hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Operation Market Garden 70

“Let there be sung Non Nobis and Te Deum, the dead with charity enclosed in clay”
Henry V, William Shakespeare

Oosterbeek War Cemetery, Netherlands.  21 September.  A lone Spitfire barrel rolls over the assembled veterans, a C-3 Dakota transport aircraft rumbles overhead in splendid salute.  Russet autumn leaves float to the ground from the giant American oaks that surround this place of sanctuary as if the souls of the paratroopers who lay interred herein are making one final drop.  Amidst the browns, greens and greys of an ageing year airborne maroon on young and old runs like a proud seam between then and now, in a great jump across the seventy years that have passed since the great battle of September 1944.  This is a day of proud men, real men for whom the ranks of Portland stone are not just the names of young men but real people, real comrades, fallen friends.  It is these brave men many weighed down in old age by their own bemedalment who can tell the real story of the real battle for Arnhem, not Richard Attenborough’s “Oh What a Lovely War with Parachutes”, false ‘epic’ “A Bridge Too Far” that so ill-defines those fateful days between 17th and 25th September, 1944. 

Seventy years ago today Operation Market Garden had been underway for four days.  A massive combined airborne (‘Market’) and land (‘Garden’) operation in which British, American, Canadian, and Polish forces fought together with the Dutch Resistance and the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade to capture three vital bridges.  If successful Field Marshal Montgomery’s brilliant but risk-laden operation would have seen Britain’s XXX Corps under the command of Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks cross the Rhine and open the way into Nazi Germany.  The plan came close to succeeding and no doubt would have but for the unexpected presence of the II SS Panzer Corps and the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions under the command of Lt General Wilhelm Bittrich.  The key to the battle was the bridge at Arnhem which is today called Johnny Frost Bridge in honour of the British colonel commanding the 1st Parachute Brigade and who came so close to succeeding.

On 17 September, 1944 41,628 airborne troops launched the largest airborne operation in history.  The airborne force consisted of the British 1st Airborne under the command of Major-General Roy Urquhart, the US 82nd Airborne under the command of Major-General James M. Gavin, and the US 101st Airborne under the command of Major-General Maxwell D. Taylor with the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade under the command of Major-General Stanislaw Sosobowski held in reserve.

The strategic aim was for the airborne forces to to enable General Dempsey’s 2nd British Army to enter Germany quickly, capture the Ruhr industrial belt and so end the war by crossing the rivers Waal, Maas and finally the Rhine at Arnhem.   However, for Market Garden to work XXX Corps would need to reach Eindhoven in 2 to 3 hours and cover the 65 miles/104kms between its jump-off point at Lommel, Belgium and Arnhem in 2-3 days to relieve British 1st Airborne. 

To assist XXX Corps in its drive north the US 82nd Airborne would land in the Nijmegen/Grave area and take the bridge over the Waal and the US 101st Airborne would land in the Eindhoven/Son area closest to the September 1944 front line and seize the bridge over the Maas.  Seven bridges in total had to be seized.  Simultaneously with the drops XXX Corps would punch a hole through the German front lines from their start in Belgium and then drive quickly north to link up with the lightly-armed airborne forces.  Having taken the bridge at Arnhem.

The operation began well.  At 1435 hours on 17 September behind a creeping artillery barrage XXX Corps began its drive north with the Irish Guards in the lead under the command of Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur.  However, the presence of Bittrich’s forces close to Arnhem placed the British 1st Airborne in a very precarious position indeed and increased the pressure on XXX Corps to make rapid progress northwards.   

However, the US 101st Airborne failed to take the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son before it was demolished by the Germans. This led to a delay of some thirty-six hours for XXX Corps until a temporary British Bailey bridge could be constructed.  Moreover, the narrowness of the roads and the scale of liberation celebrations slowed XXX Corps significantly.  On 20th September the US 82nd Airborne after a river-borne crossing seized the north end of the bridge at Nijmegen just as a Tiger-killing Sherman Firefly tank under the command of Sergeant Peter Robinson of the British 2nd Grenadier Guards stormed across the bridge from the south.

