hms iron duke

hms iron duke

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

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Future of Naval Power


Friedrikshavn, Denmark. 20 November.  At the dawn of what became the British Empire that great Elizabethan adventurer, naval commander and occasional pirate Sir Walter Raleigh said, “Whoever commands the sea commands the trade, whoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself”.  The politically correct West might wish to put it slightly differently these days but I am sure neither China nor Russia would demur from Raleigh’s fundamental principles of sea power.  Today, I have the honour of addressing officers of the Royal Danish Navy, latter day Vikings, on Europe’s place on the world stage and the future of European navies.  The essential question implicit in my speech is this; are Europeans any longer up to the principles of projectable sea power?

We are entering a big power age, a hyper-competitive age in which illiberal power is growing and liberal power declining.  It is also a hybrid age in which co-operation and competition between states takes place simultaneously.  It is a world made dangerous by Europe’s retreat from power and its wilful refusal to invest in power, a retreat that has doomed its cherished law-based international system to failure.  This is something Russia has demonstrated to effect this year with its skilful conquest of Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  In effect Moscow wrapped Europeans up in the contradictory nonsense of their own ‘laws’ and revealed for all to see that for Europeans ‘law’ is the new appeasement; a metaphor for weakness and retreat from power and influence.

Navies in particular have been hit hard by this nonsense.  As warships the world over are built and launched daily European navies have atrophied.  Britain’s once mighty Royal Navy (RN) is a European case in point.  My friend Captain Simon Atkinson of the Royal Australian Navy sent me a piece this week by Nicholas M. Gallagher entitled When Britain Really Ruled the Waves for which I am grateful.  The piece tells the story of the decline and fall of the world’s premier navy to a point at which today the RN has 38 admirals for 29 ships. 

Go back a century. In May 1916 just off the coast of Jutland where I am sitting the enormous massed Dreadnoughts and Super-Dreadnoughts of the Grand Fleet were swinging one-by-one into battle line astern, enormous battle white ensigns were blossoming into the wind at the ‘gaff’ of the masts of each battleship as huge guns swung and rose in their turrets.  Before them the German High Seas Fleet confident of victory was sailing unwittingly into an enormous steel trap.  On one horizon HMS Marlborough laid her guns for action and at the other end HMS Agincourt.  It was the greatest display of naval power in history as the greatest cannonade ever fired thundered out catching the German Admiral Scheer completely by surprise.

That was then and this is now, which is why Gallagher misses the essential point.  His argument is that the US-UK special relationship is built on naval power and that the weakness of the Royal Navy is putting that relationship at risk.  The RN of today is indeed at low ebb.  Brit-bashing is a popular sport partly and precisely because of the past power of the Royal Navy.  The critics like to point out that there are not enough ships and that because of that Britain will be unable to exercise sea control or sea presence, the two essential functions of naval strategy.  And they are right; the Navy of today is neither Corbett nor Mahan.

However, Corbett at least would have understood the strategy.  Some time ago I told a very senior British officer to keep the faith, look up and out at strategy and focus on the creation of the future hub force the Royal Navy is destined to become.  Within a decade the RN will have two super-carriers, new Type-45 destroyers and Type-26 frigates in addition to its new Astute-class nuclear attack submarines.  Indeed, an enormous part of Britain’s enormous £160bn defence equipment investment (by contemporary European standards) is devoted to the new Royal Navy. 

Powerful enough to work with the Americans the future RN will be also capable of commanding coalitions often alongside the French (not without historical irony) as a pivotal element in the emerging democratic world-wide security web.  The web will include Australians, Canadians, Europeans, Japanese and others and will see the RN front and centre when the Americans are otherwise engaged as they surely will be.  It might not be Jutland and the Grand Fleet but that was the exception in British naval history not the norm.

Therefore, when I rise to address Denmark’s finest I will be addressing partners in a future naval concept in turn part of an entirely new concept of projectable maritime-amphibious power.  Power that sits at the core of a new concept of joint force in which land, sea, air, cyber, space and indeed knowledge are merged into a new concept of influence, force and effect.  The Royal Navy - the greatest navy the world has ever known – will be slap bang at the heart of a twenty-first concept of projectable military power every bit as impressive as its nineteenth and twentieth century past.

