hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Snowmeeting 2019: A Tale of Two Europes

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only”.

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Europe’s Western Europe problem

Alphen, Netherlands. 16 January. The future defence of Europe has a Western Europe problem. This past week has been somewhat of a surreal experience for me. It began with a visit to Vilnius for another excellent Snowmeeting hosted by His Excellency Linas Linevicius, Foreign Minister of Lithuania. The highlight was an audience with Her Excellency Dalia Grybauskaité, President of the Republic of Lithuania. Last night I returned from London after a meeting with the Royal Navy at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on the Future Fleet Operating Concept. Let me start where I began, in Lithuania.

Over the many years I have had the honour of attending the Snowmeeting for me the highlight has always been the audience with the President. President Grybauskait√© is a real leader and I can only hope as she contemplates the end of her term as Head of State this former European Commissioner might also consider becoming the first woman President of the European Commission or European Council, or, indeed, the first woman Secretary-General of NATO. Frankly, there is no-one better suited to these high positions at this moment in Europe’s history. The reason is quite simple. She knows what it is like to lead a country on the front-line of freedom under constant threat and her leadership contrasts so markedly with so many of Western Europe’s feckless ‘leaders’.  

A cold dose of strategic reality

The Snowmeeting is an annual snapshot, a dose of strategic reality. It contrasts with so many of the meetings I attend in Western Europe in which harsh reality is rarely allowed to intrude on pleasant and pleasing theory. What I took away from this year’s Snowmeeting was the extent to which the real problem with transatlantic relations and European defence is really a problem with Western Europe.  Throughout the meeting at the wonderful IDW Esperanza resort in Trakai a constant theme became apparent to me: the warming security mantle Central and Eastern Europe has wrapped itself since the end of the Cold War is becoming threadbare in the face of cold blasts from the east because much of Western Europe is fiddling whilst the world churns. 

As usual, much was made of the state of the transatlantic relationship and the travails of President Trump. Senior Lithuanians felt Trump had a point about the fecklessness of ‘Europeans’ when it comes to Europe’s defence, i.e., Western Europeans. The debates on European ‘strategic autonomy’, and what Germany’s defence minister, the other female candidate for Europe’s top jobs Ursula von der Leyen suggested this month is a ‘European army’ that was ‘taking shape’, seemed surreal at times. Yes, President Macron and von der Leyen are not suggesting that some integrated single European force a la EDC is about to emerge. Rather, they see the EU’s PESCO bringing national forces closer together to create a joint rather than a common force. They do envisage more ‘common’ EU structures and, as I observed at the meeting, past experience suggests that will lead only to more European lawyers than European warriors.  

It is the mismatch between ambition, cost and investment which makes this latest European army ‘thing’ like all the other European army ‘things’ that have come before it.  Unless any such emergent military structure is specifically and unconditionally assigned to NATO, and thus underpinned by the Americans, then the true cost of the ‘strategic autonomy’ to which Macron and von der Leyen aspire would be at least 4% of GDP especially for the French and Germans who aspire to lead it. Are Berlin and Paris willing to bear such a cost? 

Read between the lines and far from representing a Germany suddenly at ease with hard power and hard leadership ‘strategic autonomy’ and a ‘European army’ are yet more political devices to actively avoid such unpleasantness. Sure, Berlin wants to lead but it does not want to pay either the actual or political price such leadership would demand. And yes, Paris always wants to lead so long as someone else pays for it. Germany? The result is that both the French and the Germans are again dancing on the head of a blunt euro-pin between strategic reality and strategic pretence, and neither can move forward without the Americans and the British.

The other place 

Talking of strategic pretence let me now turn to my London visit. As I sat in the meeting on Whitehall I could see the Union flag flying proudly at the gaff above the Houses of Parliament. As it fluttered in the wind the self-interested massed mediocrities who imitate Britain’s political class were Brexit fluttering below. Let me be clear; yesterday witnessed the death of Brexit. The crushing defeat of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, and with it the strategy of Britain’s failed prime minister Theresa May, means that if any such agreement is to finally pass the Remainer House of Commons it will leave Britain so close to the EU that there will be no point in leaving at all. It is precisely THAT objective that the British Establishment has sought to bring about in what historians will come to see as a brilliant exercise in willful strategic incompetence. 

What are the implications? The paradox of yesterday for me was that the meeting I attended with the Royal Navy revealed another Britain. A Britain that can still think strategically and which is taking the necessary steps down a long road to a future force that is built around the military ‘effects’ the British need to generate. i.e., the preservation of peace and the maintenance of effective deterrence. The problem is that the strategy that underpins any such effort, and which the people of Lithuania need to work, is predicated on two now doubtful requirements. First, strategically-competent British political leadership. Second, a Britain in a position to lead coalitions in the event of an emergency. The latter requirement for possible coalition leadership is particularly important given the increasing pressures on US forces worldwide.

As I walked past Parliament the massed ranks of divided dissent lined the other side of Abingdon Street. One could feel the tension in the air between the ‘we will never accept the referendum result’ Remainers and the ‘you are about to betray me’ Brexiteers. Perception is everything in politics. Given the events of last night, it is hard for me to see any way out of this mess that will not leave millions of Britons hating the EU and wanting to have little to do with the defence of other Europeans. They believe Britain is being humiliated by its political class and by Brussels and would much prefer to hide behind the British nuclear deterrent than risk the lives of their young people or their taxpayer’s money defending the very Europeans they believe are screwing them – rightly or wrongly.

Snowmeeting 2019: unity of purpose and action 

Back to the Snowmeeting. Another of my takeaways was an overwhelming sense that others cannot be trusted to defend Lithuania and that Lithuanians must thus take matters into their own hands.  There was a feeling that the Americans cannot be trusted because President Trump is making America ‘great’ again in a very President Trump way, even if the US commitment to the defence of Lithuania is actually increasing. Britain cannot be trusted because much of its people now hate ‘Europe’ and much of its political class are idiots. France and Germany cannot be trusted because their defence words never seem to match their defence deeds. That worried me. The real deterrent that protects Lithuania is the unity of purpose and action implicit in the very existence of both the EU and NATO. 

