Posts by JulianFrench:

    NATO, Canada, and the U.S. Bank of Mom and Dad

    September 1st, 2017

    By Julian French.


    Republished in my blog by kind permission of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, which published this piece on 25 August, 2017 as part of the NATO Series.

    “Is your [Canadian] plan as cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University?” Blackadder, Blackadder Goes Forth

    The news that by 2024 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Canada will increase its defence spending from a self-proclaimed brilliantly spent one per cent of GDP to a no doubt equally brilliantly spent two per cent of GDP, and meet the 2014 Wales Summit defence investment pledge (DIP!) is very good – at least on the face of it. Canada is in many ways the country that makes the Alliance an alliance, rather than America’s somewhat unconvincing European protectorate. But what should Canada spend its new money on?

    Earlier in the year, I attended the NATO Resource Conference 2017 in Reykjavik, Iceland. Three issues were central to the debate. First, the habit NATO Europeans have acquired of relying on the U.S. Bank of Mom and Dad when they cannot be bothered to spend enough on their own security and defence. Second, a profound question was raised as to whether aforesaid NATO Europeans will ever really honour the DIP, the now Holy Grail of contemporary alliance. Finally, upon what should NATO and the Allies spend any additional monies? Canada?

    The goodish news first. Apparently, the decline in NATO defence spending stopped in 2015, and even increased a bit (3.8 per cent or some $10 billion) in 2016. And if NATO Europeans ever do honour the DIP – the biggest “if” since “if” was introduced into the English language by King Ethelred the Literately Uncertain – NATO would suddenly have an additional $100 billion to spend.

    And yet, read between European lines and the message was (as ever) clear as mud: hurry up and wait! Yes, it was repeated ad nauseam that all NATO Europeans are “fully” committed to spending two per cent of GDP on defence. However, the “but” in the room was positively thermonuclear. In fact, most Europeans are still driven by the assumption that sooner or later the U.S. Bank of Mom and Dad will come out late on a dark, stormy night to pick up their wayward relatives, who not only forgot to save the bus fare home, but also got hammered on a toxic brew called “Welfare”, ended up in a heap in the middle of strategic nowhere, and missed the last bus.

    The trouble is that Mom and Dad might not always be there. First, there is growing irritation in some parts of the U.S. administration about Euro-Junior’s refusal to get off its fat ass and get a job. Second, Mom and Dad are not as flush as they used to be. Third, Mom and Dad now have to deal with a noisy and bolshie Chinese neighbour at the other end of the street. Fourth, Mom and Dad are simply too tired and too busy.

    NATO itself is also deeply divided. One group – for sake of argument, the easterners – wants the additional monies others are going to spend to be spent on high-end, expensive, big-bang stuff that defends them. The hope is that such increased expenditure will render the NATO defence and deterrence posture credible not just in the eyes of the brigade of budgeteers who control everything, but also Russia. Another group – for sake of argument, the southerners – thinks this is nonsense, and wants the bulk of the additional monies others will spend on defending them to be spent on counter-terrorism and counter-criminal activities, most notably human trafficking. Very few want NATO to have the money and most would prefer to spend it on themselves.

    Here’s the problem: if NATO is to remain the West’s ultimate security and defence insurance, then henceforth NATO must be able both to deter and defend at the high end of conflict. It must prepare to fight and if needs be win a war, playing a full role in protecting its home base from penetration and attack by terrorists and globally-capable criminals. In other words, all of us are going to have to buy into all of the above if the Alliance is to be credible in the face of threats.

    Which brings me back to the DIP and Canada. Yes, I am the first to say that two per cent of GDP spent on defence is better than one per cent, however brilliantly that one per cent is spent. What concerns me is the growing obsession among all the non-American NATO members with measuring inputs as a way to avoid looking seriously at desired and necessarily expensive outcomes, which at the end of the day is what security and defence must be about. Worse, I am not at all sure any NATO nation knows what it is really spending its defence budget on these days, let alone how it can get from, say, one per cent of GDP to two per cent of GDP. Other, that is, than by fiddling the books. Britain, are you listening?

    The two per cent target forces Ottawa to face a profound set of strategic choices it has long been fudging. This is not least over that most fundamental of Canadian defence posers: should Ottawa invest the planned new funds in NATO or the Americans, and what mix of the two? It is a question that can no longer be dodged. For the first time in decades Canada lives in strategically relevant neighbourhoods in which others have a profound interest – and not always friendly “others”.

    The Russian Northern Fleet is again contesting the North Atlantic. The Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force will have critical roles to play therein. However, given the United States Navy’s focus on Asia-Pacific, much of that effort might have to be with the Royal Navy, albeit embedded in the NATO Command Structure. History beckons, eh? The High North and the Arctic Circle are also fast becoming contested. The Arctic is in the Euro-Atlantic area and thus formally a NATO responsibility. However, in addition to the Americans, it is likely that Canada will not only find itself more engaged with NATO ally Norway, and to some extent the U.K., but also non-NATO partners such as Finland and Sweden.

    Canada is also a Pacific power. Given the emerging threat posed by the likes of North Korea to continental North America, as well as the coming advent of new war technologies, the defence of Canada and its neighbour is likely to call for a much reinforced, more agile and more advanced NORAD. And, the need for Canadian influence over its American neighbour to the south is, of course, a central plank of Ottawa’s grand strategy (do you Canadians do “grand strategy”, or is that too American?). One has only to look at the size and location of the Canadian embassy in D.C. to understand that.

    So, where should the focus be of Ottawa’s balance of defence investments? Given evolving Canadian security and defence interests, it is again vital that Ottawa exerts influence over the Americans and the Alliance. Ottawa needs to understand this truism of Canadian strategy. There is some evidence that Ottawa does indeed get this, which is why Canada sent a battle group to Latvia as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence to deter an aggressive Russia. Equally, Canada’s skills in stabilization and reconstruction are also recognized the world over, as is Canada’s mastery of soft power, and all that goes with it. These skills must not be lost.

    However, if Canada really wants to influence the Americans – Donald Trump or no – Ottawa must avoid falling into the European trap by claiming to spend two per cent of GDP on defence, when it is not. The use of soft power dressed up as hard power is a trick some Germans and other Europeans are trying to pull at the moment. The aim is to achieve the two per cent DIP target, but only by political sleight-of-hand. Nor should Canada follow the British down the road of creative defence accounting by which everything that might have even the most tenuous link to defence is included in the defence estimate. Britain is fast abandoning sound defence in pursuit of sound money and losing a lot of influence over both – large, empty aircraft carriers or no.

    You see, at the end of the day, the two per cent DIP is meant to be spent on hard defence, of which 20 per cent each year must be spent on new hard defence kit, because that is what sound strategy demands right now. And what is really cunning about the increase in defence expenditure implied by the DIP is that it is not only about enhanced or strengthened defence. It is about the use of cutting edge military capabilities to strengthen the role an ally might play in the coalitions that will be the strategic method of the 21st century, in order also to strengthen the strategic and political influence a state has over the structure and conduct of such coalitions. Given Canada’s new strategic reality, Ottawa has no choice but to ensure it can indeed exert such influence over the Americans and the Europeans. Well, no, I am wrong. Ottawa could instead choose to retreat into defence pretence, like so many of its allies, and see what happens.

    Until political leaders in NATO capitals, including Canada, stop sacrificing sound long-term strategy for the sake of facile short-term politics and continue to hide hard defence truths, then I fear the artifice of input will continue to exercise tyranny over the strategy of outcomes.

    Cunning, eh? Canada, you had better spend on a hard two per cent, and mean it!

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    Fire and Fury? A Korean Peninsula Crisis Briefing

    August 16th, 2017


    By Julian French.


    “A bluff taken seriously is more useful than a serious threat interpreted as a bluff”.

    Dr Henry Kissinger

    Headline: In spite of some modest easing of rhetoric overnight by the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) Kim Jong-un, the causes of a crisis with its roots back in 1945 have not been addressed. The paradox of the latest Korean Peninsula Crisis is that it is clearly in the interests of China, the ROK, the United States, and other powerful regional actors such as Japan, to maintain strategic and political stability on the peninsula and across the wider region. However, the leadership of North Korea believes it can only survive if it promotes instability by threatening ever more devastating forms of warfare.  The strategic context and military-technological character of the crisis are turning a twentieth-century rupture into a twenty-first century world crisis that will continue unless the DPRK changes policy and/or people.

    Relative power of key players (all figures from the CIA The World Factbook website unless otherwise stated):

    China: estimated 2016 gross domestic product (GDP) $21.14 trillion, which makes the Chinese economy the world’s biggest using purchasing power parity. Estimated 2016 population: 1,373,541,278. Official defence expenditure amounts to 1.9%, although the US suggests that in 2016 China spent the PPP equivalent of c$140bn (SIPRI). China is an advanced nuclear power with intercontinental ballistic missiles, both land and sea-based, that is also developing significant military power projection capabilities.

    Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea): whilst figures are hard to obtain the CIA estimates the North Korean economy to be worth some $40 billion per annum. This makes the DPRK one of the very poorest countries in the world.  Estimated 2016 population: 25,115,311. Effective estimates of actual North Korean defence expenditure are also hard to find. However, whilst the official budget for 2017 was set at 15.8% GDP, the Korean Times suggests the armed forces have consumed 25% of GDP for several years and that defence expenditure is set to increase. $10 billion spent each year by a militarised state on a militarised low-income economy explains the size if not the effectiveness of DPRK armed forces. US Defense Intelligence Agency estimates that the DPRK is on the cusp of becoming an operational nuclear power with some limited intercontinental ballistic missile capacity.

    Republic of Korea (South Korea): the South Korean economy in 2016 was estimated at $1.934 trillion, making it the world’s fourteenth largest economy using PPP. Estimated 2016 population: 50,924,172. South Korea spends around 2% GDP per annum on defence giving Seoul the world’s 40th largest defence budget. In 2015 the ROK spent some $36.4 billion on its armed forces (Trading Economics).  The ROK is a non-nuclear power, with no intercontinental ballistic missiles.

    United States: the US economy in 2016 was estimated at $18.56 trillion, making it the world’s ninth largest by PPP. Estimated 2016 population: 323,995,528. Estimated defence expenditure in 2016 was 3.29% GDP or $611.2 billion (SIPRI). The US is the world’s leading military power with Advanced nuclear systems intercontinental ballistic missiles, both land and sea-based. However, unlike any other power US forces are spread the world-over.

    Background to the crisis: The current crisis is set against the backdrop of history and, on the face of it at least, the latest crisis on the Korean Peninsula would appear to reflect and repeat history. On the one side there is a small Communist state (DPRK or North Korea), backed by a powerful Communist neighbour (China). On the other side there is a more powerful but still modest capitalist liberal democracy (ROK or South Korea), backed by the world’s most powerful such state (US). Equally, there are limits to the extent history can be used to understand current events.

    The origins of the Korean Peninsula Crisis can be traced back to a 1945 agreement between the US and Stalin’s USSR by which American forces would liberate Korea from the Japanese as far north as the 38th Parallel, and Soviet forces would complete the liberation to the Chinese border. On 26 June, 1950 the Korean People’s Army (KPA) invaded the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Korean War began. In July 1950, following the June invasion and the swift retreat of South Korean forces, the US and other Western countries operating under a UN mandate and under the command of General Douglas F MacArthur, began to engage the KPA and eventually pushed them all the way back up the Korean Peninsula to close to the Chinese border.

    On 25 October, 1951 Chinese (PRC) forces suddenly entered the DPRK and defeated ROK forces decisively at Puchkin, and on 1 November defeated US forces at Unsan.  In April 1952 PRC forces attacked UN forces as part of a major push south down the Peninsular in an effort to take the ROK capital, Seoul. Chinese forces were held back at great cost at the Battle of Imjin River by the British Army’s Gloucestershire Regiment (‘the Glorious Glosters’) and by the British-Belgian 29th Infantry Brigade. The Chinese thrust was blunted and UN forces were able to regroup to halt the Chinese advance. The war became a stalemate and on 27 July 1953 the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed and the Demilitarized Zone created on the 38th Parallel.  The war has never formally been ended.

    Assessment: The 2017 conflict and the 1950-1953 war share several of the same strategic rationales. In 1953 China did not want a US-friendly state on its border, and sought a buffer between ROK and China. The US and Japan did not want a Communist regime so close to Japan at a time when the Cold War was gathering pace and anti-Communism was at its peak in Washington. Significantly, the regime in Pyongyang at the time was Stalinist not Maoist, meaning it looked towards Moscow rather than Peking (as Beijing was then known in the West) for protection. However, by boycotting its permanent seat Moscow enabled the US to get a resolution through the UN Security Council. Moscow also indicated it would not intervene against such a UN force in Korea, leading some in the Truman administration to fear Moscow was in fact seeking to weaken the US defence of Europe.

    There are several important differences between 1951 and 2017. In 1951 China under Mao Zedong was a large but essentially weak and volatile strategic actor the main weapon which was manpower. 2017 China an emerging nuclear superpower.  North Korea was a Stalinist dictatorship in 1951 with more links to Moscow than Peking, which had a powerful conventional force but no nuclear weapons.  The DPRK is now believed by the US Defense Intelligence Agency to have a first generation nuclear warhead similar in punch to the atomic bombs which were dropped by the US in August 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and which were the equivalent of 12-15,000 tons of TNT.  The DIA believes DPRK has successfully miniaturised the warheads to fit atop a viable Hwasong series intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The Hwasong 12, 13 & 14 missile systems all seem to have ICBM capability with ranges anywhere from 6000-12000 kms. Whilst in theory such systems could reach continental North America, they do not as yet pose an existential threat to the US. However, a nuclear-armed DPRK poses an increasingly serious danger, most notably to Japan, and US forces in Guam and on Okinawa.

