Datelined London

Photo: The Guardian

Harry C. Blaney III

Last night Friday on a TV screen in London we watched in real time the horrific unfolding of the terrorism acts which at this report time cost the lives of some 129 persons and many more wounded as the total is likely to grow over time. The analysis is that it was an organized series of such attacks which were designed to cause major fear not only in Paris but in France and beyond. It has had already reverberations throughout Europe and even in America.

Friday night UK time, President Obama said while the events were still active, that this was an attack on all humanity and this view was echoed by statements by President Holland and Prime Minister Cameron and others.

This attack has had many implications for both France’s own security and the possible impacts on its politics, economy, and not least the relationship with Muslims in France that constitute, by some estimates, 4.7% of the population, the largest in Europe.

ISIS almost immediately took “credit” for these acts of brutality. ISIS said this was a retaliation for France’s acts of bombing against it. President Holland in the immediate aftermath said that this was “war” and promised swift action and France will be “merciless against the terrorists.” These were acts of war Holland stated on Saturday that the attacks were planned abroad. Two people were arrested in Belgium and two attackers were said to come from Syria and Egypt. An American student and a British London School of Economics student were killed at last reports.

This act has been called a massacre – the worst attack in France’s recent history. Paris is in shock but the reactions take a wide range of anger, horror, revulsion, fear, and a determination to both carry on and to respond against the terrorists. But people in Paris are clearly very uncertain and cautious. Holland has taken a hard stance, which is understandable given the brutality of the attack. Holland has called a state of emergency and the French Prime Minister has said on Saturday that France will enhance its attacks on ISIS and will not be deterred by threats.

If ISIS thought the attacks would frighten France and other countries to stop their attacks it looks that this has likely backfired. But the other danger is that the attacks increased polarization and racist and right wing groups may use these attacks to instigate hatred for migrants, the domestic Islamic community, and citizens and create even more fear for political reasons. This could backfire and increase the sense of alienation which has already led to disaffected and angry Muslim youth joining ISIS. Thus national authorities need to find a fine line between cracking down on likely terrorists but at the same time assuring regular Muslim citizens that they live in a welcoming and safe environment.

The reaction from other countries was with statements of sympathy and solidarity. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron promised to be of help in any way they can. Here in London tonight there was a large vigil and gathering of citizens showing solidarity with Paris and France, with the tricolor lights of the French flag projected against the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square which I and my wife went to. I could not be but aware of the irony that a few weeks earlier there were many statements related to Britain leaving the EU by the Tory leaders, including Cameron, about how UK was different from the Continental Europeans. That party’s majority MPs desires to separate from countries like France that they wish little ties with that are seeking for more European unity.

One interesting element which some have commented on is that at the moment when ISIS is under siege at their home base in Syria/Iraq, they have carried out their most successful major and effective massive attack in Paris and created a sense of fear throughout Europe and beyond. This brutality gives ISIS major international profile and forced focus on their presence abroad while at the same time facing increased military action against them. This pressure is due to American bombing and more effective moderate reinforcements on the ground of allied groups fighting in their home bases.

As for Paris, one concern is that if this can happen in Paris, it could happen again and anywhere. Thus the international dimension has now been established and it is clear that the G-20 meeting in Turkey this week attended in advance by Secretary Kerry and the Russian Foreign Minister with President Obama soon arriving, will strongly focus on what can be done on an international level to deal with such horrific and massive attacks and what are the implication of these more professional and devastating attacks on citizens and how to prevent or mitigate them. But also how to solve the basic problem of how to put an end to ISIS and get rid of Assad and create a more safe and stable region.

What does all this mean? As noted, one danger is a backlash over Europe against Muslims and this anger being exploited by right-wing racists parties like UKIP and the Le Pen party in France.

The other question is where does the Western nations and their Islamic allies go next against ISIS both in their Syria/Iraq stronghold and to counter their international reach. This is not a new question but the Paris attacks gives it new urgency and profile to these questions. What has been said and I think still stands is that what is most needed is a viable diplomatic solution likely backed up by some sort of military action also.

Many are saying too little is being done while others think American engagement in the region is too much. Will the attacks in France change any of this? Will changes on the ground change anything also? The Question for the major powers and many members of the G-20 and also Muslim nations in the region is can there be a way of putting the necessary elements together to achieve sooner rather than later a dismemberment of ISIS and a political structure on the ground to replace the present chaos and brutality. This will take major decisions by all, that enough is enough and all are in peril if this ISIS and other Jihadis forces remain powerful and dominant and attract each day new and committed recruits.

