hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Nuts!


Alphen, Netherlands. 16 December.  Seventy years ago today not far from here deep in the depths of a bitter winter in the snows of the high Ardennes four German armies including the the 5th Panzer Army under General von Manteuffel and the 6th Panzer army under SS General Dietrich launched Operation Watch on the Rhine.  This massive attack on US forces became known as the Battle of the Bulge.  The frankly bizarre strategic aim of the offensive was to retake Antwerp from the British and Canadians with the aim of splitting the Allies.  The operation was doomed from the outset as Hitler desperately tried to rekindle his success of 1940 when he had driven tanks through the Ardennes forest against divided British and French forces.

The German offensive initially made some progress although never fast enough to achieve what by any military standards were extremely optimistic objectives, mainly due to the stout defence of relatively small US formations.  Von Manteuffel and his 5th Army employing new tactics made good use of the poor weather that prevented the tank-busting Royal Air Force Typhoons and US Army Air Force Mustangs from striking the 54000 German troops and 345 tanks committed to the offensive, including the powerful Tiger IIs.  German forces were hampered at all times by fuel shortages and the very snows that the offensive had used as cover.  Moreover, by late 1944 German forces in the West were a shadow of their former selves and the implied link to a new Blitzkrieg was illusory and although the Luftwaffe did launch attacks it was only at the cost of losing their last capable air force.

The offensive pivoted on the little Belgian town of Bastogne, the junction of 11 tarmac roads vital if German forces were to make the rapid progress upon which the entire offensive hinged.  The town was defended by the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles) and Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division.  By 21 December German forces had surrounded Bastogne but were unable to take it due to the determined American defence. At one point, the officer commanding US forces Brigadier-General Anthony C. McAuliffe received a note from his German opposite number Lieutenant General Heinrich Freiherr von Luttwitz seeking his surrender.  McAuliffe’s written reply has passed into military folklore; “Nuts!”

German forces then attempted to bypass Bastogne but it was by then already too late as improved weather enabled air attacks to slow their progress.  And, although Bastogne faced a series of assaults by 25 December all the attacking German tanks in the vicinity of the town had been destroyed.  On 26 December elements of Patton’s 4th Armored Division broke through to relieve the 101st in Bastogne, although the Screaming Eagles famously suggested that although low on ammunition, food and medical supplies they did not in fact need relieving.

Critically, the German offensive stalled before the River Meuse halfway to Antwerp where the British XXX Corps held the bridges over the Meuse at Dinant, Givet and Namur using air power and their Tiger-killing Sherman Firefly tanks to marked effect.  With General Patton’s Third Army pushing hard up from the south it became progressively clear to German commanders that they were in danger of being trapped in a pocket not dissimilar to that which had effectively destroyed an entire German army at Falaise in Normandy the previous August. 

Initially, Hitler refused to countenance a withdrawal and in keeping with Germany Army doctrine repeated counter-attacks and infiltration raids were launched by German forces.  However, in spite of local gains all these attacks ultimately proved futile and on 7 January, 1945 Hitler finally gave the order for German forces to withdraw.  However, it was not before 25 January that the Allied line was straightened and the pocket closed.
 
As per usual at this time success was not achieved without a good deal of bickering between US General Patton and British Field Marshal Montgomery as Patton’s Third Army attacked north from Bastogne and Montgomery came south.  There was an interesting footnote to the Battle of the Bulge.  American commanders accused Montgomery of attempting to claim credit for what in the end was a hard fought American victory.  They had a point because for every one British soldier committed to the battle there were between 30 and 40 Americans.  However, von Manteuffel himself said of Montgomery, “The operations of the American First Army [of which Montgomery had assumed command on 20 December] developed into a series of individual holding actions.  Montgomery’s contribution to restoring the situation was that he turned a series of isolated actions into a coherent battle fought according to a clear and definite plan”.

However, the Battle of the Bulge was an overwhelmingly American victory and must be remembered as such.  Indeed, “The Bulge” was the largest and most costly battle US forces fought in World War Two.  Over 600,000 US soldiers took part in the battle of whom some 83,000 were injured and some 19,000 killed.  German forces are believed to have lost killed, wounded or captured between 67,000 and 100,000 personnel.  In effect the Battle of the Bulge marks the end of offensive operations by the Germany Army in the West.  On 12 January, 1945 the Soviets launched the massive Vistula-Oder offensive which committed over 2 million infantry and over 4000 tanks to the battle and marked the beginning of the final destruction of Nazism.

Winston Churchill said of The Bulge, “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as a famous American victory”.
 

Julian Lindley-French 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Russian Spring?


