hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

The Oxford Historian and the Biggar Picture

“The “Ethics and Empire” project asks the wrong questions, using the wrong terms, and for the wrong purposes. However seriously intended, far from offering greater nuance and complexity, Biggar’s approach is too polemical and simplistic to be taken seriously”.

Open Letter from 58 Oxford historians criticising Professor Nigel Biggar.

Alphen, Netherlands. 27 December. Whatever happened to academic rigour and the disciplined professionalism to consider historical evidence from many angles?

On the face it the argument between Professor Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology and some of my fellow Oxford historians over the frame of reference for the study of the British Empire is a storm in a Queen’s Lane Coffee House tea-cup.  In an article that appeared in The Times newspaper Biggar, according to his critics, had the temerity to suggest that the British Empire was not all bad. By way of response a host of Oxford historians penned an open letter of complaint in which they imply Biggar is a right-wing racist bigot for even suggesting such heresy. This is an important argument that is not only deeply political, but goes to the very core of why we study history, and the danger posed by the growing intolerance of the academic political Left.

The attack on Biggar presents itself as being apolitical. It is anything but. Rather, it is yet another example of an attempt by the political Left to dominate British university discourse and to prevent dissent through public intimidation.  By publishing an open letter in The Conversation attacking Professor Biggar and his course Ethics and Empire the aim of these ‘historians’ is clearly to whip up another of those ‘snowflake’ storms of outrage which have become all the rage amongst left-wing academics.
The key political phrase in the letter is this: “For many of us, and more importantly for our students, they also reinforce a pervasive sense that contemporary inequalities in access to and experience at our university are underpinned by a complacent, even celebratory, attitude towards its [Britain’s] imperial past”. The basic premise here is that because the British Empire was intrinsically evil Britain must bear guilt and because Britain must bear guilt it forfeits the right to a national interest. Britain must thus atone for its past ‘evils’ by using what power it has to support others, even if that is at the expense of itself and its own people. The key phrase is “…our students”. By that they certainly do not mean the whole student body but simply those activist students who share their dogmatic, leftist views? What pretentious, pompous twaddle.

The letter goes on, “Good and evil may be meaningful terms of analysis for theologians. They are useless to historians”.  And yet ‘good’ and evil’ as a basis for understanding the British Empire is precisely what these ‘historians’ are trying to impose on the rest of us.  In fact, Biggar takes a morally neutral position in his work precisely to enable a more nuanced study of the British Empire, who and why it was created and how it evolved over some four hundred years. By attacking Biggar in the manner and tone they adopt his detractors simply reveal themselves to be politically-motivated and intolerant and consequently fail as Oxford historians.  Worse, by applying their own left-wing framework of political reference to the actions of people over four hundred years they negate of the very art of the historian by imposing their values on past actions.  As a result, they reduce the moral and ethical narrative of the entirety of the British Empire to a ‘simple’ and absurd equation; the abolition of slavery by the second Empire versus the Amritsar massacre and the Tasmanian genocide, both of which were terrible events, one of which was ordered by a very poor general and which was deemed appalling even by the standards of his day.

The letter also states that, “Biggar sets up a caricature in place of an antagonist: an allegedly prevailing orthodoxy that “imperialism is wicked”. His project’s declared aim is to uncover a more complex reality, whose “positive aspects” dispassionate scholarship can reveal. This is nonsense. No historian (or, as far as we know, any cultural critic or postcolonial theorist) argues simply that imperialism was “wicked””. And yet the letter clearly implies that for the letter’s authors the British Empire was utterly wicked.

The letter goes on, “We welcome continued, open, critical engagement in the ongoing reassessment of the histories of empire and their legacies both in Britain and elsewhere in the world. We have never believed it is sufficient to dismiss imperialism as simply “wicked”. Nor do we believe it can or should be rehabilitated because some of it was “good””. Really? There is no evidence I can see from Professor Biggar’s work that he is endeavouring to ‘rehabilitate’ the British Empire, nor is it the role of the professional historian or theologian to ‘rehabilitate’ anyone or anything.

Why does this dispute matter? The politicisation of history in British universities is more than an academic dispute. It is about political power and the very purpose of universities. Some Oxford historians go on to enjoy glittering careers in politics and the civil service. If their world-view is shaped by those who believe contemporary British policy should be shackled by guilt Britain will decline even further and even faster than it is now. As for the purpose of British universities the danger exists that they will simply espouse a political mono-culture, much like Russian universities from Lenin to Putin.

What are the implications of such political intolerance? A couple of weeks ago I was contacted by a leading academic in a top department at a well-respected British university who invited me to apply for a professorial chair.  As you might expect I was honoured but after due consideration decided not to apply.  Now, many of you who read my scribblings know I am no snowflake.  Indeed, I like and welcome robust debate.  Moreover, I do not characterize myself as either a progressive or a conservative, but rather both. Unfortunately, British universities are no longer places where such debate can take place and the academics who scribed the letter simply demonstrate the intolerant refusal to debate that so concerns me. Worse, some British universities are beginning to take on the appearance of state-funded ‘re-education camps’ in which people who do not conform to a political mono-culture are shouted down by the self-important and self-righteous.  If people of my robustness are being deterred from applying for posts, I can assure you that many others are also so deterred.