What happened last night in London matters to Lithuania. It was about far more than the nature of Britain’s eventual self-subjugation to the EU and Brussels. It was about whether Britain any longer has the will to be a major defence power. It was about whether Europe has any chance of generating sufficient strategic seriousness and a strategic culture to match so that it could mount an effective first response during a major crisis. It was about the nature of the coming resistance movement that could emerge in Britain in the wake of the Brexit disaster if political leaders are not sensible and the boost to populism Europe-wide such resistance would afford. It was about the very nature of the future transatlantic relationship which Britain helped create.  Above all, it was about whether any serious leader in any major Western European country will ever emerge to get serious about Europe and its real defence, not a rhetorical defence. 

As for the future defence of Lithuania and Europe’s liberty let me paraphrase the quote of NATO’s first Secretary-General Lord Ismay that he never actually made. We must find a way to keep America in, Britain up, France and Germany real and the rest of Europe free. No more strategic pretence. 

Madam President, we need you! All of us! Thank you!

Julian Lindley-French             

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Briefing: Complex Strategic Coercion and Russian Military Modernisation

“A transition from sequential and concentrated actions to continuous and distributed ones, conducted simultaneously in all spheres of confrontation, and also in distant theatres of military operations is occurring”.

General Valeriy Gerasimov as reported by the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, 24 March 2018

9 January 2019

Purpose of the paper

With the December 2018 announcement by President Vladimir Putin of his decision to deploy a new nuclear-tipped missile system (Avangard) purportedly capable of evading all US defences, and with the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) about to conduct a major Arctic exercise, the purpose of this short briefing paper is to consider the capability and utility of contemporary Russian forces in relation to the strategic goals set by President Putin. Specifically, the critical role played by Russia’s ‘New Look’ military force in the realisation of Moscow’s political goals via complex strategic coercion.

Complex strategic coercion is the use of all national means and beyond by a ‘securitised’ state such as Russia to systematically undermine the command authority and the political and social cohesion of adversary states and institutions. This end is achieved by creating and exploiting divisions within diverse societies, interfering in national political processes and exacerbating tensions between democracies. Complex strategic coercion is underpinned by the threat of overwhelming conventional military power against weaker states at a time and place of the aggressor’s choosing, allied to the implicit threat of nuclear and other means of mass destruction to confirm the changed facts on the ground by preventing strategic peer competitors from mounting a successful rescue campaign.          

Core message

Western strategists increasingly confuse strategy, capability and technology thus undermining deterrence and defence efforts. It is precisely the fusion of the three elements of warfare that the Russian Chief of the General Staff General Valeriy Gerasimov has been pioneering for a decade. The modernisation of Russia’s armed forces must thus be seen in the context of a new form of complex strategic coercion that employs systematic pressure across 5Ds: disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, deception and implied destruction. Russia’s strategic goal is to conduct a continuous low-level war at the seams of democratic societies, and on the margins of both EU and NATO, to create implicit spheres of influence where little or no such influence should exist. In the worst case, complex strategic coercion would be used to mask Russian force concentrations prior to any attack on NATO and EU states from above the Arctic Circle and Norway’s North Cape in the north, through the Baltic States and Black Sea region and into the south-eastern Mediterranean. The enduring method of the strategy is to use the implicit threat of force to keep the Western allies permanently strategically, politically and militarily off-balance and thus to offset any innate advantages afforded Western leaders by either their forces or resources. If the Alliance concept of deterrence and defence is to remain credible an entirely new and innovative concept of protection and projection must be considered as a matter of urgency.

Why complex Russian strategic coercion?

There are three elements to Russian strategy which provide the all-important strategic rationale for Russia’s military modernisation: intent, opportunity and capability. The intent of Moscow’s complex coercive strategy is driven by a world-view that combines a very particular view of Russian history with the political culture of the Kremlin that is little different from that of Russia prior to the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. For Russia, the end of the Cold War was a humiliating defeat which saw power in Europe move decisively away from Moscow to Berlin and Brussels. For Moscow, the loss of all-important prestige was compounded by NATO and EU enlargement as proof of the designs of an insidious West to destroy what Russians see as the ‘legitimate’ legacy of the Great Patriotic War and with it Russian influence in Europe.

The 2014 EU Association Agreement with Ukraine reinforced the Kremlin’s paranoia that Russia’s voice no longer mattered.  The traditional Russian reliance on force as a key component of Russian influence reinforced the tendency of the Putin regime to imagine (and to some extent manufacture for domestic consumption) a new threat to Russia from the West. The threat of force has thus again come to be seen by the increasingly ‘securitised’ Russian state as a key and again legitimate component of Russian ‘defence’, albeit more hammer and nail than hammer and sickle. Hard though it is for many Western observers to admit it is also not hard to see how Russia, with its particular history, and Putin’s Kremlin with its very particular world-view, has come again to this viewpoint.  The mistake for the West would be to believe that such a world-view is not actually believed at the pinnacle of power in Russia. It is.

The opportunity for Moscow’s complex coercive strategy is afforded by an under-defended Europe, a fractured transatlantic relationship and an over-stretched America faced with the rise of regionally-aggressive China. Brexit has also reinforced Russian prejudices about the EU. From the Russian perspective the supine British political and bureaucratic elite are an example of what happens to an old Power that tries to negotiate ‘constructively’ with a German-centric European Commission that sees itself on an historic mission to unite all the peoples of Europe via the aggregation of state power into some form of superpower organised around and for Berlin. For the Kremlin, there is no such thing as ‘community’ in international relations, only power, the balance or otherwise thereof and the zero-sum reality of winners and losers.

