hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Brexit, Hotel California and another Bloody Referendum

"The latest brainwave is to preserve part of the innovations of the constitutional treaty, but hide them by breaking them up into several texts. The most innovative provisions would become simple amendments to the treaties of Maastricht and Nice. The technical improvements would be regrouped in a colourless, harmless treaty. The texts would be sent to national parliaments, which would vote separately. Thus public opinion would be led to adopt, without knowing it, the provisions that we dare not present directly. This process of 'dividing to ratify' is obviously unworthy of the challenge at stake. It may be a good magician's act. But it will confirm European citizens in the idea that the construction of Europe is organised behind their backs by lawyers and diplomats."

President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Irish Times, 26 June, 2008
Hotel California Brexit

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 January. There are two sides negotiating Brexit and they both want to keep Britain IN the European Union – either in fact or in name only.  It becomes clearer by the day that the London Establishment and the Brussels Establishment are working in close harness to thwart Brexit.  This is an attack on the very fundamentals of democracy masquerading under the false flag of ‘getting the best deal’ for Britain.  For Brussels the prize is clear; a Hotel California Brexit by which although we Brits can check out any time we like from the EU, we will never leave. The plan is also clear – to create such fear in the minds of the British public that they will soon willingly accept the need for a second referendum on EU membership and, like sheep, vote willingly for Brexit’s demise.  In other words, they will have been ‘done an Ireland’.

Even though I am a Big Picture Remainer, and I believe deeply in Europeans working closely together, my concerns about the EU and its attitude to national democracy go back a long way. Brussels is a theological capital brim full of a ‘we know best’ elite, driving towards a Babel-esque vision of ‘Europe’, reinforced by think-tank hangers-on, with a dismissive attitude to democracy or anything else that might lead to ‘heresy’. The EU, for all the rhetoric about values, is really about about power. It is also a mechanism for the grand manipulation of the masses so that power is centralised inexorably on an elite few who are charged with taking the ‘best’ decisions for ‘Europe’.  Yes, the European Council represents the states but only one state matters – Germany.  And, if Germany, the Commission and the European Parliament are aligned on policy there is little place for dissent, even for a formerly great power like Britain.
‘Doing an Ireland’

There is a precedent for such manipulation. In 2008 and 2009 the Irish people voted in two referenda on the then unratified Lisbon Treaty.  As Giscard d’Estaing’s statement above attests the Irish people, along with the peoples of five other states including Britain, had been promised a referendum on the constitution-bending European Constitution Treaty (ECT). Tony Blair cancelled the planned referendum in Britain for fear of losing it, as did the leaders in the other states.   
As domestic opposition grew to the ECT in Ireland grew the promised referendum there was also cancelled.  However, in the wake of rejections in France and the Netherlands the Constitution Treaty – part domestic law, part international treaty – was replaced with a treaty that was designed to achieve the same Brussels-centralising effect as the ECT. Indeed, rather than going for a radical new ‘constitution,’ which would have established the principle for the EU to become a European super-state, Brussels and the European elite backed-off and simply adopted a back door political approach to deeper integration. 

Still the contention in Ireland raged.  Article 29 of the Irish Constitution stated that no law can be supreme over their own and the Irish would still not accept the over-turning of a fundamental principle in their national constitution whatever the name of a treaty or ‘constitution’. On 12 June 2008 the Irish people voted down the Lisbon Treaty by 53.4% to 46.6% on a turnout of 53% of the population. For the EU elite it was the ‘wrong’ answer to a question that should never have been posed in what was meant to have been a one-off yes or no referendum. And yet, just over a year later on 2 October 2009, a few meaningless blandishments having been offered, the Irish people voted ‘yes’ to an ‘amended’ Treaty of Lisbon.  It marked the end of any hope I had for a ‘Europe’ in which I had once believed, and for which I had worked.
The Establishment is now ‘doing an Ireland’ on the British people.  In June 2015 Parliament voted overwhelmingly to pass the EU Referendum Bill by 544 votes to 53 votes and paved the way to the holding of a referendum on the question, “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”  In June 2016 the British people voted in what was meant to be a one-off yes or no referendum by 51.9% to 48.1%.  A year ago Parliament voted by 498 votes to 114 votes in favour of Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon to trigger Britain’s formal departure from the EU, due to take place midnight Brussels time on 29 March, 2019. In other words, both parliamentary and popular sovereignty has been exercised at every stage of Brexit.
May Day!

Then things changed. The day after the Brexit referendum the successful insurgent and populist ‘Leave’ campaign declared victory, packed up their collective bags, and went home. After they had overcome the shock of defeat the defeated Establishment ‘Remain’ campaign simply re-grouped, and began the long haul to ‘do an Ireland’ on the British people. That campaign is now reaching its zenith and has two main objectives.  The first would be to hold a wholly unconstitutional second referendum on EU membership, whilst the second would see Parliament vote down the final deal on Brexit via a so-called ‘meaningful vote’. This would, in effect, commit Britain to remain in the EU, and challenge Prime Minister May to call another general election on the issue.
This appalling state of political affairs was made worse by May’s disastrous performance in the June 2017 general election, an election she called. Her disastrous performance has since been compounded by her own indecision – Churchill or Thatcher she ain’t – and a Cabinet split asunder by Leavers and Remainders.  The now clear retreat from Brexit has been accelerated by a re-calibrated and re-launched Project Fear which is reinforced, in turn, by the  almost daily serial leaking by either senior politicians or civil servants at strategic moments of ‘evidence’ purporting to show the dire consequences of Britain’s departure from the EU.  

There have been two such demarches over the past week. First, there was a leak of a Cabinet Office document which purported to show that under any model the British economy would suffer egregiously upon leaving the EU. As with all such documents it was only the result that was leaked, not the methodology. If, as seems likely, Government economists used the so-called’ ‘gravity’ approach, the findings are likely to be as wide of the mark as those employed by the architect of Project Fear, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. 
The other demarche involves the former boss of GCHQ Robert Hannigan and the former head of MI6 Sir John Sawers.  These are people that anyone interested in security should take very seriously, and I am decidedly not accusing them of any collusion with Brussels. This morning they told the BBC that post-Brexit Britain needs a deal with the EU on data-sharing to prevent damage to Britain’s economy and its security. At the same time they warned that Britain should not use its dominance (yes, dominance) in intelligence-gathering and analysis as a bargaining tool in Brexit negotiations.  At one level they are right. It would be unconscionable for Britain to be aware of a pending terrorist attack on a European state and withhold such information simply because of Brexit negotiations.  No sensible government would go there. On another level they are utterly wrong.  