The key must be in the long term to return the region to some sense of normality and hope for security and some decent economy and employment of youth. But also at the heart of any solution must be a mitigation of the religious and political conflict between the Sunni and Shia sects which really means Shia Iran, its allies, and Sunni Saudi Arabia and Gulf States and others. It may also mean bringing peace to the Israeli and Palestinian situation via a two state solution and now the sooner the better. On seeking security and security for the region here American power and European and regional allies and perhaps even Russia and Iran might just find some common ground. This is probably asking too much now, but if not now when? If one waits, will not all be caught by a maelstrom of disaster and destruction from which none will survive intact.

More in time on these issues and related events from Europe.

We welcome your comments!


Britain's Place in the World

Pictured: Dr. Robin Niblett CMG, Director, Chatham House

Photo: Chatham House


Harry C. Blaney III

Date Line London

Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs) hosted a major meeting June 23rd, led by speaker Dr. Robin Niblett the Director of Chatham House, on the topic “Britain’s Place in the World.” The topic would normally be rather expected and unremarkable, but in the present circumstances it is critical and relevant.

Without a doubt Britain is at odds with itself about the proper place of Britain in world affairs. It is battling between those who want the UK to have a major or prominent place in global and European affairs and those who wish to withdraw from Europe and even the world.  

Some even wish to disassociate from America. There are also elements that care not a wit about the rest of the world.  They mainly express that view by a hate of immigrants and those that do not look like them. This view is also expressed through voting for mostly the right wing Tories or the far right and racist United Kingdom Independent party known as UKIP.  They tend to blame Britain’s problems on the immigrants, on the EU. They sense a decline in influence which this group attributes to anyone but themselves and their bad policies.

This trend was exacerbated by the impact of the recession, austerity policies, and the indifference of the last Tory coalition to the poor. This new Conservative and now even more ideological government is making war on the poor and unemployed in Britain. There is generally a sense of total loss of humanity or caring for those most in need.

Some of this was covered in earlier posts from this series from London. The key words remain: despair, resignation, and a bit of uncertainty in a world still dominated by much conflict and known and unknown risks. The view, backed by polls, is the British public wants Britain to still have a global reach but do not want to pay the price for such a role. This is not surprising in either Britain or in America.

In the presentation and Q&As at Chatham House with Robin Niblett, he made the argument for continued focus on an “inner circle of Europe”, then with a wider circle including the NATO/Atlantic orbit, and the one beyond which would encompass not just the Commonwealth but much of the rest of the world including China. If this sounds like the old British world view, it is.  But this is with a bit of a downgrade to connections with the United States which is a growing view here among the far right and the far left and some between.

Niblett’s main aim in this address seemed to be to focus on the need to keep Britain in the EU given the threat of an exit in late 2016. The other aim was to argue the case for Britain being at the center of European decision making, while making money with a priority on global financial and commercial strategy especially with China as the new economic powerhouse.

Part of this is a bow to the economic power of China, but it seems to include overlooking China’s military ambitions and attacks on democracy in Hong Kong. The British government seem to be their old pragmatic selves, capitalist and global financial driven, only even more so now. But it appears they are increasingly indifferent to the global spread of ugliness, cruelty, conflict and real humanitarian action — even as British tourists were being killed in Tunisia.

Niblett observed ironically that America seemed to be “ambivalent” about its role in the world. I am not sure if this was directed towards Obama or the Republican opposition. From my perspective, the right wing GOP is not just “ambivalent” but hostile to real responsible engagement in the world’s challenges and is a destructive force that Obama has to deal with. No mention in this meeting was made of the many points of deep and difficult engagement that America under President Obama and Secretary John Kerry have shown in dealing with Russia under Putin, global warming, trying to find peace in the Middle East, the pivot to Asia, and our effort to address Iran’s nuclear programs. I might sadly add with little real help from London except mostly in words and not resources.

Niblett did little to suggest how Britain could do much more with America to solve the world’s problems other than words. He did hope that these issues could be solved, and pushed for the government to make them the priorities with America or anyone for that matter. He said that America was just one of many bilateral balances and relations for the UK. But many voices here that I heard and talked to are uneasy with this new “small England” stance and I assume even Niblett himself senses a deep unease at the trajectory of Britain and the world.