So, stop whingeing, keep the faith, and the tell the story Navy!


Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 17 November 2014

Britain and Germany Must Fix EU Fault-lines


Brussels, Belgium. 17 November.  Political seismic pressure is growing inexorably on the EU’s fissured fault-line.  The growing tectonic shift reveals itself in many ways.  Indeed, with G20 leaders warning this week that the Eurozone will soon tip into a third recession in as many years leaders here in Europe’s bureaucratic capital are beginning to look nervously over their shoulders at the huddled masses of citizenry they have failed and continue to fail.  However, the most obvious expression of the coming political tremor is evident in the now reasonable chance that Britain could leave the EU. 

Prior to coming here to Brussels to chair a panel at this year’s European Security Forum I was in Porches, Portugal at a superb high-level event organised by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the many security challenges faced by Europeans and their North American allies.  However, a constant theme throughout was the Brexit, EU reform, and the growing importance of the British-German relationship.

Encouragingly, there was widespread agreement that it would be a disaster for Germany and Europe if Britain left the EU.  There was also some agreement that the concerns of political principle raised by the British must be addressed.  One senior German even went as far as to suggest that for the EU to survive it must become more like the inter-governmental super-alliance the British could live with rather than some form of hybrid confederation.

There are reasons for the convergence of interests.  As Germany steadily emerges as Europe’s political leader all the indices suggest Britain will emerge as Germany’s vital twenty-first century partner in Europe.  There will be no British-German axis because that is not the nature of the relationship but a critical partnership is needed that will be as important to NATO and the transatlantic relationship as it is to inner-EU ‘cohesion’.  The world-views of Britain and Germany are in many ways far more closely aligned than much of the politics would lead one to believe.

Sadly, it is precisely the politics which separate the two countries and prevents EU reform moving beyond the merely rhetorical.  Britain and Germany can never seem to get past the first base of mutual trust and confidence.  The domestic narrative in both countries is still too often based on mutually destructive national stereotypes.  In Germany ‘Britain’ is still a metaphor for dissident views about the grand European project which remains central to German concepts of institutionally-embedded German power.  In Britain German leadership is still too often presented as the first steps on the road to a Fourth Reich, which is just about as far from modern German reality as it is possible to get. And, of course, every time Berlin indicates any movement towards London Paris whispers protest quietly in the German elite ear.  Therefore, if a proper partnership is to be established London will have to face down the shrill, Berlin will have to face down both German critics and the French, and both countries will need to undertake serious, patient groundwork. 

The first step would be to take the politics out of the strategy.  To meet that challenge a discreet, high-level working group is needed which addresses the concerns of both countries and seeks  practical, structural solutions to the issues which are threatening to break the EU apart.  Such an agenda would necessarily include the social consequences of mass migration, the level of cost to be imposed on the taxpayer’s of the eight member-states that actually pay for the EU, the balance of powers to be established between the Eurozone and the non-Eurozone and between the Brussels institutions and EU member-states, completion of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and how to prepare Europeans to compete effectively in a hyper-competitive twenty-first century. 

As events have shown this past week none of the above will be addressed by simply transferring ever more state power blindly into an ever more distant and inefficient Brussels in the name of ‘more Europe’.  Indeed, the very ethos of the Brussels institutions prevents the pragmatic and collective addressing of such challenges.

If Britain and Germany can succeed in addressing such an agenda in partnership and jointly propose solutions to the rest of the EU then EU reform will be realised and a Brexit averted.  More importantly the political paralysis which is the real cause of Europe’s now perpetual recession will end.  However, Britain and Germany should be under no illusions.  Such a political settlement will require structural change to the EU.  That in turn will require a new EU treaty such are the importance, nature and scale of the challenges Britain and Germany must together face.

