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If Britain Is to Leave the EU, London Must Double-Down on NATO

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The National Interest, 5 October, 2017,

In his first interview since being elected chairman of the NATO military committee, the UK’s Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach attempted to promotethe centrality of the military alliance to European defense, stating the European powers should not attempt to duplicate NATO efforts. His comments come at a time of deep geopolitical uncertainty, with threats from within and threats from without rocking the once-solid Western alliance. Domestically, they also come as the UK MOD attempts a review of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review. Inside the Western alliance, a number of rifts have opened up between those states moved by 2016 populism (i.e., post-referendum London and post-Trump Washington), and those continentalists who wish to double-down on the European Union project (i.e., French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel). Inevitably, this raises a number of critical questions about Britain’s role as a military power, the future of its influence inside NATO, and the overall effect its leadership will have for the Western alliance.

The Western alliance has long been cushioned from external threats by its strong economic leadership, its liberal-democratic philosophical foundations, and its formidable military technological advantages. One by one, these three pillars of Western strength have been weakened or seriously undermined. In the first instance, the Financial Crisis of 2007–08 came about because of poor regulations, hubris and large amounts of Chinese liquidity in the international markets. In the second instance, the very success of globalization—the internationalization of capital and labor—came with a hidden barb. In the wake of two decades of the offshoring of manufacturing and the import of cheap labor, Western working classes have run to elect populist leaders and far-left parties in order to punish the “Davos set.” The final pillar of military technological advantages has fallen prey to complacency and the inability of political leadership—notably in the European part of the West—to argue for a defense spending proportional to the declining security environment.

This declining threat environment is no longer a matter of debate as it was a decade ago. No longer concerned with “failed states,” the West has other, more pressing concerns on its western and southern borders, including Russian revanchism, refugee flows and ISIS-organized attacks within the West. The recent decision by Sweden to conduct joint military exercises with American and French armed forces earlier this month—in the wake of a large Russian exercise—signals the return to a Russia seemingly hungry for prestige and for a sphere of influence. Given its willingness to attack Western democracies at the ballot box, it has become clear that Russia poses a unique and singular threat to Europe. Despite these very real threats, the West continues to suffer from a lack of internal cohesion. Expressing a sense of European disenchantment with both the United States and the United Kingdom, Chancellor Merkel recently proclaimed, “The times in which we [Europeans] can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days.” While Germany’s frustrations are somewhat unfair—given its shoddy record on the 2 percent rule—it does mark a dangerous trend toward fragmentation in one of the world’s most long-lasting and successful alliances.

Assuming that British policymakers understand the worth of our influence inside NATO, it is therefore incumbent that future governments stop the cutting of the armed forces. Media reports indicate that the Royal Marines face the prospect of a one thousand service-personnel reduction in order to save £3 billion per year over the following ten years; the decision is due to be made by the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review in late November this year. According to a series of publications commissioned by the Ministry of Defence, the total strength of the British forces service personnel has decreased by 0.4 percent; full-time trained strength and trade trained strength [Royal Navy/Marines, the Royal Air Force, and the Army, respectively] have experienced a fall of 1.4 percent since August 1, 2016. Although the total number of trained and untrained strength of the Tri-Service Future Reserves 2020 rose by 3.6 percent to 36,580 personnel, total intake (in sum) has collapsed: Whilst outflow from the regulars has fallen by 6.2 percent, subscription intake for the Future Reserves 2020 dropped by an astonishing 16.6 percent, whereas outflow increased to 4.4 percent. Equipment and formations also experienced steady quantitative decreases: totalling 4,098 key land platforms—consisting of 1,763 armoured personnel carriers, 1,907 protected mobility vehicles, and 428 armoured fighting vehicles—thirty-one reductions of platforms took place over the last twelve-month period, due to a deterioration in the number of Mastiff protected mobility vehicles (from 421 to 396); most saliently, there occurred a drastic 37 percent reduction following the withdrawal of the Black Hornet spy plane from service, with a reported 281 unmanned aircraft systems.