Here the newspapers are talking about cuts in foreign aid that once was vouched safe from such cuts by the Tories.  Niblett and other voices in these meetings deplored the cuts, but few here offered the idea of added taxes on the rich as one solution.  The right wing newspapers, which means almost all in the UK, seems more  interested in the government’s plans to cut business taxes and those for the very rich, than protecting the nation’s infrastructure, education, or national security or helping in any real sense deal with the world’s ills.

The idea that global strength comes from domestic growth in productivity, R&D investment, and in better education of the citizens was touched on, but more in terms of how much the rich sector of the society contributes than in the cost of inequality and unemployment. Low productivity was mentioned but not in the context of the government putting the average worker of this nation back into good jobs, since they seem in their policies only to punish those that can’t find jobs that actually produce goods, rather help those that slosh money around without benefit to the nation as a whole and slice money just to the very rich in the City. 

The key decisions that Britain faces in this critical time is the future of the well being of its less affluent majority and for more engagement in building a safer world.  Effective decisions are threatened by the Tories and their allies, of antipathy by many English for integration with Europe, and for that matter, with the world. Except, it seems, by some of the rich who are making money though international financial deals and trade. So strange for the nation that built the greatest global Empire ever known, and lost it in a historical blink of the eye. It now suffers from particularism and fear of the outside which may be its undoing.  

God save the Queen, but also God save us from the British Tories, racists, and “Little Engenders.” In a time when more effort is needed from our “most close ally” we will likely be getting much less from looking at the debate here so far. 

We welcome your comments! 



Harry C. Blaney III

London Dateline

I had the opportunity to attend an on-the-record “research” meeting at the Chatham House looking at UK defense policy and the presentations and discussions only reinforced the sense of a listlessness and disarray that characterizes much of Prime Minister David Cameron’s international policies and Britain’s role in the world. 

Two issues exemplify this. The first is Cameron’s foolish commitment to the right wing Tory MPs to a vote on UK membership in the EU, thus forever forfeiting Britain a role in European policy and decisions. The second, is on the UK defense budget and strategic stance which foresees cuts in funding which will weaken Britain’s ability to act as a major force on security issues in Europe and globally.  That means a diminished role in security matters with allies, and not least, to effectively defend British interests in conflicts abroad and in Europe.  It will further weaken NATO’s capability as the UK has been the second largest contributor to NATO overall defense resources. 

Over the decades I have been witness to many discussions and debates about NATO, UK and American defense issues both within and outside of government. This session was among my most disappointing, not because the speakers were bad, but because they were very frank on the implications and inevitability of long-term decline in UK “hard power” reach. 

Further, it was clear that despite many governmental and non-governmental studies some of their thinking was declared by participants to be somewhat limited and often too driven by bureaucratic and ideological and budget forces. They were not always driven by good strategic perspectives. Also one speaker reflected that the influence of the disastrous participation in the Iraq war had also installed among the public and politicians distaste for further military action abroad.

All of this retreat from defense engagement is worrying in the face of a series of uprisings, conflicts, the Arab Spring and its consequences, ISIS, Putin’s aggression, China’s military buildup and South China Sea adventures, and not least, the spread of terrorism and civil and ethnic war.

One commentator said that NATO was looking petty shaky after the UK budget cuts were fairly well known. Clearly Britain’s voice in the halls of EU and NATO defense decisions has been weakened and it was acknowledged that such decisions will diminish UK’s influence in America, noting that France seems now to have the ear of Washington. 

This is especially the case since Prime Minister Cameron at the earlier NATO summit in Scotland had criticized other NATO countries for not meeting their 2% NATO commitment to military budgets and is now in danger of missing this benchmark.

One commentator said basically that Britain had resigned as “a great power” while another phrase used was “giving up as a “world power” in foreign policy. Yet conversely the concept of being a world power had not yet been given up by Cameron. The other view was Britain is still playing a “supporting role.” The implication was that Britain could no longer act on its own. 

There was very little discussion of Britain’s nuclear force which is being questioned as being useless by some and as a “necessity” by others. Trident’s future still has not been finally decided but some feel this capability is losing its attractiveness. 