    Analysis: DPRK aims appear to be twofold; to force the neighbours and outside powers to continue to buy off Pyongyang with ‘free’ exports, and to maintain discipline over a militarised society. Even if this current crisis is resolved, the US and the ROK assure the DPRK that they do not seek regime change in Pyongyang, and China acts as a de facto security guarantor for the DPRK, future crises will inevitably occur unless the regime changes policy tack fundamentally, or is changed.  Nor can sudden change in the DPRK be ruled out. Analysis of economic data suggests that the DPRK is no longer economically viable without significant resource injections from abroad.  There is also some limited evidence that North Korea is becoming socially, and possibly politically, unviable as well.

    The DPRK has repeatedly tried to ‘globalise’ the conflict because it needs the US to be an enemy for the regime of Kim Jong-un to survive. However, the cost of regime survival is increasing.  At the end of the Cold War in 1989 Russia withdrew the protection of its nuclear umbrella from DPRK. Since then Pyongyang has invested huge amounts of its very limited resources to develop nuclear weapons, with tacit support from Pakistan and some suggestion that Ukraine has provided some key missile components. Successive US Administrations and the Group of Six (G6) states of which it is a part, and which includes China, have failed to prevent DPRK efforts to acquire such weapons. DPRK conventional forces also pose a profound to the ROK, most notably the 20 million people in Seoul and its environs, which is only 30 miles/50 km from the 38th Parallel. If any pre-emptive military action is taken to prevent Pyongyang from resorting to nuclear force it is likely that China is the only power truly in a position to undertake such action.

    Beijing seems sensitive to American concerns. Unusually Beijing supported the US and UK drafted United Nations Security Council Resolution 2237 (UNSCR 2237) imposing more economic sanctions on the DPRK. China has in the past two days appeared to have begun to impose economic sanctions on North Korea in critical areas such as iron, lead, coal and fish products. These actions clearly indicate that Beijing does not approve of the actions of Kim Jung-un’s regime.  The Chinese have also ordered the People’s Liberation Army to prepare to move to the border with North Korea.

    However, the crisis cannot be disentangled from the growing strategic tensions between China and the United States in East Asia, and the wider Asia-Pacific grand strategic region.  Over the past fortnight Washington has sought again to exercise freedom of navigation in the South China Sea which Beijing claims for its own. And, on Monday, the American again attacked China for stealing intellectual property. In other words, the 2017 Korean Peninsula Crisis has all the makings of a classic great power stand-off, tinged with nuclear weapons, and if not now, certainly in the none-too-distant future.  This is precisely what Pyongyang would like to see happen.

    US Options: US strategy is essentially designed to convince Beijing that Washington sees the threat to the US and its allies in the region as so severe that Beijing must take action.  In return, China must be assured that the ROK and US will not seek to enforce the unification of the Korean peninsula, and thus remove a buffer between Chinese and US forces.


    Given the nature of the crisis, and the complexities and difficulties enshrined within it, the balance of US efforts should remain focused on a diplomatic solution. The US achieved some diplomatic success at the United Nations with the July adoption of UNSC Resolution 2371, which seeks to cut 33% of the remaining exports of North Korea.


    Beyond deterring Pyongyang, and assuring the defence of the ROK, Japan, and of course the US territory Guam, none of the offensive military options open to the Americans are very attractive. Subject to the agreement of ROK President Moon Jae-in, the US could send more THAAD (Theater High Altitude Air Defense) anti-missile systems to both the ROK and Japan. However, the number of THAAD systems is limited, and such a system could do nothing to prevent mass artillery strikes by DPRK forces on Seoul. It takes 45 seconds for an artillery shell fired from one of the several thousand guns dug into south facing slopes of mountains just north of the 38th Parallel to strike Seoul.

    What Role Europe? Beyond imploring Beijing to help resolve the crisis America’s European allies could have an important role to play. First, Europeans must give unequivocal backing to the US in the face of any threat to the American and South Korean peoples. Second, Europeans must strengthen sanctions against DPRK if the regime does not change tack. For example, the Netherlands still exports some €2m worth of goods and services to DPRK. Third, six EU member-states have embassies in Pyongyang, including Britain and Germany.  There should be a concerted European effort to establish back-channel diplomatic engagement with Pyongyang.

    Conclusion: Effective crisis management by China and the United States – the two key players – will require consistent and considered policy, balanced and clear messaging, constant contact, and the separation of other issues of mutual contention from the Korean Peninsula Crisis.

    Pyongyang appears to be engaging in but the latest round of force blackmail, this time with a very nuclear edge, to gain more resources and thus more time for the regime. The DPRK has repeatedly used this stratagem in the past with some success. It is clear that Supreme Leader Kim Jung-Un is prepared to to the brink of war, but it is as yet unclear if he really would fight such a war, as it would almost certainly lead to his own demise. This is especially the case given that China has indicated to the DPRK that Beijing would not support Pyongyang in a nuclear war with the Americans.

    Above all, the US needs to be clear about the outcomes it seeks. At present Washington appears to want to both deter the DPRK, and compel Pyongyang to de-nuclearise at the same time. US strategy is thus insufficiently clear.  This lack of clarity over desired outcomes impacts upon the Administration’s crisis messaging. Discipline is vital with all the key US actors involved from the President down engaging in and committing to a series of carefully calibrated messaging. Here the new White House Chief of Staff Kelly and National Security Advisor McMaster have a vital role to play in imposing discipline and thus separating crisis management from White House ideology.

    The American message must be consistent; the US does not necessarily regard the DPRK as an enemy, and will not start hostilities, but any hostile military action taken by Pyongyang will inevitably lead to the collapse of the regime.

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    Brexit: For the Sake of Britain and Europe

    June 19th, 2017

    By Julian French. 


    ‘“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.

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    America First or America Leads?

    April 11th, 2017

    By Julian French.

    “Think’st thou that duty shall have dread to speak, when power to flattery bows? To plainness honour’s bound when majesty falls to folly”.
    King Lear, William Shakespeare
    Cosmos Club, Washington DC. 8 April. What does Trumpworld look like? Five days in and my visit to Washington is drawing to a close. It has been a fascinating visit which has cast a light for me on the febrile state of this most political of towns. The Trump administration is in transition…again. And yet, my sense is that this most enigmatic of presidents, and this most enigmatic of White Houses, is finally beginning to settle on a world view that this week’s events both solidified and represented. Put simply, America First, which for so long has been defined by hard core Trump supporters as ignoring the world, is being re-defined to mean America Leads, albeit quixotically.
    President Trump has arrived in the White House just at the moment when the kind of hard-edged, loose alliance, vaguely anarchical world of big business meets a new strategic reality in which power again defines influence, not legalism. The twenty-first century is fast becoming an ultra-Realist epoch in which power and might define strength. President Trump clearly understands that, but in dealing with the world the problem the President will face may well be his own ill-discipline.
    Yes, at one level keeping adversaries off-balance can be seen as part of a clever stratagem. However, the President is still too adept at keeping his allies, Washington, his own team, and even himself at times off-balance. If that continues the enunciation of anything approaching a Trump foreign and security doctrine will be hard to realise. This matters because such a failure would in turn make it hard for allies to coalesce around American leadership. The purpose of doctrine is to establish principles and consistency and, as yet, both are lacking, even though it is early days yet,
    Perhaps President Trump’s greatest strength is that he is a product of the fractured, uneasy, transactional world that he now surveys. As a political and business bruiser who has clambered his way to power President Trump shares a lot of the same attributes as China’s President Xi and Russia’s President Putin. That is intended as a back-handed compliment in a way, because President Trump is well-equipped to do business with the world’s illiberal Great Powers.
    It is the European allies who are going to find it hard to deal with the Trump world-view. Like many Europeans history has led me to have a penchant for legally-based international institutions precisely because they prevent the kind of extreme state behaviour which has rent destruction upon Europe twice in a century. Equally, I know that institutions without power are meaningless. And, it is precisely the cult of meaningless and powerless institutions that have turned Europeans into victims of global change.
    The recent visit of German Chancellor Merkel to the White House was the diplomatic equivalent of “The Silence of the Lambs”, with Merkel cast as Jodie Foster. Now, it would be easy to say that the all-too-apparent tension was some kind of personality thing. After all, Chancellor Merkel and President Trump come from different political planets. It is deeper than that. Germany is emerging after some 150 years of struggle to be Europe’s proto-dominant power. And yet it is a Germany that rejects much of the American world-view, let alone the Trump world-view.
    Germany will not become a peer competitor to the US in the style of China and Russia, but will no longer accept American leadership of the West as a given. Germany is clearly now also willing to act against US interests. There is some evidence Berlin is quietly orchestrating a campaign to damage the UK by implicitly encouraging Scottish independence, for daring to step out of the EU, and thus Germany’s sphere of influence. It is not in the US interest to see the UK broken up and terminally weakened, and at some point Washington will need to back the UK and face Berlin down.
    The future? The shape of the Trump world-view will depend on the outcome of a power struggle underway within the White House between America First radicals, such as Steve Bannon, and America Leads ‘traditionalists’, such Secretary-of Defense Mattis and National Security Advisor McMaster. Today, the pendulum appears to be swinging towards the America Leaders, possibly because the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner seems to be an advocate.
    However, as I learnt during my visit this week to the White House, and my old friend and Presidential Deputy Assistant Sebastian Gorka, the situation within the Administration is far more nuanced that much of the Press would have you believe. My sense is that the President will aim to forge a more tightly-knit foreign and security policy team around hi, with much of policy led by the so-called Principals Committee of the National Security Council. The true test of a re-empowered NSC will be their collective willingness, and that of the National Security Advisor, H.R. McMaster, to speak truth unto power…and the President’s willingness and capacity to listen.
    Allies? They will all need to heed that old Washington adage that if a state wants to influence the Administration it is not about what you did last week for America, let alone what you did decades ago, but what you do now and tomorrow.
    After all, America First means America Leads.

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    Why is the Old West at War with Itself?

    March 21st, 2017

    By Julian French.


    “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”.


    Budapest, Hungary, 21 March. Plato’s Republic is in many ways a treatise against political extremism. There is an argument to be made that the ‘extremist’ Great Revolt against the Old West’s liberal, mainstream elite began here in Hungary. Long suspicious of Brussels control-freakery the 2015 migration crisis saw a full-on revolt from Viktor Orban’s government and much of the Hungarian population against EU fiat. Since then the West has seen Brexit and the election of President Trump. And yet, on the face of it at least, last week’s Dutch elections suggest that the ‘populist wave’ (whatever that is) might just be on the wane. Think again. So, why is the West at war with itself?

    Sad bustard that I am I spent much of yesterday afternoon glued to CNN watching the testimony of FBI Director, James Coney and NSA Director, Admiral James Rogers. To be honest, I had tuned in to hear about how Russia had allegedly conducted a sustained campaign against the 2016 US presidential elections. Instead, I was treated to several hours of absurdly partisan questioning that had little or nothing to do with the purported mission of the House Intelligence Committee; to understand more about the FBI’s investigation into alleged collusion between members of the Trump campaign and President Putin’s Russia.

    What was far more illuminating was the commentary thereafter. Democrats tried to suggest that President Trump is all but guilty of some form of treason. Republicans, by and large, painted the testimony as an attempt to smear the President. A few commentators suggested it was a good day for the American constitution because checks and balances were being seen to work, whilst others said the only winner was Putin. All avoided the real question; how on earth did America, and by extension, the Old West get into this mess?

    To answer that poser one has to travel closer to home – the Netherlands. The Dutch campaign was fascinating. You have to hand it to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. He is the ultimate bendy-rubber politician. To see off a challenge from the hard-right Geert Wilders liberal Rutte tacked hard right in his campaign, at one point telling Dutch Muslims effectively to ‘get normal or get out’, on another occasion forcibly expelling one of President Erdogan’s ministers from the Netherlands, a most un-Dutch act.

    Rutte is nothing if not smart. He realised a fundamental truism (tortology?); if the mainstream do not deal with the legitimate concerns of vast numbers of perfectly reasonable citizens who fear the big change they are living at some point out of desperation they will look to the had right and hard left of the political spectrum. In other words, the reason there is a crisis in the centre of Old West politics is because for too long the centre has been incompetent. The good news is that the moment a mainstream politician such as Rutte, or Theresa May in the UK, appears (and I stress appears) to deal with the big issues voters stream back to the centre.

    Let me be Euro-parochial for a moment. The three main political issues in Europe are mass immigration, money, and who actually holds power. For years the mainstream has hidden behind the Blairite myth that globalisation is an unstoppable force and that people must embrace it or be engulfed by it. This is nonsense. The Great Revolt happened for three reasons: the mainstream liberal elite failed to understand just how deep national identity runs; they also failed to grasp just how strong the simple idea that in a democracy one should not only know who decides policy, but actually have the chance to vote directly for them; and because the elite itself in Europe became a caste apart from the people.

    The Old West is the home of the old democracies. Democracies need effective centrists to preserve effective democracy. Whatever the short-term allure of the political fringes at times of stress, such as now, the sheer complexity of the world today is that simple prescriptions are as unlikely to succeed, as the pie-in-the-sky theorists who have driven the centre to political self-destruction.

    It is not centrism per se that is needed, but effective centrism that meets the concerns of a majority of people whilst helping them at the same time prepare them for the future. That means in turn politicians willing to re-embrace patriotism (dirty word amongst much of the elite), globalism, and realism at one and the same time, and strike a politically acceptable balance between them. In practice that means recognition of the importance of immigration for economic progress, but clear, demonstrable, and effective limits on it. It means fiscal and monetary policies that enriches people, not impoverishes them. The Euro has been an unmitigated disaster precisely because it is an elite political project that defies economic logic and which can only survive at the expense of the very people it is meant to support. It means recognition that for most people the nation-state remains the core of identity, and that they expect it to be the focus of democracy, security, and defence. Finally, it means serving the needs of the majority as well as protecting minorities.

    The inference from yesterday’s testimony on the Hill was that President Putin is waging a successful war against the Old democracies. That is wrong. The Old West and an out of touch mainstream elite simply make it too easy for him to cause mischief. Plato would certainly have understood that. After all, the Old West is Athens, whilst Putin is Sparta. That begs a further question. Where is the next Rome?

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    McMaster Stroke?

    February 21st, 2017


    By Julian French.


    President Harry S. Truman once said, “A president needs political understanding to run the government, but he may be elected without it”. Watching Month One of the Trump presidency splutter like an old car trying to start in the fourth gear I could not but help think of Truman’s wise words. However, a president can also learn. That was my first reaction to the overnight news that Lieutenant-General H.R. McMaster had been appointed (and accepted) the position of National Security Advisor. On Friday I asked, “What’s the plan, Mr President”. If McMaster is given due respect and his office the appropriate weight that is precisely what I now expect.

    Who is H.R. McMaster? He is first and foremost an officer-scholar. Indeed, in some ways he was my vision and inspiration when I pioneered the idea of the officer-scholar at the Netherlands Defence Academy some years ago. However, he is not simply a great thinker, he has also been a real commander and leader. He was a successful tank commander who also understands the art and science of counterinsurgency operations (COIN). In other words, McMaster properly understands the vital relationship between soft and hard power and that the application of one without the other in campaign design is simply a recipe for failure.

    Since the end of World War Two the US has supported its allies and confronted and contested peer competitors the world-over. To that end, McMaster is a disciple of General David Petraeus for whom he worked, and like his former boss believes that the use of hard power must have very clear political objectives and a proper understanding of where and how to apply it in any given circumstance BEFORE it is unleashed. Given that Petraeus is close to Secretary of Defense James Mattis it is reasonable to assume that the McMaster appointment marks a return to a more traditional concept of American power and its use.  With Tillerson at State, Mattis at Defense, and now McMaster at the National Security Council President Trump’s foreign and security policy team would grace any internationalist, Realist Republican administration.

    McMaster will also face a coterie of challenges. First, he needs to re-establish the NSC at the core of US foreign and security policy-making. For some time now the NSC has been marginalised. Second. McMaster needs to get the CIA, State Department, the Department of Defense, and the many other security and defence agencies that litter Washington working with the White House…and each other. Third, and by no means last, McMaster will need to come to terms with Trump confidante Steve Bannon, who is both on the NSC and enjoys the same status as the National Security Advisor. Bannon is also running what looks to all intents and purposes like a kind of shadow NSC within the White House. Given Bannon’s undoubted sway it will be interesting to see to just how far McMaster is permitted to build his own team, as he has apparently been promised.

    McMaster has much to offer and his appointment will reassure Allies the world-over, both in Europe and Asia-Pacific. However, the Allies must not think this appointment marks the beginning of a return to business as before. The simple truth is that the US no longer enjoys the power supremacy it has done for most of the post-World War Two period. The Obama Administration was a kind of strategic intermission.

    The sheer hard equations of power mean the Allies will need to do far more to keep Washington strong enough to ensure that America’s ultimate security guarantee to them remains credible. Sadly, listening to both Chancellor Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker these past few days suggest that Europe’s theoretical soft power should somehow be seen as burden-sharing, or as an alternative to real defence investment, worries me.  To my mind such laxness shows that they really do not understand the nature of change in this world, or the reality of power.

    The appointment of McMaster is quite simply brilliant and President Trump must be congratulated. Given the chance McMaster will help set course for a return to the balanced application of American spread across defence, deterrence, dialogue, and diplomacy. Nor will he be afraid to speak truth to power. His first book Dereliction of Duty excoriated the Vietnam-era Joint Chiefs for their failure to do precisely that. A failing I have seen repeated time and again during the West’s recent disastrous campaigns, and which in part inspired me to write these blogs.

    There will doubtless come a crunch point. Sooner rather than later McMaster will need to speak truth to Steven Bannon, and quite possibly President Trump. And if he is to survive and prosper in the White House bear-pit McMaster will also need all of his considerable skills of persuasion, persistence, and perspicacity. For, as Winston Churchill once said, “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way they look forward to the trip”.

    So, General, let’s get down to business. There is a lot for us all to do together.

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    Turkey First: Europe Must Work With Not Against Ankara

    February 9th, 2017


    By Julian French.


    “Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

    President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

    Alphen, Netherlands. 7 February. How should Europe deal with a changing Turkey? I say ‘Europe’, on matters strategic Europe is increasingly coming to mean a mix of great powers and great institutions acting in as much unison as they can generate over any one issue, at any one time. One of the many issues faced by what is now a hard liberal European establishment is how to deal with legitimised illiberal regimes that are important to Europe. The tendency of late has been for Europe to become a whining city on a molehill; offering judgement without influence. This tendency is particularly evident in the ‘hold one’s nose’ way European leaders deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey.  Consequently, Europe is in danger of losing Turkey for the first time since President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk aligned his secular regime with the European West a century ago.

    The need for a new Turkey policy is pressing. In a forthcoming referendum it is likely more power will be ‘granted’ to the presidency. If so President Erdogan’s Turkey First policy will be bolstered, and Europe’s Turkey dilemma will become even more acute. Therefore, like it or not, in this new age of Realpolitik President Erdogan is vital to the security and stability of Europe and Europeans must recognise that. Unfortunately, Europe’s strategic partnership with Ankara looks ever more like a fractious frozen alliance.

    Writing my latest book The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons (Routledge 2017), which is of course brilliant and very reasonably-priced, one theme ran through the research; the vital importance of Turkey to the security and stability of Europe, the Middle East, and much of Western Asia. Turkey is also a vital member of NATO, and Ankara’s co-operation remains critical if Europe is not to see a large portion of the 3 million refugees Turkey currently hosts moving rapidly towards Schengenland.

    Why is Europe losing Turkey? Europe’s relationship with Turkey is certainly deteriorating. Last week tensions flared with Greece over disputed islands and, of course, the future of Turkish Cyprus remains a constant source of friction between the EU and Turkey.  However, it is Turkey’s burgeoning Realpolitik relationship with Russia that is of great concern to many in Europe.

    Turkey First also reflects both Erdogan’s ambitions for and concerns about his country at a time or regional and global flux. Last week, in a sign of the shifting power balance, both Germany’s Merkel and Britain’s May went to Ankara, partly to reassure President Erdogan, partly to influence him. My sources tell me May’s visit was a success, Merkel’s visit less so.  Put simply, President Erdogan’s Turkey First policy reflects his feeling of abandonment, and at times betrayal by the West over Syria. Above all, President Erdogan feels deeply offended by what he saw as European fence-sitting during the failed July 2016 military coup attempt. And yet, whilst Europe is in danger of losing Turkey it has not as yet lost Turkey. It is clear Ankara is of a similar view. For example, Ankara’s attitude within NATO has been as constructive as at any time over recent years. In other words, there is still much to play for.

    Much of Europe’s Turkish problem is, as so often, in Europe. Europeans tend to think that once a country is a member of a Western-leaning institution there is no need for policy towards it. The Obama administration had no policy worthy of the name towards Turkey, whilst a Europe embroiled in its endless self-obsession simply took came to take Turkey for granted. Now, President Erdogan is reminding Europeans just how mistaken such indifference is. Henceforth, like Europe’s relationship with President Trump, its relationship with President Erdogan is also likely to become far more transactional in nature.  This is particularly so now that the fantasy/pretence of forever in the future Turkish EU membership has been by and large buried.

    What would a Turkey policy look like? It would certainly need to include more trade access, more development aid, and more free movement of Turks into the EU. Indeed, it will be interesting to see the impact and implications of the eventual Brexit deal for Turkey. However, the crux of Turkey’s relationship with Europe will pivot on Turkey’s own strategic neighbourhood. It is this neighbourhood which presents both the need for, and challenge to, a new European policy towards Turkey.

    In alliances policy, strategy, and structure must be constantly re-aligned. Most of that process is enacted through incremental adjustments over time. However, at times hard reality must be confronted, not finessed away, and it is precisely hard reality Europeans find so hard to either confront or manage. For Turkey that means a Europe that finally takes a position on the status of the Kurds. Ankara is deeply concerned that the instrumentalisation by the West of the Kurds in the struggle against Islamic State implies some future pay-off for the Kurds in their aspirations for a state that would straddle much of what is today northern Iraq and Syria, and which would border Turkey. Turkey would never accept the existence of such a state given the implications for its own eastern provinces.

    The profound challenge for European policy-makers is thus; how can President Erdogan be reassured about Western policy towards the Kurds without at the same time (once again) abandoning the Kurds? Now, I am too much the historian to pretend there are easy solutions to what is an acute policy and strategy conundrum. However, having no policy at all on what is a key issue for a key ally at a key moment is also no option. Therefore, if Turkey is to be convinced that continued investment in its alliances and partnerships with the West is worth it then the West, Europe in particular, will need to engage on this most sensitive of issues.

    The Trump Administration may well take a purely Realpolitik position on this issue if Ankara supports US attacks on Islamic State. That would leave a dangerous policy vacuum. Particularly so, given that beyond gestures Europe has by and large retreated from any meaningful engagement in Turkey’s strategic neighbourhood. Therefore, if Europeans really want themselves and their sacred values to be taken seriously it is Europe (with Britain) which should now embark on the diplomatic challenge of assisting Turks and Kurds alike in the search for an enduring political settlement. The Turkish-Kurdish relationship is probably as important to regional peace and stability as the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. However, if, as usual, Europe bottles the challenge, issues yet more meaningless declarations or offers yet more inactive joint actions, then Turkey First could well come in time to mean Europe last.

    To understand the strategic importance of Turkey to Europe, just look at a map. This importance was reinforced in my mind a few years ago in Ankara when as Acting Head of Delegation I had the honour to formally lay a wreath at the memorial tomb of President Ataturk. A few days later I was standing in General Ataturk’s World War One command position high above ANZAC Cove and Suvla Bay, where Allied troops landed in 1915, and from which they were bloodily evicted. History was, as ever, as eloquent about the present as it was about the past.

    Turkey is a European power and should be treated as such. It is my firm belief that the best future for Turkey remains in a strong alliance with its Western partners. However, such alliance is also in the interests the West, particularly Europe. Therefore, Europe must stop seeing Turkey as a frozen alliance, and work far harder to convince President Erdogan that it is both friend and ally.

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    Trump-May: The Dawn of the New Western Realism

    January 28th, 2017

    By Julian French. 


    “Covenants without the sword are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all”.

    Thomas Hobbes

    Alphen, Netherlands. 27 January. Today, Maggie May meets Ronald Trump. As per usual much of the British political Establishment and most of the Fourth Estate have got the wrong end of the stick. They want her to talk trade, institutions, and torture. These things are indeed important but they are second order issues and not what today is about. Rather, today’s meeting has exactly the same purpose as the meeting at Argentia, Newfoundland in August 1941 at which the Atlantic Charter was agreed between Britain and the United States, and the February 1981 meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; a chance for a supplicant Britain in need of the support of a powerful Washington to reset a relationship that remain important to the Americans but vital to the British. Whilst much will be said today about shared values and culture today is about power and, if it succeeds, quite possibly the dawn of the new Western Realism.

    International relations are driven by three forces; values, interests, and power-prejudice. For too long Europeans have retreated into the vacuous pursuit of powerless values. Consequently, as structure either collapses (Middle East) around them, or threatens to be imposed upon them (Putin’s Russia) they are in many ways powerless to shape their own vital interests. Part of Britain’s contemporary tragedy is that so much of the London political class also believe in this nonsense. This profound confusion of values with interests has damaged profoundly the ability and the willingness of one of the world’s major powers to actively shape its world.

    Last night in a speech to Republican congressional leaders May stated, “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over”. However, she went on, “Our values will endure. And the need to defend them and project them will be as important as ever”.  In other words, May, who is fast growing into the job, seems to be abandoning the world policeman nonsense of Tony Blair’s liberal humanitarian interventionism and re-positing British foreign policy back towards power and realism. If that is indeed her ambition then she is not only making the case for a new twenty-first century Special Relationship, but a new world-wide West centred on the Anglosphere.

    The first challenge for May is not just getting America to back her vision. She also needs to overcome a force every bit as dangerous as the strategic inertia caused by the empty words of European leaders; the power-prejudice of President Trump. The flurry of executive orders over the past few days are about far more than meeting the expectations of his US electoral base. Almost all of them seem to reflect the many prejudices the President himself holds about the world. As with most things Trump there is a kernel of truth in his argument but his prescriptions and solutions are disproportionate to the challenge he seeks to address. Be it on NATO, Mexicans, Muslims, and a host of other issues President Trump’s analysis lacks balance – the very definition of prejudice. The paradox is that the President is also clearly prejudiced about the Brits – to (for the moment) Britain’s advantage.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT one of those Europeans who dismiss President Trump simply because he is not a failed European liberal living on a planet that is clearly not this one. Look at all the great American presidents of the last century; Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan. They were all Machiavellian out-sized characters, reinforced by out-sized and often brittle egos, who shook the status quo. If she wants an enduring relationship with President Trump Theresa May will have to do exactly what Russia’s President Putin seems to be doing – manage President Trump’s many prejudices and the brittle ego that underpins them. She will also need to understand Trump in much the same way Churchill understood FDR, or ‘Maggie’ understood ‘Ronnie’ and play to his vanity. This is a vital British interest.

    At the beginning of this blog I stated that today’s meeting is about the theatre of power. However, even a ‘theatre’ of power must also reflect and showcase power. In other words, for last night’s prime ministerial words to actually lead to policy and influence Britain will need to regain a reputation for power that it has lost in Washington over the past twenty years. A loss of influence which has been underway since at least Churchill sat down with Roosevelt on the USS Augusta.

    Where to begin? On May 29th President Trump is due to be alongside Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will be aboard the brand new 75,000 ton British super aircraft-carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth as she sails for the first time into one of the Royal Navy’s historic fleet bases at Portsmouth.  The sight of an enormous warship that flies the White Ensign and not the Stars and Stripes is precisely the kind of Britain Trump needs to see. However, for Prime Minister May to succeed in reinvigorating the Special Relationship one ship visit, however spectacular, will not be enough. Having re-created the prospect and image of Britain as America’s power partner ‘leading the world together’, as she suggested in a mildly hubristic moment last night, May will need to follow-up theatre with reality by re-investing in all the tools of influence that underpin Britain’s strategic brand – intelligence, diplomacy, and the armed forces.

