hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Afghanistan: Ghani or Gandhi?

Alphen, Netherlands. 1 October.  Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.  The swearing in of President Ashraf Ghani as Afghanistan’s head of state this week is an important moment.  It is the first peaceful, democratic hand-over of power in Afghanistan’s history.  No-one should under-estimate the importance of the moment or the achievement for Afghanistan and democracy in a country deeply divided by ethnicity, power and traditions and which is too often consumed from within by elite corruption and a criminal economy.  Equally, President Ghani faces immense challenges.  He came to power in a disputed election and will need to provide leadership Afghanistan has never known at a particularly dangerous moment.  Is he up to it?

President Ghani and I have engaged on several occasions at meetings over the years.  He is without doubt a brilliant man who always impresses and who has an unrivalled understanding of his country and its challenges.  The very nature of our engagement at such events was itself fascinating.  My approach was to look at the challenge of Afghanistan from an unashamedly Western viewpoint.  This is because having looked at Western strategy in Afghanistan and written several big reports on the challenges posed I thought it important to be clear; Western powers were not in Afghanistan out of an act of charity whatever the rhetoric to the contrary.  It was pure, naked national interest that drove the Western powers into Afghanistan and it is the self-same interests which has driven most of them out.

Ghani’s response to me showed his strengths and his weaknesses.  In our exchanges I was always careful to bow to his knowledge of Afghanistan and simply listen.  His love for and his deep knowledge of his country is something to behold.  However, he also suffers from the weakness of conceit shared by many brilliant people.  A very clear weakness evident on several occasions (and not just to me) was his occasionally dismissive belief that he knew about the interests, strategy and policy of my country far better than me.  He was wrong. 

Part of his ‘certainty’ was the natural defensiveness of anyone who is part of the Washington ‘thinktocracy’.  To survive in DC think-tanks one must know everything, all of the time and never be wrong about anything.  However, too often the Ghani lecture (for that is what it was) was not so much an analysis of Western interests as a wish list of his ideas for a permanent Afghanistan-centric Western interest.  This led him to believe that Afghanistan and by extension Ghani himself were and are far more central to the national security of Western powers than was ever the case.

This juxtaposition between leader and thinker, informed and inspired leadership and wishful thinking is probably the place where Ghani’s presidency will succeed or fail.  If he approaches his task as an elevated Washington think-tanker he will fail.  Indeed, as President Ghani he needs to be able to look down upon ideas from the heights of power and great responsibility rather than up at power via a simple exchange of ideas without great responsibility, which is where I live. 

Furthermore, to succeed Ghani will need to achieve and reconcile two almost contradictory missions both of which concern the ‘normalisation’ of Afghanistan as a state.  On the one hand, President Ghani must build on the very genuine sense of nationhood that most Afghans feel irrespective of ethnicity if he is to create a state called Afghanistan that is more than a giant security complex.  On the other hand, President Ghani must deal with the consequences of ‘success’ that ‘normalisation’ entails, i.e. the more normal Afghanistan becomes the less interested the US and indeed other allies will be in Afghanistan and by extension him.

With this week’s signing of the Bilateral Security Agreement with the US and the exemption of American forces from prosecution under Afghan law the security effort to buttress the new Afghan state and Ghani’s presidency has been physically reinforced.  The Agreement means some 9800 US personnel can in principle stay in Afghanistan in a training and mentoring capacity until at least 2024.  This is important.  However, for Ghani to be legitimate in the eyes of Afghans Kabul cannot again become synonymous with force or a protected canton of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).  Indeed, if that happens Kabul will again be seen simply as a Western-imposed distant elite ‘legitimised’ by American, i.e. foreign power.  This is something the Taliban, the Haqqani Network and the many fellow-travellers amongst the tribal and clan leaders will exploit, particularly in the Pashtun lands and quite possibly with the assistance of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence.  If that happens Afghanistan will be cast back not moved forward.