British tanks paused at Lent north of Nijmegen due mainly to logistical reasons and the vulnerability of tanks to German Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons, which were particularly effective given that most Dutch roads are on dykes.  The delay effectively meant that 1st Airborne in spite of an attempted reinforcement by Polish forces on 21st September into drop zones that has been overrun by the Germans.  This led to the slaughter of many of the Polish airborne troops.  On Saturday, 25th September 1st Airborne received orders to withdraw the remnant of that gallant force back across the Rhine. Some wag at headquarters gave the operation the ironic title Operation Berlin. 

Operation Market Garden had failed.  However, the Allied front-line had advanced over 65 miles/110kms and large parts of the Netherlands had been liberated.  Allied losses were probably around 17,000, of which some 13,226 were British, whilst it is believed German forces suffered up to 6,000 killed.  It is believed between 500 and 1000 Dutch citizens were killed.

This morning I had breakfast with Major-General ‘Mick’ Nicholson, commander of the US 82nd Airborne and Brigadier Giles Hill of the British Parachute Regiment.  We met to discuss ‘strategy’.  However, the meeting although important was not the main event. We were all really here for the veterans. Today is their day; a day to remember the sacrifice that has given my life the freedom I never take for granted.  There was another group of guests among us, modest in number and modest in demeanour from Germany.  This is as it should be; allies, friends and partners standing in solidarity and paying respect for the ultimate sacrifice that made liberty possible.

Today I saw a past reconciled with a present in which a new generation of children offered us all a bridge to the future.  It is a bridge of liberty that must always be defended and can never be too far - then, now and into the future.

“I was there, you know”.  One brave soldier says to me, tears in his wise eyes.  “I know”, I say.  “For it is for you I have come”. 

Thank you, Gentlemen. 

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 19 September 2014

New Britain

Riga, Latvia. 19 September.  I am exhausted, relieved and not a little emotional this morning.  I have been up all night after addressing NATO generals here in Latvia watching the results of the Scottish referendum on television.  I am also deeply proud of my country this morning.  Britain endures,  democracy prevailed and thanks to the good sense of the Scottish people the referendum on Scottish independence delivered a decisive 55%-45% vote for the continuation of an ancient union that not only defines my country but defines me.  A proud Yorkshireman, Briton and Englishman with Scottish forebears the United Kingdom is for me deeply personal, goes to the very heart of my soul and reflects much of who I am.  Indeed, I do not mind admitting to you that this morning a tear of relief ran down my cheek as the Scot's rejection of separation was confirmed. 

This is not just a relief for me but here on the front-line of freedom people have been coming up to congratulate me in my relief.  Like me they would have accepted a vote for separation, albeit in my case I would have been cast down.  If one believes in the liberal democracy that defines much of Europe it is precisely the settled will of the people that must be respected even if one believe that will to be wrong.

No, for many Latvians Britain is more than just any old country.  She is a vital ally and friend the diminution of which would undermine Latvia's precious and precarious freedom.  Too often trapped in the short-termism of modern politics the British political class forget the strategic potency of Britain and the vital role a strong Britain plays in both European and world peace.  Britain might no longer be a world power and the days of jingoism are long dead.  However, Britain is still a strategic brand, a cornerstone of NATO and one of the foundations upon which a stable Europe is built.   With so much uncertainty again in Europe and indeed beyond the need for big Britain to play a big role has never been greater, something Latvians see with a clarity that their position brings sharp into focus  The descent of the United Kingdom into doubt and exaggerated decline (for that is what a vote for separation would have entailed) would have gravely undermined both Europe and the West.

Furthermore, separatists across Europe would have been encouraged and far from strengthening the voice of Europe in the world the Old Continent would have slipped even deeper into fracture and falter.  Perhaps French President Francois Hollande put it best when he said that 'we' Europeans did not make Europe to get to this point; the deconstruction of nations.  M. le President also said that getting smaller, allegedly to be stronger was the very opposite of the European ideal. Wise words indeed. 

