What if….the United States left NATO?

(Posted 2022)

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s a common trope of the political thriller was a devious plot by the KGB to break up the western alliance, normally through the dismantling of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). In Alfred Coppel’s “The Hastings Conspiracy”, for example, a plot involved the KGB revealing to the leftwing British government that there existed a secret US plan to invade the UK (landing at Hastings, in case you’re interested), Colin Forbes’ “The Stone Leopard” involved a group of French, British and German agents racing to stop Moscow putting a Soviet agent into the Elysee Palace and pulling French forces out of Germany ahead of a Soviet invasion through the Fulda Gap. Chris Mullin’s “A Very British Coup” hinged on a plot by the CIA to stop Jeremy Corbyn Harry Perkins pulling Britain out of NATO. Both “The Fourth Protocol” and, eh, “Octopussy” had key plot points hinging on something very similar.

There were some books that speculated at a US withdrawal back into isolation, but relatively few: it was taken as read that the US was the anchor of western defence both out of value belief and in its own naked self-interest.

Then Donald Trump was elected President, and the party of Ronald Reagan and Eisenhower became the party of Lindbergh. Under Trump it was mostly mouth, a man who was too chaotic to pursue a policy of withdrawal even if he really believed it, which probably depended as much as what day it was as any intellectual conviction. But Trump aside, isolationism, fueled by Fox News charlatans who see any sort of engagement with liberal elements abroad as grounds to whip up hysteria have seriously undermined American commitment to NATO, and the idea of the US withdrawal, whilst still unlikely, is no longer ludicrous. What if it happened…

The near future. The new administration had moved much faster than anyone had expected, given the relative closeness of the election result. This was primarily at the hands of a bevy of new National Security Council appointees who would never had seen the inside of the building under the Bush, Reagan or indeed any previous post-war administration. These were young men who had been born in the 80s and 90s and even later and were more familiar with The Turner Diaries and Ayn Rand and sarcastic put downs on cable news shows than strategic thinking. Withdrawal from NATO was more, to them, about sticking it to foreigners, effete socialist Europeans who had lived off the backs of hard working Joe Sixpack for decades. America didn’t need alliances. America was strong. And any way: China was the enemy that needed to be faced down and Europe was of little or any use in that regard.

In Europe, as ever, surprise was the first call of the day. Yes, the new president had been very clear about his intentions, but no one is capable of self-delusion as Europeans are. Even watching the president announce that, whilst Congress debated withdrawal, he was signing an executive order to pull out US forces over six months and disavow any US commitment to defend any NATO country. He signed the document live on air and held it up to the camera, his massive signature covering half the page. He liked signing pieces of paper on camera.

The news that the US was leaving NATO triggered the European response to everything: a summit in Brussels, attended by the remainder of NATO. To say it was chaotic was an understatement. The Canadians earnestly stated their commitment to NATO which was received with the grateful eyes of a mortgage defaulting parent being offered a child’s piggy-bank. The Turks glowered at everyone. The French and the Germans immediately flew to Moscow. The British looked pained and paralyzed and announced a defence pact with New Zealand. The Hungarians wrote down everything everybody said. In Russian.

The Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians had their own meeting, with the Finns and Swedes quietly sitting in. The Poles revealed a secret, to gasps.

The moment the last US plane lifted off, that very moment, Russian troops ploughed across the border and annexed another chunk of Ukraine. The Ukrainians, with limited support from the British, Poles and Baltic states, put up a noble, robust and doomed defence, surrendering after three weeks of vicious fighting. The EU made a very robust speech at the UN.

A new summit attempted to confront the reality: that for the first time in over 75 years, European nations were now solely responsible for their own defence. There was no Deus Ex America to save them from the Russians.

As with so many challenges facing Europe, the problem was not finding the right or even credible solution. A small group of nations proposed the creation of a Combined European Defence Force, putting into physical existence the reality that Europe was both big enough and wealthy enough to defend itself from almost any threat, if it had the will.

As ever, it was the will that was the problem for Europe. The new Le Pen government in France was only remaining in NATO, critics said, to wreck NATO from the inside, and was openly hostile to contributing to the defence of the Baltic states. Germany’s political system was dominated by Russian penetration and overly optimistic free traders concerned only really with German exports. The British were divided between a pro-Russian left and an anti-European right that couldn’t really believe the US had left, and openly discussed some sort of merger with the US and Canada to guffaws from even their ideological allies in the new administration in Washington.

