremely dangerous); some form of hybrid Caliphate and/or hybrid states all of which embrace Islamic fundamentalism (extremely dangerous); states propped up by the West (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, PA) the elites of which are despised by their populations subject to AQ, ISILSpropaganda and a range of Iranian-inspired proxies (very plausible, simply postpones collapse of state structure); and/or a general Middle Eastern war which pits Iran against the Gulf States, but which also includes Israel in de facto support of the Gulf States (increasingly likely and very dangerous).
The strategic aim must be re-furbish the state in the Middle East, with the focus some form of political stability in the Levant. Thankfully, most people do not want to live under a Caliphate and loyalty to the state (if not elites) remains strong.
Therefore, the Global Coalition needs a new political mandate that would see the following: re-doubled efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian struggle via some form of two-state solution (yes, I know); Iran locked out of much of the Middle East through the blunting of its proxies and a carrot-and-stick approach to dealing with Tehran that combines containment and encouragement (the Nuclear Framework Agreement is a first step); the reinforcement of friendly Middle Eastern states with aid and development and support for security sector reform (Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, PA) and with political support (Gulf States) as a bulwark against a general collapse; the discreet promotion of political reforms; support for the Arab League to create/install a new regime in Damascus; and enhanced support for an enhanced Arab League to defeat of ISIS. The proposed Rapid Reaction Force is a good first step but an overt and early victory is needed.
As I said at the top of this blog many of my proposals will seem utterly naïve to seasoned Middle East watchers. However, it is precisely the ambition implicit in such a strategy that will be needed if the Middle East and much of North Africa is not pose a growing threat to itself and all of us. Efforts thus far have simply not been up to the strategic challenge. Critically, the scenarios and the challenges outlined above capture both the scope and the nature of the current struggle and if not properly gripped and quickly will lead inevitably to a general Middle Eastern war. The most that can be hoped for from current ‘political’ strategy is a Middle East that remains inherently instable. Given the proliferation of dangerous technologies the prospect that such a struggle will be increasingly shaped by enemies – state and non-state – means the current policy of containment will in time be doomed to fail.
The bottom-line is this; all of the conflicts in the Middle East and their consequences are joined up. it is about time that the response of the 'international community' (however so defined) is also better joined up.
The bottom-line is this; all of the conflicts in the Middle East and their consequences are joined up. it is about time that the response of the 'international community' (however so defined) is also better joined up.
Machiavelli once said: “All courses of action are risky. So prudence is not in avoiding danger (it is impossible) but calculating risk and acting decisively. Make mistakes of ambition, not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do things, not the strength to suffer”.
Friday, 15 May 2015
Alphen, Netherlands. 15 May. The Brexit debate is now fully underway with lies and complete nonsense already being told on both sides of the argument about the ‘costs’ and ‘benefits’ of a British exit from the EU. For the record the political and economic costs to both Britain and the EU of a Brexit would be significant. However, with common political sense both Britain and the EU could emerge strengthened by a new relationship in which everybody felt more comfortable about the relationship and indeed the real issue at hand for most British people – the growing distance between power, principle and people the EU implies. Therefore, given the stakes it is also worth reminding ourselves where modern ‘Europe’ really began.
Speak to the Brussels elite and they have very clear views on where ‘Europe’ began. ‘Europe’ was the brainchild of an ‘enlightened’, mainly French elite. Given that French elites really do do elitism very well their Brussels descendants claim it was the likes of Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann who inspired ‘Europe’. They clearly established the ethos of the EU we know and not-so-love today; an enarquiste, top-down, elite-led, ‘we know better’ culture that has hung around Brussels ever since like a fart trapped in a duvet. Indeed, Brussels elitism and the Euro-federalism it underpins is the one thing that really worries me and which if not checked will in time destroy the EU, and possibly force me to vote for a Brexit.