It should be noted that decline is not preordained; it’s a political choice, and one that we don’t have to make. Yes, it is true that United States—and Western power—is declining, but this is for the moment relative, not absolute. Given its strong assets, its unique geographical advantages, a network of far-flung bases, and a strong defense industrial base, British power remains formidable. In a recent report conducted by the Henry Jackson Society, James Rogers created a power index, using seven key indices, including: economic clout, diplomatic leverage and military strength. His findings show that Western powers “still stand tall in the world, and the US still towers over everyone, goes against the grain of both popular perception and media narratives. Therefore, talk [of the eclipse of the West] is still premature from the perspective of geopolitical capability.” As Professor Yukon Huang notes in his recent book on China, Americans and Europeans are most likely to believe that China has surpassed the United States as the world’s greatest economic power. Asians—and the Chinese themselves—recognize that China has some way to go before it approaches U.S. levels of total power.

If Britain is to succeed in the post-Brexit world, it will have to do so with a strong sense of its position in the global community. Its national power also stems from three pillars, which girded the West: a strong economy, a belief in liberal democratic values, and a strong military-technological base. With its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, its strategic submarine force, a robust diplomat service, and an influential role inside NATO, London can continue to play a major leadership role inside the West. However, it must develop strategies that strengthen these pillars and not rest on its laurels. If defense spending continues to drop, how long can the UK lead? If its artificial intelligence and telecommunications firms continue to be bought by China, then how will the MOD craft its future war-fighting plans? The UK has stepped back from the European project, but it should be noted that the project has always been just one aspect of a Western alliance that has maintained peace and security for its members—and a large part of the global community—for nearly seventy years.

 

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Is America Still the Anchor of European Defense?

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The National Interest, 23 February 2017

The recent Munich Security Conference once again highlighted the difference between Americans and Europeans on security matters. Unfortunately for the West, many European leaders—and even some American ones—took the opportunity to grandstand about the new American president. While it is true that the U.S. leader presents internal challenges to Western cohesion, this grandstanding ignored the very real external structural threats to the Western alliance. Those threats are really threefold: first, there is the inability of western Europe to safeguard its own border; second, there is Europe’s inability to defend its easternmost member states; and third, there is China’s ongoing effort to take control of a main artery of Europe-Asia trade in the South China Sea.

If Donald Trump and his parochial America First vision for the world present one internal threat to the cohesion of the West, then certainly the second internal threat—by no means unrelated—is that of European passivity in global affairs and a propensity to see the global order as an American construct. This is simply wrong, and ignores western Europe’s long history in creating and defending the rules-based system—including its crucial role in creating international law, the UN and NATO itself. Despite this, more and more European elites speak of China’s challenge to the American order, which neatly obviates their responsibility for its defense. While it’s true that European passivity has not precluded much diplomatic activity, over Iran, over Syria and even over Ukraine, it should be noted that power is a mixture of hard and soft power. One cannot forfeit one without forfeiting the other.

The origins and nature of European passivity are, to some, a matter of academic debate. However, whatever their feelings for the current president, the fact is that he has the ability to defend the Baltics and Poland from Russia, and they do not. This single fact says everything that is wrong with Europe at the moment. Quibbling over the NATO 2 percent rule, one forgets that the real argument is about capability. Is German able to retain troops or take care of its equipment adequately? Can France airlift its troops abroad when it wishes? Can any of the big three drop munitions on an enemy for more than one or two weeks? Can Luxembourg—a wealthy banking state paying a shoddy 0.44 percent—patrol its own airspace? Do any of the European states have the C4ISR to even carry out a modern air war? European protestations about how much they spend on development aid, institutions and refugees are merely “what about” arguments, and do not answer the core criticism about capability.

The simple fact of the matter is that if Russia decided to retake the Baltic states—states it has historic claims to and has indeed invaded in the past—Western Europe’s great powers would be unable to do anything about it. Equipped with three-quarters of a million troops, more tanks than any other nation and the world’s third-largest air force, Russia has one of the largest militaries on the planet. But it has also spent large amounts modernizing that military, so that it outnumbers Europe not only in quantity, but also in quality. In this context, aid and institutions are meaningless. Even diplomacy, with a determined enough opponent, would be meaningless without being backed by military might. Peace comes through strength, so the adage goes, not through passivity.

