Tag Archives: United Kingdom

Mark Collins – The Foreign Office in 1985 (and the Trans-Siberian)

The start of a piece by Simon Winchester in the NY Times Book Review:

Thirty-one years ago, while on a railway journey between London and Hong Kong, I stopped off in Mongolia and to a briefly illustrative encounter.

At the time the British had the sole Western embassy in Ulan Bator — at 30 Peace Street, if I remember — and I thought I might interview the ambassador and present him, as it was early December and he was said to cut a lonesome and homesick figure, with a Christmas plum pudding. I rang the mission’s doorbell and must have looked faintly taken aback when it was opened by a young man of evidently Caribbean origin.

“Don’t be startled,” he said cheerfully, in a broad Welsh accent. “I’m Trevor Jones, first secretary. From Cardiff. I think I’m the only black man in the diplomatic service, and look see, they pack me off to bloody Ulan Bator!”..

The FCO more recently here and here.

By the way in 1972 I took the Trans-Siberian from Moscow to Beijing via the Ghobi Desert. I travelled hard-class, no bed just a roll-up mattress of sorts–the only white amongst Asians (Chinese, Vietnamese, a few others); soft-class was exclusively white Commie Euros. Talk about a racial divide. The divide was in fact in fact the restaurant car with us at the back end and them at the front.

My compartment mate was a North Vietnamese Army major with whom I got along swimmingly in some French. We ate breakfast togther in the dining car, ham and eggs being the only decent food served until we got a Chinese dining car after Mongolia. Otherwise we shared the food each had brought along.

My Asian compatriots generally, including the Chinese, were most friendly and I played a fair amount of cards with them. On the last day before leaving the USSR all the young Vietnamese–many had been doing vocational training in Czechoslovakia–got hammered with dining car booze, spending their last roubles as they could not be taken out of the country. They then proceeded to snake dance and sing through our section of the train. Their favourite tune was “Yellow River” by Christie:

Ah, the joys of youth.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Trump, Russia, NATO and…German Nukes?

Possible disturbing fall-out (pun intended) from The Donald’s election–guess how the Russkies would react to the prospect of Germans with their own, not dual-key American, nuclear weapons (yes Virginia, they’re still there)–at Spiegel Online:

Elephant in the Room
Europeans Debate Nuclear Self-Defense after Trump Win

For decades, American nuclear weapons have served as a guarantor of European security. But what happens if Donald Trump casts doubt on that atomic shield? A debate has already opened in Berlin and Brussels over alternatives to the U.S. deterrent. By SPIEGEL Staff

The issue is so secret that it isn’t even listed on any daily agenda at NATO headquarters. When military officials and diplomats speak about it in Brussels, they meet privately and in very small groups — sometimes only with two or three people at a time. There is a reason why signs are displayed in the headquarters reading, “no classified conversation.”

And this issue is extremely sensitive. The alliance wants to avoid a public discussion at any cost. Such a debate, one diplomat warns, could trigger an “avalanche.” The foundations of the trans-Atlantic security architecture would be endangered if this “Pandora’s box” were to be opened.

The discussion surrounds nuclear deterrent. For decades, the final line of defense for Europe against possible Russian aggression has been provided by the American nuclear arsenal. But since Donald Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States, officials in Berlin and Brussels are no longer certain that Washington will continue to hold a protective hand over Europe.

It isn’t yet clear what foreign policy course the new administration will take — that is, if it takes one at all. It could be that Trump will run US foreign policy under the same principle with which he operates his corporate empire: a maximum level of unpredictability…

what happens if the president-elect has an even more fundamental shift in mind for American security policy? What if he questions the nuclear shield that provided security to Europe during the Cold War?

For more than 60 years, Germany entrusted its security to NATO and its leading power, the United States. Without a credible deterrent, the European NATO member states would be vulnerable to possible threats from Russia. It would be the end of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Could the French or British Step In?

In European capitals, officials have been contemplating the possibility of a European nuclear deterrent since Trump’s election. The hurdles — military, political and international law — are massive and there are no concrete intentions or plans. Still, French diplomats in Brussels have already been discussing the issue with their counterparts from other member states: Could the French and the British, who both possess nuclear arsenals, step in to provide protection for other countries like Germany?

An essay in the November issue of Foreign Affairs argues that if Trump seriously questions the American guarantees, Berlin will have to consider establishing a European nuclear deterrent on the basis of the French and British capabilities. Germany’s respected Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper, meanwhile, even contemplated the “unthinkable” in an editorial: a German bomb.

