Archive for May, 2016

Trump Says NATO’s A Dump. Best Listen to Him

May 20, 2016


Christopher Lee

21 May 2016


In this city there are more bureaucrats on every street than Qin Shi Huang had cast in Terracotta. Donald Trump seems to think they have about the same value: objects of curiosity and most people asking What For?

Nowhere does the modern conundrum of the first emperor of China come to mind than a short 620 bus ride out from Brussels North station. In no time at all (maybe 30 minutes but that is no time considering what will unfold) the bus drops you along Boulevard Leopold III just across from the headquarters of the biggest multinational military and political organisation in the world, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.

NATO was very much the brainchild of the Norwegians and the British and had 12 member states when founded on 4 April 1949.  Today there are 28 members and if the United States were not a member and did not supply the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) then NATO would count for nothing. At best, it would turn into an Euro Defence Force.

What Donald Trump has been told and whoever did so was right is pretty simple stuff. Four or five NATO states are in a position to treat NATO membership seriously and as Trump’s people point out, keep increasing their defence spending by 2% of there national Gross Domestic Products. Trump is wrong when he says the US bankrolls NATO. The UK for example makes the 2% GDP increase in annual defence spending albeit only after some cute double entry book keeping where assets=liabilities + owners equity.

Sir Adam Thomson, the UK’s permrep at NATO (an ambassador rating) is reported as saying that Donal Trump has got it right on one thing “Europeans do need to start pulling their weight when it comes to investing in defence.”

Trump dumps on NATO in a big way.  He say America is carrying the whole alliance or as he puts “we are getting ripped off by every country in NATO.  We are paying most of the costs. When he sees that the Belgians here, the Czechs,Hungarians, Italians, Luxembourgers, Slovenes and Spanish each pay less than 1% then you can see why Trump’s bad-mouthing is hard to dismiss as the rantings of a red neck Republican looking for headlines.

There is a side of this that he has yet to get on. NATO is as important as a political-military  alliance as it was at its formation when Stalin was closing the Iron Curtain around his “near abroad” of client states that with the USSR became on 14 May 1955 the Warsaw Pact -Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungry, Poland and Romania. Many of the states are now members of NATO.

That makes Putin’s Russia nervous – as it would the USA if former NATO states had joined  Russia. Equally there is little to be said against the idea that Putin’s policy on Crimea, Ukraine and thus far in Syria rings alarms along Boulevard Leopold III. In short, Europe feels unsafe – and that is without throwing ISIS into the Threat Assessment delivered every weekday morning at NATO.

Trump is right to biff NATO.

It is remember an Alliance of political formation.  Generals do not take decisions in NATO.  Politicians in national capitals do and then they come to Ministerial meetings or as they will in July this year in Warsaw, in a gathering of heads of government.   The greater truth is that these ministers are governed by the state of their separate economies, their political persuasion with the third imponderable how a crisis may or may not develop.There are three elements of NATO decision making: real polltik, economy and the impossible analysis of the relationship between strategic capability, ambition and intention.  The people who hold the secrets, even the masterhands  to all three but rarely know when to fold live in the Alliance bureaucracy.

The NATO bureaucracy is home to some brilliant people who never quite make it or have made nothing much. Machiavelli thought the permanent bureaucracy’s single mission was to change nothing, probably because they are neither conservative nor liberal thus they are canny, shrewd, ruthless and conspiratorial. They adore the principle of the status quo.

Trump may know all of this and more. He may too have grasped that the bureaucracy has its time. It may be now. Forget the 2 % GDP thing. Defense economics is about what you spend on rather than what you spend. In short, instead of shutting down NATO or re-jigging it as I heard Trump remark, the analysts’ bench needs to be freed up to tell the likes of Trump and whomsoever the Democrats throw up what NATO is, what it should be, what it needs to be as a minimum and fundamentally what the true threat is and from whence it comes. He will be surprised especially as it would begin with the legend Start By Seeing How Putin Sees It.  A lesson from 1991 still not learned.




Arms to Libya? But who gets the guns?

May 17, 2016


Christopher Lee

17 May 2016, London

The papyrus of Manetho tells us that when, 5,000 or so years ago Menes-Namer was anointed the first of the Pharaohs then the land we call Libya had no divine rule and the coming of its age was the appearance of a great general.

Egyptians leaders would still vote for that idea.

This week the solemn convocation of Western leaders of the United Kingdom (a paradoxon called 23 June), the United States (disunity their watchword) and various United Nations leaders (comfortable in their moral indecisions) announced that they are sending guns to Tripoli so that the “government” of Fayez al-Sarraj can take on ISIS in Libya.

For good measure, the Western leaders promised to send soldiers who will show the Libyans how to use the arms shipments. No this is not military deployment.  These are advisers – just as they were at the start of Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Sounds efficient use of diplomacy and military assets. The West can run the war without getting into its front line. But that does not take into account the modern Menes-Namer.

Since July 2013 Egypt’s Pharaoh has been President Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi. Sisi is not keen on soft diplomacy and neighbours, run by civilians.  He does not trust civilians even though this former general commanding Egypt’s forces goes about disguised as a well tailored and shod civilian.

Just as Menes-Namer looked with despair on the sub-Saharan tribes that ruled the hinterlands of modern Libya, so Sisi cannot trust the make-believe government of the desperately neutral al-Sarraj.   Sisi too wants rid of ISIS in very oil-rich Libya.  But like all generals who say peace cannot be secured by military means alone, Sisi believes it can and so sees al-Sarraj with his head full of democracy with suspicion.  Sisi has his own man in mind for the role of Pharaoh of Libya: General Khalifa Haftar.

