hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 14 July 2017

War or Peace?

“An Englishman's self-assurance is founded on his being a citizen of the best organised state in the world and on the fact that, as an Englishman, he always knows what to do, and that whatever he does as an Englishman is unquestionably correct".
War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy

Alphen, Netherlands. Quatorze juillet. Interesting week. On Monday I drove some 600 kilometres from here to Strasbourg to address senior executives on matters strategic. On Tuesday I drove some 500 kilometres from Strasbourg to Brussels to address senior British military commanders. All went well until I reached Belgium, which was closed for repairs. And then I flew from Brussels to London, and my own failing state, the fabric of which, both actual and political, seems these days to be in a permanent state of disrepair. On Thursday I addressed the Air Power Conference on future war in which I painted a Monck-esque picture of hybrid, hyper, and kinetic war combined creating chaos across a Europe made brittle and vulnerable by years of strategic pretence.  With politicians all too keen to avoid hard choices, and senior civil servants all too career keen to protect them from such choices, neither Britain, nor any other European state is at all serious about addressing the very real possibility of such a war. Rather, they prefer to live in the twilight world of an implicit Ten Year Rule in which nothing bad can happen if it costs too much.

Talking of chaos it is perhaps fitting that I write this piece on Bastille Day. With Macron and Trump reviewing shiny military stuff in Paris, on the centennial of the arrival of the Dough Boys in France, the symbolisms of power and pretence are at their most stark. Issues of war and peace seen through the lens not of history or strategy, but of ceremony and appearance.  In Europe’s post-strategic age appearance is all the rage. And yet the symbolism of Macron with Trump also matters for the British. Britain’s entire security and defence strategy relies on being close to, and exerting some influence over, the Americans. Make no mistake, Trump is with Macron (rather than May) because the Trump world-view can be essentially broken down to winners and losers. Right now, Trump sees Macron (and by extension France) as a ‘winner’, and May (and Britain) as a ‘real loser’. Result? Britain is failing to exert influence in Washington, as well as losing influence in Berlin and Paris.

Political London is a mess. The smell is awful. Made worse by the huge posters promoting a new ‘blockbuster’ film “Dunkirk”, which commemorates another moment of ‘glorious’ British failure.  Dunkirk happened because all power is relative. In 1940 Britain’s army was defeated because an enemy had spent more and better for a significant period proved it on the beaches of the Pas de Calais. It happened because at a time of danger a powerful state put sound money before sound defence? It happened because a powerful state chose to recognise only as much threat as it thought it could afford? It happened because of the the gap between what a state said what it must do to secure and defend itself, and what it was actually prepared to do. A gap that became so wide as to make the Potemkin preservation of appearance more important than either the protection of its people, or projection of its influence and effect. That state was Maginot France. Maginot Britain?

Britain’s credibility and influence is fast declining.  Specifically, and consequently, Britain is not spending anywhere near well enough on either security or defence (the two are very different) to meet the risks, threats, and indeed opportunities as established in Britain’s own National Security Strategy. Rather, London is retreating into the appeasement of reality, and a kind of defence theatre d'absurde in which a proud but increasingly cardboard cut-out military desperately tries to close its many gaps with a ‘can do’ spirit, and by sending one man (or woman) here, a little force there, armed with a little bit of everything, but not much of anything. Rule Britannia? I don’t think so. Indeed, I can almost hear Chancellor Phillip Hammond in the wake of a coming security shock saying “Don’t worry. We were defeated within our national means”.

Ultimately, the rational for what passes as current British security and defence policy comes down to an interpretation of the word 'security' - the first duty of the state. For Phillip Hammond 'security' is purely financial and economic.  Prime Minister May rather confirmed that in Prime Minister’s Questions when she referred to the national debt being at a peacetime high. Firstly, she is wrong. Between 1922 and 1955 both Britain’s net public debt was far higher than today. Second, Britain is not at peace. Britain maybe not at war, but it is certainly no longer at peace.

Consequently, Hammond's economist's 'in an ideal world, all things being equal' approach to security and defence, in which all threats must meet his deficit reduction target, is becoming daily more dangerous. Or, to put it another way, Britain is locked into a race to the bottom between preparing for either a major economic shock or a major security shock...but not both. You takes yer pick, you yer makes yer choice. Balance?  Forget it! As an informed citizen I am frankly appalled by my great country’s across the board retreat of late into strategic pretence, and how such retreat is making Europe and the wider world more, not less dangerous. You don’t believe me? Look around you.

As I drove back from Brussels Airport to my home yesterday morning I was thinking of Churchill and the ‘wilderness years’, and wondering after a week of discussions whether Britain can escape the political and strategic wilderness in which it is now lost.  It would take real leadership and I see neither the talent nor the capacity for such leadership in London today. Rather, what Tolstoy wrote of his fellow Russians seems better applied to Britain’s elite these days. “A Russian is self-assured simply because he knows nothing and does not want to know anything, since he does not believe in the possibility of knowing anything fully.”

War or Peace? Britain must end the strategic pretence and finally decide what kind of power it seeks to be. Pocket superpower or yet another weak European? This is a big question for the choice Britain makes could well help decide whether it is indeed future war or future peace, future defence and deterrence or future defeat.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 6 July 2017

2020: World of War

“We who have put this book together know very well that the only forecast that can be made with any confidence of the course and outcome of another world war, should there be one, is that nothing will happen exactly as we have shown here”.
The Third World War, August 1985: A Future History
General Sir John Hackett

Alphen, Netherlands. 6 July. With the world stuttering towards a possible armed confrontation between the US and North Korea, and between superpower America and proto-superpower China, it seems appropriate to announce the publication of a new book in which I have made two very substantial contributions. Entitled 2020: World of War (London: Hodder) the book is edited by my friend Professor Paul Cornish and Kingsley Donaldson, and is (of course) brilliant and very reasonably priced.

