Category Archives: UK

How decadent elites lost control of politics the world over


To outsiders, Columbia’s recent referendum on ending its 53-year war with the Stalinist revolutionaries of the Farc seemed the ultimate no-brainer. Putting a merciful halt to a conflict that has killed a horrendous 220,000 souls would seem to require little thought.

Yet when earnest President Juan Manuel Santos put his peace deal to a nationwide vote, shockingly he found that it was rejected (just) by a majority of his undoubtedly war-weary countrymen.

What is going on here? Why can’t elites, seemingly almost everywhere, manage to win referenda that they themselves call on the critical issues of the day?

In the case of Columbia, following an endless half century of conflict, the voters were not prepared to trade justice for peace, not just yet. The Farc leaders–men who had sanctioned bombings, enlisted child soldiers, participated in the drug trade and chained hostages to trees for years on end–were to be given a guaranteed 10 seats in the legislature and immunity from jail (provided they made a full and complete confession of their offences).

To see bloodthirsty murderers rewarded for their crimes—given that the Farc were losing their endless guerrilla war—was an intellectual bridge too far for a majority of the referendum’s voters. The government and outside pundits around the world both made a blithe analytical error in thinking that no value mattered more to the Columbian people than peace; justice, a competing moral good, was simply ignored as all right thinking people must surely value an end to conflict above all else.

Such wrongheaded arrogance has been repeated across the world in referendum after referendum this year, with the elites holding up one common good to the exclusion of all others. Worse, such a viewpoint has denigrated any other moral interpretation as only being adhered to by the stupid, surely playing entirely into the demagogic notion that elites everywhere despise the very people they govern. Despite his referendum failure, President Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace prize on Friday last week; the elite giving another of its members an award for doing what they’d like (never mind the stupid voters).

In the Netherlands—even following on from the likely Russian-backed separatist shooting down of Flight MH 17 which killed almost 300 people on board, including many Dutch citizens–voters rejected an EU trade deal with Ukraine, both because they had simply been asked a rare direct question about the unaccountable goings on in Brussels, as well as out of annoyance over the EU’s pretensions to foreign policy grandeur.

For the Dutch elite, the referendum was narrowly a question of process; for the voters of the Netherlands, it was a rare chance to strike back at an institution they know governs their lives, even as its byzantine workings leave Europeans with very little sense they have political control. Two common goods—process and democratic legitimacy—came into conflict, leaving the gormless elite perpetually surprised it cannot goad its people into doing the only ‘smart’ thing.

The Brexit vote is just another chapter in this larger story. For the cosmopolitan elite, it was self-evident that EU membership was in the UK’s best economic interests, and all right thinking people should support it. For a majority of the British people, self-government, the right for the people of Britain to make their own decisions about economics, immigration and trade, mattered more.

I was not shocked by the result—anyone reading my January 2016 prediction column knows my consulting firm correctly (and almost alone) predicted Brexit—but I was amazed by the temper tantrum of the elite that followed it. ‘We must vote again, as the idiots made the wrong decision.’ ‘Depression is likely to begin immediately.’ ‘The people didn’t understand what they were voting on.’ So it went, without the gormless elite remotely realising that it was their ugly, patronising, ill-informed words which contained the key clue as to why voters rejected both the EU, and them.

Italy’s early December referendum on political reform looms on the horizon. Rather than centring on that important (if somewhat esoteric) issue, instead the vote will be determined by the Italian people’s view of their own hapless elite (growth in Italy is staggeringly not expected to return to pre-Lehman crisis levels until far-off 2025) and an unfeeling German-dominated EU establishment that is making it next to impossible for Rome to recapitalise the country’s wobbling bank system. Do not be surprised if the Renzi government falls over a ‘shock’ defeat here, followed by the elite commentariat’s usual ignorant incredulity.

Until elites find their new Franklin Roosevelt—a man who calmly, stirringly and above all honestly explained to his people their problems and his proposed solutions for them—a man who trusted his electorate, expect this pattern of failed referenda to continue. Perhaps the greatest present political risk in the world is the sclerosis of democratic governments everywhere, who have lost their vital Jeffersonian connection with the very people they are supposed to represent.