Haftar has his army in Tobruk. Like Sisi he has no time for al-Sarraj.  It is hardly the politics of the leader of the government of National Accord in Tripoli.  It is simply the military reality.

Not since King Idris has Libya been ruled by peaceful means (and then hardly). Pharaoh Sisi believes there is no way that a civilian government in Saharan Africa can rule for long in these times.  Certainly Sisi and General Heftier can make a good case that al-Sarraj can never placate the disparate groups of militia sprawling across Libya each of which has a grouse. Each of which has too much to lose, including the day job.

So, as the papyrus of Manetho reminds us the “divine pharaohs who came from elsewhere” (aka the British, the Americans and UN hangers on) may have believed their plan for the desert lands was the only one with principle. The Western gods and heroes in Vienna this past week have harder tasks than who can beat ISIS into submission.

Most importantly, the Western governments have to accept that Sisi ruthlessly controls Egypt and that Egypt has been since the first Pharaoh the centre of the Arab world and that one quarter of the Arab world is Egypt.

The Pharaoh still rules and the USA that gives more overseas aid to Egypt than it does to any other nation other than Israel has to accept that. Moreover, there is not a single Middle East state going through the misery and dangers of transition today that does not ask (albeit in camera) what does Sisi think about this?

Most Middle East nations do not do democracy. Five thousand years of history since the great papyrus tell us that the motives have not changed – all of which are thousands of years older than those who now demand that they should change to Western rules of government and human rights.

If the United Kingdom and the United States believe that by sending arms to Libya they will fix the problem then they may find it surprising that the Pharaoh Sisi will agree.  The difference is that Sisi believes they are sending the guns to the wrong man. Al-Sarraj is a good man. Hafter is a good general. Sisi would bring them together but Haftar would rule. Pharaohs always trusted the man with the spear.

Mind you, 6 October 1981 is always a silent anniversary: the day of Anwar Sadat’s assassination, at a military parade in Cairo.





Kim Jong-un unveils his new team. Safe or dirty hands?

May 3, 2016


4 May 2016


Next Friday stare hard at North Korea. Remember what and who you see. On Friday 6 May in North Korea, after more than 30 years wait, there will be a Party Congress – a meeting of apparatchiks and keepers of the inner sanctum of North Korean power.

The faces that will appear will be in new places.  The names will change to protect the innocent?  There is none. This is the meeting that is supposed to take place every five years.  Not one has stood up since the last one in 1980 to ask why no one has put out the chairs.  Only the leader can say and anyone who tries to will probably get what was coming to him anyway – even Kim Jung-un’s relatives do not scare the executioner in that place.

So why have the Congress now?

This is Kim Jung-un’s Coronation. In spite of the smiles, spontaneous clapping at his very appearance it has taken until now for the Dear Leader to get his ducks in a row, shoot those who stood crookedly or to his liking and put in place those he can trust – for the moment. This is his moment to set out his own way of running North Korea and not to be a bag carrier for policies written in the time of his father, Kim Jong-il.

All major committee chairmen and senior members will be appointed and plans for the ambitions of each section of the governance of North Korea will be recognized. New-old faces, new-old policies are part of the code-breaking efforts of trying to read North Korea. There is little point in looking for new guidelines.

What we should look for are the handful of people with power that survive, step forward for the first time or in one particular case, is brought from retirement. For that is the way of the political musical chairs in North Korea.

This is the political postcard of easy targets for the executioners or hard seats for the new men who will keep the Dear Leader in power?

In short, Kim Jong-un appears to have cleared out the old guard some of whom were hang overs from the 1950s and 1960s and who owed their ranks and badges to Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il

The most powerful man in the army Rim Kwang Il is now Director of the KPA – the Korean Peoples Army. He has spent most of the past twenty years eye-balling South Korea and deciding how the KPA would take out South Koreran units and US forces if the long truce should rupture.

And there is a new man as head of the United Front Department directing Intelligence and Policy towards South Korea, Kim Yong Chol. This 4-star general, just turned 70, has control of everything that matters in civilian and military Intelligence. He is also virtually in command of cyber warfare.

The third appointment is the most interesting, Ri Myong Su. He is getting on: 82 and had retired two years ago. But he is to be trusted and the people trust him as one of the reliables of a quarter of a century ago. Most of all, Kim Jung-un will need a safe pair of hands if, as he suspects, the Americans and Japanese (perhaps too the Chinese) are preparing to put pressure on North Korea to abandon the high grade nuclear weapons programme.

The order of battle (orbat) and technological changes in the North Korean army demand new strategies to handle so-called advances. Even the form battle may be fought must change. We think we have seen in the North Korean Operations Bureau more changes at highest levels (seven directors moved out five different defence ministers appointed by Kim Jong-un) than ever before Kim Jong-un took tacit power on 11 October 2011.

But what we really need to know is this: Are these movements of personalities a prelude to a complete change in the way the chiefs of staff corridor operates and an end to the series of denunciations and therefore a feeling that Kim Jong-un is at last getting his military house in order.

The second consideration is something that has been suspected for the past six months or so: Kim Jong-un now has, or thinks he has, a full nuclear/conventional military orbat. So the question is obvious: Friday’s Congress consolidates the authority of the Dear Leader and also the commanding positions of the new order. It comes with more military muscle than he has ever had. It is not a question of will he use it and if so what for.  It is a question of who of the new and the trusted people on Friday has the confidence to see that the new order is used wisely.

A wrong move or worse, a wrongly interpreted step will give the executioner a day’s work and the region the shivers.