hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Ebola: WHO is in Charge?

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 October. As EU foreign ministers finally meet to discuss the Ebola epidemic and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf makes a desperate open plea to the world to get its act together the disease is taking hold.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) more than 4500 people have already died of Ebola in West Africa. Well in excess of 9500 people are infected of whom 70% are expected to die.  WHO estimates there could be as many as 10,000 new cases each week by early December. 

Three actions are desperately needed to stop Ebola spreading and then establishing itself as a perennial disease.  First, the provision of effective preventative and curative healthcare is needed across West Africa and indeed beyond.  Second, a longer-term strategy is needed to properly establish basic but robust healthcare systems.  Third, an end is needed to the brain drain of qualified West African medical practitioners to the West.  Britain’s National Health Service is a major recruiter from the region.

However, the control of pandemics (which Ebola is not as yet) also needs the world to take a new approach. Specifically, a Global Disaster Action Centre is needed for which healthcare would be a major responsibility and which would act in a similar way to the US Centers for Disease Control or CDC (even though the CDC has not covered itself in glory of late).  Such a Centre would be ideally focused on the UN Security Council (UNSC) and supported by military-style structures with a Situation Centre at its core that would assimilate and interpret real time intelligence and analysis to provide support for command decisions.  Logistics would need to be pre-positioned and provided by the five Permanent Members of the UNSC and reinforced by other members of the G20 group of rich and emerging rich states.  Such a centre would act as emergency reinforcement for national health professionals and help properly and better co-ordinate the vital work of the non-governmental community.

All well and good but…Many years ago when I was a callow youth in the salad days of my strategic evolution my boss seconded me to the United Nations to design a ‘strategy’.  This was probably because a) I kept asking awkward questions of the powerful at home; and b) because whilst the UN of the day was huge on “strategy” it viewed the word “action” as a crime against bureaucracy and thus it was probably felt I could no harm.  The good news was that I got to spend time at the UN both in Geneva and New York. 

One of the UN agencies unfortunate enough to ‘benefit’ from my strategic guidance was WHO.  At WHO I found a core of seasoned, brave and dedicated medical field people surrounded by a strange assortment of fellow-travellers.  There were sons and daughters of African and Asian potentates who may or may not turn up for work alongside officials seconded from one Soviet bloc state or another of whom not a few had the title ‘colonel’ or some other such military appellation.  The former knew nothing about anything whilst the latter knew nothing about health the ‘function’ of whom was not at all ‘clear’, if you know what I mean.  With the end of the Cold War I hoped things might have changed, now I wonder.

Last week an internal WHO report was leaked cataloguing the egregious errors made by the UN in first identifying and then containing the West African Ebola plague.  This was not exactly a surprise to me and suggests that within the UN bureaucracy personality and politics still remains more important than strategy and action.  The plain fact is the UN and its agencies are simply not geared for crisis management in spite of the many ‘offices’ that claim to be crisis managers in some form or another.

Blame for the Ebola failure cannot be laid solely at the many marble portals of the UN.  As the predictably tardy EU response demonstrates the somewhat misnomered ‘international community’ has been predictably lamentable, fragmented, tardy and haphazard – too little, too late.  As per usual it is not until the Americans and the wider West take action that anything substantive happens, although it is good to see China taking its international responsibilities ever more seriously.  Some 4000 US military personnel are now engaged in Liberia.  The British are sending additional forces and resources to Sierra Leone and the French likewise to Guinea whilst the EU is providing medevac.
Tragically, in a world ever more connected and interdependent global crisis response is anything but.  So why does something like a Global Disaster Action Centre not already exist?  There are three reasons.  First, the lack of trust in the UN Security Council between P5 members as the world slides back towards echoes of the Cold War and the frictional geopolitics that paralyses effect policy and strategy.  Second, the eternal donor gap in which UN members pledge support but rarely if ever deliver it prevents the systematic application of forces and resources.  Third, the complete lack of pledges from a host of UN members for which Africa in particular remains the Dark Continent little understood and even less cared about.

Over the past decade there have been several immense natural disasters ranging from a 2006 tsunami that is estimated to have killed at least 200,000 people to deadly typhoons and hurricanes and now an outbreak of plague that in some African countries could have the same population-scything effect as Europe’s fourteenth century Black Death.  Each time the world’s inadequate response has turned a crisis into a disaster.

