hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

HMS Hood & KM Bismarck

0659 hours CET. 24 May, 2016. Seventy-five years ago to this moment a fifteen inch (38cm) shell from the German fast battleship KM Bismarck entered above the aft main magazine of the British battlecruiser HMS Hood. At some 47,000 tons and also armed with a main armament of eight fifteen inch guns ‘The Mighty Hood’ was the symbol of British naval might during the interbellum. Moments later Hood was a broken, sinking, flaming wreck.

HMS Hood was joined in the action by the brand new and effectively incomplete battleship HMS Prince of Wales under the command of Captain J.C. Leach. Having been hit seven times by Bismarck. HMS Prince of Wales was also damaged in the action and Captain Leach had to take evasive manoeuvres to avoid the rearing wreck of the Hood as she broke up and sank. The damaged Prince of Wales subsequently made smoke to mask her range and correctly broke off the action affording the Germans a major naval victory.

Recently film was unearthed taken from the German heavy-cruiser KM Prinz Eugen which shows the moment HMS Hood blew up. The flash suggests an explosion with the force of a low yield atomic weapon which broke the Hood apart. Within a minute 1418 men were lost, including the fleet commander Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland, as the Hood sank into the icy wastes of the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland. Three of Hood’s sailors survived; Able Seamen Ted Briggs, Bill Dundas and Bob Tillmann.

In July 2001 the wreck of HMS Hood was discovered lying in some 1500 fathoms or 3000 metres. She rests in three sections with the bow on its port side some distance ahead of an upside down amidships section, whilst what remains of the stern rests a further distance away astern. Astonishingly, some 300 feet (or 100 metres) of the hull appears to have simply disintegrated, testament to the force of what actually may have been two blasts, with the explosion of the aft main magazine followed shortly thereafter by the forward main magazine as she sank.

HMS Hood was soon avenged. Crucially, during the action HMS Prince of Wales scored at least three hits on Bismarck one in the forward oil bunker which flooded the German ship with 2000 tons of sea water and forced her to abandon her commerce-raiding mission. Three days later at 0800 hours on 27 May the Hood’s assailant capsized and sank taking with her 1995 of her 2200 strong crew. In an exercise in sea power the Bismarck was hunted down by the Royal Navy, crippled by British carrier-based aircraft, and in what rapidly became a massacre Bismarck was effectively destroyed by the battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney under the command of Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet, Admiral J.C. Tovey. She was then sunk by three torpedoes from the heavy-cruiser HMS Dorsetshire (although German accounts claim Bismarck was scuttled). The shattered wreck of the Bismarck now lies at a depth of 4790 metres, 470 nautical miles west of Brest.

Lessons?  Some questions must be asked about Admiral Holland’s tactics. The intercept course plotted by Holland enabled the two German ships to engage both the Hood and Prince of Wales with their full armament, whilst the British ships could only engage with their forward main armament during the early stages of the action. In a ghostly memory of events seventy-five years ago the rudders on Hood’s wreck are locked forever hard to port demonstrating clearly that as she blew up Admiral Holland was attempting to ‘open the arc’ of the Hood’s main aft turrets so they too could fire on Bismarck

There also seems to have been mistakes made on board Hood in ship identification as the flagship first engaged the Prinz Eugen leaving Bismarck to open fire unmolested. A review of the Prinz Eugen film on YouTube also shows British shells falling far from their target with little or no grouping of the shells as they splash harmlessly into the sea.   

HMS Hood was a part-modernised British battlecruiser-cum-fast battleship of 1919 vintage that was in reality no match for the Bismarck. Her destruction was sorry testament to what happens when technology is over-reached by strategy. The Bismarck was an ultra-modern 1941 battleship which combined speed, armour and firepower. However, the Bismarck’s own fate was sealed because technology alone cannot atone for bad strategy.

As the forward section of HMS Hood slipped beneath the waves her two forward turrets barked out one last defiant salvo. It may well have been that all the guns were loaded and the firing circuits closed as the ship sank. Quite possibly it was a last salute from a brave but doomed sailor or Royal Marine on board a dying ship.

Seventy years ago this week and within three days some 3400 Europeans were killed at sea. At this time of European foment it is perhaps appropriate to remember the sacrifice of all those who gave their lives - British and German alike.