Europeans who are shocked by the Trump’s administration’s transactional approach toward NATO should take note that the trend began under the Obama administration, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates castigating Europe in a final speech in 2011. In an address to a think tank in Brussels, he stated, “The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress—and in the American body politic writ large—to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources . . . to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.” Given those sentiments, Gates could have predicted a Trump-like figure coming to power in the American polity. This makes German leader Angela Merkel’s reaction all the more mystifying. Rejecting James Mattis’s pressure to increase spending, she insisted that NATO is equally valuable to the United States as it is to its other members. It was as if a roommate who never did the washing up insisted that you should keep doing it, as clearly everyone benefited from a clutter-free sink.

In an age that has seen U.S. allies in Asia—like Japan and South Korea—bring more to the table in terms of men and materiel, this European passivity is troubling. Displaying a penchant for misdirection that only clouded the issues, European elites persuaded themselves that the Trump administration is the primary “cause for concern” on the global stage. Simultaneously, they ignored the fact that since the Kosovo air war, western Europe has become unable to stop a conflict on its doorstep. In an age of rapidly growing global challenges and threats, European passivity and free riding are having a terrible impact on Western cohesion. Europeans should note that, due to demographic changes in the United States and economic and political changes in Asia, many in Washington are starting to see Asia as the future global center of gravity. They will no longer be able to take for granted the cultural links that saw Washington place Europe at the center of its global alliance system. In the future, Europeans will have to decide whether it is indeed a Western system or just an American system—and, if the former, one that they should seek to uphold.


Trump’s bromance with Putin will split the West in Two

CNN, December 19, 2016

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When the Financial Times and Time magazine both named President-elect Trump as their person of the year, the publications did so as less of a plaudit and more of a recognition that his election is a pivotal event for the West. Certainly, it represents a major challenge to the shared foreign and security policies of the broad community of nations known as the Western alliance. Only two years after Russia illegally occupied a sovereign nation’s territory in Crimea and then began a proxy war in eastern Ukraine, an American leader has come to power, promising to improve relations with Moscow. How will Trump’s “pivot to Russia” affect European security, and what impact will his increasingly hard line on China have on Washington’s Asian allies? Trump has revealed time and again on the campaign trail — and now, more disturbingly, over the hacking scandal — a willingness to give Moscow the benefit of the doubt.

However, despite his apparent soft spot for authoritarian leaders, Trump has not extended this friendliness to Chinese leader Xi Jinping. In the wake of the Taiwan phone call and the President-elect’s ambiguity over the “One China policy,” the Chinese have responded by flying a bomber over the South China Sea. They have also held life-fire drills on the PLA Navy’s new aircraft carrier and revealed that they are arming their illegal island bases in the South China Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Then, on Friday, China seized a US underwater drone in the South China Sea. The country used its state media to declare “the drone that emerged from the South China Sea is just the tip of the iceberg in US military strategy on China.” President-elect Trump has responded in the manner to which we have become accustomed, tweeting: “China steals US Navy research drone in international waters — rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented (sic) act” and “We should tell China that we don’t want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!”

Some commentators, like David Martin Jones in the Telegraph, have wondered if Trump is trying to execute a reverse Henry Kissinger by building ties with Moscow while freezing ties with China. While such a diplomatic move is technically feasible, is it probable? After all, Russian President Vladimir Putin is well positioned at the moment vis-a-vis Beijing. While China has clearly become the dominant partner, and its One Belt, One Road strategy unilaterally consolidates Beijing’s influence over central Asia at Russia’s expense, China has been careful to pay the Russians lip service and accord them the face that Moscow craves. Putin’s ties with China’s Xi Jinping are commonly described as a “bromance,” as the two have met 19 times in four years.