Equally, if such a political settlement could be achieved it would be the finest monument to the millions of Europeans who gave their lives in conflict this past century.  For the first time in years I have the merest glance of hope that the EU’s dangerous political fault-line can be fixed.  However, Britain and Germany must act, together and now. 

Julian Lindley-French


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Well Done, Europe!

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 November.  Well done, Europe! The image the European Space Agency  (ESA) presents of a fridge (Siemens no doubt) being landed on a comet the size of Hemel Hempstead over five hundred million kilometres distant is wonderful.  ESA's incredible achievement is even greater.  It is like something out of Wallace and Gromit.  As I write the fate of the European Space Agency's bouncy little probe Philae still hangs in the balance, or rather floats in the Cosmos, as we await a relayed message from the mother ship Rosetta.  Whatever happens today ESA's achievement is quite simply stunning and shows what can be achieved when European states work together for the common good.  No 'ifs', no 'buts, no politics.  Well done, Europe!

Julian Lindley-French 

Five Anatomies of Power


Alphen, Netherlands. 12 November.  J.K. Galbraith once wrote: “All of the great leaders have one characteristic in common: the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time”.  The markedly different body language of Presidents Obama, Putin and Xi as they strolled together at this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) meeting in Beijing revealed three vastly different anatomies of power.  Given his concept of ‘greatness’ how would Galbraith have assessed five of today’s world leaders: Xi, Obama, Putin, Merkel and Cameron?

President Xi Jingping: “Modesty is a vastly overrated virtue”.  Xi exudes the authority of a man who believes that all he must do is wait and China will inherit if not the earth, at least the East Asian part of it.  Xi is a man who has struggled and prevailed in the oft lethal internal power machinations of the Chinese Communist Party.  XI is tough, believes he has won at home and is winning abroad.  Xi’s “new model for great power” relations place him and China at the centre of world power and replaces Communism with nationalism as the essential creed of Chinese power and influence.  It is a concept of power revealed in all the majesty of its prejudice in this week’s meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. 

President Barrack Obama: “It is a far, far better thing to have a firm anchor in nonsense…”  President Obama is a leader who desperately wants to see the world he would like, not the world as it is.  Consequently, the “Yes We Can!” Super-President has become the “No, We Can’t” lame duck president.  Wounded at home by the mid-terms and in retreat abroad President Obama exudes the weakness of a man who believes his time will soon be up and maybe America’s great age of power with him.  He has lost in Washington and is losing much of his country in an America that respects power but smells weakness.  The smell today is pungent. President Obama is drifting and gives the impression of a leader with no clear idea about either the extent or utility of American power. 

President Vladimir Putin: “War remains the decisive human failure”.  Putin is the gambler.  He leads a Russia that is today a one-shot, wreck of an economy with a too-many-vodka-shots broken society.  Faced with the unpalatable reality of strategic decline Putin has retreated into a Peter the Great myth of Russian power and nationalism.  By conquering parts of Ukraine, embarking on state-bankrupting military modernisation and by intimidating the people of Russia’s most important trading partners Putin has adopted the strategy of weakness masked in the pretence of strength.  Such a strategy may buy Putin time.  It will certainly one day earn him a place in Russian history as yet another heroic failure so beloved of Russians.

Chancellor Angela Merkel: “Meetings are indispensable when you don’t want to do anything”.  Merkel is billed as the “most powerful leader in Europe”.  To mix my metaphors for her such billing is a decidedly poisoned chalice.  Ever the systematic scientist Merkel knows just how little power she really has and how limited her room for manoeuvre trapped as she is between what is best for Germany and what is best for ‘Europe’.  To compensate she exudes that other great quality of a superior intellect to which Galbraith referred – pessimism.  Consequently, she moves from EU meeting to EU meeting with much of Europe looking to her for the decisive leadership she knows she cannot offer.  Such leadership would finish her, possibly Germany and quite probably the EU.  In reality her choice is a dark one; act now to save that bit of the Eurozone that can be saved or do nothing and hope Europe’s eventual demise will not happen on her watch.  She has chosen for the latter and waits hopefully for the miracle of entirely unlikely economic growth to fix her dilemma.