Alphen, Netherlands. 12 December. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s”.  The 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine has been informally dubbed “Operation Russian Spring” by the Russian military.  Why did Russia invade Ukraine? How did Russian forces perform? What are the implications for future Russian strategy and action?  The work of my colleagues Dr Igor Sutyagin of RUSI and Dr Frank Hoffman of the National Defense University has informed this blog for which I am grateful.

Why did Russia invade Ukraine?  By the end of 2013 it was clear to Moscow that Russia would ‘lose’ Ukraine.  On 17 December last year the Russia-Ukraine Action Plan was agreed between President Putin and soon-to-be ousted Ukrainian President Yanukovych.  The plan was a clear statement of Russia’s determination to ensure Ukraine remained part of Russia’s “sphere of privileged interest”. Specifically, the plan included the abandonment of the Crimean Kerch Peninsula by Ukraine and the ceding in effect and in perpetuity of Sevastopol and the Black Seas Fleet base to Russia.  However, the Euromaidan revolution which began on the night of 21 November, rendered the plan redundant and acted as a trigger for the implementation of long-standing Russian plans to seize parts of Ukraine if deemed necessary to protect strategic Russian interests. 

These strategic interests comprised and combined military, economic and energy factors. Ukraine is central to Russian military strategy as Kiev has traditionally supplied anti-tank sights, air-to-air missiles, ICBM components, engines for cruise missiles and uranium for nuclear warheads.  Indeed, according to Dr Sutyagin there are some 259 Russian military bases that are dependent on Ukraine. 

Critically, the Russian fleet base at Sevastopol is vital as a platform for Moscow’s military influence not just in the Black Sea but beyond into the Mediterranean and across the Middle East.  Some have suggested Novorossiysk as an alternative. However, the Novorossiysk base cannot sustain a major fleet due to climatic conditions.

Economic considerations also seem to have been prominent in Moscow’s thinking.  At the time of the February 2014 invasion of Crimea Moscow was concerned about the protection of key gas export pipelines, such as the proposed South Stream project.  Last week Moscow cancelled South Stream, partly it seems because of a growing struggle with the EU which sees Russia’s attempt to use energy as a geopolitical lever as breaching energy-market rules.  This is a clear example of the culture clash between a Moscow that sees power as the essence of balance and an EU that is enshrined in a law-based concept of international relations. Indeed, implicit in the entire Ukraine crisis is the growing fear of the EU in the elite Russian mind, primarily as a form of latter day German empire.

Interestingly, the discovery of 4 trillion cubic metres of shale gas under eastern Ukraine has also concentrated the Russian mind.  Indeed, the deployment of Russian forces around Ukraine’s eastern borders suggests a posture that designed to remove that specific region from Ukrainian control if needs be.  Moscow had hoped that the invasion of Crimea would have been enough to force Kiev back into Russia’s “privileged sphere” but by late March 2014 it was apparent that was not the case.  When Ukrainian forces began to defeat the chaotically-disorganised separatists in late-2014 in the Donbass Russia acted. 

How did Russian forces perform?  “Operation Russian Spring” has demonstrated the growing ability of Russia to project military power and at the same time the force’s still many weaknesses.  Specifically, the operation has demonstrated Russia’s continuing problems with generating the kind of manoeuvre forces upon which such operations rely.

The invasion of Ukraine involved the mobilisation of some 90,000 troops from 27 separate units that were massed around Ukraine’s borders in early 2014.  Russia today has some 10 Field Armies, which are the equivalent to a US division.  Five of Russia’s field armies had to deploy all their so-called “manoeuvre units” to invade Ukraine and other such elements were drawn from across Russia to ensure the operation worked.  

However, it is the use of force in combination with 'strategic ambiguity' that has proven both novel and effective.  The use of disinformation and ambiguity worked long enough to keep European leaders off-balance for sufficient time to render the invasion a fait accompli, which is the current status.  However, the operation did not succeed in all of its aims.  For example, Russian Air Force aircraft were painted in Novorossiya colours to maintain the pretence of exclusively separatist action.  The aim had been to capture Donetsk Airport to provide a base for this ‘ghost’ air force but in the face of strong resistance by the Ukrainians in defence of the airport that plan seems now to have been abandoned.  It would appear that as of December 2014 Moscow is re-thinking its strategy and focusing on consolidating what gains it has made.

What are the implications for future Russian strategy and action? Last week in his State of Russia speech President Putin confirmed that Moscow would spend 23 trillion roubles ($700bn) by 2020 to modernise Russia’s armed forces with a specific focus on developing advanced expeditionary and deployable forces.  In spite of the current economic travails facing Russia it would be a mistake not to take the President at his word.  Indeed, it will take a cataclysm for President Putin to be dissuaded from his “Defence First” strategy.  