Vassal State?
Last week in a Parliamentary committee the Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is an undoubted contender to pick up Theresa May’s sullied crown from the mud in which it now lies when she falls, warned of Britain becoming a “vassal state’ during the planned two year implementation/transition period between 2019 and 2021. My concern is that given the way London is deliberately mishandling the Brexit negotiations Britain will in effect be reduced ad Perpetua to a vassal state of the EU – all pay, but no say.  

The Hannigan and Sawers demarches also reveals all-too-clearly that Britain’s negotiating ‘strategy’ is self-defeating.  It is perfectly OK, it seems, for the likes of Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier to issue threats against Britain and the British people as part of the Brexit negotiations, but unacceptable for Britain to employ any of the undoubted levers it has at its disposal by way of response.  In effect, the British Establishment is tying at least one of its own arms behind its back, whilst inviting the European Commission and others to punch Britain in the face.  As negotiating goes it is like something out of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Britain’s Perpetual EU Purgatory

So, what choices do the British people now face, if any?  Brexit is fast becoming like being a little bit pregnant; impossible.  Britain can either be in the EU or out of it, not both.  There is simply no middle ground that would not see Brexit denied.  And yet, it is precisely towards such a non-existent middle ground the London Establishment seems determined to steer Britain – a kind of EU purgatory between heaven and hell (I will leave you to decide which is which). The wheeze seems to be to create a deal that is so patently unworkable that the British people will in-the-end ‘decide’ to stay in the EU, either via parliamentary fiat or a second referendum.
All well and good! Certainly not! The Masters of the Universe on both sides of the Channel need to be careful. Let’s say there is a second referendum and the Establishments successfully ‘do an Ireland’ on the British people. It is unlikely the European Commission would accept the pre-Brexit status quo ante.  The Commission is predatory and smells Britain’s weakness.  No doubt assurances have already been given that in time a Britain hauled back within the EU with its tail between its legs would join the Euro and lose all the other opt-outs hitherto ‘enjoyed’.  Worse, a Britain humiliated could marking the real beginning of the end for the United Kingdom. Why would the Scots want to stay in one powerless union, when another has proved its might by humiliating a state that a generation or two ago was one of the mightiest on the planet?  Hotel California re-confirmed?

Nor should Leavers dwell in nostalgia. Even if the UK successfully extricates itself from EU purgatory the future is unlikely to be the buccaneering, swashbuckling, swathe-cutting renaissance beloved of Boris Johnson.  The simple truth is that in Britain’s unbalanced economy the City of London influences too much power.  What it wants is nothing to do with Britain and its people, but rather to be the money-making depository of billions of not-too-many-questions-asked dodgy ‘investments’ from all over the world.  The fact that Theresa May is in Beijing today kow-towing to President Xi suggests Britain’s future outside the EU could well be one of selling its body-politic to powerful, but less than wholesome, states the world over. There is another word for that.
Brexit, Hotel California and another Bloody Referendum

Why is the London Establishment actively undermining Britain’s departure from the EU?  It is not because they are all traitors – far from it.  They have undertaken pretty much the same analysis I have and reached pretty much the same set of conclusions.  In other words, the EU might be a grand manipulating, self-empowering, undemocratic Tower of Babel but it is, on balance, better for a weak Britain to be anchored to it than forced to make common cause with Chinese autocrats, Russian oligarchs and the like simply to get their money to pay for the NHS.

Where I part company with much of Britain’s Establishment is that I still believe in my country, and many of them do not.  Indeed, I still believe that a well-led Britain could be an important, sovereign power in Europe and the wider world.  Which brings me to the real reason why Britain is in this mess – Britain’s high-bureaucratic Establishment have little faith in Britain’s high-political Establishment. Or, to put it more bluntly – Whitehall thinks Westminster is useless.
Brexit is now about far more than the collapse of effective government and governance in London.  Brexit is fast becoming a fundamental struggle over the future of democracy. Indeed, if there is a second Brexit referendum it will be just as bloody as the first, and further weaken a country already close to breaking point. Therefore, even though I stand by my belief that Brexit at this time undermines the security and defence of Europe, in the event of a second referendum I would switch my vote to Leave.  And, I suspect an awful lot more of ‘we’ pragmatic Remainers would do the same because even though ‘we’ lost in June 2016 'we' will honour the then decision of the British people and refuse to countenance another example of grand manipulation by the elite of a supposedly ‘ill-informed people’. 

If those seeking to over-turn the result of the June 2016 Brexit referendum are successful, by ‘dividing to unratify’ to paraphrase Giscard, it will reduce ‘democracy’ in Europe to little more than an exercise in irrelevance.  We will be offered endless changes to vote for little, well-fed people with little or no power over little or nothing of any import, whilst the big issues are confined to the musings of a distant ‘we know best’ elite. It will also, as Giscard warned “…confirm European citizens in the idea that the construction of Europe is organised behind their backs…”
President Putin?

Julian Lindley-French  

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Korea Prospects?

“A world that begins to witness the rebirth of trust among nations can find its way to a peace that is neither partial nor punitive….The first great step along this way must be the conclusion of an honorable armistice in Korea”.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 1953

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 January. What does Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Kim Jong-un really want? With the Winter Olympics due to start in the Republic of Korea it is a pressing question. Convention has it that Kim is using North Korean military power, and the threat of war that goes with it, to blackmail neighbouring states to ‘buy him’ off.  I am not so sure.  Indeed, my sense is that the ‘Dear Leader’ seeks nothing less than the re-unification of the Korean peninsula under his tutelage. He is emboldened in such an aim by the prospect of the new and exclusive strategic space China is clearly determined to carve out to the west of the Korean Peninsula, and quite possibly to the east and south.  Seizing South Korea might not only solve North Korea’s chronic economic difficulties, but in time enable the DPRK to step up as a regional-strategic power to be reckoned with.  So, could Kim possibly realise such an ambition?

