The situation in Syria is appalling, but it truly isn’t in Britain’s interests to intervene

Aaron Ellis 10.38amimage

Britain should help topple brutal regimes only where it is in our interests to help and our help ought to be proportionate to those interests.

I thought up the 'Ellis Doctrine' for humanitarian intervention in response to David Cameron’s justification for intervening in Libya, oft repeated by the war’s supporters.

“Just because you can’t do the right thing everywhere doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the right thing somewhere”, argued the Prime Minister.

But by what criteria had he judged Libya to be “somewhere”? Why was intervention the “right thing” for us to do, as opposed to other forms of help? For years, the Conservatives had said that British foreign policy under them would be “strategic”, yet Mr Cameron’s justification for the Libyan campaign was extraordinarily non-strategic. The Ellis Doctrine offered a framework with which to think about a future crisis.

Given the crisis in Syria is far more complex than the one that confronted us in Libya, British policy needs to be appropriately nuanced. There are many reasons why Britain should help the Syrian people topple Bashar al-Assad, but we ought to limit our involvement as much as possible. The risks of too big an investment outweigh the rewards. We must limit ourselves to containing the spillover from the conflict into neighbouring countries.

Yet our policy is trending in the other direction. The Prime Minister has suggested arming the rebels. The Chief of the Defence Staff warned recently that troops may intervene if the humanitarian crisis worsened. And the ‘National Coalition of the Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces’ (NCSROF) has been prematurely recognised as the “sole legitimate representative” of the Syrian people.

If Britain is to surmount the challenges of the twenty-first century and re-climb the greasy pole of international affairs, we need a prudent foreign policy. The country must sort out its finances, build up its resources, and think carefully about where in the world it gets involved in and how.

David Cameron used to recognise this, and, in recent months, seems to have rediscovered his ‘grand strategic’ ambitions. At the Conservative party conference, he declared that “[e]very battle we fight, every plan we make, every decision we take” was designed to help the United Kingdom “rise” amidst the decline and fall of other Great Powers. “I am not going to stand here as Prime Minister and allow [us] to join the slide.”

As welcome as his rediscovery of ‘the vision thing’ is, he has also consistently fallen short of realising it whenever put to the test. Unless Mr Cameron wants Britain to become a hegemonic power in the eastern Mediterranean, then our deepening involvement in Syria is part of this disappointing trend. Involving us in a fourth conflict in a decade – with little at stake and with no coherent political-military strategy – will hasten our fall, not reverse it.

British policy must focus on stopping the civil war from spreading into the lands of close allies like Jordan. There are nearly 200,000 refugees there. Speaking in August, when the number was around 140,000, King Abdullah said: “We can’t afford anymore Syrians coming through because of the load it is on the system here.”

In October, the New York Times reported that the United States had sent military personnel to the country to help the Jordanians handle the crisis. Given our long history with the Hashemite dynasty, this is what we ought to be doing.

Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronHEllis

Book review: ‘The Godfather Doctrine’

Aaron Ellis 10.12am

There is nothing wrong with using popular culture to enliven international relations. I once argued that The Magnificent Seven can be viewed as an analogy for Afghanistan, while this article explains why outdated warfare methods and institutional group-think made the Jedi a poor choice to lead the Grand Army of the Republic.

Undoubtedly there are those who will scoff at such things, yet if it is the job of an expert to communicate complex issues to the layman in a way he understands then popular culture is an important resource.

In The Godfather Doctrine, two experts try to use the best film of all time (yes, I said it…) as a parable for American foreign policy in the early 21st Century.

John C. Hulsman and A. Wess Mitchell argue that the world is changing at the expense of the United States and that it has been ill-served by both the liberal institutionalism of Tom Hagen and the neoconservatism of Sonny. If the country is to maintain its position in the world, it must adopt the realpolitik of Michael Corleone.

Unfortunately, the book’s premise is undermined by bad analogies – and as I have said in these pages before, bad analogies are fatal in foreign policy analysis.