The book sets out a series of dangerous, but plausible scenarios that “depicts twenty-first century international security as a complex of interwoven pressures, challenges, hazards and threats”.  Critically, the book avoids overly-military prescriptions and advocates the need for a real joined-up government and governance approach to dealing with complex crises. At the heart of the book there are seven scenarios, although the threat posed by Russia’s strategic challenge is also considered, together with a piece entitled Strategy in Breadth, which captures the essence of both the challenge and the much-needed strategic response.

Scenario 1: Unravelling Imperiums: China and the US in the South-East Asia Region. China in 2020 is on the verge of re-establishing one of its greatest historic achievements; reclaiming its place at the centre of world affairs.  However, Beijing’s actions are clumsy and aggressive leading to dangerous frictions across Asia-Pacific, but most particularly in south-east Asia.  What if strategic miscalculations by China are matched by similar mis-steps in other key capitals?

Scenario 2: The Afghan Factor. Afghanistan in 2020 is still a failing state, and unlikely to be stable for the foreseeable future. India and Pakistan continue to struggle, both overtly and covertly, to assert dominant control over southern Afghanistan. As the West retreats in the wake of a failed stabilisation mission and tensions mount a combination of poor policy decisions in Islamabad and New Delhi, terrorist attacks, transnational organised crime, and nuclear proliferation results in that worst of all nightmares; a pre-emptive nuclear strike.

Scenario 3: The Caliphate Resurrected: Cairo in Chaos. In 2020 having lost Mosul and Raqqa, and with Egypt collapsing, a reinvigorated IS establishes a powerful base in lawless Libya.  As IS shifts the centre of gravity of the campaign to create a new Caliphate they come to an uneasy but enduring alliance with Al Qaeda. Specifically, they see an opportunity to exploit the huge numbers of disaffected migrants trapped in camps across southern Europe. They set out to recreate the Ummayid Caliphate of the 8th century across North Africa and Southern Europe. The campaign fails because most migrants want nothing to do with either AQ or IS, but not before several months of lawlessness is endured as gangs of terrorists roam across southern Europe, and co-ordinated terrorist attacks take place in the cities of northern and western Europe.

Scenario 4: The Passenger in Seat 7B. In 2020 a hitherto virtual threat becomes real as an individual exploits the interplay between criminality, terrorism, advanced weaponry and the darker reaches of cyber-space, to force the effective collapse of UK border security.

Scenario 5: Dark Code: The Cyber-security Challenge. A massive cyber-attack takes place on the British power grid. Several people are killed and many injured as a result of the attack. However, only later does the geostrategic significance of the attack become apparent…
Scenario 6: A Disunited Kingdom: UK Domestic Security. Brexit has many consequences, but perhaps the least understood is the impact on the Union itself. As Scotland gains independence the bonds between the four home nations fray and border security becomes an internal issue for the islands for the first time since the 1998 Good Friday agreement led to the removal of the border between the UK and the Irish Republic. On the UK mainland the impact is far, far greater as internal border security is forced onto to the agenda for the first time since the Union of Crowns in 1603.

Scenario 7: Operation Imperfect Storm. Based on a scenario I have been offering in various speeches and lectures for some five years now this scenario poses THE most sobering question of all. What if several (or all) of these scenarios occurred simultaneously? Fantasy? Think about it. None of the scenarios are entirely implausible in the twenty-first century, which means they could in some form all be plausible together – a meltdown in the Middle East, Russian cyber and territorial aggression in central and eastern Europe, and armed conflict in the South China Sea between the US and China.

The message of the book is clear: if peace is to be preserved as some sort of recognisable state, and today’s complex international security environment is to be managed effectively to that end, policy-makers and strategists must have the capacity and the confidence to deal with a wide-range of evolving security challenges.

Former NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson says of the book, “This informed and expert book examines credible scenarios of what might happen, could happen, and hopefully won’t happen”.

2020: World of War…or big strategy for dumb, little leaders. As the Yanks like to say, "have a nice day".

Julian Lindley-French 

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Europe’s Twin Crises: Migration and Terrorism

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 July. This blog coincides with the publication of a new book edited by Professor Paul Cornish and Kingsley Donaldson entitled 2020: World of War (London: Hodder) in which I have a chapter. A second blog on the book itself will be published later in the week.

The mission of this blog is to confront difficult policy and strategy issues.  With badly-managed hyper-immigration into Europe once again on the rise this blog poses two policy questions.  What is the link between migration and terrorism? What level of increased risk will be imposed on European citizens through the importing of conflicts made elsewhere whilst Europe’s leaders fail to find a balance between security and humanity?  This blog makes no judgement on those seeking a better life in Europe. As an immigrant myself I would do exactly the same if faced with the same circumstances.  It takes incredible courage/desperation to set off into the unknown in the hands, and at the mercy of the unscrupulous. However, migration and terrorism are twin crises that when combined with mismanagement in Europe enable a link between them.

Relevant Facts

The International Office of Migration says that thus far in 2017 some 95,768 people have entered Europe illegally across the Mediterranean. Some 85% have made the crossing from Libya to Italy, with over 500,000 having passed through Italian ports since 2014. In 2016 over 10,000 arrived in Spain from Morocco, a 46% increase over the previous year.  A leaked German government report of May this year suggested up to 6 million illegal immigrants were waiting to cross the Mediterranean into Europe, with over 1500 having died already in 2017 trying to make the crossing. One Spanish official warns that Spain is facing an “avalanche” of people. 

The other day I gave a talk in Vienna to language professionals on the front-line of migration management. My speech focused on the relationship between badly-managed hyper-immigration and terrorism. My essential point was that most European leaders will do almost anything to avoid answering the questions I have posed at the outset of this blog, rendering impossible the making of policy and the crafting of strategy. Consequently, the risk grows daily to the very people to whom, and for whom, they are meant to be responsible. Three recent tragedies in my own country, Britain, serve to illustrate the extent to which political leaders are failing, even refusing, to protect their own citizens.  