Bear with me on this one. My job as an experienced strategic analyst is to consider strategic outcomes, the worst-case such outcomes might generate, and offer policy options to avoid them. It is up to politicians to then decide what course of action they choose.  The first task is to get politicians most of whom are decidedly ‘un-strategic’ to realise there is a problem that might affect their bailiwick.  European leaders needs to understand that at some point there will be a definitive political outcome for the Korean Peninsula and current events suggests that outcome might come sooner than many of them are willing to contemplate, mired as they in the desperate sogginess of maintaining their own declining status quo as the world changes around them.

The Challenge

The real threat to South Korea and regional peace is posed by the interaction of Kim’s national strategy and China’s regional strategy. Yes, the threat posed by Kim Jong-un to South Korea is manifold and is the main focus of DPRK strategy. However, with Pyongyang clearly making progress in its efforts to develop nuclear weapons and associated ballistic missile technology, that threat has of late intensified to the regional-strategic order, if not the global order. The good news is that with the Winter Olympics pending tensions have clearly subsided in the past couple of weeks. Pyongyang’s offer to participate in a joint team at the Olympics is seen by many analysts as a step back from nuclear brinkmanship and an outbreak of rationality that might just lead to meaningful talks about peace.  Sanctions or no there is little sign that Pyongyang would be willing to enter into such talks or believes it has been weakened economically to the point where such talks, if they did take place, would bear fruit.

The Scenario

DPRK strategy: The conclusions of my analysis lead elsewhere. After the Olympics, having used the Olympics as a pawn to reinforce his ‘Korean’ credentials, Kim Jong-un begins again to rattle his supposed nuclear sabres.  This ‘dual track’ approach by Pyongyang aims to heighten fears in the South of war and provoke a rise in anti-Americanism.  Such an aim is not without prospect given the response of not a few South Koreans to President Trump’s bellicose and sometimes ill-considered ‘mine is bigger than yours’ responses to Kim’s provocations.

The threat of war acts powerfully on the Korean psyche. During the Korean War of 1950 to 1953 the US dropped 635,000 tons of bombs on the Peninsula (mainly on civilian centres in the north), compared with 503,000 tons dropped on Japan between 1941 and 1945.  Most of this bombing took place between 1950 and 1951 less than a decade after the US had rejected Britain’s ‘area bombing’ of German cities during World War Two.  Some 10% of the Korean population were either killed, missing or injured.

China’s strategy: Let me now turn to Beijing’s strategy the aim of which is clear; to create an exclusive sphere of influence that in extremis would be reinforced and enforced, if needs be, by China’s burgeoning military might.. So, what does China want? Beijing clearly does not want South Korea or the Americans to prevail over North Korea.  This is why China is playing a pretend sanctions game in which it appears to punish Kim whilst at the same time propping him up.
Beijing is also masterminding the so-called ‘Belt and Road’ strategy to extend its influence landward across Eurasia. China also appears to have adopted what might be called a ‘Coast and Load’ strategy by which Chinese military power brandished and islands illegally seized to reinforce China’s wider ambitions in both the East and South China Seas (I suppose for Beijing the clue is in the name).  China’s claimed Maritime, Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zones in the South China Sea are reinforced by Beijing’s clear intention to extend China’s writ beyond Taiwan and into the seas between Korea and Japan.  And yet, China is the key to the nature of the strategic outcome that will be forged on the Korean Peninsula.

Which brings me back to Kim Jong-un and his ambitions.  He is nothing if not an opportunist and his current strategy might best be described as laying the foundations for future strategic exploitation. The Supreme Leader clearly recognises an opportunity to exploit growing US-Chinese tensions over the Beijing’s extra-territorial ambitions, and other tensions, such as over trade.  He is probably right to assume that at some point there will be a showdown between the US and China, and/or one of the major US allies in the region, such as Japan or the Philippines.  He also wants to make the price for US conventional intervention in an emergency on the Korean Peninsula extremely high, hence the threats to Guam.  If, at the same time, he also threatens key US bases on Okinawa he might also help create a split between Tokyo and Washington, or at the very least exacerbate existing tensions between US forces and the Japanese people. 

Kim Jong-un’s ‘Schwerpunkt?’: If US-Chinese tensions in the region continue to grow and the ‘Coast and Load’ strategy prevails there might come a day when China feels sufficiently emboldened to block entry of US air and maritime forces into a wide area of operations off the Chinese coast and in a wider area-of-operations. In such circumstances Kim could well also feel emboldened to act by first provoking unrest in South Korea and thus weakening the US security guarantee. At this point the Republic of Korea would be vulnerable to attack. The wider geopolitical situation at such a time would probably lead China to decide to do nothing to stop Kim’s adventurism, even if Beijing did not explicitly condone such an attack.

Policy Options: An Asia-Pacific Harmel?

What to do?  Time and peace are on the side of South Korea and it is sustaining those twin sisters that must be at the core of US strategy. Specifically, Washington actually do more of what it has been doing hitherto: seeking to establish parallel engagements of defence and dialogue not dissimilar to that crafted by Pierre Harmel in Europe during the Cold War of the late 1960s. In other words, the Six-Plus-One talks on denuclearising the DPRK need to be reinforced by Two-Plus-Two talks. On the Korean Peninsula Washington should encourage Pyongyang and Seoul to keep talking after the Olympics with China and the US together promoting such talks. Such an approach would also need to incorporate the following vital elements:

Deterrence: War is certainly a possibility in Korea, but not an option. First, Kim could only achieve his objectives via some form of war. Second, any campaign or operational analysis suggests inevitable mass destruction in the event of a war with South Korea’s capital Seoul dangerously vulnerable to massed artillery and missile attack.
Assistance: If deterrence is to continue to work the US needs to remain in significant military strength in South Korea. At present that strength is not in question. However, pressures will grow world-wide on US forces, particularly so given the military renaissance of both China and Russia.