In my own intervention, I asked why the larger strategic geopolitical assessment had not played a bigger role in either the discussion or in the new government. Clearly it was a case of the “Emperor having no clothes.” Asking these key questions in drawing up the budget would undermine the decision to cut the UK defense budget willy-nilly. Clearly it was overall political budget cuts that ruled. All this was a result of a promised “forever” budget surplus by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr. George Osborne, a strident advocate of austerity and right wing causes and possible future Prime Minister, and not of honest strategic assessments. The political decisions were all that mattered.

The real need for a hard look at the strategy and then shape the budget was urged and priority should be the need for UK military’s to aim for “adaptability.”  This approach was argued due to the reality of still unknown risks and opportunities. The point was made to the hard fact of the actually realities at existing “mid-level” strategic situations, not just at uncertain long term theories and projections, which can never be fully known or accurate. In short, keep open your options and prepare for the unexpected.   

In the end, it was real flexible capability not just grand strategy that Britain needed to achieve. So the real question is what is Britain’s role in the world?  What are its fundamental interests and what are the risks it faces now and in the near future? 

A question that I also asked was if there was any thought of not just conflict responses, but looking at playing a larger role in conflict prevention and “soft diplomacy” and peacemaking/peacekeeping which requires an adaptable force, that would help make Britain be again a useful payer on the global stage. Some liked the idea, but there is not much defense industry interest in this more human level capability verses profits of large weapons systems. 

As one speaker said we need to ask “what are we?” The answer is sadly diminished, inward looking, greedy for the interests of the rich and damn the poor, and now equally damn national security or our alliances, if we can lower the taxes on the rich and create a surplus and stay in power.  The right wing is in the ascendency here for the moment and it is ironic that it is the Tories, that in the past and until now, have claimed the role of guardian of national security and global reach, that now have sold that honor down the river of expediency and concessions to misguided Euro-skepticism  and “Little England” isolationists.

We welcome your comments!



Harry C. Blaney III

One of the reasons why there has not been as much debate and discussion about Ukraine among the citizens of Europe, especially in the UK where I am now, is the appalling lack of “above the fold” serious reporting on the crisis in the last two days.  Even more appalling is the determined predilection of TV and press to focus their reporting and headlines on gossip, sports, celebrities, and local or national trivia or oddities with little impact on real lives. Clearly the readers and the media have a limited attention span.

The headlines here as Crimea was being crushed by Putin were the death of a girl friend of Mick Jagger, the football results, the proposal of a high speed train north from London (which will be so expensive only the rich will be able to afford), mindless speculation of what happen to the tragic Flight MH370, coverage of the Royals, and not least the, judgement on a fugitive Mafia boss. Continue reading

Europe Again – More Dysfunction in Both UK and Italy

There are signs again that Europe is off track with both the anti-European stance by Prime Minister David Cameron and his Euro-skeptics and the politics in a number of member states, not least in Italy, the third largest economy in Europe. But, Italy is not unique unfortunately.

Cameron’s foolishness has already been covered in a couple of our blog posts, and is especially sad since Britain could play a positive role if it could change its leadership’s narrow perspective, its anti-European stand and if it could seek real common solutions and not just protect its financial “City” institution’s desire to enrich their management, but not the nation. 

The political uncertainty in Italy has reverberations throughout Europe, with no clear winner emerging from the Italian elections.  None of the political parties have secured a majority in either houses of parliament. Pier Luigi Bersani’s center-left Democratic Party gained a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, but he was behind former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing faction in the Senate. But, the comedian, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement will be strongly represented in both houses of parliament. Prime Minister Mario Monti’s centrist party garnered only 10% of the vote, and an alliance between his party and Mr. Bersani’s Democratic Party would not be enough to gain a majority in the Senate. Further, there is deep division between Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Grillon on anti-austerity policies. Thus, uncertainty about Italy’s direction remains. .

The deadlock is causing vexation throughout Europe. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said recently, “What is crucial now is that a stable functioning government can be built as swiftly as possible. This is not only in the interests of Italy but in the interests of all Europe.” Yet, Germany is at the forefront of the problem with its insistence on harsh austerity already proven a disaster throughout Europe. 