Why is an open-minded study of the British Empire important?  Many years ago I was invited to lunch in New Delhi. Present at the lunch was a mix of British and Indian officials and academics.  The British (yours truly accepted), determined to uphold the longest apology in history and which is doing so much to suck the life out of Britain’s contemporary strategic mojo, were in full ‘don’t mention the Raj accept to say sorry’ mode.  My line was provocatively different.  India, I said, is an emerging Great Power, Britain is still a power to be reckoned with and there is much we can and should do together.  After several bouts of British official tut-tutting an old Indian lady suddenly averred, “You know things were better here when the British were in charge, but it was right the British left”. 

The British Empire was of its age, and over four hundred years it did a lot of good and a lot of bad when viewed through a contemporary lens. When it was over it was right that it was over.  Indeed, as a contemporary Oxford historian my historically-informed political view is that people should always aspire to the freedom to screw up their own countries.  Here, Britain is again leading the world.

The study of history will always be to an extent political, and there have been well-documented contentions between Oxford historians for centuries that attest to the politics of historical study. However, it is, at best, poor tradecraft to apply the political values of one dogmatic group today to the actions of another group centuries ago. Yes, the study of history must also always be challenging.  At the same time the study of history must always, by definition, seek balance, because a lack of balance leads to the over-politicisation of history and results in abominations, such as Holocaust denial.  Indeed, the problem of politicised history is not solely one of the political Left. The political Right also poses a threat to the study of history by too often championing and exaggerating the supposed actions of the past to maintain historical myths that in turn enable nostalgia as the basis for policy.  Both are wrong and Biggar, it seems to me, is right to challenge both camps to put down the mega-phones and again embrace respectful debate.

It is also a privilege to be a professional Oxford historian. If they do nothing else this group of dons and fellows should aspire to be the guardians of historiography and the art and craft of the professional historian. At the very least that means up-putting with research and topics for research they might find objectionable, if the methodology is sound. Rather, the tone and substance of the attack on Professor Biggar reveals a group of Oxford historians have not only lost balance in seeking to impose a contemporary political agenda on the study of history, they have also failed in their duty as professional Oxford historians and let down their students.

The joy of being a historian is the search for evidence and the debate it engenders. The discipline of the historian is to suppress one’s own prejudices in an attempt to understand the ‘then’ contemporaneous relationship between cause and effect.  Discipline, open-mindedness and tolerance are thus vital because history is always essentially political because so much of it is about power. However, what really saddens me about this latest bout tale of academic mud-slinging is the questionable quality of some of the people at my own university who purport to be professional Oxford historians.

The British Empire lasted a very long time and was subject to many motivations, changes and events. There were also, in effect, two British empires. The first empire was indeed acquisitive and rapacious and began with the arrival of English in India in 1583 and English and Scottish settlers in North America in 1607, and ended with the American Revolution in 1776.  The second empire was constructed after 1815 and Britain’s victory in the Napoleonic Wars, the establishment of British Crown Rule in India in 1858, and was then ‘de-constructed’ (to use academic speak) between 1947 and the late 1960s, with some remnants still extant.  The difference between the two empires was enormous mainly because Britain itself changed and evolved. Thus, the British empires are very much worthy of study, and very much worthy of study through a moral and ethical lens, and it thus very hard to see how such a ‘project’ can ask the wrong questions, using the wrong terms, and for the wrong purposes.

Ultimately, the study of history is about the simple search for ‘truth’ via evidence and respectful debate designed to hone the focus of analysis on events, their causes and consequences.  Ironically, Biggar, who is not an historian, is reminding some Oxford historians that the study of history should first and foremost be conducted without fear or favour. 

Press on, Professor Biggar. Ignore this bout of politically-motivated bullying and remember, not all Oxford historians are against you.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 18 December 2017

Julian’s Christmas Carol: Europe’s ‘Army’, PESCO & Britain’s Super Opt-Out

“After visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, Scrooge most fears the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. When he sees what this spirit has to show him, Scrooge begs to know whether the course of events can be changed: "Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!"
Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol

Alphen, Netherlands. 18 December.  It must be Christmas!  The Brexit Twitter Fairies are about. This week I have been assailed for daring to suggest that last week’s European Council decision to proceed with PESCO doth not a European Army make.  One Twitter assailant went as far as to suggest that ALL of Europe’s armed forces will soon be under the command of the President of the European Commission.  This is a Dickens of a vision; Jean-Claude Cognac’s addled finger on the ‘European’ nuclear button after a particularly bibulous Christmas breakfast. It is enough to invoke the Ghost of Apocalypses Past, Present, and feared for future.  The problem with PESCO is that it is now hopelessly entangled in Britain with Brexit (as is everything else these days).  Or, to put it another way, the EU’s not-really Army is now tied up with Britain’s not-quite Brexit. You see, Brexit at its extremes (which is all we tend to get) is now a quintessential struggle between Hard Remoaners and their vision of an EU that would afford perpetual prosperity but only if citizens willingly sacrifice liberty and sovereignty, against Hard Brexiteers who promise unfettered British sovereignty and liberty but only at the profound risk of national prosperity.  This explains the building sense of betrayal amongst those who dreamed of HMS Britannia setting sail again into distant geopolitics unfettered by Holy Brussels bulls and bureaucrats. So, after two weeks of divorce and defence where is Britain and ‘Europe’? Let me try and disentangle Brexit from PESCO in an attempt to make some sense of both.