Solidarity: The political relationship between the Republic of Korea and the US must remain demonstrably strong with North Korean efforts to undermine it resisted.  The US will also need to reassure the South. South Korean leaders remember US support for South Vietnam during the 1965-1975 war. In the face of mounting domestic pressure the US eventually withdrew from Vietnam in the wake of a war that possibly killed up to 3 milling Vietnamese. South Vietnam was then overrun by Communist forces.

Regional alliances: Keeping the US sufficiently strong over time in South Korea will also depend increasingly on a strong US relationship with partners in the region. Canberra and Tokyo are already considering a new pact to counter an assertive China, and other such groupings are emerging implicitly organised around the US.  The aim of such pacts must be to assist the US to maintain politically, diplomatically, and militarily credible security guarantees.

Dialogue: A sophisticated US-Chinese strategic relationship is vital for both regional and global peace. However, whilst the US and China are unlikely to ever forge a partnership the search for an enduring and stable peace on the Korean Peninsula will be the test of the relationship. Therefore, Washington must hold Beijing to its word and the US and China together reinvigorate the search for an enduring but stable peace on the Peninsula, rather than the enduring but unstable peace since July 1953 Armistice. To do that, US diplomacy will need to keep separate its handling of Kim’s ambitions on the Peninsula, and Xi’s ambitions in the wider region. There is some room for optimism. Evidence suggests that Chinese President Xi Jingping has little regard for Kim Jong-un and that a war on the Korean Peninsula is seen by Beijing as a potential nightmare.  That the strategic implications for China would be profound are clear from a glance at a map.  Worse, the strategic implications of an intensified emergency would be dire for the entire East Asia region. 

Europe? This week in Davos Chancellor Merkel and President Macron banged on about the benefits of globalisation whilst conveniently forgetting that the interdependence they espouse also extends to security and defence.  Far from being a “…a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing”, Korea is at the heart of European defence, just as it was in the 1950s. Back in the 1950s the US called for West German rearmament so that the West could both maintain credible deterrence in Europe and ensure the American-led ‘United Nations’ could fight the war in Korea.  Europeans today face a not dissimilar choice. If the US is to be maintained in strength, in what the 2017 National Security Strategy now calls the ‘Indo-Pacific’, and at the same time credibly maintain its defence guarantee to Europe Europeans will need to better help keep America strong where she needs to be strong. At the very least that means generating far greater military strength within the NATO framework. Sadly, the magnificent irrelevance of the EU’s recently announced PESCO initiative simply reinforced just how far many Europeans are from grasping strategic reality.

Julian Lindley-French  

Monday, 22 January 2018

Euro-Populism and the Transatlantic Relationship

Madness is something rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Alphen, Netherlands, 22 January. Last Thursday night in the heart of Berlin I had the honour to give a dinner speech to a distinguished audience on the issue of European populism and its implications for the transatlantic relationship.  The speech took place as part of a conference co-organised by Germany’s Federal Academy of Security Policy and the George C. Marshall Center for European Security Studies entitled Transatlantic Relations: Prospects and New Directions amidst Political Change. Below is my speech in full:


When I was asked me to do this I had a choice to make. First, I could interpret the mission as I chose. So, I have decided to talk about European populism and the transatlantic relationship.

Second, I could offer you yet another politically correct assessment of the causes and nature of populism in Europe and confirm elite prejudices by telling you how ‘beastly’ the populists are (and, indeed, many of them are). However, it is precisely that self-serving, self-denying, somewhat self-pitying and elite self-reinforcing ‘let off’ that has got us in this mess (and, believe me, we are in a mess) and enabled failing liberal elites to avoid their own responsibilities for it. 

My Mission

Therefore, in this brief talk my mission tonight is to offer you the following: a definition of populism, its causes, possible remedies, and finally its implications for the future transatlantic relationship.

Core Message

My blunt core message to you is this:

There are many causes of populism but at its most simple it is the failure of mainstream elites faced with big structural shifts in a big age to allay the often legitimate fears of millions of decent people about the impact of change on their lives. Until our elites in Europe become better at being elites and demonstrate they can deal to effect with big change far more effectively than of late the populists will continue to exploit the growing gap between leaders and led with their half-baked and often dangerous prescriptions. Make no mistake, we are living at a time when all the assumptions that have for almost sixty years underpinned dominant European liberalism are under assault.

A Definition of Populism

All of the above pre-supposed a fundamental question: what is populism? There are several definitions from that range from the benign to the downright sinister. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary drives two such definitions.  The first describes a populist as an, “…adherent of a political party seeking to represent the whole of the people”, whilst the second calls populism: “A political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups”. However, for the sake of this speech I prefer the 2004 definition of Cas Mudde at the University of Georgia. “Populism is a “thin ideology” that merely sets up a framework: that of a pure people versus a corrupt elite.

Populism on the March in Europe

Populism is certainly on the march in Europe (at this juncture I will leave our American friends to their own thoughts about the march of populism in their own country). According to a new paper (European Populism: Trends, Threats and Future Prospects) prepared by, of all people Tony Blair’s Institute for the Promotion of Tony Blair, sorry, Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change, there were 33 ‘populist’ parties in Europe in 2000 and 63 now. Their support has risen from 9.6% then to 24.6% now. In other words strong enough to influence governance, but not lead it. 

What are the shifts/tensions driving discontent, disillusion and Euro-populism?

It would be easy to dismiss such a revolt against establishments as simply due to economic crisis and mass migration.  They are, of course, powerful drivers but there are other factors such as the the decline of democracy in Europe, distract elites and a failure to properly secure and defend the citizen.

The decline of democracy and the creation of an elite caste

The erosion of the nation-state in Europe, often by establishments in Europe firm in their own belief that states cause wars has triggered a profound battle of identity between elites and their own peoples that is reflected in a further struggle taking place between the EU, the state, and the individual.  In the past the most important ‘conversation’ in Europe was that between elected elites and the people they ‘serve’. Today, European elites regard the conversation with each other as being more important and their respective peoples as impediments to their ‘progressive’ policy who must be at best kept in the dark, or at worst manipulated.  The creation of Europe’s elite caste reinforces too often a disrespect for democracy, particularly so if the choices of ‘the people’ clash with elite ‘we know best’ prescriptions.