‘The Last Thing Germany Needs Now’

Politicians in Berlin want to prevent a debate at all costs. “A public debate over what happens if Trump were to change the American nuclear doctrine is the very last thing that Germany needs right now,” says Wolfgang Ischinger, head of the Munich Security Conference. “It would be a catastrophic mistake if Berlin of all places were to start that kind of discussion. Might Germany perhaps actually want a nuclear weapon, despite all promises to the contrary? That would provide fodder for any anti-German campaign.”

The debate however, is no longer relegated the relatively safe circles of think tanks and foreign policy publications…

Could be a scary new world. By the way, for quite a few years during the Cold War Canadian forces with NATO in Europe also had dual-key nukes–see “The Great Canadian Traditional Peacekeeping Myth vs Nuclear Weapons“. How many Canadians today are aware of that?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – The Incredible Shrinking Guns Only Royal Navy

Really back to the future for the surface fleet:

British Navy to Lose Missiles and be Left Only with Guns

 HMS Iron Duke fires Harpoon missile, Oct. 18, 2010
HMS Iron Duke [Type 23 frigate, more here] fires Harpoon missile, Oct. 18, 2010 (photo: Royal Navy)

Royal Navy warships will be left without anti-ship missiles and be forced to rely on naval guns because of cost-cutting, the Ministry of Defence has admitted.

‘The Navy’s Harpoon missiles [more here] will retire from the fleet’s frigates and destroyers in 2018 without a replacement, while there will also be a two year gap without helicopter-launched anti-shipping missiles.

Naval sources said the decision was “like Nelson deciding to get rid of his cannons and go back to muskets” and one senior former officer said warships would “no longer be able to go toe-to-toe with the Chinese or Russians.

Harpoon missiles are unlikely to be replaced for up to a decade, naval sources said, leaving warships armed only with their 4.5in Mk 8 guns for anti-ship warfare. Helicopter-launched Sea Skua missiles are also going out of service next year and the replacement Sea Venom missile to be carried by Wildcat helicopters will not arrive until late 2020.

One Naval source said: “We will be losing our missile capability in total for two years. We will still have the gun, but the range of that is about 17 miles, compared to Harpoon, which is about 80 miles….”

Rear-Adml Chris Parry, said: “It’s a significant capability gap and the Government is being irresponsible. It just shows that our warships are for the shop window and not for fighting….”

The Royal Air Force has long axed its own anti-ship missiles.’

But note that the RCN’s Halifax-class frigates are getting a “Harpoon missile system upgrade (surface to surface)”–scroll down at “Project Details’.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Spookery Today, Especially SIGINT and Cyber Stuff

The Economist focuses almost solely on the US and UK amongst Western countries (several graphics):

Special report: Espionage

Espionage

Shaken and stirred

Technology

Tinker, tailor, hacker, spy

Governance

Standard operating procedure

Edward Snowden

You’re US government property

China and Russia
[a few other countries mentioned]

Happenstance and enemy action

How to do better

The solace of the law

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – MI5 Chief Highlights Big Bear Spooky and Cyber Threats, Jihadis

Further to this post,

The Lions’s Cyber Roar: UK Getting Really Serious, Unlike Canada

the head of Britain’s domestic intelligence service gives an unprecedented interview:

MI5 head: ‘increasingly aggressive’ Russia a growing threat to UK
Exclusive: In first newspaper interview given by a serving spy chief, Andrew Parker talks of terror, espionage and balance between secrecy and privacy

Russia poses an increasing threat to the stability of the UK and is using all the sophisticated tools at its disposal to achieve its aims, the director general of MI5 has told the Guardian.

In the first newspaper interview given by an incumbent MI5 chief in the service’s 107-year history, Andrew Parker said that at a time when much of the focus was on Islamic extremism, covert action from other countries was a growing danger. Most prominent was Russia.

“It is using its whole range of state organs and powers to push its foreign policy abroad in increasingly aggressive ways – involving propaganda, espionage, subversion and cyber-attacks. Russia is at work across Europe and in the UK today. It is MI5’s job to get in the way of that.”

Parker said Russia still had plenty of intelligence officers on the ground in the UK, but what was different now from the days of the cold war was the advent of cyberwarfare. Russian targets include military secrets, industrial projects, economic information and government and foreign policy.