Other leaders in Europe are also expressing concern, but not taking the lead in a reversal of austerity, and are not acting to stem the move to radical largely right parties with anti-European nationalistic and bigoted agendas. The financial market’s reaction to the incertitude caused by the election appears to be reacting to a sense of downward and irresponsible politics and a lack of direction. Italian shares recently lost some 5% of their value. The yields on Italian ten-year bonds increased strongly. The Euro also dropped against the dollar and stock markets fell in France and Germany. But, we are likely to see wide swings depending on the news of the day without any sense of a firm future outcome.

We are not immune in America from these tribulations and dysfunctions in Europe. Europe’s collective move toward deep and thoughtless austerity policies have brought much of Europe to its knees economically, and despite the disaster these policies have brought upon the people of Europe, there is no clear sign yet that European leaders have learned any lessons.

But, Americans have no room to be smug. Our own dysfunction seems even more of a worldwide disaster given the global impact in terms of security, economy and international governance that the U.S. has. Together, these two groupings in Europe and North America represent about half of the globe’s economy and much of its scientific and technological talent. 

Further, there are signs that the worse, not better, may lie ahead, unless our collective politics gets better, both at the national, regional and super-national levels. On the latter, I hope that Secretary Kerry and the new incoming Secretary of the Treasury, along with President Obama will put back on the top of our agenda the healing of our economies, will put in place jointly growth strategies and programs, and as part of this, proceed with the idea of a Trans-Atlantic trade pact. But, they need to also act on reigning in the excesses of our private financial institutions, which seem determined to go back to their old greedy irresponsible ways of not investing in the “real economy,” but again in destructive “paper transactions,” which undermine a sound fair economy that creates jobs and not just riches for the very few.


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Europe’s World: Why their EU and NATO partners may look askance at the Franco-British defence pact

In a recent article in Europe’s World, Geoff Hoon discusses the implications of the new defense pact between Britain and France.

Nothing would more undermine the case for European defence co-operation than a sense that the two leading European nations in the area of defence were trying to carve-up the defence market between them.

The century-old bonds of the Entente Cordiale have never been stronger, as the bi-lateral agreement signed in November 2010 between France and the UK provides for a significant sharing of military resources between the two European powers. While there is little chance that this tightening of Franco-British ties will lead to a Great War in the way that their watershed 1904 alliance did, Hoon notes that the pact could have other serious consequences for the European community at large.

Continue reading

Bringing National Security Up to Date

Much is said and written, on this blog and elsewhere, about how American national security is, or may be, affected by the successes or failures of U.S. developments or the U.S. military presence in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine, the Korean peninsula, Venezuela, Cuba, et al.  They and many others are important and have a bearing, some more direct than others, on our national security.  What about Europe, the land of the old and the new, stupidly and irresponsibly scorned and ignored by George W. Bush and his cohorts as they plunged our country into the depths of insecurity?

Just a few days ago, it was revealed that French President Nicolas Sarkozy plans to propose “a new security and economic relationship between Europe and Russia” when he meets with his Russian and German counterparts later this month. The immediate reaction of this reader was highly positive.  Leaving aside the several domestic and foreign disputes in which he has been involved and the consequent suspicion of his motives at home and abroad when he speaks, Sarkozy is in fact the democratically elected leader of (a) a major world military and economic power and (b) America’s oldest ally.  Most important to one who spent the greater part of his career concerned with trans-Atlantic security, however, were the eminent good sense behind the French proposal and its obvious potential for enhancing that security.  According to the story, Washington has a different view:  with a key meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on strategic doctrine scheduled for November, American officials were wary of being both pre-empted and left out.

Russian President Dimitri Medvedev has spoken, perhaps mischievously but not without some reason, of the inappropriateness of NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) as vehicles for cooperation in today’s world.  The United States is, of course, prominent in both but should in no case be goaded into policy errors by tactical jibes.  One is reminded of frantic American efforts to assure inclusion in European security arrangements outside of NATO when proposals were floated forty years ago for a “European Security Conference” to be attended by Europeans on both sides of the Iron Curtain.  While our allies did not intend to cut us out of the action, in the end we succeeded in renaming the exercise a “Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe,” thereby opening the way for our participation and adding non-military cooperation of various kinds to the agenda.  An American role was a reasonable objective in the middle of the Cold War, and introducing cooperation into the package was eminently sensible.  To interfere today, two decades after the end of that war, in efforts to broaden and cement relations between Russia and the major Western European powers would be short-sighted. Continue reading