hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 24 March 2017

NATO: Strategic Miscommunication

“Heaven wheels above you, displaying to you her eternal glories, and still your eyes are on the ground”.
Dante Alighieri

Alphen, Netherlands. 24 March. Budapest stands likes a sentinel either side of the majestic River Danube as it flows through time on its stately course to the Black Sea. There are two key issues NATO must deal with at present: how to make President Trump if not like NATO, at least recognise its utility; and how to properly prepare NATO for the future shocks coming our way. For the past two days I have been in the Hotel Marriott in beautiful Budapest listening to NATO’s ‘best and brightest’ destroy NATO’s future. It was probably just as well I was barred from speaking on a panel in the main meeting because as a NATO citizen I would have given the assembled, dissembling ‘Permanent Representatives’ (NATO ambassadors) to the North Atlantic Council (NAC) a firm piece of my Yorkshire mind. NATO’s political elite is failing both the Alliance and me the citizen.

President Trump first. Much was made at the conference about the need for effective strategic communications – the use of information to generate influence and effect. Clearly, NATO does not understand its own jargon. In May President Trump will visit Brussels to open the new NATO HQ. Apparently, the President will be invited to cut the ribbon at an empty, over-priced ($1.3bn), long overdue building, for which the American taxpayer has stumped up too much. I can see the Trump Tweets already: “At over-due, empty new NATO HQ listening to empty words from pompous Europeans. Burden-sharing? We Americans paid how much? That’s a lotta guns we trashed for this Euro-butter. #getmeoutahere”.

The Allies must convince President Trump that NATO really is a good thing for America. Here’s my idea. The President is due to make a state visit to Britain in October. Last month Trump made a speech from the hangar of the new 104,000 ton aircraft carrier the USS Gerald R. Ford. Now, before I make my suggestion, I know some pedant somewhere will say the new British ship has not been commissioned yet, and that she is doing sea trials, and there is this fault and that fault. Sod that! The bloody thing floats and looks great! So, in October NATO should hold a meeting of the NAC at Heads of State and Government level in the hangar of the new 75,000 ton, £3bn British aircraft-carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. President Trump then tweets: “Standing on enormous, new, beautiful, aircraft-carrier. Guess what? No Stars and Stripes. UK’s historic, majestic White Ensign. And Brits have 2 of them. #burdensharinginaction”.      

Future shocks. Yet again, much of NATO’s political leadership seem hell-bent on sacrificing strategy and the medium-to-long term for the sake of politics and the short-term…and doing their eloquent damnedest to pretend otherwise. There was a lot of good sense spoken by a lot of good people over the past two days, together with a lot of crap about ‘eco-systems’ and NATO solving climate-change. Most of the real-thinking came from NATO officials desperately trying to find ways to close a yawning and ever-widening gap between NATO’s ends, ways and means, Europe’s other-planet political class, and the people who speak for them. And, in between I had to listen to a lot of academics who know an awful lot less about NATO than I do, although some friends of mine were thankfully on hand to breathe at least some good sense into proceedings.

Allied Command Transformation (ACT) is really trying very hard to breathe life into the latest political mantras of adaptation, innovation, and transformation. There was some really good stuff presented by senior NATO officials. And yet, when it came to the last session I sat there with my head in my hands. It was clear that apart maybe from the Germans, who are doing some really interesting work on adaptation, most of the rest of ‘Their Excellencies’ were scraping around on the political floor of pretence at the speed of irrelevance.

The bottom-line is this; NATO must not end up trapped in a kind of persistent vegetative approach. The world is getting dangerous out there, and in here, as this week’s tragic events in London attest. Strategic unity of effort and purpose is what NATO is meant for – to turn collective political action into collective defence. And it is here where the Trump challenge and future shock come together. The longer the nations and their diplomatic representatives ‘play NATO’, which is what is happening at present, the more marginal NATO will become to reality and the less able it will be to defend me.

Let me play out a brief scenario; a desperate Russia led by an unstable, quixotic regime in Moscow actually does what it is now threatening to do – attack the Baltic States. In the teeth of such a crisis do ‘Their Excellencies’ really believe that NATO would be in the front-line? Of course not. The West’s first response would be led by the Americans, (assuming the Americans are not busy elsewhere) with strategic command firmly in the White House, and main operational control run from US CENTCOM in Tampa (with US EUCOM in support). The few close allies (UK, France, Germany, Poland, Norway and the Balts, plus possibly Sweden and Finland) who could offer something would be firmly under American command. NATO would only be brought in when things had calmed down. If the Americans are busy elsewhere? Europe is screwed, at least until the Germans have the heavier formations they are developing in place.  However, that will not be until at least 2021 or 2022.