The spy chief also:

– Said that 12 jihadi terror plots had been foiled by the security services in the past three years.
– Identified the size of the homegrown problem: there are about 3,000 “violent Islamic extremists in the UK, mostly British”.
– Said that budget increases would see MI5 expand from 4,000 to 5,000 officers [emphasis added–so total personnel considerably greater?] over the next five years [by comparison the Canadian Security Intelligence Service has a total strength of some 3,300)].
– Rejected criticism that the investigatory powers bill, due before parliament this week, was going too far in enabling intrusive surveillance, arguing that it correctly balances privacy and security…

Parker said the Islamic extremist threat was also enduring and generational. He broke it down into three segments: a large homegrown problem of potentially violent extremists in the UK – most of them British – about 3,000 in number; members of Daesh (Islamic State) in the conflict zones of Syria and Iraq trying to incite terror plots against the UK; and Daesh trying to spread its “toxic ideology” and promote terrorism online.

Critics of the controversial investigatory powers bill, which went before the House of Lords on Monday, say it will offer the security services access to personal data, bringing a reality to bulk surveillance. Parker said the data was necessary in the fight against terror and he thought the government had reached the right balance between privacy and security [see “UK Security Services’ Successful Bulk Data Collection; Need More Powers (Canada?)” plus “Under PM’s Thumb: Proposed Canadian Parliamentary Security/Intel Review Committee“]…

Whilst on the foreign intelligence front:

MI6: UK HUMINT Spooks Going Cyber, Including Social Media

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – The Lions’s Cyber Roar: UK Getting Really Serious, Unlike Canada

Further to this post,

Canada: “Time to get serious about cyber security”

compare us with the Brits:

UK in $2.3 bn plan to ‘strike back’ at hackers [including states]

Finance minister Philip Hammond on Tuesday [Nov. 1] warned Britain will “strike back” against states hacking into strategic networks in order to avoid a military showdown, as part of a new cyber-defence plan.

Unveiling the £1.9 billion ($2.3 billion, 2.1 billion euro) National Cyber Security Strategy, Hammond said hackers were trying to capitalise on the increasing connectivity of devices to target homes, cars, air traffic control networks and power grids.

“A small number of hostile foreign actors have developed and deployed offensive cyber-capabilities. These capabilities threaten the security of the UK’s critical national infrastructure,” he said at the London launch.

“If we do not have the ability to respond in cyber-space… we would be left with the impossible choice of turning the other cheek and ignoring the devastating consequences or resorting to a military response.

“We will not only defend ourselves in cyber-space, we will strike back in kind when we are attacked,” he added.
The finance ministry earlier called on businesses to “up their game” in the fight against cyber-crime, with Hammond adding that “government can’t deliver innovation — that’s something that only businesses and entrepreneurs can do”.

However, he promised that the government would take “a more active cyber-defence role” to “block, disrupt an neutralise malicious activity… and make Britain to be the best place in the world to be a tech business”…

Meanwhile our government appears to be resorting to wishful thinking:

Can Canada Reach a Real Cyber Deal With China?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Fall 2016 Issue of CGAI’s “The Dispatch”

The table of contents:

Message from the Editor
by DAVID BERCUSON

Brexit, the Anglosphere and Canada 
by JULIAN LINDLEY-FRENCH

The Obama Moment—Defence Spending Does Matter, eh!
by ALAN STEPHENSON

Are Canada’s Digital Security Policies Being Decided in Washington?
by NEIL DESAI

Canada’s Cyber Security Strategy: Time for a Reset! 
by JOHN ADAMS

Time for Canada to Shine in Space Diplomacy
by CHARITY WEEDEN

For Today’s Peacekeeping, Prepare for War
by ELINOR SLOAN

NATO and Canada’s National Interests
by MIKE DAY

Reviewing the Summer of the Defence Review
by STEPHEN SAIDEMAN

The Inevitable End of the Turkish-Western Alliance
by KYLE MATTHEWS

New Canadian Government Talking the Talk on Climate Change
by DAVID MCLAUGHLIN

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Forget Brexit, Western Economic Growth Sucks

Dismal, dismal, dismal (Neil Young in mind)–assuming the Rising Sun is Western–a tweet:

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – MI6: UK HUMINT Spooks Going Cyber, Including Social Media

It’s a brave new espionage world:

MI6 to recruit hundreds more staff in response to digital technology
Worldwide intelligence agencies increasingly rely upon internet and social media rather than running of agents

mi6.jpg
The government announced last year the security services would be given 1,900 additional staff – MI6 is the main beneficiary. Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA

The UK’s overseas intelligence agency is to recruit hundreds more staff over the next four years in response to the pace of change in digital technology.