This morning Britain is awakening from a nightmare.  Never again must Britain be brought to the point of disintegration.  No doubt this morning Prime Minister David Cameron feels vindicated that he permitted such a referendum. He must also face the fact that he handled the entire process spectacularly badly.  The panic in London after just one opinion poll showed the chance of a vote to separate was eloquent testimony to just how out-of-touch all the leaders of the main political parties have become.  Indeed, Cameron allowed Nationalist leader Alex Salmond not only to set the terms of the debate, but also the timing, who got to vote and even the very question.  In so doing Prime Minister Cameron put the Union at unnecessary risk and gave the separatists every chance of winning.  Thankfully, the separatists did not win and Cameron's yes-no gamble paid off with Scots giving a decisive and clear answer to preserve the Union.  It could have been so different this morning.

One thing is clear from this vote; political business as usual is not an option - be it in London or Brussels.  My over-riding lesson from this whole stressful experience is that twenty-first century democracies only work if power is as close as possible to the people that legitimise it.  Whether it be the arrogant disregard for the people shown for too long by the Westminster/Whitehall elite, or the gross and crass manipulation of democracy and the popular will by the Brussels elite sooner or later people will rebel.  

It is also time to renovate the will of the majority.  Both in Westminster and Brussels two trends have alienated the majority.  First, the over-concentration of high power and high politics in ever fewer and ever less accountable hands.  Second, the obsession of such elites with minorities often at the expense of majorities.  Do not get me wrong, I believe deeply in protecting minorities but for too long the legitimate concerns of decent majorities on matters such as immigration and Europe have been disregarded and dismissed by the elite as populism or nationalism. 

The distaste for big politics the Scots showed in this campaign is not unique to Scotland.  Indeed, I see it a across the UK and indeed across the EU.  I am sick of attending conferences and meetings and listening to presidents, prime ministers and ministers both past and present congratulating each other as great democrats or champions of the people when they are anything but.  I see the political elite almost weekly and the spin of its self-satisfied complacency it is not a pretty sight.

Hopefully, the Scottish people yesterday lit a bonfire under such complacency.  A bonfire that could and should act as a pyre for all the false 'certainties' of Westminster and the single-minded egotism of the EU elite.  Indeed, as President Hollande said prior to the result, the referendum in Scotland may decide the future of not only the United Kingdom but also the future of the EU.  There is a risk Europe could fall apart.  In the words of Wellington it was a close run thing.

Thank you Scotland.  Now it is time for bed.  Tomorrow we start the construction of a New Britain in a New Europe.

Julian Lindley-French       

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Juncker Makes a Good Start

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 September.  The other day I was talking to a senior German politician and I was struck by the commonality of vision between us over the future of the EU. Importantly my colleague said that whatever the hairy-kneed lunatic Celtic fringe to the north of England vote for tomorrow – bigness or complete non-EU littleness – the relationship between Britain and Germany remains vital if a competitive, open-for-business Europe is to be built established on real economics and real growth. 

Implicit in Jean-Claude Juncker’s new European Commission is perhaps a pragmatic recognition that for the EU to survive its people must prosper and for its people to prosper Europe must be globally competitive.  For that reason the Juncker Commission headlines jobs, growth and investment, a digital single market and, here’s the cruncher, a deeper and fairer economic and monetary union.

Do not get me wrong.  I have not withdrawn my citizen’s principled objection to Jean-Claude Juncker.  His appointment as European Commission President was illegitimate and reflected German domestic politics and a grubby stitch-up/coup contre des etats between leaders in the European Parliament that had been planned well-before the May elections.  Indeed, the whole process was elite cronyism that made a mockery of those sad pre-election TV and radio advertisements inviting ‘we’ the citizenry to have our ‘say’ on the EU’s future.  It would have been at least more honest for said advertisements to have said “have your say peasant, whinge if you like, but we the elite will completely ignore you”.