Trade between the countries mushroomed in the wake of Crimea-related Western sanctions against Russia, and the defense forces of the two nations are growing closer. Last September, Russian forces drilled alongside their Chinese counterparts, in apparent support of Beijing’s claims. As a consequence, any ideas Trump may have of splitting the two continental giants should be tempered by reality. We simply aren’t at the position in the Cold War where Beijing and Moscow were eyeball to eyeball and welcomed American balancing. So, if a Kissinger-style swap isn’t on the cards, what are the likely effects of Trump’s new foreign policy? Unfortunately, his policy is likely to exacerbate a tension already running through the Western alliance, in which the European allies — like the EU, NATO member states, and Sweden — balance against Russia while welcoming warm diplomatic and trade ties with China. This is the polar opposite in the Pacific, where Washington and its allies — concerned about Beijing’s intentions in the South China Sea — are attempting to balance against China while improving ties with Russia. While it may not look like much, this split is likely to divide the West in two, while doing little to worry China and Russia.

There are some very real dangers that might arise from this: Europeans might soften on the arms embargo to China, or dampen their criticism of Chinese moves in the Pacific even more than they have already done. Washington, for its part, might undo sanctions on Russia, effectively legitimizing the first territorial invasion of a state by another in post-War history. This would not bode well for the Baltic states.

So, what’s to be done? Well, first it’s a long way to January 20. Trump’s Cabinet is still being picked, and it is difficult to know how much his foreign policy tweets represent the actual future positions of his administration. Furthermore, his administration may yet be challenged– either by the hacking scandal or even by a rejection of Trump’s polices within the Washington policy establishment. US presidents are notoriously dependent on the other branches of government to implement their policies. Any number of things could collide, making Trump a sitting-duck president before he’s even hung his name up in the Oval Office. Regardless of all this uncertainty, neither Americans nor Europeans can afford to ignore the very real possibility outlined above that Trump’s attempt to split the two authoritarian states will actually split the West. Much diplomacy and intra-alliance dialogue will be necessary in the next four years. No less than the future of the liberal, rules-based global order is at stake.

The Rise of the New Authoritarians?

The National Interest, 08 February, 2016

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The news last week that the U.S. defense budget will increase dramatically to face challenges in Asia and Europe came as no surprise. In many ways, one could argue that it marks the beginning of a new deterrence strategy by the United States, reacting to the rise of Chinese and Russian assertiveness: Force will be matched by force. Moscow and Beijing will be discouraged from picking off the smaller and less-capable members and allies of the West. Latvia will not become a new Ukraine. Chinese bullying in the South China Sea will remain just that, bullying. It is clear, however, that there is more going on here than simply the “rise of the rest” as was previously thought.

There seems to be a new age of silent competition and geopolitics taking place. It is riddled with grand ambitions and grand stakes. In one corner is a fractured West, one-time victor of the Cold War, now exhausted by fifteen years of inconclusive wars with Islamic fundamentalism; in the other stands a confident array of “new authoritarians,” enriched and empowered by their gradual acceptance of Western economics over inefficient state control.

For many, the implications of the new geopolitics are long term and vague, though there is growing awareness that the future of global governance and architecture is in peril. Will such architecture be truly pluralistic or merely carry the trappings of democracy in the style favored by new authoritarian regimes?

For some, though, the stakes are immediate and real. Ukrainians who desired European-style pluralism know this. Voters in Taiwan’s vibrant democracy—on display last month in historic elections—know this. Their fate had they been under Beijing’s control might be glimpsed in the quiet death of Hong Kong-style democracy over the past two years. The new age is a competition of ideas with neo-authoritarian states, but it is unlikely to resemble the Cold War. It is not even likely to be openly acknowledged. However, it is a real competition and its weapons are disinformation, dodgy referendums and delegitimization campaigns against the West and its values. Its new soldiers are legions of “50-Cent Bloggists” and the organs of state propaganda pretending to be legitimate media. The new battlefields are the periphery of the West, inside the Western left, in cyberspace and in the minds of Western populations. So, how did it come to this?