However, ‘Europe’ was not born of or among elites. ‘Europe’ began on VE Day seventy years ago in Dulverton, small Somerset town in the lee of Exmoor, on the south-western peninsula of England. My father hails from Dulverton. On 8 May, 1945, then some twelve years old, he was attending Tiverton Grammar School. Just before midday the Headmaster ordered the entire school to gather in the school hall. A small table was then brought in draped in the Union flag and placed on the imposing stage and a radio placed upon it. At midday precisely the clipped, dulcet upper-class tones of BBC presenter John Snagg came on air to announce that the war in Europe was at an end.
The headmaster then announced that the school was closed and ordered all the pupils home. Now, you might think this all well and good. In fact this caused a problem for my father as his train to Dulverton, the wonderfully-named Exe Valley Rattler, which ran on a line long-since closed, was not due to depart until 5pm. Thankfully, a lorry from Dulverton saw mill happened to be driving along the road which linked Tiverton Grammar School to the station. The driver saw my father, picked him and some other Dulverton lads up, and drove them back home.
As the lorry crossed the River Barle into Dulverton my father heard the town band striking up on the steps of Dulverton Town Hall. My grandfather had already hung the flag of the Royal Navy outside their house (he had recently been invalided out of the Navy having been sunk twice during the war). A crowd was gathering on Dulverton High Street and people began to dance. However, and here is where ‘Europe’ was born, it was not just the English who were dancing. My father recalls how Italian and German prisoners-of-war, who had been working in the fields around Dulverton, were allowed to come into the town and join in the festivities. Soon people of many European nationalities were dancing together in a small English town; enemies one moment, friends the next. This is where ‘Europe’ began and it was a Europe of the people.
Pain was still everywhere and deeply felt. Indeed, my father also told me how in 1944 my great-uncle Walter left from Dulverton to rejoin his ship, the destroyer HMS Quail. Four weeks later the Quail struck a mine in the Mediterranean and my uncle went down with his ship. Tragically, my grandmother had seen Walter, her brother, on a train across the platform at Tiverton Station. However, it pulled out just before she could say hello. She never saw him again. She too danced on those steps with her fellow Europeans that fateful day.
It is not economics but governance that is the defining factor for me in the forthcoming Brexit vote. And, it is not 2017 but 2037 that really concerns me. My bottom-line is this; I am a European but I really do not want to live in some form of super-elitiste European super-state in which the European Commission claims (but is not) to be MY government, the European Parliament claims (but is not) to be MY parliament, and Britain is reduced to being little more than an aged member of a much-reduced European Council/Senate; a European version of the pointless and toothless House of Lords.
Therefore, end Euro-federalism and the threat to my freedom and representation it entails and I will vote for Britain to stay in the EU. ‘Europe’ really began on the steps of Dulverton Town Hall as an act of reconciliation between ordinary people from different European countries. It is precisely there ‘Europe’ should and must remain.
Wednesday, 13 May 2015
Alphen, Netherlands. 13 May. The Eastern Partnership is an attempt by the EU to enhance stability on the EU’s borders by assisting Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus in the areas of prosperity, trade, travel, anti-corruption and the just rule of law. Last week I attended and spoke at a fascinating conference in beautiful Budapest at the Central European University entitled “Eastern Partnership and its Prospects”, which had been jointly organised by my good friend Imants Lietgis, the former Latvian Defence Minister and Latvian Ambassador to Hungary. At the same time I enjoyed real Hungarian goulash soup for the first time and heartily recommend it. Goulash soup basically involves lumps of meat floating around in a clear broth.
Regular followers of my strato-dump know that the focus is all matters strategic. For much of the time that involves things that go bang and which burn huge amounts of tax-payers money normally far away and very usually very rapidly. Important though armed forces are they are not the real stuff of ‘strategy’. The real stuff (or should that be “The Right Stuff”) is the kind of engagement for which the Eastern Partnership was designed back in May 2009 when it was launched in Prague.
The Eastern Partnership goes right to the very heart of the community concept of international relations the EU pioneered and reflects and built on a fundamental principle of self-determination and the right of free, sovereign people to make free sovereign choices. All well and good? Well, no actually. There are three main problems with the Eastern Partnership and they can be thus summarised; Russia, the Eastern Partners, and EU member-states.