MI6 [website here], which employs 2,500 people at present, deals with intelligence-gathering and operations abroad, while MI5 is responsible for security within the UK.

The government announced last year that the security services would be given 1,900 additional staff – and MI6 is the main beneficiary. BBC’s Newsnight put the rise in staff for MI6 at 1,000 but it is believed to be fewer than that, though still substantial.

There is increasing reliance by worldwide intelligence agencies upon the internet, social media and changes such as facial recognition; rather than the running of agents as in the past.

One fear is that easier access to information, tracking and cross-checking can also be used against MI6 operatives.

The head of MI6, Alex Younger [more here and here], speaking in Washington DC on Tuesday [Sept. 20], said: “The information revolution fundamentally changes our operating environment. In five years’ time there will be two sorts of intelligence services: those that understand this fact and have prospered, and those that don’t and haven’t. And I’m determined that MI6 will be in the former category.

“The third and most important part of British intelligence is the surveillance agency GCHQ, which in partnership with the US National Security Agency, is responsible for scooping up most of the intelligence through tracking phone calls, emails, chat lines and other communications.”..

Related:

UK Security Services’ Successful Bulk Data Collection; Need More Powers (Canada?)

Issues concerning the increasing operations abroad of CSIS, Canada’s–primarily domestic–security intelligence service, are considered here:

“Canada’s Security & Intelligence Community after 9/11: Key Challenges and Conundrums”

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – The 2003 Iraq Invasion and the Decline of the UK Foreign Office

Further to this post (note second comment),

UK Internal Diplomacy Pre-Iraq Invasion 2003

a letter at the London Review of Books:

Failures at the Foreign Office

I was employed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office until 2010, long after Oliver Miles left, and there is to my mind a lot of force in his assessment of its failure to speak truth to power over Iraq (Letters, 11 August). Returning in 2005 after eight years abroad, I quickly came to understand that this was not the FCO I knew and (almost) loved – an institution traditionally full of the most talented, eccentric and outspoken individuals. The new atmosphere of conformity and demoralisation was palpable, aggravated by the rapid turnover of foreign secretaries and junior ministers.

Firmly in charge were the Blair collaborators, underpinned by a new generation of liberal interventionists propelled to stardom by the Yugoslav crisis of the 1990s – some having arrived sideways from politics, the UN, charities or the media. Longer-serving diplomats formed a passive resistance, or a silent majority at any rate, and seemed to be regarded with suspicion, as if fatally infected with the scepticism and circumspection learned during the long conflicts of the Cold War. Now, career advancement was expressly linked to volunteering for (futile but preferably repeated) stints of duty in war zones like Baghdad, Basra, Kabul and Lashkar Gah, a willingness to be shot at seemingly trumping all other qualifications.

At the same time, in response to mounting pressure on resources from 2007 onwards, the FCO fell victim to a cult of managerialism that seemed to regard foreign policy as an inconvenient side-issue. Under a faddish doctrine of providing a ‘facilitating platform across government’, the FCO stopped trying to do anything well on its own, and was soon known to the general public only for its travel advice. The FCO entered the coalition years as a hollowed-out shell, symbolised by the scrapping of the diplomatic service language school and David Miliband’s dismantling of the splendid Victorian library.

Some think that Thatcher started the rot by sucking foreign policy away to Number Ten. But it was Iraq that decisively ended the FCO’s position as a great – once the greatest – department of state [but the Treasury?]. Where was it, for instance, in the EU referendum debate, the biggest foreign policy issue for generations? The appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary might be seen as the final sick joke, a nadir of institutional humiliation. Ever the optimist, I cling to the thought that the same was probably said of Ernest Bevin, who turned out an unexpected success [see this lovely book review: “Capability Bevin“].

David Roberts
West Horsley, Surrey [more here]

I served as a foreign service officer (aka a dip) with the Canadian Department of External Affairs, as it was then called, from 1974 to 1988; similar rot to that described by Mr Roberts was well setting in within us by the end of that time. In 1995 the department officially became the “Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada”; it has since been re-branded “Global Affairs Canada” by the current government, enough said.

By the way, the reason Canada’s international relations ministry was originally called “external affairs” rather than “foreign affairs” was because dealings with members of the British Empire–later Commonwealth–were not considered foreign unlike those with other states. Now we keep trendily changing nomenclature to show how grown-up or hip or something we are whilst India, which had a much more severe colonial experience than us, sticks with a “Ministry of External Affairs“. Go figure. Grown-up, eh?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds