hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

McMaster Stroke?

Alphen, Netherlands. 21 February. 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.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 17 February 2017

What’s the Plan, Mr President?

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”.
Abraham Lincoln

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 February. Today both Vice-President Mike Pence and Secretary of Defense James Mattis will address the Munich Security Conference. After yesterday’s sprawling presidential press conference what I am looking for is clarity from the new Administration over the future direction of US foreign and security policy. Like many Europeans who are not part of the Munch-esque anti-Trump hysteriocracy I nevertheless find myself increasingly confused by President Trump’s idiosyncratic and oft inconsistent utterances.

Speaker Tip O’Neil one famously said that all politics are local. In fact, for an American president all politics are global. President Trump said last night that he had inherited a “mess” from the Obama administration. OK. Mr President, what are you actually going to do about it? For example, when is the Administration going to appoint a Deputy National Security Adviser and a Deputy Secretary of Defense? ‘Deputies’, I hear you say? Why does this matter? Surely, it would first be nice to have a National Security Adviser properly in place. Under the American system it is the so-called “Committee of Deputies” that generates policy and thrashes it around, before kicking it upstairs to Cabinet and the President for decision. As yet there are huge holes in the US foreign and security policy security policy apparatus. Result? The Allies are at best confused, and America patently unsure.

One of the many weaknesses of the Obama administration was that it had no discernible foreign and security doctrine, and thus no guiding principles that established consistency and reinforced ‘red lines’ to both Allies and adversaries alike. Equally, President Obama also avoided shooting from the policy hip, which is precisely what President Trump did this week with his ‘one-state/two-state’ hip-hop, which no doubt left the Israelis and the Palestinians as confused as I was. Worse, President Trump seems to say one thing one day, only for Secretary of State Tillerson and the other Principals to say something quite different the next day (possibly even the same day). ‘Clarification’ it ain’t!

What I need now is some semblance of policy substance that goes far beyond the President simply saying he is going to ‘fix things’. For example, beyond getting the Allies to spend more on defence what does the Trump administration actually expect from NATO? What future relationship does Washington foresee with an EU that is about to be changed profoundly with the departure of its second biggest economy and strongest military power? Brexit will change the shape not just of the EU, but of the wider West, with implications also for the Asia-Pacific region's ‘Western’ powers.

What will be the main pillars of US policy to the Middle East and North Africa? What about Iran? What about North Korea? Critically, what will US policy be towards China under the Trump administration? There are also a whole host of other policy areas which are awaiting some sense of settled US policy. These range from the Administration’s attitude to multilateral institutions, such as the UN, arms control, climate change et al. As for Russia my sources tell me that Moscow is as confused as I am. Now, keeping the Kremlin politically off-balance is probably no bad thing, but only if such a stratagem is a function of strategy. Right now, Washington is keeping us all off-balance.

Above all, the Allies need some sense that the Administration is beginning to get a grip of what will be enormous foreign and security policy challenges over the next four years. A big set-piece speech from President Trump would be useful to lay out systematically the Administration’s foreign and security policy goals. The speech would need to show that President Trump recognises that he is not just the head of state and government of the United States, he is also leader of the Free World.

As a citizen of the Free World, and a proud friend and ally on the United States, I want America to lead. However, I need to be convinced the Administration is up to the challenge of leadership. Consequently, I expect the focus now to be on policy, strategy and responsibility. If America does not want to lead then please tell me so that my country and I can make other arrangements.

To conclude, President Trump is absolutely right to tell the European allies to stop free-riding on the US and to spend more on defence. Europe’s strategic pretence has gone on for far too long. However, in return the Allies want and have the right to expect that the White House get its strategic act together and quickly. Perhaps what Vice-President Pence and Secretary of Defense Mattis will say today will show just that. Let’s hope so.

What’s the plan, Mr President?  

