Posts Tagged ‘NATO’

A Grotesque Trump:Will he take us to war?

November 9, 2016


Christopher Lee

9 November 2016


Is President Elect Trump as grotesque as he appeared to the rest of the world? So megalomanic that he could press The Button just to prove he could?

Before the pomp and ceremony let is not forget that Trump is still the man who called Hilary Clinton a crook and promised to have her jailed, who called US military losers, who made crude jokes about women, who said Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals.

Is that man also more than half of modern American?

We should answer these questions ourselves because almost all the experts got it so wrong.

When America votes for a President it votes on our behalf because we are tied into every issue faced by the White House. Trump is de facto President Elect of the the lot of us.

So what might he have in mind for us all?

Our first concern is security on its grandest scale. Mr Trump says NATO is a failure against modern security threats and that the majority of member states do not follow the 2pc of GDP defence budget guidelines. He is saying what most US Presidents have said since NATO was formed in April 1949. He is right. If an Alliance territory were to be threatened it would take ten to fourteen days to get a decision on what to do and even then any NATO decision would have to ratified by individual legislatures.

Promises of high ready state for 30 divisions is fine if you have the organisation to make it work and then command it.  NATO does not have that.  Score 1 for Trump.

Vladimir Putin? Mr Trump’s view is that you have to get along with Putin especially in the Middle East.  So watch for an easy photo-call after inauguration day on 20 January next year to say Trump & Putin have a plan to sort the remainder of ISIS. As for the situation in the Baltics? Not many Latvian votes anticipated in 2020 Presidential. Score 1 for Trump.

Big Business? Not surprisingly, Trump’s plans to scrap trade deals unfavourable to the US could have a longer term situation for the rest of the world. He will find that many of the trade deals he dislikes are so tied up that he is not going to get into them apart from a couple of headline incursions but none that will reduce, say, Chinese investments without which many US (and the rest of us) projects would sink.

The fact that stocks throughout the world fell on the news that he had won, can be dismissed.  Anyone with any money should buy all the stock they can today – at rock bottom prices.  By next week they will be where they were so profits all round and even bigger ones on the day after inauguration.

The are two truths to keep in mind: no US president since Lyndon Baines Johnson has made a huge difference to the way in which America is and its relations with its allies. The most important difference most presidents can attempt is the membership of America’s Supreme Court. That is the real guardian of American thought and persuasion and not the incumbent president.

The second truth is a reminder that in spite of headlines about the prospect of Trump’s finger on the nuclear button the Congress (now controlled by Republicans as will be the Supreme Court) can stop a president taking the US to war – and maybe therefore the rest of us.

Here is the warning: Congress has the authority.  The President Elect has just shown us all, including his own Republican Party who did not want him, that Trump does not do authority – other than his own.  A scary time to come especially from pundits who got it so wrong about Trump.

And the most scary question? What sort of America has voted for such a man?

Best go out and by some stock.


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.



Is NATO’s Chief An I-Speak-Your-Weight Machine?

October 30, 2015

Christopher Lee - photo (1)

30th October 2015


Listening to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg being interviewed on BFBS’s Sitrep analysis programme it is clear that he may as well have sent his PR man.  Stoltenberg had nothing he could say.

James Hirst the interviewer asked Stoltenberg how was it that President Putin took no notice at all when Stoltenberg gave one of his regular speeches telling Russia to get out of Crimea, out of Ukraine and nowadays, out of Syria. Stoltenberg said NATO’s job was to defend Alliance members.  We could have got that off his answer phone.

Hirst, a good journalist, pushed him and kept asking the same question.  Stoltenberg as an ex-Norwegian Prime Minister knew all he had to do was sit out the interview.

The result? A clear reminder that NATO is not willing to do anything about anything when it comes to Putin and that above all Putin knows this.

There would never be an East-West confrontation over Crimea, Ukraine and Syria.  Also it is unlikely that Putin would have gone into (or sent people into) Ukraine if that place had been a NATO member.  What is disappointing is the inability of a Secretary General to forget the I-Speak-Your-Weight-Machine answer to a very important question.

How about an answer that discussed the very question and the dilemma? How about something along the lines of a teach-in on the practicalities of a Secretary General being a ring master of 28 member states and a person trusted to say nothing that US President Obama has not already said.

Instead the Secretary General gives the impression that he is just a mouthpiece.

In the present case what a pity the talking cannot be left to the deputy Secretary General Sandy Vershbow.  Here is a recent US Ambassador to Moscow (and North Korea) plus a former Washington hand responsible for international security.  Vershbow is cool.  He talks with experience and wisdom of having walked the defence and security bazaars for a decade or two whereas Stoltenberg’s subject is climate change and got to Brussels because he was no longer currency as PM in Norway.

