hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 17 November 2017

PESCO, Collective Pretence and the 2% Scam

“The difference between a republic and an empire is the loyalty of one’s army”.
Gauis Julius Caesar

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 November. Here we go again! Another EU defence initiative that promises a roaring lion, but delivers a squeaking mouse.  PESCO, or permanent structured co-operation, was launched amidst the usual political fanfare, as have so many such initiatives over the years.  With its ‘voluntary’ projects across the operational and defence-industrial landscape for those EU member-states willing to co-operate PESCO is meant to pave the way to an eventual European Defence Union or EDU, even though the €5bn ($6.5bn) on offer to realise such a goal is by defence standards not even paltry. Rather, PESCO echoes the failed 1952-1954 European Defence Community (see my Oxford Chronology of European Security and Defence, which is brilliant and very reasonably-priced). Is PESCO any different from its failed predecessors? Europe certainly needs to address its appalling defence deficit.

Let me put PESCO in its very hard strategic context. In the forthcoming new and massive GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Report, for which I am lead writer and which will be published later this month, the facts are clear.  The United States provides 75% of Alliance forces and pays some 68% of the cost. The 70:30 Alliance defence investment split between the US and its allies is simply unsustainable.  If NATO is to survive sooner rather than later Europeans must shoulder at least 50% of Europe’s defence burden.  That means, at the very least, all NATO Europeans (and others) meeting the solemn pledge they all made at the 2014 NATO Wales Summit to spend by 2024 2% GDP on defence, of which 20% each year would be spent on new equipment. If Europeans honoured the Defence Investment Pledge or DIP they would release an extra $100bn into the European defence effort each year. That is the order of magnitude of defence investment needed to make PESCO more than yet another political alibi for collective defence pretence.

For the record, I am not one of those Brits who is implacably opposed to a strong NATO-friendly EU defence role.  And, whether more and better European defence spending is EU or NATO-focused I am pretty much beyond caring, if at last it leads to a strategically-responsible Europe. I am also an expert. My PhD in Florence was on this precise topic, and I was one of the many architects of the ‘breakthrough’ November 1998 St Malo Declaration (if you do not believe me read my piece in the June 1998 edition of New Statesman entitled Time to Bite the Eurobullet).  Back in the day (I think that is the fashionable way of saying some time ago) I was also lead writer for the famous, if slightly unfortunately named Venusberg Group and its many reports on EU security and defence. To top all that I worked for the EU on this very issue.

Furthermore, if PESCO did indeed lead to an enhanced and more autonomous European pillar of a revamped post-Brexit NATO, and helped to make European defence industries more than the scam on taxpayers too many of them are, then all well and good.  However, this PESCO will not realise that aim. Or, to put it another way, PESCO is yet another one of those unfunded aspirations, politics dressed up as strategy, political pretence masquerading as European defence démarches that the EU often resorts to when facing a crisis  - in this case Brexit.

It is only by reading between PESCO’s lines do the real political objectives become apparent.  At the risk of scrambling my acronyms, far from a decisive move towards an EDU PESCO has been created to avoid the DIP and thus offer a way out for those many NATO Europeans now reneging on the Wales pledge. PESCO does that by implying that deeper European defence integration could in time lead to the same ‘Wales’ defence outcomes albeit at lower levels of investment via better spending.

PESCO, as with all such EU initiatives, is also all things to all 23 signatories, all of which want something different from it, and none of whom are prepared to spend the money needed to close the gap between lofty language and Europe’s failing defence.  Indeed, the suggestion by German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen that PESCO is somehow Europeans taking responsibility for their own defence in the face of a capricious American president is simply nonsense, defence pretence at its worst.

The main PESCO players also want different things. Berlin wants to avoid defence leadership at all costs for fear of history and the EU looking even more like a putative German Empire. Germany is also acutely aware that if Berlin honours its DIP commitment to spend 2% on defence that would mean a Bundeswehr with a budget of some $70bn per annum, dwarfing the British and French defence budgets.  It would not only be the German people who would be uncomfortable with that.  PESCO is for the Germans a defence alibi and, frankly, one that is understandable.

France, on the other hand, sees PESCO very differently. With echoes of its Gaullist traditions Paris wants an autonomous European military core group that would support France and its expeditionary missions. However, for all President Macron’s talk of a European Defence Union, France will never permit its armed forces to be submerged into some kind of European Army. The most important defence-strategic relationship for France is with the non-PESCO pesky Brits, Europe’s other nuclear and power projection power – Brexit or no Brexit. The rest?  They are all either broke, have no strategic tradition to speak of, or suffer strategically-illiterate political leaders who would simply like nasty things like defence to go away. Only those on the front-lines of European defence, such as the Baltic States and Poland, really understand or believe that credible European military force matters any more.

PESCO will also fail. There is a fatal tension between the stated strategic objectives of PESCO and its proposed political and military structures.  If a group of countries begin to move towards a more common defence by creating a more integrated military force, its timely use at a time of crisis can only be ensured by a more integration command structure.  To be credible either as a deterrent or a defence such a force would also need integration to go to the very top of supreme political authority. In other words, PESCO, and by extension EDU, would need a European government. If not, 23 separate states are unlikely ever to agree to their people being sent into harm’s way unless it is for a very ‘permissive operation’, i.e. not dangerous at all, or World War Three, in which case Europeans would turn desperately to NATO and America. The same problem bedevilled the once much-heralded, but now forgotten EU Battlegroups, which one French military friend of mine calls “EU lunch groups”.

One of the perks of my job is I get to go places. On Wednesday I sat on a bench above Rome’s Circus Maximus, where once chariots raced to the death, gazing up at the mighty remains on the Colis Palatinus where in quick historical succession Caesar Augustus, Tiberius, Nero and Domitian built their enormous imperial palace.  And yet it lies in ruin. Rotten from within self-obsessed Rome eventually fell because it had lost the will to defend either its interests or its values, unable to afford the means for its own defence in a world no longer in awe of Roman power. Europe?  Europe is already a continent of self-willed decliners. And, as Caesar implied, for the use of force to be credible the people on whose behalf it is used must believe it to be legitimate. Like it or not, and as of yet, not enough Europeans want the EU to defend them.  Consequently, like so many ghosts of EU defence past PESCO will vanish down the PLUG-OLE of history.

If PESCO would help Europeans begin to close the yawning gap between what they need to spend on their own defence, and what they are willing or able to spend then OK.  It is European weakness as much as Russian ‘strength’ that is helping to de-stabilise Europe’s eastern flank. However, even a cursory analysis suggests that PESCO is simply another a bit of re-heated old EU freezer fodder bought from the defence equivalent of LIDL. You see the real problem of PESCO is that EU leaders do not mean what they say. If they did they would vote the means to realise their vision, not simply talk endlessly about the ends and the ways of it, like some scene in some ghastly arty European sequel to Bill Murray’s film Groundhog Day.  

Still, at least PESCO has EUtopian fantasists excited. For them PESCO is nothing to do with the defence of Europe (it never is). It is all about who or what governs Europe. Plus ça change…

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 13 November 2017

What is wrong with Trump Foreign Policy?

“Who do I call if I want to call America?”
Dr Henry Kissinger re-imagined.

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 November. What is wrong with Trump foreign policy? There was an audible hissing sound as President Trump gave his ill-judged America First speech to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam this past Thursday.  It was the sound of hot air escaping from the balloon marked “American influence in Asia”.  As he spoke another balloon, a big red one, was inflating. It read, “Chinese influence in Asia”. Something that President Xi rammed home in his speech the same day.  The sight of an American president calling essentially for protectionism, and a Chinese president championing free trade (albeit pretend free trade) added yet another perceived twist to America’s topsy-turvy foreign policy.
 
It was not without a certain tragic historical irony that the Trump speech took place in Da Nang, Vietnam’s third largest city.  Da Nang is in many ways the poster city for post-war American foreign policy failure.  It was in Da Nang that US combat operations in the Vietnam War ended on 13 August, 1972. It was also Da Nang that was the last city that Communist forces ‘liberated’ on 30 March, 1975.

Now (to mix my metaphors), I am not a member of those seemingly countless ‘headless chicken’ Europeans who a year ago met the elevation of Donald J. Trump to the White House by running around doing passible impressions of Edvard Monck’s The Scream.  Many of those same Europeans, by the way, expect Americans to pay for their defence whilst they feel free to insult America and its president.  My respect for the United States, the Office of President and the American people is too great for me to join that coterie of clowns.  There are also friends of mine in the Administration whom I both respect and like.
 
Still, what happened in Da Nang this past week revealed something that is now inescapable; by equating foreign policy with the art of the deal President Trump fundamentally fails to grasp the nature of foreign policy.  The core assumption upon which he bases his interpretation of foreign policy is also wrong: that America is so powerful that it alone gets to choose the nature of geopolitics.  Rather, President Trump’s take on foreign policy is the ‘shining megapolis on a mountain’ view of such policy, in which constraining institutions such as APEC, EU, even NATO, and most definitely the UN are for lesser states whilst mighty America stands above and beyond like some latter day Hobbesian Leviathan.

China begs to differ, and now has the power that differing no longer requires China to beg.  Beijing skilfully used APEC to reinforce the mechanisms it is constructing to exert growing power and influence, which for all the warm words of President Xi, China sees coming at America’s zero sum expense. America? In making that America First speech in Da Nang President Trump walked into a carefully constructed Chinese trap.

And yet the problem with contemporary US foreign policy goes deeper than the wiles of a capricious president.  There are simply not enough people making US foreign policy and doing ‘it’. One of the most revealing facts about nature of the Administration is the number of posts at Assistant Secretary of State (and equivalent) level in Washington that remain vacant.  ‘ASSes’ are in the boiler-room of American foreign policy and where much of the grunt work is done to maintain existing relationships and build new ones in pursuit of the national interest – the essence of the conduct of foreign policy.  The Administration undertook a wholesale clear-out when it came into office, but has yet to show any signs of a wholesale clear-in.

It is thus very hard to know to whom one must talk to in Washington these days.  For the past year the Administration has been locked in an ideological struggle with itself for the soul of American foreign policy.  With Steve Bannon now gone from the White House it appeared that the radical America First/America Isolated school of thought had been banished, and that the more establishment American internationalist/realist school had prevailed. Indeed, foreign and security policy professionals such as Secretary of Defense Mattis and National Security Advisor McMaster seemed to have gained the upper hand.

Not last week! President Trump was in full America Alone mode.  Yes, he is right that too many of America’s trade partners engage in dodgy trade practices.  And yes, such rhetoric plays well to his dwindling political base back home.  However, it is unlikely that such an approach will make the lives of his followers better, other than providing them with the short-term pleasure of pissing off pesky foreigners.

The implications for the wider West are dramatic, and all involve relative decline.  With Europeans engaged in the seemingly never-ending Battle of Ant Hill over Brexit, also refusing to see that the EU is fast becoming a temporary alibi for a continent of decliners, and having abandoned any pretence to global role beyond endlessly aspiring to it, the Americans are left to ‘lead’ in isolation. Indeed, European critics of Trump should look closer to home. Euro-isolationism is a major cause of the West’s precipitous decline, which is often overlooked masked, as it is, in so many layers of Euro-bullxit.
 
Back to that hissing sound. Taken together President Trump’s decidedly lukewarm attitude towards NATO and its European allies (rightly or wrongly), the abandonment of the Paris Climate Change Accord, the weakening of NAFTA, and the rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership all suggest to us pesky foreigners that far from America First, America is in retreat. 

An America in retreat simply creates a power vacuum. That was the other hissing sound at APEC; China filling it! President Trump fails to understand that foreign policy is the art of engagement, not the art of the deal. He also fails to understand that America is not powerful enough, if it ever was, to lead without the support of allies and partners the world-over.  However, it is hard for allies to support a divided Administration.

Henry Kissinger once complained that he did not know who to call if he wanted to call ‘Europe’.  Today, it is hard to know who to call if one wants to call America.  This is a disaster not just for America, but the West and the wider world.  You see, for all the poise and confidence displayed by China’s President Xi, China is no America. Chinese internationalism is very different to American internationalism, for all its faults of commission and omission.  Why? Chinese internationalism is about Chinese power red in tooth and claw, with not a value in sight.  The world will be far more dangerous for it.

Give me a call sometime, America.


Julian Lindley-French   

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Why the Royal Marines are in Danger


Alphen, Netherlands. 9 November. Funny day yesterday. Last night I gave evidence to the Canadian Parliament’s National Defence Commission on Canada in NATO. There I was, all steamed up to debate the future of the Alliance with senior Canadian parliamentarians. Yet, all they really seemed bother about was NATO as mechanism to promote more women to top military jobs. Simple; just treat men and women equally and select the best. Earlier in the day my new paper Future War NATO (https://www.globsec.org/publications/future-war-nato-hybrid-war-hyper-war-via-cyber-war/) had really started to bounce around, and I even found time to berate an old friend, Steve Erlanger of the New York Times. Steve, who is truly one of the great journalists, had written what I thought was a rather sulky piece in which he trumpeted the current German line that Brexit is an act of ‘controlled suicide’ by the British.  Given the political mess in London he may be right, but the article was not up to Steve’s usual high standards. To make his case he had only interviewed Brussels-based EU-philes (and no-one else) and asked them what they thought of Britain and Brexit. Der!  

However, this blog is motivated by none-of-the-above. Rather, it was the appearance on a flagship BBC radio news programme of another old friend, Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, the commander of US forces in Europe.  Ben warned the British against planned further cuts to the British armed forces, and made a particular plea to London not to cut further the Royal Marines, and the two amphibious assault ships, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark.
 
Regular readers will recall that a couple of weeks ago I warned that any such cuts would put the future existence of one of the most respected fighting forces the world -over at risk. The piece also warned that the US Marines Corps would (not for the first time) have to cover for another act of strategic illiteracy in London and the British sea-blindness (!!!) it is fostering.  Apologists for the May Government (is it still a government or just a shambles in office?) happily told me I was wrong.  No, they said, the then Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon to the fore, henceforth the Royal Marines would be launched by helicopter from the new heavy British aircraft-carrier(s).  This is bullxit and here is why.

In 2009 I undertook a major study for the then Head of the Royal Netherlands Navy into so-called riverine or brown water operations.  At the time I was head of a department of military operational art and science at the Netherlands Defence Academy and I was supported in my efforts by a wonderful team of experienced Dutch officers and experts.  The problem I was asked to address was this: how to land a force from the sea to secure a bridgehead at a level of cost and risk that political masters would deem acceptable.
 
At the heart of the research was the concept of Ship to Objective Manoeuvre or STOM.  Put simply, STOM is the distance an amphibious force must travel between the ship that launches it and the objective it is charged with securing.  In practice that means anchoring large, expensive, naval grey floaty things close to the shore, or littoral as it is known in the trade, so that not only the force can get ashore quickly, but also the heavy kit vital to the effective conduct of operations.

As part of the research my team looked at a whole host of options that might reduce the cost/risk per ship per operation.  We held a conference in Den Helder, the main Dutch fleet base, with leading officers from marines across the Alliance, including the Royal Marines and the US Marine Corps.  We even invited two Dutch salvage companies, Mammoet and Smit Tak, to help identify solutions, and to see if the civilian and military sectors could work in harness, which they proved to great effect. The final report, Effects in the All Water Battlespace: Riverine Operations, is sitting in front of me in my desk as I write, and I am proud of it and the team who worked on it.

Here’s the thing.  To make STOM work it is necessary to launch marines and their kit from a bespoke amphibious assault ship relatively close to shore.  It is pure military fantasy to suggest that a British politician, few of whom demonstrate any political or strategic backbone these days, would order the new £3bn, 1500 crew, 70,000 ton aircraft-carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to be effectively parked close to a hostile shore-line from which anti-ship missiles could well issue forth to launch Royal Marines for which it was not designed.  It is also pure military fantasy to suggest that ‘Big Lizzie’ could launch Royal Marines in any strength from far out at sea in helicopters.

It is this basic contradiction of military reality that torpedoes the Carrier-enabled Power Projection strategy or CEPP which is driving this nonsense. Or, to put it another way, it is impossible to launch effective carrier-strike and effective maritime-amphibious operations on any scale from one ship, however big, at an acceptable level of risk to either the ship or the force.  The job of carrier-strike is to provide force protection for a deployed force by standing offshore, not what in military-strategic terms is inshore.

The Dutch have a word for stupid (in fact they have several all of which have at one time or another been applied to me) ‘stom’.  If the British do proceed with the planned cuts to the Royal Marines, a force that also supplies some 50% of Britain’s defence-critical Special Operations Forces, it will be ‘stom’.  Indeed, such a decision would to all intents and purposes end the ability of the British to conduct STOM. Given that is what marines are for, it would also mean the effective end of the Royal Marines as an amphibious force.

Canada? Ottawa must wake up to Canada’s changing role in a changing, dangerous world in which the Americans might not always be there to hold their hands.  Indeed, all the comforting values-based, strategic political correctness upon which the strategy-lite, power-lite Canadian defence policy is based, it belongs to a prior age not this one.  During the hearing I kept hearing how much Canada is respected in NATO.  Yes, Canada is respected, but mainly for the past, not for the present, and barely figures at all when discussing NATO’s future.  Given Canada’s historic role that is not only a real shame, but a disservice to a truly great country.


Julian Lindley-French  

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Future War NATO? From Hybrid War to Cyber War to Hyper War

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 November. As part of the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative I am proud to announce the publication of my latest paper - Future War NATO? From Hybrid War to Cyber War via Hyper War. The Paper was co-written with Generals John Allen and Phil Breedlove, and the former First Sea Lord and Head of Britain's Royal Navy, Admiral Sir George Zambellas. 

The paper considers two scenarios both of which centre on The Second Battle of North Cape in 2025. In one scenario a NATO naval task force is defeated by Russian forces because the Allies did not invest in future war and its complex mix of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and offensive and defensive swarm drone technology.  In the second scenario the NATO force successfully defended itself because of decisions that were taken now to prepare just such a defence. 

