hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 8 February 2016

Nuclear Pyongyang: China MUST Act

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 February. If North Korea is not stopped Pyongyang will develop a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile. US Secretary of State John Kerry warned North Korea that the 7 February launch of a ‘communications satellite’ would have “serious consequences”. His remarks were echoed by the foreign ministers of two of the other permanent members of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Britain and France, and even Russia condemned the launch. In diplo-speak ‘serious consequences’ normally means an increased ‘pressure strategy’, which in turn normally means more economic and other targeted sanctions. However, just after Kerry spoke Beijing simply expressed ‘regret’ at the launch. What are the facts, the strategic implications of the launch, what can be done, and why must if fall to China to act?

First, the facts. In recent years Pyongyang has tested a new generation of short, intermediate, and sea-based missiles. Yesterday, at 0939 hours Japanese time, the North Koreans went one step further and according to US Strategic Command successfully launched a long-range, three-stage rocket into space. According to the US Pyongyang appears to have successfully put a satellite into earth orbit, whilst the main body of the rocket crashed into the South China Sea having travelled some 2000kms down range. The launch represents a significant advance on the part of Pyongyang in its efforts to develop the ‘KN-series’ intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a design range in excess of 6000kms.

North Korea is following two development tracks. Track one is designed to develop, test, and eventually deploy a uranium-based fission atomic warhead, similar to the devices dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War Two. If North Korea is to be believed (a big ‘if’ indeed) Pyongyang is also trying to develop a far more destructive plutonium-based fusion device. Track two was evident yesterday with in effect the test of an ICBM that could in time carry a nuclear warhead with the potential to strike anywhere in Asia-Pacific, including the West Coast of the United States.

However, North Korea also has some way to go before it can demonstrably claim to possess such a capability. Indeed, Pyongyang has yet to resolve two major technical difficulties. One difficulty concerns the miniaturisation of the fission-device to enable it to fit atop a missile payload in the form of a nuclear warhead. The North Koreans have now it would appear mastered the the technology that would enable a warhead to successfully separate from the missile ‘bus’ at the appropriate point on a ballistic trajectory. However, it would also appear they have yet to master the technology needed to enable a warhead to successfully re-enter the earth’s upper atmosphere. Equally, North Korea has clearly developed an indigenous programme capable of getting the programme this far.  It is thus reasonable to assume that unless halted Pyongyang will indeed at some point in the not-too-distant future overcome the remaining difficulties.

What would be the strategic implications? Last month President Obama said that North Korea would eventually collapse. Since the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) the underlying assumption of all states, be they a party to the treaty or not, has been that all states share a degree of rationality. Indeed, different though they might be all states are all or in some form rational state actors, even if they are implacable enemies such as Iran and Israel. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is most decidedly not a rational state actor.  And, if President Obama is right the combination of a state about to collapse, an irrational leadership indifferent to the suffering it creates, and armed with a range of nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles poses perhaps the gravest threat to the international order.

Multilateral action has consistently been too little, too late. The so-called Six Party Talks created to deal with Pyongyang following the latter’s 2003 with withdrawal from the NPT are completely stymied. One need only look at the membership to understand why; the US, China, Japan, Russian Federation, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and the Republic of Korea. Indeed, Pyongyang has successfully driven an ICBM-sized wedge between the already fractious members of the Group, even if Moscow condemned Sunday’s launch.

Why must China act? If Beijing fails to take action a nuclear arms race in China’s backyard beckons. Japan could become a nuclear power relatively quickly, and South Korea has long hinted it would also do so.  Given that both India and Pakistan are already nuclear powers the prospect of a nuclear-armed twenty-first century Asia-Pacific, that would look much nineteenth century Europe, simply does not bear thinking about.

Pyongyang also threatens to destroy China’s carefully-crafted strategic calculations. Beijing has stated that China is in some form of strategic competition with the United States. However, it is also reasonable to assume that China still sees that competition from the viewpoint of a rational actor seeking to exert its power and influence over its region by striking a balance between economic, diplomatic and military power in pursuit of what it sees as its own essentially rational interests.

Indeed, if successful North Korea could trigger an arms race in East Asia of which both China and the US would rapidly lose control. Indeed, if there is a ‘strategy’ behind Pyongyang’s thinking beyond regime-survival nuclear blackmail chaos might well be it. Such an arms race would threaten global peace and not just the regional tinderbox that is East Asia. Moreover, if the nuclear genie escapes from the NPT bottle then there is no telling the extent or pace of subsequent nuclear proliferation. The technology is after all at least fifty years old.    

Secretary Kerry also said yesterday that the US would uphold its, “…ironclad commitment to the security and defence of its allies,” primarily Japan and South Korea, but also other states in the region. There is every reason to take Kerry at his word. However, reading between the lines of diplo-speak implicit in Kerry’s statement is also a call on China to stop Pyongyang. China certainly is the only power with any real influence over North Korea. Seventy percent of what income Pyongyang generates comes from China and it is fair to say Kim Jung Un’s regime is in effect propped up by China.