After that Sitrep interview ( and in these times it is pretty clear that NATO needs more Vershbows and fewer Stoltenbergs. Maybe someone would put up a Jo Luns Memorial Award to grade how the job should be done.

If You Were Putin?

October 15, 2015


15 October 2015


Today see one thing from Putin’s point of view. The tiny Balkan state of Montenegro does not much like Russia. The diplomatic signs from a meeting of NATO ambassadors in Montenegro’s capital Podgorica today suggest that by the end of this year Montenegro will be a member of the Western Alliance.

Seems a straight forward bit of European business.  If you are a small state (population 650,000) best keep your head down or join something that will look after you in the event of international trouble.

Moreover Montenegro is already in the EU. So it would seem an easy ride into the military club. It would also tell Russia that the good guys are still siding with the West, not Moscow.  It would be the first expansion of NATO since Albania and Croatia joined in 2009.

So job all but done.  Almost.

Not everyone in Montenegro wants to join. For example, ethnic Serbs are like many in Serbia and simply do not want to be in NATO and have always had ideological links with the Russian Federation.

But never mind, the Americans say that if Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic cleans up the Montenegrin problem of crime and corruption at too many levels of the state’s society then he’ll get US approval at the December meeting of the Alliance and given the tensions in the Ukraine and the intervention in Syria, then Putin will get the message that NATO is getting stronger and that increased strength is in spite of his threats to many former client states of Moscow.

Here it is worth-while looking at the deal from the Kremlin’s viewpoint.

Think of yourself as Putin.

When Communism collapsed in the 1990s the West promised that it would not expand into the former Near Abroad as the USSR called its border states. The Warsaw Pact would disappear but the US in particular said Moscow had no fear that its cordon countries would be taken over.  They would become neutral.

What happened?  Putin in his formative years and then in power saw former Soviet states joining the EU and then NATO and then becoming major exercise territory for NATO forces. American sponsored NATO forces opened bases in East European states. NATO simply moved the old Cold War front line right onto the Russia border.

Imagine if that had been the other way? I imagine being the so-called West and Russia marching its troops even further westwards than before.  Imagine the overrun states joining what was then the Warsaw Pact.  Would we be twitchy – to say the least?

Putin sees Montenegro’s application to join NATO as yet another expansion of the West and therefore in his terms a threat. Maybe no big deal. But think how Putin sees it and then perhaps understand a little more how Putin ticks

British Bake-Off beats Putin’s Missiles for top Headlines

October 9, 2015

Christopher Lee - photo (1)

9 October 2015


The Royal Navy has fired submarine launched cruise missiles in Middle East for some years. The US Navy has maintained an even bigger missile firing operation in the region.  Both the Royal Navy and the US Navy have had sea launched missiles go astray.

So why all the fuss about 18 per cent of Russian cruise missiles fired from the Caspian Sea landing in Iran and not on target?

Obviously it is part of the anxiety to portray President Putin personally as a bandit causing strategic and moral havoc in the Syria conflict.  That is an Okay thing to do.  It has been that way in European warfare ever since October 1415 when Henry V flew his long red banner at Agincourt signifying that no prisoners would be taken – chivalry-speak for guys caught in the middle would be massacred.

That is the case today – without the red banner.

The Russian missile launch was tactically effective, especially those that fell on the IS headquarters at Raqqa. Its triumph was that Putin’s commanders were showing that there is more in their locker than 34 ground attack aircraft that have limited effect.  Moreover, Putin’s decision to put the arm on Belarus to allow Russia to rebuild an airbase in that state facing NATO was a reminder that the military eye-balling that Putin understands more than anything else is still very much on the morning briefing diary of every Western commander, politically as well as military.

At the end of a week that has seen an escalation in the ISPs of the Syria conflict what is new and what is important?

Russia hit IS targets as well anti Assad rebel points including destroying an important CIA communications point in Syria. Syria announced an offensive beefed up with Russian close air support against rebel positions. A low key operational command from Moscow checked out the readiness status of a mechanised infantry brigade in Chechnya should it be needed in Syria as a protection force for Russian bases.

NATO member state Turkey warned that Russian jets were intruding Turkish air space. President Obama said this was bad news and made matters worse. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said it was bad news and made matters worse. No one remembers what Prime Minister Cameron said. NATO members promised to increase its rapid reaction capability to 40,000 although no one knew by when, what sort of troops and who would decide both.  Britain said it was sending 100 army trainers to the Eastern Front. Saudi Arabia said it would give more weapons to the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army, Jaysh al-Fatah and Southern Front.

