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