    Britain undoubtedly has an opportunity to forge a new relationship with President Trump and his America, and in so doing help to adjust his world-view from power-prejudice into the New Western Realism. However, it is power and power alone that impresses Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister May had not only better understand that, but quickly demonstrate that her words are not yet more covenants without the sword.

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    NATO-EU: Squeezing Big Change into Small Boxes

    January 24th, 2017


    By Julian French.


    Alphen, Netherlands. 24 January. The new US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, made an overnight phone call to his British counterpart and new/old bestest friend, Michael Fallon. During the call Mattis reaffirmed his and the Administration’s “unshakeable commitment” to NATO. Late last week I had the honour of addressing leaders and parliamentarians of the Baltic States at the outstanding George C. Marshall Center in Garmisch-Partenkirchen on matters strategic. What struck me as I spoke (brilliantly of course) was how the West is managing change the wrong way round. Rather than properly adapting our ‘boxes’ – NATO and the EU – to meet change, we are trying to squeeze big change into what in relative power terms are ever smaller boxes. Why?

    Leadership must be judged by outcomes and if you’re a European, or an American the outcomes of late have too often been rubbish. Now, I know it is fashionable in Chicken Little Europe to condemn everything the new #POTUS says, and yes not only does #POTUS sound like a domestic vegetable but Washington’s new Tweetocracy does indeed risk reducing one of the great offices of great state to little more than a strategy-free, reactive, angry tag-line. However, the simple truth is that the so-called Euro-Atlantic ‘community’ DOES need a bloody good kick up the many well-upholstered arses of the politics before strategy leaders who claim to lead it, but frankly too often do not.

    Trump has a point. At some levels NATO IS obsolete and the EU IS dysfunctional. This makes all of us UNNECESSARILY weaker and poorer at one and the same time. The reason for this decline is essentially simple; as the various Euro-Atlantic powers have diverged in their respective world views maintaining the appearance of unity has become more important than trying to agree on the real change both the Alliance and the Union desperately need if they are both to remain credible. In other words, preserving the appearance of structure has become more important than adapting structure to change.

    NATO is at least having a go at change. The 2014 Wales Summit and the 2016 Warsaw Summit agreed a programme of ‘adaptation’ that is on the face of it impressive. Indeed, I have the honour of sitting on a steering committee of a group of very distinguished colleagues committed to examine NATO adaptation. We are charged with the challenge of finding a ‘One NATO’ adaptation vision for the Alliance that will not only reinforce the credibility of NATO deterrence and defence posture, but also future-proof the Alliance. We are making very good progress. However, the mission is not an easy one as it is clear to me that such is the strategic divide within the Alliance we have at least three NATOs; eastern NATO, southern NATO, and  America.

    The EU is particularly good at change-speak, but hideously bad at acting on it. With Brexit the EU will soon lose some 10% of its budget, but speak to EU officials and it is as though nothing has happened. EU security and defence efforts have been and are particularly lamentable. Last week I happened upon my PhD thesis. Written many years ago and entitled, “The Security and Defence of Western Europe”, the final chapter laid out what was in effect a blueprint for what in time became the European Security and Defence Policy, then the Common Security and Defence Policy. As I re-read it I was struck by the paucity of strategic ambition in Europe over the intervening years. Names are changed, meetings are held, a few adjustments are made, hyperbole is applied, but sod all that is actually relevant to the defence of Europe actually happens.

    Which brings me back to the question why? Both the Alliance and the Union suffer from a common problem that will need to change if either NATO or the EU are to be made fit for the twenty-first century – the strategic inferiority complex of many of their respective members. NATO was born in 1949 primarily of arranging Europeans into some form of order so that America could protect them. With the 1954 accession of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Alliance, NATO also took on the additional task of preventing Germany again becoming a threat to Europe. In a sense the European Project, which began its long and winding road with the 1950 creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, suffered from the same strategic inferiority complex as NATO. However, whilst in NATO Europeans over time became strategically incompetent under America’s protection, which is certainly the case today, the EU evolved into a mechanism for the small Europeans to strategically castrate bigger Europeans in the name of European stability. The result? A ‘Europe’ that is still far too obsessed with structure for structure’s sake, too inward-looking, and incapable of either understanding or responding to change beyond its completely ill-defended borders beyond the odd, and quite often hideously expensive gestures.

    If NATO and the EU are to change Europeans must finally expel the last remnants of a mutual-constraint culture that has turned Europeans into strategic prey. To do that Europeans must abandon once and for all the idea that Europe can only achieve stability through mutual weakness. Instead, both the Alliance and the Union must be adapted to act as mutual aggregators of legitimate power, complete with the full, credible and capable panoply of state-owned security and military capabilities and capacities. That is exactly what Sec Def Mattis will demand of his European allies, because that will be the only way he can sell NATO to his Eurosceptic boss when he comes to Europe in May.

    Like many Europeans there is much about President Donald J. Trump I find distasteful. However, I am a pragmatic, hard-bitten Realist. For that reason, and because I respect both the United States and the Office of the President of the United States, I will examine each policy position on its merits.  However, Europeans should not wait for President Trump’s prejudices to be confirmed. Even at this time of division they should endeavour to offer the Americans a more equitable vision of the future transatlantic relationship. European states are grown-up and can be trusted not to go to war with each other and they must stop using the past as an excuse not to properly prepare for the future.  The danger is that if the appearance of structure is deemed to be more important than adapting structure then sooner rather than later change will win and our structures could collapse catastrophically.

    Big change is coming to transatlantic relations, and NATO and the EU must be adapted to cope with it. President Donald J. Trump is just the beginning…

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    Trump: Geopolitics is More than the Art of the Deal

    January 8th, 2017

    By Julian French.


    “My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want”.

    Donald J. Trump, “The Art of the Deal”

    Alphen, Netherlands. 6 January. Giving evidence to Congress yesterday leaders of the US intelligence community were clear; Russia was not only complicit in the election-warping theft of data and its release, Moscow is a “full-scope cyber-actor” engaged in a cyber offensive against the United States. In other words, Russia is using cyber as statecraft as part of a concerted anti-American geopolitical campaign. And yet, President-elect Trump seems to reject much of this assessment. Why?

    Geopolitics is the competition of and for power. The successful conduct of geopolitics is driven by a clear understanding of a state’s interests, a proper perception of relative power and weakness, driven forward by well-considered policy, and applied via well-crafted strategy underpinned by an appropriate mix of hard and soft power tools and instruments of which cyber is now but one. The aim of geopolitics is to shape the choices of others in pursuit of those interests.  Central to the successful conduct of geopolitics is in turn a proper understanding of the strategic environment, the likely choices and capabilities of adversary states and actors, and indeed those that lead them. Consequently, the gathering of information and the expertise to interpret it are the stuff of ‘intel’. Knowledge and understanding are strategic weapons in geopolitics.

    However, if one reads with serious intent President-elect Trump’s recent Twitter storm his ‘beef’ with the US intelligence community seems to run far deeper than concerns that the intelligence community is seeking to de-legitimise his November 2016 election victory.  There is profound ‘cultural’ dissonance between Trump’s understanding of geopolitics and that of much of the Washington policy establishment. For the status quo latter American geopolitics concerns the establishment and maintenance of strategic relationships with friendly states and actors vital to the securing of American interests. For the radical Trump geopolitics seems rather to simply be an extension of his real estate business, with the world as real estate.

    Cultural friction is not the only issue between Trump and High Washington. President-elect Trump seems also to conflate his determination to ‘clear out the swamp’, with his rejection of intelligence assessments, and his desire to reform US intelligence efforts. Let me try and untangle the Trump conflation.

    That US intelligence structures need reform is a moot point. There is no question that since the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the wake of 911, to better co-ordinate the efforts of the many agencies in the domain of ‘intel’, there have been occasions when intelligence assessments and analysis have been politicised. The structure is also top heavy and critically the CIA’s vital Directorate of Operations has withered. However, the need for agency reform has nothing whatsoever to do with the US intelligence assessment of Russian complicity in the 2016 cyber-attack on American democracy, most of which comes from the National Security Agency (NSA). If Trump wants that evidence ‘re-scrubbed’ he should speak to Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. The British also have clear evidence of Russia’s 2016 cyber-offensive, and I am sure Prime Minister May would be only happy to share that information post the January 20th inauguration as part of the new ‘special relationship’.

    What this rumpus really reveals is Donald J. Trump’s understanding of geopolitics is vastly different from that of High Washington.  In Art of the Deal Trump states, “…listen to your gut, no matter how good something sounds on paper”. Trump has repeatedly said during the transition that he sees his strength as a deal-maker. In real estate the deal is the end in and of itself, with relationships merely a ‘beautiful’ means to that end. However, geopolitics are not iterative they are constant, meaning that relationships are as important as ends. Indeed, in geopolitics means and ends are essentially the same thing, with relationships built on years of analysis-led mutual understanding.

    If President Trump sees geopolitics as merely a series of trade-offs then the world is in for a rough few years.  For example, if President Trump seeks a deal with Putin over combatting Islamic State, would he in return accept Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and much of Eastern Ukraine? Will he offer Europe a continued American security guarantee but only in return for much more money spent by Europeans on their own defence, and on condition they offer more support for what he deems to be America’s interests? Art of the Deal suggests that implicit in any of those ‘deals’ would be the constant threat that he could abrogate all and any of them at any time if he did not get what he wanted, as he pushed for ever more. Art of the Deal certainly implies he will be anti-EU. He would far rather have a group of weak European satellites subject to his will, than a co-ordinated group that could act as both partner and competitor. If so, NATO would only be of utility to Trump as a tool for ensuring European compliance as the supplicant partner in a new transatlantic ‘deal’.

    However, it is his relationship with China that is likely to be the biggest challenge for the Trump ‘doctrine’ of geopolitics. Donald Trump is instinctively attracted to those with a ruthless appetite for and understanding of power. That is why he is a ‘friend’ of Putin. However, Beijing is far more complicated and sophisticated than one-man Moscow. Like Beijing and Moscow Art of the Deal suggests that Trump geopolitics would also be instinctively drawn to the idea that might is right, with Western-led institutions seen merely as constraints on his deal-making action.

    What allies need to understand is what matters to Trump. Trump’s overarching aim is to secure and maintain his own power and wealth. America is a means to that end. Preserving his voter-base will thus be central to Trump geopolitics. A trade deal with China is central to that ambition. However, to get such a ‘deal’ with China will demand trade-offs. What would those trade-offs be? Would be implicitly accept China’s absurdly grand self-proclaimed sphere of interest in East Asia in much the same way he is about to legitimate Russia’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East? What would he want in return? China to stop using competitive devaluations of its currency in a de facto geo-economic ‘war’ with the US? China to enter into a bilateral trade deal with the US to replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the rest of Asia-Pacific simply be forced to accept their ‘place’ in the new Pacific order?  He says he wants China to thwart the nuclear ambitions of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un but in return for what? Would be implicitly accept that Taiwan’s future is an internal Chinese matter? They must be quite nervous in Taipei right now.

    Yesterday it was announced that two Russian warships had arrived in the Philippines for ‘exercises’. President Putin has sent those warships deep into the Pacific because he sees a strategic and political vacuum developing due to America’s retreat from geopolitics. Traditionally, American presidents have prevented the emergence of such vacuums by establishing early a series of foreign and security principles or ‘doctrines’ that make it clear to the world where America sees it vital interests, and which in turn are reinforced by a series of alliances and relationships.

    If, as seems likely, President Trump abandons a ‘doctrine’ in favour of a series of iterative deals he will help deepen the emerging vacuum because neither allies nor adversaries will have any certainty as to the nature or extent of America’s commitment to them or indeed anything else. To say this would be somewhat of a paradox is an understatement; that is precisely what happened on President Obama’s watch with a White House that had neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies, just values…and vague ones at that.

    President-elect Trump must realise and quickly that the White House cannot play petty politics with geopolitics. There are brave Americans risking their lives and their freedom daily to give the Office of the President the information it needs for the Commander-in-Chief to successfully conduct geopolitics and, when the time inevitably comes, make some very big calls. And, there could well be a very big call to make during President Trump’s first year in office if North Korea proves it can place a nuclear warhead atop a missile capable of reaching Seattle.

    In geopolitics gut feeling is never enough.  Indeed, successful geopolitics demands far more than the art of the deal. ‘Deals’, however clever, are often the antithesis of geopolitics because in the absence of principles of political realism they destroy good, long-term relationships with friends, too often in favour of bad, short-term relationships with (excuse me) assholes.

    Relationships not deals are the key to successful geopolitics as President Donald J. Trump will soon discover…along with the rest of us!

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    Aleppo and Putin’s Great Crusade

    December 19th, 2016


    By Julian French.


    “His courage, cunning, energy and patience made him the most remarkable man on his time”

    Ali ibn al-Athir on Richard the Lionheart and the Third Crusade (1189-1192)

    Europe’s small-minded, little thinking little leaders seem unable to grasp the strategic ambition behind Putin’s Great Crusade. With the brutal fall of Aleppo this past weekend President Putin is well on his way to creating a puppet state in the Middle East as his Great Crusade gathers momentum. The West has failed Aleppo and itself in part because its leaders thought Putin was fighting a small war for small ends. In fact, Putin is fighting a a series of small ‘wars’ in pursuit of very big strategic ends; influence around the Black Sea, through south-eastern Europe, across much of the Levant and the northern Middle East, as well as the Mediterranean basin.

    On 27 December, whilst much of North America and Europe slumber in Yuletide excess, President Putin will host a meeting in Moscow with Iran, Syria and Turkey to discuss a resolution to end the Syrian War. At that meeting it will be decided that Syrian ‘moderates’ (both real and synthetic) will be invited to ‘peace’ talks charged with ending the war and re-establishing some domestic ‘legitimacy’ for the Assad puppet-state. A general war will also be declared against all ‘terrorists’, i.e. any groups deemed to be standing in the way of the interests of the four states represented in Moscow. This will include all Islamist groups, including some Sunni groups close to the Saudis, and all Kurdish groups inimical to President Erdogan. Erdogan will also be offered an anti-Kurd ‘buffer zone’ along Turkey’s southern border, not dissimilar to the one Putin himself seeks along his own western border. The meeting will also pave the way for the coming attack on Idlib.

    The very fact of the meeting, its timing, and its location is strategically critical. In the face of lamentable Western weakness 2016 saw President Putin become the power-broker across much of the northern Middle East and beyond.  He has strengthened Shia Iran in its proxy wars with Western-leaning Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Co-operation Council, tightened a strategic vice on Israel, and forced the government in Baghdad to look increasingly to him and not the Americans. By confirming Russia’s in-for-the-long-haul military presence at his two military bases in Syria Putin now threatens Cyprus and has extended his influence across the Mediterranean basin, both north and south.

    However, Putin’s ‘jewel in the crown’ at the Moscow meeting will be Turkey. In this year of shocks (i.e. Western retreat) much has been made about Brexit and the election in the US of an apparently pro-Putin President-elect Trump. However, the biggest strategic shock to the West in 2016 has been the rapid loss of Turkey. Just over a year ago in November 2015 Turkey shot down a Russian fighter-bomber. Russo-Turkish relations were at a low ebb. A year on and Russia and Turkey are fast-forging a strategic partnership with immense implications for the region, NATO and the West.

    So, why is Turkey switching allegiance? President Erdogan has all but abandoned the Western-leaning strategy of modern Turkey’s great founder, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk. Erdogan was deeply frustrated and angered by what he saw as lukewarm Western support during the failed July 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan also believes that Moscow will prove a more decisive ally than the West in preventing the emergence of a de facto Kurdistan. 2016 was also the year that Turkey’s ambitions to join the EU finally evaporated.

    What does Putin gain from such an alliance? The Russo-Turkish alliance changes the big strategic picture. Firstly, Putin now has protected access for the Russian Black Seas fleet into the Mediterranean. After concluding operations off Syria I would not be at all surprised if the aircraft-carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and its six ship task group sail into the Black Sea and onto Sevastopol. Secondly, with a pro-Russian government in Bulgaria, an EU member-state, and Russian influence over Cyprus, Greece, Hungary and Italy growing. President Putin is offsetting Russia’s intrinsic relative weakness vis-à-vis the West by ‘deconstructing’ his adversaries.   Thirdly, the Turkish alliance helps Putin further dissemble NATO. Since the coup Ankara has steadily removed Western-leaning officials and officers from the command chain of the Alliance and replaced them with ultra-nationalist hardliners.

    Furthermore, if Francois Fillon is elected ‘President de la Republique’ in May 2017 I would not be at all surprised if the two French-built Mistral-class assault ships recently ‘sold’ to Egypt suddenly appeared alongside the Kuznetsov. This would create a powerful Russian Mediterranean Fleet just at the moment when the US Navy is being challenged to over-stretch in the Pacific. The sooner the British can bring its two new fleet carriers fully into service the better. However, to do so the British must for once see beyond London’s strategic myopia and look at Putin’s big strategic picture, and properly prepare those ships for service.

    However, a word of warning. In 1095 sheer force of Frankish arms conquered Jerusalem for the Crusaders. For fifty or so years the Frankish kingdom tried to consolidate itself. However, in 1187 Jerusalem fell to the mighty Salah ah-Din Yussuf ibn Ayyub.  Allegiances and prospects can change very quickly in the Middle East and Putin could lose all his influence just as quickly as he has gained it.

    2016 has been the year of Putin and at the Moscow meeting he will demonstrate that to the world and to his own people on the eve of the Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7th. President Putin has succeeded because he understands the cynical application of power and strategy. Because of that President Putin is brilliantly changing the strategic order not just in the Middle East, but across much of Europe, and along Russia’s southern borders.

    Perhaps President Putin has been inspired by the words of the Salah al-Din. On seizing Aleppo in 1183 Salah ah-Din said that Aleppo was “the key to all the lands”.  He also said, “I warn you against shedding blood, indulging in it and making a habit of it, for blood never sleeps”.

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    Weakism, Wishful Thinking & Yalta 2

    December 10th, 2016


    By Julian French.



    “If Hitler invaded hell I would at least make a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”.

    Winston Churchill

    Alphen, Netherlands. 9 December. Funny old week. The Great European Mess is deepening inexorably. Last weekend, at the excellent GLOBSEC Chateau Bela conference somewhere in deepest Slovakia, elite wishful thinking was at its most egregious. First, I was told by a Polish academic that Britain must be punished for voting to leave the EU. When I pointed out any such attempt to punish the British would probably damage Britain’s commitment to the defence of central Europe, and thus NATO, I was accused of ‘again’ betraying Poland. Second, a senior former Polish politician said that only those who swear an oath of allegiance to the EU should be allowed to stand for election to the European Parliament. When I asked about the right of dissent which defines democracy all I got in reply was a not untypical sneer. Finally, a British commentator, whom I both like and respect, tried to convince an all-too-keen to agree audience that last week’s victory of the Liberal Democrat minnows at the Richmond Park by-election was somehow indicative of a huge shift in British public opinion against Brexit. Dream on! So, what I hear you say, has any of the above got to do with Yalta 2?  Wishful thinking.

    Let me take you back to Yalta 1. The Yalta Conference of 4-11 February, 1945 saw Europe effectively carved up between a rampant Soviet Union and an overly optimistic America, with a fading Britain invited along as strategic wallpaper. It was the last great get-together of ‘The Big Three’; a supreme Stalin, an ailing Roosevelt, and a strategically-eclipsed Churchill. In spite of Churchill’s clearly expressed concerns to a dying Roosevelt that Stalin could not be trusted to be a partner in the post-war world of the ‘United Nations’, the Western Allies signed-up to what in effect was a divided, spheres of influence Europe, and an incubating Cold War .

    Under the utterly cynical rubric of the so-called Declaration of Liberated Europe, Europeans were to be given the right to “create democratic institutions of their own choice”. The Declaration went on to call for, “…the earliest possible establishment through free elections of governments responsive to the will of the people”. In fact, the Declaration was little more than a fig-leaf to hide the fact that the Western allies would do nothing to stop Stalin turning Central and Eastern Europe into a giant Soviet collective farm.

    Fast forward some seventy-plus years. In his new book, Thank You for Being Late, Thomas Friedman cites me and my concept of ‘weakism’. By ‘weakism’ I mean the breaking down of political structure into small, divided groups, allied to the wilful belief of the liberal elite that diversity is strength, and weakness is security. Sadly, weakism is rife in Europe, based on the idea that if one is too weak to act then one will not be asked to, nor can one offend nor threaten anyone else. Such nonsense is so far from the power Darwinism that is once again rampant in the world that what should be a strong Europe has once again become political prey to power predators, as it was in the 1930s.  We Europeans would rather wallow endlessly in the mighty, empty words of mighty, empty institutions than face the consequences of someone else’s dangerous might.

    At Chateau Bela there was significant talk of a Yalta 2; a Europe again carved up into spheres of Machtpolitik influence. As if to ram home the message this week a full page advert appeared in the New York Times that purported to come from Russia. In a ghostly reminder of Yalta it called for the establishment of a new ‘Big Three’ – China, the US and Russia. Given the Russian economy is half the size of the UK’s the call for such a ‘big three’ would be laughable were it not for the fact that Russia’s armed forces (both conventional and nuclear) are now the most capable in Europe – at least for the time-being. This new and dangerous reality is still something too many of the ‘wishful thinking’ foreign ministers meeting at this week’s NATO ministerial still refuse to acknowledge.

    Yalta 1 happened because in spite of being economically immensely stronger than the Soviet Union in 1945 America had no intention of fighting another war with Stalin over the future shape of Europe. At least not a hot war. Britain was broke and broken by World War Two. Churchill saw Stalin as little better than Hitler, and only forged an alliance with Moscow in the Machiavellian belief that the enemy’s enemy must by default be Britain’s friend, at least for the duration of the war. America was always thinking about ‘bringing the boys home’. In February 1945 the Americans still had the Pacific War to win. Europe was weak and abject, with much of it in ruins. Yalta was thus simply an exercise in strategic realism and political expediency.

    Déjà vu all over again? This week I had the honour to address some of Britain’s most senior soldiers during the Cavalry Colonels Dinner at the Cavalry and Guards Club in London. In fact, those present were almost all generals. My theme was British power and the need for Britain to again begin behaving like a top five world economy and military actor. Why? Not because I harbour any illusions about a new golden British strategic age. London’s Little Britain elite has for too long been infected by weakism, as well as power and strategic pretence, for such an age to be possible. Indeed, the only ‘good’ news for Britain is that much of the Continent has been far worse. The problem is that British weakism, allied to the weakism of other Europeans, is actively helping to make Europe and the world a far more dangerous place than it should be. It is also encouraging rusty oil can economies like Russia to believe that they can again decide the fate of Europe.

    Next week there will be yet another EU defence talkfest at which the very little will be presented as the very big. There will be the usual nonsensical talk of ‘historic moments’ and ‘breakthroughs’, when in fact eloquent weakism will once again be the entrée on the table in Brussels. Little of substance will be done to change the EU’s non-policies towards IS/Daesh, the transformation of Aleppo into Grozny, the slow, pitiful steps being taken towards legitimising Russian aggression in Ukraine, or the what is now laughable idea of a credible EU defence without Britain.

    Yalta 1 happened because Europe was weak due to World War Two and because of wishful American thinking of the time. Yalta 2 could happen because Europe is again pitifully weak, but this time wilfully so. For too long Europe’s elite have been trying to match hard power with soft power. The result? No power. Wishful thinking is no defence, as I discovered to my concern in the rolling hills of Slovakia.

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    Why is London so Crap at Brexit?

    November 21st, 2016


    By Julian French.



    Why is London so crap at Brexit? In my 2015 book Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (which is of course brilliant and very reasonably-priced and can be bought incredibly reasonably at I state, “…‘managing decline’ has become the ethos of so many British governments and too often simply masks the damaging lack of imagination of a political class and a bureaucratic elite who have for so long seen strategy made elsewhere that they now take decline for granted”. The book goes on, “Such failings are now apparent across government, reflective of a Westminster culture that routinely places politics before strategy”. I wrote that passage well before this year’s Brexit referendum. Sadly, as expected, London’s political and bureaucratic elite are making a mess of Brexit. Here are ten reasons why.

    Devolution: there are now several competing poles of power in Britain thanks to Tony Blair’s disastrous experiment in devolution. The Westminster Parliament looks increasingly like an English parliament in which the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish rule on English matters. One of the many implicit battles of Brexit is the sovereignty of Westminster versus the encroaching sovereignty of politically inimical devolved parliaments and assemblies.

    The Ruling Caste: This past weekend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, the man who drafted Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, said that the British need mass immigration because we British are “so bloody stupid”. Sadly, this comment typifies the arrogance of what has become an unaccountable ruling bureaucratic elite for whom national sovereignty and democracy are simply inconveniences. In Riga I challenged bluntly another member of that EU governing caste who suggested openly that the British people were too ignorant to know why they voted to leave. The EU gets blamed for a lot that is not of its own making, but there is no question that the EU has also fostered a ruling bureaucratic uber-elite that treats the people with utter contempt.

    Irreconcilable Remoaners: Such elite arrogance provides the political momentum for the Remoaners. Democracy works by people accepting the results of votes. Too many Remoaners are simply refusing to accept the referendum result thus turning a crisis into a disaster. Forget all the guff about respecting the vote but…that one hear’s from such people. There are many Remoaners in very high places determined to ensure Britain never leaves the EU.

    Incompetent Brexiteers: Too many of the leading Brexiteers abandoned the political field of battle in the wake of the referendum in the belief the decision had been made. And, at a political level Theresa May decapitated the Brexit campaign by taking three of the leaders into government in effect muzzling them. This left the field open for Remoaners to cause trouble. A political opportunist if ever there was one it now looks like even Tony Blair senses a chance to return from the land of the walking political dead to scupper Brexit.

    A Divided Cabinet: Theresa May’s Cabinet is itself hopelessly split. On one side of the split are the so-called soft Brexiteers, i.e. Remoaners, led by Philip Hammond, who want Britain to remain part of the Single Market. They want Britain to accept free movement of citizens (as agreed in the amended 1991 Maastricht Treaty), pay into the EU budget, and remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. In other words, they also want Britain to remain a member of the EU, albeit without any voting rights, the worst of all Euro-worlds. On the other side of the split are the increasingly frustrated Brexiteers. This weekend the latter set up the European Research Group in an attempt to hold Government to account over Brexit.

    A Politicised Civil Service: During the thirteen years of the Blair-Brown governments the civil services became progressively politicised. This process was reinforced by the use of legions Special Advisors (SPADS) and years of politically-correct recruitment. Whereas once the Civil Service may have been said to have been patrician conservative with a small ‘c’, it is now overwhelmingly bourgeois, pro-EU and soft left. Yes, making Brexit happen is technically difficult, and yes, there are still excellent senior civil servants trying to make inchoate politics work in the finest traditions of a once fine service. However, it also appears too many senior civil servants are quietly trying to frustrate Brexit. The extent of this dissembling was made clear by Cameron Downing Street insider Daniel Korski in a recent piece in Politico.

    A Hard Brexit or No Brexit: ‘Soft Brexit’, ‘hard Brexit’, ‘clean Brexit’, ‘cliff-edge Brexit’, ‘transition Brexit’, ‘one-minute past midnight Brexit’. There are now so many Brexit options an already complex political challenge is fast becoming a strategic nightmare. In fact, there are only two Brexit options – a hard Brexit or no Brexit.   This reality was reinforced to me by a senior German politician over dinner in Brussels last Wednesday.  For the EU anything else would probably presage the unravelling of an already vulnerable and fragile Union.

    The Hollowed-Out British State: The EU has hollowed-out much of the British state through the transfer of ‘competences’ from London to Brussels. Proof positive of how successive British governments quietly transferred huge amount of British power to Brussels whilst telling the British people the opposite. Two leaked memos this past week have revealed the lacunae in skills in Whitehall needed to negotiate Brexit. This has (of course) been denied by Downing Street, but from my experience it rings horribly true, particularly when it comes to trade negotiators.