Both new authoritarian states lost the battle of ideas in the Cold War—to the chagrin of their hardliners. China lost it in Tiananmen Square in 1989, while Moscow lost it in front of the Russian Parliament in 1991. Unlike the type of global reordering that takes place after actual wars (when victorious states can occupy and reorder the domestic systems of the losing side), the end of proxy wars is far less definitive. Certainly, the West sought to influence domestic battles from afar, through aid packages and legions of development consultants, and inviting greater people-to-people links with the West—especially through higher education. But ultimately, they failed to persuade key constituents in both states to adopt political liberalism alongside economic reforms.

How is the West to deal with this new era of silent competition? The West cannot resort to Cold War–style containment strategies to keep Russian and Chinese assertiveness at bay. Their economies are simply far too integrated and it would be impossible to de-link without serious damage to the global economy. Furthermore, the world’s problems are simply too great for the West to attempt to resolve without the “new authoritarians.” A viable political resolution to the Syrian Civil War—and the large numbers of refugees destabilizing Western Europe—is ultimately to be found in Moscow, not in London. And Putin knows this. Iran, climate change and North Korea are all areas where the West must cooperate with Russia and China. So what can the West do?

First, the West must begin to realize that the new authoritarians are in fact authoritarian. Knowing that changes how one deals with these states. Second, we must begin a wider discussion on how to counter the ambitions of the new authoritarians: What can be done to maintain coherence and cohesion? The new game is from afar and yet takes place in our living rooms; it’s about undermining rather than directly attacking and it goes after the weak and dispossessed. Its greatest conduit seems to be through the Internet and through the so-called “new media.” Why do Western states continue to allow the tools of state propaganda—Russia Today, Press TV and the CCTV—to operate freely in the West? Why do they accept that their own media will be repressed in those states? While the new competition is in the realm of ideas, it is clear that the hard power of the West acts as a deterrent to mis-adventurism. The new budget is a step in the right direction, but Europe and American allies in Asia must match that determination. It is sad that liberal democracy did not prevail in China and Russia. Somehow, one senses that the future of the liberal order rests on how the West frames this coming era and what counter-strategies are employed to defend core Western values. As the supposed Chinese curse has it, “May you live in interesting times.” We certainly do.


The Special Relationship and Western Grand Strategy

The International Security Network, June 26, 2015

The anxiety over Britain’s ‘resignation’ as a global power speaks volumes about the incoherence of Western strategic thinking and the need for a unified approach to a complex security environment. Here are some recommendations for righting the ship.

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In the past year, there has been a growing debate in Washington about Britain’s loss of stature on the world stage. This increasingly public conversation has suggested that Britain’s will to be a global power may be eroding and that the future of one of the key alliances of the 20th century may therefore be uncertain. Yet this debate actually represents a wider problem: i.e., the lack of a coherent Western strategy and the need for a unified approach to an increasingly complex security environment. In this new context, three measures can help the West to negotiate its current strategic impasse: 1) reconsidering retrenchment; 2) downgrading humanitarian intervention; and 3) increasing strategic dialogue.

The sun finally sets?

Over the past year or so, quiet conversations have been taking place in Washington regarding the trans-Atlantic relationship. After US requests for information met with silence in Whitehall, these conversations began to spill out into the public arena. In March, General Ray Odierno, the US Army Chief of Staff, said he was “very concerned” about the UK’s planned defence cuts. As if on cue, the former Chief of Staff of the British Army, General Peter Wall, then argued in a Telegraph article that the UK had “a lower level of ambition for UK involvement in global security than ever before.”

This opened the floodgates: in the following week, the Washington Post published an article worrying about the UK’s ‘shrinking military clout’; then, in April, the New York Times published a longer article about Britain’s ‘drift from the global stage.’ Finally, in May, CNN journalist Fareed Zakaria argued that Britain had essentially ‘resigned’ as a world power. Only the Independent’s Washington correspondent, Peter Foster, pointed out that the US itself also seemed to be in retreat. After ‘leading from behind’ in Libya, it had ducked behind the British Parliament over Syria and failed to produce tangible defence guarantees to the Ukraine. Foster was not right about everything, but his point illustrates a wider problem: that the West has an alarming ‘strategy gap’ and is undergoing a review period.