Therefore, China must demonstrate its strategic bone fides. Specifically, President Xi Jingping must prove to the world that Beijing will be a responsible world leader in the twenty-first century and move quickly to stop Kim Jung-Un and his nuclear ambitions, or face the terrifying consequences of a failure to act.


Julian Lindley-French        

Friday, 5 February 2016

Syria: Is Russia in League with Islamic State?

Alphen, Netherlands. 5 February. Two events took place yesterday that revealed the tragedy, the hopelessness, and the sheer cynicism that is the war in Syria. In London donors pledged some $10 million of further humanitarian support for the 4m Syrians displaced beyond Syria’s borders. Whether or not wretched Syrians will ever see that money is a moot point. Indeed, previous experience suggests there is every likelihood that having pledged funds many of the states represented in London yesterday will simply not cough up. Indeed, the whole event had the feeling of the League of Nations revisited, a council of despair, a grand side-show to the reality that Western powers simply have no real idea how to bring about a political end to a war that threatens to propel over 2m more asylum seekers and migrants towards Europe.

The second event revealed the sheer cynicism of President Putin’s Moscow and his clear order of strategic priorities. As the London conference met the putative ‘peace’ talks taking place very tentatively at the UN in Geneva had to be ‘suspended’. The suspension took place because even as the delegate were sitting down in the old League of Nations building the Russians and their Syrian allies were launching a punishing attack on Syria’s largest and once most beautiful city, Aleppo. It is now clear that both Putin and Assad had used the preparations for the peace talks as cover to build-up the Syrian Army, and to get the Russian Air Force in position to unleash the latest and continuing barrage on Aleppo.

When the report came out in London last month into the role the Russian state had played in the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko one of the arguments the British Government put forward to justify its pusillanimous response was that Russia was a vital partner in resolving the war in Syria. Surely, finally, hopefully, after yesterday’s events, London and other European capitals must finally have woken up to the stark reality; Russia is not is Syria to partner the West, but to confound it. Sadly, don’t bet on it.

Russia is in Syria to bolster the Assad regime at any cost and to ensure Moscow’s influence and prestige in the region is bolstered as part of a new illiberal axis.  Russia is in Syria to preserve both its air and naval base to ensure Moscow can extend its diplomatic and military influence across the Middle East and far across the Mediterranean. Russia is in Syria to humiliate the West and by so doing demonstrate that it is better for states in the region to be a friend of Russia and its satellites than the weak, vacillating, incompetent West. Russia is in Syria to heap more pressure on a Europe that is unable to take even the most basic action to defend its own borders. 

Taken together yesterday’s two events reveal the contemporary strategic character of European and Russian leaders. Strangled by their own strategic political correctness, incapable of decisive leadership, with a United States otherwise engaged in its presidential elections, 'Europe' wrings its hands by holding big conferences that do little to move Syria towards peace. Yesterday’s London conference whilst worthy smacked of impotent leaders talking impotently about matters that whilst important simply avoid the real question; what must be done not just to defeat IS but to stop the war in Syria which now threatens to engulf the region? 

Meanwhile, utterly cynical and determined to use every event however tragic, and every device however deadly, President Putin’s Russia appears to know no depths to which it will sink in its efforts to divide, distract, destabilise, and damage the West, Europe in particular. Moreover, Russia's actions also suggest a further cynical Moscow gambit; for a time at least Russia is prepared to be in implicit league with Islamic State. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines being ‘in league’, as “an agreement made for mutual protection or assistance or prosecution of common interests, parties (whether states or individuals) to such compact”. Russia is clearly in 'compact' with President Assad against non-Islamist Syrian rebels. However, at least until Moscow has successfully confounded Western plans to remove Assad from power it looks to all intents and purposes that Russia may well also be in a tacit compact with IS. By its actions alone Moscow clearly believes confounding the West, and the forced driving of more desperate people towards Europe, as being of more importance to the Russian national interest than defeating IS.    

There was one other event that took place yesterday which should concentrate Western minds. The CIA announced that it now estimates there are some 6500 IS fighters in Libya. Indeed, the growing power of IS in North Africa could well prevent the stabilisation of Libya and thus help propel yet more migrants towards Europe. Clearly, Russia sees such instability on Europe’s southern flank as also being favourable to Moscow’s zero sum view of international politics. Why? Because so long as European leaders are mired in the chaos of mass irregular migration from Europe's southern flank they will be sufficiently distracted to miss and/or ignore Moscow’s real strategy; to re-establish a Russian sphere of influence over Europe’s eastern flank.

It is a tragic irony that the putative Syrian peace talks are taking place in Geneva’s old League of Nations building. It was in that very building that Western powers back in the 1920s and 1930s tried and failed to assuage Tojo’s Japan, Mussolini’s Italy, and of course, Hitler’s Nazis. And we all know what happened next… 


Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Why I Reject Brexit

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 February. This is not an easy blog to write but written it must be. Indeed, my decision may well surprise some. In fact, it has come as somewhat of a surprise to me. However, after much careful consideration and a year of travelling and talking with friends and colleagues across Europe I have decided I will not be voting for Brexit.