Let me deal with Russia first. All six of the Eastern Partners sit in and around Russia’s western and southern borders. At the heart of Russia’s current grumpiness is a fundamental clash of ideals. Whereas the EU seeks to support partners in the belief that whether or not a state is an EU member, aspirant or partner all European states should be part of a community of states in which standards of governance, rule of law and development are aspired to collectively. Moscow rejects this idea of community, believing instead that all the Eastern Partners, as former members of the Soviet Union, are firmly in Russia’s sphere of influence and should stay that way. Now, Moscow has created the Eurasian Economic Union to at least give a fig-leaf of legitimacy to its power ambitions, but Russia’s credo is essentially one of power does as power will – Realpolitik.
And then there are the Eastern Partners. Armenia and Azerbaijan are on the verge of war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Georgia has a large Russia military presence on its territory and fought and lost a war with Russia in August 2008. Moldova faces immense challenges from corruption and the proximity of serious criminals to government, Ukraine is being dismembered by the Russians at present (still) and Kiev itself is doing nothing like enough to combat the endemic corruption, and Belarus is well Belarus; a one-man, one-vote, once dictatorship. All six face huge problems and all six seem unwilling to do much about them.
And then there is the EU and its member-states. During the conference I suggested that in parallel with the Eastern Partnership the EU needed a Western Partnership. Attend any meeting in Central and Eastern Europe and one thing rapidly becomes apparent – the conflict-crushing soul of the EU, the very reason for which it was created, has moved east since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Western Europe is tired and sees itself as broke and has little or no appetite for the kind of grand stabilisation implicit in the Eastern Partnership.
However, the central and eastern Europeans do not exactly inspire confidence in the fulfilment of a Partnership that was in many ways their own creation. During the conference I also suggested that now is the time for them to lead and the Eastern Partnership is precisely the issue on which to lead. Sadly, my idea crashed and burned amid the petty splits and divisions between the Central and Eastern Europeans that were all too plain to see at the conference.
So, the Eastern Partnership has become the strategic equivalent of goulash soup – a few meaty bits floating in a sea of political indifference - big vision, little or no political substance. In other words yet another of those grand strategic EU initiatives that do make strategic sense, launched at an expensive summit, but which are then routinely undermined by politics, a lack of resolve and an absence of cash.
This is a real shame because at heart the Eastern Partnership offers a real alternative to the power cynicism of Moscow which if unchecked will in time spread like a contagion across much of Central and Eastern Europe. So, in spite of the forthcoming Riga summit the Eastern Partnership looks like becoming yet another strategic EU initiative that raises hope only for it to be dashed on the rocky shores of Europe’s own political cynicism.
Make no mistake the Eastern Partnership is the twenty-first century equivalent of the European Coal and Steel Community that way back in 1950 began the long road to post-war European reconciliation and hope. It also sits the front-line between hope and cynicism.
It was an honour to attend and to learn. The soup was good too.
Monday, 11 May 2015
Alphen, Netherlands. 12 May. Walk round Rome on a normal day and the consequences of mass uncontrolled migration is plain for all to see. Young men seeking to flog chintzy souvenirs hang around every piazza. The BBC said recently that are some 500,000 migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean, with some 500,000 people believed to be on the move towards Europe. According to the EU 80% of these people are economic migrants seeking a better life, with only 20% refugees from conflict zones, with 80% of those travelling young men. Yesterday, the European Commission, on the heels of the British election, moved to impose quotas of migrants on each EU member-state. And, whilst EU foreign policy supremo Federica Mogherini was in New York trying to get the UN Security Council to allow the forces of EU member-states to interdict traffickers close to the Libyan coast, there is no strategy worthy of the name to deal with this exodus, even under existing international humanitarian law. Indeed, the EU ‘policy’ can be best summarised as “don’t come, but if you do stay”. What must be done?
Grasp the scope of the challenge: According to Global Strategic Trends 2014 the world’s population will grow from 7.2bn people today to between 8.4bn and 10.4bn by 2045. 97% of that growth will occur in the developing world with 70% in the world’s nine poorest countries. Driven by demographic pressure, conflicts, globalisation and organised transnational crime the world is witnessing the first wave of strategic mass migration with profound and destabilising structural implications for geopolitics and societies. And, such migration is likely only to increase. Indeed, with states collapsing and in distress across North Africa, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and much of Asia the imperative of people to move will grow rapidly and massively.
