hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

St Malo: Defending Europe Twenty Years On


Last week some of you will have read (hopefully) my blog E.U.S.E.L.E.S.S? The blog questioned the practicality of President Macron’s plans for deeper European defence integration twenty years on from the St Malo Declaration. In the wake of the blog, a very senior French friend and colleague of many year’s standing challenged my thinking in his usual insightful and balanced way. I am not at liberty to publish his emails but below is an edited precis of the two responses I offered which expand on my thinking about the role of Europeans in their own defence and the future of a necessarily adapted post-Brexit transatlantic relationship.



Cher Ami,



Forgive my tardy response to your, as ever, considered reflections. Let me cut straight to the chase. You are right that Europeans have common interests as you are right that the UK has at times been a brake on French and other ambitions for deeper European defence integration. That said, St Malo was always an exercise in studied ambiguity. The British made it perfectly clear on HMS Birmingham twenty years ago that they did not share the political ambitions of President Chirac for the then European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). That France talked up St Malo was both France's right and responsibility at one and the same time. Moreover, I also accept that President Macron is seeking deeper European defence co-operation rather than integration per se, although the language he employs is the stuff of European integration. As for the stuff about President Trump and the US, I just ignored it.



Still, I stand by my realistic (as opposed to conservative) analysis; we have been here so many times before. Yes, France has ambitions for a European force but few others share that ambition. Critically, Germany does not which means that in spite of some soothing words from Berlin NOTHING much will happen...AGAIN!



At the same time, Paris seems to live in a strange fantasy that it can aggressively seek to damage Britain over Brexit but still preserve the substance rather than the appearance of the Franco-British strategic partnership. Dream on, my friend. Without France and Britain in the lead together there is no chance of a 'European defence' being generated that has more warriors than words. And, no chance whatsoever of President Macron's ambitions being realised, especially if such ambitions are presented as, or implied as being, an anti-British French démarche. For example, the Dutch have made that perfectly clear to me. 



There is also a chance that France will end up isolated by this game. Senior Americans have made it perfectly clear to me that Washington will back London. Unless Berlin backs Paris beyond soothing words the danger is that France will be left out of the power game that is always the real essence of European defence. With friendship and respect, I think the mistake you make is to see defence integration as a step on the road to political union. If it is EVER going to happen defence integration can only come as a consequence of political union and we are a very long way from that. 



What we need is a European military capability that can act as an effective first responder in and around Europe across a spectrum of threats. Indeed, the security and defence guarantee afforded by an over-stretched America can only be credibly afforded if we Europeans do far more JOINTLY together from tail to teeth. Unless PESCO, the European Intervention Initiative (EII) et al are going to make a real contribution to resolving that pressing conundrum they are little more than political distractions at a time of strategic danger if they offer no real, substantive increase in and improvement to European military capabilities. Worse, once again another bout of this endless and pointless 'European Army' debate enables free riders to free ride and the strategically-illiterate to hide behind false dreams. It is a merry-go-round of strategic irresponsibility at a time when Europeans can ill afford such petits fours luxuries that in reality keep the debate on the future of defending Europe frozen at the level of political inputs rather than the defence outcomes we Europeans desperately need to generate. 



So, my challenge to you as a Briton is thus: OK France if you believe you can deliver a European force sufficiently able, capable and usable in time then be my guest. Show us the way. After all, we have been here before and nothing much has happened, other than Britain has been blamed when it has not worked out. After all, Britain is leaving the EU and now is your chance. I am not holding my breath as I am fully aware the real reason why there has been so little progress towards deeper European defence integration is that there is no shared strategic culture upon which to base it.



Which brings me to France and Britain. Given the threats that are emerging around us I have been pushing hard for the maintenance of post-Brexit vital relationships, with the Franco-British strategic partnership to fore. As you know, it is a partnership in which I profoundly believe with a France that I continue to see as a firm friend. Still, my expert perception is that France is seeking to exploit Britain's current difficulties with President Macron often taking the hardest of stances against Britain. Faced with such intransigence I will defend my country even though I am deeply saddened by what has happened. You and I are both historians and you know how ready we English are to respond to a French challenge, and vice versa. So, let's not go there. We are friends not enemies. 



My simple position (and I have stated this publicly to senior Americans) is that it is time for Europeans to become less dependent on the US and that it is also in the American interest that Europeans become more strategically autonomous. Here, I am in full agreement with President Macron. My frustration is I suspect shared by my many French friends and concerns the need to get on with the development of such a capability that by definition would need to include Britain. The hard truth is that the main cause of European dependence on the US is the inability of Europeans to defend themselves. End such dependence through the procurement of relevant capability at a sufficiency of capacity and strategic autonomy will be a natural by-product. 



It will not come cheap. Having looked into the nature, scope and cost of 'strategic autonomy' my assessment is that to replace the 'public good' implicitly and concretely provided by US, and to a far lesser extent by the UK, and without further weakening the current NATO-centric defence (key point), would require at least 3% GDP expenditure on defence per annum. France and Germany, as leaders, would quite possibly be required to spend up to 4% to set up a properly strategic and expensive European état-major (HQ). Now, that could be spent enhancing the EUMS (EU Military Staff) or jointly. My strong belief is that in the first instance such investments would need to be spent jointly as only over time could the invested structures evolve into a 'défense commune'.  



Which brings me to what might seem at present to be a paradoxical proposal for a deeper Franco-British strategic partnership. First, European 'strategic autonomy' of any credibility rests for the time being on the Franco-British strategic partnership holding firm in spite of Brexit. Second, France should now propose a deepening of that relationship (it was never an EU dependent relationship) the moment Britain formally withdraws on 29 March 2019. The Mediocracy who run Britain simply cannot afford to look anymore needy than they already are by approaching France with a defence begging bowl. Third, Britain should seek a formal and complete relationship as part of the above initiative with President Macron's EII with France’s strong backing.



In a sense, such an approach would re-create the St Malo, Cologne Summit, Helsinki Declaration dynamic of 1998-1999. Back then we collectively committed to the formation of a 60,000 strong European Rapid Reaction Force of sufficient mass and manoeuvre to give St Malo some defence weight. The creation of such a force as a concrete output of PESCO, EII and all the other acronyms with which European defence is so burdened would remind everyone involved in the sorry saga that is Brexit that we are friends, allies and partners. And, that Brexit is a second order issue when it comes to the very dangerous 'First Order World' into which we Europeans are headed, with many of the most dangerous ‘bits’ being in Europe's strategic neighbourhood.



To conclude, we need the pragmatic rebuilding of European military power under Franco-British leadership. If WE don't do it no-one else will. In time, the non-British bit that emerges might lead to some form of European defence integration that could in future form the European pillar of an adapted Alliance with the UK part of an Americo/Anglosphere within the framework of the Alliance. With ‘Five Eyes’ ever more important as a strategic coalition I would suggest to you that is already happening, at least in part.



