Guest Article: George Michael and Brexit A View from the Thames Valley

By Prof. Beatrice Heuser

Overnight, during the Christmas news doldrums, our village became the focus of world attention. For a month ago, Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou, better known as George Michael, born in London to a British mother and a Cypriot father, ended his life in his country house on the Thames in the idyllic village of Goring. Following the example of the new ritual of mass mourning which Britain invented at the death of Princess Diana, the access to his house is now strewn with bouquets of flowers in their white plastic wrappers and many very odd donations from balloons and a guitar to T-shirts inscribed “Choose Life”, the motto of an anti-suicide campaign he sponsored. Even now, a month later, fans make their pilgrimage to Goring to pay homage. One wonders whether they cared or even knew as much about the decision they took in the “Brexit” Referendum on 23 June 2016 as about the life of George Michael.

Seven months after the Brexit vote, some of us are still rattled. The outcome is proof that Europeans in different countries have always thought of the European Union in different ways. In Spain and Greece, membership of the EU is seen as a way of escaping the great divides within the country itself, with the Union at the highest, not at the lowest common denominator. Countries that were in Charlemagne’s Holy Roman Empire – above all France and Germany – had (but do young generations still have?) some emotional identification with this historic heritage that preceded nationalism and frontiers. A (declining?) majority within those countries embrace the narrative that nationalism had bad effects, leading to the creation of barriers and the wars of many centuries. Most continental peoples associate the EU with human rights and a larger, liberating identity, and with a peaceful, civilised way to settle problems.

In Britain, by contrast, most people have never seen European integration in that light. Before or after membership of the European Economic Community (EEC, the forerunner of the EU), they could travel; they still prefer taking the ferry to taking the time-saving Channel Tunnel, and therefore their passage experience is still one of Britain being separate, and passports being controlled, as it has always been. They only identified the “Common Market” with free trade (good) and otherwise see the EU as an alien empire dictating rules and regulations (bad, like the Roman Empire, and unsuccessful attempts to subject England by the Catholic Church through the agency of Philip II of Spain with his Inquisition and the Armada, of Napoleon and Hitler). Against this, England/Britain defended its Freedom – a nice flexible catch-all that throughout European history has expressed anything and everything, and now stands for poorly paid jobs with little social security, and a romance of Britain as part of a seafaring Anglosphere but not of the European Continent.

As an unemployed blue-collar worker in his late 50s said on BBC Radio in early September 2016, he had no hope of finding employment again, and could not afford to pay the medicines for his wife, and had voted for Brexit to “make Britain great again”. Unpack those assumptions: i.e. Britain was great before it joined the EEC in 1973, he would have been employed, and the National Health Service would have paid for all health needs. None of this would have been true. Labour minister Aneurin Bevan already resigned in 1951 when the young NHS was so overstretched that it could not pay for dentures any longer, and Britain joined the EEC because it was economically at rock bottom with high unemployment, labour unrest, and much poverty. But clearly, if this man is anything to go by – and a recent study suggests he is, see – there is a myth prevalent among the British white lower classes of a golden age that was lost when Britain joined “Europe” (never mind geographic and historical facts).

In short, The whole narrative of the Pax Romana and Charlemagne and how the Holy Roman Empire managed most internal conflicts peacefully (until the religious wars) and co-ordinated external defence, and finally settled for religious tolerance, is never taught in British schools, nor all the wonderful things that EU does for ethnic minorities. (For a provocative book written by another fan of the Pax Romana, read Ian Morris’s bestseller War: What is it good for.)

What is incomprehensible unless it is lighting finding the only available conductor is the anti-Polish actions and other displays of xenophobia against EU citizens immediately after Brexit. Back in the early 1980s, with Solidarność and Lech Wałesa, the Poles were every Briton’s darlings. Even in the 1990s, people supported EU and NATO extension because, having guaranteed Poland in 1939, the British and the French felt rather sheepish about their inability to stop the Wehrmacht, and then the Red Army, from overrunning Poland. Everybody talked about the gallant contribution the Poles had made to the RAF and to decrypting Enigma.

The bêtise of the angry white Americans who voted Trump into office seems akin to that characterising the unemployed man quoted above. Some patterns are reminiscent of the 1930s, when nationalism was rampant, and nationalist authoritarian leaders such as Piłsudski admired Hitler and Mussolini, and when Piłsudski’s successors thought they were being clever when they joined in the carving up of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938. How do people not understand that a nationalist government of another country is by definition an adversary in a zero-sum game, and that any alliance with it can only be temporary? While democracies upholding human rights should logically co-operate (which the British found so difficult to understand vis-à-vis France in the 1920s and 1930s), nationalist countries by definition are each other’s enemies. What’s so difficult about that?