Which brings me to the real paradox of these two days past. NATO is now only a deterrent. It is not a credible warfighting alliance. The problem is that if NATO is not a war-fighting alliance, it is not a credible deterrent.

And, the river flows on… 

Julian Lindley-French   

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Why the Old West is at War with Itself?

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”.


Budapest, Hungary, 21 March. Plato’s Republic is in many ways a treatise against political extremism. There is an argument to be made that the ‘extremist’ Great Revolt against the Old West’s liberal, mainstream elite began here in Hungary. Long suspicious of Brussels control-freakery the 2015 migration crisis saw a full-on revolt from Viktor Orban’s government and much of the Hungarian population against EU fiat. Since then the West has seen Brexit and the election of President Trump. And yet, on the face of it at least, last week’s Dutch elections suggest that the ‘populist wave’ (whatever that is) might just be on the wane. Think again. So, why is the West at war with itself?

Sad bustard that I am I spent much of yesterday afternoon glued to CNN watching the testimony of FBI Director, James Coney and NSA Director, Admiral James Rogers. To be honest, I had tuned in to hear about how Russia had allegedly conducted a sustained campaign against the 2016 US presidential elections. Instead, I was treated to several hours of absurdly partisan questioning that had little or nothing to do with the purported mission of the House Intelligence Committee; to understand more about the FBI’s investigation into alleged collusion between members of the Trump campaign and President Putin’s Russia.

What was far more illuminating was the commentary thereafter. Democrats tried to suggest that President Trump is all but guilty of some form of treason. Republicans, by and large, painted the testimony as an attempt to smear the President. A few commentators suggested it was a good day for the American constitution because checks and balances were being seen to work, whilst others said the only winner was Putin. All avoided the real question; how on earth did America, and by extension, the Old West get into this mess?

To answer that poser one has to travel closer to home – the Netherlands. The Dutch campaign was fascinating. You have to hand it to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. He is the ultimate bendy-rubber politician. To see off a challenge from the hard-right Geert Wilders liberal Rutte tacked hard right in his campaign, at one point telling Dutch Muslims effectively to ‘get normal or get out’, on another occasion forcibly expelling one of President Erdogan’s ministers from the Netherlands, a most un-Dutch act.

Rutte is nothing if not smart. He realised a fundamental truism (tortology?); if the mainstream do not deal with the legitimate concerns of vast numbers of perfectly reasonable citizens who fear the big change they are living at some point out of desperation they will look to the had right and hard left of the political spectrum. In other words, the reason there is a crisis in the centre of Old West politics is because for too long the centre has been incompetent. The good news is that the moment a mainstream politician such as Rutte, or Theresa May in the UK, appears (and I stress appears) to deal with the big issues voters stream back to the centre.

Let me be Euro-parochial for a moment. The three main political issues in Europe are mass immigration, money, and who actually holds power. For years the mainstream has hidden behind the Blairite myth that globalisation is an unstoppable force and that people must embrace it or be engulfed by it. This is nonsense. The Great Revolt happened for three reasons: the mainstream liberal elite failed to understand just how deep national identity runs; they also failed to grasp just how strong the simple idea that in a democracy one should not only know who decides policy, but actually have the chance to vote directly for them; and because the elite itself in Europe became a caste apart from the people.

The Old West is the home of the old democracies. Democracies need effective centrists to preserve effective democracy. Whatever the short-term allure of the political fringes at times of stress, such as now, the sheer complexity of the world today is that simple prescriptions are as unlikely to succeed, as the pie-in-the-sky theorists who have driven the centre to political self-destruction.   

It is not centrism per se that is needed, but effective centrism that meets the concerns of a majority of people whilst helping them at the same time prepare them for the future. That means in turn politicians willing to re-embrace patriotism (dirty word amongst much of the elite), globalism, and realism at one and the same time, and strike a politically acceptable balance between them. In practice that means recognition of the importance of immigration for economic progress, but clear, demonstrable, and effective limits on it. It means fiscal and monetary policies that enriches people, not impoverishes them. The Euro has been an unmitigated disaster precisely because it is an elite political project that defies economic logic and which can only survive at the expense of the very people it is meant to support. It means recognition that for most people the nation-state remains the core of identity, and that they expect it to be the focus of democracy, security, and defence. Finally, it means serving the needs of the majority as well as protecting minorities.   