The article can be downloaded at:

https://www.globsec.org/publications/future-war-nato-hybrid-war-hyper-war-via-cyber-war/

Enjoy...sort of!

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 6 November 2017

Cornish: The Abandonment of Strategic Reason


Alphen, Netherlands. 6 November. Only in Britain it seems can a sex scandal involving a foreign, Hollywood film mogul lead to the effective paralysis of Parliament, and the undermining of effective governance.  Watching the latest bout of elite hysteria unfold in Britain reveals the extent of the malaise in the British political class, and why sound strategy is so often subordinated to unsound politics. Sadly, an extreme form of ultra-liberal political correctness is morphing into social media lynch mobs that destroy due process. Indeed, it looks to all intents and purposes as if a new form of intolerant neo-fascism is taking over in which guilt is presumed, and innocence must be proven.  Hysteria re-fuelled by virtue-signalling political leaders like Theresa May who react rather than lead, locked into a race to ‘virtue’ they can, by definition, never win.

If such an abandonment of political reason was confined to matters domestic then perhaps Britain could weather such storms.  Unfortunately, London has abandoned strategic reason for the same strategy-consuming short-term politics.  With the appointment of Gavin Williamson, the new Secretary of State for Defence, as a direct consequence of the political hysteria in London, and as part of an occasional series of guest blogs, my close friend and colleague, Professor Paul Cornish explores the consequences of London’s abandonment of strategic reason. He does so within the context of the forthcoming National Security Capabilities Review which he warns will fail if it simply seeks to protect the Government from bad news, rather than the country from dangerous change, or the still distant but growing possibility of a major war.  Paul and I worked closely together on his new book, co-authored with Kingsley Donaldson 2020: World of War (London: Hodder and Stoughton). Indeed, I contributed much to the scenario in the chapter entitled, The Caliphate Resurrected: Cairo in Chaos.

National Security Capabilities Review

Paul Cornish

The UK’s newly appointed Secretary of State for Defence will have a lot on his plate. With the last strategic defence review not yet two years old, the government has begun a comprehensive reassessment of the country’s strategic outlook. The National Security Capabilities Review is expected to be complete by the end of the year. This is not an open-ended re-evaluation; there will be no new money, and very likely less. So, stand by for months of zero-sum argument as each defence interest – often led by a retired senior officer – pleads for a thicker slice of a diminishing cake.

Sir Basil Liddell Hart, the military historian, once quipped ‘the only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out.’ Some might feel that Liddell Hart’s tart comment applies as much today as it did in the 1940s. With one former Armed Service Chief after another likely to make the case for more warships, battalions, aircraft etc., won’t we simply be given sight of a fantasy world in which they think their ‘old ideas’ (about international security, defence policy and national strategy) still matter? Possibly. But it’s also possible that the joke could be on us if we dismiss all these warnings, and all those who utter them, as merely new versions of an old caricature.  
With some exceptions, Service Chiefs have adhered to the convention that they should not be openly critical of national strategy and defence policy while still in uniform. But once back in civvy street they’re free to tell us if they are worried; about the variety, scale and urgency of the security problems demanding the attention of the country’s Armed Forces, and whether there are sufficient resources to meet enough of those challenges. On balance the rest of us should listen to those warnings – rather than take shelter in some trouble-free comfort zone of our own imagining. This is where the real problem lies; not so much in the ‘telling’ but in the ‘listening’ – and particularly on the part of government.

Government should listen to the warnings of our retired Service Chiefs because some of them deserve our attention. Government should listen to plenty of other people too – because not even retired Service Chiefs know everything there is to know about international security and national strategy. But here we return to the ‘comfort zone’ problem just mentioned, a form of confirmation bias that lets us ignore uncomfortable information because it’s, well, uncomfortable. If generals can be accused of ‘fighting the last war’ then the rest of us might just as pointedly be accused of ‘clinging to the preferred peace’. On the face of it, this can’t be such a bad instinct; who wouldn’t prefer a life of peace and prosperity over one of conflict and loss? But it must be government’s job to step out of the comfort zone and contemplate the uncomfortable on our behalf. In other words, we expect government to think and act strategically. But then we confront an even bigger problem. It might not be as simple as finding the ‘old’ strategic idea that animates government and replacing it with a ‘new’ one; it might be that there isn’t one there at all – and hasn’t been for some time.

There could very well be a case for the UK to acquire more warships, tanks and fighters or, at least, not to mothball those we already have. But the first task must be to recover our strategic sense, such that we can identify and manage the international security situation as it is, rather than as we used to know it (during the Cold War, for example), or would prefer it to be (the comfort zone again). But how can we avoid alarmism and over-reaction on the one hand, and complacency on the other?

The first step is to explain what is (and could be) going on around the world, and not simply to describe the international security context with such floppy platitudes as the ‘the era of constant competition’. In our recent book 2020: World of War Kingsley Donaldson and I worked with a team of experts to show how international security encompasses traditional inter-state conflict, climate change, cyber security, terrorism, mass migration, nuclear proliferation, urbanisation, resource scarcity and disease. Together, these are the serious, strategic-level challenges of our day; they need to be understood for what they are and managed with appropriate methods and means. Although the contemporary international security challenge is not as grave, singular and ‘existential’ as it was during the Cold War, the world is nevertheless very far from being stable, secure and pacific.

Complacency should have no place in national strategy, any more than scare-mongering and alarmism. We need to know the international security environment more closely if we are to manage it more effectively. Policy-makers and strategists must neither fight the last war nor cling to the preferred peace; they must have the capabilities to deal with this unprecedentedly wide range of evolving security challenges. The twenty-first century security environment is likely to remain complex, fast-changing and opaque; all that we can really know of this environment is that we’ll have to engage with it. But this all looks like hard work when complacency is so much more comfortable – and so much cheaper in the short run.