Any student of the history of European security and the construction of the fragile architecture that gave the Continentals the reassurance that they were covered by nuclear deterrence (to which Britain’s contribution was pivotal, and based on the unconditional mutual guarantee of the Brussels Treaty, now subsumed into the Lisbon Treaty of the EU), without further nuclear proliferation in Europe (!) should be terrified by the possible consequences of withdrawing the British pivot through Brexit. And while so far Putin “only” wants to rebuild the “Union” (so what about the Baltic states, members of NATO and the EU?), l’appetit vient en mangeant. Baltes and Poles are likely to dream about nukes – and probably want a very strong fence or wall. Call in the Israelis or the Chinese.

So when Trump thinks he can “do business with Herr Putin”, to paraphrase Chamberlain in 1938, and when Nigel Farrage and François Fillon and Marine Le Pen and the AfD in Germany and many other European leaders admire Putin (and Erdoğan? Probably…), history is clearly not taught properly to the masses.

In short, things are not looking good for human progress. Another Age of Enlightenment is coming to an end. George Michael did not “Choose Life”, the British did not choose to “Remain” in the EU. The former, a personal tragedy. The latter may become one for the stability of Europe, perhaps for the rest of the world.


Beatrice Heuser, who holds the Chair of International Relations at the University of Reading, is the author of (inter alia) Evolution of Strategy (2010), Nuclear Mentalities? (1998), and Western Containment Policies in the Cold War: the Yugoslav Case (1989). Her next publication will be Strategy before Clausewitz (2017).


The Price to Be Paid

Ours is the age of equality between men and women, or so they say. Not a day passes without the media announcing some great achievement by women who have done this or that, conquered this or that field of previously male activity. Today it pleases me to focus on the price women have paid for succumbing to penis envy.

Follow a few highlights:

* Many women now work as hard as men. Fifty years ago, the time when the shift that made it normal and acceptable for married women to obtain paid jobs got under way, many of them started by working part time. Since then, however, the difference in the percentage of men and women working full time has been shrinking. Do you want to see the result? Just look at the bookstores. In them, one volume after another dealing with how to balance work, household and family is becoming a best-seller. As if wishful thinking could lead to a day of twenty-six hours.

* The rising cost of living. Most working women incur expenses non-working ones do not have; such as clothing, transport, help in running the household, and child care. In particular, the last two have led to the rise of entire industries that are worth billions and billions a year. Women who work and pay others to work for them also have the privilege of paying all kinds of taxes (income tax, VAT, social security, employers’ taxes), which otherwise would not have been the case. All this explains why, whereas fifty years ago most middle-class families could live on one salary, today such a blessing has become rare.

* Exposure to sexual harassment. Women who work outside the home are more exposed to sexual harassment than those who do not. Period.

* Difficulty in conceiving. Paid work often means preparing for it by undertaking some kind of academic study, and the years spent on academic study are one reason why the age at which people get married for the first time has been rising until it is currently the highest in history. The outcome: more and more women who live with a partner cannot have children and are forced to turn to artificial insemination labs or adoption agencies instead.

* Estrangement from children who suffer. Historically the fact that women spent far more time with little children in particular meant that mothers were considerably closer to their offspring than fathers were. That, however, is no longer the case; today’s newborn are likely to be handed to the care of strangers within months, or even weeks, of entering this world. At least some studies have concluded that mothers’ employment is “associated with negative child outcomes when families [are] not at risk financially (i.e., when families [are] middle or upper-middle class).” A fortiori, of course, for poor and/or single working mothers.

* Payment of child support and palimony. Half a century ago, for women to pay child support, let alone palimony, was almost unheard of. Such demands indeed, tended to be laughed out of court. No longer. The courts’ bias in favor of women, as well as the fact that most men still make more than most women, means that, even today, far fewer women than men are ordered to make these payments. However, the gap is shrinking.

* Crime and punishment. Starting at the time when Medea, in a fit of jealousy, killed her children to spite her philandering husband Jason but was never put on trial, women have always suffered much lighter punishments for the crimes they committed then men did. To a large extent, that is still the case. A man who killed his children is certain to be denounced as a monster and subjected to the heaviest possible punishment; a woman can expect much lighter punishment as well as sympathy and psychological help. Still, over the last thirty years or so the gap has been shrinking. As is shown, inter alia, by the fact that women’s incarceration rate has increased nearly twice as fast as that of men.

* Military service. Throughout history, in one form or another men have often been conscripted to fight and die for their dear countries whereas women were not. To-date, the only country that made women wear uniform even against their will is Israel. This, however, seems to be changing. At least one country, Norway, now has some form of conscription for women, albeit that it has so many loopholes as to ensure that no woman (or man) should serve against their will. In other countries the possibility of registering women for conscription, though not conscription itself, has become the topic of public debate.