Published in City AM London, October 10, 2016.

Creating a Transformative British Foreign Policy for the New Era


“There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end, until it be thoroughly finished, yields true glory.”

–Francis Drake, aboard the Golden Hind, to Sir Francis Walsingham, off Cape Sagres, Portugal, 1587

Following in Drake’s footsteps; The Benefits of Thinking Big

At present, the formulation and assessment of British foreign policy is largely left to a small number doers and thinkers; foreign policy does not form part of the national political conversation, even at the elite level. A small number of people are thinking small thoughts. This has been true for decades. But after the earthquake of the Brexit referendum, times have definitively changed and creative strategic thinking is desperately called for.

This inability to talk about a credible strategic vision for Britain in the 21st Century is a serious problem. The basic danger of the intellectual and political community thinking small – only arguing about British foreign policy at the edges – is that it dooms the country to managing gentle “Macmillanite” decline. Instead, Britain ought to be taking advantage of the truly exciting global options available, much as the Elizabethans did, as a transformative foreign policy could safeguard its place in the world for the next generation, securing Britain’s position as a great power, capable of both leaving its mark on the world, and of protecting its fundamental interests.

Without grasping the nettle and creating a joined up foreign policy regarding the changing structure of a world of many powers, then tailoring a foreign policy strategy that works in such a time and place, and finally crafting tactics that naturally follow on from such a strategy, British foreign policy is doomed to be reactive at best, nonexistent at worst.

In other words, it is time UK policymakers rediscover the shrewd swashbuckling quality of Sir Francis Drake, whose bold comment opens our argument. For it must be remembered Drake wrote this paean to thinking big before he became the first captain to sail with his crew around the world (Magellan died along the way).

He was a visionary first, fitting out his ship The Golden Hind to endure the privations ahead, and only then thought of the tactical navigation necessary to realize his dreams of glory. If the UK is to thrive in this new, dangerous, fascinating, and far more rewarding era of globalisation, such an unorthodox manner of proceeding is absolutely necessary.

For there is an alternative to the foreign policy establishment’s present gentle acquiescence in decline and failure. It lies in remembering the intellectual boldness of Drake and the other Elizabethans in changing the terms of the strategic game they were playing, in order to seize new advantages regarding heretofore entirely unthought-of opportunities. Rather than continuing to participate in a losing three-way strategic dance with France and Spain, Drake and his contemporaries creatively thought globally instead, and by changing the very nature of the chess board set the stage for centuries of British dominance. Oddly enough, in doing so the Elizabethans’ insatiable global drive to open up inviting markets and facilitating trade beyond everything else is precisely the remedy again called for.

A truly global foreign policy

Broadly speaking, we will articulate a foreign policy that expands upon old friendships, and takes advantage of new opportunities, all the while cementing ties with the centres of the globe – specifically in North America and Asia – that are likely to lead the world in economic growth for the next generation.

Britain specifically, and the western democracies in general, find themselves in a similar structural position to that of Victorian England in about 1890. Lord Salisbury found himself in a world where Britain remained central, first amongst equals, but with others rising and rapidly gaining global market share. It is well past time for today’s Britain to steal a page from this old, successful playbook.

For as was true for late nineteenth century Britain, while presently America and the West remain Chairman of the Global Board, there are plenty of new, powerful players at the table. These emerging powers are slowly but steadily gaining relative power year on year. As such, we live in a world entirely misunderstood by great power theoreticians. It is not purely multipolar in that America and the West are first amongst equals in the new era, while at the same time the other powers are steadily gaining global power market share.

Both these seemingly contradictory facts must be fully taken on board as a starting point if Britain is to genuinely comprehend the global structure of the strange new world we find ourselves in. Only after recognising the basic nature of the new era can a truly effective strategy be created.