Britain is already withdrawing from the defence of Europe, whatever the political rhetoric to the contrary. If one looks at where the bulk of Britain's capital defence investment is going it is not to build a continental army. Indeed, the British Army of today is smaller than the Old Contemptibles of 1914! The bulk of the investment is going in US-friendly maritime/amphibious/air power projection assets such as Queen Elizabeth class heavy aircraft carriers, F35 Lightning 2 aircraft, Astute class nuclear hunter-killers, Type 26 and 31 destroyers and frigates and Dreadnought class nuclear ballistic missile subs). This is not to mention Britain’s world-class intelligence assets which the rest of Europe cannot do without and which is an unspoken (and often typically unacknowledged) British contribution to European security. In other words, there is a real danger that France and the rest of the Continent will effectively lose Britain from its defence whatever the Mediocracy in London say. Do you want that?  If you do then so be it. The hard line taken against Britain’s access to Galileo is both a sign and legalistic nonsense for which you will pay a strategic price. 



I will, of course, let you know when I am next in Paris as dining together would be a delight!



Amitiés,



Julian  

Friday, 30 November 2018

Dire Straits? Black Sea Security Perspectives


This blog contains the speech I had the honour to give on Wednesday at the excellent Defence and Security Conference in Bucharest, Romania which was organised by the British Embassy.   
The title of this session is Black Sea Regional Security Perspectives. Perhaps it should have been entitled ‘’Dire Straits’ given what has happened in the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

From my distinctly Yorkshire perspective looking at a map it is hard to separate such regional perspectives from the wider perspective of European security in 2018 and Russia’s ‘fact-changing on the ground’ ambitions therein. As events this week demonstrate this region is one of the major friction points of a wider Euro-strategic struggle between President Putin’s Russia and the West. General Mark Carleton-Smith, Head of the British Army, said this past weekend that Russia is now a bigger threat than IS and that Moscow will seek to exploit any vulnerability and any weakness. Geopolitics is afoot in this region and it is exacerbating and being used to exploit more regional-specific tensions and it is the link between the two upon which I will concentrate.

The essence of the regional-strategic challenge is Russia’s efforts to re-draw the map of eastern and south-eastern Europe in order to re-establish a new/old sphere of influence herein. What is particularly concerning is the method of ‘warfare’ the Russians are employing across a new spectrum of conflict from hybrid, cyber to high-end, and what my good friend General John Allen calls hyper war.

Central to that strategy is war in many forms at the margins of the alliance and at the seams within society. Such a strategy can be particularly effective in societies which are deeply contested or in which elites are open to undue influence. 

Against that backdrop let me address briefly the five issues central to this session: Russian pressure on Allied unity; the implications of the Crimean and Ukrainian crises; the problems of Transnistria, maritime challenges in the Black Sea and the frameworks for regional and sub-regional co-operation.

Russian pressure on Allied unity:

Russia has crafted a new way of warfare that I call 5D warfare that reaches across a conflict of conflict and escalation from disinformation to disruption to destabilisation and possibly to destruction and all leveraged by copious doses of deception. Again, war at the seams and the margins, informed by Strategic Maskirovka (see my 2015 paper for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute) and aided and abetted by the denial from which Western political elites suffer.

The virtual Soviet Union - implications of the Crimea and Ukrainian crises

Those implications are plain to see – Russia will do whatever it deems necessary to exert control and influence over places it believes vital to its expansionist national interest and the recreation of what it deems unilaterally as ‘buffer states’ between itself and the rest of Europe – a kind of virtual Soviet Union is you will. For sake of elegance let me divide the Crimea and Ukraine crises into two. The Crimean crisis has shown the willingness of Moscow to change borders in Europe by force if it believes the strategic prize worth it. In this case, it is the ability of Russia and in particular the Russian Black Seas Fleet to project influence into the region and beyond into southern Europe, the Levant and beyond into the Gulf and the Middle East and North Africa.

The Ukrainian crisis is also an example of 5D warfare in action designed to keep Kiev and other states off balance politically and permanently, to exert influence through uncertainty by making Allied and EU member-states unsure as to their true security and thus help shape the choices and policies that make. Put simply, for as long as Russia can get away with the nibbling away of other’s state sovereignty it will and by all means possible.

Transnistria:

This is indeed a complex issue. With some 34% of the population ethnic Russians Moscow has some claim to an interest in Transnistria which is one reason why the so-called ‘autonomous territorial unit’ has remained locked in a post-Soviet ‘frozen conflict’. 

And, even though President Putin has hinted that he believes Transnistria falls on the Western side of his imaginary boundary for the sphere of influence he is carving out the fact of the struggle and its proximity to Moldova, Ukraine and Romania makes it again fertile territory for the kind of war at the seams and at the margins I outline earlier. Do I have solutions? No. However, I am clear that Russia will endeavour to fill all and any political vacuum in central and eastern Europe.  

The Black Sea Maritime challenge:

The Russian Black Seas fleet is clearly in a position to seal off the Black Sea and to use it as the base for operations of varying intensity against states around the sea. Clearly, Moscow would prefer a strategic partnership with Turkey to enable the Fleet to gain access to the Mediterranean. However, given the focus on armed influence protection of contemporary Russian policy all NATO and EU allies across the region and partners – Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and, of course, Georgia should be concerned about the type of forces the Russians are developing in the region as the modernisation programmes of the armed forces bear fruit.

Let me cite an example. From a Romanian point of view any threat to the Port of Constanta would be serious. It has the capacity to handle 100,000,000 tons of goods per year at its 156 berths. The Danube-Black Sea Canal is a vital transit between Romania and Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Germany.

The centrality of the port to the Romanian economy cannot be over-estimated, as the European Commission has stated. It is also extremely vulnerable to disruption and coercion.

So, what needs to be done? One should not underestimate Russian ambitions to force states in the region to look to Moscow (again) as much as they now look to Brussels. THAT is the essential contest and one could imagine the Eurasian Union being strengthened in time as part of such a strategy.

At the policy level Romania and its allies need to counter 5D warfare by helping embed such concepts at the heart of NATO defence and deterrence and the EU’s CFSP and CSDP.  Cross region institutional ties also need to be strengthened, such as the Regional Co-operation Council with strategies such as South-East Europe 2020 strengthened and taken forward. Investments in infrastructure that further embeds Romania and the wider region in the free economy are also vital.

However, there are a range of strategic steps that should be considered now:

1.     A new Romanian security concept to counter coercion across the hybrid-cyber-hyper spectrum, with UK help if requested’

2.     Improved indicators to identify when hybrid warfare is being enacted and where it could lead. This will, of course, be dependent on strengthened relationships in intelligence with strong allies such as the United Kingdom, possibly through close bilateral as well as multilateral relationships.       

  There are also a range of practical political steps Romania might wish to consider to render itself more resilient in the face of war at the seams of society and ‘war’ at the margins of the Alliance and the Union.

1.     Make critical infrastructure (such as Constanta) more resilient to cyber and other forms of disruptive attack.

2.     Make critical people more robust by making it harder for corruption to work.

3.     Modernise our security and defence forces to ensure they meet the challenge of the coming age not the past. 

There are also a range of institutional reforms I think we must all take together:

1.     The EEAS should be strengthened and given more resources to engage more effectively in frozen conflicts such as Transnistria.