It has nothing to do with the political chicanery of yesterday. Donald Tusk’s long letter to members of the European Council is blandly entitled: “a new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union”.  Read it and three things immediately become apparent. First, there will be no reform of the EU per se under the plan. Second, with a few window dressing minor adjustments most of the so-called ‘new’ arrangements actually exist under existing treaty provisions. Third, the agreement confirms that Britain will not at any point be part of EU structures of which it is already not a part, most notably the Euro, Schengen, and ever closer political union. In other words, this agreement is a least possible of offer agreement to get a line of least resistance politician out of a domestic political corner entirely of his own making. Not only has David Cameron missed a very real opportunity to show real leadership and push a real EU reform agenda, history will now judge him as one of Britain’s lesser prime ministers.   

There will certainly be days when I will regret this decision as there is much about the EU I really do not like at all, most notably the threat to democracy posed by Brussels and ever closer union. However, while I remain a confirmed EU-sceptic I am not nor have I ever been a Euro-sceptic. Indeed, I have long been firm in my belief that it is vital Europeans work closely together in a dangerous world that is getting more dangerous by the day. Nor am I particularly bothered by some of the issues that excite many of the ‘outers’. For example, I see freedom of movement within the EU migration as one of the very freedoms for which Britain fought the Soviets during the Cold War. 

As a strategist, analyst and historian, some say a good one, I simply believe that this is not the moment for Britain to leave the EU. Moreover, even though I am only an individual British and EU citizen, which means I count for very little in today’s EU, I still believe that all of us must at times show leadership in the interest not only of my country, but of the community of which it is a part – be it within the EU or without. 

The simple truth is that I am confronted by a complex set of interacting realities from which no clear course of action is apparent, in a strategic environment which is markedly more dangerous than back in 2010 when I called for Britain to leave the EU.  At such moments the good strategist weighs up the factors, considers them over the medium to longer-term, and then relies on strategic judgement to reach a decision.

The critical strategic judgements supporting my decision are based on the following factors:

The integrity of the United Kingdom: It is clear that the UK remains a fragile political edifice in the wake of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. If England voted to leave the EU on what now looks likely to be a 23 June Brexit referendum and Scotland did not, the separatists in the Scottish Nationalist Party would be again call for Scottish independence. For those of us who believe it vital the UK endure for both strategic and political reasons the SNP regime in Edinburgh now empowered with full devolution must be given both time and opportunity to fail politically. 

The shifting balance of power within Europe: In December 2013 the Centre for Economic and Business Research suggested that by 2030 Britain could emerge as Europe’s strongest economic power. Britain is already on track to regain its position as Europe’s strongest and most capable military power. The CEBR position may well be over-stated and maybe ever-so-slightly hubristic.  However, it is clear that fears of German hegemony have been over-stated. Germany’s poor leadership of Europe’s now many crises and the eclipsing of Chancellor Merkel’s political star, allied to the inevitable decline of an unreformable France that simply wants more ‘Europe’ to save itself from itself, clearly point to a shift of power within the EU. If correct the critical future power relationship within the EU will be between London and Berlin.  

Pressure for EU reform will grow:  In his September 2015 “State of the Union” address Jean-Claude Juncker said that in 2017 the EU will begin the long-process towards a new treaty. Juncker clearly thinks a crisis hit EU will automatically lead to Europeans wanting for more ‘Europe’ and thus less democracy. In fact, a new treaty is more likely lead to a balancing of powers within the EU between common and inter-governmental structures in favour of the latter. The irony for the British is that whether they vote for or against Brexit Britain will probably end up in the same political place.

The end of political union: The dream of euro-federalists such as Juncker have been dealt a real blow by the Eurozone, Russia, and migration crises. His efforts to find ‘common’ solutions, i.e. more power for Brussels, have repeatedly founded on two simple facts of European life: a) there is growing EU-scepticism across Europe; and b) a majority of Europeans and their leaders still remain firmly wedded to their nation-states. There are now clearly limits to just how much power Europe’s states are willing to hand over to Brussels. 

The Eurozone v non-Eurozone: When I called for Britain to leave the EU back in 2010 it was because I believed at the time that the only way to save the Euro was for the Eurozone to deepen economic, political and fiscal union. Those outside the Eurozone I feared would be forced to pay without having any say in which the EU and the Eurozone were effectively one and the same. In fact, efforts to deepen the Eurozone have proven to be extremely complex and difficult causing much resentment amongst the taxpayers of the six western European states who in effect have to pay. Six years on and it is clear that the EU is dividing into a Eurozone and non-Eurozone bloc. Britain’s relative power if used properly (a big ‘if’ given the poor quality of Britain’s leaders) should ensure London emerges to lead the non-Eurozone bloc. Power far more than any empty language in a hollow agreement will afford the City of London the protections the British seek from the ‘ambitions’ of the Eurozone bloc.   
Democracy, sovereignty & subsidiarity: The Dutch have a saying, “Europe where necessary, the states where possible”. English political culture has always rightly distrusted distant political power. Born of the likes of Burke, Locke and Mill the English (and dare I say Scottish – Hume &Smith?) have traditionally mistrusted continental Colbertian grands dessins which always afford excessive power to distant executives at the expense of local legislatures. In alliance with partners Britain’s power and influence could help protect all Europeans from the unwarranted ambitions of ‘we know best’ politicised Eurocrats, euro-judges, and officials at the European Central Bank.