We believe that Britain should have three clear priorities. These are: (a) a major, self-conscious shift towards building relationships and alliances with the emerging democratic regional powers around the world (especially in Asia); (b) cementing the longstanding, and hugely successful relationship with the United States; and (c) a clear-headed policy that stands up to the small number of countries (and movements) that seek to unmake the status the quo and actively challenge the peaceful, prosperous global order that we wish to create.

Refocusing on the emerging powers

There is a strategy already out there—forgotten and neglected as it may be—which places current British foreign policy in its proper historical context. If Drake provides the path to creative, bold, counterintuitive, globalised thinking, dwelling on nineteenth century Prime Minister Lord Salisbury gives us the outlines of a British foreign policy doctrine for our new era.
Late Victorian Britain managed to draw in the emerging powers of the day – principally the United States and Japan – into the British-created world order. Crucially, it was a mix of ever-closer economic ties with the pair (coupled with sorting out long-festering regional disputes) that over a generation turned these possible peer competitors into allies. This feat of statesmanship was rewarded in 1918, when both Tokyo and Washington came to the aid of a hard-pressed London, allowing for victory in World War I.

A similar challenge awaits the new British government in 2016. Rising regional democratic powers South Africa, Israel, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico and especially India are the obvious new opportunities out there to be courted. With Delhi back on track to grow at more than 7 percent this year, faster than China, this obvious and necessary strategic gambit must be greatly accelerated and made a pillar of the new British foreign policy.

Closer ties with booming India, a country blessed with highly favourable demographics, old and enduring links with the UK, and the ability to serve as a counter-weight to China, ought to be a strategic no-brainer.  In fact, the single greatest geopolitical challenge of the next generation is whether the rising emerging regional powers can be successfully integrated into today’s transatlantic-inspired global system, based on both the attractiveness of its values and its enduring ability to provide security and prosperity for those who support it.

If the rising regional powers become status quo powers, guarantors of the broadly benign world order established by the West, all will be well. However, a failure to do so will see them rise as revolutionary powers, determined to unmake the present global system; we will then live in the jungle, without any system of global order at all. By focusing its foreign policy on the free-market, democratic regional powers throughout the world, the UK can provide a way forward in dealing with this absolutely central geopolitical challenge.

Fortunately, there are a number of important instruments to hand to help weld this new alliance together. First, and we should be far less shy about this; all the countries listed above are democratic, meaning that philosophically they broadly share a common way of looking at the world. While democratic peace theory can be overstated, it remains the empirical case that in all of recorded history, established democracies have never gone to war with one another. This shared belief in the dignity of the individual, of limited government, and of the intrinsic value of a representative political system and a free press, should be shouted from the rooftops, both on its own merits and because it becomes part of the glue that can bind this new world together.

Beyond these essential shared values, the practicalities of a prosperity based on free trade and capitalism are the essential tool that must be used to link the major regional powers of this new world to one another. As the great American thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, ‘Every man is a conservative after dinner’. A prosperous world – wherein the major powers all have skin in the game for keeping the present system afloat – is a safer world, a better one, and an enduring one.

For presently, even more than is true of democratic values, it is the capitalist system that has conquered the world, and must be made a rallying cry for enticing the new regional powers to become defenders of the global status quo. Emerging Market elites are also now judged by their populations according to their ability to make market economics work, and these elites have a tremendous personal and collective stake in maintaining the working international capitalist system, as is of course true for western leaders.

This powerful tool – enticing the emerging powers to defend a system that has brought them dramatically increased prosperity – must be built upon, with free trade agreements becoming a far more central element in driving UK foreign policy. These increasing links will literally bind the new world together, making every major new ally a conservative after dinner.

Historically Britain has been the leading free trading power, a mantle it must pick up anew. Geography largely explains this. The sea has simultaneously provided Britain with what Shakespeare called a ‘moat defensive’ against the continent, while also serving as a ready-made highway to the rest of the world in Drakean fashion. Pursuing free trade deals with countries that already broadly accept the vital necessity of the project will have fundamental geopolitical benefits, further linking the old western world to the new.