2.     NATO deterrence and defence need to be upgraded to emphasis early-warning with much of it based on AI, quantum computing and machine-learning to help identify the algorithms of complex 5D attack.

3.     NATO has said it will not undertake offensive cyber but as part of a new concept of deterrence it is hard to see how we can ‘deter’ without it’.

Perhaps the greatest need is political. i.e. that all of us recognise that we are once again in a contested strategic space called Europe, that we are on the same side in this struggle and that all Europeans are in this together, with Britain and Romania to the fore and in which the worst-case really could be the most realistic case.

One final thought – institutions matter. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that the essence of the tension with Russia here in South-East Europe is about the rights of free, sovereign states to choose their own strategic alignments and alliances and a kind of Moscow Machtpolitik, Realpolitik, zero-sum, sphere of influence free for no-one but Russia in which Russian local might is right.

Therefore, if we collectively are to engage with Russia it must be from a position of strength. In other words, we need a new dual-track approach to Russia – committed dialogue and strong defence.

To finish, let me go back to my map. Look at it. Like it or not, Romania and the whole South-East European region is again at the epicentre of geopolitics and we all need the strength of mind to realise that. In the security and defence domain relationships matter and in spite of the current political turbulence one vital strategic partnership which this conference is rightly helping to strengthen is that between the UK and Romania.

Happy 100th birthday Romania!

Thank you.

Julian Lindley-French,

Bucharest,

28 November 2018  

Monday, 26 November 2018

E.U.S.E.L.E.S.S? Is Macron’s Euro-Army ‘truly’ that barmy?


“We will not protect Europeans unless we decide to have a true European Army”.

President Emmanuel Macron, 6 November 2018

The European Acronym Soup Troop

Alphen, Netherlands. 26 November. Friendly-Clinch's First Iron Law of European Defence is the more the acronyms the weaker the force.  Indeed, if aggregating acronyms was the mark of military might then ‘Europe’ would be a superpower. Since 1996 when I completed my doctorate on European defence at EUI (European University Institute) we first had the NATO-friendly ESDI (European Security and Defence Identity) for the WEU (Western European Union) the same year. In 1998 the Franco-British St Malo Declaration paved the way for ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy) whilst in 1999 the Headline Goal came and most definitely went before the ESS (European Security Strategy) was penned mostly by refined hot air in 2003 before we arrived at the unfortunate misnomer that is CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

In the past year alone we have had PESCO 2 (Permanent Structured Co-operation - PESCO 1 was part of Lisbon) and E2/EII (Macron’s European Intervention Initiative) to be partly funded by the EDF (European Defence Fund) armed with a ‘massive’ defence investment pot of €5bn per annum from 2020 onwards. Being an expert on ‘European Defence’ sometimes feels like being a bit-part actor in that old Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day as another load of stuck-in-time, bad politics dressed up as good strategy leadership BS (another military acronym) about Europe, the EU and defence is proclaimed over and over and over again. What makes Macron’s call any different?

Macron’s Machinations

Putting aside the Gallic elite penchant for drawing out Gaullist ‘grands dessins’ from the gilded cabinets of the Elysée whenever a French president suffers an outbreak of ‘les gilets jaunes’, President Macron might have a point, if that is he means what I hope he means. Over the many years I have studied and worked on European defence it has oscillated between incapability and ‘unuseability’ usually ‘achieving’ both. Serial and persistent underfunding of defence by European states has rendered most of Europe’s armed forces incapable in the face of the threats they face. 

Two specific factors seem to be driving Macron’s thinking. First, he has fallen out with President Trump.  In any case, Monsieur le president clearly understands that with growing pressures worldwide on US forces the danger is that the American security guarantee to Europe will become less credible over time unless Europeans can increase their own military might. Second, in the wake of the Brexit ‘deal’ Macron has decided to become a ‘frenemy’ of Europe’s only other military power of any note – Britain. Macron has made it clear he intends to lead the charge to punish Britain for Brexit in the upcoming negotiations over the future relationship between Britain and the EU. In so doing Macron will sacrifice the Franco-British Strategic Partnership that both London and Paris had once hoped would form the basis for a European joint future force. The French are even threatening to build windmills on the Agincourt battlefield, damn it! Once more unto the breach…?

‘True’ European defence?

The problem for Macron is that ‘True’ European defence if that is what he means, will not come to pass until a ‘true’ European government is in place and Europeans, most notably the French, are a very long way from sanctioning that. The prospect of an EU Army was always deemed unworkable by anyone vaguely sensible because without a European Government it would be unusable if all 28, soon-to-be 27, EU member-states did not agree. President Macron might wish to consult the history books and see why the first great attempt to create a European Army failed. In October 1954 the EDC (another acronym), or European Defence Community, was killed off by the French precisely because Paris could not bring itself to scrap a latter-day version of the ‘Grande Armée’ in favour of a genuinely federalist European structure. My sense of the French is little has changed on that score, not least because the French like many other Europeans still insist rightly on a final national say when it comes to sending their young men and women into harm’s way. In a democracy, one should only be sent to one’s death by people one had at least the chance to vote for.

There is also an apparent flaw in the thinking behind President Macron’s call for deeper ‘joint’ (i.e. nationally-controlled but collectively-applied) European forces in that the way forward he has suggested is first to pool defence budgets, particularly procurement budgets, which is also good for the French defence industry of course. The more one pools the more one integrates. One paradox of European defence is that only through defence integration would Europeans ever come close to generating the kind of military capabilities at the level of capacity they would need to be for Europeans to be ‘truly’ strategically autonomous from the Americans, as Macron has called for. The other paradox is that whilst such a force might act as an effective ‘common’ deterrent against any external foe planning to attack the EU, it would kill off at a stroke any chance that France could project force as an independent power in pursuit of what Paris deems it national collective security interests.

Future war, Europe today

What President Macron should be suggesting if his vision for European defence is gain any traction is that irrespective of the politics of the moment ‘defence’ is about strategic outcomes and in this case how to effectively defend Europeans against military and other dangerous megatrends. It is high time Europeans started to think properly about how they will defend themselves against future industrial warfare. As the world stands on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution the nature of warfare is likely to change profoundly. Future war will reach across what I call the 4Ds of disinformation, destabilisation, disruption and destruction with an added fifth ‘d’ deception added for good measure. Future war will also extend across a spectrum of domains from hybrid warfare, which weaponises information to cyber warfare that does the same in the digital domain, then onto the ultra-dangerous high-end of hyper warfare in which advanced, intelligent technologies inflict ‘intelligent’ destruction on structures, systems and societies. In other words, a new balance needs to be sought between people protection and power projection if the democracies are to retain the capacity to act in an emergency.  