Having said that, neither France nor Germany was dumb enough not to recognise that US withdrawal also presented a huge commercial opportunity. A European Army in whatever form it took would need to purchase fighters, drones, tanks and all the high tech infrastructure needed to operate them effectively. The problem was that those nations genuinely concerned for their safety, within striking distance of the Russian border, were out of patience. As they looked at the tent cities holding refugees from Ukraine dotted throughout their countries, they saw the threat for real, and decided that their foot-dragging neighbours, whilst free to join, would not be permitted to hold them back.

The Treaty of Warsaw, creating a European Defence Community, was signed by Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania, Norway, Finland and Sweden. A request by Hungary to join was humiliatingly rejected as long as FIDESZ remained in office, and a robust method to expel rogue members was put in place. Unlike previous aspirational political compacts, the treaty clearly outlined what forces from each nation would be transferred to a combined Continental European Defence Command (CEDC) under a Supreme Commander, European Forces (SCEUR). The treaty dealt with wavering nations by formally transferring command of the assigned units for a fixed two year period with a 12 month period required for a nation to regain command early. A respected Polish general was appointed on the same day, with a Finnish deputy. The treaty also committed CEDC to purchasing specific numbers of fighters, tanks and other equipment and to raising a volunteer force in addition to existing transferred national troops by specific dates. Members that failed to reach their targets would be suspended from voting and possibly expelled. Finally, CEDC agreed to raise a €100 billion bond to fund the new force, with the money earmarked to be spend primarily in the member nations unless the equipment was unavailable. This particular clause caused ructions in the United States, where the new administration discovered that, having stepped away from Europe, it had far less leverage on getting its share of European defence procurement. Anti-NATO Republicans were shocked to see the big defence firms suddenly develop an interest in Democratic congressional candidates.

The response in Berlin and Paris was different. Le Pen flew into a rage on discovering, a week later, that the wily Swedish prime minister had secured British membership of the organisation by agreeing to English being the official working language, a proposal that had few objectors. He also agreed that the next supreme commander of the CEDC would be British. In return, the British contributed both physically and financially.  The French president found herself being lambasted in the National Assembly for allowing France be outmanouvered, especially given that huge defence contracts were about to be issued and France, having refused to join, was not eligible to seek them. In the Bundestag, a different state of affairs reigned, where those in the German parliament who had always supported a European army were now demanding of the government why Germany was not joining it? Again, German arms manufacturers were asking the same questions their French counterparts were: why was Germany not in line for its share?

The French government had to settle for an association with the CEDC where France could bid for contracts in return for a financial contribution to the organisation, as the Baltic states vetoed France joining as long as Le Pen was president because “we believe her” about not defending them. It was humiliating, so much so that her two-term centrist predecessor returned from his honeymoon to announce that he had changed his mind and would seek a third term on the pledge of France committing to the CEDC fully from day one. Looking fit and tanned in a crisp white open-necked shirt as he strolled through Charles De Gaulle holding hands with his beautiful new wife, he told the gathered media that it was obscene that Le Pen had created a situation where “Les Rosbifs” were taking a greater role in Europe’s defence than the republic. “An attack on Finland, an attack on Estonia is an attack on France!” he declared.

The German government agreed to the terms quietly and it went through the Bundestag with only the extremes of left and right objecting. The German Constitution was amended to permit the transfer of command of a section of the Bundesweher and Luftwaffe to SCEUR. Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands quickly joined. The Italian parliament erupted into a blazing row nominally over the European Defence Community treaty but in reality over a string of political corruption prosecutions. The Italian president and former ECB president rang the young Polish President to reassure her that despite the political drama, if Russia invades, “Italy will not be found wanting.” Ireland called for the United Nations to do something.