Political distraction: The run-up to the September 2014 Scottish referendum effectively took Britain strategically off-line for two full years. Had the Scots voted to quit the UK London would still today be mired in squabbles about the minutiae of disengagement and independence that would still be distracting London from big strategy. These squabbles would also have created deep mistrust between the English and Scots that no amount of political blandishments could have hidden. If Britain votes for Brexit not only will London and Brussels also become mired in an extremely complex set of negotiations it will caused rancour between Britain and others at a time when Europeans must together face major crises.

Solidarity: The other day I was standing in the snow not far from the Russian border in Lithuania. I had already begun to shift my position on Brexit in the wake of the November 2015 Paris massacre and in the face of the challenges posed by Russia, Islamic State, and the migration crisis, none of which existed in 2010. Today, I simply think it inconceivable for Britain to be distracted or indeed to distract others from dealing with a set of challenges that could all too easily become existential. Indeed, in the final analysis my need to stand firmly with my Baltic and French friends, and indeed my Greek, Italian and other under pressure European friends, outweighs my concerns about the future governance of Europe and Britain’s place therein.  My fear is that Brexit could critically undermine all-important strategic unity of effort and purpose and in turn damage NATO and wider transatlantic security relationship at a critical moment.

There is one final reason why I will not be voting for Brexit. Britain does not quit. Throughout Britain’s history London has never run away from a fight over who controls Europe. It is simply of too great importance to Britain. Phillip II of Spain, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Kaiser Bill and Hitler were all seen off because England and then Britain stood firm.  Therefore, precisely because Europeans today face serious dangers from without Europe and serious question within Europe I believe it vital Britain stand firm and stand tall to deal with them. As Britain has always done and I hope always will.

To sum up, I am rejecting Brexit precisely because Europe is in crisis. The decision I have made is a big one and a part of me really dislikes the decision I have made. Moreover, I have absolutely no doubt that once over the stress of break-up my old, great country possessed of the world’s fifth biggest economy, and a top five military, could and would flourish. Equally, I am also fully aware that I am gambling on Britain’s future. It may well be that the moment the British people vote to remain in the EU Brussels will seek to tear up the agreement and behave as if nothing had happened to challenge their cherished goal of a European super-state. However, I am also willing to bet for all the reasons I have outlined above that is not going to happen.

What really matters is that my important decision is a decision arrived at freely by a free-born Englishman. Henceforth, I will fight in all and any way I can to ensure the EU is properly reformed so that my birth right is protected. No-one has got to me, I have not lost my political nerve, nor am I seeking to assuage political masters as I have none, nor do I seek to gain opportunistically from this decision. However, on balance (and it is on balance) I am now of the opinion that if Britain really wants to reform the EU it must stay within it and fight for it.  


Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 1 February 2016

Why Britain Stop Being a Poodle and Became a Whore

Donald, “Prime Minister, would you keep the UK in the EU for five billion euros?” David, “My goodness, Mr Tusk…we would have to discuss terms of course”. Donald, “Would you keep the UK in the EU for five euros?” David: “Mr Tusk, what kind of politician do you think I am?” Donald, “Prime Minister, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price”.  
Dinner in Downing Street between David Cameron and Donald Tusk, 31 January, 2016 after the story about Winston Churchill and a particularly flexible socialite.

Alphen, Netherlands.1 February. Londonistan, Londongrad, Lonjing. With David Cameron and Donald Tusk now negotiating a form of words to mask London’s Great EU Climb-down it is reasonable to ask when and why Britain stopped being a poodle and became a whore? Now, I do not want to tar the world’s oldest profession with the untrustworthy brush of the world’s second oldest, so a precise definition here is vital. A whore is a man or woman who sells their body to the highest bidder in return for immediate sexual gratification. A whore state is one in which its leaders sell the body politic to the highest bidder for immediate financial and/or political gratification at the expense of the long-term interests of the country, its friends, and its allies.

In January 1942 the Americans effectively established de facto control over British foreign and security policy. Over the following sixty-five years the British became so dependent on American leadership, and indeed money, that London became little more than a gilded, collared bouffant poodle that the Americans occasionally took out for walks. It was called the ‘special relationship’. Still, at least Washington for the most part treated London with respect, more respect than on many occasions the British deserved. No more. Britain has to a significant extent abandoned that relationship in favour of a new set of financial relationships with illiberal powers that can only be described as a form of strategic whoredom. Indeed, under David Cameron London has effectively abandoned any pretence to foreign policy principle in favour of short-term cynicism, manipulation of public opinion, and narrow mercantilism. Three recent events testify to Britain’s loss of virtue.