    A Politicised Judiciary: I am not one of those who attacks the judiciary for judgements made, as I believe strongly in the separation of powers. However, the same process that shifted the political centre of gravity from soft right to soft left in Whitehall, and all the assumptions that go with it, was also applied to the judiciary by Tony Blair. Unlike many I have read the judgement of the three High Court judges on the case brought by Gina Miller to the effect that the Government cannot use Royal Prerogative to invoke Article 50. Sorry, but some of the ‘legal’ assumptions in the ruling strike me as essentially and quite clearly political.

    Political Weakness: It may be that in staying ‘mum’ Theresa May is playing a wonderfully canny game in preparing the ground for Article 50 and Britain’s subsequent departure from the EU. I see nor hear no evidence of that. Rather, the same old Whitehall-Westminster foreign policy tendency of wanting to appease all without appearing to do so. It is precisely this weakness that has encouraged German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble to state this weekend that Britain will be forced to pay into the EU budget even after it leaves the EU. The consequence? Even though Britain is a top five world economic and military power it does not act like one.

    A Lack of Elite Belief in Britain: At root the Brexit fiasco reflects a London political and bureaucratic elite too many of whom simply do not believe in Britain. Some of them even want to break the UK into its four constituent ‘nations’ so that it could in time become part of a new ‘state’ called ‘Europe’. Too much of the London elite spend too much time lost in the intellectual desert that is universalism having abandoned the very idea of patriotism and the nation-state. This sets them at odds with huge swathes of the British people who remain stubbornly patriotic and creates a political gap that the likes of Nigel Farage (and Donald Trump in the US) are filling. If the elite do not actually believe in Britain how can they fashion a sense of the national interest other than some vague extension of their even vaguer notions of universalism and globalism?

    In spite of my profound misgivings about the EU, its governance, its efficiency, its unworldliness, and its erosion of democratic oversight I eventually turned against Brexit. This was partly due to reasons of geopolitics, but also because I foresaw the almighty strategic and political mess Brexit is fast becoming.

    Soft Brexit? Hard Brexit? No, we need quick Brexit, not lingering death Brexit, which is what the elite is now conspiring to craft. For the sake of Britain, the EU, and indeed NATO, it is vital that Brexit is resolved in a quick, orderly and friendly manner. A responsible elite would recognise this strategic truism, honour the vote that was taken on June 23rd as I have, and move to re-establish a new relationship with the EU outside of the institutions. In so doing they would pull together to realise the will of the people in what was a UK-wide vote and make it so.

    Is that going to happen? No. Why? Brexit is precisely the big, complex, strategic, substantive process London has become useless at. And, because too much of the British political and bureaucratic elite is not only irresponsible…it is also crap!

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    November 9th, 2016

    By Julian French.


    “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual and it is those interests it is our duty to follow”.

    Lord Palmerston

    Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, 9 November. Well, that went well didn’t it? I am sitting at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport about to cross the new inner-West border by flying to London. In June large hordes of British people told Brussels where to go with Brexit. Now, large swathes of the American people have told Washington where to go with Trumxit. Some Chicken Littles here in Europe are already screaming ‘the sky is falling, the sky is falling’. But is it? What are the ‘strategic’ implications of President-elect Trump’s victory? What would a Trump Doctrine look like?

    US grand strategy: President Trump will certainly abandon the values that infused the ‘Obama Doctrine’ and likely adopt a hard-headed interests-led foreign and security policy. However, he alone will decide just what the US interest actually is. Certainly, there will be more money for the US armed forces, but probably also a surprisingly ‘pragmatic’ approach to dealing with the likes China and Russia. As for ISIS there is nothing Trump has said thus far that suggests he either understands the issues implicit in the threat, or is willing to commit the immense forces and resources over time and distance needed to deal with it.

    Brexit: Britain suddenly has a powerful ally in the White House for the coming Brexit negotiations with the EU, if for once London can exploit such an opportunity. Trump made no effort to hide his admiration for the decision of the British to quit the EU and even claimed Brexit was an inspiration for his campaign.  The Special Relationship might linger on a little longer if Theresa May’s Cabinet can hold its nose long enough to make use of it. If I were London I would get that British new super-carrier over to the US pronto! After all, President-elect Trump clearly enjoys the theatre of power.

    NATO: Much will depend on how the Allies react to President Trump. As I wrote in a piece earlier in the year President Trump is likely to adopt a transactional foreign and security policy. As such he will hold the Allies to a far greater degree of burden sharing if the US is to remain the security guarantor of Europe. He will certainly demand the Allies at the very least fulfil and quickly the commitment made at the 2014 Wales Summit to spend 2% GDP on defence of which 20% must be spent on new military equipment. However, comments this morning that NATO is finished are as ever premature.

    The West: The old West is dead, long-live the new West? The West was born of an Anglo-American partnership that spawned a global institution-based security order. It is not a little ironic then in that it is the Anglo-Americans who are fast killing it off, which from a British viewpoint is actually a disaster. President Trump will probably accelerate a trend toward Machtpolitik which has sadly been underway for some time, and which speaks to the very nature of a transactional foreign policy. A shared understanding of, and penchant for, big, uncouth power seems to be the spring of Trump’s bromance with Putin, and seems to be how he conducts his business empire.  Equally, if the idea of the West as a bloc is to survive under President Trump, then the Europeans will at least have to abandon some of the overdone institutionalism that passes for foreign and security policy in Europe, and properly reinvest in tools of power and influence.

    There is of course a big ‘but’ with all of the above. As I write this it looks like Republicans are making gains in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. With people like Senator John McCain (R-Az) likely to hold key positions on the Senate Armed Services and other important congressional committees, the confirmation process for the new Administration will impose at least some level of balance. In any case, for all Trump’s fiery rhetoric during the campaign from about America’s place and role in the world his emphasis is likely to be overwhelmingly on undoing Obama’s domestic legacy, most notably the Affordable Healthcare Act.  Yes, the armed forces will get a boost to shore up the support of his base, but foreign policy will not be President Trump’s over-riding concern. In any case, he will be mired in endless battles with a Washington that he regards as a ‘swamp’ and which he has vowed to ‘drain’.

    Which brings me to the real danger; there will be no Trump Doctrine. Rather, a Trump foreign policy could well descend into a mix of bluster, opportunism, isolationism, idiosyncratic activism, mercantilism, and trade protectionism, but offer little or no coherent or consistent strategy. Given how dangerous uncertainty is already making the world there is little question that President Trump could make the world more, not less dangerous. That is why European leaders far from rejecting President-elect Trump must now hug him close.

    When Lord Palmerston made that famous statement about British interests at the height of Empire he did so firm in the belief that it was in the British interest to maintain strategic balance. President-elect Trump has as yet to evince any suggestion that he understands America’s pivotal role in the maintenance of today’s strategic balance. One can only hope he develops such a vision and quickly…for all our sakes.

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    What is the State of the Russian Navy?

    October 21st, 2016


    By Julian French.


    “Any ruler that has ground troops has one hand,

    but one that also has a navy has both”, Peter the Great.

    Alphen, Netherlands. 20 October. What is the state of the Russian Navy? Many years ago at Oxford I wrote a paper entitled, “The Development of the Soviet Navy as a Blue Water Fleet with the 1956 Appointment of Admiral Sergei Gorshkov”. Snappy title, eh? As I write a ‘blue water’ power-projection Russian fleet is sailing towards the English Channel having been escorted in turn by a Type-23 Royal Navy frigate HMS Richmond, and two Type-45 destroyers HMS Duncan and HMS Daring. At the core of the eight-ship Russian task group is Moscow’s one aircraft-carrier the 1980s built, 43,000 ton (standard load) Kuznetsov. Ironically, theKuznetsov has just steamed a few nautical miles from where Britain is fitting out and completing the new 72,500 ton aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

    The Russian task group certainly looks impressive. It left Severomorsk Harbour on Saturday to sail round the North Cape into the Norwegian Sea. The Kuznetsov is supported by the nuclear-powered missile cruiser Petr Veliky, and the anti-submarine cruiser Severomorsk, together with five other units. Two further Russian ships are at this moment off the French coast heading north seemingly to rendezvous with the task group.

    Some distance off Severomorsk the carrier’s air wing arrived and included Mig-29/KUB, Su-27 and Su-35 fighters and fighter-bombers, together with Ka-52K helicopters.  From the exercising that began in the Norwegian Sea and continued south past the Orkneys it appears the group is preparing to undertake air strikes against Syria (most likely Aleppo) from the sea when the group arrives in the eastern Mediterranean.

    This year the Russian Navy celebrated its 320th birthday. Whilst much younger than the Royal Navy, the Russian Navy remains one of the world’s most celebrated. From its founding by Peter the Great for much of its history the Russian Navy, if not a blue water fleet – a force capable of operating globally – could still project Russian might far and wide. After the disastrous loss of the 1905 Battle of Tsushima to the British-aided Japanese, and the subsequent 1917 overthrow of the Tsar, the Soviet Navy for a time became little more than a coastal protection force. That limited role ended with Gorshkov. In the 1960s and 1970s the Soviet Union constructed a powerful global reach force of cruisers, destroyers and nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines, culminating in the enormous Typhoon-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines.

    The Soviet strategy was pretty much the same as today. The strategy had four elements: to create protected bastions or spaces from which Soviet ‘boomers’ could launch ballistic missiles in relative safety; to protect the approaches to the Soviet Union; to provide an outer-layer for a multi-layered defence; and to harry and stretch Western navies through the aggressive deployment of fast nuclear hunter-killer submarines, particularly Western ‘boomers’ and surface forces.

    For much of the 1990s the Russian Navy fell into a terrible state of disrepair, eventually resulting in the tragic loss of the new nuclear attack submarine Kursk in 2000. The loss was due to a highly-dangerous experiment into the use of a form of torpedo propellant that the Royal Navy had also tried and abandoned in the 1950s. With the 2000 arrival in power of President Putin the Russian Navy has been steadily reclaiming its strength. Now armed with the new Iskandr family of missiles the Russian Navy is fast developing again the capability to exert power, influence and effect far beyond Russia’s borders.

    Admiral Viktor Chirkov said recently, “The Russian Navy is being equipped with the newest weapons, including long-range strike weapons, and has big nuclear power. Naval forces today are capable of operating for a long time and with high combat readiness in operationally important areas of the global ocean”. It is true that the Russian Navy can deploy an impressive array. However, and even though President Putin has prioritised naval construction to an extent, Russia’s difficult fiscal situation means that the Navy has far fewer platforms than in the past, and they are required to do far more tasks by Russia’s aggressive foreign policy. Equally, the ships the Russian Navy does possess have seen a step-change over the last decade in a whole suite of capabilities from weapons, to sensors, to enhanced command, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

    It is in the design and construction of submarines where the Russian are making particularly impressive progress. Since 2010 the sixty strong Russian submarine fleet has been augmented by the commissioning of 8 new Borei-class nuclear-powered, ballistic/long-range nuclear cruise missile submarines, 10 Graney-class nuclear hunter-killer submarines and 20 super-quiet diesel-electric submarines of the Varshavyanka class. By way of comparison the Royal Navy’s seven Astute-class nuclear-attack submarines have been under construction since 2001 and only three have yet been commissioned.

    That said, for all the impressive appearance of the Kuznetsov group the Russian Navy of today is a work-in-progress and still enjoys nothing like the strategic reach or operational flexibility of the United States Navy. It is also open to question whether the Russian Navy will continue to receive the necessary investments needed to meet its impressive post-2010 build programme. Moreover, Russia lacks key shipbuilding capabilities which has limited the expansion of the Navy. The loss of the two French-builtMistral-class assault ships has also reduced the maritime-amphibious capacity of the Russian Navy significantly.

    However, Moscow remains utterly committed to developing a twenty-first century navy that can properly fulfil its three core missions of deter, defend and demonstrate Russian power. The West must therefore grip the strategic challenge implicit in today’s Russian Navy because it is first and foremost a weapon being honed for possible use against the West.

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    “Cyber is Scarier than you Think”

    October 19th, 2016


    By Julian French.


    “The idea that the future will be different from the present is so repelling for our conventional way of thinking and for our behaviour that, at least the vast majority of us, if not all, pose a great resistance to acting on it in practice”.

    John Maynard Keynes, 1937

    Alphen, Netherlands. 18 October. The other day in Poland I watched one of those ‘power films’ beloved of armed forces showing full throttle military ships, aircraft, and camouflaged, armour-clad soldiers in action, backed by typically stirring modern, martial music. In fact, it was ‘faux power’ because for all the impressive military platforms and systems on show, and vital though they are, making the citizen really secure in the twenty-first century will demand much, much more.  ‘Security’ now demands far more than big, metal bits that go bang.

    One of the many highlights last week in Toronto at Julie Lindhout’s ATA General Assembly meeting was the chance to chair a panel of real experts on the challenge posed by new technology to defence strategy. Too often those of us who float high in the intellectual ether of policy and strategy fail to properly grasp the very real danger that future shock could well emerge from the shadows of our own ignorance. Jon Lindsay of Toronto University, Brigadier-General Henrik Sommer of Allied Command Transformation, and Duncan Stewart of Canada’s National Research Council helped put me straight.

    Duncan Stewart warned of the dangers posed by ‘disruptive technologies’ that threaten to negate billions of dollars of defence investment and the linear thinking that drives much of it. Brigadier-General Sommer considered the role of force in the face of such threats. The modern military force will need to be ‘agile’, one part of a system of systems that can defend as much against cyber and hybrid attacks, as against enemy aircraft, ships and tanks.

    However, it was Jon Lindsay was raised what for me was the existential question of the session. Are Western states any longer intellectually, technically, militarily, and politically agile enough to defend themselves? When I think of my own country Britain I really wonder. Look at any major project in which the British Government is currently engaged and two words spring immediately to mind; utter incompetence. Let me add a third word; utter bloody incompetence! Most of this incompetence is due to the lack of leadership, vision, and joined-upness at the very top of government for which London is sadly now ‘renowned’. It also reflects a lack of understanding as to what is needed.