Home-grown or imported?

Politicians talks increasingly of home-grown terrorism when atrocities are committed. Really? The recent attacks in the UK were all the products (save one) of immigration. The suicide bombing in Manchester, which killed twenty-two and injured many more, was committed by a first generation Briton of Libyan descent whose family had been granted political asylum in the 1990s. Two of the three terrorists who committed the London Bridge attacks were born in Pakistan and Morocco respectively, whilst the third was of Moroccan-Italian extraction. Only the (alleged) terrorist who attacked Muslims outside a mosque in North London identified himself with what might be termed extremist nativist identity.

Last month Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that over the last year the UK population grew by the largest number since 1947, when huge number of British servicemen returned to the country in the wake of World War Two. According to the Head of the Population Estimation Unit at the ONS, “net international migration continued to be the main driver”. This would tally with recent Home Office (interior ministry) figures that suggest that each year up to 250,000 immigrants simply disappear from official view.  In other words, the British government has no clue who is in the country, making the crafting of security policy almost impossible. Much the same can be said for the rest of Europe.  From a security perspective this is an unacceptable situation.

Strategic Implications

Strategic implications?  Control of immigration has clearly been lost by the British and other European states.  Consequently, trust is breaking down between Europe’s citizens and their states/EU over this issue.  It is a breakdown of trust that accelerates in the wake of every terrorist attack creating the political space for so-called ‘populists’ to exploit, which in turn widens the gap between communities within society.

Societal challenges? It is in that gap between communities where terrorism is so often spawned. Even if migrants eventually gain the right to stay in Europe, as most do, there is little evidence of their being properly integrated into society.  Britain again.  Trevor Phillips, the former Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality warned recently that ‘communities’ in Britain now live “parallel lives” with little contact between them.

Policy assumptions? London is seemingly incapable of deporting all but a few of those who have no right to be in the country, and given the growing pressure from huge numbers of people from war-torn and impoverished societies to get into Britain, such pressures will only grow.  As will the threat from terrorism. As Mosul and Raqqa fall Islamic State terrorists will disperse with many of them doubtless seeking to return to Europe from the Levant hell bent on causing carnage. 

Analysis? The refusal of Europe’s elite to recognise the link between badly-managed hyper-immigration and terrorism prevents coherent policy and strategy being crafted to deal with either or both. It is this failure of policy that provides the sombre answer to the questions I posed at the outset of this blog. Consequently, the level of risk imposed on British/European citizens will increase steadily through a mix of political incompetence and misplaced political correctness. Result? Many more Europeans – black, white, and people of faith and of no faith – will die because leaders lack the political courage to do what is necessary to make their own people safe.

What to do?

The strategic aim of policy should be an end to uncontrolled, badly-managed hyper-immigration, the re-establishment of control, the effective management of sustainable levels of immigration, and a proper understanding, and thus separation of the migration crisis from the terrorism crisis, via considered and properly applied policy and strategy.  The ‘solution’ to what is a systemic crisis, and the confluence between hyper-migration and terrorism, will require political courage, effective management, sustained efforts at integration, and long-term investment in source countries over the short, medium, and longer-terms.

Effective management: People with a right to asylum must be assessed quickly and afforded sanctuary. However, asylum must not be a backdoor route to permanent residency in Europe.  Those with no right to stay must be returned from whence they came, albeit in a manner consistent with Europe’s commitment to humane treatment.  Those who discard their papers in an attempt to thwart identification must be assessed by language and dialect experts.  More routes should be made available for properly managed immigration to Europe. Border checks should be rigorously enforced with a proper EU-wide effort to support the front-line states such as Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain.  In Britain’s case identity cards must finally be issued to everyone in the UK. It is simply unacceptable that a country that is so obviously a target for terrorism has little or no idea who is in the country. Efforts by legions of human rights lawyers to thwart due process in deportation cases must be resisted.

Integration: Far more systematic efforts must be made to foster social cohesion between host societies and immigrants. Efforts could include the recruiting of Imams born in their host country, rather than importing them from abroad.  Much greater efforts also need to be made in language training.  In fact, once such communities are established many second and third generation citizens do very well at school and in broader education. They must be afforded every opportunity so to do. In return for sustained efforts to promote better integration European governments must also work with communities to promote deradicalisation. The flow of money from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States into Europe in support of radical interpretations of Islam, such as Wahhabism, must be stopped, whatever the diplomatic consequences. The Times today reveals that London has suppressed a report that identifies the scale of financial support from Saudi Arabia for such extremism.

Investment: More sustained efforts is needed by all Europeans via the EU to inform and deter would be migrants from undertaking such a perilous gamble in the first place. This will also require the sustained application of aid and development in source countries.  Too often aid and development by European states reflects more the ticking of politically-correct boxes than a systematic and rigorous outcomes-driven application of taxpayer’s money in pursuit of strategic security goals.
Mind the Gap

Europe is not as yet a Kumbaya society. Badly-managed hyper-immigration involves importing into Europe the very stresses, problems, and indeed dangers, from which migrants are fleeing. Yes, there can be an upside to immigration, but there are also huge dangers for Europeans that range from crime to terrorism, as well as the creeping paralysis of effective foreign, security and defence policies as European leaders seek to ‘buy off’ diverse groups within society. Until Europe’s leaders properly confront the link between migration and terrorism the gap between what the politicians say, and the experience ordinary people face on the street, will continue to widen with profound implications for the very trust upon which society relies.
For Britain the implications of the twin crises are sobering. A state that cannot control its borders, does not know who is in the country, cannot house those people in the country properly, provide security, and which is led by people who refuse to face reality – Left and Right – is a country in terminal decline.  That, I fear, is the future for my once proud country, but one which could also apply equally to the rest of Europe.  Make no mistake, Europe’s society-bending, society-changing hyper-immigration crisis is only just beginning, and Europe’s leaders are in denial. What more could the terrorists want?