Londonistan: Parliament will soon have to vacate Gilbert Scott’s magnificent 1839 Palace of Westminster as a massive programme of refurbishment begins that could last up to six years and cost £4bn.  One of the buildings ear-marked to host Parliament during this ‘interregnum’ is Richmond House, some 100 metres from Westminster and slap-bang in the middle of Whitehall.  The problem for traditionally boozy MPs is that alcohol is to be banned in Richmond House. This is because in 2014 Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne quietly handed the building over to Middle Eastern investors under the terms of an Islamic bond, otherwise known as a sukkuk. One of the terms of the lease is that the building must operate under sharia law. Consequently, the presence and consumption of alcohol will be banned to MPs should Richmond House be used as an alternative Parliament. Just how many other British institutions now operate under such a ridiculous regime?

Londongrad: The publication of the report of a full public inquiry into the 2006 murder of Russian émigré Alexander Litvinenko by Russian agents should have been a landmark moment in British foreign policy.  At the very least Cameron should have immediately moved to expel the Russian ambassador, many of the now Cold War level of Russian spies operating in London, and sought to increase sanctions against the Putin regime. Instead, apart from a risible statement by Home Secretary Therese May in Parliament, Cameron did all he could to kill the story and quickly. Why? Simple. Russian oligarchs have invested billions in the City of London over the past twenty years. President Putin controls the oligarchs, ergo President Putin controls the City of London. Even though the Russian economy slid by some 8% last year Putin increased defence spending by some 28% safe in the belief that for all the rhetoric to the contrary he has Britain by the financial balls. Will Britain ever stand up to Russian bullying?

Lonjing:  The culmination of President Xi Jingping’s October 2015 state visit to Britain was some £40bn worth of trade deals.  Known as the Grand Kowtow under the deal a Chinese state-owned company is to be allowed to build and control three nuclear power plants across England. MI5 was so concerned that Britain’s spies went public and warned that London could never be sure what software would be inserted by the Chinese. During the visit China’s daily industrial levels of cyber-attack on Britain subsided for a few days. However, even as President Xi stepped onto British soil an American warship was undertaking a freedom of navigation cruise to uphold the right of free movement under international law in the South China Sea, which Beijing is determined to establish as an exclusive economic and security zone. In a confrontation between Britain’s main liberal ally and a main illiberal investor what side would Britain choose?

One of the many paradoxes of David Cameron’s very paradoxical premiership is the extent to which a powerful Britain behaves like a weak Britain. Some commentators have put this down to post-crash economic fragility and post-Scottish independence referendum political fragility. Both factors can go some way to exploring Cameron’s retreat from influence, the strategic pretence which has marked his premiership, and the often massive gap between what he says and what he means.

However, Britain’s strategic malaise also reaches deep into the culture of contemporary British government. Mix the Cameron/Osborne policy of narrow mercantilism with a Whitehall bureaucracy that champions management over strategy, and in particular the management and culture of decline, and the reason why Britain continues to retreat and decline beyond the necessary becomes sadly apparent. 

Indeed, Britain has become like Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus with David Cameron selling Britain’s body politic to an array of devils in return for short-term political gratification and foreign policy destroying financial investment. If there is no such thing as a free lunch in politics, there is certainly no such thing as a free nuclear power station. If this is a foretaste of Britain’s brave new globalised world outside of the EU then I am not at all sure I want it.

David Cameron and George Osborne are far too interested in, and close to, big illiberal money, and are far too willing to pay whatever price to kowtow to it. The result is a country that might appear to be one of the world’s strongest, but in fact is most decidedly not. This sad truth was reinforced last week by a laughable tax deal for Britain with technology giant Google whereby the latter would pay the former some £130m for over £24 billion of earnings in the UK. San Lonfrisco?  

So, when David Cameron eventually steps down in 2018 or 2019 he will leave Britain a toxic and cynical foreign policy legacy which will not only make Britain more insecure, but undermine both NATO and the EU. Sooner or later there is going to be a real reckoning between American-led liberal power and Chinese and Russian-inspired illiberal power. When that moment comes, as it must, the very real danger exists that Britain will be hors de combat because Cameron and Osborne abandoned foreign policy principle having sold the British body politic down the wadi, as well as the Moscow and Yangtze Rivers.

In Faustus’s final hour as he prepares to complete the contract he signed in blood when he sold his soul to the devil he watches with creeping despair as the minute hand of a clock ticks slowly by. “Oh lente, lente, currite noctis equis”, he pleads. Oh slowly, slowly run the horse of the night. At one point over dinner Donald Tusk, sorry Mephistopheles, pleads with David Cameron, sorry Faustus, “Oh David, forget these frivolous demands which strike a terror to my fainting soul”.