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Nostalgia or Utopia? The Geopolitics of Islamophobia

“For when they see the people swarm into the streets, and daily wet to the skin with rain; and yet cannot persuade them to go out of the rain, they do keep themselves within their houses, seeing they cannot remedy the folly of the people”.
Sir Thomas More, 1478-1535

Alphen, Netherlands. 14 February. There are two places European politicians should never go; Nostalgia and Utopia. Last week a survey of European public opinion published by the British think-tank Chatham House revealed a deep and dangerous gulf between Europe’s peoples and its liberal elites over Muslim immigration. The gulf is so profound that there are geopolitical as well as societal implications.  The survey also implies that far from rejecting President Trump’s temporary travel ban on seven majority Muslim countries to the US, a majority of Europeans not only agree with it, but would like to see a stricter version of the ban imposed in Europe.

The survey: ten thousand people in ten European countries were asked to respond to the statement; “All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped”. The respondents were then asked to what extent do they agree or disagree with this statement. 55% agreed with the statement across all ten countries, 20% disagreed, whilst 25% neither agreed nor disagreed. In Poland 71% agreed with the statement, whilst in Austria 65% also agreed, along with 53% in Germany, 51% in Italy, and 47% in the UK. In other words, across Europe some 80% of Europeans want migration from Muslim countries either stopped, have concerns about such migrations, or have not formed a view. The latter must be idiots.

What are the geopolitical implications? Uncomfortable though it may be the survey suggests that the strategies of Al Qaeda and Islamic State may be in part succeeding. The call for a blanket ban on all Muslims into Europe implied by this survey suggests that huge numbers of Europeans see Muslims as some form of Fifth Column or Trojan horse; a kind of reverse Crusade (which runs deep in European culture). Such mass popular mistrust will certainly makes it harder for European states to co-operate with vital Muslim-majority states, such as Turkey and the Gulf States, and could fuel a reaction, particularly in the Middle East. Any such loss of co-operation in the campaign against terrorism can only benefit the terrorists. After all, Europe is engaged with its partners in what is a systemic struggle between the state and the anti-state across much of the Middle East, North Africa and south, central Asia.  

Such mistrust also stymies strategy and makes it harder to sustain the kind of long-term European investment in support of state reform across the Islamic world, or the ability of Europeans to offer burgeoning populations either an alternative to the extremist narrative, or to seeking sanctuary in Europe. Muslim society is in many ways as diverse as Western society and many of the people fleeing the Middle East to Europe are fleeing what is in effect a civil war within Islam. The less Europe partners states in the Muslim world the more people will likely seek to come to Europe.

There are also geopolitical implications within Europe itself. The survey reveals the extent of the divide that exists between Western Europe and much of the rest of Europe over this issue. Mass, irregular immigration over the past three years into Europe has in effect destroyed Schengenland. It also has laid bare enormous divisions within the EU, as many member-states simply refuse to share the burdens Germany, Greece and Italy are having to bear.  The failure of Brussels to deal with the influx has effectively stopped Project Europe in its tracks.

However, it is perhaps at the popular-political level where the damage to European security and stability might be most telling. Any regular reader of this blog will know I have long had my concerns about a liberal European elite who for years pretended there was no link between mass immigration from socially-conservative countries, Muslim and non-Muslim, and threats to European social cohesion. This survey seems to reveal is that a majority of European citizens have finally lost faith in the willingness, and indeed the ability, of liberal elites to act in what they see as the citizen-interest over this issue. Rightly or wrongly, a large number of Europeans think the people they elect are lost in a globalist fantasy which the former suspect leads the latter to place a higher priority on the well-being of the ‘other’…except when it is election time.  Whatever the cause there is now a yawning political and policy gap between elites and huge numbers of European citizens. And, it is precisely into that gap that the populists have stepped.

But, here’s the rub; the survey does not show the distinction between those with legitimate concerns about the threat posed by mass immigration to their security, those worried by cultural friction that includes Islam but is not exclusively focused on it, and plain old-fashioned Islamophobia. One only has to look at Europe’s recent past to see how quickly hatred is spawned, as evidenced by the age old anti-Semitism that sadly seems again to be raising its very ugly head.

At the start of this blog I suggested that there are two places politicians should never take liberal democracies; Nostalgia and Utopia.  In the absence of any policy grip the debate is too often driven on the political Right by Nostalgist populists who imply that only a firm policy on mass migration can return Europe to a mono-cultural past. Those days are gone. The political Left is locked into a Utopian, multicultural fantasy, partly in the belief mass migration can help to destroy the patriotism/nationalism they despise. Far from ending the politics of identity their vacuous internationalist creed, which is pretty much confined to European intellectuals and their fellow travellers, they are fuelling it.