Unregulated hyper-immigration would always pose a policy challenge to European leaders. However, it is the confluence of huge and fast flows of unregulated migrants with Salafist jihadism that poses a real threat to Europe. That might seem a statement of the blindingly obvious. Sadly, it is not for too many of Europe’s in-denial leaders. For once Europe’s leaders must have the courage to face reality, and be honest about it.

Julian Lindley-French 

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

…as Britain’s Military Sinks?

Not so fast…

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 June. View this second blog of the week as a compare and contrast exercise. On Monday I celebrated the maiden voyage of HMS Queen Elizabeth, and I stand by every strategic word of that piece, apart from the fact that she will not be commissioned in 2017. Got that wrong. However, as I indicated most of that blog was written at the time of the ‘floating’ of ‘QE’ back in 2014, and my hopes that the ship and her sister HMS Prince of Wales would lead to a more properly strategic assessment of the role, scope and capabilities of Britain’s armed forces. Sadly, it seems from what I have been told that is not to be the case. Instead, fears expressed in my 2015 book Little Britain now look like being realised. Even as I posted the piece I was painfully aware of what London is probably about to do to Britain’s armed forces.  If realised, the strategic vandalism by a Government about to renege on the modest commitments made in the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review is stunning. What is about to happen, why is it about to happen, and what are the strategic implications? This is what I have been told.


The British Army will be cut from the ‘absolutely irreducible’ 82,000 personnel (current level c. 78,000 in SDSR 2015, to 65,000.  82,000 is an already absurdly small figure for a power such as Britain. The current Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, will be sent to NATO as Chairman of the Military Committee. He will be charged with the job of limiting Britain’s reputational damage reputation in NATO. He will fail.  My very high-level contacts in Washington and Brussels are only too aware of this development, and are frankly amazed at the mixture of incompetence and strategic illiteracy for which London now has a well-earned reputation.  The Government will try to assuage the concerns of the Head of the British Army, about the coming cuts to his force, by making the Chief of the General Staff, General Sir Nick Carter the next Chief of the Defence Staff.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon will, as ever, fail to put up any resistance. He has spent his career acting as the ‘safe pair of hands’ sent onto the media circuit to defend the indefensible. He will do it again. Prime Minister May will try to stifle any debate in Cabinet and beyond, and act quickly before there is a functioning House of Commons Defence Committee that can challenge such dangerous folly. Indeed, Downing Street is planning a fait accompli in the wake of the vote on this week’s Queen’s Speech before opposition to the plan can be mobilised.

The cuts, I am told, will also affect the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force.  It will take longer now to procure the aircraft, weapons systems, drones, and other capabilities (most notably cyber) committed to in SDSR 2015 and before. The vitally-needed replacement Maritime Patrol Aircraft, the Boeing P8 could be either delayed or reduced, or both. The number of F-35Bs needed for the two aircraft carriers, will be either cut or some of the F-35Bs replaced by cheaper F-35As, or both.


There are three main political drivers that are killing sound strategy; cuts, Hammond, and Corbyn.  The tattered and panicky May government is trying to close an impossible gap between a failing ‘austerity’ programme, growing demands for more and enhanced public expenditure, and low taxes. The recent fall in the value of the pound has also pushed up the cost of defence procurement.  The fingerprints of Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) Phillip ‘Spreadsheet Phil’ Hammond are also all over this plan. Hammond’s idea of strategy tends to go no further than the balance sheet of government. He and his Treasury colleagues too often refuse to consider external strategic events and threats, and see defence merely as a cost rather than a value. 

Security is also beginning to consume defence. In the face of recent terror and cyber-attacks London is ‘reassessing’ priorities.  London now believes it faces a much more organised and dangerous threat from Salafist Jihadis living in the UK. Former senior officer Richard Kemp, who worked on this issue, said this week that the figure of 23,000 active jihadis and motivated sympathisers, which is the assessment MI5 has worked to of late, is a gross under-estimate. The nonsensical political correctness that enabled such networks to flourish in Britain during the Blair-Brown years is sadly beginning to reap its grim harvest.  Add that to the fact that London simply has no real idea who is in the country and the result is a Government close to panic.  

And then there is the Corbyn effect.  In the wake of the appalling Grenfell Tower disaster it is clear that demands for improved social housing are seen by ministers as irresistible if Jeremy Corbyn is to be kept out of 10 Downing Street.  Add those demands to the eternal call for ever more funding for the bottomless cash pit that is the National Health Service and it is clear something has to give. The head of the doctor’s union the British Medical Association this week called for Britain to spend the same proportion of government expenditure on healthcare as the rest of Europe. He failed to point out that the rest of Europe can only afford such expenditures because most Europeans choose not to defend themselves. Britain?

What on Earth?

What are the strategic implication? In a speech in London last December I said that Brexit would ultimately be decided by power. As I spoke I saw Britain’s armed forces as a key strategic lever in the negotiations.  By re-committing a growing force to NATO London would prove that a strong strategic defence relationship between Britain and its European partners would be dependent in turn on a decent post-Brexit economic and financial settlement for Britain. Sadly, if my information is correct, London’s strategic illiteracy is about to be translated into negotiating illiteracy as Britain cuts one of the main influence enablers available to it. In so doing Britain’s shrinking influence will be further cut at a critical moment. This seems not to matter to Mr Hammond who seems content to turn Britain into an EU colony; subject to EU laws, but no influence over them, i.e. a colony.

And then there are the Americans. In April I was in the White House. It is clear that an increasingly overstretched US military needs strong allies as part of a new and more realistic transatlantic ‘contract’. It was my hope that London would help lead a host of allies to ease the pressure on the US.  HMS Queen Elizabeth was meant to be visible proof of that commitment and would thus also help to restore London’s much-reduced and much-needed influence in Washington. Britain’s influence over NATO and/or the EU? These cuts will simply confirm that not only is Britain broken, but London will be unable henceforth to bring any force of any substance to any major crisis. What does the current strategic environment threaten? It threatens the very series of major crises in which Britain needs to seriously engage which this plan if enacted will prevent.  Sadly, it seems Britain is about to pull up a drawbridge to nowhere.