Requiescat in Pace. Rest in peace. Rühe in Frieden.

Julian Lindley-French 

Monday, 23 May 2016

Europe’s Leaders are Europe’s Greatest Weakness

Alphen, Netherlands. 23 May. Europe’s leaders are Europe’s greatest weakness. Stockholm is a beautiful city, both solid and enticing in equal measure as it cavorts between land, sea, and sky. And yet behind the façade of Swedish steadiness worry lurks. So much so that Sweden is quietly resurrecting its old Total Defence Concept as it becomes ever clearer that Russia regards Swedes as part of their self-declared special zone of influence.

My reason for being in Sweden was to attend a NATO-backed Advanced Research Workshop organised by my own Atlantic Treaty Association. The subject; hybrid warfare and the need for societal resilience. The meeting addressed the particular threats posed by cyber, and other Janus-faced technologies, to the very connectivities that make modern Western society function. As the meeting unfolded news spread that the main radar at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport had gone down, and that two important Swedish radio masts had been sabotaged. The prevailing view was that both installations had been attacked, and that Russia could well have been responsible.

Now, if it was the Russians then it would be nice (for me at least) to think that the attack took place to mark my arrival in Stockholm to talk about the threat posed by Russia through hybrid warfare at a NATO-backed meeting. However, peering through the fog of my own ego the attack just may have had more to do with the parallel launch of the new Saab Grippen E fighter, and/or Montenegro becoming the latest member of NATO. 

The ARW meeting was excellent. Lots of intelligence, academic, and business specialists got up to frighten the life out of me about what could be done to my life by some spotty-nosed oick in the back of beyond armed with a lap-top and zit-fuelled attitude. It was especially frightening if, aforesaid specialists said, aforesaid oick was backed by an adversary state (no names, no pack drill). In such circumstances there was every chance apparently I could be remotely switched off, and millions like me,and transformed into a can of sardines. I would prefer tuna.

Now, as is often the case with such meetings, I was held back for its finale for which I had prepared a worthy presentation entitled: “Hybrid Threats? What Should NATO Stand Ready For (not my title)? Instead, I tore the thing up in front of my audience. Why? Because I am getting tired of making ‘should’ presentations. Indeed, I wasted ten years of my life with ‘should’ presentations on the so-called Comprehensive Approach, whereby everyone was meant to do everything, all together, at exactly the same time, to make Afghanistan and other places safer. Why am I so tired of making such presentations? Politicians. Or, to be exact, the inability of a European political leadership in denial to properly consider worst-case scenarios. 

Given that the Stockholm ‘ARW’ was meant to be part of the preparations for July’s NATO Warsaw Summit one would have hoped that it was part of a Great Awakening on the part of Europe’s leaders as to the threats Europe really faces. However, be it the threat posed by Russia and/or ISIS there seems little appetite to break out of the ‘let’s be friends with Russia at all costs’, or the ‘all hyper-immigration is wonderful’ political psychosis into which much of Europe’s political caste has retreated bereft as they are of solutions.
By coincidence, as I was speaking in Stockholm my old friend General Sir Richard Shirreff was addressing another question head on; ‘what if’ Russia attacked the Baltic States. In his new novel entitled 2017: War with Russia Richard describes an attack by Moscow that in effect removes the Baltic States from the EU and NATO by military means. Fantasy? You would think so listening to the usual coterie of bleeding heart luvvies who stepped out of the woodwork of uninformity to criticise Richard. Wake up and smell the real world!

Some time ago I was Head of the Commander’s Initiative Group of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. The commander? Richard Shirreff. Richard then went on to become NATO’s No.2 military man as deputy supreme allied commander, Europe (DSACEUR). As DSACEUR Richard witnessed daily what the Russians and indeed ISIS are trying to do to Europe.
The book has all the hallmarks of another great work of faction back in the 1980s, General Sir John Hackett's The Third World War. Yes, at some level such works need to be treated with a pinch cum dose of political salt. They also need to be taken deadly seriously. Reading between the lines Shirreff’s book is pretty much making the same point as Hackett’s book; the threat is not simply that posed by an adversary like Russia or ISIS. It is the threat posed by Western European political leaders in denial and the consequent obsession of such ‘leaders-lite’ with political news management rather than, and at the expense of, crisis resolution. 