In such circumstances policy must be both realistic and balanced and built on the simple premise we start from where we are. Neither Nostalgists nor Utopians offer any way forward. What is needed is a return to sound policy and a sense of proportion if elites are to vitally regain the trust of their own peoples over Muslim, or indeed all forms of mass immigration. Indeed, it is precisely the sense such migration is out of control, that the sheer scale is a threat in and of itself, and that there is no system in place to either deal with it, or protect citizens from the undoubted dark side of it, that is fuelling mistrust.

Europe certainly does face a security threat from uncontrolled migration, as I wrote a couple of years ago in Lebanon on the Rhine. However, when researching my latest book The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons (Routledge 2017), which is of course brilliant and very reasonably-priced (especially the Kindle version), the hard reality was plain to see; Europe must come to terms with high-levels of immigration. In such circumstances policy, and it is the absence of a meaningful policy that is exacerbating the challenge, demands that Europe’s leaders collectively develop systems that can better integrate incomers into European society, and far better control and regulate migration, be it from Muslim countries or elsewhere. Laissez-faire multiculturalism simply does not work.

Regular readers of this blog know how I despise political correctness because of its toxic effect on hard analysis and the formation of policy. Equally, I also despise racism, discrimination and prejudice because it destroys individuals and ignores their strengths. To my mind this survey does not suggest for a moment that all Europeans are racists or all Muslims are terrorists. However, it does highlight the strategic challenge Europe faces over mass Muslim migration, and how acutely sensitive much of Europe has again become to Islam. History runs deep in all of us.

One final thought; in my travels around the world, occasionally to some of the world’s most dangerous places, the one true division I have come to see, and one in which I really do still believe in, is the one between good people and bad people, and, oh yes, idiots.

One reason why I bother to write these blogs is to avoid becoming a citizen of either Nostalgia or Utopia.

Julian Lindley-French 

Friday, 10 February 2017

NATO’s Innovation Race

Alphen, Netherlands, 10 February.  ‘Offset’; the maintenance of strategic comparative advantage by maximising one’s own strengths, and successfully exploiting the weaknesses of adversaries and enemies. At present I am drafting a major, high-level GLOBSEC report on ‘adapting’ NATO to meet the risks, challenges and threats of the twenty-first century. In many ways ‘Adaptation’ is NATO’s own offset strategy, with innovation the key. As I draft the report I am struck by the extent and the pace of the Innovation Race in which the Alliance must now engaged.

In the past NATO and its nations have tended to enjoy the ‘luxury’ of being able to confront threats in isolation. NATO’s essential challenge today is that it must deter and defend successfully against a range of threats across the conflict spectrum, and at one and the same time. Indeed, whilst there might be no formal alliance between illiberal states and the likes of Al Qaeda and Islamic State, there is clearly a series of very dangerous linkages.

There are also a range of adversarial states and non-state actors, including China and Russia that are seeking to ‘offset’ NATO. At the higher-end of the conflict spectrum strategies range from the rapid development and modernisation of nuclear weapons, long-strike missiles and anti-space capabilities, allied to new anti-ship and anti-air military systems, cyber warfare, enhanced electronic warfare and Special Forces. At the medium to lower end of the spectrum assets, capabilities and strategies range from the use of cyber to disrupt society, including denial of service attacks on critical infrastructure, the use of the internet to further destabilise the already fragile social cohesion of rapidly changing Western societies, leavened by the extensive use of ‘fake news’ to polarise opinion in Western societies. Terror attacks seek to leverage strategic influence by cowering already sensitised populations into fatalistic submission.

The first and main offset threat to NATO is Russia’s growing reliance on a mix of nuclear weapons and hybrid warfare to offset what Moscow sees as NATO’s on-paper conventional military superiority. The second offset threat is that posed by Al Qaeda and Islamic State to Allied societies and with it the danger that terrorism will over time erode the protection of the home base, and profoundly weaken the ability of the Alliance to project security as people lose faith in the ability of governments to secure and defend them. However, there is a third offset threat which ironically could be posed by America’s own offset strategy. Technology drives and shapes policy and strategy often as much as it is shaped by them. There is now a very real danger that technologically-driven US ‘milstrat’ will advance so far ahead of allies that military interoperability, and in time political cohesion, will become impossible to maintain.