As for Sir Michael Fallon and his pouring of balm on a broken defence and an open political wound, don’t believe a word of it. For once London do the right thing for the right strategic reasons, not the wrong thing for the wrong political reasons, and invest properly in the very defence that in 2015 you said Britain needed!  It is not rocket science.

If this information is correct, and I desperately hope it is not, there is only one word for it;

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Lizzie Goes Forth!

HMS Queen Elizabeth last night passing under the Forth road and rail bridges...just! Given the Brit-bashing these days perhaps she should be renamed HMS Defiance!

Monday, 26 June 2017

HMS Queen Elizabeth Sails!

Alphen, Netherlands. 26 June. On rare occasions I reserve the right to re-publish a blog almost word for word if an event warrants it. As I write, Britain’s new super aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is about to set sail for the first time to begin sea trials in the North Sea.  The cynic in me wonders that if this mighty ship might last longer than the country that built her. It is certainly the case that the politicians in London and elsewhere in the UK are trying their damnedest to reduce Britain. Rarely, has Britain been so badly-led, and rarely has an official opposition been so lost to the land of the strategic and political fairies. Yet this blog is about strategic fundamentals if it is about anything, and ‘QE’ is at least a statement of hope that at some point Britain will again get leaders who recognise such fundamentals, rather than merely playing at strategy. Right now, she sits in her Rosyth dock, engines humming and her 700 strong crew busily preparing her for her maiden voyage.  At around midday she will sail under the massive Forth Railway Bridge, itself a signature British engineering achievement from a previous age. 

HMS Queen Elizabeth is also far more than a ship.  Displacing 65,000 tons the ‘QE’ is the first of Britain’s 2 new super aircraft carriers.  Her flight deck is the size of 60 Wimbledon tennis courts or 3 World Cup pitches.  When commissioned in 2017 she will carry up to 50 aircraft in a hangar that is the size of 60 Olympic-size swimming pools.  She is twice the width and some 90 metres longer than her predecessor HMS Illustrious.  She is also a potent symbol of British power, unity, alliance and partnership that will fly the White Ensign the most famous flag of the most famous navy in the world.  Indeed, a navy that in many ways made the modern world.  In tandem with her future sister-ship HMS Prince of Wales she will act as a hub for a new type of agile and mobile global reach military power projection that will assure and ensure maritime and land security across the globe. 

HMS Queen Elizabeth will exert influence and effect across three strategic spaces – the peace-space, the security-space, and the battle-space.  Able to reach 80% of the world’s population she will act in crises as diverse as disaster relief and help prevent and deter full-blown war which cannot be ruled out in the hyper-competitive twenty-first century.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of national unity.  She was built in sections at 6 shipyards across the United Kingdom.  Indeed, she is perhaps the most innovative ship ever built with each section bought to Rosyth to be welded together.  As some in Scotland contemplate secession she is a potent symbol of what this old great gathering of peoples can still achieve in the world together.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of alliance.  She is testament to Britain’s determination to inject real power into both NATO and the EU.  As Americans complain about burden-sharing or the lack of it here is a European ally that in spite of many challenges is willing to invest in the highest-end of high-end military capabilities.  Alongside the new Type 45 destroyers and Astute-class nuclear attack submarines joining or soon to join the Royal Navy this great ship will put Britain at the heart of NATO and EU task groups.  Indeed, her very existence will underpin all the navies across both the Alliance and Union.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of partnership.  Britain made an historic mistake in the early 1970s by focusing exclusively on Europe and what became the EU. Whether Britain stays or leaves the EU this ship will help re-invigorate Britain’s traditional partnerships with countries like Australia, India and Japan (see history).  She will also help reinforce key partnerships with close, powerful friends such as France and Germany.  Critically, she will help keep America strong where America needs to be strong as Washington faces a growing gap between what it needs to be able to do and what it can afford to do. To that end, HMS Queen Elizabeth will be a vital partner of both the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps.

My belief in HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales has been absolute from the day they were conceived.  This is not simply because of the power projection or fighting power the two ships will afford London or the Carrier-enabled Power Projection in the strategy-documents, or indeed because I favour the Royal Navy over the British Army or Royal Air Force.  I do not.  As I write in my recent book Little Britain ( my belief in these ships is because of what they say about Britain and its future as a major power.  This has nothing to do with Britannia ruling the waves, but rather the willingness of a twenty-first European state to confront political realism with imagination and determination built on the recognition that credible military capability still underpins all power and influence.  

HMS Queen Elizabeth is a national strategic asset.  She is an entirely appropriate statement of strategic ambition for one of the world’s leading political, economic and military powers and will serve Britain and its allies and partners out to 2060 and beyond.  As such she will help reinvigorate the British strategic brand critical to keeping the West strong – the West that is today an idea rather than a place.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is a symbol of my country; a ship and a country of which I am justly proud.  HMS Queen Elizabeth is a big-picture ship of a big-picture country in a big-picture world. Let’s hope Britain really still is a big picture country.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 19 June 2017

At the Kohl-face of European History

“You didn't just pay lip service to the goal of overcoming the division of Europe and Germany... Rather, you put yourself at the forefront of those who encouraged us on the way to unity”.
Helmut Kohl

The Unlikely Couple

Alphen, Netherlands. 19 June. They made an unlikely couple.  The September 1984 picture of French President Francois Mitterand and West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who died last week, holding hands on the charnel ground of Verdun is an iconic European moment. One, a former French resistance fighter, and the other forced into the Hitler Youth in April 1945 at the very end of World War Two. For West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl that was exactly the point. In that moment of reconciliation Kohl effectively completed the work of the Federal Republic’s first chancellor, the great Konrad Adenauer. Alongside his French colleagues Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet Adenauer had set out to ‘normalise’ Germany’s relationship with the rest of Europe by ensuring a European Germany, not a German Europe. Kohl completed that mission.