Still, implicit in the composition of the new Commission is the suggestion at least that Juncker is sensitive to his own illegitimacy and cognisant of the need for change even if also implicit in the headlines is the mother and father of all political and cultural battles between liberals and statists, intergovernmentalists and federalists.  The first signs are vaguely encouraging.  Whereas the Barroso Commission was obsessed with regulation for regulation-sake and how to impose ever greater amounts of centralising, growth-killing lollops of Brusselsness on the rest of us the Juncker Commission has a pragmatic balance about it. 

The Commission certainly does not lack for experience or people who have fought, won and lost national elections.  Team Juncker comprises five former prime ministers, four deputy prime ministers, nineteen former ministers and Lord Hill.  The British appointee re-confirms that now long-established British tradition of complaining about the illegitimacy of the European Commission whilst at the same time proposing a Brit no-one outside of a small London clique has ever actually heard of.

The rest of the Commission is the usual carve up.  Whilst Commissioners are meant to remove their national shoes as they enter New Berlaymont they of course do not.  Of the important portfolios the Italians got foreign affairs and security policy, the French got economic and financial affairs and the Germans got digital economy and society.

Team Juncker will also have seven vice-presidents (how many do you need M. Juncker?).  The Commission goes to great lengths to tell me that 3 of the 7 or 42% will be women.  Indeed, the Commission goes to even greater PC lengths to point out that nine of the twenty-eight Commissioners will be women (whoopee!).  As someone who really could not give a toss whether an appointee is male or female my only demand is that the appointed women are good and judged on the basis of their professionalism not gender.  Too often in this absurdly politically-correct age one sees women appointed simply because they are women.  Not only does that diminish women and champion mediocrity it is a form of discrimination which is increasingly alienating the rest of us who are not part of the grey, male and stale political Establishment. 

Juncker has shown genuine magnanimity towards David Cameron and the Brits.  Having completely outflanked David Cameron (which is not exactly a shortlist these days) by appointing Hill as Commissioner for Dodgy Money, sorry Financial Services, a key British interest, Juncker is demonstrating a willingness to understand London’s concerns.  Moreover, Juncker is also signalling he understands that once the Eurozone, Scottish and Ukrainian crises are over the next big crisis waiting in the wings for the EU (after the coming Italian financial crisis) is the British/English crisis.   
The key appointment is somewhat grey (sorry Frans), clearly male, and very much part of the political Establishment, erstwhile Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans.  He will act in effect as Juncker’s Number Two on those days when Jean-Claude is a “little under the weather”.  He will also have the critical responsibility for reforming the European institutions and the only good joke one ever finds in Brussels – subsidiarity. 

Timmermans will be critical in ensuring the non-Eurozone member-states are not marginalised to the point of exclusion as and when the Eurozone core moves to deepen political and fiscal integration.  If the Eurozone does not further integrate and undergo deep structural reforms then it will either break up or bankrupt the few northern European taxpayers (me) that are at present simply bankrolling a crisis trapped in a no man’s land of irresolution…and then break up.  No pressure then.

Perhaps Juncker’s biggest challenges will be to curb his own federalising instincts and the Euro-fanatics who work for him whose life-work is to kill the member-states and replace them with a country called “Europe”. 

Of course, all of this makes the real question; how does Europe prepare together for a twenty-first century world of which it is part but over which it has little control?  Implicit in that challenge is the biggest question of all which of course Juncker will be keen to dodge for now; a Europe of nation-states or a European state.

Juncker has made a good start but the key question remains; will he pursue a liberal or a statist agenda.  If he follows the latter Europe is indeed doomed and it will simply be a matter of time before the EU fails.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 15 September 2014

Russia: Fight Ambiguous Warfare with Ambiguous Warfare

Riga, Latvia. 15 September. Two thousand five hundred years ago the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote, “To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”.  Russia is fighting a war of conquest in Ukraine and it is Europe’s first true strategic test of the twenty-first century.  It is an intelligence-led (FSB and GRU) ambiguous or hybrid war in which disinformation, deceit and distraction are the primary tactics.  The immediate aim is to confirm the seizure of Crimea as a fait accompli and to create a new Russian protectorate called Novorossiya, the Tsarist-era name for south-east Ukraine.  If successful Russia will review the performance of its strategy and the response of the West before it considers if such a strategy can be applied elsewhere around its borders.  The over-arching strategic objective is to re-create a new sphere of influence that would strengthen Russian prestige and influence in Europe and create a buffer zone between Russia, the EU and NATO.  The dynamic centre of Moscow’s strategy is the modernising Russian armed forces reflective of a Kremlin world view that has abandoned partnership as unfavourable to Russian interests.  Instead, Moscow has returned to a zero sum game analysis of power in which only one side can prevail.  How can Russia’s ambiguous warfare be countered?

Sitrep: Russia remains as committed to its war aims as ever.  This week’s separatist-led attack on Donetsk Airport and the illegal entry of a new convoy into Ukraine marks the beginning of a new phase of Russia’s ambiguous war.  The first phase hid behind the strategic denial of European leaders that Russia would undertake such conquest in the twenty-first century Europe.  As Europe's leaders have slowly awakened to this reality this new phase hides behind a ceasefire that Moscow claims to back but which is now breached daily.  

The Western Response:  Do the same to Russia as Russia is doing to the West.  In other words the West must as a collective entity prey on Russia’s insecurities as Russia is preying on Western insecurities.  Russia insecurities essentially concern costs versus benefits for an essentially fragile state and can be thus summarised: a) Russia is a declining power that must act now if it is to establish a European order that is Russia-friendly and thus prevent in the Moscow strategic mind the consolidation of the EU and NATO on its borders; b) irrespective of current actions Russia will over time be locked out of the European financial and energy markets and must therefore re-establish Russian strategic ‘independence’; and c) in spite of Russia’s military modernisation programme over the longer term Moscow will become relatively weaker compared with NATO.  The next decade is decisive.

Countering Russian Strategy: The West must complicate Moscow’s strategic calculations.  The aim must be to convince the Kremlin that the survival of the Putin regime requires an accommodation with the West, most notably the EU.  Such a strategy would need four elements: a new political strategy; NATO military modernisation; a new NATO Forward Deterrence Concept; and an Allied intelligence-led ambiguous warfare concept.

      New Political Strategy: The West must develop a political counter-strategy to contain and roll back Russian aggression.  The aim of such a strategy would be to convince the Kremlin that it would be in Russia’s best interest to withdraw from Ukraine (including Crimea) pending talks that are aimed at finding a just settlement for ethnic Russians in Ukraine and the protection of the Russian Black Seas Fleet base in Sevastopol.  Such a strategy would preserve Ukrainian territorial integrity and enable Moscow to claim it is acting in the best interests of all the parties to the conflict. However, such a strategy would require first and foremost unity of effort and purpose.  Sadly, that is lacking.  For example, having supposedly suspended the sale of two advanced warships to Russia at 0430 hours on Saturday the French permitted Russian crews to re-commence training on one of the ships in St Nazaire. 

Good Cop, Bad Cop: France, Germany and indeed the EU could act as the ‘good cops’ committed to keeping lines of communication open and offering Russia a new political relationship with Europe.  Such open communications would have four objectives: a) to demonstrate to Moscow the political and economic consequences of continued aggression; b) the benefits of respecting sovereignty and close working relationship with the EU; c) the need to re-posit all European disputes within institutional frameworks that promote peaceful and legitimate conflict resolution. The US and UK would, on the other hand, play the bad cops, emphasising the threat Moscow poses to the European order.  London and Washington would thus champion the medium to long term strengthening of NATO as a “bastion against madness”, in the words of my good friend Professor Simon Serfaty.

      NATO Military Modernisation: The pace and scale of NATO’s military modernisation must be overtly linked to that of Russia.  Russia needs to see that the strategic balance in Europe has been affected by its actions but to Moscow’s detriment.  Today Moscow believes the Baltic States are indefensible.  Moscow also believes that between 2015 and 2020 the so-called correlation of forces will shift inexorably in its favour given its military modernisation programme and lack of any substantive countervailing modernisation in NATO Europe (whatever last week’s NATO Wales Summit said).  Therefore, as NATO nations spend four times that of Russia on defence it must be made clear to Moscow that any attempt to establish military supremacy in Europe will fail and thus simply be a waste of money.

