defence

Gideon Rachman

Most of the interest in the outcome of the Communist Party plenum in Beijing has focused on the economic decisions. But the Chinese government also announced that it plans to set up a National Security Council – which has obvious echoes of the White House decision-making apparatus.

The Chinese are not alone in making this move. Japan is also in the process of setting up a new National Security Council, which is meant to be operational by the end of the year. Some might find it a little ominous that at a time when Sino-Japanese tensions are so high, both countries are revamping their national security structures. But it could also be that the Chinese and Japanese are simply following foreign-policy fashion in the West. National Security Councils are all the rage. Britain set up an NSC in 2010, allowing the prime minister to chair regular meetings of all the senior ministers and officials dealing with security issues: foreign affairs, defence, intelligence and so on. 

James Blitz

(CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

(CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

President François Hollande this week published France’s long awaited strategic defence review, setting out what the French armed forces should be aiming to do in the years ahead. The publication of the document – called the “livre blanc” or “white book” – was an important moment for those following European defence.

In recent years, the US has become increasingly concerned that European states are cutting back on defence spending, leaving the US to do more and more of the heavy lifting in Nato. In 2010, Britain, the biggest defence spender in Europe, slashed expenditure by eight per cent in real terms. The big question was whether France was about to do the same.

The good news for France’s allies is that it isn’t taking what might be called the “Cameron approach.” According to Camille Grand, director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, France did debate whether to slash defence spending by 10 per cent. “But the French finance ministry lost that argument, much to relief of the service chiefs,” he says. 

Edward Luce

Barack Obama’s decision to press ahead with Chuck Hagel as the next Pentagon chief is a sign of a confident president – he feels strong enough to face down the influential pro-Likud groups in Washington. At a time when Mr Obama’s liberal critics are worried he will cave into Republican blackmail on the sovereign debt ceiling, he is showing spine by sticking with Mr Hagel. It also risks provoking some of Mr Obama’s allies: many of the former Republican senators’s biggest detractors are in the Democratic Party.

The nomination also tells us a lot about Mr Obama’s second term foreign policy goals. Following John Kerry’s nomination for the state department, the Obama national security team will now be headed by two decorated Vietnam war veterans both of whom are deeply sceptical of war. Unlike so many of their critics, both men were twice awarded Purple Hearts and both were nearly mortally wounded in combat. In Mr Hagel’s case this will give him credit with the starred generals, most of whom share his scepticism about war with Iran. Whatever exigencies hit the Persian Gulf in the coming months, Mr Obama’s two most senior department heads will be instinctively mistrustful of the military option.