The hard truth is that until and unless ‘leaders’ like David Cameron, Francois Hollande, and Angela Merkel, and the careerist yes men and women with whom they surround themselves, really start to listen to the intelligence briefings they get, Europe will go on becoming steadily less defended and less defensible. Sadly, such briefings are still too often filed in the ‘what is politically possible’ dodgy dossier, rather than the ‘what is strategically necessary’ action dossier.
The true test of that switch will be when meetings like Stockholm cease to be interesting, but by and large irrelevant, exercises with little or no planning traction, and instead start to inform real defence planning. For, as I said in my remarks, if our societies remain as vulnerable as they do today to disrupting and destabilising attacks at the many seams that today exist within them, politicians will be unwilling to project the influence and force needed to keep Europeans safe.

Sadly, Europe’s leaders are not as yet willing to face the hard realities of hard Realism the twenty-first century is incubating. One would hope the coming NATO Warsaw Summit would be the Great Awakening. Don’t hold your breath. My fear is that only the coming mega-shock will awake Europe’s weak leaders from their strategic slumber. Until they do awake Europe’s politicians, their lack of strategic imagination, and their collective weakness, will continue to pose the greatest threat to Europe.

Julian Lindley-French  

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Heat not light: The Tyranny of the Input Culture

Stockholm, Sweden. 18 May. Suddenly there is a glut of money. The British government is desperately trying to find projects to spend billions of unspent aid and development money. Meanwhile, the Treasury (finance ministry) has ordered that all of this money must be spent by the end of calendar year 2016. The result? A lot of ill-thought through projects subject to little due diligence that will consume huge amounts of British taxpayer’s money to no particular effect so that David ‘no ifs, no buts’ Cameron can say London has met its target of spending 0.7% of Britain’s economic worth on worthiness. Waste would be a better word than spend. Why?

It is the tyranny of the input culture that generates such waste. The simple truth is that the political cycle and the outcomes cycle do not match. Short-termist, tactician politicians, of whom David Cameron is the doyen, simply do not have the political shelf-life to await the beneficial outcomes they claim to be generating. Therefore, political leaders much prefer to focus on inputs so that they can claim credit for the money spent, rather than await outcomes which will benefit some other political leader, possibly from another political party.  

The effect of this tyranny can be devastating because it kills strategy; the considered application of means in pursuit of considered and relevant ends. Indeed, it is the tyranny of the input culture that renders politics the enemy of strategy. This was all too apparent to me on a visit to Afghanistan and in my subsequent report. Too many European states in particular focused on how much money they were investing, how many projects they had undertaken, and how many more children were being educated than hitherto. There was little real regard to the actual needs of Afghanistan as a country or the outcomes that were vitally-needed if the country was ever to be stabilised. The result was strategic failure, an egregious waste of taxpayer’s money, and years of political cover-up and obfuscation.

The tyranny of the input culture also warps the activities of civil society, most notably non-governmental organisations (NGOs). When governments suddenly become desperate to spend money in order to generate a political illusion NGOs go into a feeding frenzy. This encourages small, non-viable charities to offer a myriad of even smaller, non-viable projects. This is exactly what is happening now to Britain’s overseas aid and development budget.

Nor is the tyranny confined to aid and development. It also drives ‘summititis’, a particularly painful and useless infection that takes place shortly before gatherings of EU and NATO heads of state and government. Desperate for something to announce officials cast around for new projects upon which to heap money so that political leaders can give the impression of progress where none exists. The result is a culture in which ‘success’ is too often measured by the smooth running of a summit and/or the agreed ‘language’ that emerges than any outcome on the ground that actually changes things for the better.

Sadly, my own country Britain has become a leading exponent of this tyranny. Indeed, so fixated has the Westminster/Whitehall Establishment become with the need to see short-term politics and inputs as long-term strategy and outcomes that I fear London is no longer capable of conducting a proper audit into the outcomes it desires or the effect of its ‘investments’. There are many dangers from both remaining within a changing EU and leaving it. However, one of the greatest dangers Britain faces comes from London’s input-obsessed political and bureaucratic elite which might suddenly be called upon to think about the real relationship between strategic inputs and outcomes in pursuit of the British national interest. Whatever happens after June 23rd, and whosoever is in Downing Street, expect a flurry of big spending inputs presented as strategy designed to give the impression of post-referendum political momentum, where in fact little or none exists.  