Prime Minister David Cameron: “Politics is the art of the possible.  It consists of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable”.  Britain has ‘achieved’ something quite chilling – none of the leaders of Britain’s three major political parties actually believe in Britain.  Indeed, David Cameron is just about as far away from a Winston Churchill or a Margaret Thatcher as it is possible for a British leader to get.  His only consolation is that Ed Milliband and Nick Clegg are even further distant from greatness.  Surrounded by advisers that tell him daily that Britain is finished and that Little Britain has no future beyond the political wreckage of the the EU Cameron mouths the mantras of leadership but believes none of it. Cameron is quite simply incapable of confronting unequivocally the major anxieties of his people in their time.  Instead, Cameron fiddles around with power substituting politics for strategy and manoeuvre for principle as holding onto power becomes the essence of his political purpose.

The West of which Galbraith wrote is in crisis.  The current crop of Western leaders has failed the challenge of power posed by the twenty-first century.  Consequently, the ‘West’ (such as it is) is in rapid retreat across the world leaving power vacuum after vacuum for the likes of Xi and Putin to fill.  None of them are up to the challenges Galbraith would have understood and which were both implicit and explicit at the APEC meeting.  The real question Galbraith would have posed today is this; is it any longer possible for North Americans or Europeans to produce great leaders?  It is a vital question for the answer to it will decide whether this is to be another American and by extension Western century or a Chinese/Asian century.  The nature of geopolitics means it is unlikely to be both. 

If this is indeed to be another American century new thinking is urgently needed at the very top in both America and indeed Europe.  For as Galbraith once said: “The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking”. 

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 10 November 2014

Arresting Europe, Taxing Credulity


Alphen, Netherlands. 10 November. Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “The people when rightly and fully-trusted will return the trust”.  Tell that to the EU elite.  Recently, a senior member of the Dutch Senate and a fully paid-up member of the ‘we need more EU for everything’ brigade warned people against me at a public meeting.  He did so apparently because he said I had been “radicalised” in my concerns about the centralisation of distant power in the EU.  First, to equate me with Islamic terrorism is unacceptable.  Second, in a true democracy the job of the citizen-taxpayer is precisely to hold power to account. 

Naturally, I was informed of this attack by a reliable colleague as the individual in question lacked the integrity to tell me himself.  In a sense Mr Senator has made my point for me.  Indeed, it is precisely the growing intolerance of informed criticism by Europe’s elite that has turned me from a strong supporter of the EU into a taxpayer-citizen with profound concerns about reform, accountability and transparency in and of the EU.  This past week has reinforced my concerns.

EU reform: British Finance Minister George Osborne was dancing on the head of a pin when he claimed ‘victory’ in his attempts to reduce and offset the ‘surprise’ EU demand on the British citizen-taxpayer for an additional £1.7bn (€2.1bn).  The bill is in addition to the massive rise in Britain’s annual contribution to the EU from £3.7bn (€4.7bn) in 2009 to £11.3bn (€14.4bn) in 2013.  Moreover, the British citizen-taxpayer will be hit by an additional £655m (€834m) because the famous cut to the EU budget negotiated by David Cameron will be overturned by a European Parliament stock full of people who simply do not care that every penny they spend comes from ordinary citizen-taxpayers. 

Three simple truths are revealed by this latest British EU fiasco: the British taxpayer will indeed pay the £1.7bn; the twenty EU member-states who are ‘net receivers’ are perfectly happy with the current system; and the European Commission can always manipulate that basic divide to expand the EU budget and its own competence.  Indeed, David Cameron is fast becoming the Grand Old Duke of York of EU politics.  He marches the British people up to the top of the hill of promised EU reform only to march them down again when the extent of Britain’s and indeed his own impotence is revealed.  The EU is unreformable.