* Declining life expectancy. As far back into history as we can look, men have always outlived women. That was as true in Neolithic times as it was in eighteenth-century Europe. Only after 1800 or so did the situation begin to change; first in Europe and the US, then gradually in other places as well. By 1975-80, in developed countries, women had come to outlive men by 6-8 years. In marches feminism and the idea that women have to work, and endure stress, and smoke, and join the military, just as men do. The outcome? In just forty years, in some of the countries in question, the gap in life expectancy between men and women has been halved.

Has it been worth it? Let women judge.

“We Shall Win This War, and Then We Shall Get Out.”

No, this is not Vladimir Putin speaking. This is Winston Churchill, not long after returning to power in 1951. The context? The conflict in Malaysia, which at the time had been ongoing for three years with no end in sight. The immediate outcome? The war came to an end and the Brits left. The ultimate outcome? To this day, whenever anyone suggests that brushfire war, alias guerrilla, alias people’s war, alias low intensity war, alias nontrinitarian war, alias fourth-generation war (currently, thanks to my friend Bill Lind, the most popular term of all) is beyond the ability of modern state-owned armed forces to handle, someone else is bound to ask: but how about the British in Malaysia?

In response, let me suggest that, had Israel agreed to get out of the territories (I wish!) it could have “won” the struggle against Palestinian terrorism in twenty-four hours. But this is not what it pleases me to discuss today. It is, rather the situation in Putin’s own stamping ground, i.e. Syria.

The following is the story of the war, as far as I can make it out. It all started in May 2011 when terrorism against Assad dictatorial regime got under way. At first it was local, sporadic and uncoordinated. Later the opposition coalesced and assumed a more organized character; even so, by last count there are, or have been at one time or another, about ninety different groups fighting the regime. And even this mind-boggling number includes neither Hezbollah, nor Daesh, nor the various Kurdish militias, nor the so-called Baby Al Qaedas.

As in many similar wars (the one in the former Yugoslavia is a good example), some of the militias form coalitions, whereas others spend most of their time and energy combating each other. Some see the whole of Syria as their battlefield, others are local gangs out to keep certain regions or cities in their own power. Some are quite large (though none seems to have more than a few thousand fighters), others very small. Some are secular, others religiously-motivated.

What keeps the militias going are Saudi and Qatari money and weapons. Both the money and the weapons reach them mainly by way of Iraq a country which thanks to the U.S has ceased to be a country at all and is unable to control much of its territory. Earlier in the conflict Jordan too acted as a conduit. Later, though, the Jordanian Government, determined to look after itself first and stay out of the conflict as much as it could, all but closed this route. Bravo, King Abdullah. Well done.

In this war, as in so many other nontrinitarian ones, the largest formation on either side seems to be the reinforced brigade. Most, however, are much smaller. There is some use of tanks and much of artillery; however, on both sides most of the damage is done by lighter weapons. Including light quick-firing artillery (the kind that fires 20-30 millimeter rounds), mortars, machine guns of all calibers, antitank rockets and missiles, grenade launchers, assault rifles, and car bombs.

Most of Syria being an empty desert, most of the fighting takes place in and around the towns. Airpower, which the militias do not have, is used only by the Syrians and their Russian supporters. The Syrians in particular have specialized in helicopters which they use to drop explosive-filled barrels. As in so other nontrinitarian wars, often little if any distinction is made between combatants and noncombatants. That is why the number of dead is as large as it is: half a million, and counting.

In his famous work on “Protracted War” (not, as Western translations often call it, “guerrilla war”) Mao Zedong, writing from the point of view of the insurgents, divides this kind of struggle into three stages. First comes what we would call terrorism, individual attacks whose main purpose is to destabilize the government and show that it is not in control. Of necessity, such warfare does without any firm territorial base; it is at this stage, above all, that the guerrillas must be like fish swimming in the sea. The second stage is to consolidate some kind of base, usually in remote, difficult terrain that the government forces find it hard to penetrate, where the guerrillas can find refuge, train, and in general consolidate their power. The third stage is the switch to full-scale conventional war, waged against a demoralized opponents and at least partly with the aid of captured weapons and supplies.

In all this, the really critical step is finding the right moment to make the shift from the second stage to the third. Wait too long, and watch your forces becoming demoralized and perhaps disintegrating. Move too early, and you put everything you have achieved at risk. This, for example, was the error General Giap committed back in 1972. Switching from guerrilla to conventional warfare, twice he tried to launch a massive invasion of the south. On both occasions doing so left his forces exposed to US airpower which pulverized them.

Back to Syria. Until the spring of 2015 the various militias did very well. Encouraged by their success, they got to the point where they made the transition, assuming control over much of Syria in the process. By doing so, however, they changed their character and became more and more like their regular opponents. Becoming like their regular opponents, they exposed themselves to those opponents’ firepower, now directed at them not only from the ground (by the Syrian Army) but also from the air (by the Russians). Subjected to a combined conventional offensive, as at Aleppo, the various militias fought but, in the end, lost.