In Moscow, the aging Putin, seeing the lay of the land, decided to mobilize quickly, ordering a build up on the Estonian border before the CEDC could be organised. When his generals revealed that the actual ability of European forces was now that they could inflict serious damage on Russia’s forces, probably not enough to stop them but enough to turn the war into a long-running conflict that Russia could not afford, Putin let it be known that Russia would consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons if European forces did not capitulate quickly. He had never really believed in the concept of the NATO nuclear umbrella for one simple reason: the nations that needed it most had no nuclear weapons of their own, and Paris, London and Washington were simply not going to invite retaliation on their own soil despite all the bluster.

That night, the Polish president, accompanied by the Baltic and Finnish presidents put out an address in English. She announced that, on hearing the Russian threat to detonate tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, the five countries had been working on a Polish-led nuclear weapons programme, and that they had the ability to respond with short-range weapons in response to any Russian first use.

“We cannot destroy Russia,” she declared. “But we can respond in Kaliningrad, Belarus, and even in a city President Putin holds dear, so let the president understand us very clearly. We will never use nuclear weapons first. But we will respond in kind. We will, after this broadcast, communicate to you the size and yield of these weapons, and you will realise they can be carried by a single fighter, a drone, a fishing boat, a team of special forces with huskies over a border or even on the back of a truck sitting in St. Petersburg traffic. If we, the leaders of our respective countries die in a first strike, the protocol is in place to retaliate. Do not test us on this, Mr President.”

The immigration speech I’d like to hear a Taoiseach give.

The full transcript of Leo Varadkar’s St. Patrick’s Day address to the ...“Good evening.

I’m speaking to you on the subject of immigration tonight because I wish to give you a better understanding as to the government’s thinking on the issue.

Let me start by outlining the key issues the government has to consider.

The reality is that a certain amount of controlled immigration is necessary for a modern industrialised country to provide additional workers and skills. We have a labour shortage in this country and need additional people to help create the national wealth which, through taxation, funds our social welfare system, health services and old age pensions.

It’s also true that many Irish people, myself included, believe that our history obliges us to show as much compassion as we can to others fleeing tyranny, war and other hardship.

Having said that, a country only has a limited amount of resources, in terms of money, housing spaces and other public services and so has to balance these competing needs.

A country also has a sovereign right to decide who enters it and what values they must respect. You do not have a right to go to a foreign country and start demanding that they must put their values second.

The wars in Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere have made inward migration a major issue not just for Ireland but the whole of Europe. Indeed, in some cases refugees have been weaponised by countries seeking to weaken the European Union.

It is within that context that the government will seek to pursue the following policies.

First, we will set an annual limit on how many asylum seekers and refugees we will accept every year, with a guarantee that people accepted under limit will receive decent accommodation, care, education and integration in dedicated and purpose-built reception centres.

Those accommodated in these centres will be screened to verify who they are and that they pose no risk to the community at large.

Anyone found to have destroyed documentation prior to seeking asylum will be removed immediately.

Secondly, the centres will also operate as training and education centres to identify and teach skills to permit our new arrivals to work and play their part creating wealth and paying taxes in our country.

Secondly, we must recognise that mass migration is a European-wide problem, and must be addressed at a European level too. Our nearest neighbour, in its attempt to seize control of its own borders outside a European framework, has resulted in it ceding control of its southern border to the French interior minister. I do not propose we join that experiment.

Instead, Ireland will support and contribute towards efforts to create secure EU-run safezones outside the European continent to act as the first point of contact for those seeking to enter Europe.

Such a safezone could also act as a transit point for those individuals who have been removed from member states. I do not propose that these will be mass refugee camps where people will be abandoned, but functioning communities under European control where legal migration into Europe, having passed through a European cultural integration and screening programme may be permitted.

At the heart of such a programme is the core belief that it is Europeans who will decide who comes to live among us.

Finally, let me say that one of the reasons I decided to speak with you directly on this issue is because of the rise, both here and on the mainland, of dangerous far-right elements laced with fascist and neo-nazi tendencies, who see those of different religion, skin colour, ethnic group or other characteristics as not welcome in our society. Indeed, many of these elements are funded or supported by hostile foreign powers.

Let me be clear: I regard such groups as a clear and present danger to our republic and Irish republicanism itself, and will be bringing forth legislation to create a national security intelligence organisation to identify all such threats, foreign and domestic, to our democracy, and with the power and resources to act accordingly in defence of Irish democracy.