Support front-line states: 87% of all refugees are in the developing world and although massive Europe’s challenge is only part of a global mass movement. Moreover, whilst there are some 230,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Europe, there are still some 3m still in the region placing a huge strain on already-weakened countries such as Jordan and Lebanon. There are already 1.1m registered Syrians in Lebanon and some 0.5m unregistered. Syrians now represent some 30% of the population and many Lebanese fear this massive influx will destabilise an already fragile state. This week Lebanon will impose visas on Syrians. Supporting front-line states with aid and expertise must be a priority.
Render asylum fit for purpose: Again, 80% of those making the perilous journey are not refugees but people seeking a better life and whilst no-one can blame people for that most basic of human instincts the sheer numbers involved such an exodus must be controlled. Sadly, there is little or no control. However, if host populations are to accept those with a right to stay they must be confident that those with no right to stay are returned to their country of origin. This is not the case at present as too often lawyers can use existing legislation to frustrate humane return policy. Those third countries who refuse to take back their nationals and who receive EU/national aid must understand the consequences of a refusal to co-operate.
Recognise migration as a Europe-wide challenge: It is utterly unfair to expect hard-pressed countries like Spain, Greece and Italy to cope with such flows on their own. As regular readers of this blog know I am wary of more Europe, but mass migration is one area which needs a common European position. Relations between EU member-states are already suffering due to a lack of either policy or effective enforcement. Italy is no longer finger-printing many new arrivals who simply move untracked to other parts of Europe. France, which under EU rules should be dealing with the migrants seeking to enter Britain from Calais, is threatening to push UK border controls back to Dover to force the British to deal with the problem. Britain refuses to deal with many of the so-called ‘pull factors’ which make the UK such an attractive destination. Equitable resettlement across Europe is needed to avoid beggar-thy-neighbour national immigration policies.
Make agencies work together: A critical element is the interdiction and prosecution of human trafficking gangs. Europe’s attempt to deal with the traffickers has thus far been lamentable. Moreover, often migrants refuse to identify their country of origin. However, language and dialect cannot be hidden. The EU and its member-states must therefore establish a system for quickly identifying the country of origin to help better distinguish between genuine asylum seekers and economic migrants. Schengen Area external border controls must also be strengthened by in turn strengthening Frontex, which is responsible for assisting EU member-states with an external EU border. At present Frontex has only 300 employees in Warsaw. Much greater effort must also be made to ensure Europol and Frontex work together effectively together which is not the case today.
Recognise the link between immigration and security policy: The focus of late has rightly been on the need to prevent people drowning. Indeed, it is a disgrace, worse a preventable tragedy, that so many people are losing their lives crossing the Med. However, given the huge cohort of young men amongst the migrants European governments must also take seriously the threat posed to European societies by such immigration. In February 12 Christian migrants were cast overboard by Islamists. With ISIS pressing Europe’s borders it would be absurd and dangerous if Europe’s leaders (again) refused to see the link between immigration policy and security policy.
European politicians and their electorates are both wrong about the exodus. Politicians are wrong to wish the issue away. Electorates are wrong to believe there are any quick fixes. The essential dilemma for Europeans is how to maintain humanitarian principles, and at the same time protect societies from the extremism, social instability, wage suppression and crime which unfortunately such mass migrations also spawn. If this dilemma is not addressed then the whole idea of free movement within Europe could also fail. Free movement within Europe was sold to the people on the basis that effective controls would be in place to prevent illegal free movement into Europe. The current ‘policy’ of ‘don’t come but if you do stay’ not only encourages mass illegal migration, it risks breaking the last vestige of trust on this matter between Europe’s leaders and Europe’s led.
Managing mass migration is a strategic issue and as such must be dealt with strategically and honestly through the proper application of existing law. Mass migration must lead to mass returns.