The inference from yesterday’s testimony on the Hill was that President Putin is waging a successful war against the Old democracies. That is wrong. The Old West and an out of touch mainstream elite simply make it too easy for him to cause mischief. Plato would certainly have understood that. After all, the Old West is Athens, whilst Putin is Sparta. That begs a further question. Where is the next Rome?

Julian Lindley-French  

Friday, 17 March 2017

Stop Playing Defence Pretence, London

“No matter how enmeshed a commander [or politician] becomes in the elaboration of his [or her] own thoughts, it is sometimes necessary to take the enemy into account”.
Winston Spencer Churchill

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 March. London is sinking the Royal Navy! Now, before I get into British defence pretence I must admit I was going to write this morning about the strategic implications of this week’s Dutch elections. The problem is there aren’t any. As my Dutch wife said to me before the election, “Whoever I vote for we will end up with Mark Rutte as prime minister. Whatever he has promised to do during the campaign he will not be able to do in practice”. Wise woman, my wife. Back to the Royal Navy.

Britain’s armed forces are in a mess because the ends and means of Britain’s defence policy do not add up. This mess has been caused by politicians trying to get both a strategic nuclear deterrent AND a power-projection force on the cheap, and pretending otherwise. For some years I have been warning about the consequences of Britain’s underfunded ‘little bit of everything, not much of anything’ force, so why do Britain’s political leaders play defence pretence?

Let me give you an example to better illustrate my case. Yesterday, a report was issued by London’s National Audit Office which warned that the planned move of the first of two new 72,500 ton large aircraft-carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth from Rosyth, Scotland, where she was put together, to the Royal Navy base in Portsmouth, from where she will conduct sea trials, has been delayed by some three months. The report goes into a raft of technical and financial challenges faced by the ship and the F-35 Lightning II and Merlin aircraft she will fly.

To be honest, technical problems never really bother me because they are entirely usual for such a big and complex project that will serve the nation for fifty years, and possibly beyond. Nor am I that bothered by cost overruns. Neither politicians nor defence chiefs ever tell the truth at the beginning about the eventual cost of big defence projects. As a matter of course I always double the planned cost and time such a project will take to be delivered by the British government. My ‘model’ seems to work.

However, there is a deeper problem with the new aircraft carriers that is indicative of the yawning gulf between ends and means that stretches across the British armed forces; the amount of money invested in defence bears no relation to the cost of the force London says it wants. Worse, the very politicians who tend to talk big about Britain’s armed forces also view defence as a cost not a value, which in turn suggest they do not in reality place much political value on security and defence. They might have gotten away with such strategic illiteracy in a previous age, but not this one.

And yet, and I am bloody good at this, my analysis of Britain’s strategic and political interests clearly shows the need for Britain to invest in a balanced, deep-joint, properly-funded and powerful core or command military force able to support an over-stretched US or, if needs be, act as a leader of coalitions of other powers. Why? NATO is at the core of British defence strategy and if Britain does not step up to the NATO plate then no-one else will. Consequence? Sooner or later post-Brexit Britain could be lost somewhere in mid-Atlantic between a hasta la vista America, and a Franco-German led Europe, unable to influence either.

Unfortunately, London has played defence pretence for so long now I think it must be a habit. Whenever Prime Minister May, Chancellor Hammond, or Defence Secretary Fallon are challenged about the ends-means gap they trot out the same old nonsense; Britain is investing £178bn in new equipment over ten years in our beloved armed forces (which are, of course, always “the finest in the world”), or Britain is one of only five NATO members that maintain 2% GDP on defence.

Take the £178bn. Much of that investment is being made on a lot of new kit needed to rebuild a force effectively broken over thirteen years of campaigning in Iraq and Afghanistan that went way beyond the so-called defence planning assumptions. The NATO 2%?  Pure political artifice, as I proved in my November 2015 evidence to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. 2% can only be achieved by including the cost (since 2015) of British intelligence (MI5, MI6 and GCHQ) in the defence budget (c £2bn per annum), together with (since 2009) the cost of the strategic nuclear deterrent (£2-2.4bn per annum), not to mention a whole of so-called ‘administrative costs’ that prior to 2015 were not seen as part of the defence budget. 