For all the symbolism of Verdun Kohl was more a manager of history than a creator of it.  What are often touted as his two towering achievements, German reunification and the creation of the Euro, happened on his watch but were not envisioned by him.  He also oversaw the history-loaded return of German political power from sleepy Bonn (Le CarrĂ©’s “A Small Town in Germany”) to the old Imperial capital Berlin.  And yet none of these momentous events were part of any grand Kohl dessin.  In 1989, when he heard that the Berlin Wall was being torn down he first wanted confirmation. He simply could not believe it was happening.
Carpe Diem

And yet Kohl seized his strategic moment with both of his huge hands. After a shaky start to reunification, when he initially refused to confirm the post-war German-Polish border, Kohl showed he had an increasingly certain political hand. With the crucial support of US President George H.W. Bush, he first reassured France, and then Britain and the other European partners that a reunited Germany would not seek to dominate Europe.  He also moved quickly to cement reunification at home by offering East Germans parity between the Deutschmark and the Ostmark. It was a move that made little economic or financial sense, but very good political sense.  He even sweetened Russia’s withdrawal from Central and Eastern Europe by providing huge amounts of aid to Moscow, although it failed to prevent the August 1991 fall of Gorbachev, and the final collapse of the Soviet Union.

It is perhaps Kohl’s pragmatism over the Euro which best demonstrates Kohl’s strategic and political art. He was prepared to do whatever he saw as necessary to secure what he saw as the German, and by extension the European interest.  The two were often confused in the Kohl mind.  He did not initially like the French idea of a common currency because it meant Germany giving up the Deutschmark, regarded by many Christian Democrats and wider society as the ultimate safeguard against the hyper-inflation of the inter-bellum that had helped pave the way to power for Hitler and the Nazis. However, he accepted the euro as the price Germany had to pay to ensure a reunified Germany was a European Germany.


Was Kohl anti-British?  Kohl’s relationship with Britain was far less amicable than with either France or the US, and he accorded the British far less respect than he accorded the Russians.  He also refused to accord the British the same respect he accorded the Americans for the liberation of Europe, as evinced by the closeness of his relationship to President Reagan. His relationship with that other great political titan of the period, Margaret Thatcher, was also infamously prickly. In a controversial February 1996 speech in Louvain, Belgium, Kohl revealed the extent to which World War Two defined his political creed. However, in so doing he upset the British by suggesting that European integration was “…in reality a question of war and peace in the twenty-first century”. At the same time he also understood the importance of keeping Britain in the ‘European Project’, and was prepared to make concessions in European treaties to that end. He would have deeply regretted Brexit.

In fact, my own modest brush with Kohl demonstrated to me that he was not at all anti-British. It also showed that his attitude towards the French was more nuanced than suggested by the public image. In 1996 I was taken to lunch in Paris on the Boulevard New York by a senior official during which a possible EU security and defence demarche to be led by Britain and France was discussed. The next day I travelled to London to discuss European defence with a senior member of prime minister-in-waiting Tony Blair’s team.  As promised, I reported the conversation I had had in Paris verbatim, but added the codicil that Paris wished to keep Anglo-French discussions discreet.

Later that week I was due to travel to Bonn where I was to visit the Bundeskanzleramt (Chancellery) and meet Kohl’s senior foreign and security policy advisors. During my meeting in London I asked if I should mention the conversations I had had in Paris and London. My interlocutor said “of course”.  Blair, like Kohl, was at the time keen to ‘reset’ British-German relations. When I got to Bonn I duly reported the Paris conversation to Chancellor Kohl’s senior foreign policy advisor. He laughed, “Don’t the French realise that we and the British do occasionally talk to each other?” The eventual result (in which I claim no role) was the 1998 St Malo Declaration and the 1999 Helsinki Declaration which paved the way for an enhanced EU role in security and defence.

German and European

There was much over which I disagreed with Kohl, not least his conflation at times of the German and European interest, a habit which afflicts German leaders to this day. He was also prone to missteps on the international stage that bordered on hubris. For example, he badly misinterpreted the 1991 break-up of Yugoslavia, and ignored British and French warnings with disastrous consequences. And yet is ledger is more positive than negative.  A decade or so ago, when I was writing a book on post-war European security and defence for Oxford, which is of course brilliant and very reasonably-priced, I was struck by the importance of this man to Europe’s enduring stability.

Adenauer had once said that he was a German who would always be German, but that he was also a European who would always be European. For Adenauer read Kohl. In an April 1997 speech to commemorate the 1967 death of Konrad Adenauer Helmut Kohl quoted his predecessor. “The most important thing”, he said, “is courage”. Kohl might well have been speaking about himself.
He ended his life in his beloved Ludwigshafen in sadness and some might say anger, following the suicide of his wife and his forced removal from office at the hands of his protege, one Angela Merkel. Still, for me Helmut Kohl will always be remembered as a towering figure of post-war German and European politics, both literally and figuratively.  As such he deserves to be respected because for a time he was the very Kohl-face of European history, and let’s face it, there are few such leaders around these days.

Julian Lindley-French 

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Brexit: For the Sake of Britain and Europe

“Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom; and a great empire and little minds go ill together”.

Edmund Burke

Nostalgia and Utopia

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 June. Some time ago I wrote that there are two places a political leader should never take a country; Nostalgia and Utopia.  Next week Brexit negotiations begin between a weakened Theresa May and an apparently triumphalist Brussels. Are their grounds for any hope that an equitable Brexit can be reached and relatively quickly?