The recent ill-observed cease fire notwithstanding, that does not mean the struggle is over. Too many different parties are involved, of which many have not yet achieved their objectives and remain full of fight. With Assad’s forces on the upswing at the moment, fhe most likely outcome is a regression from Mao’s stage 3 back to stage 2, perhaps even stage 1. Precisely the kind of war which, in both Afghanistan and Iraq, gave the Americans as much trouble as it did.

And Putin? He seems be following Churchill, first proclaiming victory and then getting out. In other words, he knows where to stop. Isn’t that more than the Americans can say?

Guest Article: China and Iran

by William S Lind*

President-elect Donald Trump’s choices for cabinet positions have reassured his supporters that change will be real. However, for his presidency to begin successfully, there are two countries where change is needed in his approach. Those two countries are China and Iran.

As always, to see how we should relate to any state we must begin with our own grand strategic goals. The most important of those goals should be forming an alliance of all states to confront the threat Fourth Generation war presents to the state system itself. Obviously, we want that alliance to include China and Iran; all states means precisely that. China is one of three genuine Great Powers (Britain and France have that title by courtesy). An alliance of all states is possible only if it begins with an alliance of the Great Powers. Otherwise, Great Power rivalry will undermine it from the outset. Iran is an important regional power whose cooperation against 4GW elements in the Mideast is important. At present, Iran is playing a central role in upholding the state in Syria.

This grand strategy reminds us that in any situation, the worst possible outcome for our interests is the disintegration of another state and its replacement by a stateless nursery for more 4GW elements. The U.S. foreign policy Establishment has given us that outcome in Iraq, in Libya, and, in part, in Syria. A Trump administration should do its utmost not to add to that list of failures.

In this context, Mr. Trump’s initial actions vis-a-vis China, including receiving a congratulatory phone call from the leader of Taiwan, do serve to strengthen his bargaining position with Beijing. But it is important he accept the “one China” policy, with which both the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang agree. Taiwan is an existential issue for China because of China’s history of centrifugal movements. If one province can become independent, so can others, and China would be heading back to a situation of “warring states”. That is the nightmare of every Chinese.

Because any movement of Taiwan toward independence has this implication for China, Taiwan has the highest potential for bringing about a war between China and the U.S. Such a conflict would be a disaster for both parties. But from the United States’ standpoint, it would be a lose-lose scenario. In the unlikely event the U.S. lost the war, our Great Power status would be called into question. If China lost, the result could be even worse. A defeat might destroy the legitimacy of the current Beijing government and with it the Chinese state. China could disintegrate into warring states in a huge victory for 4GW elements. We need China to be a center and source of order in the world. A defeat followed by disintegration would turn China into a vast source of disorder.

As China resumes her historical Great Power status, we should not merely allow but encourage her to take over the job of preserving peace, order, and commerce in a growing portion of the world. China must agree that is her role, but Chinese culture puts high value on order and harmony so that should not be too difficult. In that context, if China wishes to take over the job of protecting freedom of the seas in the South China Sea and is able to do so, we should welcome it. We should have no desire to be the world’s policeman. China, like Russia and the U.S., should have her sphere of influence, again and always in the context of upholding order and the state system.

Much the same is true of Iran on a regional basis. If the U.S. and Iran were to go to war–and Mr. Trump was elected in part because he opposed avoidable wars in the Middle East–an Iranian defeat might lead to the break-up of Iran, where the Persians are not a majority of the population. As has been the case in Iraq and Libya (thank you, Hillary), a disintegration of Iran into stateless disorder would be far worse for our interests than is the present Iranian state.

From this perspective, we should accept the Iran deal negotiated by the Obama administration. It may not be ideal in its terms, but if we tear it up, we will be on course either to accept a nuclear Iran in the near future or go to war with Iran, with all the dangers therein described above. Of these three alternatives, the present deal is clearly the least bad.

The foreign policy opposite of the neo-con/Jacobin “idealism” of Hillary and President Obama is realism. It is reasonable for those of us who supported Mr. Trump to expect realism will be the basis of his foreign policy. Realism often means accepting arrangements that are less than ideal. Realists do accept them because the other plausible alternatives are worse.

In the 21st century, the worst outcome of all will be destroying another state. Whenever and wherever the question of war against a state comes up, our thinking must begin with the realization that “victory” may, indeed is likely to, yield that outcome. We, and China and Russia and Iran and all other states face real enemies in the form of non-state opponents. Let us join together in confronting those enemies rather than pursue obsolete conflicts with each other.


* William (“Bill”) Lind is author of the Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook. This article has been previously posted on his website, The View from Olympus.