Hard Remoaners and Hard Brexiteers are wrong.  Britain is not really going to ‘leave’ the EU as currently constituted, and will always to some extent orbit around the EU, if for no other reason than that is how power works.  This not-quite Brexit was admitted to this week by none other than Chancellor Philip Hammond, the City of London’s Anointed Representative on Earth, who suggested that a not-quite post-Brexit ‘transition period’ would last ‘at least’ two years. In other words, for ‘at least’ two years Britain, as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson suggested, would be little more than a vassal state or colony of the EU, subject to its rules but with no say over them.  Thereafter?  There is no such thing as complete sovereignty in this world for any state that deems itself part of the Western institutional system, even the mighty United States.

So, is a not-quite Brexit even worth a McCawber (read your Dickens!)? Well, yes. Remember the 1992 Maastricht Treaty (what eventually became the 1993 Treaty of European Union)?  Britain, after another particularly rancorous domestic debate over ‘Europe’, eventually engineered an opt-out from the so-called Social Chapter, and in so doing established a political and legal precedent for British political and legal exceptionalism.  It is happening again as so-called ‘convergers’ battle within Theresa May’s wonky Cabinet with so-called ‘divergers’.
In other words, it is becoming increasingly clear that the aim of May’s Brexit is not some political divorce decree absolute, but rather as a super opt out from a possible future, more politically, economically and security-integrated EU.  In other words, the Brexit May is offering is deeply unappealing to Hard Brexiteers when they look at today’s EU, but inevitably Britain will diverge politically from an EU that could well go to a political place Britain was never going to go.  Indeed, it is the EU that in future will and probably must diverge politically from the UK if its institutions are to be made to work.

Last week’s defeat of the British Government over the supremacy of Parliament hinted at this future divergence and where the law of the land must ultimately reside.  Enshrined at the heart of the EU is a Richelieu-esque principle against which the English once fought a civil war and the Americans fought a revolution; that distant, bureaucratic executive power over which citizens have no direct say and which enshrined in hybrid treaties that straddle domestic and international law are supreme over national democratic institutions.  Parliament has dimmed over the years as it rubber-stamped itself out of supremacy by passing sovereignty to Brussels. If sovereignty is to be repatriated it is Parliament, not the Executive which must be supreme.


PESCO, or permanent structured co-operation, is some great leap forward on the road to a United States of Europe, whatever Martin Schulz the deluded leader of Germany’s SPD might claim.  However, if properly funded it could become an important step towards more effective and efficient European armed forces, to which Britain’s still powerful armed forces will choose its relationship.  I say ‘powerful’, Britain’s armed forces will soon cease to be so if Spreadsheet Philip ‘City’ Hammond and his mates at the Treasury continue to destroy Britain’s armed forces in their hard-line ideological pursuit of sound money. Vladimir Hammond? The weaker militarily Britain chooses to become the stronger militarily Britain makes a weak Russia.

Yes, the language of PESCO, with its hints of a sometime European Defence Union does indeed smack at time of the federalist ambitions beloved of the Brussels Euro-Aristocracy. Then again every single EU document since the 1950 European Coal and Steel Community has included such Monnet-esque verbiage.  In fact, in defence terms PESCO’s provisions are surprisingly and dangerously modest.  The real problem with PESCO is that it simply the Ghost of European Defence Past re-packaged by people not very serious about defence.  Yes, seventeen projects across a sweep of mainly combat support services will help alleviate some desperately dangerous lacunae in Europe’s military capabilities and capabilities. Yes, the idea of national implementation plans are useful, although as with NATO’s Defence Planning Process there is no enforcer to ensure compliance. Yes, the European Defence Fund, the European Defence Industrial Development Programme and the Athena Mechanism for financing common costs of EU military missions and operations are to be welcomed. 

However, the level of strategic and political ambition implicit in PESCO simply does not match the seriousness of the threat implicit and explicit in the 360 degree security environment in which Europeans reside. To put PESCO in perspective at €5bn per year until 2020, and then €500m per year thereafter, the European Defence Fund would just about pay for one and a half new British aircraft carriers. Indeed, perhaps the most important thing to come out of PESCO is the agreement to create a ‘military Schengen’ to aid enhanced military mobility in the event on an emergency. And, Dublin’s final and irrevocable, albeit backdoor abandonment of any pretence that Ireland is a neutral country.