NATO Forward Deterrence:  NATO must create a Forward Deterrence conventional force concept in support of all the Eastern Allies to underpin strategic reassurance and collective defence.  Moscow believes the Baltic States are vulnerable to disruption, destabilisation and are thus effectively indefensible.  Therefore, effective collective conventional deterrence is at least as important as effective collective defence. Building on the NATO Wales Summit the Alliance must establish a properly graduated response designed to ensure the West dominates the escalation ladder.  A Forward Deterrence strategy would confirm the creation of a trip wire force on the territory of all the Eastern Allies.  This force would involve US, UK and other high-end Western combat forces permanently established in the Baltic States and elsewhere.  NATO is already doing this to an extent but such a force would need to be properly established within twenty-first century layered deterrence. 

Twenty-First Century Layered Defence: The new Spearhead Force must be reinforced by the NATO Response Force which in turn is established on a modernised NATO Article 5 defence that combines advanced deployable forces, missile defence and cyber-defence into an effective bastion.  Critical to such an Allied defence strategy would be the reinvention and modernisation of the old NATO REFORGER concept with US and Canadian forces flying from Continental North America to provide reinforcement during times of tension.  Such a layered defence would need to be designed, exercised, tested and validated.

 Allied Ambiguous Warfare:  The West must convince Moscow that its strategy is in fact backfiring.  Therefore, NATO must invent its own form of ambiguous warfare. For example, Special Forces in relatively small numbers could be sent to Ukraine as advisers to assist Kiev’s forces in a policing mission in Eastern Ukraine.  Certainly, the presence of such forces would complicate Russia’s strategic calculus.  The forces could go to Ukraine either under a NATO flag, an EU flag or as part of a coalition of national flags and at the invitation of the Ukrainian Government.  The aim would be to assist with a disciplined and proportionate response by Kiev to the threat posed to Ukrainian stability prior to talks over a new constitutional settlement.  Russia would not of course object as according to Moscow it is an internal matter for Ukraine and Russian forces are apparently not engaged in Ukraine.  The presence of Western Special Forces would be reinforced by a major NATO-led training mission in Ukraine (NTM-U). 

The best way to combat ambiguous warfare is through ambiguous warfare.  The real test is whether Moscow is right or not.  Is there a West and if so does it have the collective political courage and guile to craft and enact such a counter-strategy?

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 12 September 2014

NATO: The Riga Test 2014

Riga, Latvia. 12 September.  The Riga Conference is one of those annual ‘must not miss events’ on the strategic merry-go-round.  Today I have the honour to chair two defence ministers, a NATO leader and my old friend Ariel Cohen on the gripping subject of the NATO Wales Summit 2014: Revitalising the Transatlantic Bond.

The thrust of my leadership will be to explore the growing gap between defence rhetoric and strategic reality in Europe.  Specifically, I will test my panellists with a simple question; can the people of Riga sleep soundly safe in the knowledge that NATO is REALLY defending them?  With Russia behaving like an old bad-tempered and grumpy uncle who has been on the alcohol for too long my Riga Test is pertinent to say the very least.  Indeed, two years ago I posed the same question but as ever got no clear answer. 
Central to the Riga Test 2014 is the apparent contradictions in the ‘only bit that really matters’ core of the NATO Wales Summit Declaration – the bit that matches political intent with military capability.  The Declaration kicks off with the usual summit guff.  “Based on solidarity, Alliance cohesion, and the indivisibility of our security, NATO remains the transatlantic framework for strong collective defence and the essential forum for security consultations and decisions among Allies”.  It goes on (and doesn’t it just), “The North Atlantic Alliance binds North America and Europe in the defence of our common security, prosperity and values.  It guarantees the security of its members through collective defence”.  And yet, the key paragraph on defence spending suggest that NATO Allies will only ‘aim’ to spend the NATO minimum of 2% GDP on defence “within a decade.  I am still trying to get my head around this clear retreat from reality.