In August 1919 Lloyd George’s government adopted the ‘Ten Year No War Rule’ as a rationale for reductions in military spending. In 1928 it became a ‘rolling rule’, whereby the decade-long year strategic holiday would simply begin again each year. The rule was abandoned in 1932 and rearmament began, belatedly. 1947 saw a variation upon the theme; the ‘Five Plus Five’ rule whereby major war was not considered likely for the first five years, with the risk increasingly gradually over the following five. The rule was dropped by the Attlee government in 1948 because of deepening insecurity in Europe. In 2017 it would surely be unwise of the May government to adopt yet another version of the no war rule – but this time with no apparent time limit. History shows little respect for strategic holidaymakers.

Professor Paul Cornish,
Co-author, 2020: World of War (Hodder & Stoughton, 2017).


Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Luther, Europe and the First Hard Brexit

“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write”.
Martin Luther

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 October.  Five hundred years ago to the day a little known academic and theologian in a small, obscure German town wrote a lengthy tract entitled Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum to his local archbishop. The tract complained about the sale of so-called ‘indulgences’, the selling of pardons to wealthy sinners, whenever the Catholic Church needed money.  Dramatic though the story is Martin Luther did not nail what became known as his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church, Wittemburg as myth would have it, and he had no intention of starting the storm he did. However, Martin Luther is the undoubted ‘father’ of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation that followed. What does the anniversary of Luther’s ‘Protestantism’ say about Europe today?

That Luther could ignite such fury showed the extent to which the reputation the distant Church of Rome had gained for elite corruption.  Much of northern and western Europe of the time was utterly fed up with what it saw as the self-serving power of the Catholic Church and its princely acolytes.  Luther exploited that anger and within four years of publishing the Theses in 1521 he declared Pope Leo X the anti-Christ.  In 1524 he also published On the Bondage of the Will in which his separation of individual faith from the structure and power of the established Church helped to generate a mass movement that was as much political as spiritual.

Millions died between 1517 and 1648 when the Treaty of Westphalia brought the bulk (by no means all as I saw during my trips to Northern Ireland) of Europe’s religious wars to an end with the creation of the modern European nation-state.  The counter-reformation saw the Church and its princely allies try to eradicate Protestantism during a series of reverse-engineered crusades, the worst of which was the Spanish Inquisition.  However, as protestant states emerged the struggle over the conscience of the faith became systemic, as did the wars that were fought in pursuit of the One True Faith

Perhaps the most important of those states was England.  In 1534 King Henry VII embarked on the first hard Brexit (Engxit?) when he broke with Rome and formed the Church of England which, naturally, he headed.  Henry was hardly a reformist. In 1521 Henry had been awarded the title, Fidei Defensor, or Defender of the Faith, by Pope Leo X for defending the established Church against Protestantism.  What Henry sought in 1534 was distinctly earthly, the money and wealth the English Church had accrued over the centuries, as well as the removal of a competing pole of power in the land.  He also wanted a divorce from his first wife, the Spanish Catherine of Aragon, which Rome had refused to grant. 

The Reformation today in Europe?  It is everywhere.  The cultural difference between northern and southern Europe reflects the Protestant and Catholic traditions that emerged as Rome tried to stamp out the Reformation.  To simplify what was a very complicated process (and by no means wishing to offend Catholics) Protestantism, with its greater emphasis on the personal relationship between the Almighty and the individual, saw the church and society in much of Northern Europe become more austere, modest. Catholicism, with its emphasis on High Church ritual and strict Observance, saw a very different form of governance emerge across much of Southern Europe.  This is not least because the established Church reinforced the power of the established Aristocracy.  It is no coincidence that modern democracy emerged in Northern and Western Europe, as well as its colonial offshoots.

Which brings me to the EU and the Reformation. Many historians, mistakenly to my mind, simply focus on the role of what became the Union in resolving the economic, and by extension strategic tensions between France and Germany.  The most important tract of the EU is the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which in many ways reads like a semi-secular Edict of Worms that emerged from Holy Roman Emperor’s counter-Luther Diet of Worms in 1521.  In its highest form the EU was, and is designed to end the deepest split of all in Europe; the historical split between Catholics and Protestants, plus now those member-states that share the Orthodox tradition.

It is no coincidence to my mind that Brexit took place in Britain, with England the heartland.  The same English distrust of distant, unaccountable, arrogant and self-aggrandising power that so irked my ancestors also irks many of my compatriots today, me included.  Even though I am a big picture Remainer, I am also an EU-sceptic.  This is partly because I worked for the EU and saw at close quarters the emergence of an intolerant Euro-theology, replete with the High Priests of Euro-fanaticism and their One and Only True Way creed for some form of European super-state…that they would (of course) lead.  Worse, I also witnessed at close hand the self-serving indulgences of the Brussels elite paid for with the taxes of hard-pressed citizens too often held in aloof contempt by an elite who also believe they always know best. 

And yet, I believe Europe also needs a ‘Europe’. However, if the EU is to survive it must be the Reformation not a latter day Counter-Reformation, believing it can crush all opposition simply by calling them ‘populists’.  Luther was just such a ‘populist’ because he expressed in his pen the frustrations millions felt with a failed power mainstream.  Indeed, Luther emerged just like contemporary populists because the power mainstream had failed to deal with the legitimate concerns of millions of ordinary people, and steadfastly refused to acknowledge their own failure.  Then as now!   

If the EU is to survive it must offer hope to ordinary Europeans by becoming the champion of people, not power.  That aim will also mean an EU willing and able to recognise limits to its ambition and power. Luther helped create the modern states of Europe against the universalism of the Church because he reflected the identity-politics of his age.  In this latest struggle between national-identity and power-universalism the EU would do well to accept its role as the agent of the States of Europe United, not the ruler of a United States of Europe. To many the latter is simply the latest incarnation of a new/old Rome, with Jean-Claude Juncker cast as the Bishop of Brussels and the Commissioners his cardinals.


Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 30 October 2017

El Alamein 75

“This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning”.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill
10 November, 1942

The Second Battle of El Alamein:

Alphen, Netherlands, 30 October. Seventy-five years ago today the Australian 9th Division broke the German lines and moved to block the coastal road, at a railway halt called El Alamein, some 60kms/100 miles west of the Egyptian city of Alexandria.  In so doing the Aussies cut off several of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps divisions, and set-up the first great land victory of British and Imperial forces over the Germans.  The battle, which subsequently became known simply as ‘El Alamein’, took place between 23 October and 11 November, 1942, and began a rout of German and Italian forces in North Africa that ended with the latter’s surrender to the British at Tripoli on 12 May, 1943.