The 2010 Defence Modernisation Programme will be pursued to its conclusion, albeit erratically and often incompetently and it will not realise the force it promised of 1 million men under arms, 70% of whom will be equipped with most modern equipment (compared with 10% in 2010).  Equally, defence spending rose by 18.7% this year and will continue to command some 20% of all public investment in the years prior to 2020.  By 2020 Russia will have a markedly more capable and more deployable force.

Assessment: For the past five years President Putin has been centralising power on himself and his own office and ‘securitizing’ the Russian state through the increasingly influential National Security Council.  The process has itself intensified the classical Russian paranoia and prejudice about the West in which President Putin deeply believes and on which the strategy is based.  Several of his speeches have warned about foreign influence of which to his mind the so-called Colour Revolutions were proof.  

Russia’s strategy also reflects Russia's inherent weakness – size versus strength.  Russia simply faces too many challenges across too large a strategic space that stretches from the Arctic to the Far East to prevail everywhere.  Therefore, the current policy of limited aggression masks an essentially declinist and defensive strategic posture.  However, a militarily-capable but weakening Russian state could pose far more of a real danger than a strong Russian state.  Therefore, the West must expect friction, exploitation of weakness and opportunism as Russia attempts to exert its influence by occupying the space between war and peace.  Consequently, and in effect, Russia has invited through its actions the re-imposition of a containment strategy by the West.

In essence the 2014 Ukrainian crisis is a clash of strategic cultures and as such it is a struggle over strategic principle.  On the one side is a Europe that rejects spheres of influence in favour of a community model of international relations.  One the other side is a Russia determined to re-establish a classical sphere of influence in 2014 Europe and with it what Moscow sees as Russia's lost influence and authority.
 
Julian Lindley-French


Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Hardest Cut of All


Innsworth, England. 8 December.  Two events took place here in Britain last week that place the future of the British armed forces in the gravest doubt. First, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Reverend Justin Welby, made a speech in the House of Lords in which he made a thinly-veiled attempt to take more money out of an already horribly over-strained defence budget to ‘reinvest’ in the bottomless never-never pit of ‘soft power’. Second, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his Autumn Statement and made it clear that if Britain’s ‘books’ are to be balanced more swingeing cuts will be needed after the May 2015 elections.  A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) suggested that the Chancellor would need to find an additional £54.1bn of cuts.  According to IPPR with health, schools and the international aid budget ‘ring-fenced’ for narrow political reasons the defence budget would take by far the biggest hit; a further £9.3bn worth of cuts, well over twice that faced by any other department.  This would reduce the defence budget from some £34bn today to £25bn.  So, what would happen and who would lose if the British armed forces suffered such additional swingeing cuts?

NATO would be profoundly weakened and any pretence the British had to be leading NATO Europe by example would be trashed. My purpose in Innsworth is to address the Headquarters of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, a major NATO headquarters and a vestige of the once mighty British Army of the Rhine - I am just finishing off a book on NATO so I am full of it – and NATO’s history.  In September, at the NATO Wales Summit not far from here, Prime Minister David Cameron proudly announced that the money had been found to enable HMS Prince of Wales, the second of Britain’s new massive aircraft carriers to join the fleet.  Britain, he said, would be one of the few Allied powers to honour its commitment to spend 2% GDP on defence.  Both ‘commitments’ are now again in doubt.  Even maintaining the defence budget at 2%GDP will prove hard because with an economy growing at 3% per annum such a target would require significant new money.  And, as Professor Malcolm Chalmers points out on current spending the British defence budget will fall to 1.88% next year and 1.52% the year after. 

The Special Relationship with the Americans would be dead.  Assurances were given privately to the US at the time of 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) that once that round of cuts was completed the defence budget would be stabilised.  Further promises were given that thereafter the British defence budget would grow at 1% per annum in real terms to 2020.  The state of the current British military is of profound concern to the Americans.  Any further cuts would effectively end the close strategic military co-operation that has been a vital cornerstone of European and world security since Churchill and Roosevelt crafted the Atlantic Charter on the USS Augusta in 1941.