I understand that these are controversial proposals which will cause much debate in the country, as they should. I also accept that there are those in the country who will wish to propose alternatives, and that, my fellow Irishmen and women, are what elections are for.

Good night”.


Ireland goes to war? A hypothetical scenario.

NATO tanksOriginally written in 2015.

1st December 2017: Russian forces enter Estonia, Finland and Poland, taking NATO by surprise. Resistance in all three countries is stiff, and US, UK, French, German and Italian aircraft all provide air support.

In the Dail, the Irish government condemns the invasion. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein call for the United Nations “to act”. They are not specific on detail.

2nd December: it is now clear that a full Russian invasion is underway. Media briefings in Moscow clarify that the purpose of the “pre-emptive defensive action” is to secure the Baltic states, Poland and Finland as neutral states outside of NATO. President Putin goes on TV to explain the action, and, speaking in fluent German, pledges that only those countries are combat areas, and that Russian forces will not invade other European countries.

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Thank God for the Americans.

“Americans! They’re all thick!” is a common remark in Irish circles after the latest eye-rolling piece of news that comes from stateside. It’s not unique to the Irish either: the rest of the world has no shortage of superior notions on hearing the latest from President Trump or the millions of gun-toting paranoiacs who voted for him. It’s very easy to feel smarter than the Average American.

And yet: here’s the thing. The United States is not just another country. It is a country so powerful that it can supply Ukraine with enough weapons to paralyse its former superpower rival whilst utilising a mere 5% of its defence budget. And not just any old weapons either. Advanced missile systems that allow a single infantryman to destroy a Russian tank worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. HIMARS missile systems which allow Ukraine to devastate Russian forces. US satellites that provide incredibly accurate information on enemy forces to Ukraine. Sure, the UK and France and Germany are contributing in their own ways, but the reality is this: Ukraine is not defeated because the United States stepped in and equipped a brave but shockingly underequipped Ukrainian army with the arsenal of democracy. The US saved Ukraine.

Not only that, but the US also maintains a vast nuclear arsenal and air force and 12 aircraft carriers where the nearest rival has two. Could it suddenly fight China if it had to? Probably. It would almost certainly require the US economy to shift from its current consumer footing to a military manufacturing mode, but it could do that, and what’s more, that’s when, the US really shines.

People forget what defeated both Nazism and the Empire of Japan. Yes, British and especially Russian blood sacrifice, but what did it was the incomprehensible heft of sheer American economic power. It was American steel and Studebaker trucks that kept the Soviets in the fight.

If a giant asteroid was detected to be on an impact course with Earth, who would we all turn to? Beijing? Brussels? London? No. Even if the EU got 20 year notice that a giant meteorite was going to destroy, say, Poland, we’d still not get our act together. Once again, we’d assume that only one country would have the mix of resources, know-how and sheer willpower to actually save humanity. And after they did it, we’d bitch about their arrogance and lack of consultation.

Can we rely on them forever? Probably not. The US feels like it is turning in on itself, and not just on its right. If there was, say, an Ocasio-Cortez led liberal landslide, there’d be a huge focus on building a massively expanded (and expensive) US welfare state with an American NHS at its core.

As if that is depressing enough, just remember that there is only one country with a sniff at matching US power, and it is a brutal one party dictatorship that uses tanks against its own people.

As for Europe: we can’t even agree on a single currency.


eNovella: A Little Piece of Europe.

The very near future. Welcome to the European Union Safezone in North Africa.

2 million refugees trying to make a life in a city-state on the edge of Europe.

For the disgraced former British prime minister and his Irish deputy put in charge of running it, a chance at redemption.

For the refugee Syrian businessman, it’s a chance at a new life for his family.

For the young Somali woman fleeing terror, it’s a chance to perhaps no longer be afraid.

For the young Islamic State operative, it’s a chance to strike at the west… 

Now available as an eBook on Amazon here.

ALPOE cover


What do we actually mean by neutrality?

What does Irish “Neutrality” actually mean? It’s a phrase that gets thrown around with a common assumption that we all agree on the meaning, but I doubt that’s the case. For example, are we neutral between Israel and Palestine, or Russia and Ukraine? I would say no, and I would say that the majority of the Irish are comfortable (as much as they give it any thought, which is another issue) with our state’s heavy leaning towards one side in those conflicts.