Order of Battle:

The 9th Division formed part of the British Eighth Army, under the command of the then General (soon-to-be Field Marshal) Bernard Law Montgomery. On 23 October, 1942 the ‘8th’ had a strength of some 195,000 personnel and 1,029 tanks.  This compared with an Axis force at the very end of its supply lines, and with little or no air cover, with a strength of 116,000 personnel, plus the 547 tanks of Panzerarmee Afrika.

On the night of 23 October a heavy British artillery barrage, supported by air power hammered the Afrika Korps and their Italian allies before British, Australian, Canadian, Indian (including personnel from what in 1947 became Pakistan), New Zealand and South African forces launched the ground offensive. In what in many ways was a classical set-piece World War One assault Montgomery had planned a three-phase battle: the break-in, the main fight, and the break-out. However, determined counter-attacks by Rommel’s German forces and Italian paratroopers and other regular elements, soon turned the battle into one of attrition. 

Over the next eleven days Montgomery, whose name became synonymous with this battle, struggled to break through. Finally, on 4 November, no longer able to parry Montgomery’s repeated thrusts along a battle-front that extended over some 60kms or 40 miles, and absent their sick leader Rommel, Axis lines broke.

Losses were relatively steep on both sides. British and Imperial forces lost 13,560 killed, wounded or captured, whilst Axis forces lost between 37,000 and 59,000. Even to this day the actual toll is unclear. Critically, by the end of the battle the Afrika Korps had lost much of its armour, the once impressive Panzerarmee Afrika having been reduced to less than thirty tanks. Within days of the victory at El Alamein Anglo-American forces landed in Morocco and began the roll up of the Afrika Korps and Axis forces in North Africa.

Military-Strategic Assessment:

For the British it was vital to win a significant land battle against Axis forces for the first time since the 1939 outbreak of the war. Indeed, with the Americans rapidly taking over the strategic direction of the Western war from the British, and with Stalin increasingly dismissive of British efforts, Churchill desperately needed a major victory to preserve at least a modicum of influence with Roosevelt and Stalin. El Alamein provided Churchill with just such a victory, even though by late 1942 it was plain to see that Britain’s power was waning fast and that it would be the Americans and Soviets who would henceforth call most of the strategic shots.

Prior to El Alamein the campaign in North Africa had been a by then all-too-familiar story. Rommel and his German expeditionary force had arrived in North Africa in March 1941.  During the ensuing eighteen months Rommel’s smaller, but better-led and better-equipped force had military-strategically out-manoeuvred bigger, but often poorly-led and poorly-equipped British and Imperial forces. El Alamein changed that dynamic, even though it is hard to suggest the conservative Montgomery was ever the match as a commander of his more daring and creating German counterpart.  

However, ‘Monty’ did the job because for the British the victory was particularly timely. By late 1942 the Royal Navy had effectively defeated the surface fleets of both the German Kriegsmarine and, of particular importance to the battle, the Italian fleet in the Mediterranean. Ultimately, El Alamein was a victory of supply and re-supply, for which Montgomery’s superior General Sir Harold Alexander must take much of the credit.  However, the Battle of the Atlantic still raged at the time of El Alamein with German submarines continuing to threaten the British people with starvation in the Battle of the Atlantic. And, although the retaliatory strategic bombing campaign of the Royal Air Force was beginning to wreak havoc on Germany, it was at an immense cost. 

In the wake of the victory of British-led forces at El Alamein the Western Allies began the long slog to eventual victory in 1945.  First, through Sicily, then onto the arduous campaign on the Italian mainland in 1943 and 1944, during which the Allies laid the groundwork at Salerno and Anzio for the critical D-Day amphibious assault on Normandy on 6 June, 1944.
 
Lessons for today:

There are also lessons from El Alamein for the defence and military strategy of today. Firstly, defence strategy that is not properly grounded in national grand strategy, i.e. the organisation of large means in pursuit of large, well-considered ends, and employed in properly-established and balanced ways, is but a meaningless waste of taxpayer’s money. El Alamein served a very clear strategic end, employed means to effect, in ways that eventually proved victorious. Secondly, military strategy that is not embedded in and conscious of a workable political strategy (and its context) is merely a waste of lives and materiel. El Alamein was essential to the ultimate success of West’s political strategy. Above all, El Alamein was proof of that age-old military adage: do what the enemy least desires, where and when he least desires it.

El Alamein is also testament to another military truism: decisive advantage comes only when the critical weight of mass, manoeuvre and mobility has been established. Military innovation, and with it new technology is important, but cannot act as a short-cut to such advantage. Today, British defence strategy is driven too much by the triumph of hope over experience. For example, a platoon will never do the job of a brigade, let alone a division, whatever cap badge is assigned to it.

Stalingrad & El Alamein:

Without in any way denigrating the effort and sacrifice of the Aussies, Brits, Indians, Kiwis, Pakistanis, South Africans et al who fought at El Alamein there are also limits to the strategic importance of the battle.  Between August 1942 and February 1943 the Battle of Stalingrad took place, involved 2.2 million personnel, and saw between 1.7-2 million killed, wounded or captured. It is fair to say that the May 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany really began in the wastes, the meat-grinder, that was Stalingrad. Equally, El Alamein must not be under-estimated.  Taken together the two contemporaneous victories broke the myth of invincibility that the Wehrmacht had acquired. And, having already defeated the Italians at sea El Alamein critically gave the Western Allies undisputed control of the Mediterranean, and a base from which to launch one of the three-prongs from east, south, and west that would eventually bring the Reich to defeat.  In the wake of El Alamein Nazi Germany was trapped in a three-dimensional grand strategic vice between the Anglo-Americans, the Red Army and Western air power.
 
In honour of the men of ALL nations who fought and died at the Second Battle of El Alamein. Lest we forget.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Is This the End of the Royal Marines?