The problem with NATO’s so-called Defence Investment Pledge is that it is designed to give a bunch of recalcitrant European allies the easiest path to be seen to spend 2% GDP on defence. Britain has simply exploited to the full a very slack set of slack defence criteria. Critically, China, India, Russia, and the US would not dream of including many of the items NATO does as ‘defence expenditure’.

So yes, Britain may well be building (some) new and ‘exquisite’ kit, but the way the defence funding model has been constructed means the only way to pay for them is to cut the very people who will man the stuff, and hollow out the very services and systems needed to keep them running and fighting. The stress this unworkable imbalance places on the British military is clear to me every time I support them, something I regard as my patriotic duty. Or to use military-speak, the politicians are dumping crap from on-high on Britain’s fighting men and women!    

Defence pretence also reveals the political cluelessness of the British Establishment. Now, I am a Briton first, and an Englishman second, who like many millions of others is desperate to believe in my country after the shocks of recent years.  With Brexit looming, and the Scottish nationalist-fanatic Nicola Sturgeon hell-bent on tearing the UK apart, that means for me a Britain and its leaders who re-embrace patriotism, globalism and realism – the three are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, that challenge will be the real test of Prime Minister May.

It is against that strategic and political backdrop HMS Queen Elizabeth must be seen. Indeed, she is far more than a ship. She is a national strategic asset, a metaphor for Britain as a leading power, and a symbol of Britain itself. In other words, London has an enormous opportunity to show Britain and the world just what Prime Minister May’s “strong, self-governing, global Britain’ could actually look like.

Ultimately, it is the gap between ends and means of Prime Minister May’s rhetoric that is in danger of screwing up Britain’s armed forces. The strategy-free, micro-financing fingerprints of Chancellor Philip ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ Hammond and his Treasury ‘Minderins’ are about to make an almighty mess of Britain and its armed forces because the only big picture they see concerns debt and deficit. Don’t get me wrong, sound public finances are important. However, there are moments in politics and history when it is necessary to invest and things upon which proper investment must be made. This is one such moment and defence one of those issues if May is to create a new narrative for a new post-Brexit Britain. And yet, one can almost guarantee, that the Westminster-Whitehall political sausage machine will make a complete Horlicks of the launch of this ship, because that is what they do.

London wants to give the impression of power and influence without properly paying for it. So, London either fund Britain’s armed forces properly at a time of growing danger, or come clean and stop telling we Britons just how powerful Britain is if you do not believe that to be the case. Do not impose on a small force a job that is far too big for them. 

History is littered with examples of just how horribly wrong such defence pretence can go when reality finally sticks its large jack-nailed boot in the face of the pretenders!

Julian Lindley-French  

Monday, 13 March 2017

NATO: What’s in 2% Between Friends?

“Is your plan as cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University?”

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 March. I have a cunning plan. Bear with me. Last week I was in Reykjavik, you know the one in Iceland, and attended the fascinating NATO Resource Conference 2017 (well, it was for me). There I gave a brilliant and very reasonably-priced speech entitled “The Global Cost of Adaptation”. At the centre of the debate were three issues: the habit NATO Europeans have acquired of relying on the US Bank of Mom and Dad when they cannot be bothered to spend enough on their own security and defence; will aforesaid NATO Europeans ever discover the Holy Grail of Alliance, aka the 2014 Wales Summit Defence Investment Pledge (the DIP), of 2% GDP on defence of which 20% must be invested in new defence equipment; and upon just what should NATO and the Allies spend any additional moneys?  

The goodish news first. Apparently, the decline in NATO Europe’s defence spending stopped in 2015, and even increased a bit (3.8% or some $10 bn) in 2016. And, if NATO Europe ever does honour the DIP, the biggest ‘if’ since ‘if’ was introduced into the English language by King Ethelred the Literately Uncertain, NATO (or someone) would suddenly have an additional $100 bn to spend.