The US is looking to develop a range of capabilities and capacities that will widen the already significant chasm between US forces and those of its European Allies. At the high-end of the conflict spectrum such developments include new nuclear and space-based capabilities, advanced sensors, extreme range stand-off weapons and communication systems, the development of advanced missile defence, as well as offensive and defensive cyber capabilities.

The US is also looking further out to the future of warfare by seeking to decisively exploit new technologies by looking into areas such as robotics, system autonomy, miniaturisation, and big data. This strategy includes the development of a more innovative relationship between the Pentagon and US industry to better exploit the entire national supply chain (not simply the defence supply chain). US defence innovation also seeks to establish a form of entrepreneurial security and defence procurement that will lock both innovation and competition into the provision of the future US joint force. Europe? Whilst the British are doing some work in these areas London is investing nothing like the level of political and real capital currently being invested by the Americans. The rest of austerity Europe is being left far, far behind in the innovation arms race. 

NATO Adaptation must be part of the innovation Race. Indeed, Adaptation will only lead to a reinvigorated Alliance deterrence and defence posture if it is part of a sustained and systematic Allied strategy to balance protection and projection. Today, there is a very real danger that efforts by adversaries and enemies to offset US strengths will render an already far weaker and more vulnerable Europe, super-vulnerable to attack. That, to say the least, would be a strategic paradox, if not a little unfortunate.

NATO’s Innovation Race is not dissimilar to the naval arms race that took place between Britain and Imperial Germany between 1898 and 1914, with consequences that could be just as profound, and just as dangerous. The bottom-line is this; if the Alliance is to successfully ‘Adapt’ to the twenty-first century’s hyper-complex strategic environment America’s allies will need to smart up, not force America to dumb down.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Turkey First: Europe must Work with not Against Ankara

“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.

To do that Europeans must accord the same respect to Turkey as President Ataturk accorded other Europeans.

Julian Lindley-French  

Thursday, 2 February 2017

How to Influence and not Influence President Trump

“The law of the strong is the determining factor in statecraft….the most effective form of government is one that incorporates the most powerful forces within the state”.
Ludwig von Rochau

Alphen, Netherlands. 2 February. Welcome back to the new age of Realpolitik and the dark arts of statecraft. Sad then that so much of British and wider European academia seems to be in wilful denial. Yesterday, I received a round-robin email from a Cambridge academic that began with the self-righteous sentence: “Dear All, I think everybody is agreed that Donald Trump is a threat to NATO, the EU and the western liberal order generally”. Now, as an Oxford man I suppose I could make some cheap shot about Cambridge academics. Sadly, politically correct, leftist political dogma presented as fact is too often what passes for evidence-free analysis across too much of British academia these days. There are two questions yesterday’s missive poses. Firstly, what is driving the retreat from strategic reason in Europe? Secondly, how best to influence a President Trump who remains vital to the security, defence, and stability of Europe?

Ultra-Liberal Democracy-Denying Hysteria Syndrome has again been in full flow this past week in Britain. This time the PC ‘let me off the real world’ brigade are protesting about the planned state visit by President Trump to Britain. Cheered on by media ‘luvvies’ at the BBC much has been made of an online petition that has drawn some two million signatures calling for the planned Trump visit to be cancelled. And yet, and not untypically, the BBC made very little of yesterday’s YouGov poll that showed 49% of those asked want President Trump to visit Britain, against 36% who do not.