Therefore, the true test of President Ghani will be the emergence of some form of civil society across Afghanistan itself buttressed by the just rule of law.  It will see an Afghanistan further established on an economy that moves steadily away from the cultivation and exploitation of hard narcotics and which is properly re-integrated into the wider regional economy.  To achieve the demilitarisation and decriminalisation of Afghanistan President Ghani will need to stamp down hard on corruption in Kabul and the regional capitals and reach out to Afghanistan’s powerful and troublesome neighbours.  Above all he will need to lead a real government of national unity in close partnership with Afghanistan’s new ‘Chief Executive’ and presidential rival Abdullah Abdullah.  Such a strategy will be at least as important as reliance on his many contacts in elite Washington.  
Here is my concern.  My reading of President Ghani is that on occasions he too often allows an elevated ego to cloud a masterful intellect.  Indeed, he has an insecurity about him at times which renders him susceptible to the charms of those who ‘agree’ with him out of self-interest.  The President will need to realize that he cannot be an expert on all things and have the strength to seek wise counsel even if he is an if not the acknowledged expert on how to build a broken state. 

President Ashraf Ghani is no Gandhi.  However, Ghani has it in him to be a truly great Afghan leader if he allows himself to rise to the status of his elevated office (as indeed he can) and yet retain the openness of mind to listen.  There is one thing of which I am sure; President Ashraf Ghani will certainly imbue the Presidency of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with the respect and dignity that the Afghan people need and deserve. 

As Gandhi also said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.

Good luck, Mr President.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 29 September 2014

Stoltenberg’s NATO Challenge

Alphen, Netherlands. 29 September.  Winston Churchill once said, “Civilization will not last, freedom will not be kept, unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them”.  This week Norway’s former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg will take over as NATO Secretary-General.  In the wake of this month’s NATO Wales Summit Stoltenberg will face the greatest strategic challenge to the Alliance since the Cold War.  The threat comes not specifically from Russia or Islamic State unpredictable and potentially dangerous though they are.  Indeed, no NATO member presently faces an existential threat.  No, the real threat to the Alliance comes from the members themselves and the steadfast refusal of many of them to see the world as it is, not as they would like it to be.  European leaders bereft of vision and political courage talk endlessly about long-term strategy when they mean short-term politics.  Solving NATO’s strategy conundrum is without doubt the greatest challenge Stoltenberg faces. 

In that light Stoltenberg’s tough job will be no less than to nudge the European members of the Alliance back to a strategic reality in which credible military power is re-established in Europe as the hard rock upon which the twenty-first century influence of a twenty-first century Atlantic Alliance must necessarily be built.  Sadly, all my research shows the exact opposite is happening.  Only four NATO members meet the Alliance target of 2% GDP on defence and if one looks closely at the language of the Wales Summit Declaration few have any appetite to meet it. 

Even those states that nominally spend 2% GDP on defence either spend badly or use accounting tricks to maintain the illusion of upheld defence expenditure.  Take my own country Britain.  David Cameron made much of his commitment in Wales that Britain would continue to spend 2% GDP on defence.  Sadly, like so much of his smoke and mirrors premiership the ‘commitment’ is in fact a political illusion and a mask for further defence cuts.  Senior word from within Parliament tells me that Britain will only maintain the 2% target on defence by including costs hitherto outside of the defence budget, such as nuclear forces, pensions and operations.  As ever with Cameron clever politics masks appalling strategy as in all likelihood should he win the British general election in May 2015 he will move to cut the conventional force even more.  Proof of this is the difficulty the Royal Air Force has had mustering six ageing Tornado aircraft for operations against Islamic State this week and the spin operation by London to pretend otherwise. 

Strategy-killing politics oozes from the many pages of the NATO Wales Summit Declarations and reflects a fundamentally false assumption; that the United States is and will remain the strongest military power on the planet, by some distance and for the foreseeable future.  Yes, the Americans are still the strongest military power on the planet but Washington is mired in debt and uncertainty with the US military facing defence cuts between now and 2020 greater than the combined defence expenditure of ALL the NATO Europeans.  In other words, the great age of unrivalled American supremacy is coming to an end and NATO needs collectively to get its heads around the implications of that.