So, if I act as a translator of EU-speak, a role for which I am particularly well-versed, what PESCO really means in plain, Yorkshire English is thus:

Although at the 2014 NATO Wales Summit most of us signed up to spending 2% GDP on defence by 2024, of which 20% must be spent each year on new equipment, we did not actually mean it.  We did so because the Yanks were going through one of their every-now-and-then tantrums about low European defence spending and the unfair sharing of burdens. In any case we knew President Obama was already by then political toast and it made David Cameron look ever so slightly in power as well as in office.  Many of us also no longer believe there really is a world beyond the EU and therefore need not bother with it, but still need the Yank taxpayer to defend us just in case President Putin and his mates imbibe a bit too much Yuletide Stolichnaya. So, PESCO gives us a get out of Wales free card by letting us pretend we are serious about defence by restating that old roasted defence Christmas chestnut that we will do ever more defending with ever less money, by also pretending we really are going to integrate what is left of our armed forces.  We then enshrine it one of those pre-Christmas, post-champagne EU summits by giving an old lower case concept – permanent structured co-operation – a new upper case acronym – PESCO. We then all drive home for Christmas having convinced ourselves that words mean action and therefore must be true and we open some Christmas crackers to find one of those terrible European jokes.  When is defence not defence? When it has gone all a-PESCO.

Brexit and PESCO

Europe’s hard defence reality will not be fixed by PESCO and must not be worsened by Brexit.  That reality is a stark one given growing US global military over-stretch, the growing threats Europeans face, and the fact that the UK provides 25% of all European defence investment, 30% of all defence research technology, and 35% of all high-end deployable European combat forces (the Royal Marines Mr Hammond?). Europe’s massive defence deficit will only stand a chance of being closed if Britain continues to play a full role in the defence of Europe and Europeans finally get really serious about hard power and how to generate it.
In other words, Europe needs more PESCO not less, and it poses no threat to NATO because unless the US is going to replace the UK in the EU the Alliance will remain the supreme purveyor of defence for Europe unless and until the Americans finally become so fed up with free-riding Europeans they tell the Allies to take a strategic hike.  Then and only then could something like PESCO become a precursor for some kind of European Army, and only if Brussels really is the capital of a country called ‘Europe’. Why? Because a European Army would need a European Government if it was ever to be used. Not only is ‘Europe’ a very long way from creating such a country, read PESCO properly (so few do) and it is clear that for the indefinite future Europe’s armed forces will remain under the command of the member-states and the governments and parliaments that rule them and most decidedly not the European Commission.

Europe’s ‘Army’, PESCO & Britain’s Super Opt-Out

Perhaps the most sensible commentary I read this week came from my friend Ambassador Stefano Stefanini, the former Italian Permanent Representative to NATO, and Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich Security Conference and former German Ambassador to the United States.  In a piece last week that appeared in both La Stampa and on the website of the Munich Security Conference, entitled “There is More at Stake in Brexit than Trade”, the two ambassadors injected a note of realism into the Brexit/PESCO debate.  For both sides of the Channel a simple reality check will make it obvious. Between 25 and 30% of overall EU military capabilities fly the Union Jack: it is too little for the UK to stand alone; it is too much for the EU to do without. In times of shifting geopolitics, growing and multiple threats, and budget constraints, London should not delude itself and Brussels should not be in denial. European security of course will continue relying on NATO, with the UK's full participation, but there are and there will be operations carried out by European forces only, for instance in Africa or in the Mediterranean. London is hinting at supporting a credible European defence structure and capabilities, as long as they do not amount to "vanity fair". In exchange we believe that the UK should get a comprehensive and generous offer from the EU to be associated with it, including access to the European Defence Fund and to the EU Defence Industrial Development Programme.

So, Brexiteers, calm down there will be no European Army, no Supreme Commander Cognac…and no European defence without Britain. Remoaners? Buy a bloody atlas!

Merry Christmas!

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Frozen Harmel?

“…the Alliance is a dynamic and vigorous organisation which is constantly adapting itself to changing conditions. Given such changes people in NATO societies want action/protection and not seeing it. It has also shown that its future tasks can be handled within the terms of the Treaty [of Washington] by building on the methods and procedures which have proved their value over many years”.
Report of the Council on the Future Tasks of the Alliance, 13 December 1967

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 December. If the Netherlands had a slope it would be sliding ‘slippererily’ down it!  Right now I should be in Stockholm having addressed a joint Atlantic Council-Konrad Adenauer Stiftung event on security in the North Atlantic and Arctic. Instead, I was trapped at home, KLM cancelled my flight, and the Netherlands declared ‘Code Red” due to snow. My apologies to my friend Anna Wieslander at the Atlantic Council.  So, by way of very limited recompense here are my remarks that in the end I made by Skype. 

Fifty years ago Pierre Harmel published his seminal report, “The Future Tasks of the Alliance”. The report was based on a dual-track approach – sound defence and engaged dialogue – to deter the Soviet Union whilst talking to it.  Dealing with Russia in the North Atlantic and the Arctic will require a similar approach, a new Northern Dual Track. Indeed, because whilst Russia signals co-operation at times, particularly in the Arctic, it is also developing military capabilities which means if Moscow’s intent changes NATO allies and EU member-states in the region could very quickly face an overtly hostile Russia.  Credibly deterring Moscow from crossing such a threshold must be our collective aim, and by so doing convince President Putin of the mutual benefits of co-operation across the region.