EU Accountability:  Last week a scandal broke that would once have led to resignations, not any more.  It was revealed that when European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker was prime minister of Luxembourg his country permitted 340 major international companies to aggressively avoid tax.  The so-called “Lux-Leaks” document is now under investigation by the same European Commission that Juncker now heads making a mockery of his claims that he will bring some ‘ethics’ to EU tax laws. The bottom-line is that millions of ordinary European taxpayer-citizens were fleeced by this system as we all had to pay the tax Luxembourg helped big corporations avoid.  Mr Juncker should resign but he will of course not.  The EU elite are unaccountable.  

EU Transparency:  The tax surcharge imposed by the European Commission on the taxpayer-citizens of Britain, Cyprus, Italy and the Netherlands breaks all previous conventions on tax.  First, the specific method by which the surcharge was calculated by the European Commission lacks transparency (nothing new there then). Second, the entire principle of imposing back-tax directly or indirectly on ordinary taxpayer-citizens retrospectively is utterly without precedent.  Third and worst of all, the 'value' of crime has been estimated and added to national wealth.  For tax to be imposed the taxpayer-citizen must have benefitted from a service that is legal.  In effect, the European Commission is taxing the victims of crime.  As a precedent this departure is quite simply outrageous and demonstrates all too clearly the lengths to which the EU will now go to transfer wealth.   The EU is insatiable.

Worse, the European taxpayer-citizen is about to be become more vulnerable to unfettered and unaccountable power.  Today in London the House of Commons will debate whether or not Britain opts back into the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).  Implicit in this debate is a fundamental question about where power, accountability and law should reside.  On the face of it the EAW makes sense because it speeds extradition between EU member-states.  However, when taken together the EAW and the new taxation reflect two dangerous precedents that accelerate the drift towards European confederation.  First, those who designed the European Arrest Warrant see the eventual goal as a single EU legal jurisdiction and a single EU legal prosecutor.  In other words, the EAW is yet another example of the drip-by-drip destruction of national sovereignty that is eroding both the European state and European democracy.  Second, a fundamental breach has taken place this past week in the relationship between taxation, benefit and representation.   

Abraham Lincoln believed that as central power grew it inevitably became more corrupt.  He also believed that freedom is best served when power is as close to the taxpayer-citizen as possible reinforced by real checks and balances.  Now, I have no problem with my hard-earned money helping transform lives and places but it must be proportionate, fair, transparent, and used efficiently for the right purposes.  The EU simply does not pass those tests or indeed the Lincoln test.  

This past week had two Europes on offer.  There was the Europe of hope reflected in celebrations to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall and those few heady days in November 1989 when everything seemed possible.  There was also that other, elite EU Europe demonstrating yet again just how far they have moved Europe from hope and idealism towards cynicism in the intervening years.  If such an observation makes me ‘radicalised’ for challenging power then so be it.  In my book the right to question power in a democracy is called freedom, Mr Senator.  But then again I am just a mere citizen-taxpayer and I should really leave politics to you politicians.  Really?

Julian Lindley-French


Thursday, 6 November 2014

The Berlin Wall and the Defence of Freedom


Alphen, Netherlands. 6 November.  Winston Churchill said, “All the great things are simple and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honour, mercy, hope”.  Twenty-five years ago in November 1989 like millions of my fellow Europeans I sat with tears rolling down my cheeks as I witnessed live on television the German people tear down the Berlin Wall.  In so doing Germans joined fellow Europeans from across Central and Eastern Europe to rip down the “Iron Curtain” which Churchill had so famously dubbed back at the outset of the Cold War in 1946.   

That 1989 act, that moment of dynamic unification, also marked the end of the four great European schisms that had so disfigured freedom; the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War, the 1914-1918 Great War, the 1939-1945 Second Great War, and the 1945-1989 Cold War.  For millions of Europeans it was THE moment in Europe when justice, honour, mercy, hope and above all freedom finally came together in a continent-wide anthem of joy.  Whatever happened thereafter (and much of course tragically did) Europe would finally one day be whole and free.