Oh dear…

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 29 January 2016

NATO: Montenegro Matters

“The Open Door Policy under Article 10 of the Washington Treaty is one of the Alliance's great successes. Successive rounds of NATO enlargement have enhanced the security and stability of all our nations. The steady progress of Euro-Atlantic integration fosters reform, strengthens collective security, and ensures the stability necessary for prosperity. NATO's door will remain open to all European democracies which share the values of our Alliance, which are willing and able to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership, which are in a position to further the principles of the Treaty, and whose inclusion will contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area”.
Article 92, Wales Summit Declaration, September 2014.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, 29 January. Nestled deep in the cradling embrace of the Bavarian Alps Garmisch is the very embodiment of German solidity and certainty. Stout houses of alpine wood line affluent streets themselves adorned by stout BMWs and Mercedes. And yet that certainty and solidity has also been visibly shaken this past year by the arrival of over a million refugees many of them entering Germany via Bavaria. It is a stark reminder that not only is change inevitable, but the need for constant engagement, management and adaptation. For once it is the peaceful management of change which brought me here this week. For the past two days I have been working with senior colleagues from Podgorica and the excellent George C. Marshall Center preparing for Montenegro’s planned accession to NATO membership, hopefully in the first quarter of 2017.  It is a timely reminder that amidst the doom and gloom of Europe’s strategic retreat and political incompetence important progress is still being made towards what US President George H. W. Bush once called “a Europe whole, free, and at peace”.

Faced with threats to NATO’s east and south the accession of Montenegro is also a reminder that the Alliance exists in a world in which the confrontation between fundamental ideas and principles of governance and even existence is leading to hyper-competition over contested spaces. Many in Europe tend to see Russia and the Middle East as the cauldron for such competition. In fact, the contest is right here on Europe’s extended strategic patio and throughout the Western Balkans.

The Western Balkans is the crux of two critical challenges; Russia is seeking to expand its zero sum, West-excluding influence, most noticeably in Serbia, whilst Islamic State (IS) is seeking a presence that would threaten Europeans directly. Indeed, Director of Europol Rob Wainwright this week warned that IS has established training camps in the Balkans in preparation for attacks on the EU. It is therefore vital, be it in the form of NATO or EU enlargement, such spaces are not ceded to adversaries and enemies simply because Europe in particular has lost the will, the patience, and indeed, the money, to invest in a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

In that challenging strategic context Montenegro’s accession to NATO provides proof positive that the West remains committed to its historic mission and understands that enlargement is not just an adjunct to strategic engagement, but a vital part of it. Indeed, Montenegro must become a showcase for the future adaptation of the Alliance to challenges, risks, and threats near and far. Given the many challenges of governance Podgorica faces that goal will not be easy to achieve, but that is the essential challenge the Alliance now faces.

To that distinctly strategic end it is vital Montenegro shows the way forward to other aspirant states in the region and beyond by immediately establishing a reputation as a small but well-prepared and well-briefed NATO member.  Therefore, my guidance to senior Montenegrins in Garmisch was to spend the next year mastering the strategy, the detail and the process of NATO so that their delegation can really hit the ground running in Brussels.

To my mind that means Podgorica takes a series of well-crafted and supported steps. First, write a national security strategy and a strategic defence review set firmly within the context of the NATO Strategic Concept. Second, present a first draft at the NATO Warsaw Summit in July. Third, undertake simulations of key NATO fora, such as the North Atlantic Council and the Nuclear Planning Group. Fourth, engage in crisis management simulations to better prepare Montenegrin colleagues for the coming challenge of membership. The NATO Defense College in Rome could host much of the effort which in turn could lead to the creation of a template to help other NATO partners’ transition to NATO members.

Such simulations will be vital because the transition from being a NATO partner to being a NATO member will come as a shock to Podgorica. Indeed, there is always the danger that given the long and complicated process involved in gaining accession to the Alliance membership is seen as an end in itself. It is not. Indeed, whilst much good diplomacy takes place in NATO’s excellent cafeteria and restaurants there is certainly no such thing as a free NATO lunch and the contract Montenegro has just signed is certainly a tough one. Montenegrins will soon enjoy the security of NATO strongest and most powerful states, but only in return for the sharing of their very onerous responsibilities.

Welcome to NATO, Montenegro!

Julian Lindley-French




Monday, 25 January 2016

Europe Needs Dutch Pragmatism

“To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle…In general one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality”.
George Orwell

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 January. Thank God for Dutch pragmatism! Today, two events will take place in the Netherlands under the Dutch presidency of the EU which suggest a way out of the mess into which Europe’s elite have led Europe. The first is what Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte calls “Plan B” for containing the crisis caused by the implosion of EU structures in the face of a clearly-organised avalanche of people entering Europe from beyond its borders. The ‘temporary’ suspension of Schengen and thus uncontrolled free movement is in reality the end of Schengen. The other event is the launch today in Amsterdam of Europol’s new European Counter-Terrorism Centre. What is significant about both initiatives is they reflect the return to Earth of Europe’s elite and the fantasy politics of political union in favour of deeper pragmatism and the realignment in Europe of power, politics and pragmatism.    