Military-strategic analysis

Russia’s military modernisation began with the ten year State Armament Programme of 2010 and the so-called ‘New Look’ reforms.  The main elements have been as follows:

Russian Aerospace Forces: Strategic communications are central to Moscow’s method of coercion, particularly for an aggressive but weaker power in competition with stronger, albeit more diverse and passive powers.  The Russian Aerospace Forces are thus a vital component in Moscow’s complex strategic coercion and act as a ‘showroom’ to the West of Russian military capability. Together with the development of highly-deployable airborne forces the Russian Air Force and air defence have received the biggest tranche of funding in the 2011-2020 Strategic Armaments Programme.  Since 2014, the air force has acquired more than 1000 aircraft – both fixed and rotary wing. Much investment has been made in new hypersonic missile systems such as the Avangard, Kinzhal and Zircon systems. A new intercontinental ballistic missile, SR28, has been deployed together with further deployments of mobile systems such as TOPOL M, as well as a raft of short and (controversially) intermediate-range systems, such as Novator. The latter breaches the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and once again raises the prospect of the US strategic arsenal being ‘de-coupled’ from the defence of NATO Europe. Nuclear torpedoes have also been tested as well as new ship-busting systems, such as the nuclear-capable SS-N-X18. Russia’s air defence forces have been markedly upgraded to form a multi-layered air defence with the creation of 44 new missile battalions armed with the advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile and other systems.   Russia’s space-based systems are also being modernised with 85 military satellites, 21 of which offer high-resolution imagery and high-speed data transfer.

Russia is also seeking to better exploit unmanned and robotic systems, with a particular emphasis on the use of drones to enhance tactical and operational reconnaissance. However, whilst Moscow is keen to develop a heavy reconnaissance and strike drone its programmes are still some way from being completed.

Strategic Command and Control: The National Defence Management Centre (NDMC) acts as the brains of the force charged with considering the utility and application of force in line with presidential strategy. The NDMC balances centralisation of strategic command with decentralisation of operational command.  Four smaller versions of the NDMC have been recreated in the four military oblasts (districts).

Critically, the NDMC has overseen a radical root and branch reform of Russia’s strategic, operational and tactical command and control allied to the creation of new joint forces (with a particular emphasis on new airborne forces that combine airborne units, naval infantry (marines) and special operating forces (Spetsnaz)) and the deployment of high-tech capabilities that enhance battlefield mobility and offensive and defensive performance. Particular improvements are apparent in the situational awareness of commanders and communications between the supreme political authority and operational commanders.  The flexibility of the force has been further enhanced by the adoption of a new joint battlespace information system. Live streaming for commanders has also been introduced to improve real-time operational command and decision-making. 

Personnel: The design aim of the Russian future force is to improve the strategic and political utility and flexibility of Russia’s future force. The creation of a core professional force is central to that ambition with a large augmentation force, built mainly around conscripts, reinforced, in turn, by significant reserves.  The shift in the balance between conscripted personnel and professional personnel aims to achieve a 4:5 ratio. A particular emphasis has been placed on making all cadres of non-commissioned officers (NCOs) professional to improve the junior leadership qualities of the force. Achieving such a change has been complicated by a decline in the attractiveness of military contracts since 2010 compared with civilian alternatives, but significant progress is apparent.

Russian Army: The Russian Army has proved to be the most resistant to the changes General Gerasimov has been driving in his now long-tenure as Chief of the General Staff.  The central effort to modernise the force has been focussed on upgrades of artillery and armoured systems and formations, albeit with mixed success. Much has been made of the new T-90M main battle tank and its enhanced active armour protection. However, tests of the T-90M are unlikely to be completed before 2020 at the earliest. A sustained effort has also been made to improve the fires and counter-fires capability of the Army as the use of mass artillery still remains central to Russian land doctrine. New multi-launch rocket systems (MLRS) have been deployed, together with heavy-guided artillery munitions reinforced by the increased and increasing use of drones to enhance the battlefield intelligence of artillery regiments. Russia’s missile brigades are also capable of operating at a greater range than hitherto with double the number of launchers compared with 2010. They are also equipped with new short-range systems, such as Iskandr M, with ranges up to 500km.     

Russian Navy: The Russian Navy has least benefitted of all the services from the reform programme, even though a massive new missile arsenal is nearing completion on the Kola Peninsula close to the base of the Russian Northern Fleet, Moscow’s principal naval force. Whilst significant enhances have been made to the fleets of Russian nuclear ballistic submarines with the (eventual) deployment of the four Borei-class boats (three of which are under construction) it is the development and deployment of the eight boats of the advanced hunter-killer Yasen class that are of much concern to Western navies. Russia has also deployed 11 boats of the effective Akula class and some very ‘quiet’ conventional submarines of the improved Kilo class, as well as the new Varshavyanka and Lada classes. The ability of Russian submarines to fire a range of munitions, including cruise missiles and nuclear-tipped torpedoes, makes them potentially highly-effective ship-busters.

However, the surface fleet has not fared so well with the shipbuilding yards unable to meet the demand of the Navy to replace principal surface craft with budgets for such construction in any case reduced in recent years. The much-lauded (propaganda) 30-year-old aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, is undergoing a problematic extended refit following its return from operations in the Mediterranean in 2017 and 2018.     

Lacunae: Russia’s military lacunae confirm the nature, scope and ambition of Moscow’s complex strategic coercion because they emphasise the ability of Russian forces to potentially do a lot of damage around Russia’s self-declared ‘near abroad’, but with limited strategic effect beyond without resorting to the use of nuclear weapons.  Specifically, Russian forces lack strategic manoeuvre and strategic lift which limits the range of likely conventional action from Russia’s borders. The blocking of the two French-built Mistral-class amphibious ships was a particular blow. The Russian Air Force also lacks precision-guided munitions, although steps are being taken to close that gap in the arsenal, and the development of so-called smart munitions is a priority. Russia’s strategic bomber fleet is also very old, even though systems such as the Tu-22M and the latest variants of the Tu-95 are still capable of providing platforms for the launch of new long-range, stand-off hypersonic missile systems.