Therefore, the Ebola crisis must be seen as a ‘wet-run’ for future crises – both human and natural.  Prevention, engagement and consequence management are the three pillars of effective crisis management.  However, such structures, strictures and sutures need to be worked up.  This is because effective crisis response requires government to government action, individual governments to function effectively and rapidly from top to bottom and civil society to play a full role through awareness, prudence and if needs be engagement.

Last week the British Government held a best-practice exercise which for the first time in many years involved ministers.  Too often in the past ministers have excused themselves from such efforts and sent officials instead.  Consequently, crisis preparedness was politically decapitated and not just in Britain.  This high-level absence helps explain why crisis response mechanisms have for so long lacked experienced, committed political command and leadership. 

As President Johnson-Sirleaf writes: “The time for talking or theorising is over.  Only concerted action will save my country, and our neighbours, from experiencing another national tragedy.  The words of Henrik Ibsen have never been truer: “A thousand words leave not the same deep impression as does a single deed””. 

For the sake of humanity here are my thousand words.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Il Sorpasso 2014: Can Europe Balance Defence and Economics?

Rome, Italy. 16 October. Cardinal Richelieu, that great sixteenth century French homme d’├ętat once said, “Rulers are the slaves of their resources”.  In 1979 the Italian economy surpassed that of Britain.  It was a great moment for Italians which they proudly dubbed “Il Sorpasso” - the overtake.  In spite of chaotic government the Italian economy was booming.  Italian satisfaction did not last long. In 1995 the British economy was once again ahead and the gap between the two economies widened rapidly.  Today, the British economy is some 22% bigger than the Italian with the gap still widening.  This week the IMF highlighted a new Sorpasso.  In spite of ‘soft’ world growth Asian economies are surging past European economies underlying the rapid extent to which the balance of world power and wealth is shifting.  Il Sorpasso is not only apparent in the economic sphere.  Europe and its defence is sliding rapidly down the defence league table.  Since 2012 thirteen of the ‘top’ twenty defence cutters are in NATO Europe.  Europe is sacrificing defence for economics. Can a balance between the two be struck?

Yesterday in London General Sir Rupert Smith, Professor Mike Clarke and I discussed hard defence choices with British defence chiefs.  The UK may be in a far healthier economic position than Italy but in spite of David Cameron’s rhetoric to the contrary the British military still faces significant further cuts after the May 2015 general elections.  Consequently, unless new moneys are found the British will no longer be able to afford the ‘little bit of everything, but not much of anything’ high-end force of today.  They will be forced to opt instead for an even smaller force that retains a significant amount of a few significant things but only at the expense of some very important things. That will mean; a) a further loss of British sovereign independence; and b) ever more reliance on allies.

However, a British strategy that is more reliant on allies faces a big problem.  Well, lots of them actually. Italy is of course an important friend and ally of Britain.  However, the Italian public debt crisis could soon devastate public expenditure here. Like France Italy this year will not meet its EU commitment to keep the deficit no bigger than 3% GDP as part of the Eurozone’s Stability and Growth Pact.  Defence expenditure will again no doubt be raided by the Italian Government to maintain other ‘essential’ services such as health and welfare.

Contrast Italy and indeed Europe with the world beyond Europe's borders.  Frederick the Great once captured the ethos of the aggressive geopolitics when he asked to justify the use of force.  “The superiority of our troops, the promptitude with which we can set them in motion, in a word the clear advantage we have over our neighbours”.  President Putin is clearly a disciple of Frederick. Indeed, Russia for all its current economic travails, surpassed the UK some four years ago, now spends 20% of its entire public budget on defence and seems determined to continue to do so.  

The contrast between Asia and Europe is even more worrying.  China will increase its defence expenditure 12.7% this year, the latest double digit increase since 1989.  India and Japan will soon surpass Britain and France to become the fourth and fifth biggest global defence spenders respectively.  

Anyway and anyhow one cuts these figures they mark a massive and dangerous shift of military power away from Europe’s liberal powers and in the cases of China and Russia in favour of illiberal powers. If unchecked or unbalanced the implications for Europe’s future defence (or lack of it) and world security are profound, not least because of the pressure Europe's defence 'abstinence' puts on the Americans, irrespective of the promises Europeans made at last month's NATO Wales Summit.