On my desk there sits a Christmas card sent to me by a senior French diplomat. The card is a photograph of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Charles de Gaulle walking together down the Champs Elysée on Armistice Day, 11 November, 1944. In the background some American senior officers are also visible. The irony of the photo is that Churchill and de Gaulle really did not like each at other when it was taken. However, they were faced with the need to complete the defeat of Hitler, and increasingly aware of the threat posed by Stalin’s USSR. Critically, the two leaders understood all too well that Britain and France needed the power of each other, and moreover both needed the power of the United States. Seventy years on nothing much has changed on that front.

However, since that photo was taken Europe’s self-obsessed, unworldly elite has spent much of the intervening seventy years trying to expel power from Europe and replace it instead with an institutional straitjacket designed to deny power. Now dominated by a liberal Germany still too traumatised by World War Two to really face up to the real burdens of its self-comforting EU leadership, and a European Commission dominated by small town, small country politicians, the EU remains far too-focused on preventing war BETWEEN Europeans, rather than war in all of its many forms ON Europeans. This obsession with non-power has rendered Europeans incapable of preventing, stopping, or fighting wars that threaten Europe, and instead is fast turning Europeans into victims of dangerous change.

Recently, one former prime minister and foreign minister of a significant EU state told an audience of which I was a part that “Europe is in a mess”. He is right. If Europeans are to successfully face the many dangers that now confront them the EU will need to be fundamentally reformed…or die. David Cameron’s Brexit adventure is such a massive missed opportunity for Britain and Europe. Indeed, Winston Churchill would have despised the theatre d’absurde that is David Cameron’s non-renegotiation of a titbit ‘reform’ package to con the British to remain in a structurally unreformed EU.  Germany has wrapped itself in the mantle of EU leadership but is incapable of leading. Worse, Europe is now suffering from the consequences of Chancellor Merkel’s increasingly ‘what is good for Germany is good for Europe’ alternative to leadership. The disastrous consequences of her disastrous open door to hyper-migration demonstrates all too clearly that when she sneezes Europe catches a cold. Incredibly, in another example of “I’m alright, Jack” politics, and in spite of Russia’s attempts to destabilise Europe, Berlin is still pushing ahead with construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. Although sold as a ‘European’ project it is in reality a Russo-German project.  

However, for all that Europe must still find some way to stand together as ‘Europe’. What is needed is a new EU that supports its member-states rather than seeks to replace them. If such transformation can be achieved the EU will be transformed into a form of super-alliance that secures the citizens that live within its borders. If the Dutch can nudge Europeans down that road then they will help deepen the strategic unity of effort and purpose vital to securing Europe against twenty-first century threats. Moreover, they will also stop in its tracks the mighty glacier of a glacial EU super-bureaucracy creeping ever forward across the green landscape of European democracy, preventing effective and efficient crisis management. In other words, Europeans need an effective, inter-governmental European External Action Service. They do not need a common foreign and security policy.  

Frederick the Great once said, “Diplomacy without armies is like music without instruments”. Pragmatism is the key to resolving THE fundamental strategic challenge Europeans today face; how to generate together a critical and credible level of diplomatic, economic, and military power to not only influence the dangerous world in which Europe resides, but change it for the better.  THAT is why the EU must be reformed, THAT is why it is vital to keep major power Britain in a really-reformed EU, THAT is why Europeans (and Canadians) must share burdens with the US in a reformed NATO, and above all THAT is why Europeans need credible armed forces, fit in terms of both capacity and capability to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

The idea of ‘Europe’ is an important one and must be preserved. However, to be grounded in reality ‘Europe’ must reflect power, politics and pragmatism.

Julian Lindley-French


Friday, 22 January 2016

Litvinenko: Action or Appeasement?

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last”
Winston Spencer Churchill

Alphen, Netherlands. 22 January. Yesterday, a British judge at the formal publication of a formal report at the conclusion of a formal and legal public inquiry cited a foreign head of state for complicity in murder on British soil of a British and EU citizen. Such an occurrence is unheard of and should be a matter of the gravest international import. And yet within twenty-four hours of the publication by Sir Robert Owen of “The Litvinenko Inquiry: Report into the Death of Alexander Litvinenko”, the British Government is attempting to bury it, and the EU has said nothing. Instead, the British Government has frozen the assets of two Russian citizens accused of carrying out the murder of Mr Litvinenko even though they have no assets in the UK, and called in the Russian Ambassador to Britain for a severe dressing down. In a crass attempt to deflect British public attention away from London’s cravenness Defence Secretary Michael Fallon took the opportunity to make a speech reinforcing the continued need for Britain’s nuclear deterrent. It was less news management more Monty Python. So, why did the report conclude Russia committed this murder and why has Britain’s and the EU’s response thus far been so supine as to smack of appeasement?