Per Mare, Per Terram

Alphen, Netherlands. 26 October. At a time when the deterrent power of capable expeditionary military power grows by the day the British government is again planning to cut long-term strategic capability to plug a short-term cash hole. Earlier this month Rear-Admiral A. J. Burton RN reportedly resigned his commission in protest at further planned cuts to the Royal Marines.  Confirmed (further) cuts to the ‘Royals’ already include the loss of 200 Marines, vital training in the US and Norway, as well as battlefield training in Canada and Kenya. Planned cuts include the scrapping of the Royal Navy’s only two amphibious assault ships, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark, plus the loss of a further 1000 Royal Marines from a force that is only 7,500 strong plus 500 reserves. The US Marine Corps is some 182,000 strong, with 35,000 reserves.  London (as usual) says that talk of such cuts is mere speculation. They always do…until they are confirmed, probably during a Christmas or summer parliamentary break to minimise political embarrassment. Still, this latest sorry British defence saga begs a question: does Britain still need the Royal Marines?

As I write up the last sentences of the massive GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Report, which is due to be launched in November, the news that London is even considering cutting the Royals (again) fills me with despond. If realised such a cut would not only be the latest act of strategic illiteracy for which London has a now well-earned reputation, it would also be strategic lunacy.  One of the report’s findings is that high-quality, expeditionary forces, such as the Royal Marines, have a deterrent and defence multiplier effect for NATO out of all proportion to their size, even if size, in the words of a once famous French car commercial, does indeed matter.

Naturally, the Ministry of Defence tries to smother such ‘speculation’ with the usual minister-protecting, politics-before-strategy civil service nonsense. The Government, we are told, is conducting a National Security Capability Review, not (of course) as a way of finding further cost-savings to plug a £30bn short-term cash flow hole, but to consider in the round how best to configure Britain’s future force for new forms of threat, such as hybrid and cyber warfare.  This is also nonsense.  It is not the job of Britain’s armed forces to deal with the bulk of hybrid and cyber threats. The mounting of such a defence requires a cross-government, whole-of-government effort. Such threats are simply being used by the Grand Budgeteers at HM Treasury to justify further cuts to elements of Britain’s vital expeditionary military capability in the ideological pursuit of balanced books by an arbitrary date at any strategic price.

Don’t worry, we are told, the Royals will in future be launched by helicopter from Britain’s two new aircraft carriers.  More nonsense. A week ago, a recently-retired very senior Royal Navy officer and friend, someone who really knows about maritime/amphibious operations, contacted me. He said this: “The Royal Marines’ future is under severe threat. No amphibs (amphibious assault ships) means no sea-lift/effects from the sea; arguing that QNLZ (the new carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth) will launch helos with Royal is nonsense.  No amphibs means no Royals in the Caribbean dealing with future HRDA (humanitarian disaster) demands.  I’m surprised no-one has picked up the threads of the threat to the RMs…” A few years ago I was an Observer on Exercise Joint Warrior and I witnessed first-hand just what 3 Commando Brigade afforded Britain – discreet strategic influence and effect.  In other words, the ability to deliver a powerful fighting force at short-notice to trouble-spots the world-over, and, if needs be, act as lead force during a more sustained campaign such as the ‘Major Joint Operation-plus’ at the heart of current NATO planning.
 
So, does Britain still need the Royal Marines?  First, if one bothers to read Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, which is fast becoming one of the great works of British fiction, after over a decade of land-centric operations Britain’s defence strategy was to shift to a ‘joint’ expeditionary capability with a focus on the maritime/amphibious and land operations supported from the sea. After all, some 80% of the world’s population live less than 100 kms from the sea.  Second, the whole justification of the two new 70,000 ton aircraft carriers was precisely such a strategy.  However, carrier-enabled power projection (CEPP) only works IF carrier-strike works in conjunction with the maritime/amphibious capability, NOT at the expense of it. Third, implicit in SDSR 2015 was the creation of a joint expeditionary force of such high quality that it could also act as a coalition command hub. The Royals are thus vital not only to the realisation of such a strategy, but provide a very significant part of Britain’s strategic and force command influence over allies.
 
Further cuts to the Royals would also weaken a key influence tool, which London can ill afford to lose right now. In 2013 I had the honour of attending the fortieth anniversary of the UK Netherlands Amphibious Landing Force on board the HNLMS Rotterdam. In June of this year UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon signed a new agreement with the Dutch for closer defence co-operation, to which the Royals are vital.  Further cuts to the Royal Marines will not only weaken that agreement, but place the future of both the Royals and the Korps Mariniers, the Royal Netherlands Marines Corps, in grave jeopardy.

Indeed, what I fear for the Royal Marines is something that I saw happening a decade ago to the Korps Mariniers, when I was a professor at the Netherlands Defence Academy.  The Korps Mariniers is a superb fighting force. It is also a close partner of the Royal Marines. Indeed, the two forces are so close that the British and Dutch Marines are effectively inseparable. However, without the capability to deliver effects from the sea, or to control the Littoral, the Royals and the Korps will become little different from any other light infantry force. So, why not cut the Royals to avoid cutting the Army further?

The Royals also bring reputation to bear, which is a vital part of influence and effects across the conflict spectrum.  A year or so ago I stood at the spot in Gibraltar where in August 1704 the Korps Mariniers and the Royal Marines landed.  This Anglo-Dutch operation was a classic of its strategic kind. Indeed, this small force generated strategic effect out of all proportion to its size, blocked the French Navy, and gave Britain control of the gateway to the Mediterranean…which it still has.  Britain needs more Royals not less of them! 

Planned cuts to the Royals also begs a further question. Does London think Britain needs a strategic navy at all?  The Royal Navy these days is a bijoux navy, a couple of soon-to-have flashy but under-equipped heavy carriers here, some ageing frigates there, and a few showcase nuclear-attack submarines, who knows if and when.  Which brings me to the real issue implicit in this latest round of defence/influence destroying cuts: even though Britain, on paper at least, is a top five world economic and military power, too much of Britain’s elite Establishment no longer believes in Britain as a power. That lack of elite self-belief oozes through the Brexit negotiations, and threatens to weaken NATO at a crucial moment.