Last week French IMF Chief Executive Christine Lagarde called on European leaders to do two things; undertake deep structural reforms to Eurozone economies to bring them into the real world and invest in economic stimulus in the form of big infrastructure projects.  Viewed from here in my beloved Italy one sees the urgent need for such reforms.  And yet it is questionable whether Italian society or indeed Italian state institutions are strong enough to cope with the kind of long, hard austerity shock favoured for example by Germany.

Faced by a collapse in tax revenues and living standards many EU leaders have in effect abandoned defence for economics.  Consequently, many European militaries are on the verge of an obsolescence meltdown and are virtually unusable. And yet the defence of Europe and Europeans is a legitimate political and strategic obligation that cannot simply be opted out from.  

Therefore, in parallel with improving Europe’s infrastructure via the proposed European capital investment funds it would also make sense for Europeans to create a capital defence investment fund.  Such a fund would act in tandem with efforts to modernise and harmonise the European Defence and Technological Base (EDTIB).

Montesquieu once said, “…whenever an accidental, that is, a particular cause, has destroyed a state, a general cause also existed which led to the fall of this state...”  If Europe allows defence to be sacrificed for economic ‘security’ Il Sorpasso 2014 could mark the moment when the illiberal triumphed over the liberal in the pursuit of power and influence in the twenty-first century.  Do Europeans really want such a world?  If not Europeans should heed the words of Madame Lagarde this week; “just get on with it!”

Julian Lindley-French 

Monday, 13 October 2014

The March of the Kippers

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 October.  “If I should die, think only this of me; That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is forever England”.  Watching the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) win its first parliamentary seat last week in England I could not help but be reminded of Rupert Brooke’s century-old requiem for a soon-to-be lost England and his soon-to-be lost self.  The March of the Kippers is a very English political insurgency but no less potent for that.  There are three main drivers of this insurgency: political disconnect between the narrow uber-elite who run England and the people: elite failure and a refusal of the elite to listen to the English people; and the loss of patriotism or any belief in the country at the highest levels of government and governance in England.

Political Disconnect: A clue to the cause and the depth of political disconnect between the uber-elite and much of the English population is apparent in two pieces written last week by Times columnist and former MP Matthew Parris, a fully paid-up member of the liberal London uber-elite.  In a couple of articles stunning in the ambition of their arrogance he called the electorate ‘out of touch’, and advised his uber-elite friends to tell them so.  His shrill chimes rang in unison with those in the London and Brussels Kommentariats who talk about political dissenters such as the Kippers as failed little people left behind by globalisation the voices of whom must be dismissed and if needs be actively marginalised.
Elite Failure:  If England was some form of idyll the dismissive howls of an aggrieved elite might be understandable.  However, England today is far from being an idyll.  Rather, it is a rudderless, broken, divided place, a political and social mess that has lost much of its identity in the face of the relentless tide of elite-led immigration and the ghetto-creating multiculturalism that has so undermined social cohesion.

In other words it is the London elite who have failed the people not the people who have failed the elite as Parris implies.  Indeed, it is the same elite who in the space of a generation have allowed the conditions for home-grown terrorism to spawn in England; handed over sovereignty and power to Brussels and denied the English people a promised referendum on the Lisbon Treaty; allowed the banks to bring Britain to its economic knees; lost control of migration and drove down living standards; and who by appalling political miscalculation this year brought the United Kingdom to the point of disintegration.  Indeed, it is the self-same elite who over the past fifty or so years have made just about every wrong strategic decision it is possible to make and thus fulfilled their own self-fulfilling prophecy of absurdly rapid national decline.

First, it is the London and Brussels elites who daily fail the challenge of globalisation.  Critically, they fail to understand that globalisation and Europeanisation as currently conceived are mutually exclusive.  Second, whilst past London elites were just as much ‘out of touch’ as the current leadership they at least had the interests of the country at heart and the power to do something about it.  Today, much of that power has been handed to Brussels.  Third, much of the London uber-elite are part of a new elite European politico-intellectual complex who talk far more to each other than their compatriots.
Loss of Elite Patriotism: It is also the self-same elite who privately sneer at the ordinary, decent patriotism of the ordinary, decent folk of England who are now rebelling. Sadly, the very people who run England are the very people who seem no longer to believe in England.  And that includes Parris and many of his elite fellow-travellers in the scribbleocracy.  They think that Little Britain can only survive as part of the ghastly mutual impoverishment pact that the EU has become.  These denizens of exaggerated declinism dismiss those who with no sense of hubris still believe that Britain, the world’s fifth or sixth most powerful economy with one of the top five world militaries, could and should matter and could if necessary forge its own future, forge its own partnerships and build its own alliances.