The modernisation of the Russian Armed Forces since 2010 has been impressive. However, the impression of an irresistible force President Putin likes to portray is still some way from the truth. The specific threat from the force comes in its role within and relationship to other forms of warfare Russia could wage, particularly on European democracies close to its borders.  The Russian Armed Forces of today are certainly capable of undertaking a lightning thirty-day conventional war at the margins of NATO and the EU that would enable them to seize strategic, albeit limited, objectives.  Russia’s nuclear forces are being modernised at pace (see the 2019 deployment of the Avangard system) with the objective to deter and prevent the major Western powers from intervening in sufficient force until a fait accompli land grab would be completed. As such, Russian grand strategy and military strategy are closely aligned either through the threat of force or, in extremis, the actual use of force. Why Russia would actually use such force is harder to discern, although the Kremlin’s failure to reform either the Russian economy or society could create the conditions in which a desperate regime felt compelled to resort to extreme measures.

There are also significant constraints on the Russian defence budget and the slowdown in investment planned in the 2021-2030 Strategic Armaments Programme suggest that President Putin’s original level of military-strategic ambition might also be somewhat reduced in the coming years.  Much will depend on foreign-generated income from oil and gas sales and the extent to which Russian civil society is willing to accept the cost of the onerous burden of the Russian security state (civil and military). Whilst no democrat President Putin has shown himself sensitive to the public mood, if not to the public voice.  

Strategic welfare & countering complex strategic coercion

Europe is awakening from a thirty-year strategic slumber. As with all such moments, the awakening is marked by an explosion in concepts that tend to create more heat than light for leaders and the policy and strategy choices they must make.  Definition at such moments is thus vital for defence, particularly when it concerns the need to understand adversaries and their strategic aims.  The future defence of Europe must thus be seen in the context of two main drivers. First, an offensive Russian strategy based on the systematic identification by Moscow of the coercive strategic effects the Kremlin seeks to generate and the role of both implied and actual force in the creation of such effects. Second, a revolution in military technology that is ever more apparent as the prospect of hyperwar driven Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing and machine-learning, Nano-technologies, drone and other semi or fully autonomous delivery systems start to appear in an increasingly singular battlespace that now stretches from the depths of the oceans to outer-space, across all landmasses and within and between changing societies and communities.

The mistake the Americans have traditionally made at such moments is to see technology as strategy. General Gerasimov and his Staff have adopted a very different approach. They have considered the strategic and political objectives that President Putin has set for them and the ends, ways and means (including technology) available to Russia to realise those goals. American concepts such as the technology-led cross-domain warfare in which the battlespace become an integrated air, sea, land, space, cyber, information (including electronic warfare) and knowledge super-domain for the conduct of operations are vital, but to the Russians of secondary important to strategy – a means to an end. Indeed, cross-domain warfare is seen by General Gerasimov and his Staff as an outcome and a consequence, as well as a realiser of strategy. Europeans appear to embrace neither strategy nor technology in any meaningful and systematic way, rather seeing defence as what can be afforded after the costs of social welfare have been expended. 

Russia’s military modernisation must thus be seen first and foremost as the foundation instrument for the application of complex strategic coercion across 5D continuous warfare - disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, deception and implied destruction - in pursuit of the greatest influence at the least warfighting cost to the Russian Federation.  In other words, for Moscow, the utility of the Russian future force as a political extortion racket - the ultimate tool of strategic blackmail – aimed primarily at the states around Russia’s western and southern borders, with a particular focus on what the Kremlin would call the old Soviet Empire.

The logic of such a strategy is created by Europe’s leaders, too many of whom continue to be in denial of the strategic ambition implicit in Russia’s force modernisation and the need to counter it. If Europeans and their allies are to successfully counter Russian strategy they need to see a 5D defence as strategic welfare and organise accordingly. To that end, new partnerships are needed between institutions, states and peoples to harden both systems and populations in addition to deterring Russia’s implied use of force. Back in 1967, Pierre Harmel called for a dual-track approach to the then Soviet Union – defence and dialogue. Dialogue with Russia remains vital to convince Moscow that the aggressive narrative about the ‘West’ is not only wrong, but it will eventually be self-defeating. At the same time, if Europeans are to successfully demonstrate the errors in the assumptions that underpin Russian strategy the defence of Europe will need to be recast with forces and resources applied systematically across the 5Ds and seven domains of twenty-first-century warfare. Such a strategy presupposes a strong albeit adapted transatlantic relationship, and a ‘Europe’ finally that pursues strategic unity of effort and purpose. The need is great. As Russia has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate in and around Ukraine and elsewhere 5D warfare is already a reality.

Julian Lindley-French       

Thursday, 3 January 2019

In 2019 European Liberals Must Become European Realists

“Political realism is aware of the moral significance of political action. It is also aware of the ineluctable tension between the moral command and the requirements of successful political action. And it is unwilling to gloss over and obliterate that tension and thus to obfuscate both the moral and the political issue by making it appear as though the stark facts of politics were morally more satisfying than they actually are, and the moral law less exacting than it actually is”.

Hans J. Morgenthau

Merkel might?

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 January 2019. In her New Year’s speech, and as Germany was set to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Chancellor Merkel called for the defence of the rules based order. What does that mean for Europe in 2019? The four great and uncomfortable issues of European politics in 2019 will be the relationship between immigration and security, between voting and power, between protectionism and productivity and between the real world and the pretend world too many Europeans still prefer to believe exists. Will 2019 be the year in which Europe’s (mainly Western Europe’s) liberal elite establishment finally overcomes its strategic illiteracy and faces up to the new geopolitics of power?  

