Strategy is about choices. Tough choices. The Paris attacks have clearly acted as a strategic awakening for many Europeans. There is now a moment of political momentum that must be exploited if there is to be any chance of a solution to the war in Syria, which is disfiguring not just the Levant but Europe as well. Indeed, the Paris terror attacks are already generating new geopolitics as the strategic state realigns to fight strategic terror. What tough choices must be made and by whom given the new mosaic of strategic partnerships and ‘realignments’ that are emerging in the wake of Paris ?
Tough choice #1 : Russia and Assad. This morning President Putin ordered Russian forces in the Mediterranean to treat French forces as allies. This will come as no surprise to Paris who have always been lukewarm about the sanctions imposed on Russia in the wake of Moscow’s seizure of Crimea, its dismembering of eastern Ukraine, and clear complicity in the downing of MH 17. Moreover, Russian grand strategy is clearly working to re-position Moscow as the power that cannot be ignored. However, can the West in general, and Europe in particular, forge an effective alliance over Syria with a state that continues to intimidate NATO allies and EU member-states in central and Eastern Europe ? Particularly if this means by extension a de facto alliance with Syria’s President Assad. Surely, if any sort of alliance, de facto or otherwise, is to be forged with Russia it can only happen if Russia stops its snap military exercises in the Baltic region, stops arming rebels in Ukraine, and enters into meaningful dialogue over the future status of Crimea. What deal ?
Touch choice #2 : Turkey. For too long the Berlin-led obsession with organising Mitteleuropa via the Eurozone around Germany has led to the effective marginalisation of Europe’s three major peripheral powers Britain, Russia and Turkey. All three of these powers have legitimate interests in the shape of power in Europe. Russia has opted for unilateral intimidation to exert influence, whilst Britain is simply sulking. However, it is Turkey which has emerged as the pivotal power that bestrides both Europe and the Middle East. It is now clear that if Syria is to be resolved Turkey will have a crucial role to play and that will in turn mean a new political relationship between the EU and Ankara. No more can Europe pretend to be offering Turkey membership of the EU. No longer will an emboldened President Erdogan accept such nonsense. What deal ?
Tough choice #3 : Brexit. Yesterday I gave evidence to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee on Britain’s defence budget and the Cameronesque scribbles on the back of a fag (cigarette) packet politics dressed up as strategy that will be next week’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 2015). However, the real strategic outcome of Paris for both Britain and the EU is that it is now clear a Brexit would be disaster for Europe’s security and the cohesion of Europe’s security. Russia, Syria, IS, the migration crisis, and the fragile state of Europe’s neighbourhood ; the world is simply too dangerous for Europe to be paralysed over internal relationships however important. The 2014 Scottish independence referendum demonstrated all too clearly the paralysing effect on the effective use of power such division has. This is my tough choice because there is much I deeply dislike about the elite-led theology that is ‘Project Europe’, and which I will continue to fight. However, both France and Germany will need to help find a new political settlement that will keep Britain in what will need to be a new EU. What settlement ?
Tough choice #4 : Credible strategy. Ed Lucas wrote a powerful piece in The Times this week on the need for strategy. However, his suggestion that the best way to fight IS was for the EU to become a superpower simply defied logic. Indeed, if Europe has to wait that long IS are more likely to die of old-age than be defeated. Yes, in a fantasy world strategic unity of effort and purpose over time and distance in a fantasy Europe might see the EU as a superpower. However, the centre of power gravity in Europe remains its powerful nation-states and it is they who must craft and drive forward intelligent strategy. The EU clearly has an important role to play as it possesses a range of instruments which a truly (and necessary) comprehensive strategy over time and distance will need. However, any strategy that has any chance of countering the IS super-insurgency, and all the other security and defence risks and threats now emerging will require a mix of intelligence, engagement and force. Credible force can only come from powerful conventional militaries such as those possessed by Britain and France for without their full commitment the entire strategy will be critically weakened. Whither strategy ?
Tough choice #5 : Boots on the ground. Perhaps the toughest choice of all leaders will face in the aftermath of the Paris attacks is the need to find boots on the ground to take the fight to IS. Air power alone will not suffice. Right now there is a search for someone, anyone to provide those boots as long as they are not Western. The region is brim full of militias and militia’s masquerading as armies that are simply too weak and unprofessional to defeat IS. At some point if IS is perceived to be the threat to Europe and the West that leaders are today proclaiming then professional military boots will need to be deployed. Who ? What ? When ?
New geopolitics. Touch choices. Are our leaders up to it ? They need to be.