Indeed, it is the dignified quiet patriotism of millions who still believe in their country that the intellectually all-over-the-place uber-elite simply do not get so lost have they become in their theoretical ‘isms’ and ‘ations’.  Yes, many of the ordinary people now voting in huge numbers for Nigel Farage are no doubt to quote Parris “intellectually all-over-the-place”.  Some of them are no doubt the ‘Little Englanders’ belittled endlessly by the self-satisfied ‘liberal’ London uber-elite.  Some of them may also be guilty of the racism with which the politically-correct elite love to charge anyone with legitimate concerns about the social, political and cultural impact of rapid, uncontrolled hyper-immigration.
However, many millions of England’s political dissenters are also decent, ordinary people who feel let down by their political overlords and rightly so and who are finally breaking out of the political docility which the elite have for too long exploited.  People now willing to challenge directly the many dangers to democracy, identity and indeed security that to all intents and purposes unaccountable elitism has created.
But, here’s the political rub.  In England these ‘little people’ might well be close to forming a majority precisely because of uber-elite failure and that will in time matter.  London and indeed Brussels better realise that and quickly.  However, so long as the London and indeed Brussels elites continue to dismiss the Kippers and their like as the errant, ignorant voices of a few political Luddites, political troglodytes who cannot be trusted with ‘reality’ then England’s political insurgency will not only grow it will spread across western Europe.

Surrounded by self-interested ‘Special Advisors’, bombarded by special interest groups and daily in receipt of ‘research’ that tells them what they want to hear the London political elite too often content themselves that their warped picture of society is in fact reality.  In such a world the people become sheep that can be bought off with political placebos (ever more spending on the National Health Service), lied to (immigration and Europe) or simply insulted.  Parris calls UKIP political “parasites” even though millions of his compatriots vote or indicate they will vote for UKIP leader Nigel Farage.  By so doing Parris implies that millions of voters are parasites too and that by definition they are parasites on his uber-elite.
It is my firm belief that in time a new England will emerge.  However, experience suggests it will do so because of the good, decent, ordinary people of England of all creeds, races and orientations.  And it will most likely happen in spite of London’s failed uber-elite.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 9 October 2014

The Euro has no Defence

Deepest England, 9 October.  This week the IMF declared “Among advanced countries, the United States and the United Kingdom are leaving the crisis behind and achieving decent growth”.  Indeed, the IMF expects the UK economy to achieve “sustainable growth” of 3.2% in 2014 and 2.7% in 2015.  At the same time the IMF has cut deeply its growth forecast for the Eurozone, most notably and most worryingly the three biggest Eurozone economies; France, Germany and Italy.  There is no schadenfraude here in Britain (well not much) because a strong Eurozone is clearly a British interest but there is deep concern.  Leaders are doing nothing to resolve the inherent contradictions of the Eurozone.  It is again politics at the expense of strategy and the implications are terrifying. 

The enormous scale of the challenge faced by the Eurozone is put into stark relief by the contrast in fortunes between the Euro-free British and the Eurozone.  The French economy is slated by the IMF to grow by no more than 0.4% this year, mighty Germany is now downgraded from 1.7% to 1.4%, whilst the Italian economy has not grown in real terms since the creation of the Euro in 1999 and is again contracting.  Worse, the IMF suggests there is a 40% chance of a triple dip recession in the Eurozone and a 30% chance of deflation.  The ‘best’ way to prevent deflation according to the IMF is for debt-laden Eurozone governments to flood their economies with even more debt.  That will only lead to stagflation and the worst of all Euro-worlds, a chronic mix of economic stagnation and inflation. 

This wholly EU-made mess has been caused by a cacophony of disastrous decisions.  First, the creation of a currency was a political project rather than a shared financial instrument established on sound economic and fiscal fundamentals.  Second, a one-size fits all interest rate policy for wildly divergent economies first stimulated insane borrowing and now prevents competitive devaluation by weaker economies locked into the Euro.  Third, the Stability and Growth Pact implied a set of rules rather than imposed them.  Fourth, the refusal of big states to observe those rules when politically inconvenient, as France has again done this month by missing its 3% debt-to-GDP target has undermined by the credibility of the currency and its governance. 