    The need for such joined-upness is self-evident. The application of such technologies to the contested security space is not limited to realm of cyber. Nanotechnologies, micro-biology and a whole host of hitherto ‘exotic technologies’ are entering, or about to enter, the geopolitical fray. Such technologies could act as the Great Leveller enabling ever smaller actors to generate ever greater strategic effect as the price of mass destruction and disruption falls.

    Sadly, for all the strategic talk (most of it blah, blah), and for all the investment being made in intelligence, policing and armed forces in an effort to strengthen the home base and thus protect the ability of the state to project power, much of it is nonsense. The level of holistic thinking needed to craft strategy and policy in such a complex environment demands at the very least a proper understanding of what is out there, what could be out there, and what we in the West need to do to ensure and assure our own security. From my experience such understanding simply does not exist. Worse, there is insufficient understanding at the policy level of those capabilities and capacities which already exist and which could render Western societies more affordably secure.

    Far from crafting the grand strategy (the organisation of immense means in pursuit of even greater security and defence ends) necessary to prevail Western society suffers instead from grand vulnerability. The bottom-line is this; the central nervous systems of Western states ever more dependent on cyber and information as the flowing corpuscles of governance, are ever more vulnerable to catastrophic penetration. They must be hardened and protected if those same states are to retain the power to protect people AND project power.

    Therefore, to use American parlance, the defence and the offence must become far more joined-up, as must security, defence and society. Above all, those charged with the responsibility for security and defence must have a far better understanding of the relationship between emerging technologies and future shock.

    There was once a time when I would have said a country like Britain would have been able to withstand such shock. My sense now is that like so many Western societies British society is ripe for the taking. Yes, intelligence services prevent a lot of attacks, both state-sponsored and otherwise. However, to paraphrase Winston Churchill modern Western ‘one-hit’ societies are fast becoming egg-shells that whilst able to hurl huge rocks fall apart if hit even once. Indeed, the very emphasis on prevention masks the woeful investment in societal recovery vitally needed if resiliency is to mean anything when, inevitably, a really major attack succeeds.

    Thus, the challenge to the West from disruptive technologies becomes greater by the day as society retreats from hard reality into soft denial. A successful cyber, bio or other such attack would test the last vestiges of solidarity between and within ill-prepared states. Social cohesion is at best fragile, and societal resilience highly questionable.  And, until governments stop treating citizens like children they will be complicit in the very insecurity they seek to prevent.

    No Western government, with the partial exception of the US Government, has any real clue about the threat posed by disruptive, penetrative, destructive non-military technologies to open societies. In fact, lagging governments are far more concerned with hiding how little they know, than properly crafting a sound defence, building robust resilience, and preparing for effective response and recovery.  As Duncan Stewart said, “cyber is scarier than you think”. In fact, it is all scarier than we think.

    Armed forces are pioneering joint force commands. What is really needed is a Joint Security Command charged with considering security and defence in the round.

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    The Global West Is All At Sea

    October 6th, 2016

    By Julian French.


    (This article has just appeared the October-December 2016 edition of The NAVY: The Magazine of the Navy League of Australia”. It is reproduced with kind permission of the Editorial Board. The article has been adapted to fit the technical constraints of the blog).
    “Britain now had world empire because she was the preeminent sea power; the lesson for Tirpitz was that if Germany wished to pursue Weltmacht, only possession of a powerful navy…could make it possible”. Castles of Steel, Robert K. Massie
    The NAVY set this author an interesting challenge; to consider the maritime positioning of Australia, Japan and the United States with regard to China. The challenge is interesting in two ways. First, my first thought was that ‘maritime positioning’ was some form of dynamic navigation device. Second, my very British keel is firmly anchored in Dutch waters. And then I got to think. One of my theses is that the West is no longer a place but a set of liberal values, interests and strategic assumptions centred on the United States and shared by partners the world-over. And, that the very idea of the liberal West is being challenged by illiberal power the world over with much of that challenge emerging on, under, and above the sea. It is in that geopolitical context one must necessarily consider the ‘maritime positioning’ of Australia, Japan, and the United States with regard to China.
    First, let me deal with what I mean by maritime positioning. It is the role of the respective navies of the three countries in relation to their own defence, all-important and evolving US grand strategy, and China’s own burgeoning geopolitical ambitions. This brief article will thus consider all three issues in turn before concluding by considering them all within the context of the global West.
    The core message of the piece is direct; China’s naval challenge is not untypical of emerging illiberal powers. Beijing places much store on a powerful People’s Liberation Navy not just because such a force is a legitimate weapon for the world’s number two economy to possess. Powerful navies have always played well to the strategic egos of emerging powers – liberal and illiberal. China is little different from Imperial Germany at the turn of the last century in this regard. Like it or not, unless there is an unlikely new treaty that would limit naval armaments the likes of China and Russia will determinedly draw the liberal West into a naval arms race that in its scale and strategic implications will look a lot like that between Britain and Germany in the run-up to the First World War. The regimes in Beijing and Moscow simply cannot help themselves. So, where do Australia, Japan and the United States fit into this changing strategic maritime picture?
    The Royal Australian Navy is a small, modern western force. Traditionally, whilst designed first and foremost to safeguard Australia’s national interests in and around Australian waters, the RAN has always played a wider geopolitical role as a strategic adjunct to other navies. For many years the RAN was in effect a farflung flotilla of Britain’s Royal Navy. As Britain declined in the wake of World War Two the role of lead force was steadily usurped by the United States Navy. Today, with a force of fifty commissioned ships focused mainly on frigates and conventional submarines, augmented by some amphibious and mine countermeasure capabilities, the RAN is again playing an important strategic role reinforcing the United States Navy (USN), particularly when it comes to the latter’s role in protecting the global commons vital to the well-being and security of the global West. Contrary to what some in Australia seem to think the RAN is not a strategic force in and of itself and future planning would not suggest any real ambitions on the part of Canberra for the RAN to play such a role any time soon.
    The Japanese Navy is not dissimilar in role and function to the RAN, even if it is markedly larger. Since the defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1945 and the adoption of the post-war Japanese constitution the role of Japan’s forces as self-defence forces has severely circumscribed any autonomous strategic role for Tokyo. This restraint has been applied rigorously to the Japanese Navy precisely because the Imperial Japanese Navy was at the very heart of Japanese power projection during World War Two. Like the RAN the Japanese Navy has for many years contented itself with guarding Japanese home waters and supporting the USN in maintaining a balance of power in East Asian waters and the wider Asia-Pacific theatre. So long as that balance was maintained the Japanese were content to play a purely defensive role as part of US naval and wider grand strategy. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s planned revision of the Japanese constitution would permit Japanese forces to play a more assertive role in defence of a wider understanding of Japan’s interests. This revision of Japan’s strategic stance ultimately reflects Abe’s own belief that the postwar balance of power in Asia-Pacific could at some point collapse. Abe has good reasons to be concerned.
    One reason for concern in both Canberra and Tokyo is the growing global overstretch of US forces, in particular the USN. As the world’s only global power the United States looks increasingly like Great Britain in the 1890s when the naval challenge from Imperial Germany began to take shape. The Americans remain strong on paper but their forces are stretched thin the world over. Consequently, the illiberal powers now control the timing, the location, and indeed the manner by which they can choose to complicate American strategic calculation. It is a situation made worse by the political gridlock on Capitol Hill which for some years has been driving sequestration which in turn has badly damaged the US ability to undertake the long-term planning vital to strategic navies such as the USN.
    Worse, the threat to global power projection navies from smaller, regional actors is growing. The advent of super-silent submarine technology, navalised ship-killing drone and missile, and other technologies is making it ever easier to disrupt power projection and increase the cost and risk of effective sea control and sea presence. Such technologies are placing at risk the big, expensive platforms upon which a global reach navy like the USN rely upon to fulfill the global power policing role which has been thrust upon the Americans, not least because of the strategic and political weakness of many key allies, most notably in Europe.
    The big change-agent in maritime affairs is China which today is playing a role very similar to Germany in European waters prior to World War One and Japan in Pacific waters prior to World War Two. China has been growing its defence budget at double digit percentage figures since 1989. The People’s Liberation Army Navy is developing a form of joint extended-reach strategic defence force with blue water capabilities that is fast tipping the balance of power in the South and East China Seas.
    This change has profound implications for Australia, Japan and the United States when the now highly-likely confrontation eventually happens.
    Chinese strategy is clearly designed to establish exclusive control over much of the South China Sea, to force Japan into subordination in the East China Sea, and by demonstrating that China not the United States will determine the strategic shape of much of Asia-Pacific force Australia and other regional powers to treat with Beijing on Chinese terms. If successful China would successfully reduce both the influence of US forces in the region and the value of strategic partnerships with the US for regional powers. The stakes raised by the Chinese challenge are thus very high indeed, with particular implications for Western navies.
    So, what to do about it? Let me take contemporary Britain as an example. There has been a lot of nonsense written about the state/fate of the Royal Navy. Some of the misplaced Schadenfreude about the Royal Navy borders on self-mutilation. However, the Royal Navy is actually showing the way forward for all non-American western navies. Yes, there are short-term investment, technological, equipment, and personnel challenges faced by the Royal Navy. This is hardly surprising for a country that provided the second largest force in support of US campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq over thirteen long, attritional land-centric years. A country which had to endure a banking meltdown at the same time. Britain is roughly where the world’s fifth largest economy and top five military spender would expect to be after the last decade. Australia needs Britain to be strong – period! The good news is that sea blindness in Britain is at an end.
    By 2023 the Royal Navy will again be one of the strongest power projection navies in the world. The commissioning of the two large 65,000 ton power projection carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales is proceeding. The Type-45s suffer from technical problems that are in the process of being fixed, and the new Astute-class nuclear hunter-killer submarines are powerful reinforcements of the British fleet, and for political reasons if nothing else the Type 26 frigates will eventually be built.
    What matters is the place of the Royal Navy in the British future force concept which is by and large correct given the nature of the coming global challenge. The mistake of the critics is to make false comparisons with the Corbettian Royal Navy of Empire or the not-at-all customary Mahanian moments of the 1914-1918 Grand Fleet or Sir Bruce Fraser’s 1945 British Pacific Fleet when the Royal Navy deployed seven fleet carriers to support a hard-pressed, Kamikaze vulnerable Nimitz.
    No, the twenty-first century fleet the Royal Navy is constructing will sit at the command hub of future coalitions of Europeans and other navies. It will leverage the naval power of others with the strategic aim of helping to keep the USN strong where the USN will need to be strong at moments of crisis. As such the future strategic Royal Navy will again buy Britain influence in Washington and elsewhere that no other ally will match. The RAN and Japanese Navy will need to play a similar role in Asia-Pacific if they are to remain relevant to the power game that is afoot. And, if Australia can overcome its sniffy attitude towards the Royal Navy and focus on the positives rather than routinely seek the negatives then there are a lot of lessons for both partner navies to learn from each other.
    Security and defence are today globalised and Australia is part of the global West. If the likes of China and Russia continue to attempt to throw their illiberal weight around as they seem destined to do then India and other powers will no doubt seek the comforting embrace of the Global West.
    However, the Global West will not happen by itself. It needs partners like Australia, Japan, the US, Britain and others to see the role of navies therein for what they are; power projection forces of an American-centric global liberal community committed to maintaining a just balance of power. And, if needs be have the capacity and capability to project power via a necessarily blue water concept that affords influence, effect, and deterrence for ALL of its members.
    Then, only then, will the new strategic arms race China and Russia are driving be seen to be folly and both Beijing and Moscow realise that such policy is simply the road to strategic and financial folly. That aim would in turn help re-institutionalise global security from which the two illiberal powers are currently breaking out.
    The navies of the Global West will have a vital role to play in such strategy precisely because alongside the USN they can project power, exert influence through sea presence and project power discreetly and decisively through sea control. In other words, the strategic role of Global Western navies will necessarily need to merge both Corbett and Mahan and organise to that effect.
    Therefore, Australia needs to realise the vital role of the RAN in such a strategy and seek the strategic partnerships – new and old – equally vital to realising such a role. If for no other reason than for the sake of Australia’s own security in a world where nowhere is a strategic backwater and in which no-one can free-ride. In other words, this author’s Yorkshire worldview of navies must be little different from the Australian world-view.

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    The Brexit Norwegian Blue Debate

    October 5th, 2016

    By Julian French.


    “This parrot is dead. It is an ex-parrot”, says parrot-purchasing Monty Python’s John Cleese in the famous parrot sketch. “No, no, he’s not dead. He’s resting. Remarkable bird the Norwegian Blue”, replies parrot-vendor Michael Palin. Watching what passes for Britain’s Brexit debate reminds me of the parrot sketch, not least because I am in Oslo. Actually, I am in Oslo to help launch a new book entitled “Ukraine and Beyond” which considers what to do about an aggressive Russia (which is of course brilliant and very reasonably-priced). However, parrots, Brexit and Norwegians seem to go together these days.

    Reason is the dead Brexit parrot, with truth lying mangled in the corner.  It is an ex-reason that is no more and has gone to meet its maker. On one side of the debate the Brexiteers suggest that exiting the EU will be straightforward when in fact it is plainly in the interest of so many powerful vested interests to make it as hard as possible. To suggest that post-Brexit Britain will have full access to the Single Market AND impose restrictions on free movement is pure Norwegian Blue (or is that bull). If agreed to by the EU the entire post-Lisbon edifice of an already shaky EU would crumble. On the other side, Remaniacs remain wedded to the falsehood that the poor little dears who voted for Brexit had not a clue what they were voting for and should be ordered to do it again, but this time get it right.

    For all that being here in Norway does shed some light on Britain’s possible future. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those lunatics who suggests a Norwegian model for post-Brexit Britain. Britain is a top five world power with a population 65 million people, Norway is not. However, Norway is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) which is a kind of EU-lite for those who want access to the EU’s Single Market, but do not actually want to join it. In Norway’s case one can see their point. EU membership for rich Norway would be utterly punitive as Brussels would almost certainly remove Oslo’s massive oil and gas-fuelled sovereign wealth fund in the name of ‘solidarity’ and to keep the eternal Euro disaster brewing.