The terrifying truth Secretary-General Stoltenberg will face this week is that the military balance of military power is shifting away from the West at breakneck speed.  By 2016 Russia will spend more on defence than France and Germany combined.  China, which now spends at least $130bn per annum on it armed forces (and probably far more) has been investing per annum double-digit percentage increases in defence ever since 1989.  President Xi is determined to further increase such expenditures.  Contrast that with NATO Europe.  Thirteen of the world’s top twenty defence slashers between 2012 and 2014 are in NATO Europe.  These are cuts upon cuts for between 2008 and 2012 many NATO Europeans cut their defence budgets by up to 30%.

And yet, if NATO members got their collective act together as part of a twenty-first century transatlantic security contract they could a) help keep the US strong where it needs to be strong – Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific; and b) demonstrate to the world that whatever a state spends on armed force such expenditures will never outstrip those of the West and are thus a waste of money.  To do that NATO and its members will need to look hard at how to generate real efficiencies and generate new strategic partnerships the world to multiply real effectiveness.  That will require a radical NATO.  Sadly, the words ‘radical’ and ‘NATO’ are strangers to each other.

There is one other challenge Mr Stoltenberg will need to consider on his first day in the office – the coincidence of crises.  It is annoying that the Russia-Ukraine War and the threat posed by Islamic State to the Sykes-Picot Middle Eastern order should come at one and same time.  It would be so nice to deal with crises separately and sequentially.  Welcome to the real world.  The future Alliance will rarely be allowed the luxury of choosing crises.  Indeed, the West’s adversaries will do all they can to complicate American strategy (and by extension NATO ‘strategy’) by generating simultaneous crises.

NATO’s bottom-line is this; the United States is the world’s only world power that is present in strength in every world region.  However, to be critically strong in every region the US will need NATO Allies that can act credibly in and around Europe as crisis first responders.  Succeed and NATO will reinvent itself as an Alliance and regenerate itself in the American political mind.  Fail and NATO will simply fade into anachronistic strategic irrelevance and the world will be a very much more dangerous place for that.

European defence irresponsibility has been a major factor in making the world today more dangerous than it need be because it has made the costs of challenging the West’s supremacy both achievable and bearable.  Therefore, if freedom is to be defended Stoltenberg’s first challenge will be to shift the Alliance beyond its false comfort zone. To do that Secretary-General Stoltenberg will need to get the North Atlantic Council to look up and outwards at big strategy rather than down and inwards at narrow politics where so many of Europe’s short-sighted leaders find false comfort.

Good luck, Mr Stoltenberg!

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Fukuyama, Europe, Power and Law