Worst of all few of the vital structural reforms have been enacted that would make weaker economies with over-regulated labour markets more competitive.  Indeed, several Eurozone countries simply lack the political stability or sufficiently strong political institutions to cope with such reforms.  The consequence is that taxpayers such as me in a few formally rich countries such as Germany and the Netherlands are bankrolling the Eurozone crisis whilst its leaders fiddle the books to give the appearance of a solution to the crisis where there is none.  Locked into their own inaction Eurozone leaders vaguely hold out the prospect of world growth as the panacea for all the Eurozones many problems.  It is not therefore not without some pathos if not indeed tragic irony that the IMF also makes clear that the greatest threat to world growth remains the Eurozone.  In truth the Eurozone could well be trapped in a near-zero growth no man’s land for at least a decade with leaders simply trying to mask the extent of their own failure from their increasingly irate, ever more unemployed and eventually impoverished voters. 

Nor are the consequences of such failure merely academic or economic.  This week a 1200 page report by auditors KPMG and lawyers Taylor Wessing came out on the state of the German armed forces.  Its main conclusion is that after years of cuts and under-investment the German armed forces are in no position to undertake any new assignments.  This deplorable state of affairs reflected poor project management and delays in equipment delivery which imposed extra costs now totalling €50bn or 66% of the entire German defence budget.  Germany has pledged to provide 60 Eurofighters to support an ally under attack.  In fact Germany has difficulty deploying 6 aircraft or half a squadron.  However, the core of the problem is the eternal Eurozone crisis. 

Indeed, the plight of the German armed forces is reflected if not magnified across the Eurozone as austerity and zero growth bite into government budgets.  To maintain core services such as health and welfare defence budgets are being raided in countries across the Eurozone.  The consequence is that Europe’s security and defence is ever more at risk. Moreover, with no end in sight the Eurozone crisis is now placing NATO and indeed the wider transatlantic relationship at severe risk of collapsing. 

The EU today is a mutual impoverishment and insecurity pact precisely because to all political intents and purposes the EU and the Eurozone are one and the same.  The hard truth is that the Euro cannot survive in its current form and yet the choices leaders face are to say the least stark.  1.  Deepen the political and economic integration of the Eurozone at the expense of its member-states and democracy.  This will cost an immense amount of taxpayer’s money, will almost certainly trigger a Brexit and increase Europe’s strategically-inept self-obsession.  2. Split the Eurozone up into a core area of fiscally-strong economies focused on northern and western European states and allow states such as Italy to return to their former currencies so they can competitively devalue.  This will also cost an immense amount of money as the new/old currencies would need to be underpinned by an EU fund to soften the social impacts of leaving the Euro. 3. Simply end the single currency.  That would mean an end to the European Project beloved of the elite and would also cost an awful lot of money.  Given the difficulties of all three choices Eurozone leaders will instead adopt the Merkel Approach and do next to nothing.  In time that option will prove to be the most expensive of all.

For the Euro to be fixed its power-brokers need to realise that the Euro itself is the problem.  If not the Euro could destroy Europe.

The Euro has no defence.

Julian Lindley-French 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Defeating IS Starts in the Mind

Somewhere in Deepest England. 7 October.  Humanitarian Alan Henning died a hero at the hands of Islamic State (IS) thugs this weekend.  He died as he lived trying to reach up and over a deepening cultural and religious divide.  It is a divide between Muslims and non-Muslims in European societies that IS is ruthlessly exploiting to attract alienated young people in Western societies to their cause, and to further destabilise Western European societies already destabilised by hyper-immigration.  In spite of attempts by politicians to cover their political tracks that divide is nowhere more apparent than here in Britain.

Now, I am no bleeding heart liberal.  Ten years ago I left the Labour Party which I had hitherto supported all my life horrified at the complete disconnect between Tony Blair’s immigration and security policies.  It made no sense to me as a strategist and analyst to send large numbers of British troops to Afghanistan to keep Islamism at bay whilst the government actively encouraged large numbers of deeply conservative Muslims from some of the most traumatised parts of the world to immigrate into Britain.  Sadly, my fears were justified as Labour’s insane experiment in multiculturalism led to today’s ghettos of mistrust and mutual incomprehension that are all too apparent in many of England’s broken cities.

Many Britons of my generation look on aghast at what our once secure country has become and the refusal of politicians to face up to the mess they have made of a society once renowned for its balance.  This disconnect with the ordinary people – both immigrant and non-immigrant - who have to live with the consequences of a failed political experiment and the politicians fighting each other in the out-of-touch Westminster bubble helps explain the rise of parties such as UKIP in England and the SNP in Scotland. 