Implicit in Merkel’s comments is her strong faith in the need for something called ‘Europe’, but what ‘Europe’? The need for a ‘Europe’ is something to which I also remain committed. However, given the geopolitical context in which ‘Europe’ must be fashioned the very idea will need to be rethought in 2019 or it could fail and rapidly if it continues to be the ‘stop the world I want to get off’ Europe it has become. For too long the elite in Brussels and beyond have clung onto a Monnetesque 1940s, post-World War Two vision of ‘ever closer union’ as enunciated in the preamble to the 1957 Treaty of Rome. For much of the Cold War such Euro-Idealism bubbled along under the surface of a decidedly nation-state led Europe as NATO stood to the fore in what was an existential struggle. When the Cold War ended in 1990 Euro-Idealism surged forward with a raft of integrating, centralising instruments. The 1991 Treaty of Maastricht and the creation of the European Union was followed by the 1995 creation of the Schengen Zone and finally the 1999 creation of the single currency and the Eurozone. All of these initiatives were Idealist projects with profound Realist implications that Europe’s elite chose to ignore with profound political consequences.   

Faced with today’s challenges EU institutions look increasingly anachronistic and emblematic of a narcissistic European liberal elite that is eternally holding a mirror up to itself and thus unable to see the illiberal world beyond. It is a Realist world in which Europe must exist, from which Europeans must be secured and defended, and with which Europeans must learn to compete when it no longer sets the rules of the road for the first time in four hundred years. The elite, cocktail party Europe must end in which values are routinely confused with interests, in which power is made ever more distant from the people in the name of ‘freedom’, and in which elite privileges are lazily waved through as a consequence of historical inevitably wrapped in the justifying cloak of globalism. There is no alternative, Brussels proclaims, but more Brussels. There is.

Who makes the rules?

At the heart of the ‘ever more elite Europe’ elite assumption is also a massive and soon to be profoundly mega-tested further assumption: that globalization demands of Europeans ever more aggregation and that aggregation can only work if it is underpinned by political integration and legal arbitration.  The people who are going to test that elite assumption in 2019 are the European people themselves. Across Europe a revolt is underway, often dismissed by the Euro-elite as ‘populism’ this revolt will challenge the very organizing principle of power in Europe – that ever-closer Europe is vital and that such a ‘Europe’ is or can ever be legitimate.  The essential problem faced by those who propound and propose an ‘ever closer Europe’ also implicitly accept the need for less European nation-state and with it less democracy.

Who makes the rules, who enforces them and are they any good at either will thus be the big 2019 questions for Europe in a rapidly-changing world.  For much of the post-Cold War era the European liberal elite were able to offer a trade-off to voters – less democracy for more efficiency, together with a promise of security and prosperity.  ‘Liberalism’ would be implied and entrusted to a distant elite to protect. However, in the wake of the 2008-2010 banking and financial crises, the re-emergence of an aggressive Russia and the threat posed by the likes of Islamic State and Al Qaeda to European society, as well as uncertainty about America’s continued guarantee to defend Europe, the popular assumption of elite competence upon which  ‘ever closer Europe’ was established has been shattered.

The consequence has been that huge numbers of ordinary, decent people who in the past showed little sign of radical political inclinations have lost faith in Europe’s warm words, little action liberal elites. Consequently, the gap between the people and the elite has created a political vacuum which the unscrupulous have exploited to effect and in 2019 look set to exploit further.             

Europe’s sovereignty deficit: between Idealism and Realism

Europe stands in a no man’s land between Idealism and Realism. Given Europe’s history any assumption that pre-supposes an ever-greater concentration of power in a few elite hands is risky as it has rarely ended well.  The problem for Europe’s liberal elite is that even with the power they have accrued to themselves in the name of ‘Europe’ they have proven themselves by and large incompetent or unwilling to deal with the very issues used to justify that power. The result is a kind of sovereignty deficit in Europe in which neither power-emaciated European states nor Brussels have the power or the wherewithal to deal with the big issues Europeans face.

Therefore, if Europeans are break out of the paralysis into which they have been locked by their elites and, paradoxically, preserve the very liberal values that I also uphold as vital to a Europe at peace with itself and the world beyond, its leaders are going to have to become far more Realist.

A call for European Realism

This is a call for a return to European Realism in 2019. It must be liberal Realism with a focus squarely on proving elite competence by finally getting to grips with the issues which are driving Europe and Europeans apart, but Realism nevertheless.  In 2019 the implicit struggle between the European institutions (most notably the European Commission) and the European nation-state must be brought sharply to an end with the appointment of a new European Commission. May’s elections to the European Parliament may well see more ‘populists’ and Eurosceptics elected but, again paradoxically, such a Parliament would act more like a legislative assembly that holds power to account, as opposed to the hitherto rubber-stamping wannabes for ‘ever more Europe’. It is the nation-state that is still central to the political identity of most Europeans and the epicentres of real democracy in Europe, as the likely turnout to the European elections will once again attest.

However, it is in the sphere of competition with the strategic autocrats of China and Russia and intolerant fundamentalists where the need for a return to European political Realism will be most needed in 2019.  Europe’s world is simply too dangerous for the ‘who’s in charge’ debate to continue.  The paradox of Chancellor Merkel’s call for the rules-based order to be defended is that such a defence will require the power of the democracies and that power rests most decidedly with Europe’s states.  In other words, 2019 must be the year Europeans finally accept that their values can only be defended properly by collective action in pursuit of the common interest. Common action? For all but the most marginal of issues, common action is no action at all. Europe’s beloved soft power? It has its uses but unless it is reinforced by hard power in extremis soft power is no power at all.

In other words, Chancellor Merkel, given the world we must face together are you prepared to reinforce your fine words with fine deeds? Probably not.

Happy New Year!                  

Julian Lindley-French

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Mattis, Trump and Complex Strategic Coercion

“…we [the United States] must use all tools of American power to provide for the common defense, including providing effective leadership to our alliances’.