So by looking back to the days of Lord Salisbury, British foreign policy can look ahead to the new multipolar world, developing a first strategic pillar based on the absolute imperative to construct a new global alliance of regional powers that are wedded together by the values of democracy (in most cases) and the practicalities of the free market (in all cases). Britain ought to make it a priority of its new foreign policy fit for purpose to take the lead in such a heroic endeavor, as the benefits are legion.

For the only way to make any multipolar system actually work is to focus intently on the regional powers, in this case the countries actually gaining in relative power by the day. The must be made defenders of the already-in-place western-constructed order. The good news is half the job is already done: South Africa, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico and India are already all democratic states and are convinced believers in the global capitalist system.

In return, Britain will have – as Salisbury did so long ago – a global system of allies to turn to should times get rough, as well as dependable trading partners for the City of London and beyond, and closer ties with countries in the world which are actually growing. This shift will do nothing less than help guarantee prosperity and security for the next generation of British citizens.

Cementing Britain’s links with the United States

The second major piece of the strategic puzzle will be reinvigorating London’s ties with a surprisingly resurgent United States. Here Britain’s new foreign policy again weds its interests with its values. By re-focusing on links with the most powerful country in the world (with which it already enjoys the closest of ties based on shared values and interests), the new British foreign policy is exclusively geared toward the pole of power which will more than any other drive the new multipolar era; as such in terms of power politics the new strategy is fit for purpose in our new world.

As the shale revolution has proved once again, the American economy has a genius for reinventing itself. Having weathered the post-Lehman Brothers storm far better than any other western democracy (with the possible exception of Britain), the US – economically, militarily, and culturally – looks set to remain first amongst equals in the new era for the foreseeable future. Unlike the Foreign Office’s mantra regarding Europe, it is here that Britain – given its long-standing historical tradition of working so closely with the Americans – has genuine, lasting influence.

America remains the largest foreign direct investor in the UK (and vice versa), and Britain’s closest military and intelligence ally by a long way; rather than deriding these close ties as is all too fashionable, they ought to be seen as a fundamental source of maximising British power. Thinking through new measures at all levels – economic, military, and cultural – that renew this fundamental alliance must be the other major positive plank of British foreign policy.

Economically, given that investment is the name of the game in a globalised world, the US and the UK absolutely must strike a comprehensive free trade and investment deal, one way or the other. This could be accomplished bilaterally, through British membership in NAFTA, or through a more ambitious global ordering such as the proposed Global Free Trade Alliance (GFTA), a world-wide grouping of genuinely free trading states determined to push the envelope in terms of opening their markets to one another. By whichever route, London’s mantra in terms of increasing economic and trading ties with Washington must be free trade by any means.

Beyond cementing their already profound joint economic ties, Britain must be very careful to maintain its hard-won and justified reputation as a great military power, able to add value strategically throughout the world. Numerous rounds of budget cuts have left the UK precariously perched on the edge of losing its vital full-spectrum military capabilities; along with the US and France, Britain is the only NATO ally capable of supporting every sort of deployable mission, from full-out war-fighting to peace-keeping. This is a vital source of British power, especially in a shifting age of numerous localized and regional threats, where events in disparate, far-flung places like Ukraine, Somalia, Yemen and Iraq have reminded even the most dreamy that force – as it has since the dawn of man – continues to play a significant role in international relations.

As such, UK defence cuts must be halted and full-spectrum fighting capabilities preserved, to maintain Britain’s position as a complete great power – possessing political, economic, and military might. Such an initiative makes it clear to the UK’s primary American ally that London will continue to add immeasurable strategic value.

By adopting our foreign policy fit for purpose in the new multipolar era, Britain can help drive its close ally – the last remaining superpower – toward throwing its might behind the heroic and necessary project of securing a western alliance with the rising regional democratic powers of the world. In doing so, Britain will find itself in the familiar role of defending the global status quo that it has helped create, by reforming it. Britain must remind America that the only way to preserve the post-1945 order of the Bretton Woods institutions and NATO is to build on them, adapting them for this more globalised, Drakean world. There is no reason whatever London cannot make the intellectual running here, persuading its long-time powerful ally that here indeed is a joint project worthy of the most important bilateral alliance in the world.