In 2012 here in Riga I wrote, “The thing about power is that it is as unforgiving to those that have it as it is to those who do not…It is clear that President Putin’s world view is pretty ‘unreconstructed’ (to use the appalling non-speak of modern European academia).  His world is one in which hard power is used to project soft power into spheres of great power influence and devil take the small-most”.  If anything back in 2012 I was being overly-restrained given events in Ukraine.

The piece went on, “Riga is the crucible in which a new Alliance will either be forged or die.  Riga’s credible defence demands a new strategic bargain between Washington and Berlin and given events elsewhere the possible re-structuring of NATO into the EUrosphere and the defence Anglosphere.  The alternative is a United States pulled progressively away from the defence of Europe by events elsewhere, a NATO that fades as a result and poor, little Latvia once again trapped between the Russian (planned) and German (not-so-planned) spheres of influence.  History suggests that will not turn out well”.

There is an old joke about NATO.  NATO Heaven is a place where the police are British (or what may be left of we British), the cooks are French, the lovers are Italian, the beer is German and it is all organised by the Americans.  NATO hell is a place where the cooks are Scottish, the lovers are German, the police are French, the beer is American (heaven forbid!) and (sorry Italians) it is all organised by the Italians.

There is a third ‘place’ called NATO Purgatory.  It is a place where leaders talk endlessly about ‘solidarity’, ‘cohesion’, ‘collective defence’, ‘security’ and ‘indivisibility’ but in fact do nothing whatsoever about any of them.  A place where a few remaining deckchairs are endlessly re-organised into “Readiness Action Plans” and given fancy titles, such as “spearhead” or “very high readiness” even as the NATO Titanic sinks ever lower into the rising tide of regional and global insecurity.

If Riga is to be properly defended NATO will need a credible twenty-first century Forward Defence concept.  That means Alliance leaders who radically re-conceive of NATO and build a truly twenty-first century NATO Future Force at its core.  A NATO Future Force that can both deter and if needs be fight built on the investment vitally needed today if strategy, capability and affordability are to be balanced and a networked force crafted that enshrines close interoperability and deep jointness.

There was some good work done in Wales ‘in the circumstances’.  But that, as ever, is NATO’s eternal problem; Alliance leaders never actually address the right circumstances.  Certainly, my vision for a NATO Future Force was not adopted and NOTHING in the Wales Declaration suggests one is about to be created for all the fancy speak. 

So, does NATO pass the Riga Test 2014?  The good people of Riga have as yet no need to stay awake each night in fearful insomnia.  However, they cannot possibly be sleeping as well and as soundly as they did, even as recently as 2012.

As for getting a clear answer; I look forward to it!

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

9 September. Nine days to go to D-Day and the Scottish Referendum. Like many of us I am a true modern Briton - Europeanish, English, Scottish, and Yorkshire-ish - and yet like millions of us I am denied a voice in the most important constitutional question facing my country in over 300 years. For months I have wanted to send a message of hope, belief and mutual respect to my friends and family in Scotland.  Instead I have listened to incompetent politicians simply create division where none exists. Whilst our politicians are by and large complete pratts - and we can all agree on that  - we the people of our small island need each other, respect each other and must stay united as we all push for a new twenty-first federal Union in which finally power will be returned back to the people in a real democracy.  Please join me and millions of others in a show of support for Scotland, our Union and our future democracy by going to and add your voice of support not for this Britain but a Better Britain in which all have a voice.

Sod the politicians, trust the people!

All best,


China’s Fiery Cross?

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 September.  The South China Sea is hotting up as Beijing ups the ante on its long-term aim to establish effective and exclusive control.  China is planning to build an artificial island on Fiery Cross Reef complete with military air strip and a 5000 tonne sea-berth.  Beijing’s strategic aims would appear to be fivefold: to create a military capability on the disputed Spratly Islands that uses force to ends the sovereignty dispute with the Philippines and Vietnam, to control the oil and gas resources believed to lie under the Spratly Islands, to reinforce China’s self-proclaimed Air Defence Identification Zone; to extend Beijing’s self-proclaimed Exclusive Economic Zone; and in time to tip the strategic balance against the US, Japan and South Korea. 