There is a third European defence paradox. Whilst Full Metal Jacket European defence integration might be a disaster for France it might make sense for a lot of other less powerful EU member-states. Whatever level of defence investment small European states commit their stand-alone forces will always be both incapable and unusable unless they are embedded within structures such as the EU or NATO.  This is the reason why the NATO Defence Investment Pledge exists of 2% GDP per annum on defence of which 20% must be spent on new equipment. It is also the reason for the 17 collaborative projects of PESCO 2. In other words, if any group of states should lead the way towards an EU Army it is the smaller powers, not France.

Groundhog St Malo

There is a final twist to European defence in this Brexit week. On 3 December 1998, twenty years ago next week, President Jacques Chirac of France and Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain agreed the St Malo Declaration. The Declaration states, “…the Union must have the capacity for autonomous actions, back up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises”. Amen to that!

However, for all of Macron’s ambition, my conversations of late with a range of senior Europeans confirms that few if any are willing to make the kind of defence or security investments that would replace the Americans and exclude the British or eclipse NATO with the EU. Indeed, the debate still remains focussed on what price the Americans will rightfully demand of their European allies to remain the backbone of an essentially Atlanticist future European defence.                  

Therefore, whilst Macron’s European Army is not barmy unless the Americans and British are on board Macron’s vision for European defence will remain more Bill Murray than Bill Moltke. Or, should that be Jacques Tati? Jour de Fete anyone?

 Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Brexit Withdrawal Agreement: Analysis, Assessment and Reflection


A frictionless future?

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 November. At last, something Brexit to analyse, so I will analyse! The Draft Agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and European Atomic Energy Community.

The draft Withdrawal Agreement implies delivery at some point (but no more than that) of many of the Brexit promises made, although not in full, and not immediately.  The Agreement will at some point end unfettered freedom of movement, there will eventually be an end to large annual British payments to the European Union, and Britain will in time cease to be a member of the Single Market and THE customs union, although London will almost certainly remain part of A customs union. There will also be a formal end (of sorts) to Britain’s membership of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy.

However, a significant problem remains the status of Northern Ireland and the so-called ‘backstop’. During the transition period which is currently scheduled to end on December 31st 2020, and which Prime Minister Theresa May prefers to call the ‘implementation period’, the whole of the UK must remain within the EU customs territory. Any disputes would be settled by a joint committee but any issue relating to EU law would be settled by the European Court of Justice of which the UK would cease to be a member come March 29th 2019.

The treaty agreeing a future relationship is wholly dependent on there being a technical solution found to enable frictionless movement of goods, services and people across the inner-Irish border for fear that a restored active border could endanger peace in Northern Ireland and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that sealed it. Both the EU and the UK have committed to ‘best endeavours’ to find such a solution within the timeframe of the transition. However, if no solution is found the British face the prospect of being locked into a permanent customs union on Brussels’ terms with a high level of regulatory alignment with a whole host of EU rules and regulations without limited influence over them. Alternatively, the British could step outside of the customs arrangement but would be required to establish an implicit border in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland thus weakening the integrity of the UK (and the Good Friday Agreement if hard-line Unionists resist).  

The critical issue is that the Agreement locks the backstop into legal perpetuity once it is established, which is of dubious legality under public international law.  One very senior British lawyer, Remainer and former Attorney-General Lord Falconer claims there is no legal basis for a treaty which denies a party that has given reasonable notice the right to abrogate an instrument that affects its borders in such a way. Therefore, it is quite possible that a legal challenge could be mounted against the Agreement and without some softening of the language it is very hard to see how Parliament or future British governments can or would accept it. 

The Political Dividing Lines

May’s treatment of the Irish question also reveals her attitude towards the kind of full sovereignty Brexit Boris Johnson and other Brexiteers want. In international relations, very few states enjoy full sovereignty as most are constrained by a complex web of treaties and agreements. However, faced by a divided Cabinet and Party and under pressure from big business and HM Treasury May effectively scrapped what might be termed a strategic and political Brexit in favour of a narrow, technical Brexit and in 2017 effectively handed over ‘competence’ for its negotiation to the civil service with instructions simply to get a deal. Given that Britain was from that point on the demandeur the negotiations effectively boiled down to the actual political and financial price Britain would pay for access to EU markets.  And, as the Treasury and big business strengthened their respective grips policy issues were subordinated to supply chains. The result is that Brexit has become precisely that; a supply chain Brexit. 

It is May’s shift from Brexit means Brexit to the preservation of supply chains at almost any cost which has exacerbated the political divisions that now exist.  By abandoning the commitments she made in the Lancaster House and Florence speeches, as well as her so-called ‘red lines’, she has reinforced a sense amongst many that promises have been broken. This makes it unlikely that May will succeed in getting the Agreement through the House of Commons (at least in the first instance). Full sovereignty Brexiteers believe she has betrayed Brexit, whilst the ten MPs of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) upon which her minority government depends for survival are likely to withdraw their formal support under the so-called Confidence and Supply Agreement if Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the UK. On the Remainer side, there is disquiet that the Agreement fails to commit Britain to the Single Market.   Her parlous political situation has been created by the promises she made in the immediate aftermath of Brexit and before she lost her majority in the House of Commons which implied a hard or ‘clean’ Brexit.   

May has also failed to communicate effectively the sheer complexity associated with disentangling 45 years of deep statutory engagement in the EU. One problem she faces is that the extent of Britain’s entanglement in EU law went far beyond what most British political leaders were ever willing to admit to the British people.  The EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has suggested that the transition period will now need to be extended to December 2022. This is almost certainly correct. Unfortunately, May continues to deny the length of time it will take for Brexit in any form to be realised.

A fait accompli

In essence, Britain is now faced with a fait accompli because foolishly (or deliberately) there are insufficient plans in place to deal with a 'no deal' scenario.  Without an Agreement in place, Britain’s formal departure from the EU next March generate real friction at the UK’s borders with profound implications for the vital relationships upon which Britain’s trade depends.  The paradox is that Britain now has little alternative but to rely on an Agreement that will please no-one and which future British governments will doubtless seek to overturn. As such this agreement reflects May’s singular political talent for delaying the consequences of hard choices until a later date.   

The Agreement effectively leaves Britain in a strategic no man’s land between two extremes. Those who envision Britain becoming a ‘Singapore of the Atlantic’, which is highly unlikely and those who simply seek to cancel Brexit. What the Agreement will ensure is that Brexit will remain a toxic issue in British politics for the foreseeable future as it leaves Britain’s relationship with the EU wholly unresolved.  

Worse, there is now every possibility that some EU member-states will seek to change the terms of the Agreement or at least insist that so-called ‘side agreements’ are tacked on. France, Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark have expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of a British commitment to permit their respective fishing fleets to access British waters. Spain has expressed deep concerns about the status of Gibraltar.  

Assessment

There was a certain symmetry reading some of the details of the Withdrawal Agreement in Rome on a seat overlooking the ruins of the Circo Massimo and Nero’s palace.  History has been in full flow this week with anaemic analogies all over the place.  Dunkirk? Suez? In fact, one need look no further than Brexit I for an appropriate analogy. In November 1534 King Henry VIII of England began in earnest the first Brexit by breaking with Rome and the Catholic Church. To suggest that the first ‘withdrawal agreement’ was a tad complicated is perhaps a masterclass in English understatement. It was probably not before Cromwell won the English Civil War in 1649, or even the Glorious Revolution of 1689 before Brexit I was finally concluded. Brexit II?  

Whilst it is unlikely to take that long to confirm Brexit II reading the draft Agreement confirmed to me that this flawed deal marks only the end of the beginning not the beginning of the end of this new schism. Such moments are times for pragmatism and it would be useful if all parties to this conflict took a step back and saw Brexit in its wider strategic context. Europe stands on the verge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and a revolution in civil-military technology that imply as much threat as opportunity. It is vital Europeans stand together in the face of such change.  

The exercising of statecraft imposes discipline and at this moment of fracture, it is to be hoped that the relationships therein are maintained and that the very process of transition/implementation introduces some much-needed calm. And, that the process itself will also lead responsible figures on both sides to recognise that the Agreement on offer will simply not stick if it continues to create resentment on both sides of the Channel. Finally, a real, equitable and sustainable political settlement will need to be fashioned.

Personal reflection 

Some months ago I was asked by someone in Downing Street very close to May for ideas. My answer was simple and to the point: Prime Minister May must show some bloody leadership! In the email to Downing Street, I also suggested that there was no way out of the Brexit trap in which Britain is currently enmeshed without a major political and constitutional crisis,. That crisis is not breaking.  My specific advice was that whilst I might not like everything she does I would accept her leadership if I felt she was acting in the best interests of the country. It is my contention that given the circumstances Prime Minister May is providing such leadership.

Having dissembled for two years for the past six months she has done exactly what I asked – lead (and no I am not claiming it was my influence). She has also done things I do not like. So be it. She is the prime minister and I am not.  She also continues to infuriate me at times with her lack of trust in the British people and she has made some egregious political errors which have made an already hard mission nigh on impossible.  There is no other option but to give May and the Withdrawal Agreement the benefit of my very considerable doubt. There is no sensible alternative. Equally, my faith in May and the wider British government (the Mediocracy?) has been much undermined by what can only be described as strategic and political incompetence.

Julian Lindley-French

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Armistice, War and Peace


“When eleven o’clock came, all was silent: not a gun to be heard, nor any other sign of war. It seemed almost uncanny. The war – that long and bloody and ghastly war – was over! Not only over, but it had been won – decisively won – by us and our Allies”.

Lieutenant Edward Allfree, 111th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, British Army

The fog of peace?

Alphen, Netherlands. 11 November 2018. What did the Armistice of 11 November 1918 really teach Europeans about war and peace? When the guns on the Western Front finally and suddenly fell silent on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the shrapnel of Europe lay strewn across the Continental battlefield and far beyond.  The war to end all wars was over. Of the ‘main’ power players of World War One on that November day a century ago Britain and France appeared triumphant and restored, whilst the dark, grand ambitions of Imperial Germany lay in shards of hot, angry denial across a battlefield and a country that stretched from Belgium to Berlin.  In fact, all was not as it seemed. Broke Britain and broken France were just beginning a precipitous fall from the pinnacle of power, whilst for the Germans, the ‘war’ would continue via Versailles, Weimar, Hitler and the Nazis until 1945 and again engulf Europe in another cataclysm of violence.  Only relatively untouched America, America the Banker, really gained the prize of strategic power for which the Kaiser had fought the war.  But, Woodrow Wilson’s America neither wanted nor accepted a particularly European idea of power as prize. For over twenty years thereafter America turned its isolationist back on the ‘prize’ it had won and in so doing helped condemn itself and others to a repeat of rapaciousness.

It was a particular honour and privilege for me to be in Berlin this past week at the appropriately timed, named and placed conference Europe’s Strategic Choices jointly hosted by Britain’s Chatham House and Germany’s ISPK. Why? War and peace are the most strategic of choices and we must work hard together never to have to make that choice again. Berliners understand that more than most because History (with a hard capital ‘H’) hangs over Berlin like one of those heavy mist shrouds that the city’s many lakes and rivers regularly spawn. If those with a penchant for stereotypes wished to be disabused of their prejudice go to Berlin and speak to senior Germans. It is almost galling at times how determinedly reasonable and respectful they are, and why I so value and appreciate my friendships with them.

My sense of being a ‘fellow’ European is always reinforced when I am in Germany. This is in spite of my being an Englishman who harbours deep concerns about the EU, the championing of order over democracy, the ambitions of a ‘we know best’ Brussels elite to concentrate ever more distant, unaccountable power in their distant, unaccountable hands, and the growing gap between voting and power in Europe. The spiteful curse of history is that Europeans, with Germans to the fore, must eternally and repeatedly forge a balance between power, order and freedom. There is also a certain irony for in a Continent which bloodily rejected three German (1870, 1914 and 1939) attempts to lead Europe by force of arms modern, democratic Germany is unable to provide the leadership Europe desperately needs by a constitution British lawyers helped write, and the very past that today commemorates.

Europeans, war and power

The commemoration of war is itself telling in Europe as it has helped to make Europeans distrustful of the very idea of power itself. Rather, Europeans have re-invented ‘power’ as ‘non-power’, defanging it, imprisoning it within rigid, set in stone EU ‘laws’, containing and constraining it in grand institutions designed to prevent Europeans doing ghastly things to each other, but preventing Europeans from the ghastly doing ghastly things unto them and others.  It is as though Europeans fear the ghost of Marlowe’s Faustus or Goethe’s Faust and that power could once again corrupt the European political soul.  

Such fear of self has been apparent at times these four years past in much of the coverage of World War One.  World War One has been presented as a European civil war with much of the homage to it one of pacifism. It is apparent in many of the books that have been written that have Europeans sleepwalking into World War One rather than being forced towards catastrophe by the outrageous militarism of Kaiser Bill and his Prusso-German cronies. It is apparent in the endless reading of the war poets Causley, Owen and Sassoon who invoke a sense of understandable hopelessness in the midst of carnage when in fact most Frenchmen and Britons who went to war believed their cause to be just. It is as though Sir Edward Elgar’s mournful I Sospiri has been playing on a permanent loop since the commemorations began in August 2014.

With such images repeatedly and constantly invoked it would even be easy to re-imagine the final Act of Brexit Capitulation when it comes being signed in some forlorn Belgian railway siding deep in the woods south of Brussels. In fact, one need only witness the respectful manner in which German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier laid a wreath at the Cenotaph to understand no German with a brain wishes to humiliate Britain a century on from the Armistice. It was wonderful to see such a historic act of reconciliation which brought a tear to my eye. Let’s remember this moment in the coming days, weeks and months.

Democracies and war

At times democracies are faced with a terrifying choice between fighting for freedom or appeasing autocrats. It was just such a choice that faced Britain and France on 4 August 1914. Some historians deny that. For example, Niall Ferguson argues that Britain could have stood aside from the Prusso-German conquest of Europe and have consoled itself with Empire. Really?  Would Erich Ludendorff and Reinhard Scheer have been content with ‘Europe’ as they stood on Cap Gris Nez victorious looking across the Channel at the White Cliffs of Dover?  Would Kaiser Wilhelm II have assuaged his British psychosis without his Imperial Garde marching down Whitehall? Surely not.

Some other historians, Max Hastings to the fore, argue that Britain fought the war incompetently. There can be no question that at times both Britain and France fought the offensive war between 1914 and 1917 incompetently. That is because in 1914 unlike the Kaiser and General von Schlieffen neither power had prepared to fight an offensive grand strategic continental war.  The democracies had first to survive and then learn, and learn they did. Consequently, there can be no comparison between that contemptible little British Army that the Kaiser so dismissed at Mons in 1914 and the massive 6 million strong British Imperial Army that arrived back at Mons in November 1918 triumphant. The force that on 8 August 1918 broke the German Army at the Battle of Amiens and began the crushing One Hundred Day Offensive and which led Ludendorff to describe Amiens as the “blackest day of the German Army”. Or, the Grand Fleet of the Royal Navy that decisively and patiently prevented the Imperial German Navy from breaking the blockade at the strategically-decisive May 1916 Battle of Jutland, or from starving Britain into submission during the U-Boat offensive of 1917.

Contrast that with today. One has only to look at the bonsai militaries of contemporary Britain, France and Germany to see that once again the European democracies are not really preparing to fight any war at all and that to a very real extent the European democracies are once again back in 1910 and 1935. If a major war were to break out in Europe over the next decade, Heaven forbid, the major European democracies would again be pretty much unable to fight it – NATO or no.  But, that is the way of democracies which between major wars tend to purposively forget the lessons of them. Could it be that one-day future historians will look back on this age and ask who made war possible through neglect and weakness? 

The strength of democracies

On 3 August 1914 Britain’s then Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey went for a walk at London Zoo in Regent’s Park. A lover of birds he spent a despairing hour in the Bird House trying to work out how a war might be avoided before concluding it could not be. War for Grey was failure for he foresaw what war between industrial titans would entail. For all that the real, terrifying reality for him was that Britain would have to fight just such a war and the price would be enormous, as it was. However, the alternative he realised would be worse, the effective subjugation of Britain and the rest of Europe to Prussian militarists.

Fantasy? Reimagine Europe had it been the Allies who had been forced to sign an Act of Capitulation in some German railway carriage deep in some Belgian wood somewhere near the German Imperial Military Headquarters in Spa.  The ‘Europe’ far too many of us today take for granted would simply not exist. Yes, the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were harsh, but so was the damage Imperial Germany had inflicted on much of Europe.  What if the Americans had forcefully backed Wilson’s Fourteen Points? What if the League of Nations had been endowed with Realism rather than simply Idealism? What if the Wall Street Crash of 1929 had not happened…what if…if…if…maybe Hitler, Tojo, even Stalin and World War Two might have been avoided.

The eleventh hour…

Today I commemorate the millions who lost their lives in World War One. Specifically, I remember and pay respect to the 900,000 of my own countrymen who lost their lives in World War One. In paying my respects I do not do so in the belief that their sacrifice was futile, or that they were lions led by donkeys, even though at times they were. No, I celebrate them as ordinary heroes, ordinary men and at times women in extraordinary circumstances without whose sacrifice the freedom which is today taken far too much for granted would not have been possible. There is thus no spirit of pacifism in my commemoration even though as a historian and strategist I strive every day to maintain the legitimate and just peace I crave.  

Wars are not prevented by democracies renouncing war. No, wars are stopped by democracies that show they understand the dark art and science of war and by so doing prepare to preserve and thus ensure peace. That is the true lesson of this mournful day. Have Europeans learnt it? Will they ever learn it?

Requiescat in Pace.  Lest we forget.      

Julian Lindley-French                       

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

NATO Trident Juncture 18: Plugging NATO's Thirty Day Gap?


“But this, that men are evill by nature, follows not from this principle [that every man will distrust and dread each other]; for though the wicked were fewer than the righteous, yet because we cannot distinguish them, there is a necessity of suspecting, heeding, anticipating, subjugating, self-defending, ever incident to the most honest and fairest conditioned”.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Trident Juncture 18

Alphen, Netherlands, 6 November. There is a certain historical symmetry to NATO holding a major Article 5 collective defence military exercise that spans the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month centennial of the Armistice that brought the First World War to an end.  Exercise Trident Juncture 18 (TJ18) is designed to test deterrence and response, as well as send a strategic message to Russia.  As such, TJ18 is part of the Alliance’s increasing effort to ensure no NATO ally anywhere, ever again, faces a major war attack. Given that noble aim, how does Trident Juncture 18 compare with Russia’s recent Vostok 18 exercise and has TJ18 really strengthened deterrence?

Some facts. TJ18 is a maritime-amphibious (hence ‘Trident’) joint exercise designed to test Alliance forces and systems in a short, high-end war. TJ 18 is taking place in and off Norway and began on 25 October and will end on 23 November.  The exercise involves some 40,000 troops, 250 aircraft and 65 ships from 30 nations. TJ18 involves air, sea, land, maritime, amphibious and Special Forces forged into a so-called ‘spearhead force’ designed to seize back NATO territory taken by a well-armed aggressor.  TJ18 is divided into two main elements. The main ‘live’ exercise began on 25 October and ends tomorrow. After the Armistice commemorations (and deliberately so) a command post exercise will take place between 14 and the 23 November in which lessons will be identified and the scenario played out further.  Although Russia claims TJ18 threatens its border with Norway even though the exercise is taking place some 200 km from it. That said, the exercise is clearly designed to send Russia a message about NATO’s determination to defend the strategically-vital North Cape of Norway and the Svalbard Archipelago.

TJ18 versus Vostok 18

How does TJ18 compare with Russia’s recent Vostok 18? Vostok 18 was somewhat bigger in scale and probably involved some 75,000 Russian troops (plus a relatively small number of Chinese forces), 1000 aircraft and up to 2000 tanks, possibly more. Moscow claimed Vostok 18 ‘involved’ some 300,000 troops but that inflated figure was arrived at by including whole units even if only small elements from them were actually engaged.

The respective aims of the two exercises are revealing.  TJ18 is designed to test and validate NATO’s efforts to reconstitute a heavy defence through the re-creation of a ‘deep’ joint, mobile heavy reserve focussed on the NATO Response Force (NRF). The task of the NRF is to support small forward deployed units in the event of an emergency and act as a holding force until larger NATO forces can be generated and deployed. Vostok 18 was part of the military-strategic development plan of Chief of the Russian General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov. His over-arching aim is to enhance the force projection of Russian forces by making then more joint, agile and ‘intelligent’.

Improved theatre and battlefield mobility are central to Gerasimov’s thinking and to that end, he is replacing the old motor rifle and old-style tank divisions that were the main strike elements of Soviet forces with more airmobile forces similar to those pioneered by the Americans. He is also trying to create much greater tactical autonomy at junior leadership levels to enable Russian forces to better ‘think’ their way around an operational problem.   During Vostok 18 General Gerasimov emphasised the need for ‘innovation’ via what he called ‘non-standard solutions’ when he set the Central and Eastern Military Districts against each other on opposing strategic directions.  Significant elements of the Western Military District facing NATO were also engaged during Vostok 18.  General Gerasimov was only partially successful during Vostok 18 but his unstinting efforts to create a new form of ‘shock army’ will doubtless continue

Sufficient Notice to Surprise?  

Is Russia planning an attack? All of the time. Is Russia going to attack tomorrow? No. There are four things that make contemporary Russia dangerous (even to itself) and thus a vigilant NATO. First, Russia is developing military capabilities and capacities that could give it local superiority for a critical period at a time and place of its choosing. Second, neither Russian society nor its economy is being reformed to adapt to the twenty-first century. Third, the weight and burden of the security state (including defence) are too high on a Russian economy that is overly-dependent on the export of oil and gas for income. Fourth, there is no obviously peaceful succession plan for the orderly transfer of power from President Putin when he dies, or when he and his family are sufficiently secure for him to step down.  In other words, Russia is strategically and politically volatile         

To properly understand the strategic utility of Vostok 18 it is necessary to look beyond the exercise itself. Russia is fast developing a new concept of warfare that I have dubbed ‘4D’ warfare. In a Gerasimov-led 4D war disinformation, destabilisation, disruption and destruction, flavoured to taste with a ‘liberal’ sprinkling of deception (Maskirovka), would be unleashed in sequence. One objective would be to keep NATO allies politically and socially off-balance so that they were singularly and collectively distracted from Moscow’s real aim – strategic surprise. It is vital for General Gerasimov to mask any strategic surprise so that Russian forces could concentrate prior to an attack either unnoticed or uncontested. The maximum moment of vulnerability for Russian forces would be as they concentrate, however, ‘dispersed’ General Gerasimov would like his forces to remain prior to any attack.

Plugging NATO’s thirty-day gap

Does TJ18 suggest NATO could combat my worst-case scenario? Not as yet. There is a strange symmetry between Vostok 18 and TJ18 which should worry NATO planners.  General Gerasimov is building, in effect, a thirty-day crash, bang, wallop force. If the force has not achieved its political and strategic goals after thirty days President Putin would likely face one of four options: threaten to use short and theatre range nuclear weapons, stop and hold what ground has been gained; embark on a much longer war than for which his forces are designed, or withdraw.

The NATO dilemma, which is also implicit in the time it took to get TJ18 in place, is that the bulk of its forces could not move in any strength prior to ‘D plus 30’. On paper at least, given the so-called ‘Notice to Move’ of both the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and NATO Response Force (NRF), they might meet the thirty-day challenge. In reality, it is highly questionable that NATO has sufficient forces at sufficient readiness in sufficient strength to counter any such Russian military adventure. It is even more questionable whether the ‘heavier’ forces NATO European nations are required to have ready would be available to Allied commanders by ‘D plus 90’, let alone ‘D plus 60’.  

That is why my friend and colleague Hans Binnendijk pioneered the 4 x 30 concept for the 2018 Brussels Summit by which 30 combat battalions, 30 combat squadrons and 30 combat ships would be ready to go within 30 days of an emergency being declared. Tellingly, the Americans wanted those forces ready to go in 10 days, but it was the Germans who led efforts to ease it out to thirty days. In other words, NATO European forces might be ready to go just when President Putin could be picking up the phone to some future German chancellor to tell her he has achieved his strategic objectives of rebuilding a buffer between the Russian Federation and NATO. The Baltic States?

No Action Talk Only?

Exercise Trident Juncture has revealed the progress towards the enhanced readiness and responsiveness of Allied forces NATO has made through its significant command and force structure reforms. As such the exercise is an important step on the road to reinforcing deterrence. However, TJ18 has also revealed NATO’s eternal weakness: that reforms of the Alliance itself also require the European Allies to reform and improve their own forces and that the defence of Europe is still too dependent on over-stretched Americans combat forces. As yet, NATO Europeans are still more talk than action. 

Such strategic sloppiness matters because to be truly credible NATO needs to convince the likes of President Putin and General Gerasimov that the thirty-day gap has well and truly been plugged. If not, and assuming the Americans are not mired in a crisis elsewhere, Washington, not NATO would need to take command in an emergency and move with a few trusted allies. NATO?  Coalitions would well prove the death of it.    

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 29 October 2018

Nelson, Future War and the Pursuit of Victory


Alphen, Netherlands. 29 October. Last Thursday night on board HMS Nelson in Portsmouth I had the honour to give the Trafalgar Night dinner speech to the ancient Royal Navy Club of 1756 and 1785 in commemoration of Admiral Lord Nelson’s famous victory and untimely death off Cape Trafalgar on October 21st, 1805. Entitled Nelson and the Pursuit of Victory my speech also considered the challenge of the Royal Navy in the face of the revolution in military technology underway and how Nelson would have fought what is euphemistically called future war.

Nelson and the Pursuit of Victory

Honoured Guests, Distinguished Officers of the Naval Service, ladies and gentlemen

My subject tonight is Nelson and the pursuit of victory. My aim is to pose and answer a question - how would Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronte, Admiral of the White and Colonel of the Marines have pursued victory in what we euphemistically call future war?

To that end, I will consider Nelson’s victories at Copenhagen, the Nile and, of course, his valedictory victory at Trafalgar on October 21st 1805, before I conclude with a very personal anecdote.

My themes? Selection and maintenance of the aim (the Master Principle): the destruction of the enemy, Nelson’s genius for combining innovation, superior technology and firepower at the decisive moment, his acceptance of considered and controlled risk, and his understanding of the power of a trusted and committed team in battle. But, above all, Admiral Lord Nelson’s mastery of decisive leadership through instinct, experience and learning, not least from his own many mistakes.

At the August 1795 Battle of the Nile Nelson seized the moment created and afforded by a tactical mistake by his opponent the French Admiral Brueys. However, it was an opportunity sealed by his tactical genius and his innovative thinking. At the Nile, Nelson ensured each French man-o-war always faced at least two British. Then, with the superior rate and weight of fire his gunlock cannon and their well-trained gun-crews afforded the Fleet, allied to a willingness to take a calculated risk in shallow waters, Brueys was quickly disabused of his complacent belief that his defensive position was strong.

Nelson was also willing to take personal risk.  The night before the action during dinner on board HMS Vanguard Nelson said, (and I quote) “This time tomorrow I shall either have gained a peerage or Westminster Abbey”.  And, whilst Nelson eventually battered the French fleet into submission it was not before he had been wounded in the head. He knew the risk, but he also knew that ending Bonaparte’s ambitions on Egypt was a strategic prize worth the risk-reward decision he had to take.

Nelson’s understanding of the role of force in the national interest was also evident at the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen. Indeed, Nelson fully understood the grand strategic implications of ensuring the modern Danish fleet could never have been employed against the Royal Navy in possible combination with Russia and Sweden. To that end, Nelson was prepared to accept significant risk against a strong defence because again he understood the strategic significance of the action. When Admiral Sir Hyde Parker signalled that Nelson might consider withdrawing under heavy fire Nelson said to his flag captain Thomas Foley, “You know, Foley, I only have one eye and I have the right to be blind sometimes”.

Nelson’s use of truce during the battle also demonstrated just how politically savvy he had become, unlike earlier in his career. Under a flag of truce Nelson sent a note to the Danish Crown Prince. It is a masterpiece of forceful British diplomacy. It said, and I quote: “To the Brothers of Englishmen, the Danes. Lord Nelson has directions to spare Denmark when she is no longer resisting, but if firing is continued on the part of Denmark, Lord Nelson will be obliged to set on fire the floating batteries he has taken, without having the power to save the brave Danes who have defended them”.

However, it is the October 1805 Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson’s relentless pursuit of victory for which the world best knows the Great Man. Indeed, as an example of the Master Principle applied in action, it is unsurpassed. By Trafalgar Nelson had established psychological superiority over his enemies, particularly the French commander Admiral Villeneuve, who he had pursued across the Atlantic and back. Critically, Trafalgar is also the apex of Nelson’s ‘band of brothers’ forged not only by his decisive leadership, but by his trust in those under his command – naval officers, Royal Marines and ratings, and by no means all of them British. As my good friend Lt General Ed Davis, the Governor of Gibraltar, told this august body in 2013 (and note the emphasis on Marines), “…17,000 Sailors and Marines, from 22 nations manned Nelson’s Fleet of 27 ships off the Cape of Trafalgar…[and] contemplated how they would ‘do their duty’ to deliver their Commander’s battle-plan for defeating Napoleon’s Fleet…..“Swift and bold, swift and bold; engage closely, engage closely”.  

You see Nelson believed in the fighting spirit and had supreme confidence in the skills, experience, tactical nous and fighting power of his brother officers from Collingwood down and the men who served them. It showed in the risk he took by sailing slowly at the Franco-Spanish fleet in two columns with the intention of breaking the enemy’s battle line. To do that Nelson effectively enabled Villeneuve to ‘cross his T’, something that Jellicoe was to achieve twice over a century later against Scheer’s High Seas Fleet at Jutland.

For an extended period, the French and Spanish were permitted to pour a much heavier weight of fire upon the British fleet than could be immediately returned. However, even though the British fleet was out-numbered and out-gunned, such was Nelson’s belief in his ‘team’ he felt emboldened to take the risk as he knew the discipline, patience and seamanship needed for his masterstroke to work would be maintained. That is why prior to the battle Nelson famously said, “No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy”.

Once the enemy line had been broken what happened thereafter was an exercise in systematic destruction by a patently superior British fleet. The strategic consequence? Not only was the threat of invasion by Napoleon’s Grande Armee lifted, but Britain’s dominance of the seas was confirmed for over a century.

Nelson’s determination to put the right people with the right stuff in the right place at the right time brings me to my own very personal anecdote. In June 1980, shortly after Schools at Oxford and confident of a very good degree in Modern History, I tried to join the Naval Service. Hard though it is for this noble throng to believe I was a little full of myself at that age. In I breezed to the Recruiting Office where I handed over my CV to a grizzled old Chief Petty Officer who looked like he had stepped straight from the gun-deck of Victory. ‘Where do I sign?” was written all over my face. A face which clearly filled him with all the enthusiasm of the middle watch on a stormy South Atlantic night. Suddenly, what passed for a grimace emerged from beneath the beard – “You failed your physics O-Level, did ya?” he asked in a broad Devon drawl. “Yes”, I said, somewhat recoiling, “but I have a legion of other O-levels and a host of top grade A-levels”. “Not good enough”, he growled, “…now bugger off”.

Chief Petty Officer? That man should have made Admiral, Admiral, for he undoubtedly saved the Naval Service and the country from perhaps the worst naval officer ever to have darkened the forecastle of any British man-o-war.  Indeed, I can only imagine Nelson’s response to my misplaced ambition. “Sink me, sir. Hoist your Colours elsewhere and be smart about it!”

Future War!

Nelson’s pursuit of victory was built on the solid principle embodied in Vegetius’s third-century insight and motto of the Royal Navy – si vis pacem para bellum – if you want peace prepare for war. That is not bellicosity, but rather the recognition that if a peace endures that honours our ancient freedoms the Naval Service must be at the core of a new band of brothers and sisters – a warfighting deep joint force that respects Britain’s place as a top five world power, that projects Britain's still undoubted power, reinforces our American allies, assures the defence of Europe and keeps open the sea lanes which are still the sinews of prosperity. A naval fighting force with carrier strike at its expeditionary warfighting core that knows it history from Drake to Hawke to Nelson et al and through confident self-belief enables coalitions central to our strategic method, exerts our legitimate interests, and deters our enemies and adversaries.

It is my firm belief that if the Navy’s build programme is honoured by the government (a very big if) the new Royal Navy – the future force - will be of sufficient power and capability to sit at the heart of future Allied maritime/amphibious power projection coalitions and when needed exert Britain’s authority.

My cri de coeur is thus: having invested in so many new assets it would be irresponsible bordering on criminal not to ensure our ships, submarines and aircraft, but above all our people, have the right tools to do the job that a no-longer-impossible major war could call upon you to fight. To afford you the necessary protections in the face of the future war revolution in military technology that is now upon us.  My responsibility to you as a citizen is to afford the Naval Service, sufficient confidence of mission success at a reasonable level of risk and underpinned by an appropriate scale of forces and resources. THAT is for me what I would call the Prime Nelsonic Lesson.      

So, to conclude, my master message is this? Whatever the technology there are enduring principles of leadership in the crises of warfare that Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronte, Admiral of the White and Colonel of the Marines embodied. For Nelson the Naval Service must, first and foremost, be a warfighting force designed, equipped, trained and educated to prevail in war. The Nelson Touch did not refer to diplomacy or his sensitivity to humanitarian need, however rightly important they are in this modern age. No, the Nelson Touch referred to the combination-in-action of innovation, education, instinct, technology and teamwork in the pursuit of victory.

Leadership IS thus the Nelson Touch which he is why the Great Man is not only Britain’s greatest naval hero, he is regarded the world-over as THE naval hero. He also remains for many of us the very embodiment of a national hero – a man who served and saved his country through valour at a decisive moment in its history and being.

Let me leave the last words to Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, his brother in arms at Trafalgar.  Soon after Trafalgar Collingwood wrote: “He possessed the zeal of an enthusiast directed by talents which Nature had very bountifully bestowed on him, and everything seemed, as if by enchantment, to prosper under his direction. BUT, it was the effect of system, and nice combination, not of chance”.

Admiral.   Thank you.

Julian Lindley-French, Portsmouth, October 2018