Michael Corleone did not merely preserve his family’s power in the criminal underworld; he made it even more powerful and hegemonic than it was under his father Don Vito. He did not do it through ‘smart power’, as the authors of the book believe, but by murdering his rivals. If the United States literally tried to follow Michael’s example, it’d wipe out Brazil, Russia, India, and China in a pre-emptive nuclear strike and then become rulers of the galaxy…

This bad analogy, which undermines the premise of the book, is followed by many others which makes one wonder whether the authors have actually seen The Godfather. For example, they blame the “neocon” Sonny for the gangland war that followed after the murder of the drug-dealer Virgil Sollozzo – just as happened in Iraq. Yet it was Michael who triggered the conflict, first suggesting the hit to a reluctant Tom and Sonny and then carrying it out himself.

An analogy is also made between Sollozzo and Iran. Messrs’ Hulsman and Mitchell rhapsodise about Michael’s use of diplomacy and limited force and say that he would talk to Iran, as well as apply economic sanctions ‘to bring them to their knees’. Of course, in the film, Michael actually puts a bullet in Sollozzo’s head and then weathered the ensuing storm, just as the Israeli strategist Ron Tira argued his country could do a couple of years ago.

If I had to recommend a gangster film that would best explain American foreign policy to the layman, it would be the Coen Brothers’ Millers Crossing: the erratic, headstrong boss Leo whose temper is just about controlled by his realist right-hand man, Tom.

Not to mention being awesome with a firearm…


Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronHEllis

The West, Russia & Syria: Foreign policy is rarely a zero-sum game

Aaron Ellis 6.12am

It is perfectly possible for one country to argue with another over a controversial issue at the same time as co-operating with them on several others - as long as they both get their priorities right and are diplomatic in explaining their differences publicly.

Unfortunately, both Britain and the United States have failed to do this with regard to Russia: they have given more attention to Syria, where they disagree with the latter, than to the many more important issues on which they share common interests. The way British and American officials have explained their differences with their Russian counterparts has also been appallingly undiplomatic and, unsurprisingly, counterproductive.

If London and Washington want to withdraw from Afghanistan, negotiate an end to the Iran crisis, reduce nuclear weapons, and expand NATO, they must give less ‘airtime’ to Syria when dealing with Moscow. If they want to stop the violence there, they must be more respectful of Russia’s views, no matter how heartless they believe them to be. Otherwise, the Kremlin will take a zero-sum approach to the issues listed above, making the world a considerably more dangerous place.

Anyone familiar with the history of Anglo-American relations with Russia knows how difficult it can be to get them on your side, no matter how obvious it is that your approach to an issue will benefit them as much as it would benefit yourself. Russian foreign policy is characterised by interplaying contradictions. Its practitioners can be refreshingly honest one minute, deceptive the next; they can play the aggrieved party in a dispute when they are actually the aggressor; and can alternate between undermining the international order and being one of its key pillars

Yet there are best practice principles that can be teased out of our difficult history with the Russians.

One, respect their interests and treat them the way a great power ought to be treated, even if it is obvious they’re not one. Two, be honest about your own interests and don’t try to trick them, though they may be trying to trick you. Three, don’t be a hypocrite, no matter how hypocritical you think they are behaving. Essentially, keep in mind Ronald Reagan’s dictum: trust, but verify.

If this is “best practice”, both the United Kingdom and the United States have badly mishandled the Russians during the Syria crisis. They have not tried to safeguard their interests in the country should Bashar al-Assad fall, nor have they taken seriously their view of the crisis, as Giles Marshall argued they should in these pages last month. Rather than be diplomatic about their differences, some Western officials have publicly attacked Russia, as the US Ambassador to the UN did in February.

Some of the British and Americans’ actions have just been tin-eared: for example, leaking that David Cameron thought about using Special Forces to stop a Russian ship from allegedly taking weapons to Syria.

For months now, the conflict has preoccupied Anglo-American diplomacy, yet there are many other issues that are much more important to us than Syria and which require Russian support – or at least acquiescence. If we continue to bungle things with the Kremlin, it will become less cooperative on Iran and Afghanistan, even taking a zero-sum approach. One official said as much yesterday, warning that “if Russia doesn’t like the outcome” in Syria, it will start selling long-range surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

Given that Russia is part of one of the two routes via which NATO supplies troops in Afghanistan, its support will be vital over the next two years as we withdraw, as the only other route out of the country is through Pakistan…

British and American officials are understandably exasperated with Russia’s Syria policy, for it is cold, self-interested, and hypocritical. Vladimir Putin attacked humanitarian interventionism a few months ago, yet he justified the war with Georgia on the same as grounds as those calling for military action in Syria. Unfortunately, the terrible things happening there simply aren’t important enough to us to risk an open breach with the Kremlin and losing its cooperation on much more vital issues.