Britain’s influence would be critically diminished. Britain’s armed forces are integral to Britain’s strategic brand.  In his speech to the House of Lords Archbishop Welby called on the Government to include the funding of soft power in SDSR 2015.  Sadly, His Grace is not alone in pushing such nonsense; there is a group of people close to the top of government who agree with him and who are using austerity as a cover to reduce Britain’s armed forces to little more than yet another European peacekeeping militia.  Incredibly, Archbishop Welby suggests that soft power is the foundation of all power.  He is clearly no strategist for it is the other way round, as I prove conclusively in my latest book Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power.  Yes, a state in a hyper-competitive world must invest in all forms of power –diplomatic, aid and development and military - if it is to exert the influence and effect commensurate with its political and economic weight (not population size).  However, the bedrock of said influence is credible and relevant hard military power and that costs.

British soldiers would die needlessly.  Somewhere, sometime an under-equipped, over-tasked British solder would die in a foreign field that would forever be testament to political incompetence. Far from the world becoming a more peaceful place all the evidence is that big, hard power is back.  Friction abounds the world over, strategic ambiguous warfare is being used in Europe, a super-insurgency is underway in the Middle East and hard geopolitics is reflected by the rapid growth of illiberal power and their armed forces.  If such a world is to be stabilised and aggression deterred, and if needs be countered, then it needs the Western democracies to stand together and stand tall as credible military powers.  Today, European defence is a sham.  Any further cuts to the British armed forces would not only destroy their ability to act, it would wipe out the last vestige of Britain’s independent strategic brand and remove Britain as a pillar of Western defence once and for all.  Perhaps that is the aim?

A third event took place last week.  President Putin gave his State of Russia address in which he said, “We will continue to develop our general purpose forces: aviation, the navy and the land forces….the funds we are allocating for rearming the Army and the Navy…are unprecedented. They total 23 trillion roubles [more than $700 billion]”.  In the same debate at which Archbishop Welby spoke Baroness Williams supported His Grace by warning against being ‘beastly’ to the Russians. When I looked last it was not Britain that had invaded Ukraine and who is intimidating NATO and EU allies, most notably our friends in the Baltic States.  As such Williams’s statement was a close to an endorsement of appeasement any British politician has uttered since the 1930s.

Be it unbalanced defence cuts driven through simply to meet an arbitrary deficit target or Archbishop Welby’s meaningless ‘soft power’ grab both reveal the essential strategic illiteracy of Britain’s ruling clique.  Indeed, all the indications are that Britain will need more not less forces and the effective destruction (for that is what such cuts would mean) of one of the finest fighting forces would simply make the world more not less dangerous.

Sometimes I wonder if the greatest threat to Britain is not economic crises or even the rise of global armed illiberalism, but the fantasy politicians who occupy the increasingly fantasy world that is the fantasy Palace of Westminster.

Cut Britain’s armed forces anymore and it will be the hardest and most dangerous cut of all.


Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Fragile World, Weak West, Future Shock


Alphen, Netherlands. 4 December.  Winston Churchill once said, “Danger: if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never!”  This past week five separate but nevertheless linked events have demonstrated just what a fragile world we live in, just how prone we all are to future shock, and the lack of any coherent, sustained Western strategy to deal with any of them.

Russia: Today, President Putin will give his annual State of Russia address. Expect it to be full of bombast about the greatness of Russia and how Moscow is again teaching the world, or at least the NATO world, that Russia must be respected.  In fact, Russia is an economic basket-case.  The rouble has plunged 40% in the last year.  The price of oil upon which the Russia economy depends has fallen from $114/barrel to just $70/barrel tipping Russia into recession.  Western sanctions imposed due to Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukraine although modest are weakening an already vulnerable economy.  Much has been made of Russia’s resurgent military strength and indeed Moscow is spending 40% of all public investment on its armed forces.  However, the real danger is not Russian strength but political and economic weakness and the danger that it will tempt the Kremlin into further adventurism.

OPEC: Last week’s meeting of the Organisation of Previously Expensive Countries revealed the crisis which faces once mighty Middle East petro-states.  US shale oil and gas production is shifting the very foundations upon which big, strategic energy has been established for a century.  Add that to this week’s announcement that German energy giant Eon aims to become a producer of renewable energy only then the days when OPEC could in effect hold the West to ransom are long gone.  It is not all bad news for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.  Exxon Mobil in their 2012 report “2020 The Outlook for Energy: A View to 2040” estimate that global energy demand could be 30% higher in 2040 than 2010 with a world population will 9 billion larger.  Demand in OECD states will be flat but demand in non-OECD countries could grow by about 60%.  Fossil fuels will still meet 80% of the total energy needs whilst the demand for natural gas will increase by 60% by 2040. However, given the inherent instability of such states to political decapitation any loss of revenues makes them vulnerable to anti-state forces such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State.  Talking of which…