The result is a growing tension in Europe between those who legitimise power and those who enact it.  Brexit is an example of this drift. Leavers have been pilloried and insulted by the liberal elite for being closet racists or little Englanders. Such people certainly do exist. However, for many in Britain the central issue was clear and legitimate given the evolving and centralising tendencies of Brussels to transfer power from the member-states unto itself: who governs us? It is a question all Europeans should ask.

The impact of economic failure and incompetent governance

The economic crashes of 2008-10 is still impacting people hard on both sides of the Atlantic. Jobs are at a premium, salaries stagnant, unemployment stubbornly high, savings eroding and ends hard to meet for millions of people.  This is classic turf for populists and conditions could not be better for them to flourish. It is easy for European elites to blame global forces, such as the US sub-prime loans scandal.  However, poor choices and incompetent governance are also factors, not least the creation of the Euro for political purposes without any due elite consideration for the economic structures and conditions needed to ensure the single currency helped rather than harmed citizens.

Distracted elites

Liberal elites also seem obsessed with ‘isms’ such as racism and feminism as though virtue signalling to each other and often radical segments of society and change-for-change sakes is more important than building a properly grounded consensus. Do not misunderstand me, as I am also a firm progressive who believes the rights of minorities and the equality of women not only matter but will benefit society as a whole in time. However, the impression is too often given by elites that these issues are at the exclusion of all others and that the rest of society, the majority, is either simply taken for granted or the cause of the ‘problem’. By causing such offence a further wedge is driven between elites and millions of people who would otherwise not dally with populism.  Worse, when mainstream political parties offer no room for dissent on such matters, and imply any such dissent is a form of racism and/or misogyny, the subsequent sense of frustration and offence gives voters nowhere else to go but to the extremes. It is a sense of frustration reinforced when elite politicians put such change down to the consequences of Globalisation or Globalism and that resistance is thus futile. And, it is frustration that is further exacerbated when democracy is reduced to little more than an exercise in rubber-stamping established elites in comfortable power.

The failure to secure and defend

The creeping sense of millions of Europeans that their elites cannot be trusted extends in many societies to a growing belief that incompetence is compounded by vague complicity in matters security and defence.  After each terrorist attack in Europe the elite respond with hand-wringing calls for ‘us all’ to stand together against such evil. Equally, elites also too often give the impression that hand-wringing is all they do and that their collective ultra-liberalism not only prevents them from taking real action to stop such attacks, but actively creates the conditions for such attacks to take place.

Elite refusal to understand or empathise with the impact of rapid mass immigration on communities

Which brings me to perhaps the most contentious issue in this speech. Mass immigration of peoples from other societies with other values DOES impact on the indigenous population and does so profoundly.  Recent rates of immigration in many European states is not just a function of natural change, but enforced change seen my many as driven a liberal, progressive elite obsessed with multi-culturalism and/or free movement for the sake of some future higher ‘good’ that many can neither see nor accept.  

This schism between leaders and many of the ‘led’ is made worse by ‘Davos’ elites living escorted and protected lives lecturing the people living on the front-line of such change with such mantras as wir schaffen das. Such ‘let them eat cake’ politics not only creates ever more political space for populists to exploit but raises a fundamental question for modern European society: is there a ‘we’ and if not can ‘society’ as commonly understood be said to exist.

Are the people wrong-headed on this issue as many elites claim? During the height of the migration crisis I wrote a piece entitled Lebanon on the Rhine. My thesis was that it was naïve in the extreme for an elite to believe such a population shift from traumatised regions of the world would not at the same time import many of the problems from which those regions suffer in cities and towns in our own countries.

And then there is the changing nature of elites which is exacerbating the schism between Europe’s elite caste and the people.  Indeed, another reason for populism is the nature of elites themselves (hence the reason I have rather provocatively used it) and the creation of political castes. For example, when I was a kid in Sheffield the MP was always Labour. One could put a donkey up for Labour in Central Sheffield and it would get elected.  However, that ‘donkey’ invariably came from within the community and reflected its majority viewpoint: socialist, democratic and patriotic. Today, politicians are part of a professional political class, normally university-educated party hacks ‘parachuted’ into a constituency or onto some electoral list. They came into politics because they were hooked onto some ‘ism’ or another but know little or nothing of the lives of the people they serve and seem to those people detached from them and their concerns. This is not just a British phenomenon. It is the same in the country I now live, the Netherlands. And, it has been apparent to me in the other European countries in which I have lived.   

How to Counter Populism?

At the start of this speech I offered two what I regard as truisms. First, populists offer no solutions to the very real complexities with which modern European societies must contend. Second, Europe’s elite caste needs to be better at its job.  Let me offer you a third. Until elites stop hiding behind mantras such as Globalism or institutions such as the EU and begin to properly engage citizens on the issues that really matter to them populism will flourish.  Equally, there is a range of steps that should be taken now to prevent populists seizing real power across Europe:

  1. Separate the nostalgists from the pragmatists: There is no room for nostalgia in society we are where we are. We MUST forge new societies and new identities and within the ranks of those who lean towards populism there appears to be a split between nostalgists, who can never be assuaged, and pragmatists open to change if their concerns are addressed.
  2. Make existing systems work: Trust in governance in Europe has collapsed.  National leaders blame the EU and the EU blames national leaders. In fact, all have been pretty bloody incompetent in preparing Europeans for big change.  For example, faith in EU and national government immigration and asylum policies and systems has collapsed. The elite will need to demonstrate they really do function if the trust of the people is to be regained.
  3. Legitimise change more effectively: Tony Blair (again) suggests that populations can be divided into roughly four groups: 30% are supportive of change, 30% implacably opposed to change, whilst 30% are willing to be convinced if change is managed effectively. 10% may properly be dismissed as idiots.  Europe’s nightmare is a coalition of the implacably opposed, annoyed pragmatists and downright idiots.  Rather, European leaders need to focus on building a coalition of those open to change and the pragmatists if they are to re-legitimise their own leadership.
  4. Recognise the scale of the challenge and stop treating the people like idiots to be manipulated for electoral purposes: Be honest with people about the length of time and the cost of dealing with the challenges Europeans face. That begins by an elite that demonstrates it really does have a grip of the big threats Europe faces across the spectrum from economy to security. At present, Europe’s leaders only play at dealing with danger and the people smell their weakness.
  5. LEAD!