Much of what Otto von Bismarck said over a hundred years ago holds true today, not least his belief that the secret of foreign policy is to make a good treaty with Russia…

Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronHEllis

Lords reform: time for a fresh approach to an old problem

Craig Prescott 10.17am

Some people think a referendum is necessary, others don’t. Both sides are correct but they miss the fundamental issue.

Nick Clegg has argued that reform should not be dependent on a referendum because all three main parties support reform, and further, they committed themselves to reform at the last general election.

David Cameron, while still open to the idea of a referendum, also believes there are many arguments against holding one.

Both positions are untenable as far as the draft Bill is concerned, or the recommendations proposed by the majority of the Joint Committee for the Bill.

As all three main parties were in favour if reform at the last election, voters were presented with Hobson’s choice and couldn’t express their views either way on the issue. Furthermore, the Labour party included a commitment to a referendum in their 2010 manifesto.

Significant constitutional change should be as inclusive as possible, whereby the agenda is not wholly dominated by a section of the political class. This is why in many written constitutions around the world you would not now be reading this article, as it would be legally required for such proposals to go before an electorate in a referendum (the Australian Constitution is such an example).

Furthermore, it would be odd if a referendum was required to change the method of composition for the Lower House (the AV referendum) but not for a more radical alteration of the Upper House.

On a more principled level, it seems strange to attempt to introduce democracy to the House of Lords in an undemocratic way by refusing to hold a referendum. In this respect, the view of a majority of the Joint Draft Bill Committee in strongly suggesting a referendum is to be commended.

However, those who argue against a referendum are also correct. It all depends on what one means by ‘reform’. At the risk of criticising the Bill committee in the way you might criticise a lemon for not being an orange, they have not considered other proposals for reforming the House of Lords.

Incremental reform, for instance, would not require a referendum. This is the line taken in the Alternative Report, published independently by a minority of the membership of the Bill committee. This report proposes to harness the momentum for reform to propose legislation that could readily be included in the forthcoming Queen’s Speech. It should remove the remaining hereditary peers, permit peers to take permanent leaves of absence, introduce a minimal attendance requirement, and allow for the retirement of peers. Such legislation would be more politically acceptable to all members of all parties. It contains nothing controversial and could be a basis for more long-term reform.

Which according to the Alternative Report should be the responsibility of a Constitutional Convention. This is a common process elsewhere in the world, such as in Australia and certain federal states in the USA. The convention would consider the issue fully and in a broader manner than the current Bill committee has been able to do. Its membership would comprise constitutional experts, current Westminster politicians and representatives of devolved assemblies, local government, businesses and faith groups. It must operate apart from the political cycle. Ultimately, the convention’s proposals would be put to the electorate in a referendum, for the reasons offered above.

The fundamental issue missed by participants in the present debate about a referendum is that it is no longer sufficient for the ordinary political process to dominate the debate. It has dominated for a century, over two Royal Commissions, innumerable policy papers, inconclusive parliamentary debates and votes and, today, a draft Bill with a split committee and two diverging reports.

It is time for a fresh approach to an old problem.

Craig Prescott teaches Constitutional & Administrative Law at the University of Manchester.

Follow Craig on Twitter @craigprescott

Is it time to review government policy on drugs?

Alexander Pannett 11.15am

The fecund lands of Latin America have always attracted interest in their abundant resources.

From mines to agriculture, the region is particularly rich with potential for human development.

In recent decades, the coca leaf has been one of the more infamous products to have dominated the region’s trade. Used as a constituent of Bolivian tea, as well as a mild, traditional stimulant when chewed, it is now most widely used for producing cocaine.

Consequently, the USA has insisted that the coca leaf’s cultivation be banned, which has antagonised Bolivians who see the use of the coca leaf as an important part of their national identity. At the same time, demand from America and the wider West for cocaine has soared. This has driven cultivation and the huge profits it generates into the arms of organised crime.

For four decades, the “War on Drugs” has been fought by the USA and its allies against organised crime’s stranglehold of the illegal drugs industry. There has been only limited success in tackling the production of illegal drugs.

Where one area has its production cut through action by the authorities, production increases in other areas to compensate.  The $8 billion Plan Colombia reduced coca production there by 65 per cent, while production increased 40 per cent in Peru and doubled in Bolivia.