It is true that the UK is in the midst of a slow-motion constitutional crisis and deep financial retrenchment, but it is also – like the US – experiencing a crisis of strategic thought after a decade of setbacks. To illustrate, consider how the Cold War unified the UK, the US, and their ‘first world’ allies behind two basic notions: that there was a single overarching threat (communism) and that they had a strategy for dealing with it (containment). With these two reference points, the Treasury could get down to the tricky business of allocating resources to Britain’s Armed Forces and intelligence agencies and coordinating parallel and complementary goals with the United States and its NATO allies. It was as effective as it was simple.

A brief look at priorities of the 2010 National Security Strategy indicates how much has changed. The report includes four major high risk areas: (1) terrorism, (2) cyber, (3) international crises, and (4) major accidents or hazards. There are also a number of lesser risk areas, such as energy security, organized crime, and border security, and a number of variables, such as the rate of technological change, demography, the diffusion of power in the international system, and environmental factors, among others. To cap things off, the report then makes clear that “Our most urgent task is to return our nation’s finances to a sustainable footing.”

To simplify: the UK would like to have a medium-sized military force that would work closely with others (i.e., the US and NATO allies) to defend against terror attacks at home and abroad; to defend against cyber- espionage, cyber- crime, and cyber- attack; to carry on nuclear deterrence at sea; to defend Britain’s trade routes; and to get involved in short-term humanitarian interventions in fragile or failed states. The UK would like to do all of this while continuing to modernize its ISR capabilities – and while saving money. This is not a strategy: this is what President Obama and many others are beginning to refer to (in an American context) as the “ whack-a-mole” approach. One prioritizes everything, so that, in the end, nothing is prioritized. With the tail wagging the proverbial dog, such an approach blinds strategists to two emerging realities: that great power politics is returning to the global system; and that the age of humanitarian interventions and ‘soft’ security is over.

Whitehall is not completely to blame for the current strategic drift. American critics of the UK’s downsizing are no less critical of their own strategic ambiguity. After all, what is Western – or even American – strategy in Ukraine? Or the Middle East? How should we deal with the resurgence of great power politics, in the South China Sea and elsewhere? If the US is to lead, then it must communicate an overarching strategic vision to its Western allies, one that gives meaning to the allied blood and treasure already lost in Iraq and Afghanistan and to any future blood and treasure that will be spent. It must also attempt to reset its Asian Rebalance to match the realities of growing European insecurity.

A new strategic vision

If the West is not only to survive but to thrive in the modern age, it will have to make difficult choices in an effort to anticipate future developments rather than simply react to them. In this regard, three courses of action can help to resolve its current strategic crisis.

(1) Prioritize spending

As London’s foreign policy choices have highlighted, this is ultimately an age of economic scarcity where smart resource allocation is needed. With this in mind, Prime Minister Cameron has attempted to husband his resources. While this has not stopped him from sending troop trainers to Ukraine or from bombing ISIL, it has meant making difficult choices, for example, when asked by the US not to join China’s new infrastructure bank, the AIIB. However, it should be noted that there has been a degree of political side-stepping by the Cameron government on spending. Despite claims of austerity, the UK remains the world’s fifth largest economy, hosts one of the largest global financial hubs, recovering far faster from the financial crisis than many of its European counterparts. The fact that it is being outspent on defence by a historical peer competitor, Russia, is galling – particularly since its budget revenue, at $986 billion, is nearly  twice that of Russia’s $416 billion. The fact that Osborne is again likely to ringfence DfIDS’s aid budget indicates that there is more latitude in this debate than Whitehall has admitted. In other words, there are alternatives to the planned defence cuts. They should be discussed, rather than assumed behind closed doors.