The Transatlantic Relationship and the Strategic Implications of Euro-Populism 

What is European populism succeeds and takes power across Europe?  There is one driver of change I have not mentioned thus far: systemic change and the relative power decline of the West.  Populism is toxic because it seeks to turn a national community into distinct and separate communities living parallel lives with profound tensions between them. Populists flourish in division. Worse, they create the space for adversaries, be it Russia, Islamic State or others to exploit growing vulnerabilities within our societies – war at our seams. It is a war that is already being waged.

Over time the lack of social or political cohesion not only undermines the home base upon which all national security strategies depend, it also undermines the ability of our states and institutions over time to protect people and project power.  Be it in North America or Europe if the populists (who are not interested in power simply disabling it) succeed forget the talk of transatlantic ‘pillars’ be it within NATO or with the EU.  And, over time, forget the transatlantic relationship as European states become little more than parodies of power.  Indeed, however militarily strong a state may such power is irrelevant if society is divided and broken. 

Euro-Populism and the Transatlantic Relationship

To conclude, it is vital the populists are defeated for they offer no solutions to complex challenges.  However, elites will only stop such people if they come down from the high horse of vacuous internationalism they have for too long espoused and begin to deal properly with very real issues change imposes on ordinary decent people. Most people are not closet neo-fascists or racists, simply people desperate to deliver for their families, for whom hope springs eternal that (at last) their leaders are listening to their concerns, and that they will be responsibly led – tough, hard choices and all.  Hope, belief and trust.

Walk around Rome and one sees the same acronym everywhere: SPQR - Senatus Populusque Romanus. One can even find it on Roman drain covers.  It is a standard of the late Roman Republic that suggested an ideal of the Roman Senate and people together in power and justice. It ‘died’ in the first century AD when Caesar seized power and turned Rome into an empire.  As Europe stands on the cusp between ‘republic’ and ‘empire’ Europe’s latter day political caste should think hard about how they too convince the people that the Europe towards which they wish to take them is one with which Europeans en masse agree. 

Show me you listen and show me you can lead, leaders, and I might just believe in you as leaders!"

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Snow Meeting 2018: Plans or Planning?

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything”

President Dwight D. Eisenhower,

National Defense Executive Reserve Conference,

November 14, 1957

Trakai, Lithuania. 16 January.  Can NATO and EU states plan effectively for 360 degrees of very different threats? It is with grave concern that I must report that His Excellency Linas Linkevicius, the Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, failed this year’s Snow Meeting. No snow! Apart from that the organisation of this superb annual security conference was as impeccable as ever.  With an over-arching theme of keeping the transatlantic bond strong European security nestled comfortably within the Snow Meeting like a Lithuanian lake amidst a forest of silver birch. Sadly, I come away from beautiful Trakai each year with my concerns about European security heightened.  Indeed, Europe’s ‘security’ is fast becoming like a gigantic marshmallow; pierce the thin, crusty edge in places like Lithuania and one discovers a thick gooey core or irresolution and uncertainty at Europe’s heart.  

Eisenhower’s famous quote has often been misunderstood, and the original context forgotten, but it is worth today quoting his 1957 speech in some length.  “Some years ago, there was a group in the staff college of which some of you may have heard, Leavenworth Staff College. This was before our entry into World War One, and in that course it was necessary to use a number of maps and the maps available to the course were of the Alsace-Lorraine area and the Champagne in France. But a group of “young Turks” came along and wanted to reform Leavenworth. They pointed out it was perfectly silly for the American Army to be using such maps which could after all be duplicated in other areas without too much cost – they would get some maps where the American Army might just fight a battle. So they got, among other things, maps of the area of Leavenworth and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and in succeeding years all the problems have been worked out on those maps. The point is, only about two years after that happened, we were fighting in Alsace-Lorraine and in the Champagne”.

Eisenhower went on to explain the distinction he rightly insisted upon between plans and planning. “There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of ‘emergency’ is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you expected”.

As part of the Snow Meeting and as part of a delegation I had the chance to meet the ever-impressive President of Lithuania, Her Excellency Dalia Grybauskaite. What makes her impressive is the clear-sighted understanding she has of her country’s security situation and what must be done about it.  Russia must be deterred with strength so that any irresistible itch President Putin needs to scratch does not at any point involve the invasion of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. 

The problem is that Lithuania is not Europe’s only vulnerable state. My many trips to Rome have also revealed an Italy far more in tune with the tragic and ongoing events to its south and the massive migration flows such chaos is both triggering and enabling. Rome is also far less concerned with Russia, for obvious reasons, than Lithuania, even if Italy also takes its NATO responsibilities very seriously at a time of extended economic duress.  In such circumstances for Rome to establish effective policies and strategies to cope with and manage what looks increasingly like a structural shift in population movement requires a wholly different set of tools than those needed to deter the Russian military.

It is this essential tension which exists between defence of the ‘east’ and security of the ‘south’ and which reinforces Eisenhower’s wise dictum.  In spite of NATO’s sterling efforts to recast its deterrence and defence posture to cope with such a wide array of challenges there is simply not the resources available to provide a credible response to both.  This is important because Friendly-Clinch’s First Law of Strategic Nonsense identifies an inverse, obverse, and not-so-little obscene relationship in such circumstances between plans and planning. Indeed, when planning cannot be properly resourced there is a profusion of plans which may suggest NATO be renamed the North Atlantic Summit Organisation and Declaration-Writing Organisation.

In Europe today there are a mass of plans to deal with every conceivable threat Europe could possibly face. However, in the absence of the sound, considered, co-ordinated and efficient application of necessarily immense resources precious little proper planning will take place. ‘Planning’ requires planners to think big and build redundancy into their plans, precisely because as one of the Moltke’s pointed out, all plans collapse on contact with the enemy. Such planning also requires political leaders to think equally ‘big’ and devote the necessary resources to ensure such planning is sound.  Indeed, it is the ACT of planning which is the central tenet of credible deterrence.

NATO places much faith in its ‘360 Degree Approach’ to security and defence.  In fact NATO has three dangerously separate 120 degree approaches that in effect compete with each other – a growing threat to the north, a profound threat to the east, and a complex and long-term threat to the south. The purpose of planning is ease that tension and craft a credible response to all three. To that end, sound planning would suggests that NATO in partnership with the EU moves to actively support Europe’s three sets of frontline states – Finland, Norway and Sweden to the north, the Baltic States to the East, and Italy, Spain et al to the South. To some extent that is precisely what is being planned for. Or, rather, that is what a lot of key Western European states say that that are planning for. However, the gap between what those states say they would do in an ‘emergency’, and what they are capable of doing, grows wider by the day.

“There are always the Yanks”, I hear you proclaim. Hold on a minute. The US faces challenges the world over.  NATO plan can only be credible if Europeans are planning at the very least to be credible first responder to major emergencies in and Europe. Which brings me back to my giant marshmallow, which I shall call ‘Kurt’.  Lithuania has increased its defence spending to meet the 2014 NATO Wales Summit defence investment pledge of 2% GDP on defence. Italy is engaged deeply in trying to ameliorate the situation of and situation with irregular migrants transiting North Africa. And yet, too many powerful Western European states talk a lot (President Macron!!!) but in fact reveal little evidence of any real planning or the commensurate investment that would be needed to cope with an emergency that looks ever more likely. Indeed, President Macron looks to me ever more like Tony Blair from 1997 to 1999 – a man with ambitions far greater than the country he leads.

States like Britain, France and Germany are the gooey mess at the heart of European security and defence but which in an emergency would need to act as a critical strategic reserve for the front-line states.  And yet, for all their political ‘plans’ there is no real evidence that they are undertaking anything what might be termed proper strategic planning. They just talk a lot…and send a few troops to Lithuania. 

Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.  Speaking of which can we have some snow next year please, Mr Minister?

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The Shape of Future War

“But, the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it”.
Athenians and Spartans

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 January. What will be the shape of future war? The world is fast becoming divided between latter day Athenians and Spartans.  The former is powerful and views it expansion as inevitable and a consequence of its superior open political, social and economic model. The latter is less powerful but ruled by nationalistic and militaristic elites who fear that in time they too will be swept away by a ‘progressive’ West that is now a global idea rather than a place.  This systemic tension not only makes war possible, but will shape the very nature of twenty-first century warfare.
Karl von Clausewitz once said that the overriding aim of war is to disarm the enemy.  The latter day Athenians strive to disarm adversaries through treaties. The latter day Spartans believe the key to disarming an adversary to be coercive power and its decisive application at a time, method and place of their choosing. In Clausewitz’s day one disarmed a state by smashing its armed forces war.  Today, there are so many ways to disarm a state and it is the new ends, ways and means of future war that occupy so much of my thinking and concerns these days.  Somewhere, sometime in the not-so-distant future war will take place. It could well be a big, systemic war in which all Western states will somehow be involved and for all the reasons Thucydides so eloquently describes in his seminal 5th Century BC work History of the Peloponnesian War.

The Shape of Future War
The shape of war is not simply a function of relative military power. How a systemic war is fought is essentially dictated by the political, social and economic nature of the combatants.  Today, there are roughly three sets of systemic adversaries that represent three distinct poles of power in the twenty first century.  The West and its fellow travellers are the Athenian Globalists, who in varying ways embrace the openness that new technology and borderless trade and movement brings, but also wilfully ignore the profound vulnerabilities it generates.  China and Russia lead the Exploiters, Spartan states that seek to ring-fence their own systems and societies behind rigid systems of government from the vulnerabilities of globalisation, whilst at the same time seeking to exploit Globalist vulnerabilities.  A third group might be called the Believers.  Whilst the Globalists and Exploiters are both committed, in their varying ways, to a system of global capital the Believers reject the secular legitimacy of power and seek instead a new unworldly order based on extreme interpretations of faith.  Al Qaeda and Islamic State are the most obvious examples of Believers in geopolitics, but there are others.

The Globalists are the status quo and seek to expand their writ primarily via co-option (Athenian League?) though retain some military means to punish those who challenge the order they have forged. Whilst Globalist elites talk constantly of ‘change’ for them it is as much about justifying elitist decisions to their sceptical, traditionalist peoples, than defending those self-same people.  There are also two wings of the Globalist elite, both of which are pretty hard core and which whilst appearing to counter each other, in fact reinforce each other.  At one end of the Globalist political spectrum there are what might be called the Goldman Sachs Globalists, for whom the borderless movement of capital and the businesses that foster such movement are the key essentials of power. For them nation-states are very passé and little more than second order, local entities that exists to maintain the order they need to do business.  At the other end there are the liberal Globalists who espouse open internationalism based on a vision of the borderless universalism of peoples. For them the nation-state is also an anachronism forged as it was on mono-cultural identities which must also be eroded.
Societal and strategic vulnerability is thus an inherent consequence of the world views of both wings of the Globalist elite. Indeed, openness and vulnerability are two sides of the same strategic coin. Whereas one promotes and exploits extreme openness/vulnerability for profit, the other creates extreme openness/vulnerability in pursuit of ideology. Vulnerability that the Exploiters and the Believers, the Grand Revisionists, are only too happy to use against the Globalists by turning the world they have created against them. It is at this point the shape of future war becomes apparent.

Whilst ostensibly weaker both the Exploiters and the Believers use offset strategies to exacerbate the structural vulnerabilities of the Globalists.  However, whilst the Exploiters systematically analyse and design coercive strategies to achieve their revisionist grand political ends, the Believers are, by nature, far more instinctive and opportunist. Consequently, for both Exploiters and Believers coercion, and its many tools and applications, are ‘values’ to be had at any cost, whereas for Globalists defending against coercion is simply an impediment in the way of wealth-generation and societal ‘renewal’, and thus a cost to be minimised.  Indeed, for many Globalists armed forces are themselves legacies of out-dated states that must be maintained only at a minimum level even if such forces also rely to an extent on what many Globalists see as ‘archaic’ patriotism.  Worse, one great weakness of the bureaucratic Euro-Globalists is that because of Europe’s peculiar and particular recent history many of them are convinced that Europe’s own military power poses a threat unto themselves. For them ‘strategy’ is overwhelmingly a civilian function of law and precept, rather than power, coercion and capability. 
For Globalists systemic war is not just unthinkable (which is why they try hard not to think about it) it is illogical because of its myriad of costs.  In other words, Globalists cannot possibly imagine why someone would start such a war and thus have little interest in it, even if, to echo Plato, war certainly has an interest in them. Still, for all their martial emphasis the Exploiters would prefer to achieve their revisionist aims short of war, primarily through intimidation of the Globalists and their populations. Of course, they prepare for war because the threat of war is central to their coercive narrative, but also because to them as nationalists (nationalism destroys patriotism) ‘war’ is part of the very DNA of strategy. For Believers war is a ‘purifying’ end in and of itself.