The Fiery Cross or Crann Tara is aptly-named.  A Fiery Cross was a medieval Scottish (they get everywhere) device used to summon the Clans in the event of danger.  It was a half-burnt wooden cross soaked in blood and used to warn clans of the revenge by fire and blood that awaited those that did not answer the summons.  I am surprised Scottish Nationalist leader Alex Salmond has not invoked the Crann Tara in his Little Scotland mission to destroy the UK. He has invoked just about every other bit of Braveheart bravado.

The planned Chinese base on Fiery Cross Reef would extend a UNESCO-commissioned Chinese-built observation post that already exists. The artificial island would be at least twice the size of the US military base on the British Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and cover some 90 square kilometres or over 50 square miles.

What are the wider strategic implications?  2014 has seen a distinct upturn in Beijing’s determination to extend its power writ across the South China Sea.  If the construction of the artificial island goes ahead it will show a flagrant disregard for international law not dissimilar to that of Russia in Ukraine.  If successful China could well seek to build a string of such islands to create an offensive military capability designed in time to shut the Americans and its allies out of huge areas of both the South and East China seas.

Beijing is clearly determined to ensure China is the dominant strategic power in East and possibly South Asia.  However, unlike Moscow Beijing is clearly prepared to build up its power patiently trading on the political and military weakness of neighbouring states, the increasing political and military overstretch of the United States and the strategic denial of European leaders who refuse to realise that the world is on the brink of a new age of ‘might is right’ hyper-competition.

This bigger strategic picture was missing from last week’s NATO Wales Summit.  The basic assumption behind the new first-responder Multinational Spearhead Force was that the Americans will always be able to act like the US Seventh Cavalry in those western movies of old.  In the event of threat the US would ride over the horizon to save Eastern European ‘homesteaders’ from Russian aggression.

However, implicit in the emerging and de facto Beijing-Moscow Axis is an agreement to offer mutual support by complicating America’s strategic calculus during times of stress by staging diversionary crises that stretch US forces to breaking point.  The use of Moscow-style ‘ambiguous warfare’ could well be at the forefront of such a strategy so successful has it been in dividing Europeans.  A reality self-evident yesterday when the EU could not agree to implement beefed-up sanctions.  With the US cutting its armed forces by 2020 more than the entire European defence budget the prospect of a strategically-paralysed US is now very real.

Therefore, NATO allies need to understand the nature of the new twenty-first century transatlantic contract implicit in Wales.  The Americans will guarantee Europe’s defence but only if Europeans help ease the pressure on the United States and its forces.  That means Europeans able and willing to join the Americans in future ‘broad coalitions’ not just against the likes of Islamic State but in wider state-on-state conflicts.  Indeed, NATO only makes sense from an American strategic perspective if it is part of a US-led world-wide web of democracies that can and is able to work together politically, strategically and militarily.  That is why Australia is such an important part of America’s ‘broad coalition’ because the presence of Canberra establishes the precedent for NATO as a mechanism for the generation of globally-capable coalitions.  It is also why Japan is changing its constitution to allow for the possibility of offensive military operations and South Korea is keen to get involved with NATO.

Taken together Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine and Beijing‘s ambitions in the South China Sea mark the start of a new age of global challenge to the once Western-led order.  There were some signs at the NATO Summit that some of the leaders might have understood this.  However, only a very few of them did (at best) whilst the rest still seem lost in the regionalisation/integration fairy-tale that is the EU.  It would of course be nice to think that good old-fashioned Machtpolitik is a thing of the past.  That is after all what most Europeans and their leaders want to believe.  It is not.

Therefore, it is time to set the Fiery Cross aloft and remind the Western clans that there are still those in the world who really do believe might is right and are prepared to use it if needs be to achieve their ambitions.  All of which makes the NATO ‘agreement’ to possibly increase defence spending a little bit and possibly within a decade seem what it is - absurd.

Julian Lindley-French