My core message is this; security in the Arctic sits perilously on the cusp between co-operation, competition and conflict; between regimes and treaties and force majeure; and between legitimacy and legalism and a Realpolitik sphere of influence. EU and NATO together must develop sufficient hard power in the region to ensure soft power prevails as the modus operandi of co-operation with Russia.

Anna posed four questions for this session which I will endeavour to answer:

1)   What is at stake in the North Atlantic and what should be our response in order to increase security?

The keyword is deterrence.  I worry about Russian ambitions on Norway’s North Cape because of what it would mean for the Russian Northern Fleet to control it, and the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) gap. Therefore, with the United States Navy (USN) stretched thin the world over ‘credible deterrence’ would mean an essentially European Naval Joint Expeditionary Force at least able to match that of Russia.

2)   How does Climate Change affect security operations in the Arctic?

Moscow clearly thinks a new Northern Sea Passage could open up shortening the sea route between Europe and Asia by some 3000 nautical miles, with much of it along Russia’s northern coast.  Russia would naturally seek to control that trade. However, even if some scientists suggest the Arctic ice cap is melting far more quickly than envisaged many suggests it could still be 30 years before such a route opens up.  In any case, there could, in time, be as many as four such routes across the Pole. 
Either way, Russia seems to have ambitions to see much of the Arctic under its sphere of influence which is why we must collectively resist such a goal.  Specifically, the EU and NATO together must ensure current relationships are locked into regimes, treaties and institutions so that they remain the mechanisms for resolving what look like inevitable future disputes over sea-lines of communications and natural resources.

3)   Does it continue to make sense to view the North Atlantic and Arctic as two separate areas?

In a sense the EU and NATO are forced to as long as Russia is willing to co-operate in the Arctic, but competes in the North Atlantic.  The real challenge for the Allies and Partners in the region will be to get non-regional NATO and EU members to take the Russian threat in the ‘High North’ seriously.  Too many eastern allies look east, southern allies look south, ne’er the twain ever meet, and very few look north.  The UK? God knows where London looks these days. The real question is what will the EU and NATO do if and when Russia tries to exert unreasonable influence over either the Arctic or the North Atlantic, or both.

4)   What are Russian strategic concerns and perspectives?

-      Political: Part of Moscow’s strategy is simply to keep EU and NATO states politically and          permanently off-balance and the on strategic back-foot around its extensive periphery from Syria    to Svalbard.
-      Economic-domestic: Russia, dangerously to my mind, too often sees Arctic resources as a ‘one     shot’ chance to avoid much-needed economic reforms, and as a ‘silver bullet’ to solve all of its    economic contradictions.
-      Military-Operational: It is vital to Moscow that the Northern Fleet can ingress and egress between North Cape and Bear Island without detection or molestation the main fleet base at Severomorsk and the secondary base at Kola and maintain the nuclear launch ‘bastion’ for the one Typhoon-class SSBN currently operating there (Dmitriy Donskoy), the seven ageing Delta IV-class ‘boomers’ and the one new Borei-class boat.  There are more Borei-class SSBN boats planned.
-  Military-Strategic: It is also vital to Moscow that the Northern Fleet bases can operate as springboards for offensive maritime-amphibious-land ops across the Arctic, Baltic and North Atlantic regions to assert Russian interests and claims, to intimidate and if needs be to seize.

To conclude, we Europeans are very good at talking these days, but very poor at defending. Therefore, NATO must re-kindle Harmel in the High North (Frozen Harmel?) and in conjunction with the EU. To that end, it was encouraging to see some progress made this week on enhancing the EU-NATO strategic partnership at the NATO Ministerial. Peace through legitimate and realistic strength must be purposely allied to engaged dialogue with Russia.  Indeed, whilst we must never stop talking, we must never stop defending.

Now, where’s that bloody snow shovel?\

Julian Lindley-French 

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Can the German-US Relationship ever be Special?

“There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America”.
Otto von Bismarck

Alphen, Netherlands. 10 December.  Can the German-US relationship ever be special?  That was the question that this interloping, Brexit-escaping Brit saw hanging in the crisp Alpine air like new snow on a mountain fir in Germany’s beautiful Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  My purpose for being in Germany was to attend a meeting of the Loisach Group. Set up this year, the Group is ‘co-hosted’ by the excellent George C. Marshall Center and the Munich Security Conference. The aim of this high-level working group is to explore those areas of grand (and not-so-grand) strategy where Germany and the United States should co-operate more fully in pursuit of peace and stability.  It is a timely and much needed initiative.

Now, I suppose my first port of call should be to define the meaning of ‘special relationship’. President Trump, in the way that President Trump does, put the UK-US special relationship this way, “The special relationship between America and the UK has been one of the great forces in history for justice and for peace, and by the way, my mother was born in Scotland, Stornoway, which is serious Scotland”.  His essential point is that for the past seventy or so years the US and UK working together have been one of the “…great forces in history”.