Many of my regular readers will know I harbour profound concerns about the EU, particularly the attitude of the Brussels elite to democracy.  When I worked for the EU I too often got the sense that they saw themselves as infallible, latter day Habsburgs and Bourbons rolled into one. The European Commission saw itself as a kind of pre-Renaissance Vatican, the guardian of the One True Faith, with its more Europe at all costs beliefs all too often rubber-stamped by its very own Sacred College of Cardinals in the form of the European Parliament.

As an Englishman steeped in England’s long political culture I have always been uncomfortable with the idea that people can have power over my life, even though I never had the chance to vote for them. Had I been around in 1642 I would have most definitely been on the side of Parliament during the English Civil War.  For me the ‘divine right’ of any ‘king’ is, and will always be, nonsense, however well-meaning.  Brussels has certainly not stopped seeking ever more power for itself in the name of ‘Europe’.

Too often I also found that many of the Brussels elite were instinctively opposed to my country because they saw Britain as a break on their buro-imperialist ambitions. Too often I heard the very people meant to defend London’s position apologising for it in private. Even today I hear some eurocrats speak of Brexit as a kind of Great Purge that once complete will leave the road clear for Brussels to achieve the ‘broad sunlit upland’ of Political Union. Dream on!

Why Remain?

And yet I campaigned for Remain. After a long think there were six main reasons. First, I still believe, to loosely quote Burke again, that enough good men and women exist in Europe to prevent the emergence of bureaucratic tyranny.  Britain should be ‘in there’ fighting to return the EU to the people and the nation-states in which they still believe, and with which they still identify.  Second, I do not believe the European nation-state is intrinsically conflictual and that most modern European states are quite capable of conducting their international affairs peacefully.  Third, I have always believed in the need for a European institution, a European Community of States, and always will. Fourth, I foresaw the political mess in Britain today, which the political battle over Brexit has made worse. Fifth, free movement of people, and the three other fundamental freedoms enshrined in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, were realised by winning the Cold War, and would exist in some form EU or no. Finally, I looked at the bigger strategic picture. Given the threats to my friends in the Baltic States and across southern Europe I was convinced that on balance this was not the moment for Europe to yet again descend into another bout of self-flagellation.

Brexit Today

Brexit has become far too ideological and that must now stop.  I am sick and tired of hearing about ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ brexits from those who clearly do not understand how the EU works.  I am tired of hearing Remoaners tell me the voice of ‘we’ the 48% who voted to remain must be ‘respected’, when what they really mean is that the voice of the 52% who voted to leave should now be discounted.  I am sick and tired of hearing ‘hard’ Brexiteers saying Britain must have nothing more to do with the EU and that Britain can stand alone Lowe-like, whilst too many ‘soft’ Brexiteers seem all too happy to cast Britain into the worst of all EU worlds; subject to the rules, whims and prejudices of Brussels, but being outside of the EU having no influence over it. I am particularly tired of strategically-illiterate comparisons between tiny Norway and Switzerland, and far, far bigger Britain. 

The simple truth is that Britain is part of the wider Europe, and the wider Europe desperately needs an engaged Britain.  In London politicians of all shades of opinion and persuasion must put their foggy petty-fogging aside and come together to establish a negotiating position that is truly in the British national interest. On the Continent politicians must stop threatening a leading power many sons of which gave their lives for Europe’s freedom.

A Defining Moment

Brexit is a defining moment for both Britain and the EU. That is why on the eve of the Brexit negotiations I am calling for all responsible leaders on both sides of the Channel to come together in the name of the people of Britain and across the rest of Europe.  The result of the June 2016 Brexit referendum must be respected for what it was; a democratic, legitimate vote.  If Brexit goes the way of 2005 French and Dutch referenda on the Constitutional Treaty, and the 2008 Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and the voice of the people is again ignored by the elite in the name (of course) of ‘the common good’, then the EU will be revealed to be little more than a Bourbonist experiment.  If British leaders do not recognise the vital importance of the EU to Britain, and Britain’s vital role in helping to keep Europe safe, stable and secure, then the Little Britain about which I warned in my 2015 book will have become reality.

Like it or no, Britain has always had a special place IN the EU.  And, if both sides are to agree an equitable Brexit deal in the interests of all then Britain must be accorded a special relationship WITH the EU. For Britain that will demand pragmatism, supporting the EU budget, and accepting some compromise on sovereignty.  Absolute sovereignty is enjoyed by no state.  As Thomas Hobbes once pointed out, only anarchy affords such sovereignty, but it is liberty only at the price of security.

If not, if Brexit falls into the chasm between British nostalgists and European utopians then the future for all looks bleak. For once, just for once, can politicians please put the wider interests of the people before narrow sectarianism? Then, the art of negotiation might just paint a new European masterpiece that is more Canaletto than Jackson Pollock.

Brexit: for the sake of Britain and Europe.

Julian Lindley-French    

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

European Defence: The Old Unreliables versus the New Contemptibles

“It is my Royal and Imperial command that you concentrate your energies, for the immediate purpose, on one single purpose, and all your skills and the valour of my soldiers to exterminate the treachery of the English and walk over General French’s contemptible little army”.

Army Order from Kaiser Wilhelm, Headquarters, Aix La Chapelle, 19 August, 1914

Reflections on European Defence

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 June. The cat is out of the bag. Queen Angela suggested on 28 May, in the wake of President Trump’s less than successful visit to NATO that “we Europeans have to take our own [defence] fate into our own hands”. She also suggested that America and Britain were now unreliable allies. On 7 June, the day after the anniversary of D-Day, the European Commission launched a “Reflection Paper on the Future of European Defence” which called for a “Security and Defence Union” to be realised by 2025.  Will it work?