The Four Phases of Future War
Future war will thus be about far more than military power. Future war will be a complex matrix of coercive actions all of which will form part of a new escalation of conflict designed to blackmail Globalists into accepting what for them are unacceptable actions. As such future war will essentially concern the application of pressure in pursuit of revisionist strategic ends by exploiting globalist vulnerabilities via a myriad of coercive means of which mass destruction will be only one extreme. For the Exploiters future war will thus involve the application of pressure across a prescribed mix of ‘effects’ ranging from systematic mass disinformation, disorder, disruption and, if needs be, to decisive destruction.

Future war will not begin with any formal declaration, that is far too legalistic, globalist, and anachronistic. Future war could also be ‘gradualistic’ by nature. Future war will begin at ‘escalation level one’ with fake news, and disinformation campaigns that try to turn the now many ‘communities’ within Western states against each other, and exploit further the profound split in many Western states between the patriots (in the literal meaning of the word) and the internationalists, with the aim of rendering such states politically paralysed.  The Believers will tend to focus on these early elements of future war unless they can develop the high warfare means of future warfare the Exploiters are already in train to deploy.
If the fostering of disorder via disinformation fails the Exploiters will move onto ‘escalation level two’ and the next phase of future war– disruption.  Globalism has been built as world-wide web of people, ideas and things. On the face of it, the Internet that has so empowered Globalism has redundancy so deeply built into it that it would be very unlikely to suffer a catastrophic denial of service attack.  However, the systems and infrastructures that increasingly rely on cyber-systems are too often insufficiently robust because robustness implies cost and a constraint on the ‘openness’ the Globalists espouse. The Exploiters, on the other hand, see robustness of their critical infrastructures and systems as the sine qua non of their respective coercive strategies and are willing to impose the cost on their peoples of the closed structures such ‘robustness’ generates. After all, the Exploiters have few shareholders to satisfy.  Crash the critical systems the Globalists rely upon and the unstable societies they have created will render impossible an effective strategic and political response.  

‘Escalation level three’ would see Exploiters seeking to ram home their perceived advantage by reinforcing a growing sense of pending panic they have generated within Globalist societies by stepping up coercion.  This would be achieved by advertising and threatening mass destruction.  This phase of future war would be prosecuted by essentially military means. It could be via use of a limited war that underpins and reinforces strategic revisionist aims, by placing chemical, nuclear and biological forces on full alert, or by a combination of the two.  At this point the revisionist forces, Exploiters and Believers, might even join forces and create a latter day Delian League, with the latter undertaking terrorist attacks against the Globalists to further foster panic. Alternatively, Exploiters would use undercover Special Forces to exploit terrorism as war by other means. Escalation level four? Full on systemic war.
Preventing Future War

Why am I writing this?  The Globalists are in denial that such a threat exists because for both wings threat is politically inconvenient, even if the people sense otherwise. Take contemporary Britain as an example. At one level the current National Security Capabilities Review (NSCR) (or Sedwill Review as it is popularly known) is a useful exercise if it did what it says on the tin: to consider security and defence in the round given the changing nature of threat with the aim of ensuring the efficient and effective application of resources.  Sadly, the NSCR is the now all too familiar cost-cutting politics dressed up as strategy.  As such it demonstrates (yet again) not only that the British elite do not understand future war or are even willing to consider it, they completely misunderstand the utility and role of in the face of such a threat. Any state that sacrifices defence to pay for security, which is the essence of the Sedwill exercise, simply demonstrates it understands neither. Worse, such a state also demonstrates to allies, adversaries, and its own people that it affords neither security nor defence sufficient political priority. Further cuts to already critically over-stretched armed forces simply to meet the dictates of a short-term balance sheet also demonstrate an elite that has not only abandoned any pretence to considered strategy in security and defence, it has also decided that the critical vulnerability it is imposing on its people is a price worth paying for Globalism.
The paradox?  By weakening the security and defence of the European state it is Europe’s own elite Globalists who are helping to create the conditions for future war by artificially exaggerating vulnerability. Instead, Europe is promised new virtual Maginot Lines, such as PESCO, which weaken European defence because it is strategic tinkering that demonstrates all too clearly that Europe’s elites do not believe future war possible and are not serious about deterring it or preventing it. This situation will worsen, particularly in Europe, as the Revisionists systematically exploit social media and the new technological ends, ways and means of future warfare, such as hyper-sonic weapons, Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, big data, et al.

If future war is to be prevented Athens must properly think about war conceptually, strategically and practically.  Western states are in danger of being disarmed by forces ostensibly far weaker if it fails collective to re-capitalise the twenty-first century security and defence of the Western state across the new spectrum of future war.  Therefore, Western states must together begin to re-think security and defence in the round, and the worst that could be done to them and their people. That means looking at all tools of security and defence. In practice a real review would reconsider the balance that must necessarily be struck between ‘unseen’ security and ‘seen’ defence to forge the two into a new form of shield and sword. Why the state? The state remains for millions the focus of identity, the legitimate and most efficient purveyor of security and defence, and the tax-generating source of power.  Only Western states working in harness, and which use institutions such as NATO and the EU as means to a strategic ends, rather than political ends in themselves, will successfully deter future war. For future war can only be deterred demonstrating an ability and a capability to act to effect across the entirety of the future war coercive spectrum.

Future war that has already started and needs to be fought. As British General Sir William Francis Butler once said, “The nation that insists upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards”.

Have a nice day!

Julian Lindley-French