The contemporary West certainly needs a strong German-US strategic relationship and for it to be a new force in history. Sadly, with the UK in a mess, and the British political elite seemingly incapable of rising the challenges of the twenty-first century, the two anchor states of the West are undoubtedly Germany and the United States.  Nor, as a Brit, am I particularly concerned about the strategic eclipsing of Britain by Germany, were it the case. My German friends can irritate the hell out of me, primarily because they have a tendency to believe they are always right about everything all of the time, even when they are plain wrong. Americans? Their collective and complete refusal to properly understand the causes of Brexit being a case-in-point.
Equally, I am equally irritated by those, particularly in my own country, who seek to equate contemporary liberal democratic Germany with Nazi Germany simply because they resent powerful Germany.  As L.P. Hartley once wrote, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”.  In other words, the need for America and Germany to lead, and preferably lead together, is just plain power-sense.

It is at that point the complexities in the German-US relationship become apparent. Donald Trump’s other point was that kinship does indeed play a role in the US-UK special relationship.  It is changing, and over time will change, but whilst the US and UK are very different countries, with the latter very much a European country, there are still powerful cultural ties between the two that do not exist between Germany and the US.

Moreover, the ‘special’ bit in the special relationship has hitherto been founded on a level of mutual trust and respect of such import that the most sensitive of material and information continues to be shared between the US and UK (although whether that trust survive a Jeremy Corbyn government in London is a moot point).  It is this ‘automaticity’ of trust that is missing in the German-US relationship.  Indeed, I would go as far as to say that the US and German establishments are profoundly ambivalent about each other, and that such ambivalence goes far deeper than the implicit animosity that characterises the Merkel-Trump non-relationship.

This is a shame because as America’s over-stretched, world-wide reach grows relatively weaker over time as China and other ‘super-regional powers’ rise to challenge Washington’s writ the US will rely ever more on powerful allies and partners such as Germany. And, with Britain leaving the EU (if one reads the small-print of this week’s deal Britain really is leaving the EU) and with Berlin leading the way to deeper European integration, Germany will inevitably become relatively more powerful, and thus more vital to the US.

There is, however, a very large caveat with my thesis – Germany and its attitude to the utility and use of military power.  As the Loisach Group debated with Germans occupying the 'high' ground of theory, whilst Americans seeking joint policy action, a few hundred kilometres to the West a ceremony was taking place of profound strategic and political significance.  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was commissioning the first of Britain’s new 70,000 ton aircraft carrier’s HMS Queen Elizabeth into the Royal Navy. 

Now, being rude about my country is a European habit these days because Brexit has dared pose a question the Euro-Aristocracy regard as heretical and would rather not have asked; who governs us? And, yes, one can nit-pick over the number of aircraft Big Lizzie will operate etc. etc.  However, the simple truth is that Britain will soon have two such ships that will greatly assist the United States to maintain global military reach.  Germany does not have, nor will it have anything like such military power. 

You see, for all the bluster about the ‘special relationship’ over the decades, culture, shared values, kinship et al, it was only ever REALLY special when Britain brought significant additional military heft to America’s super-heft (are you listening Mr Hammond?). Or, to put it another way, for all their challenges the British face they are investing in the kind of military force projection the Americans see as power vital to maintaining a special relationship, whilst the Germans, who continue to see ‘power’ in very different and mainly civilian and institutional ways, are not.
The subject for the Group’s discussion was, Harmonizing German and US Engagement with Russia.  As I sat through the various presentations I became ever more convinced the title of the meeting should have been, Harmonizing German and US Engagement with Each Other.  This is a vital mission because the German-US strategic partnership really matters. However, the Americans see the centre of gravity of the relationship as primarily helping them by better sharing burdens to offset their increasing military-strategic over-stretch, whilst the Germans see it as part of a non-military grand bargain that would constrain, as much as reinforce American might. As long as that fundamental fissure exists the best that will be said of the German-US strategic relationship is that is essential, rather than special. 

Still, the Loisach Group has a vital role to play to strengthen what is for all my caveats a, if not the vital strategic transatlantic relationship of the twenty-first century. For, to re-phrase Bismarck, in the twenty-first century there is no longer a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, Germans, or even Americans.

Julian Lindley-French 

Monday, 4 December 2017

The Future of European Militaries

“European militaries will need (at the very least) to undertake three security and defence roles, possibly simultaneously. First, to deter Russia and if needs be defend NATO and the EU from an armed Russian incursion. Second, to help stabilise states and regions in chaos, which in turn threatens European security. Third, to ensure and assure interoperability with the US future force”.
Report on the high-level conference The Future of European Militaries, Wilton Park, 25-27 September, 2017

Download my conference report at:

Alphen, Netherlands. 4 December.  My reports are rather liked the ill-famed urban legend about London busses of old. You wait for ages for one and then four come along at the same time.  For those of us schooled many years ago by waiting in the bloody rain for the dreaded ‘216’ non-bus service this story is more than legend. It is where soggy characters were formed and drenched backbones stiffened. Indeed, there were times after a particularly long wait I wondered if the bloody bus itself was mere legend.