Riga, Latvia. 25 September.  "What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War...but the end of history as such...and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government".  Twenty-five years ago Francis Fukuyama wrote one of those epoch-bending, era-defining articles that caught the imagination of the moment.  "The End of History?" first appeared in the review "The National Interest" in 1989 before being expanded into a best-selling 1992 book.  Fukuyama's book has been much misunderstood ever since, mainly by those who claimed to have read it but never actually did.  Fukuyama was not suggesting the end of events but rather that law would replace power in international relations built on the principles of liberal democracy and peaceful free market competition.  'Law' to Fukuyama represented a series of normative rules and practices by which all states would abide.  Still, twenty-five years on the re-appearance of Macho-politik and Machtpolitik in Europe challenge Fukuyama's thesis to the core.
The EU is in many ways the ultimate embodiment of the Fukuyama thesis, far more than his own native United States.  Indeed, it is power versus law that is at the very centre of the clash of cultures embodied in the 2014 Russia-Ukraine War.  On the one side of the clash (much more than NATO) is the EU and its European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) which was launched amidst much fanfare in 2004.  Central to the ENP is a very technocratic view of international relations with so-called "association agreements" designed to tie states beyond EU borders to the Brussels Way.  Future EU membership is implicit rather than explicit in such agreements with the prospect of copious amounts of EU taxpayer's cash on offer to ease the path of weak states to the east and south of the EU as they 'align' with Brussels via regulation and EU "law". 
On the other side of the clash is Russia.  For Moscow whatever the means the EU employs to extend its influence is still a function of  competitive geopolitics and thus a zero sum game in which Russia loses.  To Moscow Brussels might dress up its advances in "law" but ultimately EU expansion is all about influence and power and thus can only be at Russia's expense.  In the recent past Russia rather lamely tried to counter the EU with its own Eurasian Union. However, Moscow's EU has little attraction to those in Russia's "near abroad" who have no wish to find themselves back in a Soviet Union re-born.  
The irony is that Fukuyama's thesis is being contested by a Russia that Fukuyama did not predict.  Russia is simply a traditional illiberal power (although it shares many of the hallmarks) but a state that sees itself as a form of hybrid "sovereign democracy".  This confuses other Europeans and helps to explain why 2014 marks the end of the Fukuyama thesis (at least for now).  Such confusion is also reflected in the stark nature of the clash and Russia's very real return to the principles of Machtpolitik.
This cold new/old reality was evident in the 5 September abduction of senior Estonian Intelligence officer Eston Kohver who now languishes in a Moscow jail.  All the evidence suggests he was abducted from within Estonian territory by the so-called "Alpha" Spetsnaz team from the Special Operations Centre of Russia's FSB Intelligence agency.  On the face of it Russia's action suggests that Estonia, the most exposed of the Baltic States, might be the next target for the ambiguous warfare Russia unleashed on Ukraine.  Certainly, Mr Kohver will have deep knowledge of Estonian defences and Estonia's working relationship with both NATO and the EU and no doubt that has now been extracted.
So, power or law in Europe?  At present it looks very much like Russian power is winning with what is essentially a weak hand given the state of Russian society and its economy. The ceasefire in Ukraine is in fact a de facto acknowledgement of Russian gains.  Mr Kohver, much like the shooting down of MH17, seems sadly to have been confined quickly to the politically-convenient archives of history. 
The essential folly of Fukuyama's EU has also been revealed.  In practice Fukuyama's thesis has helped to disarm Europe, politically, militarily and even mentally.  For twenty-five years Europe has played EU legal chess in a bid to fulfil Fukuyama's dictum with a Russia that pretended to play along.  In fact, it was only a matter of time before Russia went back to playing the power poker with which Moscow is much more comfortable.  Moscow's "defection" from EU chess this year has left Europeans simply unable or unwilling to see what is happening, not least because many of them have simply forgotten how to play power poker.  Technocracy does not do geopolitics.
This reality was brought home to me in Oslo this week.  I had the honour of addressing the excellent international Army Summit 2014 hosted by the Chief of Staff of the Royal Norwegian Army.  It was a fascinating day.  We talked about defence cuts, interoperability between armed forces, diversity and political correctness and the experiences of the ordinary soldier.  The one word that was missing from the conference was 'power', until of course I rose to speak.  I imagined Churchill alive today and what the great man would have said about Europe's retreat from power into 'law'.  He would have gazed sternly at the audience and in good time and no doubt as politically incorrect as me, the great gravel of a voice would have thundered, "Power is a fickle mistress.  Treat her with respect or she will soon seek favours elsewhere".      
It is Fukuyama's relationship with power that causes his thesis to fail. In international relations power is more abiding than law.  In geopolitics 'law' can never be an alternative to power but a consequence of it.  Law needs power and no amount of clever technocracy can replace power.  This is what Moscow understands and 1989 Francis Fukuyama caught up in the Cold War ending euphoria of the moment failed to understand.  I bet he does now. Does Europe?
Julian Lindley-French 

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