The resignation letter of General James N. Mattis as US Secretary of Defense, 20 December 2018   

Transactionalism ain’t grand strategy

Alphen, Netherlands. 22 December 2018. The resignation of General Mattis as Secretary of Defense on Thursday was because he understands the nature of the complex strategic coercion in which both China, Russia and others are engaged and President Trump does not.  Worse, President Trump has become a useful idiot for the likes of Presidents Putin and Xi. He thinks that statecraft can be reduced to doing transactional deals with fellow leaders, ‘mano a mano’. Statecraft simply does not work like that. His decision to declare a premature victory over IS in Syria reveals the extent of President Trump’s grand strategic illiteracy. Mission accomplished? Such a decision might motivate his domestic political base, the sons and daughters of whom in many ways provide the spine of the American military. It also reveals a complete lack of understanding on the part of President Trump about the existential nature of the twenty-first century Great Power struggle between democracy and autocracy, the vital need for the intelligent use of American power, and the place of Syria in the wider struggle underway between democracy and autocracy.

It’s the grand strategy stupid!

In his resignation letter he wrote: “It is clear that China and Russia…want to shape a world consistent with their authoritarian model – gaining veto authority over other nations’ economic, diplomatic and security decisions – to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors”. In other words, the relevance and cost of the power projection armed forces both China and Russia are constructing can only be understood in the context of the complex strategic coercion they seek. Many Western political leaders and commentators fixate simply on the fast improving capabilities and capacities of the two country’s respective armed forces. They are, of course, right to be concerned.  However, it is the strategy – the ends and means – that should be the real concern. General Mattis understands this.

Grand strategy is the systematic application of immense means in pursuit of world-changing ends. Beijing and Moscow are applying a range of coercive and inductive tools to force other states to align their critical choices with Chinese and Russian interests. Such strategy was implicit in President Xi Jinping’s ‘China Dream’ speech of 17 December 2018, Russia’s use of force in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait in November and the tone of much of President Putin’s annual 'end of year' press conference on 20 December.

Belatedly, Britain seems to have woken up to this dangerous reality, even if the response only reveals the large gap between the ends, ways and means in the policy of America’s apparently most capable ally. This morning HMS Echo will arrive in Ukraine to demonstrate British resolve in the face of Putin’s once again increasing threat to south-eastern Ukraine, with the port of Mariupol in particular danger. In fact, HMS Echo is a lightly-armed survey vessel and to the Russians her deployment will look more like echo of empire Gilbert and Sullivan than sophisticated Bismarckian message-sending. Unfortunately, self-obsessed western Europeans are as strategically-illiterate as President Trump given their belief that covenants can replace swords when dealing with the likes of President Putin and President Xi.        

Fighting Complex Strategic Coercion

So what is the complex strategic coercion that General Mattis gets and President Trump does not? It is what I call 5D warfare; a complex tool of coercion that stretches across and ‘weaponises’ five new domains of coercion: disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, destruction and deception. The aim is to destroy the ability of powerful Western states to act decisively and effectively in their own defence by conducting an unrelenting war at the seams of their complex, diverse societies. It is a form of coercive grand strategy purposely designed as war at the margins of the Alliance and the Union with the specific objective of forcing small vulnerable allies and partners to begin accepting the implicit power writ of both Russia and China over their affairs, and in so doing undermine the alliances that they have chosen to join.

Moscow is seeking is to create the conditions that, if Moscow so chose, would afford Russia the opportunity to exert decisive pressure, by force if needs be, at a place and location of its choice. For Russia complex strategic coercion is thus designed to achieve a decisive local-strategic comparative advantage across an arc of Russian-generated instability that stretches from Norway’s North Cape, through Northern Sweden and Finland to the Baltic States, the Black Sea region, the Levant, the Western Balkans and beyond, i.e. Syria. It is within that strategic context that Russian force modernisation must be seen.

China is undertaking a similar campaign in Asia-Pacific. Beijing’s approach, replete as it is with a massive cyber-hacking campaign, is far more sophisticated than that of Moscow, not least because Beijing has the means to foster debt-dependency in target states. It is just as coercive. Again, this is something General Mattis understands and why he was calling for the ‘comprehensive’ application of American power. President Trump clearly does not.   

Don’t make America alone again   

Putting aside the meltdown of strategic responsibility in Britain’s political class the importance of allies to the United States has never been greater. In his letter of resignation General Mattis wrote: “Our core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships”. The very real danger now is that with General Mattis gone President Trump’s obsession with the political short-term, which is the true cause of his strategic illiteracy, will now run roughshod and untrammelled over America’s strategic interests and its allies.  That President Trump will become ever more like a latter-day version of the isolationist Senator Arthur Vandenburg who supported the Neutrality Act that undoubtedly hastened World War Two. At least Vandenburg had the bigness of mind to reverse course when Pearl Harbor was attacked on 7 December 1941. President Trump?

It is that failure of vision, of understanding and of the nature of American power itself that, I suspect, ultimately forced a much-decorated, serving US Marine general who is deeply imbued with an immense sense of duty to the people he served to finally abandon his post in quiet, dignified despair.

Thursday was a good day for autocrats. It was a bad day for the free world.

 Julian Lindley-French 

Friday, 21 December 2018

In the Dutch Gulag!

Alphen, Netherlands. 21 December. With a ‘no deal’ hard Brexit imminent it has been announced by the Dutch Government (fake news alert!!!) that come 29 March 2019 all we Brits resident in the Netherlands will be interned.  The letter summoning me will arrive any day. With typical Dutch cunning, they have located it in s-Gravenhage (un-pronounced schschschhhgrraavenhaghghgh-u) to ensure none of we Brits can pronounce it so that any possible rescue mission is thwarted at source. They had thought about putting the camp in s-Hertogenbosch (pronounced schschsch-hair-to-gone-boschshch), which even most of the Dutch cannot pronounce, but then realised that we Brits shorten everything and that, consequently, Den Bosch was far too easy.