However, the biggest failure of the war on drugs is its inability to reduce the soaring demand in rich consumer nations such as the US. It is this demand, and the huge profits, that fuels production and gives organised crime the resources and firepower to intimidate and corrupt law enforcement agencies.

The more punitive and aggressive governments act in their approach to drug enforcement, the more violent and ambitious the drug cartels become. In Mexico, it is estimated that as many as 50,000 people have died as result of the ongoing government war against the drug cartels.

The failures and escalating violence of the drug wars has started calls by Latin American governments of a major re-think of the strategy behind drug enforcement. President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia has proposed the establishment of a taskforce of experts, economists and academics to analyse the realities of global drug addiction, trafficking and profiteering.

Other leaders have been more forward and called for the legalisation of drugs. It is also not just the more liberal-minded who are calling for an end to the drug wars. Guatemala’s President Otto Perez Molina, a general during the country’s “dirty war”, came to power promising an “iron fist” against drug consumers. He recently called the war on drugs a failure and argued that “consumption and production should be legalised” within certain limits.

There certainly seems to be much benefit in re-casting drugs as a social problem of dependency on stimulants rather than a criminal concern. This is the approach that is taken with alcohol and cigarettes, the most popular legalised drugs in society.

Regulation of drugs would raise quality, removing dangerous products from the streets. It would also lower prices and raise tax revenues that would pay for the health and social services needed to provide support to those suffering from drug abuse.

Consumers could still be required to be a certain age - 18, say - before they could purchase drugs (just as with alcohol); advertising would be banned (as with tobacco); drug-driving would remain illegal; and the law relating to liability whilst intoxicated would remain the same.

Substances could also remain banned if they are deemed to be above a certain addiction threshold. This would encourage legal drug producers to concentrate on creating the stimulating rather than addictive effects of drugs.

The negative side of legalisation is that it would likely lead to higher use as drugs would become more available. This would likely lead to higher numbers of drug-related health issues in society. When prohibition was introduced into the United States in the 1920s it reduced alcohol-related illnesses dramatically. As the monetary cost of drinking tripled, deaths from cirrhosis of the liver declined by a third. This improvement in health, however, hid and fed rampant criminality and a dis-respect for the law by all sections of society.

The law must protect us from other humans but, concerning our own bodies we have seen progressive strides, from abortion to sexual freedoms, in allowing humans the choice to do what they will with their own selves. Considering both the law and society already accept the right of humans to intoxicate themselves through alcohol, tobacco, coffee and other legal stimulants, it may be time to accept other drugs onto this list.

It would be naive to assume that the vast death toll and social cost of drugs in the Americas will not soon reach Europe. In many deprived areas it already has. To pre-empt such a social disaster we should respond to the call of Latin American governments and review our own government policy and attitudes towards drugs.

A drug-free utopia, after all, is a fantasy we could never achieve naturally.

Follow Alexander on Twitter @alpannett

Obama should win again, but he should listen to some tax ideas coming from the Republicans

Nik Darlington 9.38am

Allister Heath’s City A.M. editor’s letter is required morning reading, whether you agree with it or not. It is relevant, informed and clear. It often teaches me something about finance or economics that I didn’t know before.

Mr Heath’s letter yesterday didn’t teach me any economics, but it did tell me something interesting about the US presidential contest.

The radical tax proposals of two Republican candidates: that GOP’s surprise frontrunner Herman Cain and the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, have, says Heath, “kick-started a major debate on tax reform and economic growth”.

It all started with Cain’s fascinating 9-9-9 plan: he wants to slash the federal income and corporate taxes to 9 per cent (while eliminating all loopholes) and introduce a 9 per cent federal sales tax. The poorest people (on or below the poverty line) would pay no income tax, a very sensible move… Cain also backs “opportunity zones” that would liberalise the poorest parts of America in a bid to boost growth and jobs. He also supports zero capital gains tax, the immediate expensing of business equipment and no payroll taxes.

Perry’s plan would give taxpayers the choice of either a 20 per cent flat tax on income above $12,500 (the new personal allowance) or of retaining their current tax rates and rules. Lower-income taxpayers in the 10 and 15 per cent brackets would keep the current system - while those on higher incomes would switch to the flat tax… Hong Kong already operates a similar system. Perry’s…other policies include cutting company tax from 35 per cent to 20 per cent.