A big news day.  The world’s premier news broadcaster BBC led on the winner of a national baking competition. Maybe that is about right. Most Brits anyway care more about fairy cakes. Most Syrians do not bake. A twitchy Turkish pilot and a wayward Russian one could change that view.

Why Corbyn’s Sword Won’t Rattle the Military – Yet

September 13, 2015


14 September 2015. London.

The word on the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is that he wants out of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) wants no part of foreign wars and wants to bin the Trident renewal programme.

So a bad election for Britain’s chiefs of the military staffs? Not really.

Firstly, you don’t have to be Left Wing Labour to question the idea of more Afghanistan-type interventions.

Secondly, you do not have to join CND to be thinking twice about Trident renewal.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Labour is not in government. There is no scheduled General Election until May 2020.  So all the headlines suggesting that Corbyn is about to turn over the Chiefs of Staff is way off mark.

But during this year and 2016 there are sign-post Parliamentary debates and decisions on the UK’s military policy.

In November of this year the Chancellor will announce his autumn spending round.  Shortly after that will be due the 2015 defence review with its strategic annexe of foreign policy and where the military may be asked to guarantee support of the policy.  It will be a rewrite of what the military is for and what form it will have to take to defend the security of the UK.

As a sign of that report’s complexity, the House of Commons all-Party Defence Committee (HCDC) under the chairmanship of Conservative MP Julian Lewis has a list of some 20 threats and risks to UK security that it wants the government’s views on.

The breadth of the Defence Review and the HCDC inquiry illustrate perfectly that the Chiefs of Staff, the Treasury, the government and the Shadow Front Bench have to get their heads around more complex ambitions than labels like Ban the Bomb and Trident Out.

Moreover, whatever the stated belief of Mr Corbyn on nuclear weapon policy there is the important feature of the authority of Labour Policy.  A change of leadership does not necessarily mean change of policy.  Any Parliamentary leader is obliged to speak for accepted and published Party policy until such times as he can convince others that it should be changed. Mr Corbyn is not a character who toes precedent but as things stand he is obliged to accept the Labour policy of support for Trident modernisation and therefore presumably the acceptance of Britain having a so-called nuclear deterrent.

Mr Corbyn does not accept nuclear deterrence theology and so we can expect him to attempt to change Labour policy, but that will take time.  Most Labour MPs support the policy and when it comes to a Parliamentary vote (as it will) Mr Corbyn would need to rely on Scottish National votes to get a No to Trident vote against the Tories.  On voting numbers alone that will not succeed and with such determination to relaunch Labour in Scotland, few of Mr Corbyn’s MPs will want to be seen in league with the SNP.

When it comes to the Defence Review, the Corbyn leadership will be on easier ground to criticise defence policy. For example, the principle of a 2% of GDP as a NATO benchmark on defence spending  does not stand much examination. The figure of 2% is held up as the key to defence spending.  It is not. The guideline to defence spending is this: government decides its foreign policy ambition and the military decides what it must have to support that policy.  The Defence ministry, industry and the Treasury costs it. If it is 2% so be the coincidence – nothing more.

The valid percentage of GDP is the cost, not a set NATO figure. Corbyn’s people will argue that way when the Review followed by the Defence Budget are published. But whatever the argument and expression of defence economics Corbynism will have no influence on the outcome of November’s review. The Chiefs of Staff will fear the Chancellor, whatever the political hue of defence funding.

We then come to NATO.  Mr Corbyn does not think much of the Alliance.  But then most military have doubts other than some sort of coalition of the willing is necessary. NATO is as far as it ever can be a self-reforming limb of European and part transatlantic foreign and defence policy. Ironically, the weaknesses of the organization are two-fold: the structure of its military wing under the commander of the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACUER) and its political restrictions.  That weakness of NATO decision making and commitment has been question by the events in Ukraine and the bravado of President Putin.

NATO still happens to be a good military alliance if one were needed and the much presented European model is no better. A Corbyn gesture does not have to be withdrawal.  He or anyone else can satisfy scepticism by simply not signing up for some NATO operations.  Mr Corbyn’s sense of realism would also suggest that it is time to re-ask What Is NATO for in 2020? The supporters of such a debate would include the British military.

Furthermore, getting a convincing answer to the what’s it for question will allow a better understanding of national policy responsibilities and most of all, the transatlantic alliance function.