For all that my job as a strategist is to consider where ‘we’ are and look at ways forward to a better future.  Alan Henning showed us a different Britain which I CHOOSE to hang onto and believe in.  Henning showed us a Britain in which compassion can reach across cultural dividing lines.  That good people irrespective of faith or ethnicity can come together.  He also showed me the need for understanding of communities under intense pressure from fear-fuelled racism and the tensions caused within by trying to preserve traditional cultures in a country that has abandoned so much of its own.

Here in deepest England there is much talk of quick fixes.  “Send in the SAS”, one man said to me.  “They will sort out ‘Jihadi John’”, the man believed to be responsible for the murder of several Westerners captured by this murderous group.  Not only is such a plan unworkable such action in and of itself will not even begin to deal with the challenge to regional and world order that is Islamic State.  No, the best way for all of us to confront Islamic State is to honour Alan Henning and the many other victims of IS by reaching out to each other and to actively march across the divide that separates us and which IS exploits. 

As I sit here and write this I am remembering the Muslim cleric who stood in front of IS forces as they took Mosul and pleaded for the lives of his Christian fellow Iraqis.  He was martyred for his courage.  My thoughts also turn to the young British Muslims who serve their country in the armed forces, in the police and in a whole host of other ways that offer a picture of hope rather than the despair that so many indigenous English people now feel about their society and their country. 

In recent days I have spoken to Muslim friends.  They feel they are under siege from quiet but forceful distrust, even hatred is very English here in England.  They are blamed for acts which they detest as much as the rest of us and feel trapped in a no-man’s land between cultures and identities.  There is no future at all for such a society.  

The simple truth is that IS and their fellow-travellers, including the irreconcilables in British society, will never be defeated by RAF bombs, ever more liberty-sapping counter-terrorism laws or ever more freedom of speech killing racism and hate laws.  IS will only be defeated by strong societies built on mutual respect and tolerance which is organised, established and integrated on the fundamental values of liberal-democracy.  If any group rejects liberal-democracy then they have no place in British or indeed wider European society.  Therefore, finding an accommodation between Islam and liberal democracy is now the challenge for Government and governance not just here in Britain but across Europe.  Indeed, the rejection of liberal democracy is after all the rallying cry of Jihadism and which is causing so much tension within Muslim communities within Britain.  

In the wake of Alan Henning’s murder Imams across Britain stood up to condemn IS.  In so doing they honoured Alan Henning by offering a bridge to the rest of a society of which British Muslims are now an important part. The greatest defence against Jihadism will be the creation of a liberal-democracy in which the millions of decent, patriotic and law-abiding Muslims can feel comfortable and welcome.  Such a goal will be a challenge but it is by no means impossible because it is the very idea of freedom for which many people came to Britain.

Yes, my old Britain is dead but long live the new Britain in which mutual respect, mutual understanding and mutual tolerance act as the strongest of shields against radicalisation and fanaticism.  

Alan Henning showed in his simple but righteous life that defeating IS begins not just at home but in the mind and demands of all of us the need to reach out and beyond our own prejudice.  That includes me.  The strange thing is that once we are start speaking to each other as a conscious effort to build the new society it might be far easier than many of us think.  Just make the effort, for Alan.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 3 October 2014

Brexit: Why the British will get the Scottish Treatment

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 October.  Those of you who are regular victims of my musings will know I am a pro-European Eurosceptic, i.e. I believe deeply in close co-operation between European states and I am implacably opposed to democracy-destroying, freedom-frying, liberty-lacking European federalism in which power is ever further removed from the people.  No sooner has the Scottish referendum been sorted (for now) than the battle over the Brexit referendum has recommenced.  Indeed, in many ways the Scottish referendum was a dry run for the Brexit referendum and here is why.

There are two lessons from the Scottish referendum which will be pertinent for the Brexit vote when it eventually comes in 2017 or 2022. First, the elite Establishment in both London and Brussels will warn of grave economic consequences for Britain should the British leave the EU.  Second, hard commitments should be exacted from the EU Establishment BEFORE the referendum.   

The battle-lines over the Brexit are already apparent.  This week Sir Martin Sorrell, Chairman of WPP a ‘media conglomerate’ (whatever that is), warned the British against even holding a Brexit referendum.  Sorrell’s comments are pretty much the same as those employed by the political Establishment and big business in the week prior to the Scottish vote as the latter threatened to decamp south en masse in the event of secession. 

Now, I know little of Sorrell or his wider views and he may be a model democrat.  However, on the face of it at least his comments appear to reflect contempt for democracy that is apparently shared by many captains of industry and commerce.  The simple truth is that big business does not give a damn about democracy and liberty.

The strange thing about Sorrel’s argument is that it collapses under its own weight.  The EU is the only region in the world that is not growing.  Much of this has to do with EU over-regulation and the political irresponsibility implicit in the economic, financial and fiscal contradiction that is the Eurozone.  And yet Sorrel believes Britain should remain marginal part (in fact the EU and the Eurozone are one and the same thing) of what has become from even the most cursory strategic and structural analysis a European mutual impoverishment pact. 

Given the close relationship between the leadership of the Conservative Party and big business some level of cynicism with Prime Minister Cameron’s promise to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU is not only justified, but entirely healthy.  And yet here is the paradox; Cameron's bid to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU is probably the best chance of a pre-referendum deal particularly if the Brussels-elite can be convinced there really is a chance the British might vote to quit.  

However, for Cameron to succeed he must confront two dangerous contradictions in his own position.  First, Cameron will need to fight less for Britain and more for the principle that the ever onward march to ever closer political union and eventual federation must be stopped.  In this he will find a growing number of allies across Europe.  Indeed, a clever Cameron is about the only thing that frightens the euro-fanatics about the Brexit.  Second, he will need to convince EU leaders that if he fails to get EU reform he will recommend a Brexit.

This is what will happen prior to a Brexit referendum.  Firstly, all talk of ever closer political union will be banned in Brussels.  However, eventual political union will remain the purpose of the EU.  Secondly, the European Central Bank will instigate a short-term re-inflation of the Eurozone economy to give the impression of economic growth.  Thirdly, a sustained campaign would be commenced involving the likes of Sorrell designed to intimidate the British people in very similar ways to the intimidation to which the Scots were subjected.  

Therefore, those wanting real change in Britain’s relationship with the EU should not simply wait for the Brexit referendum that may or may not happen and which may or may not be rigged.  Instead, they should push, cajole and support Cameron to press for real EU reform and help him to construct the necessary Europe-wide alliance necessary if future Europe is to be an alliance of nation-states rather than an EU confederation or federation. 

There is of course a game-changer that would move the goal-posts on a Brexit; the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).  A transatlantic free trade zone could permit Britain to join a non-Eurozone super-European Free Trade Area AND permit the Eurozone to pursue deeper political and economic union.  In effect, the TTIP would render moot all the dire warnings about Britain having no access to the EU single market in the event of a Brexit, which would in any case be illegal under World Trade Organisation rules. 

There is also a potentially dangerous twist that those desperately keen for a Brexit referendum should consider.  Any such vote would not in fact be considering the EU of today but the EU of tomorrow.  If the vote in the end goes in favour of Britain staying in the EU then the Euro-fanatics will immediately claim a false mandate for Britain to join the Euro just like Jean-Claude Juncker claimed a false mandate from May’s European Parliament elections to become President of the European Commission.  Indeed, far from protecting Britain’s status as an independent nation-state a referendum could actually hasten its demise and open the door to a truly federal European super-state.  In other words, euro-sceptics beware of what you wish for.  Just food for thought.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Afghanistan: Ghani or Gandhi?

Alphen, Netherlands. 1 October.  Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.  The swearing in of President Ashraf Ghani as Afghanistan’s head of state this week is an important moment.  It is the first peaceful, democratic hand-over of power in Afghanistan’s history.  No-one should under-estimate the importance of the moment or the achievement for Afghanistan and democracy in a country deeply divided by ethnicity, power and traditions and which is too often consumed from within by elite corruption and a criminal economy.  Equally, President Ghani faces immense challenges.  He came to power in a disputed election and will need to provide leadership Afghanistan has never known at a particularly dangerous moment.  Is he up to it?

President Ghani and I have engaged on several occasions at meetings over the years.  He is without doubt a brilliant man who always impresses and who has an unrivalled understanding of his country and its challenges.  The very nature of our engagement at such events was itself fascinating.  My approach was to look at the challenge of Afghanistan from an unashamedly Western viewpoint.  This is because having looked at Western strategy in Afghanistan and written several big reports on the challenges posed I thought it important to be clear; Western powers were not in Afghanistan out of an act of charity whatever the rhetoric to the contrary.  It was pure, naked national interest that drove the Western powers into Afghanistan and it is the self-same interests which has driven most of them out.

Ghani’s response to me showed his strengths and his weaknesses.  In our exchanges I was always careful to bow to his knowledge of Afghanistan and simply listen.  His love for and his deep knowledge of his country is something to behold.  However, he also suffers from the weakness of conceit shared by many brilliant people.  A very clear weakness evident on several occasions (and not just to me) was his occasionally dismissive belief that he knew about the interests, strategy and policy of my country far better than me.  He was wrong. 

Part of his ‘certainty’ was the natural defensiveness of anyone who is part of the Washington ‘thinktocracy’.  To survive in DC think-tanks one must know everything, all of the time and never be wrong about anything.  However, too often the Ghani lecture (for that is what it was) was not so much an analysis of Western interests as a wish list of his ideas for a permanent Afghanistan-centric Western interest.  This led him to believe that Afghanistan and by extension Ghani himself were and are far more central to the national security of Western powers than was ever the case.

This juxtaposition between leader and thinker, informed and inspired leadership and wishful thinking is probably the place where Ghani’s presidency will succeed or fail.  If he approaches his task as an elevated Washington think-tanker he will fail.  Indeed, as President Ghani he needs to be able to look down upon ideas from the heights of power and great responsibility rather than up at power via a simple exchange of ideas without great responsibility, which is where I live. 

Furthermore, to succeed Ghani will need to achieve and reconcile two almost contradictory missions both of which concern the ‘normalisation’ of Afghanistan as a state.  On the one hand, President Ghani must build on the very genuine sense of nationhood that most Afghans feel irrespective of ethnicity if he is to create a state called Afghanistan that is more than a giant security complex.  On the other hand, President Ghani must deal with the consequences of ‘success’ that ‘normalisation’ entails, i.e. the more normal Afghanistan becomes the less interested the US and indeed other allies will be in Afghanistan and by extension him.

With this week’s signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US and the exemption of American forces from prosecution under Afghan law the security effort to buttress the new Afghan state and Ghani’s presidency has been physically reinforced.  The Agreement means some 9800 US personnel can in principle stay in Afghanistan in a training and mentoring capacity until at least 2024.  This is important.  However, for Ghani to be legitimate in the eyes of Afghans Kabul cannot again become synonymous with force or a protected canton of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).  Indeed, if that happens Kabul will again be seen simply as a Western-imposed distant elite ‘legitimised’ by American, i.e. foreign power.  This is something the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and the many fellow-travellers amongst the tribal and clan leaders will exploit, particularly in the Pashtun lands and quite possibly with the assistance of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence.  If that happens Afghanistan will be cast back not moved forward.

Therefore, the true test of President Ghani will be the emergence of some form of civil society across Afghanistan itself buttressed by the just rule of law.  It will see an Afghanistan further established on an economy that moves steadily away from the cultivation and exploitation of hard narcotics and which is properly re-integrated into the wider regional economy.  To achieve the demilitarisation and decriminalisation of Afghanistan President Ghani will need to stamp down hard on corruption in Kabul and the regional capitals and reach out to Afghanistan’s powerful and troublesome neighbours.  Above all he will need to lead a real government of national unity in close partnership with Afghanistan’s new ‘Chief Executive’ and presidential rival Abdullah Abdullah.  Such a strategy will be at least as important as reliance on his many contacts in elite Washington.  
Here is my concern.  My reading of President Ghani is that on occasions he too often allows an elevated ego to cloud a masterful intellect.  Indeed, he has an insecurity about him at times which renders him susceptible to the charms of those who ‘agree’ with him out of self-interest.  The President will need to realize that he cannot be an expert on all things and have the strength to seek wise counsel even if he is an if not the acknowledged expert on how to build a broken state. 

President Ashraf Ghani is no Gandhi.  However, Ghani has it in him to be a truly great Afghan leader if he allows himself to rise to the status of his elevated office (as indeed he can) and yet retain the openness of mind to listen.  There is one thing of which I am sure; President Ashraf Ghani will certainly imbue the Presidency of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with the respect and dignity that the Afghan people need and deserve. 

As Gandhi also said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.

Good luck, Mr President.

Julian Lindley-French