Islamic State: Yesterday, one of those big jamboree meeting was held at NATO HQ in Brussels with some sixty states in attendance.  If ever there was a statement that the struggle against the likes of Al Qaeda and Islamic State is a struggle between the state and the anti-state this was it.  Sadly, the meeting was also heat rather than light, the kind of event clueless Western politicians love these these days to give the appearance of action rather than the fact of it. Of course, air strikes have helped to degrade Islamic State but the wider problem of how to deal with Islamism remains unresolved.  There are three fundamental realities Western leaders refuse to grip; the need for boots on the ground if the struggle really is as important and the danger as big as they say, the need for a coherent sustained comprehensive strategy that involves all instruments of influence – diplomatic, aid and development and military over many years and in many places; and the balance to be struck between the protection of society and the projection of power. 

Afghanistan: Today another big jamboree conference will begin in London on the future of Afghanistan chaired by Prime Minister Cameron.  Alongside him will be Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and ‘Chief Executive’ Abdullah Abdullah.  However, several months on from the presidential elections there is still no government in Kabul, the Taliban insurgency is growing in strength again in the south and east of the country and attacks are becoming more common in Kabul.  Last week five British embassy workers were killed by a suicide bomb.  However, Britain left Afghanistan a month ago, Cameron has no intention of going back and neither Britain nor Europe has any influence.  Instead, President Obama has had to reverse course and sign a new “Combat Order” committing 10,000 US forces to Afghanistan until at least 2024. Today’s meeting is pure Cameronian political grandstanding

Europe: Yesterday, British Finance Minister George Osborne provided one of those acts of political theatre for which British politics is renowned.  The problem was that his Autumn Statement on the British economy was precisely that – feel-good theatre.  Even though the British economy will grow at 3% this year Britain's national debt still represents some 11% GDP, with only 40% of the cuts to public expenditure made over the past five years needed if Britain is to balance its books. Indeed, borrowing at £91bn this year is only sustainable because interest rates are at an historic low. This is driving two phenomena. First, like the rest of Europe (which is in a far worse state) Britain is raiding defence to maintain health and social welfare to serve electoral rather than strategic cycles.  Second, politicians simply refuse to tell people the truth. Taken together this approach leaves European states politically paralysed unable to deal with a now almost permanent economic crisis and forces politicians to wilfully ignore the many dangers beyond their borders. 

An old and wise friend of mine said to me this week that there is a dangerous dichotomy between “gosh, this is really serious” events and the predilection of politicians across Europe to see defence and external security as an additional extra. What is needed is leadership which is in precious short supply, political honesty which is completely absent and political balance and courage which is but a distant dream. Yes, getting debt down is a strategic must but it must not come at the expense of security and defence and the sound, credible, sustained and consistent strategic engagement that is desperately needed.  The sad reality is that contemporary politics has destroyed the strategic patience needed to face such dangers.  Instead, it has been replaced by political grandstanding to mask strategic weakness. The biggest danger of all is thus a weak West for when the West is weak as it is today all other dangers are magnified.   

“Events, dear boy, events”.


Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 1 December 2014

Brexit: What Would Happen if the EU Fails?


Alphen, Netherlands. 1 December.  David Cameron made his ‘big’ speech on immigration last week.  However, as with most things Cameron the speech was not what it seemed.  Indeed, it was not so much a ‘big’ speech on immigration as another ‘small’ speech on ‘Europe’.  And, because it was Cameron it was an all things to all men speech, or rather an as much as one German woman was prepared to accept speech. Consequently, the speech satisfied no-one.  The speech was also full of reality-defying contradictions.  Cameron’s claim that he can re-negotiate a significant change in Britain’s relationship with the EU that will, as he said, require treaty change and do it by the promised 2017 referendum is complete nonsense. The EU if it works at all does not work like that.  So, is a Brexit now more likely?  Would a Brexit matter?  And what would happen if the EU were to fail because of it?

Is a Brexit more likely?  Possibly.  As someone who sees free movement as a consequence of victory in the Cold War it is a principle worth upholding.  However, I am a member of a British minority on this subject.  My concerns about the EU are not so much about the fundamental principles that have enshrined ‘Europe’ since the 1957 Treaty of Rome.  Rather, they concern the emaciation of democracy and the appalling ‘governance’ now inflicted upon the European peoples because of the silent power struggle between EU institutions and the member-states.  The result is the kind of political paralysis that was so evident in Cameron’s speech. 