So a summary of the likely relationships between the British military and the defence policy makers working for Mr Corbyn would include that there is unlikely to be any influence on the defence debate between now and the next General Election. Public gasps of breath and headlines warning of damnation will run and run.

There could be two codicils: not this year’s but a not too distant defence review could indeed radically change the shape of British defence. The 1981 defence review carried out by the then Defence Secretary John Nott would have radically changed what the military especially the Royal Navy could and could not achieve. If Nott had been implemented immediately the 1982 Falklands War might not have have gone the way it did.

Would a simple White Paper change radically the British military? Could do easily.

A near-future defence review could be a good case for a radical change in policy by concentrating for example on home security including air defence, mine counter measures and territorial control of the British Isles instead of having a strategic long distance commitment. No armoured division, no long range air force no naval force projection using a carrier task force and no strategic deterrence.  It would not be hard to write. That is the one that would rattle more than there sabres of the Chiefs of Staff.

The second codicil is more of a reminder. The military is there to protect British policy, not to invent it.

Corbynism is not bothering the military at the moment because it is political Shadow boxing.

But there will be a few who remember the June 1981 Defence White Paper and shudder to think if Corbyn proved every one wrong and the face of British politics were to change in 2020 – and the face of the British military the following year.

Christopher Lee

February 22, 2013


An Honorable Man Would Fall On His Sword And Give Everyone (Including Obama) A Break

22 February 2013

Some one explain: What’s with this Hagel thing?  Why can’t the Senate wipe their noses and just nod through Chuck Hagel as President Obama’s candidate for Secretary of Defense.

The answer is they can but a few of them would like to see Hagel harried until he’s an embarrassment to Obama and bravely asks Obama permission to withdraw from the nomination.

At this week’s NATO defense ministers meeting at Alliance HQ there was plenty smirking and sneering when the news arrived that Hagel would not be – arriving that is.  Instead the super-efficient Leon Panetta who has been forced to stay on a Secretary arrived.  Almost every  NATO minister would prefer to have Panetta representing the US.  But Panetta needs to move on and Obama needs to prove that he can have his nominee in place.

The President has to wait.  Reason?  The problem is that Chuck The Mouth misspeaks.  He said damn foolish things about Jewish lobbies in Washington.  

Now, if you want to be one of The President’s Men, then you don’t say anything about Jewish Lobby groups.  Best to pretend they do not exist – even a “friendly” one like the National Jewish Democratic Committee who is sensitive enough to have denounced Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio for not mentioning Israel in his State of the Union response.  

Daft? Pathetic? Of course it is.  But that Washington for you.

The Jewish lobby (which of course does not exist) is one of the major influences on the floor of the HOuse, the Senate and in the thinking of any would-be and incumbent tenant of the White House.

To understand that influence and how the sensitivity has made a mockery of the President’s imagined power to get his man through the confirmation system, just understand that the case against Hagel is laid after remarks he supposedly made in 2007.  

Up at Rutgers University he apparently said that Iran (Israel’s most feared enemy this day) was in collaboration with the US on Afghanistan to establish a new government. He also is alleged to have remarked that the US State Department is controlled by the Israeli Foreign Ministry.  Explosive stuff.  But it was five years ago. To misquote McCarthy: “Senator, are you or have you ever been a big mouth?”

And the next question for Obama: why are you wanting this man to run your Pentagon in which the ranking subject is what to do about Israeli anxieties about Iran.

Now, the folk on the Hill have had their day in the court of accusations and although it’s an apparently mindless exercise, it also happens to be true that they may have revealed a man who truly should not have the Pentagon.

One by one, the legislators are backing off.  Yet in spite of the fact that there is a clear majority in the Senate for Hagel to be confirmed, there remain some who would remind the White House how little true power it has considering the way the Congress sits at this time.  When the mid term elections are done in  two years from now, the President will have even less power.

So now what happens? Minority Whip, Republican Texas Senator John Cornyn has written with more than a dozen colleagues to the President asking him to find another candidate.  Some of those signatories want a trade. They have issues which they are willing to trade for nodding Hagel through.  But not yet. Would the President back down?  Probably not.  But Hagel just might, to save the President and the himself from more embarrassment.

Meanwhile in Brussels, the Alliance wait for the name of the man they have to deal with over big issues such a coalition of the willing response to the disaster that is Afghanistan, the decisions over Syria, co-operation over Western African counter-Radical planning, defense spending, what to do about North Korea and of course, Iran.  

Today, Iran has gone the next stage towards nuclear power development. If we wonder what will be Israel’s response and that of the US we would expect to ask Chuck Hagel. That for the moment, maybe for all time, is not possible.