Why the self-righteous kerfuffle? There is no question that the roll-out of President Trump’s Executive Order temporarily curtailing entry to the United States of citizens from seven countries in the Middle East has been handled with catastrophic cack-handedness. If there is a criticism to be made of the Order it is that President Trump is playing politics with strategy. In 2011 President Obama signed a similar order after it emerged that US vetting procedures were inadequate. In other words, the need to establish systems to protect the American people from terrorists posing as refugees are already in place. This White House Order is merely to pander to President Trump’s electoral base.
What is behind much of the protest has nothing actually to do with the Order itself. There is a paradoxically intolerant ‘ultra-liberal’ caste that refuses to accept a fundamental principle of democracy; that one accepts the legitimacy of a vote even if one profoundly disagrees with it. For the past twenty years or so this caste and their beloved ‘isms’ has been in the ascendancy, and by and large ridden roughshod over the concerns of millions of people about globalisation, mass-immigration et al. Brexit and President Trump are but two examples of their decline and they are determined to fight it by whatever means they can.

However, the more important question now is how best to influence the rough-edged but democratically-legitimate President Trump. In fact, the two questions come together at this point. President Trump himself reflects the decline of the western liberal order, a retreat that has been hastened by Europe’s retreat into strategic la la land. The rise of China and the re-emergence of President Putin’s Russia now sees the harsh Realpolitik of the new East matched by the business Realpolitik of President Trump, with powerless Europeans lost in an ocean-wide abyss of irrelevance in between.

This irrelevance was evident in President Tusk’s absurd suggestion yesterday that President Trump’s America, the very country that guarantees his freedom to speak nonsense, is now such a threat to ‘Europe’ that it ranks alongside China and Russia. Of course, the likes of presidents Trump, Erdogan, Putin, and quite possibly in time President Xi, are going to do deals over the heads of Europeans. Europeans have brought such impotence upon themselves by retreating these past decades into empty institutionalism and by refusing to heed the historic lessons of power and influence.

The one European leader who seems to understand this is British Prime Minister Theresa May. She was absolutely right to a) go to Washington quickly; and b) invite President Trump to Britain for a state visit. Right now, given Brexit, Britain needs the US as much as at any time since 1940. Europe does too. And yes, there will be a price. That is Realpolitik, der! Therefore, rather concentrate on finding new and novel ways to gratuitously offend President Trump Europeans should instead concentrate on how best to constructively influence him. That means at the very least Europeans coming down from their whining city on a molehill and re-learning the arts, sometimes dark arts, of statecraft.    

Here’s the twist. My instincts are in some ways those of the ultra-liberals. However, I am a pragmatic liberal, in line with most of the 49% of Britons who want President Trump to visit Britain. I also have a profound understanding of history, power and statecraft, which the ultra-liberals seems to wilfully ignore. Therefore, if I want my liberal values to eventually prevail in this hyper-competitive world I recognise I need the power and the argument to convince both friends and adversaries. The argument of weakness, however loud, indignant and obnoxious, is no argument at all.

Maybe one day a Cambridge academic might learn…but then again it is Cambridge.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 30 January 2017

The Re-ordering of Europe

“Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright,
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Dylan Thomas

Alphen, Netherlands. 30 January. “I was a small man in big events”. It was late afternoon when I arrived at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof on a train from somewhere, nowhere in the early 1970s. Like many English teenagers I was ‘doing’ Inter-rail. And, after nearly three weeks travelling, eating, and often sleeping on trains, I was by then the very caricature of a vintage 70s English yob. And yet, on that cold German station, I was shown kindness by an old Hamburg gentleman whom I have never forgotten. We just got talking. He had fought in World War One, the trenches of that struggle marking the front-lines of his aged face. However, it was his story of one night in July 1943 that left such an indelible impression upon me, and which in some ways drove me to where I am today.

On that clear night standing with his family on the outskirts of the great hanseatic city he had seen Hamburg burn as Operation Gomorrah was unleashed by the Allies. Transfixed in horror he watched as above him wave after wave of some 800 uncontested RAF heavy bombers had turned in unison, lined-up, and then began their bombing runs before systematically dropping cascade after cascade of death upon Hamburg, accelerating and then wheeling away in a crescendo of full-powered Merlin-engined defiance to the north and west of the city.  That night was just the beginning of the Hamburg hell, part of a re-ordering of European power that also destroyed much of Europe. 

Europe has been re-ordered many times throughout its long history. Such change has normally been triggered when one power has sought to dominate Europe. Today is no different. It is simply that European leaders refuse to look squarely at the causes of change, just like they refuse to look at so many dangers Europeans face, face on. Political correctness is the cancer of analysis.