On the European side the message was clear as mud…hurry up and wait! Yes, NATO Europeans are fully committed to spending 2% GDP on defence…but. Why the ‘but’? Europe is still driven by the assumption that sooner or later the US Bank of Mom and Dad will come out late on a dark, stormy night to pick up their siblings who not only forgot to save the bus fare home, but got hammered on a toxic brew called ‘Welfare’ and thus completely missed the last bus. The trouble is that Mom and Dad might not always be there. First, there is growing irritation in some parts of the Administration why Euro-Junior refuses to get off its fat ass and get a job. Second, Mom and Dad are not as flush as they used to be. Third, Mom and Dad now have to deal with noisy neighbours at the other end of the street.

Throughout the gathering rafts of judgement shot down upon the throng from high in the rafters like the latter day Gods in a Viking saga of old. One bolt in particular struck home; even if the DIP’s fabled $100 bn was ever to see the light of political day what would it actually be spent on? One group, for sake of argument the Easterners, wanted it spent on high-end, expensive, big bang stuff that would render the NATO Defence and Deterrence Posture credible not just in the eyes of the Brigade of Budgeteers, but also Russia. Another group, for sake of argument the Southerners, think this is nonsense and want the bulk of the money spent on counter-terrorism and counter-criminal activities, most notably human trafficking. Very few want NATO to have the money and most would prefer to spend it on themselves.

Now, here’s the cruncher as the Yanks would say; if NATO is to remain Valhalla’s insurance company on earth, then NATO must both deter and defend at the high-end of conflict, i.e. prepare to fight and if needs be win a war, and play a full role in protecting its home base from penetration and attack by terrorists and globally-capable criminals.

Whatever way one looks at this challenge any new money should be spent on reinforcing the NATO Command Structure to cope with a complex and potentially vast array of risks, threats and challenges, AND a modernised NATO Force Structure able to get the right type and mix of national forces in both coalition and alliance to the right place at the right time. Cunning? It is not even rocket science.

Which brings me back to the DIP and the need for outcomes not inputs. Yes, I am the first to say that 2% GDP spent on defence is better than 1%, however ‘brilliantly’ that 1% is spent. Canada, are you listening? What concerns me is the growing obsession amongst the NATO Europeans with inputs as a way to avoid seriously looking at outcomes, which at the end of the day is what security and defence must be about. Worse, I am not at all sure any NATO nation really knows what it is really spending its defence budget on these days, let alone how it can get from say 1% GDP to 2% GDP. Other, that is, than fiddling the figures. Britain, are you listening?

There is one other issue; should all NATO states spend 2% GDP on defence? This week Chancellor Merkel will meet President Trump. High on the agenda will be German defence spending, or as the Americans see it, the lack of it. Last Friday the 2018 German defence budget was released at 1.2% GDP, way below the 2% target (albeit set for 2024). In 2017 it is estimated that the German economy will be worth $3.62 trillion of which $43.4 bn is planned to be spent on defence. Whilst this figure is significantly smaller than the planned defence expenditures of both Britain and France, it is still a significant sum.

Which brings me back to my cunning plan. Whilst I personally have no problem with Germany spending 2% GDP on defence, history is still powerfully eloquent in Europe and the fact of German power is already an issue. Therefore, to my mind it might instead make more sense for Germany to spend the gap of between 1.2% GDP and 2% GDP by investing an additional $30 bn on some form of debt forgiveness for heavily-indebted Eurozone states. Now, I would not offset such investment against the DIP target, because 2% GDP on defence is already an historic low and at some point (2024?) Germany should meet that target.  However, right now it would make sense to permit Berlin a ‘defence holiday’ if Germany in return was prepared to make a security investment in the financial stability of Europe.

As for NATO it must be far more rigorous about what the nations currently spend on defence, what they should spend on defence, and how best to spend it. Until political leaders in NATO capitals stop sacrificing sound, long-term strategy for the sake of facile, short-term politics, which is the real reason why hard truths are hidden, then I fear the artifice of input will continue to exercise tyranny over the strategy of outcomes.

Julian Lindley-French       

Friday, 3 March 2017

Can America Win Again?

“Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it”.

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 March. It was fascinating watching President Trump on TV speak last night aboard the brand new, and mighty $13bn, 104,000 ton aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford. The ship looks almost as good as Britain’s new carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, albeit with a far less sexy name. President Trump returned to a theme he has been exploring for some time; can America win again?

What is ‘war’? To my mind there is no question that the United States and its armed forces would prevail in a major shooting war with another major state if (and it is a big if) that war did not go nuclear. In a war with Russia that went beyond a Russian land grab in Eastern Europe, the nuclear button would almost certainly be pressed and quickly, in which case everyone would lose. Even a limited war with Russia (if there could be such a thing) would be tinged by the threat of Armageddon. This is made clear by the Russian Chief of the General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov and his so-called Gerasimov Doctrine.