Neither plan is perfect… But even Mitt Romney, a lacklustre candidate, wants to cut corporate tax from 35 per cent to 25 per cent.

In my Total Politics column recently, I wrote that a radically lower tax base could be the making of Scotland, if ony the SNP has the bravery to deliver it. While the economics are clear about the benefits of lower taxes to all members of society, the politics are a harder sell. A mixture of envy, stubbornness and ineffectual pretence of ‘fairness’ (for some people, high taxes will never be ‘fair’ enough) stand in the way of efficient tax policy.

Politicians need to make a better case for lower taxes. One that combines social justice with an incentive to work hard. One that, you might say, combines compassion with efficiency.

I still believe that President Obama will be (and should be) re-elected next year. As former diplomat Sir Christopher Meyer told the TRG recently in Manchester, the split in the Republicans caused by the hard right populism of the Tea Party “may win tactical victories on Capitol Hill but may lose them the country”. He also said that the Republicans have “no credible candidate” other than the “incredibly boring” Mitt Romney.

The incumbent is still the most credible and likely next President from 2012. He has the funds, he has the platform and he still - choose to believe it or not - inspires some hope in people.

But there are encouraging signs that some thoughtful Republicans have the better ideas for economic recovery. For the time being, they are just wrong on too many other policies to win.

The only Special Relationship that America has had is with itself

Giles Marshall 4.05pm

Aaron has written a fascinating piece on these pages about the Special Relationship, which prompted me to scan history to see just how ‘special’ this relationship has been.

In short, not very. At least not for the USA which, as Aaron rightly pointed out, has its own strategic interests to deal with first. She always has. Britain’s problem is that a succession of Prime Ministers has lulled themselves into the belief that those strategic interests include Great Britain. This is not a comprehensive list, and omits the constructive relationship of JFK and Harold Macmillan (united by marriage as much as by politics), or that between Clinton and Blair (united by ‘third way’ politics and the last time a US President bent to the will of a British Prime Minister, even if under the duress of sexual scandal). Nevertheless, it is illustrative and representative of a defining thread of history.

Roosevelt and Churchill

And so it was in the beginning. FDR moved Heaven and Earth to get American aid to brave Britain and along with Churchill bestrode the world-stage like conquerers, joined at the hip, until his tragic death.

Not quite. Roosevelt was a reluctant interventionist. He gave short shrift to the pro-interventionist Century Group and deferred instead to advisers like Sumner Welles, who in January 1940 was still determined to get Hitler and Mussolini together for a peace deal. When help did arrive, Roosevelt extracted all he could from Britain and tried to ensure the Atlantic war was focused in the east, which suited American interests. Neville Chamberlain always believed the cost of American help would be too high. Military bases, trading concessions and considerable regional influence were all ceded to the United States. The Roosevelt-Churchill relationship was warm in private, no doubt, but its public manifestation was very much Churchill’s creation. Quite surprising, given the way FDR sought to undermine his friend in front of Stalin at Yalta.

Truman and Attlee

Clem Attlee never spoke much anyway but his Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, certainly did. Bevin felt so downtrodden by one of Truman’s Secretaries of State that he was driven to advocate British nuclear weapons so that “no Foreign Secretary gets spoken to by an American Secretary of State like that again”. It was another one of Truman’s Secretaries of State, Dean Acheson, who caustically observed, “Britain has lost an empire but not yet found a role”. Thanks for the support, Dean.

Eisenhower and Eden

One word: Suez. When Anthony Eden tried to protect British interests in the Suez Canal, President Eisenhower was the first and most important world leader to condemn him. A run on the pound ensued. Nevermind that Khrushchev was slaughtering Hungarian rebels. And lest we forget, it was General Eisenhower as US Supreme Commander who stymied the plan of Churchill and Montgomery to beat the Russians to Berlin. Apparently, Uncle Joe’s men weren’t so much of a threat.

Nixon and Heath

Possibly the only really effective working relationship between a US President and a British Prime Minister, because it was based on an understanding that there wasn’t really a Special Relationship at all. Both President Nixon and Edward Heath believed that America’s relationship with Europe was not going to be with single countries but with a united Europe. Nixon, in any case, was clearly identifying the East as the true arena for American activity and interests.