Apparently, the Dutch are planning for a tough regime at the Gulag (pronounced schschsch-ula-schschsch) with three tough levels of ‘aan de wet houden’ (wet compliance or torture) to force we British to capitulate. Level one torture, or ‘Oliebollen’ (oil balls), will involve the enforced feeding of incarcerated British with large balls of fat coated in castor sugar and impregnated with offensive raisins.  At the same time we will be forced to sing the Dutch national anthem the ‘Wilhelmus’ which, strangely, will also require us to swear allegiance to the Germans (ben ik van Duitsen bloed), to the King of Spain (de koning van Hispanje heb ik altijd geeerd) and to a particular Dutch fetish, all and anything orange.

Level two torture, or ‘Bitterballen’, will involve the enforced swallowing of an unmentionable animal paste of some unknown (and frankly no-one wants to know) provenance surrounded by a crusty batter and served at an unimaginably hot temperature so that the subsequent burns render all communication impossible. Level three torture, or ‘Poffertjes’, will involve the application via mouth of multiple ‘sugar bombs’ even three of which leave the victim shaking uncontrollably and wanting to swim the North Sea.

However, in the event the victim still fails to swear allegiance to either the Germans, the King of Spain or orange there will be an exceptional fourth level of torture called ‘verse haring’ or ‘fresh herring’. This cruel and exceptional punishment will involve the victim being forced to consume large amounts of a very smelly dead fish which only the Dutch have the stomach for whilst having to watch Dutch TV.

What the Dutch have not as yet realised is that all we Yorkshire folk will be utterly immune to their post-Brexit torture regime. There is NOTHING the Dutch could force us to swallow that would come close to the battle-hardening we all receive as children. The full-cooked Yorkshire breakfast is a crime on a plate that only the most hardened artery can endure. As for their TV they fail to realise that the BBC’s annual Christmas repeats are torture enough.

Merry Christmas or should that be prettige kerstdag!

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 14 December 2018

A Brexit Briefing Note

To:      A Senior Italian

From: Professor Dr Julian Lindley-French

Date:   14 December 2018


In the wake of last night’s dinner at the European Council and the suspension by Her Majesty’s Government of the Parliamentary vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Britain’s exiting of the European Union is at an impasse.

·       If permitted to endure this impasse will further damage relations between the United Kingdom (UK), the European Union (EU) and its member states, and threaten to impact upon NATO.

·       The specific cause of friction is the so-called Irish Backstop which will be triggered in the event of no agreement on the future political and trading relationship between the EU and the UK.

·       In such circumstances, a part of the UK, Northern Ireland, would remain effectively part of the EU single market and customs union to prevent a so-called hard border on the island of Ireland. The fear is that a hard border could threaten the standing of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that ended twenty-five years of armed struggle between Irish Nationalist and Republican groups and Loyalist and Protestant groups.

·       The failure to reach an agreement over the future political and trading relationship would see a de facto customs ‘border’ established in the Irish Sea between two parts of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

·       A significant section of the ruling Conservative and Unionist Party see such an infringement of national sovereignty as too high a price for an agreement with the EU and thus seek what they term a ‘clean Brexit’, i.e. no deal.

·       Last night the French and Irish governments respectively took a very hard line over any possible adjustment to, or indeed possible reassurances over, the temporary nature of the Backstop. This markedly increased the likelihood that on 29 March 2019 Britain will leave the EU without a deal, immediately become a so-called Third Country, and thus be excluded from both the single market and the customs union with profound implications for trade and the wider British and European economies.       


There are several background and more immediate political factors that have led to this situation. It is also fair to say that the seeds of Brexit were set back in 1972 when then Prime Minister Edward Heath suppressed the legal advice that confirmed the then European Economic Community had ambitions for political integration that went far beyond what was called by the British the ‘Common Market’. The causes of the current crisis can be thus summarised: 

·       The British Parliament formally, and overwhelmingly, contracted out the decision on Britain’s future membership of the EU to the British people in the form of the June 2016 referendum. However, much of Parliament and their Remainer followers in the country have refused to accept the result.    

·       In March 2017 the British Parliament also overwhelmingly agreed to invoke Article 50 and formally set in motion the formal two-year process of withdrawal from the treaties of the European Union.

·       In June 2017 Prime Minister May called a snap general election in an attempt to increase her majority in the House of Commons and thus strengthen her Brexit Parliamentary and negotiating positions. She achieved neither and since that failure has been forced to backtrack on the firm statements of British policy objectives she made in her January 2017 Lancaster House speech.

·       As her position became progressively weaker Prime Minister May side-lined her pro-Brexit ministers in the Cabinet and handed over the detailed negotiation of both the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration on a Future Partnership to senior civil servants. Whilst professional the civil service has seen the negotiations as an exercise in damage limitation and thus further reduced Britain’s negotiating ambition.

·       The political weakness of Prime Minister May and the lack of certainty over Britain’s negotiating objectives enabled the European Commission to adopt a very hard-line negotiating position which has prevailed.

·       The forced disclosure last week to Parliament of the legal advice to the Prime Minister made it clear that the Withdrawal Agreement as envisaged would force Britain into a form of legal subservience to the EU and possibly in perpetuity. This led, in turn, this week to a triggering of a vote of no confidence in Prime Minister May. She won that vote but her political position has been further weakened.                    


Britain is suffering a humiliation at the hands of the EU and its member-states that is akin to a strategic defeat. If forced into a form of subservience to Brussels by becoming a so-called ‘rule-taker’ rather than a ‘rule-maker’ the implications for the EU, UK and possibly NATO are profound and can be thus summarised:

·       Possible break-up of the UK: with the humbling of London by Brussels Scottish Nationalists will increase efforts to secure Scottish independence. They will claim the real power in Scotland is Brussels, not London and that after some 415 years since the Union of Crowns in 1603 England and Scotland should separate.