What change? Europe today has a problem with all three of its major peripheral powers – Britain, Russia, and Turkey? On the face of it these are three very different countries with different leaders facing very different problems. In fact not. All three have a problem again with German power. Now, before many of you throw a PC fit and accuse me of Germanophobia let me set my record straight. The problem is not Germany, but power.

The problem with power in Europe is threefold. First, no state can hide from power, even its own. Second, power has its own narrative. In Europe ‘power’ and ‘history’ are two sides of a Roman coin, and have been ever since Gaius Julius Caesar defeated the Gallic hero Vercingetorix at the Battle of Alesia in 52 BC. Third, Europe has an automatic re-balancing mechanism that prevents the emergence of new Caesars. However, it is a mechanism which in history has often been as deadly as the power it seeks to re-balance.

The EU is itself one of those mechanisms. Since its inception in 1950 the European Union has basically been about Germany. Monnet’s 1943 ‘idea’ of Europe was essentially a French attempt to both embed and embrace German power in representative pan-European institutions. For many years not only did the European institutions help achieve and maintain an essential balance within Europe, ‘Europe’ also acted as a magnet for its peripheral powers, even in time Russia. However, the Eurozone crisis, the neo-pacifist German concept of soft power, and now Brexit, allied to the re-emergence of hard power as a currency of influence in Europe, is beginning yet again the age-old re-ordering of Europe. 

The paradox and tragedy of contemporary Germany is that the more it seeks to safeguard the new European liberal order it now dominates, the more the old German ‘order’ somehow re-appears. Berlin now faces a dilemma that is quite possibly impossible for it to resolve. For the European Project to survive the ‘thousand natural shocks’ that Europe is naturally heir to Berlin has tried to impose order and discipline through the European institutions. Visit any major EU institution and you will more likely than not find Germans in key positions of power. However, as Brussels has failed the EU has become to look less like a Union and more like an Empire, and thus the flame that has always re-ordered Europe has re-ignited. 

What to do? The re-ordering of Europe cannot be stopped, but it can be shaped. Much will depend on the future relationship between Europe’s now and future strongest powers, Britain and Germany. Prime Minister May’s trip last week to Washington was about far more than Britain’s vital ‘special relationship’ with the Americans. It was also about strengthening her negotiating hand with Germany prior to the March triggering of Article 50 and Britain’s Underground line to Brexit. However, May must be careful. Like it or not, she is by extension aligning Britain with illiberal Europe in the form of presidents Erdogan and Putin. That is a place Britain most certainly does not belong.

Can Britain and Germany do a deal? It is unlikely soon. Last week Axel Schäfer, one of Berlin’s Brexit negotiators, gave an interview to BBC Radio Four that was both train wreck and car crash combined. He lectured the British that Brexit was a “great illusion” and that a trade deal with Trump’s US was “delusional”. This was bombastic Germany at its very worst, not the considered German power I have come over the years to like and respect. You see, as a Briton, I do not fear the power of contemporary, liberal Germany. However, because I do not fear German power I will contest it. Above all, I will never accept being told by a German leader that ‘resistance is futile’. As I wrote in an email to Herr Schäfer too often in the past Germany has made the mistake of underestimating Britain, and paid a heavy price.

My point is not to suggest that Europeans are about to go to war with each other, but rather that small leaders like Herr Schäfer are part of big events that they do not understand, and through ignorance make worse. That is certainly the impression I have of many of today’s European leaders as they fail to grasp the enormity of the change again taking place in Europe. One of the blessings of my Oxford education is that it gave me the intellectual courage to see deep into big pictures, to understand the change behind events, not just the events themselves. Brexit, Putin, the Trump administration, Turkey, the Eurozone crisis, terrorism, the immigration crisis, and the teetering Middle East are all part of another re-ordering of power in and around Europe.

For the sake of Europe, and for the sake of that nice, old, proud German who offered his help and friendship in Hamburg’s cold, grey station all those years ago, both Britain and Germany must not under-estimate what is again happening to Europe, and most certainly must not under-estimate each other. We are friends, not enemies.

And I never did get to know my German friend’s name, even as he went gentle into the good night.

Julian Lindley-French