Reagan and Thatcher

This was the pinnacle - if lovebirds Maggie and Ronnie didn’t have a Special Relationship, then who did? Alas, for all their public adoration, Ronald Reagan not only proved notoriously slow to support Britain in the Falklands, but he would not even forewarn Mrs Thatcher when invading the Commonwealth country of Grenada. Britain had to be content with joining 108 other nations in condemnation at the UN. Tellingly, Reagan later recollected Mrs Thatcher phoning him to say he must stop: “She was very adamant and continued to insist that we cancel our landings on Grenada. I couldn’t tell her that it had already begun.”

Bush and Blair

No world leader was more determined to show support for the United States than Tony Blair. No other world leader was accorded such familiarity and friendship. Yet for all the backing Mr Blair gave to George W. Bush’s War on Terror, and the genuine influence in convincing the Americans at least to try the UN route, this friendship could be argued to have been a defining failure of his premiership.

Now it is David Cameron’s turn. He began with a semblance of independence. He is withdrawing British troops from Afghanistan more quickly than the Americans would like, and initially at least he spoke with a different voice in leading calls for action in Libya.

This state visit of President Obama is an occasion for a good dose of mutual publicity - as valuable to Obama’s re-election drive as it is to Mr Cameron here at home. But if our Prime Minister really starts to believe in a Special Relationship - or an ‘Essential’ Relationship, if you will - I fear that he is doomed to the fate of many of his predecessors. More often than not, history forces us to ask, is it not the case that the only Special Relationship that America has had is with itself?

Twitter: @GilesMarshall

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The Special Relationship lacks a purpose for the 21st century

Aaron Ellis 6.12am

I awoke yesterday, phone buzzing under the pillow, receiving a text message from the editor: “Would you be able to write about the US-UK National Security Board?”

A few Google searches later, I found a Guardian article explaining what it was. What immediately came to mind was the Combined Chiefs of Staff which, had it continued, might have become such a board. The engine to drive the Special Relationship forward. However, unless the UK is willing to throw away 40 years of foreign policy, the National Security Board (NSB) could be nothing more than a fair weather institution. The shared strategic interests that kept the alliance alive in the 20th century disappeared at the end of the Cold War. Other countries may prove more useful partners this century.

The given rationale for a NSB is to keep senior officials in touch with the broader challenges that face the two countries. Unfortunately, there are reasons why it might not succeed.

As global power shifts eastwards and emerging Asian states challenge US hegemony, Washington will be increasingly concerned with security and stability in the western Pacific. This is their broader challenge and President Obama is pursuing the correct policies in that region. The UK does not have a similar strategic clarity. If we want to enjoy the kind of relationship we enjoyed last century then our defence and foreign policies must expand east of Suez. Professor Michael Clarke, the head of the RUSI, has written that such a radical move “would represent the most judicious, and audacious, use of the hard/soft power combination yet seen in contemporary politics”. So far, however, the Government has shown no sign that it plans to make as big a shift as this in its ‘Big Picture’ thinking. Yet without it the NSB may prove fit only for fair weather.

Even if the Government did decide to reorientate British grand strategy eastwards in principle, the SDSR makes it impossible in practice. Maritime power will be as crucial as it has been before yet the review prioritises the Army and Afghanistan over the Royal Navy. Unless we redress this, we cannot do more to help the United States than offer an empty boast.

Nor do I see how the NSB can solve the institutional problems that I outlined last month. The board is supposed to move beyond crisis management, with senior officials from each side of the Atlantic focusing on the bigger picture. Given both countries’ bureaucracies have been promoting problem solvers at the expense of strategists, it isn’t evident that thinking will suddenly become more long-term. The same people will be shaping things, just this time sharing hats with Anglo-Saxon cousins. As with the Grand Strategy Board, the NSB’s utility also depends on the extent to which it taken seriously by our leaders. “You can organise government all you like, but strategy is an essentially political process that comes from the top,” Julian Lindley-French told MPs last September.

The thinking behind the National Security Board is encouraging for strategy pundits like me. It shows that our respective governments have the right intentions, even if their actions can sometimes send blood pressures running high. Unfortunately, I cannot see the NSB being more than a fair weather institution; nor can I see it moving beyond, as it is meant to, the day-to-day co-operation in things like Iran and global terrorism.

The United States ought to create a NSB with Japan and South Korea because their alliance could be the Special Relationship of the first half of this century.

Twitter: @ThinkStrat

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