(2) Prioritize threats 

The UK cannot treat all threats as equal. Threats to the system should be prioritized over threats to humanitarian values. This means that Ukraine is more important than Syria because of the effect it would have on Europe’s eastern flank. In the wake of failures in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, the West should abstain from the humanitarian interventionism of the 1990s. The idealism represented by such interventions was well-meaning and occasionally effective (as in Sierra Leone and the Balkans), but it also occurred in a much more benign international environment, in which revisionist Russia and China were themselves engaged in domestic retrenchment. What has become clear to many, particularly after Libya, is that while Western nations can carry out front-end kinetic operations against lesser regimes, they lack the stomach and resources for peace-building and state-building. The continued lack of a strong state and the flow of refugees from Libya suggests that, without this necessary institution-building, interventions may hurt more than they help. Power vacuums present non-state actors with opportunities, while creating further problems for those they were intended to help. It is unclear that bringing about Assad’s downfall in 2013 would have alleviated the suffering of civilians: indeed, ISIL would have been the clear winner in territory, population and resources.

(3) Talk more with each other

The UK-US Alliance is certainly experiencing problems, but these are exacerbated by a lack of communication over delicate issues. Some place the blame for this at the level of the incumbent administrations, pointing to a lack of dialogue between this Prime Minister and this President. Others emphasize a necessary phase of navel-gazing in the UK during a period of constitutional difficulties relating to the Scottish situation and the upcoming referendum on EU membership. In the case of the UK’s domestic turmoil, the United States has little choice but to remain patient with this loss of focus in Whitehall. However, the UK cannot take an indefinite break from talking to its allies or from the work of providing security in and around Europe. Now more than ever, it must communicate its commitments to enemies and allies alike. Happily, alliances are seldom based on the personal foibles of leaders but on common interests, values, institutions, and history. The deeply enmeshed intelligence relationships, for example, involve common institutions with a legacy of working together for shared goals. The bureaucracies can continue working closely together – but strategic vision is policy, and that must be coordinated at the political level. In the run-up to the November release of the NSS and SDSR, the UK and United States should build on the track 1 and track 1.5 work that is already taking place – to discuss their worries, concerns and possible solutions in a way that is clear and useful for other Western / NATO allies. While some question the need for an overarching Western strategy, the very process of debate is in itself, a useful one, focusing minds and clarifying common goals and means, an essential part of procurement cycles.

Conclusion

It seems that one of the defining features of alliances is the assumption that they are in trouble. Since the beginning of the US-UK Alliance after the Second World War, a year has scarcely passed without the publication of a newspaper article or book worrying about its health. Indeed, worries about the state of affairs between Washington and London are arguably an offshoot of the decline narrative, one of the most common tropes in Western political discourse – one that should be treated with respect but also with a certain amount of stoicism. What is needed now is more discussion rather than more alarming headlines.

The US-UK Alliance is certainly experiencing a triple challenge of war-weariness, insecurity overload, and resource scarcity. However, these are problems that the West writ large is also facing; better to hang together than hang separately. The Special Relationship has been one the most significant alliances of the 20th Century – one that has endured two world wars, numerous civil wars and insurgencies, and countless other conflicts including the current intervention against ISIL in the skies of Iraq. The two intelligence agencies and defence industries work closely together in a way that adds values to their respective capabilities. Even now, American and British diplomats are working closely on Iran’s nuclear programme, over Russian revanchism in eastern Ukraine, and on NATO’s readiness. We cannot afford to take this partnership for granted. It is one of the cornerstones of Western security.


Scottish independence would have a negative impact on security

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British Politics and Policy at the LSE, 17 September, 2014

For most of the past few weeks, debates about Scottish independence have focused on the financial impact of separation, dominated in turn by the currency debate. Indeed, what independence will mean for defence and security have been obscured by this debate. Unfortunately, as with currency and EU membership, the SNP seems to have a penchant for having its cake and eating it. The party has laid out defence priorities without due consideration for cost, nor has it considered the degrading of its own (and UK) capabilities by doing so. Its impact can be analyzed at two different levels: firstit can be examined at the transatlantic level, in the realm of intelligence and defence; secondat the UK level, and how it will affect the defence of the British isles.