Yesterday, I enacted my inalienable right to freedom in Europe.  It took me over nine hours to drive from the Netherlands to Wiesbaden and back but it was a matter of honour for me to attend the Change of Command ceremony of United States Army Europe (USAREUR).  My purpose was manifold: to say thank you to retiring Lt. General Donald M. Campbell for his service to the defence of Europe’s freedom – my freedom; to congratulate my friend Lt. General Ben Hodges on his new appointment; to pay my respects to the United States and its armed forces for the immeasurable, transformative contribution they and the American people have made to Europe’s freedom; and to pay my respects to the equally amazing post-Cold War contribution Germany has made and continues to make to European freedom, stability and security.  However, above all I made the journey because I could.  Each turn of my car wheels retraced part of the bloody course my own British forebears had forged less than a lifetime ago to free Europe and Germany from the plague of Nazism.

As I made my progress I was utterly aware of the irony that much of the contemporary debate in Europe today concerns the consequences of freedom.  Like many Western Europeans I am ambivalent and at times conflicted about the implications of such freedom, particularly as it concerns mass migration.  And yet I have seen the transformative impact of freedom in many post-Cold War EU and NATO members.  Go to Latvia or Poland, go to Bulgaria or Romania, go to the Czech Republic or Slovakia.  For those of us all too aware of life under the Soviet yoke the transformation (for that is what it has been) these twenty-five years past is quite simply awe-inspiring. 

Controversial though free movement is in contemporary Europe it a consequence not of the EU but rather the West’s victory in the Cold War which culminated in the people power tearing down the Berlin Wall in that fateful, inspirational week.  Put simply something like free movement would be a fact in contemporary Europe EU or no EU because it is free movement the German people were celebrating when they tore that wall down. That is why I for one will always support free movement albeit free movement grounded in common sense controls and fairness.

Nowhere is the impact of the fall of the Wall greater than in Germany.  Indeed, that moment in history still shapes so much of modern Germany and modern Germans.  The Germans lived under the yoke of oppression for many years in different, poisonous forms.  For Germans the twin-ideas of ‘freedom’ and ‘Europe’ are inextricably bound together.  Indeed, the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of a massive German contribution to the stabilisation of post-Soviet Central and Eastern Europe that belies the criticism oft-made of Berlin that Germany does not pull its weight on the international stage.  The fall of the Berlin Wall also marked an equally momentous transformation; Germany’s final, irrevocable establishment as the bastion of European liberal democracy.  Germany today is a modern state built on the principle that democracy is best served when power is as close as possible to the people.  

Regular readers of this column will possibly be a bit surprised that I appear to be implying a pro-EU argument.  No, I am making a fundamentally pro-European argument.  When I worked for the EU I believed the Union was the embodiment of the principles enshrined in and by the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Even today my critique of the EU is not an objection to the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the European treaties but rather a Brussels that is behaving ever more like a power-elite.  Indeed, since that glorious 1989 moment the EU and its ever-more distant leaders have begun to show all of the signs of unconstrained supranational elitism towards whom power drifts upwards and inwards irrevocably. This has happened all-too-often in Europe's past and has never ended well.  Ironically, it is modern Germany that is perhaps Europe's greatest defence against the over-mighty, something many outside Germany fail to realise.  This is so even if at times Berlin clearly equivocates between what is best for Germany and what is best for Europe as the Germans try to learn how to handle power justly. 

Germany must learn fast for Europe is once again at a crossroads between power and freedom.  Yesterday in Wiesbaden I saw justice, honour and indeed hope in action.  Americans standing with their German and other allies on the field of freedom was very moving.  For that reason this week’s celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall is not just another of those historical commemorations that lie scattered like smooth, rocky pebbles across the stony beach of Europe’s political landscape.  It is a commemoration of possibly the greatest single act of freedom in Europe’s bloody history made possible by the sacrifice of so many and by the staunch backing of a good friend. 

However, the defence of Europe requires constant vigilance from threats without and indeed within if freedom is to be reinforced by justice, mercy, honour and above all hope.  If not Europe twenty-five years hence will simply see one wall that divided Europeans replaced by another wall that separates power from the people.   It must not happen.  Don’t blow it Europe! 


Julian Lindley-French