Equally, denying member-states even temporary controls over mass movements at times of economic extremis such as today is utterly irresponsible and creates the conditions for revolt which is apparent in England in particular.  Many EU member-states are using Britain and the British people as a gigantic pressure valve for the release of social tensions caused by Eurozone failure and that is unfair.  Current levels of immigration to England from the EU are simply unsustainable.  If a solution is not found there is a real chance that England will reject London’s pro-EU political class en masse.  That would mean a Brexit?

Would a Brexit matter?  Certainly. Last week former Commission President Romano Prodi warned about the wider implications of Britain’s virtually complete marginalisation in Brussels.  This is not a recent phenomenon but has been underway since Britain sensibly opted not to join the Euro, the root cause of Europe’s endless economic and political crises, and because no political settlement has been put in place to make the EU fairer for non-Eurozone members.  Prodi’s essential point was that the implicit balance of power at the heart of the EU between Berlin, London and Paris has been shattered by British marginalisation and French decline. 

In the past smaller EU member-states would have reinforced the implicit balance of power by siding with one or the other of the so-called ‘Big Three’ thus preventing hegemony in Europe.  Now, in the absence of such balance the smaller member-states are rushing to cluster around Berlin which is giving the EU the character of an emerging German Empire.  This is something most sensible German leaders neither seek nor want because as Prodi suggests such a concentration of power on one member-state would sooner rather than later de-legitimise the EU and it would sooner or later unravel. 

What would happen if the EU were to fail?  Disaster.  If the EU began to unravel the entire political, economic and security balance of the Continent would be threatened.  Politically and economically the smaller, weaker member-states would look to Germany for leadership she is simply unable to offer.  Economically, the inability or plain refusal of southern and eastern European member-states to reform would impose ever greater burdens on the taxpayer’s of the seven member-states left paying for the wealth-transfer mechanism that in the absence of growth is the EU.  Add to that mix unstable banks and broke governments and at some point another major economic crisis would a) happen; and b) see the whole structure collapse.  If it survived at all the Eurozone would retrench into a German zollverein focused on a few northern, western Europeans.  The great unreformed would be forced out and their citizens subjected to the full fury of panicking financial markets and social and economic meltdown.  Russia would undoubtedly see such a crisis as a golden opportunity to re-establish a sphere of influence in central and eastern Europe with profound consequences for European security.

Therefore, if David Cameron was a Winston Churchill he would have couched his ‘big’ speech in ‘big’ strategy rather than ‘small’ politics.  He would have pointed out the strategic dangers to Europe of forcing Britain out through EU intransigence because said intransigence is in fact a refusal to face up to reform.  Specifically, Cameron would have pointed out that: a) ‘ever closer union’ has failed; b) the Treaty of Lisbon has led Europe into a political dead-end; c) the Euro as structured is the cause of Europe’s endless economic crises; and d) integration and harmonisation is leading to over-regulation and a form of statism that will doom Europe to inevitable economic decline.  

Finally, Cameron would have called on EU member-states to decisively take control back from those in Brussels seeking ever more Europe.  Only if other European leaders refuse to recognise what is now blindingly obvious would Cameron move to take Britain out of the EU because then he would have no alternative.  Unfortunately, David Cameron is no Winston Churchill.  Whereas Churchill was able to see the biggest of big pictures, Cameron never sees them.  Whereas Churchill understood strategy, Cameron only understands politics.  Or, rather, he only sees big-issue strategy as part of his endemic short-term local politicking. 

The EU must reform or die.  As for David Cameron he must for say what he means and mean what he says.  Last week he did not and as such he made an eventual Brexit from a broken EU more not less likely.

Julian Lindley-French







Thursday, 27 November 2014

A Papal Bull on EU Bull


Alphen, Netherlands. 27 November. In 1516 Sir Thomas More wrote in Utopia: “Why do you suppose they made you king?’ I asked him. ‘Not for your benefit but for theirs.  They meant you to devote your energies to making their lives more comfortable, and protecting them from injustice.  So your job is to see they’re alright, not just that you are – just as a shepherd’s job is to feed his sheep, not himself’”.  Pope Francis’s verbal dressing down of the European Parliament this week came straight out of the Friendly-Clinch school of blog blasting.  Like me the Pope clearly believes in the ideal of Europe but has profound concerns about the monster the EU is fast becoming.  Indeed, the Pope comes across as a pro-European EU-sceptic, the dystopian place where all of us who believe in democracy in Europe must reside.  What the Pope said was nothing less than a papal bull on EU bull.

The Pope's main concern was the growing gap between the people and the EU super-elite due to what the Holy Father called “bureaucratic technicalities”.  “In recent years, as the EU has expanded, there has been growing mistrust on the part of citizens towards institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful”.  He went on, “It is no secret that a conception of unity seen as uniformity strikes at the vitality of the democratic system, weakening the rich, fruitful and constructive interplay of organisations and political parties”.  “This leads,” the Pope warned, “…to the risk of living in a world of ideas, of mere words, of sophistry, and to end up confusing the reality of democracy with a new political nominalism”.  I could not have put it better myself.

The pope warned of the threat posed by "unseen empires" to democracy.  In fact, such empires are not so much “unseen” as in Brussels, which is just about the same thing.  The problem being that those in Europe’s More-esque Utopia so believe they are building Utopia that there prescription for peace, prosperity and indeed everything is ever more of themselves in the guise of ‘Europe’.  Consequently, Brussels resembles not so much Utopia as Babel.

This past year has been full of EU Bull.  In the elections to the European Parliament in May millions of Europeans protested against an out-of-touch super-elite anchored in a distant, out-of touch parliament.  Did said elite listen?  Certainly not!  Instead, the self-same super-elite hijacked the protest by claiming that in fact the people had been voting for them in the form of so-called spitzenkandidaten. 

Then, with a legitimacy-denying, credibility-crushing turnout of only 40% the self-same EU super-elite claimed the right to appoint the President of the European Commission.  This was against the wishes of the vast swathe of European citizens who still see their nation-states as the true guardians of political legitimacy in Europe. 

Last month the Commission announced it was imposing a retrospective tax on the citizens of a few member-states based on a model that in spite of intense effort I can still not find.  Indeed, as a Dutch taxpayer I feel increasingly under siege from the EU and all too aware that a supine Dutch Government will do nothing to protect me.  Sadly, the weakness of The Hague, London and the other paying capitals simply encourages Brussels to find ever more creative ways to filch money from the taxpayer’s of the eight EU member-states that actually pay for the EU whilst doing nothing to deal with the endemic corruption at the heart of the EU as identified by the Court of Auditors.

Talking of creativity last month it was also announced that as Prime Minister of Luxembourg Commission President Jean Claude Juncker had allowed major multinational corporations to use his country as a flag of tax convenience to avoid the payment of huge amounts of tax and in so doing force me to pay more.  There must be something vaguely biblical here about it being easier for a corporation to pass through the gates of Brussels than a citizen to pay through the nose for a needle? Juncker denies all knowledge, which is of course nonsense.  Luxembourg is so small that if a sparrow farts the prime minister knows about it.

This week Juncker announced a new €300bn European Strategic Investment Fund to get Europe back to work.  First, the Fund does nothing to solve the structural problems in the European economy that condemn those of us in the Eurozone to perpetual crisis. Indeed, the Fund will probably delay such reforms.  Second, whilst the EU will inject only around 10% of my money initially in the hope of 'leveraging' investment from the private sector my money will still be used to ‘guarantee’ private sector investment.  In other words, I am about to be ripped off…again.

Why am I so sure?  Yesterday, the Court of Auditors revealed a €300bn black-hole in the EU budget due to unfunded projects.  The figure is suspiciously close to the €300bn the Commission wants to raise for new projects.  Pathetically, a few member-states try to impose checks on the EU budget and David Cameron proudly announced earlier this year that he had succeeded.  The problem is that with twenty of the twenty-eight member-states being happy recipients of my tax money they are equally happy to work with the European Commission and the European Parliament to ignore efforts to stem the flow.

What the Holy Father highlighted is an EU with institutions now beyond the control of emaciated and emasculated member-states and indeed beyond the checks and balances of properly representative, legitimate democracy.  Indeed, far from preparing Europe for a hyper-competitive world the EU is fast becoming an enormous Ponzi scheme – taking money from some citizens to pay imaginary 'dividends' to other citizens until the entire pyramid collapses under its own essentially corrupt weight.

The EU is broken.  It does not work.  It is certainly no longer my EU.  However, restoring ‘Europe’ to the people will be no easy task and will probably take little less than divine intervention.  And yet that is precisely the challenge all of us must confront.


Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Hybrid Threats: All the Rage


London, United Kingdom. 25 November.  They call it Rage; a newly-discovered malware programme that is perhaps the most advanced malicious spyware yet discovered.  Here in London according to people who know about these things the purpose of Rage is to gather intelligence by penetrating highly-protected computer systems.  The strange thing about Rage is not that it exists but rather its provenance. Its signature seems to belong not to China or Russia as one might expect these days, but a Western intelligence agency as yet unspecified. The latest revelation adds yet more spice to a growing sense here in London of a country under siege from a broad panoply of so-called ‘hybrid’ threats.  My purpose here is to attend a IISS meeting to consider ‘hibridity’, the latest buzz-phrase in the insecurity foment.  ‘Hybridity’ implies the use of all possible civil and military means to threaten all possible people in all possible places thus undermining the essential ‘contract’ between societal protection and power projection upon which security and defence is established.  What’s new?