Being a constitutional republic, we have a written (as opposed to hearsay) constitution which allows us to declare specifically as to what values we identify with. With that in mind, I’ve attempted to write a rough draft of what a constitutional amendment on neutrality would actually attempt to say.

One interesting thing: when you put this stuff down in black and white, it has sometimes unforeseen consequences. For example, if we recognised Palestine as a sovereign state, wouldn’t it mean we’d have to stop funding the Palestinian state as that would be a breach of neutrality as we would have defined?

Maybe it’s better just to stick with the “Whatever you’re having yourself” model we currently have.

Anyway: here’s the draft for divilment.

1. Ireland is a neutral country. We shall not assist any country, including other EU members, in their defence from attack in any way.

2. No Irish government shall seek or accept any military or any form of other assistance in the event of any form of military or other security attack upon Ireland.

3. Ireland shall not source any military or security related material from abroad but shall manufacture those required domestically.

4. Ireland shall not contribute or supply resources of any kind to any state involved in any form of military conflict with another state.

5. Ireland shall primarily place her security in the hands of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, namely the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, the United States, and the French Republic.

A movie worth watching: Presidents (2021)

“Presidents” is a French comedy starring Jean Dujardin and Gregory Gadebois as two former French presidents named Nicolas and Francois (Yeah) who are struggling to deal with life after the Elysee and their electoral ejection from it. It’s a gentle comedy and also stars Pascale Arbillot and Doria Tillier as their respective partners, and is an entertaining look at the gap between the men who become head of state and the country they led.

Worth a look.

What if….Europe elected a president?

The creation of the office of President of the European Union was one of those perfect storm moments that occurs in politics. As an idea, it drew relatively little support, but many of those who supported it did so with a vigor bordering on fanaticism. When that was mixed with the hubris of national politicians who thought it didn’t matter and the short-termism of a political system that only sees policy as a quick solution as opposed to long-term strategy, political tectonic plates started to move. The final key variable was the European Parliament, which had amassed power almost silently like a dog chained in a basement who has grown huge and strong because nobody in the house realizes that they have all been feeding the dog. Politicians stung by accusations of being “undemocratic” had thrown one power after another at the once rubber-stamping talking shop without grasping that all the combined powers were in fact creating a powerful transnational parliamentary assembly. When the parliament itself named an elected president as its price for treaty change the pols rolled over, once again assuming that it could be finessed with some retired prime minister doing a lap of honour. That was assuming the system even got off the ground, given how vague the details in the actual treaty were.

The problem for the “It’ll never happen” brigade was that this was Europe, and for every European thought there’s a well-funded committee that starts working out the details with almost self-pleasuring enthusiasm. Immediately, the committee ran into a problem. It wasn’t hard to figure out what powers would be held by the new office: the committee rapidly concluded that the simplest thing was to directly elect the commission president, with the president of the council acting at a intergovernmental balance.

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What if…Putin detonates a nuclear weapon in Ukraine?

It’s not impossible. Vladimir Putin, facing stalemate or possibly even defeat by a better motivated and well-resourced Ukrainian army, might decide to play the “madman” card.

A small, low-yield tactical nuclear weapon, detonated in a low population rural part of Ukraine. Not a military act, but a political one, to cause panic in the nuclear-phobic West and particularly in western Europe.

The message would be clear: I am willing to go further than you, so give me what I want. Stop helping Ukraine and let me defeat them. 

It’s a high-risk strategy, but also a viable one. The panic it will cause in NATO will be very real, and the response not automatic or even obvious. The idea that NATO will automatically respond with a like-for-like nuclear retaliation should not be assumed at all.

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Europe needs a plan.

Wrote this last year…

And it is as much about where Europe is not heading as where it is.

If you ever want to increase your general euroscepticism, spend a few days hanging around EU institutions. The sheer complexity of getting anything done, in a union of 27 countries with competing political systems, national prejudices and hangups is nothing as compared to a certain type of EU official you meet for whom the answer to ever problem is…go on, guess.

More Europe.

Let me be very clear: I’m a European federalist. I believe in a United States of Europe. But that does not mean that I think that every solution involves Brussels. Indeed, I could even be convinced that maybe some existing powers should be returned to the member states.

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