Here are the facts. On 1 November, 2006 Mr Litvinenko met two former KGB officers Andrei Lugovoy and Dmitri Kovtun at the Millennium Hotel in central London. Several hours after drinking green tea Mr Litvinenko became ill and was subsequently diagnosed as suffering from acute radiation syndrome. It later transpired that Mr Litvinenko had been poisoned with radionuclide polonium-210 at a level some 200 times greater than the median lethal dose. Mr Litvinenko died on 23 November, 2006 at 2121 hours.

The polonium was traced back to the tea pot from which Mr Litvinenko’s tea had been poured, to the hotel room of one of the two accused, and then to a British Airways aircraft upon which the accused had travelled from Moscow to London. Indeed, the report identifies a trail of polonium across London that closely matched the movements of Mr Lugovoy and Mr Kovtun and which British authorities believe exposed over 100 Londoners to direct contamination and put several thousand at risk. Yesterday, in the House of Commons the Shadow Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Mr Andy Burnham called the act “state-sponsored terrorism”.

The reasons for Russia’s actions against Mr Litvinenko are complex and revealing.  On 13 November, 1998. shortly after Vladimir Putin’s appointment as Director of the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service and successor of the KGB),  Mr Boris Berezovsky, with whom Mr Litvinenko was close, published an open letter in Kommersant. The letter stated; “Vladimir Vladimirovich you have inherited a difficult legacy from your predecessors. Criminal elements and officials at various levels, whom they have corrupted, including officials in your own agency, are striking at our people who are unwilling to back to being cattle. Criminal terror is on the rise in Russia”.

On 17 November, 1998 Mr Litvinenko took part in a press conference alongside five other FSB agents at which he accused his own FSB organised crime unit of criminal acts. Mr Litvinenko began the press conference stating; “We do not seek to compromise the Federal Security Service, but to purify and strengthen it”. Subsequently, Mr Litvinenko met with Director Putin and tried to present him with a dossier detailing his allegations. The dossier was rebuffed. Instead Mr Putin prepared his own dossier against Mr Litvinenko and on 19 November, 1998 went on state television network Rossiya to ridicule the Litvinenko press conference as, “a spectacle with characters from a children’s story”.

Subsequently, Mr Litvinenko moved to Britain in 2000. In July 2006 Mr Litvinenko accused President Putin of being a paedophile. On 27 July, 2006 President Putin approved amendments to a 2002 Russian law entitled, “On Counteracting Extremist Activity”. The new law appeared to support attacks on anyone who defamed holders of high office in the Russian state.

The reasons for Britain’s weak response and the EU’s non-response thus far are equally complex and revealing. The City of London is awash with dodgy Russian money and London has ‘specialised’ in not asking too many questions as to the provenance of said moneys. Indeed, in the wake of the 2008 financial crash the current British Government adopted a mercantilist foreign policy which included moving closer to illiberal regimes such as Russia and China. Indeed, it was only with Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine that the Owen public inquiry was allowed to proceed. Critically, London claims that Moscow’s help is needed to end the war in Syria. However, Moscow’s aim is to keep President Assad in power and thus perpetuate the war in Syria.

The reasons for the EU’s non-response reflect deep divisions within the EU over how best to deal with an aggressive Russia. France, Germany and Italy in particular are cautious about taking any further action against Russia beyond the sanctions already in place following the invasion of Ukraine and the July 2014 downing of MH-17. Reasons for this lack of solidarity are in part due to narrow national economic considerations, and in part out of fear that a clearly instable Russia could become even more aggressive. However, the EU’s lack of solidarity with Britain over the murder of one of its own citizens does beg a very serious question; part of the rationale for Britain remaining within the EU is that membership strengthens Britain’s influence on the world stage. Thus far the EU has done all it can to kill the issue doing little or nothing to take this extremely serious matter to the Russians.

What should happen now? At the very least all EU member-states should withdraw henceforth from the 2018 World Cup which is due to be held in Russia. Given the report clearly cites the role of the FSB in the murder one other step would be to identify and remove all Russian agents from EU member-states.

What will happen now? Next to nothing. That said, the Dutch investigation into criminal responsibility for the downing of MH 17 is due to report and also likely to cite Russia. Further inaction will simply confirm that Britain and the EU far from crafting a sophisticated, long-term policy response are merely repeating the mistakes of history and appeasing an aggressive Russian regime.

There is one other finding in the report that bears strategic consideration. The report alleges that the actual order to murder Mr Litvinenko was given by Mr Nikolai Petrushev in his 2006 capacity as FSB director. The virulently anti-Western Mr Petrushev is currently Secretary (Head) of the Security Council of the Russian Federation. That is exactly the same route President Putin took to power. Mr Berezovsky? He was found dead in suspicious circumstances at his English home on 23 March, 2013.  Mr Lugovoy? He is currently preparing a documentary for Russian state television. Its title? “Traitors”.

Winston Churchill said of appeasement, “…do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year-by-year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time”.

Have you heard that Sir Humphrey?

Julian Lindley-French