·       Hatred of the EU: Across large swathes of so-called Middle England, the most powerful political constituency in the UK, the EU has traditionally been seen as an irritant. In the wake of such a defeat, the EU could well come to be hated and seen as a coercive power imposing a form of virtual occupation upon the UK.  

·       De facto loss of the UK to NATO: In such circumstances, the UK could well finally lose any will to play the role it has traditionally played as Europe’s strongest military power. Worse, a growing constituency in England is likely to question Britain’s security and defence commitment to Europe.

Possible ways forward:

·       No deal: under the terms of Article 50 this is the default position if the current situation pertains unless either A50 is suspended under the terms of this week’s European Court of Justice ruling, or extended in agreement with the EU in an attempt to find and/or finesse a politically-acceptable solution. As of last night, the latter option is unlikely as the European Council is unwilling to either renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement or even offer meaningful assurances on the temporary nature of the Backstop.

·       Another general election: this is the preferred option for the opposition Labour Party which if successful would see Jeremy Corbyn returned as Prime Minister. A Corbyn government, under pressure from its mainly young activists, would undoubtedly seek full membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union in what would in effect be a de facto renunciation of the Referendum. He would claim that his electoral mandate provided the legitimacy for such a reversal. However, Corbyn is to the far left of the political spectrum and holds life-long pacifist and Euro-sceptic views. He would likely move quickly to reduce defence expenditure and end Britain’s role as a strategic actor of any weight. He would also demand the EU suspend rules on state aid so he could begin a programme of renationalisation across swathes of British industry and transport. Corbyn is unlikely to get his way even if he triggers a vote of no confidence in the May government in the New Year (as he is threatening) because under the Fixed Term Parliament Act the next national vote is scheduled for no later than May 2022.  
·       Second referendum: There is a growing demand amongst Remainer campaign groups for a second referendum or ‘People’s Vote’ to reverse the June 2016 decision to leave.  Such a referendum is replete with dangers. It would be seen by many of the 17.4 million who voted to leave in 2016, in what was the biggest vote in British democratic history, as an attempt to simply deny them what they were promised when they voted – that Government would act on their decision. Such a vote would also be seen as the natural heir to the 2005 votes in Denmark, France and the Netherlands over the draft Constitutional Treaty and thus little more than an exercise in elite manipulation and betrayal. This would undoubtedly open the door to more populism and hatred of the EU. Such a vote would also take time to organise and hold. Finally, the incumbent Government would also need to legislate which Prime Minister May has said she will not do under any circumstances.

·       Adjusted Withdrawal Agreement: the most likely option at present is some adjustment to the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration to assuage the fears of those MPs who oppose the current deal. The so-called ‘meaningful vote’ must now take place prior to 21 January 2019. Downing Street is hoping that with 29 March fast approaching, and when faced with what hard-line Remainers call ‘crashing out’ of the EU, MPs will finally accept the current proposal. Without some adjustment, this hope is unlikely to be fulfilled unless there was a Damascene conversion on the part of large numbers of MPs publicly and implacably opposed to the Withdrawal Agreement.  Critically, the small Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (or DUP) currently props up May’s minority agreement and they are implacably opposed to any deal that treats Northern Ireland as separate from the rest of the UK. However, the French and Irish effectively blocked that possible route last night and in so doing tipped Anglo-Irish and Franco-British relations into crisis, thus confirming and reinforcing the impasse.

A Creative Way Forward?

One thing that has been apparent throughout this entire tragic process has been the lack of negotiating creativity on either side. All Europeans face emerging political and security challenges and to lose cohesion so profoundly at such a critical juncture is disastrous. That analysis was the main reason I actively campaigned to remain in the 2016 referendum. It may well be that the deadlock in Parliament will require some form of a referendum. However, such a vote could not, and should not, be seen as simply a ‘now get it right this time you morons’ vote for that would undoubtedly backfire. Therefore, any such vote would need to be the first vote on a new arrangement between the UK and the EU with the options on the voting slip leave or remain within the framework of the EU under new terms.

However, for such an idea to work the UK would need to accept that the writ of the European Court of Justice would endure across large swathes of British jurisprudence. Equally, for such an idea to have any chance of working the EU would also have to accept adjustments to the so-called four freedoms, most notably freedom of movement.  If successful Britain would become a Senior Associate Member of the EU and be exempted from further economic, monetary or political union unless it so chose. Such a status would befit Britain’s status as a top five world power and limit the reputational damage now being inflicted on the EU as the intransigent bureaucratic destroyer of democracy. A central concern of many Britons (this one included) is echoed across Europe – that the EU is morphing into some form of empire run by an unaccountable, distant elite with the gap between voting and power growing inexorably. The danger is that the EU is coming to be seen by millions as the Nemesis of democracy in Europe rather than its upholder.


My position is clear: I am an Englishman, a Briton and a European.  There is a danger now that those three identities will become mutually exclusive.  It has always been my belief that Europeans should seek to work ever closer together and that is still my position. However, that belief also contains within it implacable opposition to the gutting of the nation-state and the concentration of too much distant power in too few elite Brussels hands. Whilst I regret this situation profoundly my country is now under attack from hard-liners in Brussels and elsewhere and I will defend it whatever it takes, whether the attacks come from Dublin, Paris or wherever. 

This is because the stakes are so high for the Britain that I love. Britain was born as a strategic project and it will die if it is humiliated. Intended or not that humiliation is now underway from institutions in which I have believed for much of my life and from people I have long regarded as friends. Please be aware that these are the stakes if we fail to find an amicable solution to the Brexit imbroglio as friends. If not, along with many of my fellow Britons, I will join the Resistance.

Julian Lindley-French,

14 December 2018