Is this the end of the Royal Marines? No. However, if these planned cuts do indeed go through it could well mark the beginning of the end of a world-class, world famous force that has served Britain since 1664.  Which begs one final question: if marines are now deemed by London to be irrelevant why is it then that the Chinese, Russians and other powers are spending so much money creating the very kind of force Britain is proposing to cut…again?

Per Mare, Per Terram? Britain does, indeed, need the Royal Marines, and given what they can do, the flexibility and the capability with which they do ‘it’. London either chooses not to understand such ‘Grand Strategy for Dummies’, or simply does not care.  One more thing: Britain is an island.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Vladimir Putin and the October Revolution

“We must write in a language which sows among the masses hate, revulsion, and scorn towards those who disagree with us".

Vladimir Illjitsj Lenin 

Alphen, Netherlands. 24 October. Born in war Russia’s October 1917 Revolution was a cataclysm.  Like many such events it took some time before its ‘clysm’ became truly ‘cata’, but cataclysm it was.  On 25 October, 1917 (actually 7 November because Russia at the time used the Julian not the Gregorian calendar – ho hum!) Vladimir Illjitsj Lenin led an armed insurrection in what was then Petrograd (St Petersberg).  In the ensuing years the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) first descended into chaos before it was eventually forged in the Russian mind by the Nazi assault and the ensuring Great Patriotic War of 1941 to 1945 in which up to 23 million Russians were killed.  And yet, President Putin seems distinctly ambivalent about marking the anniversary of an event that for all its undoubted brutality transformed Russia for a time into a genuine superpower. Why?

President Putin, like Marshal Josef Stalin before him, merges Russian history and politics into a vision of Mother Russia that he personifies.  Part tsar, part nationalist, part revolutionary, part devout son of the Orthodox Russian church, part marshal Putin appeals to Russian nostalgia, taking bits of Russian history here, rejecting bits of history there.  Putin’s embrace of the Soviet era is a case in point. He has restored some of Soviet state’s key security structures, such as the massive Ministry of State Security as a purposeful recreation of its Soviet forebear. Defence Minister Shoigu deliberately likens Moscow’s National Centre for Defence Management to the old Soviet Stavka, the General Staff which once commanded the Red Army. President Putin has also reinstated the massive Victory Day military parades in Red Square, complete with allusions to the past when Marshal Stalin took the salute.

There are even proposals to restore the giant statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, or ‘Iron Felix’ as it was known, to Lubyanka Square. In 1991 with the fall of the USSR it was torn down as a symbol of oppression. Dzershinsky was variously director of the feared Cheka and NKVD, secret police forces that were also forerunners to the equally feared KGB, and the increasingly feared FSB.  Dzerzhinsky was complicit in the murder of tens if not hundreds of thousands of political opponents, He once said that, “We represent in ourselves organised terror, this must be said very clearly…the Red Terror involves the terrorisation, arrests and extermination of the enemies of the revolution on the basis of their class affiliation or of their pre-revolutionary roles”. 
  
The light embrace of Dzerzhinsky says a lot about Vladimir Putin’s view of the events of ‘October’ 1917. Under no circumstances does he wish to re-awaken any revolutionary zeal in the Russian people. Rather, he prefers to cherry pick those parts of Soviet history that suggest order, patriotism and expansionism. Putin also seeks to exploit a nostalgic and misplaced sense amongst many Russians that the Soviet Union was somehow 'great' simply because it intimidated Russia’s neighbours.
 
President Putin’s very partial use of Russian history is not confined to the Soviet era.  He has reached back at moments of rhetorical flourish to Alexander Nevsky, the thirteenth century ‘Grand Prince of Vladimir’ who many Russians romantically see as the founder of the Russian state and scourge of Germans, Swedes and other ‘western’ invaders. Putin also cites Peter the Great, the seventeenth century ruler of the then Russian empire who transformed Russia into a major European power.  Peter the Great also reveals Vladimir Putin’s very parochial use of history. One reason for the success of Tsar Peter was his extensive administrative reform of the Russian state.  President Putin can be accused of many things but he is certainly no reformist, unless concentrating ever more power on himself can be described as ‘reform’.  
  
Vladimir Putin will not be making a big song and dance about the centennial of the October Revolution, but nor will he disrespect it.  Rather, he will endeavour to corral those bits of Russia’s revolution that reinforce his rule, and ignore the rest.  This is because Vladimir Putin is the very natural Russian successor to those Russian leaders who over decades distanced the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from Marxist-Leninism, and in time Russia from communism.  This is much the same process that is now taking place in China with the elevation this week of the political thought of President Xi into the Chinese constitution, alongside Mao and Deng Xiaoping. ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’ is simply yet another of those metaphors beloved of former Soviet leaders to mark the abandonment of ideology in favour of authority.

Like a host of late Soviet leaders Putinism masks Russia’s economic decline and chronic social problems by promoting a cult of personality and assertive nationalism to help the regime stay in power by whatever means.  As communism lost its way and the USSR failed this is not far different from the methods employed by a series of Soviet leaders Stalin, Malenkov, Krushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko, and over time all with declining effect.

Putin’s Russia is no dictatorship of the proletariat.  Indeed, if Vladimir Illjitsj Lenin was not glued in he might be well be spinning in his Moscow tomb. You see Putin;s use of history also reveals the paradox of Vladimir Putin. A reformed Russia could in time be transformed into the Great Power President Putin craves Russia to be, but one lesson of Russian history is that Russian leaders rarely survive such reforms. 

There is an old Soviet joke. Stalin, Krushchev and Brezhnev are stuck in a failed train in the middle of nowhere. Stalin says, “Shoot the drivers!”  Krushchev says, “No, no Comrade Tovarich Stalin. The problem is structural. I will prepare a five year plan”.  “Five year plan?” asks Brezhnev. “Simply close the curtains and let’s pretend we are moving”.  Vladimir Putin is certainly moving Russia but even he does not know where, and to what eventual fate.

Julian Lindley-French