A month ago you had my paper co-written with Allen, Breedlove and Zambellas on Future War NATO ( Three weeks ago you had my report for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute on Brexit and the Shifting Pillars of NATO ( Last week you had the entire opus of the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative Final Report plus all supporting papers ( Of course, they are all brilliant and particularly reasonably-priced – they cost nowt!  Today, for your delight and delectation, I offer you my latest scribbling my Wilton Park report entitled The Future of European Militaries. You lucky, lucky people. And you thought Christmas was still weeks away?  

First, my thanks.  The report emerges from a great conference held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Agency Wilton Park deep in the beautiful Sussex countryside between 25th and 27th September.  My dear friend, Wilton Park Programme Director Dr Robert Grant and I had the pleasure of co-chairing the conference with me acting as Scribbler-in-Chief or Rapporteur. My thanks go also to the staff at Wilton Park who do such a fantastic job looking after the conference delegates. My good friend Dr Holger Mey at Airbus, and Cdr Jeroen de Jonge at the Dutch scientific research company TNO stumped up much of the sponsorship for the conference, along with the UK Ministry of Defence (thank you chaps!), and my old friend Dr Jeff Larsen at the NATO Defence College in Rome.

So, what, after all the necessary formalities, did we actually conclude about the future of European militaries, other than it would be a very good idea if they had a future, and that said future was a together future?  The conference focused on six themes: force structure, threat and response, the implications of Brexit for European security and defence, technology and future war, institutional and command relationships, and the future of European militaries.

The conference also endeavoured to answer pivotal questions that the leaders of European states need to answer right now. What will be the centre of gravity of European forces in the twenty-first century? Should a European future force be focused on the warfighting high-end of the conflict spectrum, or the medium to low end? What balance between force mass and force manoeuvre should European militaries aspire to? Is there sufficient consensus among, and between Europeans to fashion what would look like a European force credible across the conflict spectrum?

The conference concluded that if those questions are to be answered positively then European militaries will need to “embrace broad spectrum innovation” that combines technologies, skills and knowledge into an affordable, but necessarily radical future force concept”.

Key findings (inter alia) from the conference were:
·       European defence planning must be able to satisfy national requirements, enable pan-European cooperation, and ensure interoperability with US, Canadian and other forces.
·       Credible deterrence and defence rest on the twin pillars of military capabilities and capacity.
·       The European command and control (C2) structure needs to be sufficiently robust to enable Europeans to be force providers, command European operations, and organise European militaries into a far more coherent and consistent force.
·       No single European country can any longer afford complete strategic autonomy.
·       Smaller European states should be organised into EU and NATO compatible groupings. PESCO can help with the development of such groupings.
·       The NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) should act as the “interoperability pivot” by promoting “enhanced transatlantic interoperability”.
·       Procurement and acquisition must be re-established on new, common and shared requirements that underpin national, EU and NATO defence industrial policy.
·       Acquisition and innovation cycles must be accelerated.
·       NATO and the European Defence Agency (EDA) must harmonise their respective efforts to operationalise innovation and to ensure security of supply and re-supply.
·       NATO and the EU must be far better able to talk to each other at all levels, and during all stages of a crisis.
·       The US needs to be clearer about the future strategic partnership it seeks with its European allies.
·       Europeans must better understand the role of force across the conflict spectrum from hybrid war to cyber war to hyper war.
·       NATO needs more forces throughout the command structure.
·       Speed of recognition during a crisis is vital to understand when an attack is an attack.
·       The Allies should create an A2/AD bubble over the Baltic States.

To conclude, future war will demand a smart mass of forces able to exert influence and effect across great distance very quickly, particularly as new technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing massively and irrevocably speed up the command pace of war. Therefore, given the threat array Europe’s armed forces need to be bigger, stronger, and more agile, smarter and with far more capability and capacity than they enjoy today. They will also need to be allied more deeply to sharper intelligence-led indicators that are better able to warn of pending danger.

Or, in other words, Europeans will need a combined future force able to undertake at least one major joint operation and three smaller joint operations. And, to create such a force in the current strategic, political, financial and economic environment Europeans together need to act now.

Britain?  Brexit or no the British must be at the core of such efforts as the UK provides 30% of Europe’s high-end military capability. The message? United we stand, or divided we fall. One final thing – the conference concluded that there was a vital missing ingredient in the goulash of European militaries: political leadership! Ho hum…

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 1 December 2017

One Alliance: Adaptation and Deterrence

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity to take things for granted”.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Download ALL the new GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative main reports and supporting papers at:

Alphen, Netherlands. 1 December. What a week! On Monday I had the honour of being part of a delegation presenting the new GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Report to NATO Deputy Secretary-General Goettemoeller in Brussels. The next day I flew to Rome to attend a high-level conference on NATO and nuclear deterrence at the NATO Defence College, and which was organised by my friend Dr Jeff Larsen. Now? I am knackered.