As I arrived at London City Airport Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Theresa May was warning Britons that the police and intelligence agencies can no longer cope with the scale and sophistication of the many terror attacks being planned against Britain.  She called for sweeping new powers to combat the threat posed by Al Qaeda or Islamic State-inspired terrorist attack which she regards as more dangerous than “at any time since 911”. 

It is certainly the case that the lexicon of new terms beloved of the security community has proliferated.  Indeed, if one listens to language of conflict one could be tempted into thinking disaster is imminent.  Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine saw Moscow’s use of ‘ambiguous warfare’ for strategic ends.  There is a ‘super-insurgency’ in the Middle East that both threatens the regional state structure and risks destabilising an already destabilised British society. ‘Cyber warfare’ threatens to fry ‘critical national infrastructures’ reducing society to anarchy.  And, growing ‘geopolitical hyper-competition’ points to a strategic environment in which friction abounds and big war no longer an impossible nightmare.  All imply a world increasingly beyond and out of control.

However, stand-back a moment.  Yes, all the conflicts share common twenty-first century factors that magnify insecurity, such as mass and social media, the twenty-four hour news cycle and the Kommentariat, and the growing paranoia of open, instable societies. And yet peek through the dynamic language of threat, break down each conflict and the threats become not only recognisable but manageable.
 
Russia’s aggression against Ukraine represents a classic exploitation of political division for strategic ends.  Moscow is using proxies reinforced by a disinformation and strategic communications campaign reinforced by use of Russian forces to consolidate territorial gains.  The super-insurgency in Syria and Iraq takes place against the backdrop of a regional state structure in turmoil.  However, Islamic State is in fact a classical Sunni insurgency that General Gordon would have recognised at Khartoum in the late nineteenth century.  The stalled negotiations in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear ambitions reflect Tehran’s regional-strategic ambitions and classical geopolitics albeit nuclear-tipped. 

All three conflicts would have been recognised by Britain’s forebears for what they are and the tools and instruments available to past London would have been shaped accordingly and applied proportionately.  The problem is that the tools have been denuded and the structures designed to cope with multiple, simultaneous threats have withered.  In such a situation political leaders conscious of their own strategic failure are happy to accord such conflicts the radical appellation ‘hybrid’ because it implies an exoticism and complexity that does not in fact exist. 

The danger is that terms such as ‘hybrid’ become a metaphor in an ever-changing lexicon of threat for an inability of government to grip complexity and establish sound strategy thereafter.  It is a metaphor reflective of an acute inability to act and the deepening policy paralysis in increasingly dysfunctional societies of which Britain has become a sad example.  ‘Hybrid threats’ by definition demand of a state a comprehensive security concept, i.e. joined-upness, at which contemporary states such as Britain are not very good at.  Faced with such dysfunctionality terms such as ‘hybrid’ becomes a catch-all, full of meaning and yet meaningless, generating more heat than light, more politics than strategy.

Western governments must go back to the fundamental principles of sound security; intelligence-gathering, analysis, deterrence, defence and interdiction.  Each scenario must be carefully and sufficiently analysed and properly-considered so that the vital balance between protection and projection can be adapted, reinforced and maintained.  Only then will the balance between security and liberty, efficiency and effectiveness be properly re-established. 

There can be no doubt that the shifting balance of power, emerging technologies and radical belief systems do pose a real threat to societies changed beyond all recognition to the one into which I was born. Indeed, in the space of my lifetime Britain has gone from being one of the most secure and stable of developed societies to one of the most insecure and unstable.  Some of this is the inevitable consequence of technological change. Rage is but the latest attack emerging from the “Internet of Things” to which open society is vulnerable. 

‘Hybrid threats’ are certainly real but they are not as new as their advocates would suggest.  Rather, the danger is that ‘hybridity’ become a kind of lazy shorthand for security inadequacy that loads different and differing types and forms of conflict into a misleading buzz-phrase.  Such ‘laziness’ not only affects planning and response but could lead to a form of panic as threats are combined and then aggregated.  If that is the case ‘hybridity’, which is all the rage amongst security wonks, would reflect more an unwillingness to grip complexity than combat the very real threats implied therein.  That in turn would be a failure of strategy, policy and imagination.

Hybrid threats: all the rage,


Julian Lindley-French