Sadly, such nonsense is not confined to London. One reason the Court of Auditors refuses to sign off on the EU budget year-after-year is that Brussels also suffers from the tyranny of the input culture. Not only is it very hard to understand why many EU projects are funded, it is even harder to see how the money was spent, let alone the ‘beneficial’ outcome that was generated.

However, perhaps the greatest victims of this tyranny are Europeans themselves. So corrosive is this culture become in the body politic that long-term strategic planning is being killed off. Yes, leaders talk a good talk about such planning because the appearance thereof is part of the tyranny. However, because the relationship between the often massive means invested and outcomes generated has become so tenuous the influence of Europeans on world events is far less than the sum of its many parts.

In other words, the tyranny of the input culture is probably the single greatest factor in Europe’s rapid relative decline. And, that decline like the tyranny that spawns it is nowhere more apparent than in Europe’s security and defence.

Ho hum!

Julian Lindley-French                        


Monday, 16 May 2016

CDSP: More ‘E’ less ‘C’?

Alphen, Netherlands. 16 May. CSDP: what’s in a letter? Last Thursday I spoke at the 2016 EU in International Affairs bash in Brussels. The subject of the meeting was the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy and to what extent ‘CSDP’ had imposed costs on the UK. My point was that hitherto CSDP had imposed very little cost on the UK because it is not actually CSDP. Instead, CSDP remains little changed from its forebear the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), i.e. an inter-governmental (to use wonk-speak) mechanism and decidedly not a ‘common’ mechanism. So what, many of you out there are no doubt asking?

Well, in theory at least CSDP could not be more different than ESDP. ‘C’, i.e. ‘common’ implies a supranational force over which political decision-making would be taken away from the EU member-state and given to what would need to be a form of European Government, especially as it would involve decisions over the life and death of service personnel. Still with me?

Since ESDP became CSDP with the 2007 Lisbon Treaty the ‘C’ has by and large remained silent. Rather, CSDP has become ESDP-plus (or is that ESDP-minus?). Indeed, CSDP remains much closer to the Franco-British view of EU security and defence as set out in the 1998 St Malo Declaration, than the vision for defence union in the ill-fated 1952-1954 European Defence Community of which in 1953 Churchill famously said: “We are with them, but not of them”. Consequently, CSDP has continued to be quite useful to the British, and indeed the French, the two European powers that matter in such matters. This is because the flag one puts atop a military campaign is almost as important as the force one deploys into a complex security environment.

Take Libya. There is much talk about an Italian-led EU operation to stabilise the Libyan coast around Sirte and thus help disrupt the hyper-people-smuggling that is destabilising Europe and taking so many lives. One could not imagine such a force operating in that environment under a NATO, UK, French, let alone an American flag. Therefore, having the option of operating under an EU flag communicates a very distinctive political message about the identity, and indeed the nature and purpose of a deployed force. For that reason CSDP is useful to the British and French precisely because it affords London and Paris political options in a crisis.
The countries that actually want CSDP are those that have neither a strategic culture nor many forces. For them a truly common CSDP would absolve their political leaders of responsibility for sending national forces on unpopular foreign adventures. For them the ‘c’ in  is a small ‘c’ because it stands for weakness.

And now the must-ask question these days. Where does Germany fit into all of this? After all, once the Brexit brouhaha has calmed down the real fight for the future of Europe will begin which is the real relevance of CSDP. Indeed, implicit in the entire Brexit debacle is a debate about the future balance of power in the EU.

In the coming fight there will be three sides. On one of the three sides there will be the ‘plucky’ Brits desperately trying to keep the whole CSDP thing intergovernmental, probably with the quiet but incomplete support of the French. On one of the other sides there will be the Euro-federalists led by the supra-elite, as represented by the recent Five Presidents Report, which will seek to expand ever closer political and economic union into a defence union. And on a third side will be the Germans trying to use CSDP-plus, i.e. a European Defence Union, to push towards the creation of a hybrid EU super-state which it controls, possibly with the support of Berlin’s new best friend Washington.