The USS Gerald R. Ford is clearly a vital platform for maintaining the ability of the US military to project power world-wide and thus deter ‘bad hombres’ from embarking on military adventurism, particularly against America’s NATO Allies or its allies in Asia-Pacific. The problem is that wily old Gerasimov has also been working on perfecting a new form of warfare specifically designed to keep the carrier’s strike force bedecked.

Hybrid war is war that is short of war. In hybrid war disinformation, destabilisation, and disruption, as well as the possible use of unconventional force and economic coercion are employed as part of strategy to undermine, intimidate and coerce adversaries. The use of what conventional force and, heaven forbid nuclear force, would only come as a last resort. Other states, most notably China, are also looking to blind-side American military power by employing such strategies against the many open seams of Western society. This is most notably via cyber-attacks, but also through the use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence. As yet neither the US nor NATO have a credible defence against such warfare, as evidenced by the deep concerns in Washington over alleged Russian efforts to interfere with the US presidential elections. 

For all that the focus of President Trump has thus far been on another kind of ‘war’ against the likes of Al Qaeda and Islamic State. In such a war an ‘asset’ such as the USS Gerald R. Ford is extremely useful. A carrier that can launch up to seventy aircraft from a neutral sea-base offers political leaders real power, flexibility, but above all political discretion. Any planned attack can be cancelled at the last minute if the intelligence changes with very few needing to know, not even the 4000 strong crew of the ship.

The problem is one of strategy. The US ‘defeats’ President Trump has been implying in his various speeches took place in Iraq and Afghanistan against forces (Al Qaeda, Taliban) that take far more than even a fleet of mighty aircraft carriers to ‘defeat’. Indeed, progress against such enemies takes years of consistent, effective political strategy, leverage over allies, the development of tailored intelligence, and the nuanced use of diplomacy, policing and military force, as well as a sustained campaign of intelligent strategic communications and public diplomacy. ‘Progress’, for there is unlikely to be clear cut victory or even overt success during such a campaign, also takes oodles of bucks. That is, after all, why there are still some 8400 US troops in Afghanistan.   

Two things come out of the imagery of President Trump making such a speech on the USS Gerald R. Ford. First, it signals to adversaries that the US will again re-assert both the right, the will, and the capacity to act if it believes its interests and those of its friends are threatened. Second, the commitment to ending sequestration and hiking the US defence budget to over $650bn a year also suggests the US is going to reinvest in the forces needed to enforce Pax Americana the world over, although I doubt America will see a return to the 600 ship Navy the President implied.

However, and this is where I part company with President Trump, for US strategy to work America must exert influence across the entirety of the security and defence spectrum, and by extension the civil and military security-space. That means the 4 ‘D’s: defence, deterrence, diplomacy and dialogue. These are the four essential and balanced pillars upon which US security and defence policy must be built. Cutting the State Department or USAID to further fund an expanded US military would be self-defeating if not carefully considered; the security equivalent of disrobing Peter to beef-up Paul.

President Trump is right that uniquely strong American armed forces are the hard power that underpin and guarantee all other forms of American, and indeed Allied, power. And, given that the US is the world’s only global power, the US needs armed forces that are far more capable than all the other regional powers it may have to engage. However, if President Trump increases American hard power at the expense of American soft power and influence the result will certainly be the retreat of American influence, and quite possibly the retreat of America itself.

President Trump needs to strike a better balance between US hard and soft power. If he does that there is every chance America will again ‘win’ by making America and the world more secure. Oh, and convince its mangy European cousins to stop being such wusses and to get their collective strategic mojo back. After all, the US needs effective allies because in historical terms the US is only the West’s third most successful Pax after Pax Romana and, of course, Pax Britannica!  

Can America ‘win’ again? You bet, if America is smart about power!

Julian Lindley-French   

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Battle of the Java Sea

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 February. For understandable reasons the Allied narrative of the 1939-45 naval war tend to be dominated by the Royal Navy in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and the United States Navy in the Pacific. However, seventy-five years ago this week, and some three months after the December 7th, 1941 attack of the Imperial Japanese Navy on the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and the December 10th sinking of the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, the Battle of the Java Sea took place. This battle highlights the sacrifice of other Allies during World War Two, in this case the officers and men of the Royal Netherlands Navy.