The Scottish White Paper, released by the SNP, identifies five defence priorities for an independent Scotland:

  • Maintaining the commitment to a budget for defence and security in an independent Scotland of £2.5 billion
  • Securing the speediest safe withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Scotland.
  • Building a focus on maritime capabilities, such as air and sea-based patrol, and specialist forces able to operate around Scotland’s coasts. These assets will initially be drawn from the current Royal Navy.
  • Progressively building to a total of 15,000 regular and 5,000 reserve personnel over the 10 years following independence.
  • Reconfiguring the defence estate inherited at the point of independence to meet Scotland’s needs, including the transition of Faslane to a conventional naval base and joint headquarters of Scottish defence forces. This approach would appear to be focused on maritime defence.

In addition, the Paper also states that Scotland would establish a Scottish intelligence agency (SIA), that would combine the work of the three agencies that currently do such work in the UK, MI5, MI6, and GCHQ. The White Paper also establishes that Scotland would seek to remain inside NATO, playing a more ‘Nordic’ role in defending the Alliance’s northern maritime border.

Scottish independence would affect transatlantic security at two levels: at the five eyes, intelligence-sharing level, and at the NATO level. In terms of the five eyes, an intelligence-sharing network dating to World War 2, which counts the US, UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia as members, it’s likely that Scotland would be pushed outside the tent of this force-multiplying alliance. Certainly, the other five agencies would seek to continue a relationship with the new SIA, due to their areas of common concern such maritime security and terrorism. They might even lend a hand to ‘capacity-building’, helping the new agency get on its feet. But in terms of sharing wider global intelligence, there would be little incentive to share too much with an untested and potentially leaky new agency.

Furthermore, though the new SIA could potentially professionalise quickly with a cadre of Scottish employees from UK agencies, it would have to make do with fewer resources – the White Paper claims a minuscule £2.5 billion per annum without reference to start-up costs, no small matter for developing costly cyber defence capabilities. In terms of intelligence-sharing, it would be a question of what Scotland brought to the table to justify it. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, has argued that this would be a two-way vulnerability, as Scotland would be a soft target for foreign intelligence services, impacting the UK as a whole.

Another area of concern involves the SNP’s goal of remaining inside NATO while at the same time reducing NATO’s nuclear capabilities in the form of a Trident base at Faslane. This is one of the most incredible cases of cake/eating put forward by Salmond. By removing one of only two independent nuclear capabilities in Europe, the SNP will be hurting its own case for NATO membership – indeed, this was discussed at a private meeting on July 6th in the Brussels NATO HQ between Scottish civil servants and senior NATO leadership. At a time of increased insecurity between the West and Russia, chaos in the Middle East, and a potentially ‘revisionist‘ China, the West as a whole will be made considerably weaker. Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, himself a Scot and former Secretary General of NATO, has stated that “the global balance will be substantially upset should one of the West’s key unions and its second-biggest defense power, split up.”

Along with defence capacity, defence industry in both Scotland and the UK will suffer as British companies like Rolls Royce, Thales, and BAE Systems move south of the border. Maintaining their classified building programs in a foreign country would be near impossible without strong intelligence guarantees, something a nascent SIA would be hard-pressed to provide for at least a decade. With such a move, British ship-building would be seriously undermined, possibly forcing London to buy off-the-shelf platforms from NATO providers.

All in all, Scottish independence would not destroy the West or NATO, nor would it lead to irreparable harm to the UK, but it would have negative consequences for UK standing and capabilities, for NATO nuclear deterrence and for the global and European balance of power. For a Scottish nationalist, this may seem a reasonable price to pay, but not all will agree. Their behaviour – though democratic and part of a positive search for identity – will have repercussions, and they should acknowledge them and seek to minimise them. The damage might be relatively short-lived – say a only decade long – if Scottish agencies quickly came up to scratch, the new country spent the required amount on defence (2 per cent of GDP for NATO membership), and if it offered some sort of compromise on the nuclear issue. However, there are a lot of ‘ifs’ before this issue is resolved. We will become extremely familiar with these ‘ifs’ should the vote go against the union on September 18th.

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