CSDP would be central to the German creation of a hybrid EU precisely because it would combine elements of both EU supranationalism and contemporary German liberal hegemony. That is why Berlin is considering including the concept of a European Defence Union (EDU) in its July defence white paper. Under EDU ‘ever closer defence union’ would be imposed on all EU member-states except Germany. Berlin would claim a form of American-style exceptionalism on the basis that it would be the paymaster. Berlin would also no doubt claim that if there is to be a European Defence Union then at least one power would need to remain free to play Leviathan to ensure compliance. However, EDU will fail.

Why? Three reasons. First, one very important design purpose of CSDP is to weaken the fundamental purpose of the state, to ensure the security and defence of its citizens, by transferring state sovereignty over time to the Brussels institutions. Not even David Cameron would agree to that. Second, defence more than any other area of state competence is about power. In 2015 IISS placed Britain as the world’s fourth biggest defence spender. With a defence budget of $56bn Britain spends some $9bn per annum more than France, and some $20bn more than Germany. Third, if a state spends 2% of its GDP on defence and yet decisions are being taken on the use of that force by people coming from states that spend far less either said state would not join such a common mechanism, or said state would reduce its expenditure to the lowest common denominator of shared CSDP investment.  In time CSDP and the defence of Europe would fail. In other words, as currently envisaged a ‘common’ CSDP is a defence nonsense.   
So what to do? Neither the British nor in reality the French want much more ‘C’ in CSDP. Yes, the French pretend they want more CSDP for political reasons. However, there is no more chance of France subsuming its forces under supranational control than my beloved Sheffield United winning the Champion’s League. Moreover, for all the political ambitions implicit in CSDP there is not going to be a European super-state, and Germany is not going to be Europe’s leading military power.  However, Europeans will need to work together more closely for their own defence and an American-centric NATO will remain central to that defence, albeit underpinned by an increasingly over-stretched US. Given the balance of realities there could be no EU security and defence policy worthy of the name without Britain.

Therefore, if CSDP is to be credible it must stop being used as a back-door to supranationalism and take its proper place in the gamut of mutually-reinforcing security and defence tools available to Europeans in the twenty-first century. In other words, take implied EU supranationalism out of the mix and CSDP might actually begin to work.      

Critically, the world’s fifth biggest economy and fourth biggest defence spender will not be subsumed within a genuine Common Security and Defence Policy.  Indeed, for all the German talk about including a European Defence Union in their forthcoming defence white paper unless it is underpinned by hard defence investment then Bismarck would suggest CSDP will remain not unworthy of the bones of a single healthy Pomeranian grenadier.

For all the EU obsession with rules, as President Putin has so rudely reminded Europeans the true ‘common’ denominators of security and defence remain power…and weakness.

CSDP; more ‘E’ less ‘C’. Still awake?

Julian Lindley-French                    

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Russia Parades its Weakness

Alphen, Netherlands. May 11th. Victory Day in Moscow takes place on May 9th each year and commemorates the day Moscow cites as the end of World War Two. This is because whilst the Western allies signed the instruments of surrender with the Nazi regime on May 8th 1945, Marshal Stalin insisted upon a separate signing ceremony for the the Soviet Union. This is hardly surprising given the enormous sacrifice the Russian people made during the Great Patriotic War between 1941 and 1945, and their unrivalled contribution to the defeat of Nazism. Equally unsurprising is the 1945 commemorating annual military parade in Moscow’s Red Square. However, far from demonstrating Russia’s might when set against the fundamentals of Russia’s broken economy the parade revealed dangerous weakness.
This year as ever the parade that rumbled, roared and marched its way across Red Square was impressive and one cannot blame the average Russian for a sense of pride. In addition to 10,000 troops, 135 military vehicles, and some 355 military aircraft there was also new military equipment on show. These included next generation Su-35s fighters, Mi-28 and Ka-52 helicopters, as well as new S-400 Triumf air defence units, and a new IL-76 transport aircraft. Interestingly, there was no sign of the treaty-busting Iskander Kalibr intermediate-range cruise missile.
However, the reality is that whilst President Putin may have created a strong security state, Russia is far from being a powerful country. Indeed, if Russia continues spending the amount it currently spends on security AND defence unless the oil price rises sharply above the $47 per barrel needed to fund Russian public expenditure the Russian economy will eventually collapse.