The Australian-American-British-Dutch Strike Force (otherwise known as ABDACOM or the Eastern Strike Force), under the command of the Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, had sailed to intercept a Japanese invasion force en route to what was then the Netherlands East Indies.  The battle began on 27 February when a force of the Imperial Japanese Navy, supported by land-based air power, intercepted the Allied force.

At the time this was the greatest sea battle since the epic 1916 Battle of Jutland between the Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy. The Allied force was routed. During the course of the three day action the Allied force lost two light cruisers (HMNLS de Ruyter (flagship) and HMNLS Java) and three destroyers.  Rear Admiral (Schout-bij-nacht) Doorman and some 2300 sailors were also lost.  The Japanese suffered damage to one destroyer with the loss of 38 sailors killed.

During the battle the British ‘8-inch’ heavy cruiser HMS Exeter was badly damaged by a shell that exploded in her boiler room. Three years earlier at the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939 HMS Exeter had inflicted serious damage on the German pocket-battleship and commerce raider Graf Spee. Then Commodore Harwood’s small force of HMS Exeter and two light cruisers (HMS Ajax and HMS Achilles (of the New Zealand Division) had forced Kapitain sur zee Hans Langsdorrf to seek sanctuary in neutral Montevideo, Faced by what he thought was an overwhelming Royal Navy force waiting for him to leave Langsdorrf chose to scuttle the Graf Spee rather than engage in what he thought would have been suicide. The British were bluffing.

After the Battle of Java Sea the badly damaged HMS Exeter had retreated to what was then called Ceylon, and today Sri Lanka. After emergency repairs Exeter tried to sail for Australia for repairs escorted by two destroyers, HMS Encounter and the USS Pope. On 1 March, in what became known as the Second Battle of the Java Sea, all three Allied ships were sunk with over 800 British sailors taken captive by the Japanese. That same day the heavy cruiser USS Houston and the Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth, together with the Dutch destroyer HMNLS Evertsen, all three of which had taken part in Battle of the Java Sea, were sunk by the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of the Sunda Strait with over one thousand Allied sailors killed.     

The defeat enabled the Imperial Japanese Army to invade what is today Indonesia and marked the effective end of the Dutch far eastern empire. The battle also took place in what has become known as Yamamoto’s Year. The Fleet Commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Admiral Isokuru Yamamoto had told His Majesty Emperor Hirohito shortly before Pearl Harbor that his forces could play havoc with those of the Allies for about a year, but after that he could offer the Emperor no guarantees of success.

He was right. After the initial shock the United States rapidly organised its immense industrial potential into the greatest war machine the world had ever seen. The Battle of Java Sea took place right in the middle of Yamamoto’s Year when the Allies were only beginning to properly organise, and between Pearl Harbor and the decisive US naval victory at the Battle of Midway, 4-7 June, 1942.

Both in the Atlantic and the Pacific the officers and men of the Royal Netherlands Navy served with distinction even when the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi forces. The bonds forged between the Royal Navy, the US Navy and the Royal Netherlands Navy between 1939 and 1945 remain strong today within the framework of the Atlantic Alliance. It has been my honour in the past to spend time on the ships of the Royal Netherlands Navy, a force that does a country that I now call home proud.

There is a post-script to the Battle of the Java Sea. In November 2016 during the making of a television documentary about the battle it was discovered that between 2002 and 2016 six of the wrecks of the Allied ships had either been illegally scavenged or removed completely from the sea floor by scrap metal merchants, most likely from Indonesia. Somewhere in the Mediterranean the remains of my great uncle Walter lie interred in the shattered remains of a sunken British warship. The sanctity of his final resting place matters to me. War graves should be respected, but sadly too often they are not. The Australian, British, Dutch, and US governments have protested to Indonesia, but little more will be done to preserve such sites.  

In honour of the officers and men of the Royal Netherlands Navy who sacrificed their lives during the epic struggle of 1939-1945.

Julian Lindley-French  

Friday, 24 February 2017

The Limitation Game

“We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done”.
Alan Turing

Alphen, Netherlands, 24 February. Alan Turing is the father of the computer. He also established the Turing Test. To pass the test a machine would need to fool a human that it was in fact another human; the imitation game. His idea of a ‘thinking machine’ was designed to free humans to think more widely, more accurately, and above all more laterally to enable intelligent humans to do what they do best; understand complexity through analysis, knowledge and instinct. To Turing the purpose of ‘thinking machines’ was to crunch immense and complex series of data to establish accurate patterns which humans could then act upon.