First, NATO adaptation. Fifty years on from the last great attempt to ‘adapt’ NATO with the 1967 Harmel Report, and the Alliance adoption of the then new doctrine of Flexible Response (to replace Massive Retaliation) the new report considers the future of the Alliance in the round.  To that end, and for for some fifteen months past, I have had the pleasure of being a member of, and lead writer for a steering committee which included a former NATO Deputy Secretary-General, a former minister of defence and chairman of the NATO Military Committee, a former ambassador to the North Atlantic Council and former senior NATO commanders.  Led by General John R. Allen of the US, the Steering Committee comprised Admiral Giampaolo di Paola of Italy, General Wolf Langheld of Germany, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow of the US, Ambassador Tomas Valasek of Slovakia…and me of Sheffield, Yorkshire, ardent Sheffield United fan, but apart from that no other claim to fame whatsoever.

This massive project was also reinforced with some truly excellent supporting papers by leading practitioners and thinkers such as General Knud Bartels (Denmark), General Philip M. Breedlove (US), Ian Brzezinski (US), Professor Paul Cornish (UK), Professor Karl-Heinz Kamp (Germany), Professor Michael O’Hanlon, Ambassador Stefano Stefanini (Italy), Jim Townsend (US), Admiral George Zambellas (UK) and organised by the excellent Slovak think-tank GLOBSEC and their brilliant young leaders Robert Vass and Alena Kudzko.

The main report One Alliance: The Future Tasks of the Adapted Alliance has over fifty considered recommendations across thirteen main domains that can be thus summarised: embrace new geostrategic and transatlantic realities; further strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence posture; re-establish a high-level of NATO military ambition; strengthen NATO’s role in counter-terrorism; engage with Russia and Ukraine on the basis of principle, promote a broad NATO security agenda; craft a smarter NATO; create an ambitious and comprehensive NATO-EU Strategic Partnership; foster wider strategic partnerships; better equip and afford NATO; deepen relations with established defence industries; forge deep partnerships with new defence sectors with leading companies in the field of artificial intelligence such as SparkCognition; and purposively equip NATO for the future of war.  

How will the Alliance adapt? NATO faces the same problem as the poor American traveller in that corny, but nevertheless telling Irish joke about if one wants to get to Dublin one would not start here.  NATO will need to do something for which it is politically, constitutionally and institutionally ill-suited; be radical.  Indeed, as the Executive Summary of the report states: “To lay the basis for long-term adaptation, NATO leaders should commission a strategy review at the July 2018 Summit that could be completed by the seventieth anniversary summit in 2019, and which might be embodied in a new Strategic Concept.  NATO needs a forward-looking strategy that sets out how NATO will meet the challenges of an unpredictable and fast-changing world”.

Second, Rome, the Alliance and the future of nuclear deterrence.  NATO is a defensive alliance, but it is also unashamedly a nuclear alliance. Now, I know such language horrifies many people but nuclear weapons are a vital part of the “appropriate mix” of defensive and deterrent weapons the Alliance needs to maintain a credible Deterrence and Defence Posture (DDPR).  Back in 1967 when Pierre Harmel and his team completed his seminal report The Future Tasks of the Alliance ‘deterrence’ was maintained by a sufficiency of conventional and nuclear forces.  Today, new technology has rendered conceivable the rapid destruction by an adversary of the critical functioning of an Alliance state or states via a mix of disabling disinformation, crippling ‘de-organisation’, critical infrastructure collapse and mass disruption, even before mass destruction is unleashed.  Holistic dismantling is clearly the mix of offensive strategies Russia has adopted.

By way of credible deterrent response the Alliance will need new ways to protect its people and its societies (resiliency) and ‘project’ deterrence. Indeed, deterrence without resiliency is impossible. That will, in turn, need a new way of thinking about deterrence to enable it to reach across the new coercion/escalation spectrum from hybrid war to hyper war via cyber war, further underpinned by new critical relationships between civilian and military expertise. Nuclear deterrence? Nuclear weapons exist to check-mate nuclear weapons until the political conditions exist to enable their verifiable eradication.  

The message from both Brussels and Rome? If NATO does not adapt to the dangerous but very changed and rapidly changing strategic environment of the twenty-first century NATO could fail. Unless as part of adaptation nuclear deterrence is modernised in line with a new concept of deterrence that stretches across a resiliency, conventional, unconventional, nuclear deterrence paradigm then the Alliance itself could unwittingly lower the threshold for nuclear use as through our collective weakness we inadvertently return to an implicit doctrine of Massive Retaliation.

One final thing. At the start of my 2014 Oxford Handbook of War (which is brilliant and very reasonably-priced) I quote Plato. “Only the dead have seen the end of war”.  Sadly, I fear the great man was right then and is right today. You see NOTHING can be taken for granted in this brave new world by NATO, our countries or even you and me. NATO is there to prevent war, but only a properly adapted NATO can do that.

Julian Lindley-French