Or, to put it another way, in 2015 Russia’s economy was worth some $1.2 trillion, the German economy some $3.3tr, Britain’s economy some $2.8tr, and the French economy some $2.4tr. And yet with 2015 Russian military expenditure at 5% of GDP Moscow is spending just about the same on defence as a percentage of its economy as Britain and Germany combined.

Even the military front is something of a Potemkin village. The weakened Russian economy and the consequent collapse in the value of the rouble is having a profoundly negative impact on the modernisation of the Russian military which began back in 2010. Although the original aim back in 2010 was to spend some $700bn over ten years on new armed forces the collapse of the rouble means that Russia can only spend ‘some’ $300bn. Yes, Russia gets far more out of each rouble defence-invested than, say. Britain does for each pound defence-invested. Equally, the British defence equipment investment programme of $250bn over ten years is now almost as big as the entire Russian military modernisation programme, and according to IISS the British spent $5bn more on defence in 2015 than the Russians.

Given the economic facts of Russian life it is thus bizarre that Moscow has locked itself into a campaign of what it calls non-linear warfare (what the West calls hybrid warfare) against the very European countries that provide for most of its foreign direct investment and some 70% of its trade. Worse, that campaign shows no signs of abating.  Indeed, Russia’s use of disinformation, deception, and destabilisation against its western neighbours is becoming more aggressive, and the means for its exploitation more advanced, and more expensive.
Russia’s hybrid war against the West was fully deployed this past week. Russian TV ran several stories depicting the Baltic States as closet Nazis. Stories were run depicting ‘heroic’ resistance by local Russian-speakers implied systematic oppression by the Baltic States. Rossiya 24 even aired a story about a major Victory Day parade in the Russian-speaking Estonian town of Sillamäe that never took place. The implication of all this seeded disinformation is clear; any Russian aggression against the Baltic States would be in support of oppressed ‘liberators’ and thus justified. What are the rest of us meant to think?

Parts of the disinformation campaign also has an eerie resemblance to the old ‘dual-track’ era back in the late 1970s when the Soviets funded protest movements across Western Europe in a failed attempt to prevent NATO from deploying missiles designed to counter their own Europe-busting SS20 nuclear systems. On Victory Day this year marches took place in support of the “Immortals Regiment”, to honour those Russians who gave their lives fighting the Nazis. However, for the first time some of those marches took place in American and European cities. The groups who organised them seem for the most part to be youth movements with close links to Russian money. The paradox is that the more Moscow uses such tactics to give the impression of power the more it reveals instead the fundamental structural weakness with which Russia must contend.
Now, I do not want to rain on Russia’s grand parade, not least out of respect for Russia, the Russian people, and Russia’s valiant war dead whom I hold in the highest respect. However, President Putin is leading Russia down a blind alley to danger with his current policy of turning Russia into the Soviet Union-lite.

Russia’s bottom-line is this; whilst Britain spends about 7% of its GDP on security of which defence is a part, Russia is now spending some 20% of its GDP on the security state. It was precisely over-investment in the security state that eventually killed the Soviet Union, which at times consumed upwards of 40% of the entire Soviet economy. Therefore, as a policy consequence President Putin might wish to add two more ‘ds’ to his triad of disinformation, deception, and destabilisation; Western disinvestment and disengagement.
And that was the irony of this year’s Victory Day parade. It is precisely the heavy Russian metal that was marched through Red Square that is helping to kill the Russian economy. Consequently, it was not Russia’s power that was on parade on Victory Day, but Russia’s weakness. Indeed, it is Russian weakness not Russian strength which is most dangerous.