    And yet there are some pro-EU Norwegian politicians who will tell you what a terrible position Norway finds itself in. This is because to their mind Norway must pay but has no say. In fact, that is only partially true. Norway and the other three EEA members have proved remarkably adroit at getting EU directives amended. The real point about Norway’s relationship with the EU is a sovereign point. Norway has indeed chosen to pay a price for access to the Single Market, and part of that price is adherence to elements of the Free Movement Directive (FMD). But it is not the whole Norway-EU story.

    As I was travelling this morning on the train from Oslo airport to Oslo Central Norwegian television was showing a criminal from Eastern Europe being deported. If that criminal had been convicted in Britain under the FMD the British would not have had the right to deport him as an EU citizen unless he posed an immediate threat to British (i.e. other EU) citizens.

    Which brings me back to the Brexit dead parrot debate. This morning the normally sound Rachel Sylvester wrote in The Times: “The truth is that when nations prosper, by interacting with the rest of the world, it is impossible because of globalisation for any country to “take back control”. On the face of it Sylvester’s argument is sound. However, her use of the phrase ‘take back control’ is disingenuous. That phrase is a Brexiteer phrase and refers to their desire to remove Britain from the European treaties. Sylvester is instead referring to normal international treaties and quite deliberately conflating the two, when in fact there is a world of sovereign difference between them.

    An international trade treaty is made between two or more sovereign states. They agree constraints upon their sovereign action to make the treaty work. However, they still remain sovereign actors free to make or break treaties as they so choose. The EU treaties, particularly (in sequence) the Maastricht, Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon treaties have become progressively different in both scope and ambition to traditional international treaties. EU treaties were and are designed to replace and thus abolish the nation-state by progressively transferring the legal international identity of said state across a whole range of competences (acquis) to the EU in order to eventually make the EU ‘Europe’s’ sole ‘sovereign’ legal international entity. Thus, whilst international treaties constrain the sovereignty of the state in the name of mutual benefit, EU treaties destroy the state and in so doing seeks to create a new and alternative form of government.

    The reason that sovereign Norway bemoans its lack of influence over the EU is the same reason Norway has always bemoaned its lack of influence over the rest of Europe. With the possible exception of the Viking period Norway is simply too small and thus too lacking in power to exert much influence – period. Britain is not Norway and its relative power would afford a sovereign Britain far more influence over the rest of Europe – EU or no EU – than Norway precisely because Britain is a powerful state. Chancellor Merkel acknowledged as much last week when she said that it was far too early to write the British off because Britain remains a “formidable” economic and military power.

    At the end of the parrot sketch when farce has finally turned into complete absurdity Cleese says, “I’m not prepared to pursue my line of inquiry any longer as I think this is getting too silly”. The same could be said for Britain’s dead parrot Brexit debate.

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    Defence Brexit: Anglosphere & Eurosphere

    September 26th, 2016


    By Julian French.


    “Where do we stand? We are not members of the European Defence Community, nor do we intend to be merged in a federal European system. We feel we have a special relationship to both…we are with them, but not of them”.

    Prime Minister Winston Churchill, 11 May 1953.

    The defence implications of Brexit are enormous. It is now three months since the Brexit referendum which saw the British people vote 52% to 48% to quit the EU. Since then, and in the absence of firm leadership in London, a phoney war is being ‘fought’ into which all sorts of nonsense is being injected. However, the defence aspect of Brexit has been by and large AWOL, both in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Speaking in Riga, Latvia last week the need for Europe’s strongest military democracy to remain fully committed to the defence of Europe is as clear to me as ever. That commitment is in danger and here is why.

    Nasty Brexit: Last week Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico warned that the, “V4 (Visegrad) countries will be uncompromising. Unless we feel a guarantee that these people [V4 citizens in the UK] are equal, we will veto any deal between the EU and Britain”. Whatever emollient British politicians and diplomats might say if the V4 states (or others) did indeed veto a Brexit deal the commitment of British public opinion to the defence of other European states would be dangerously undermined. Mr Fico cannot expect to threaten Britain and still expect British soldiers to possibly lay down their lives in defence of Slovakia and others. A nasty Brexit would thus not only damage the EU, but also NATO, an outcome that must be avoided at all costs. Remember, I called Brexit right!

    Disarming Corbyn: The re-election on Saturday of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader threatens to critically undermine Britain’s military power. The leader of the main political opposition party is not only committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament, he is also a committed pacifist. This weekend Corbyn said as prime minister he would want to re-direct Britain’s armed forces towards ‘emergency support’. In other words, if Corbyn ever gained power in London he would turn the British armed forces into little more than a poorly-armed first aid force. An anti-NATO, anti-American Prime Minister Corbyn would thus put the entire Western defence architecture at risk at what is a dangerous time. There must be no complacency about the threat Corbyn poses to European defence.

    Rearming Barrons: Last week the leaked ‘haul down’ report of recently-retired General Sir Richard Barrons warned that Britain’s armed forces have become a ‘shop window’ force due to repeated ‘skimming’ of the defence budget by Government. They look good but there is little of substance beyond the image. He argued (and rightly) for the need to reinforce the front-line with all the necessary support elements needed to ensure and enhance the ability of the force to project power projection, strike, and command coalitions and thus fulfil the roles and tasks assigned to it. Europe’s future defence will be dependent to a significant extent on just such a British military capability.

    Anglosphere: If the Corbyn disaster can be averted post-Brexit Britain will inevitably form part of the American-centric defence Anglosphere (Yanksphere?), itself at the hub of the coalescing World-Wide West. For Britain the move towards Anglosphere is obvious. With the commissioning of the two new super-carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, the British will find themselves integrated ever more deeply into the global power projection order of strategy of an over-stretched US.

    Eurosphere: The rest of Europe will have to move towards some form of defence Eurosphere via tighter European defence integration. Indeed, as efforts to save the Euro intensify the only way for the Eurozone states to make the single currency work AND afford credible security and defence will be to radically re-order their defence effort and integrate more tightly. Such integration would not, at least in the first instance, lead to the creation of a European Army, but rather a very tight intergovernmental structure favoured by EU foreign and security policy supreme Federica Mogherini in the EU’s recent Global Strategy.

    Implications for post-Brexit NATO: The Alliance would continue to be organised around an American-led pillar and a European pillar. However, the US and Canada would be joined by the post-Brexit British, and by extension non-NATO strategic partners such as Australia, and possibly even India and Japan. The Eurosphere would in time begin to take on the appearance of an EU-centric European pillar of the Alliance. This is what perhaps Jean-Clause Juncker was implying in his State of the European Union speech this month when he called for NATO-friendly defence integration.

    Implications for the Defence of Europe: Brexit will thus lead to a new organising principle for the defence of Europe with profound implications for several European states. France will be finally forced to demonstrate just how much ‘Europe’ she is really willing to accept in defence. The Nordic states will have to balance their traditional closeness to Britain with their commitment to EU defence, as will the Netherlands. And Germany will be forced to assume the mantle of European defence leadership that for understandable reasons is still politically sensitive if not toxic in many quarters of the Federal Republic. Italy?

    Respectful Brexit: Britain’s REAL commitment to the defence of Europe, the use of Britain’s armed forces as an agent of influence not simply a function of defence, the cohesion of an Alliance organised along new lines, and the commitment of the British people to the defence of eastern and southern Europe, are all dependent to a significant extent on a respectful Brexit.

    Therefore, if there is a respectful and reasonable fulfilment of the democratic desire of the British people to leave the EU, allied to a clear British commitment to remain close friends and partners of the EU and its member-states, then security and defence Brexit could even help reinvigorate the security and defence of Europe. If not, then the deep divisions that ensue will in turn ensure that no-one in democratic European ‘wins’ and everyone is less secure.

    Brexit will mark the final and irrevocable end of Britain’s dalliance with European defence integration, just as it will inevitably mark the start of a new era of European defence integration. It is time to plan accordingly to ensure the Western Alliance is organised for optimal effect in the Europe of tomorrow, not the Europe of yesterday.

    Britain must be with ‘Europe‘, even if it is no longer of it.

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    Putin: The Illusion of Power

    September 26th, 2016

    By Julian French.


    “I have conquered an empire; but I have yet to conquer myself”

    Peter the Great

    The news that United Russia, the party President Putin backs won 54.2% of the vote in last week’s elections for the Duma, Russia’s parliament, hardly came as a great political surprise. United Russia now holds 343 of the 450 seats in the Duma, with the nearest rivals having gained only 13% of the vote, whilst the ‘liberal’ failed to surpass the 5% threshold and lost their last remaining seats. President Putin really has kicked the 1990s into the long, long grass of Russian history. President Putin also rules (or is that reigns) supreme and is thus free to further cultivate the Russian strongman image he has carefully crafted both at home and abroad. It is an illusion, but seen here from Latvia it is an exceptionally dangerous illusion.

    In reality Russia is growing relatively weaker than most of its European and Western partner-adversaries in every area that matters, save armed force. The facts speak for themselves. According to the UN in 2016 Russia has an economy worth some $1.8 trillion, which is about the same size of that of Canada, and slightly bigger than that of Australia. This compares with a US economy worth $17.3 trillion, a German economy worth $3.7 trillion, and a British economy worth $3 trillion. And yet, SIPRI suggests that whilst the US in 2015 spent 3.3% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defence or $597 billion and the UK spent 2% or $55.5 billion, Russia spent $66.4 billion or 5.4% of its GDP on defence. In fact, the true ‘burden’ of the Russian security state on the Russian economy is closer to, if not more than, 10% of GDP.

    Why is Putin committing so much Russian taxpayer’s money to defence and other ‘security-related’ expenditure? For many Russians ‘strength and greatness’ means a strongman leader backed up by armed forces geared for aggression. For them history has taught that forcing supplicant respect from neighbouring others is the only way Russia can be secure. Consequently, Russia is an aggressive isolationist power that sees itself and sets itself apart from contemporary European/Western ideas of mutual interdependence. It is a profoundly Russian sense of isolationism twinned with exceptionalism that runs deep in the Russian soul, reinforced by President Putin’ belief that the disastrous Yeltsin years simply confirmed that closeness to the West simply makes it easier and cheaper for the perfidious West to confound Russia.

    However, there are other factors driving President Putin’s over-mighty security state, not least the sheer size of Russia. President Putin is determined to instil centralising political discipline on regional governors and oligarchs in an enormous country that covers 13 time zones, suffers from poor infrastructure, and in which Vladivostok is roughly the same distance from Moscow as London is distant from Chicago. In a conversation I had with Mikhail Khodorkovsky a couple of years back I was struck by the extent to which even the illusion of threat instils a fierce loyalty to Mother Russia.

    If there is an illusion of threat, there is also an illusion of power. Russia has simply been unable to come to terms with the twenty-first century and instead reached for those two great comforting balms beloved of many Russians; nostalgia and illusion. President Putin appeals to a sense of false nostalgia that afflicts many Russians outside relatively more liberal Moscow and St Petersburg. An idea that somehow the Soviet Union was the ‘good old days’ when Russia had the respect of the world, even its Western enemies. It is an illusion that President Putin is brilliantly (for the moment) and ruthlessly fostering. It is also why Moscow engages in lethal strategic grandstanding in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere, even if contemporary Russia simply lacks the power fundamentals to be a true twenty-first century Great Power over the medium to longer-term.

    This illusion of power runs right through the Kremlin. In a recent interview with the BBC Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich warned that Brexit would weaken Europe and that no individual European state could anymore influence world affairs alone. Russia? For example, Britain is an intrinsically stronger power than Russia so why does Moscow think weaker Russia can influence world affairs when stronger Britain cannot? President Putin believes Russia is at its ‘strongest’ outside a rules-based world order and that Moscow’s very unpredictability is Moscow’s strength.

    Whilst I am a fierce critic of President Putin I have a genuine respect for the man. Indeed, I find it nauseating when European political leaders express shock at his actions. He is not, and has never claimed to be, a woolly European liberal democrat. He is a Russian nationalist who will act in what he sees as the Russian national interest whatever that takes and we in the West had better come to terms with that. His world-view is the product of Russia’s war-winning, land-grabbing sacrifice in World War Two which fashioned a love of country from the dark, dark crucible of destruction. In other words, President Putin believes he IS Russia and that is all the political legitimacy he needs. He is not alone in this belief. For several years I educated Russian officers and diplomats at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and I never ceased to be impressed by their love of country, their profound belief in Mother Russia, and their determination to defend her.

    The Russians have a saying, “umom Rosiya neponjat” or one can never understand Russia.  For the sake of friends and allies such as Latvia the West must stop trying to look at President Putin through ‘why can’t he be likes us’ Western eyes and quickly. The very disconnect between Russia’s weak power fundamentals and Russia’s vaunting power ambition that is driving Russian policy means Russia’s power illusion is as much a danger to itself as to its neighbouring others. Unless President Putin changes course Russia will again sink under the burden over its own over-securitized insecurity. The reckoning may take a little longer to arrive than some Western commentators believe because Russians are willing to sacrifice longer for what they believe to be Russian ‘greatness’ than most ‘soft’ Westerners. However, catastrophe will come.

    President Putin is hoping that by then he will have re-established Russian influence over its near-abroad to such an extent that his place in Russian history will be assured, and that whatever test Russia must ultimately face durable Russians will outlast weak Westerners. In preparing the ground for this great ‘test’ of strength President Putin sees himself as the natural heir of Peter the Great. However, President Putin should remember that the use of the suffix ‘Great’ was not simply because Tsar Peter understood power. He also understood that to make Russia a real eighteenth century Great Power he had to transform Russia from a fifteenth century state.

    If President Putin is to make Russia a real twenty-first century Great Power then he will have to transform Russia from a twentieth century state. At present there is no sign he understands that precisely because he has failed to reform, which is precisely because he has failed to conquer himself and his many prejudices about Russia and the ‘other’. Yes, much of President Putin’s power is but an illusion, but when viewed from here in Latvia it is a very real and a very dangerous illusion.

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