Published in The Conservative, September 2016

Britain would have left the EU even if it had voted Remain

Britain would have left the EU even if it had voted Remain

By Dr. John C. Hulsman and Dr. Lee Rotherham

Counterfactuals are the ugly stepsister of political risk analysis, neglected and scorned in equal measure because—as they deal with events that never occurred–they can never be definitively assessed.

We find this all more than a little amusing, as the first rule of any world-class analyst is humility, that nothing (good as you are) can ever be truly definitively assessed. Looked at in this new light, counterfactuals—positing alternative courses of events to what happened—can actually yield very creative and rich insights. Let us start here with the notion that the historically decisive Brexit referendum had ended very differently: UK voters decide by a clear but close 52-48% to stay in the European Union.

Ironically, the most likely outcome of such a vote is that the UK would have had to leave the EU just a few years down the road, as either Brussels would have become far more centralised, or the whole thing would have fallen apart (or both). Britain would then have had to leave the Titanic and frantically make for the lifeboats, rather than (as has just happened) gently disembarking at Cobh, its last port of call before the deadly rendezvous with an iceberg.

Recent news reports from Italy provide some unexpected context. Take, for starters, the coverage of the Italian, French and German leaders’ meeting on an aircraft carrier, the Garibaldi. The full symbolism of the event is jaw-aching.

That warship had been engaged in supporting the military operations during the Libyan civil war that brought down Muammar Gaddafi. To the intense embarrassment of Rome, however, the ship was pulled from active duty half way through operations. Because of the Eurozone-driven budgetary crisis, the Defence Ministry had reportedly run out of money to pay for its fuel. As a metaphor for the hollowness of EU superpower aspirations, the Garibaldi is an inspired choice.

The only way forward for European defence aspirations is far more centralization to the exclusion of dominant NATO (which both London and Washington won’t wear) or more comic escapades like the Garibaldi, pointing out Brussels’s total strategic irrelevance. Neither or these choices are remotely palatable for the UK.

The tragedy of the recent Amatrice Earthquake separately reminds us of the ‘Disaster Clause’ in the Lisbon Treaty. That article was introduced precisely to help with such catastrophes, by giving a member state a formal mechanism for asking for assistance from its EU allies. The potential for cataclysm is a known threat in that part of the world: the largely-forgotten Messina quake and tsunami may have killed as many as 100,000 people, and as recently as 1908.

The logic for putting the clause in the treaty thus may have been solid, but its recent monetary application proved otherwise. It was most infamously triggered for entirely spurious reasons, as a mechanism to tap non-Eurozone countries to provide billions in disaster relief for an entirely man-made fault line – Greek debt, brought on by the catastrophic decision to introduce the euro. Again centralization through the backdoor—a hallmark of EU decision-making–surely would not have been borne by London for much longer.

The reality is that, for EU institutions, self-interested treaty abuse, power grabs, and Walter Mitty ambitions can no more be avoided than the scooping fingers of a three year old in a jam jar. The only way to make the jam safe is to put it out of reach, and that means taking absolutely all the social, pan-governmental and fiscal competences out of the trade treaties. That guarantee in turn can only be achieved by Brexit.

As it becomes obvious that, for Brussels, the choices will be further centralisation or utter irrelevance (and likely both), our counter-factual should be remembered; neither of these medium-term trajectories would have suited Britain at all.

For their part, the problem EU leaders face is that key parts of their political construct are still bubble and froth. A fully working model demands a far higher level of integration. Given that majorities in many countries – if asked – would oppose transforming the EU into a federal union, such an end state has only ever been achievable by two processes: in bounds by fear and urgency, or over time by torpor and denial.

The question has never been in the direction, only the timeframe. So far the EU’s builders have followed the second route: it now seems likely they will choose the former. In either case our counter-factual holds; given the obvious possible directions of the lumbering behemoth that is the EU—centralization, irrelevance, or both–Britain would soon have left it behind, one way or another. Here’s to the British people for making our counter-factual just that.

Printed in City AM London, September 5, 2016