Julian Lindley-French



Sunday, 8 May 2016

Hopes and Fears: Do not forget the Western Balkans

Budva, Montenegro. 8 May. A cliché rolls out before me. An assuredly azure Adriatic Sea as still as a millpond murmurs peacefully in its Sunday slumber cupped in a palm of firs on fingers of aged rock. Budva is like much of the rest of Montenegro, a small, beautiful place as breath-taking as it is peaceful. And yet that is not the whole story or even part of it. Yesterday, I saw the best and perhaps the not-so-best of Montenegro. Privileged to enjoy the luxuries of the splendidly-appropriate Splendid Hotel at someone else’s expense, last night I was ripped off royally by a Budva taxi driver. Perhaps it was only fair and I saw it as such. However, my experience brought home to me the reality of this beautiful country and the Western Balkan region in which it resides; so much progress made, so much more to be done.

First, the good news. My reason for enjoying the warm hospitality of Montenegro was to attend the outstanding 2BS (to be secure) conference. 2BS is the vision of my friend Dr Savo Kentera, the brilliant president of the Atlantic Council of Montenegro. Ten years after little Montenegro’s independence 2BS is a jewel in the crown of conferences precisely because it takes place where security really matters. Indeed, viewed from this cradle of Alexander the twin integrations of the Euro-Atlantic and of Europe make absolute and compelling sense.

Three conversations stood out for me on this visit. The first conversation was with President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, President of Croatia. The second conversation was with Professor Milica Pejanovic-Durisic, the Minister of Defence of Montenegro, and the third was with a senior Serb involved in EU accession negotiations. All three conversations conveyed both hope and fear.     
President Grabar-Kitarovic was blunt: the Western Balkans, a term she actually dislikes, affords Europe and the wider West two great potentials; the potential for great progress and the potential for dangerous instability. Indeed, President Grabar-Kitarovic was firm in her conviction that regional co-operation within the framework of Europe’s institutions was vital if peace and stability are to be affirmed.    Minister Pejanovic-Durisic was rightly proud of the fact that Montenegro is soon to become NATO’s twenty-ninth member. However, she was also firm in her belief that Montenegro must maintain progress towards EU membership. However, my Serb friend was frustrated that there seems little appetite in Brussels or other national capitals for the political effort needed to bring Serbia fully into the European family.

So, why the underlying concerns? It is something I picked-up on in one of my ‘can we please face reality’ questions at the conference. For some time now I have noticed the Western Balkans slipping from the agendas of security policy meetings where such meetings matter. Rather, there seems to be a tick-box view of the region with the Western Balkans now filed either under yesterday’s problem, or problem solved. This retreat from political engagement has been compounded by the threat posed by IS/Daesh and the twin fatigues; with further consolidation and with further reform. My Serbian friend said quite clearly that the key to regional stability was the establishment of rule of law across the region and the rooting out of the corruption that prevents it. Sadly, support for such a vital effort beyond the region is at best soft.

There has also been a profound loss of strategic vision about the need to integrate the Western Balkans and quickly if unfinished business is not to turn into tragic missed opportunity. To my mind this is most apparent in the ridiculous stalling of Macedonia’s (and I use that name deliberately) relationship with NATO, and the urgent need to implement to the full its Membership Action Plan.  

So, on one hand I leave this beautiful place firm in my concern that we in the rest of the West can take nothing for granted about the Western Balkans, not least because President Putin’s Russia is again trying to make it yet another contested space. Moreover, two critical futures must be resolved; Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. On the other hand, each time I have the honour of attending 2BS I see the progress and the massive change for good that has taken place in this region since it was shattered by war in the 1990s.

They will not thank me for writing this because rightly they both want to be seen first and foremost as effective leaders. However, for me the greatest proof of progress is the fact that both President Grabar-Kitarovic and Minister Pejanovic-Durisic are women. This is because the greatest comparative advantage Europe and the wider West has over illiberal challengers is that society and indeed power is and must be open to all the talents.

Thank you, Montenegro. Thank you, Savo. To be secure!