Now, I can reasonably claim to be somewhat of an expert on this subject as I wrote my doctorate at the European University Institute in Florence on the issue, together with a book for Oxford University Press, both of which are (of course) brilliant and very reasonably priced. Add to them countless articles all of which can be said to follow a similar theme of ‘for effing’s sake Europe get your effing defence act together before it is too effing late’.  On the face of it, the ‘reflections’ paper is an important statement designed to kick-start yet more discussions about the future of Europe’s defence. The central tenet of the paper that Europeans really must do more and spend more on their own defence is undeniable.

Taken together with the 2016 Global Strategy and the European Defence Action Plan, as well published plans for a new European Defence Fund which came out the same day as the Reflections paper, the EU is certainly not short of security and defence jaw jaw these days.  The Commission paper does not lack for ambition. “This reflection paper considers the issues that matter for the future of our security and defence. It does so by looking beyond current debates and decisions. Instead, it considers underlying structural trends, presents different scenarios of possible futures for European security and defence by 2025, and maps our possible ways forward”. The paper then offers a series of strategic and political ‘drivers’ supported by a convincing set of figures to reinforce the central case of more Europe doing more defence.

Three EU Defence Scenarios

The Commission offers three scenarios. “Security and Defence Co-operation”, calls for a more EU-focused security and defence effort, albeit on a voluntary basis. “Shared Security and Defence” goes a step further and calls for greater financial and operational “solidarity” and some form of defence integration, whatever that is. “Common Security and Defence” calls for fully-fledged European defence integration with a European Security and Defence Union to be realised, possibly as early as 2025. It is this scenario which is the Commission’s real objective as all three scenarios are embedded in a chapter entitled “Europe in 2025 – Moving towards a Security and Defence Union”.

It is also the eventual creation of a European Army for which this scenario implicitly calls that the logic starts to become self-defeating and a cold reality “in russet mantle clad” begins to dawn.  First, the paper rightly highlights the fact that whilst the US spends 3.3% GDP on defence, the average across EU member-states is only 1.34%, a figure inflated by the roughly 2% GDP spent on defence by the UK, France, Poland and a couple of others.  In other words, to make an ‘independent’ EU security and defence union credible (and that is the ambition of the paper) with all the forces, resources, infrastructures, headquarters, assets, logistics, and enablers ALL EU member-states would need to spend at least between 3-4% GDP on defence, even if the synergies the Commission claims for a common defence were realised. And, by the way, the member-states would also be expected to give all their defence money to some form of defence Commission. Funny that. NATO is finding it hard to get most of the same states to spend 2% GDP on defence under the agreed-to Defence Investment Pledge.  Any takers?

The paper also points out that whilst the US currently spends €108,322 per soldier, sailor and airman on equipment procurement and research and technology, EU member-states spend on average only €27,639. In fact, the situation is even worse than the paper suggests because some 90% of the EU figure is made up of Britain, France and Germany alone.  NATO is also having trouble getting the same states to spend 20% of their annual defence budgets on new equipment. To even begin to match the Americans each EU member-state would need to spend upwards of 40% of massively increased defence expenditure on new equipment each year. Again, under Commission planning member-states would also be expected to provide the EU with all that money and decision-making powers over defence planning and decide which defence industries in which to invest as well as those to cut. Any takers?

The paper also includes the UK in its figures.  Britain has now triggered Article 50 to leave the EU by 2019, and even if there is a transitional period by 2025, which is the date the Commission is targeting for a European Security and Defence Union, Britain will no longer be in the EU. Without the UK the figures the Commission bandies around in the paper become less fact and more a great work of European fiction.  As NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in March, the hard reality for an EU that seeks to take on the mantle of defending Europe is that “…collective defence in Europe is NATO’s main responsibility and especially after Brexit I think it’s obvious that we need NATO and the European Union working together, not competing, because 80 % of NATO’s defence expenditure will be non EU”.

Ultimately the paper fails precisely because it identifies the enormity of the security and defence challenges Europeans face and in so doing unwittingly confirms that security and defence can only be provided by a strong transatlantic alliance. That means an adapted NATO should and must remain the epicentre of Europe’s security and defence, albeit in close partnership with the EU. It will be an adapted NATO that takes as its start-point not the creation of European Security and Defence Union, but rather the equitable sharing of risks and burdens with the US and Canada (Ottawa last week committed to spending 2% GDP on defence by 2025).

Defending Europe or dismantling it?

In conclusion, the Commission’s reflection paper is wholly unrealistic even as a premise for a discussion over the short to medium term future of European security and defence. As such it is yet another doomed-to-fail attempt to re-create the failed 1952-1954 European Defence Community. The likely outcome of this demarche will be some form of hybrid common and collective force which would see European states pooling and sharing far more of their defence effort, and in so doing making them ever more interdependent. On the one hand this would be good, but come a crisis all member-states of the future British-less EU 7 would need to agree to its use. Agile? Responsive? No chance.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong about the EU considering its role in the future defence of Europe. The problem with this paper is that it is has everything to do with the Euro-federalist ambition to replace the nation-state and very little to do with the sound defence of Europe. Indeed, for the Commission’s vision of a European Security and Defence Union to be realised it would need a fully-fledged European government. I wonder who that might be.  Consequently, this latest attempt to lead Europeans to defence ‘independence’ from the Americans would result at best in a contemptible European army, held in particular contempt by those two Old Unreliables American and Britain, and dismissed with disdain by Russia, China and much of the rest of the world.

There is a twist to ‘ESDU’. It might actually help strengthen European defence if it goes no further than ‘Security and Defence Co-operation’ or ‘Shared Security and Defence’, especially if by promoting synergies it helps Europeans achieve NATO’s 2%/20% Defence Investment Pledge. However, for that aim to be realised the EU would have to accept that its defence ambition must go no further than becoming the European pillar of the Alliance, and ultimately during crises subordinate to it. Any takers?

The question the paper poses is the right one; how to get Europeans to generate more defence. The answer, sadly and irresponsibly, as is so often the case when the Commission uses defence as a means to a super-state end, completely wrong.

Julian Lindley-French