It has been a funny old week. A moment of profound strategic importance to the transatlantic relationship took place and yet passed with barely more than a comment. A German Chancellor effectively told an American President that in spite of being the leader of a country full of citizens that had grown rich under the armed protection of the citizens of another country and at great cost to the latter over many years, she was in fact thinking about reneging on a formal NATO commitment that her taxpayers would spend roughly half the amount the latter’s taxpayers pay for the security and defence of her own country. Even though political reality is being warped in Germany by September’s federal elections the rejection of President Trump’s perfectly reasonable call for Germany and other Europeans to fully commit to spend 2% GDP on defence represents a real threat to the future of NATO and the transatlantic relationship.

My own week has been spent drafting a major high-level report into the strategic adaptation of NATO. As I was drafting this report I was struck by the growing strategic-philosophical divide within the Alliance. This split brings me back to Alan Turing’s genius. Turing’s aim was to transform complexity into clarity upon which sound decisions of policy and strategy could then be made. Turing’s work on “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” was an extension of his work on the famous ‘Bombe’; the pioneering computer Turing built at Bletchley Park during World War Two which helped to break the German “Shark” naval code. Turing, the Bombe and the Bletchley code-breakers played a crucial role in helping the Allies defeat the U-boats during the critical Battle of the Atlantic, a battle which Churchill said was the only one that really frightened him.

My sense is that the West’s leaders are today in a pretty similar position to Churchill and other Allied leaders in the early years of World War Two; grasping around to properly understand what is happening and in the absence of any real understanding profoundly unsure about what if any action to take, or investments to make. The situation is made worse by the huge number of think tanks and university departments that have proliferated over recent years, particularly in Europe, and which add little real strategic value. Too often universities refuse to undertake hard analysis of events and processes for fear it offends reality-bending political correctness. Too often think tanks in search of money stop thinking and simply tell power what it wants to hear, or retreat into a parochial, partisan agenda-pumping that offers leaders no chance to understand and thus little rationale to act.

The result is what passes for security and defence policy in Europe today; powerful institutions such as states, the EU and NATO that taken together COULD be adapted to both understand and the meet the risks, challenges and threats of the twenty-first century if properly organised and co-ordinated. However, precisely because there is no real understanding about the nature of threats and thus agreement what to do about them, these same states and institutions look ever more out of sync with the missions with which they are charged; the twenty-first century security and defence, protection and projection of the West’s citizens. In the absence of understanding the preservation of the institution becomes more important than the efficient and/or effective application of those institutions (which are means not ends) in pursuit of their respective missions.

What is needed is a new ‘Bombe’ that could help identify the patterns and linkages inherent to complex, globalised insecurity; between emerging state threats, global-reach terrorism and criminality, the emergence of mass disruptive and mass destructive technologies, how to understand them, and above offer critical paths to predict, adapt, stop, cope, and recover. In other words a new kind of transformative imitation game is needed if the West, of which Europe will always be a part, is to be secured. Or, to put it another way, a thinking policy and strategy ‘machine’ full of brilliant people charged with ‘computing’ the many threats faced by the citizens of Atlanticism and freed to make any recommendation the evidence suggests to leaders.

The road-block? The lack of transformative thinking at the elite, establishment level. Unfortunately, only the shock of disaster or war is likely to shake our leaders out of their politics before strategy torpor. Worse, most establishment careers are not built by speaking truth to power, and those of us who try to speak truth to power are by definition outside the establishment and can thus be dismissed as cranks when sound strategic analysis clashes with political expediency. It is precisely that clash which explains the mess the all-powerful West is in, and why our citizens feel far less secure and far more uncertain than they should be. It is precisely this clash which explains why the short-term and reaction reigns supreme over the long-term and the strategic.     
Merkel’s side-stepping of Trump’s demand to ‘show me the money’ over NATO is thus in fact about far deeper issues than defence investment, burden-sharing, and the need for Europe to get its collective or common act together over defence. What we need is a new kind of security imitation game but what Chancellor Merkel revealed this week is that all we are likely to get is more of the limitation game. 


Julian Lindley-French