Julian Lindley-French      

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Balancing Germany: The Need for a St Malo 2.0

Vienna, Austria. 5 May. Back in 1998 at St Malo in France Britain and France came together to create a leadership framework for the future of a NATO-friendly EU security and defence. They need to do so again and urgently. A senior French official warned the other day that if Britain left the EU France would be surrounded by herbivores, i.e. countries with no strategic tradition or culture, and no willingness to resort to the hard stuff. Equally, something has to give; Europe’s ‘non-defence’ of Europe cannot go on like this. Forget all the drivel you may have heard about European defence budgets being stabilised. This is what academics call counter-intuitive and what I call a complete load of bollocks. Given the adverse change in the global balance of power if Europeans are to play an appropriate role in their own defence a complex mix of three things must now happen: Europeans must spend more on defence, Europeans must do more defence together, and Europeans must find a better balance between the two. There are two distinct schools of thought emerging about how to achieve such a balance; one German and the other (sort of) British and French.

Let me deal with German ambitions first. Last year German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leye gave a speech calling for the creation of a European Army. In July (conveniently after the Brexit vote) Germany will reveal its plans in a new defence White Paper in which it will call for a European Defence Union (EDU) organised around (and by) Germany. Berlin is already in the process of acquiring the Dutch armed forces, which are well on the way to becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Bundeswehr. There is certainly some logic to this as the Netherlands is fast becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Germany.

However, Germany’s ambitions are not simply about defence.  Indeed, they are part of a wider political stratagem to bolster the EU and impose some form of leadership and discipline at a critical moment in the political evolution of the EU. Look around the EU institutions and one will find Germans carefully inserted into almost all the key posts, often just below the political radar. It is not a conspiracy. Rather, the stratagem reflects Berlin’s legitimate concerns about the EU’s loss of political momentum and the need to hold things together.  

And, at one level of European defence Germany is right. Too many Europeans have become serial free-riders. As the world becomes more tense and dangerous the refusal of Europeans to face up to the hard defence choices they need to make is not only undermining NATO but warping the defence policy of an over-stretched America. Germany is certainly genuine in its desire for a more effective and efficient European defence effort, albeit within the EU framework. 

The problem with Germany’s big defence plan is that Berlin’s ambitions are not reinforced by Germany’s defence reality. Last year the British spent some $58bn on defence, and the French $48bn, but Germany only $36bn. Future defence spending plans show Britain re-emerging as Europe’s leading military power (Russia excluded).  

Moreover, for all the firm rhetoric that will be written into the German White Paper about how modern Germany is willing to use force if needs be, Germany remains essentially and instinctively a defence herbivore rather than a carnivore. In other words, German leadership of European defence would ensure Europeans remain a herd of cows, rather than a pack of fast-hunting wolves.

The Dutch are proof of that; once carnivores, now herbivores. Indeed, at one time one of the most robust and Atlanticist of the smaller European powers, the Dutch were willing and able to deploy forces at the sharp-end of military operations.  Today the Dutch armed forces have been reduced to what in effect is a small but expert group of peacekeepers, with a few Commandos and Special Forces thrown in to keep the Americans sort of happy.   
The cruncher is this; if Germany becomes THE framework nation for driving forward European defence there may well be in time more Europeans under arms than exists today, but they will not be able to do very much. Indeed, the very idea of a European Defence Union is to a large extent counter-bollocks. For such a ‘Union’ to work one would need either a European Government or a German Empire, neither of which is desirable nor practicable. Certainly, an EDU would do little to assuage American concerns about a lack of burden-sharing and thus do little to reinforce NATO.  

And here’s the ultimate paradox; much of the rationale for an EDU in the German White Paper will be for enhanced European crisis management that may in time lead to the formation of a European Army. However, in the absence of a ‘Government’ i.e. a unitary decision-maker who can decide quickly how and when to use such a force, it would probably never be used for crisis management, and only used during an existential crisis for which it was not designed.

Implicit in EDU is a recognition that Britain and France have lost control of European defence and its development. Brexit has not helped. But here’s the thing; it is power that drives defence planning not rhetoric, but Britain and France need to get their strategic act together.  Indeed, not only is there a need for a St Malo 2.0 to ensure Britain and France re-exert their influence over European defence, should Britain leave the EU the need for a St Malo 2.0 will be even greater. And, should Britain remain in the EU a St Malo 2.0 would also be vital in saving Germany from itself by helping to re-establish the political power balance on which Europe is still founded and which German plans for a German-centric EDU threaten to render unstable.  

It is therefore time for a St Malo 2.0.  Now that is real counter-bollocks! Anyone for more grass?

Julian Lindley-French