hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

NATO: Dambusting Inertia?


“I must study war and politics so that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy”.

John Adams
Dambusters

London, United Kingdom. 23 May. Last Thursday marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the famous Dambusters raid and Operation Chastise in which RAF 617 Squadron destroyed or damaged three German dams vital to the Nazi war effort using a bomb (Upkeep) that bounced across water like a stone skipping across a pond before rolling down the dam wall and exploding.  The resultant destruction caused by the Mohnekatasprophe released millions of tons of water and killed a lot of people, German civilians and Russian and Ukrainian prisoners alike.  However, the raid was a master-piece of strategic, tactical and technical innovation the success of which shook the Nazi leadership. In other words, innovation. Is NATO any longer capable of such innovation?

This past week has left me feeling a bit like a bouncing bomb delivering talks in Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the George C. Marshall Center, the GLOBSEC conference in Bratislava, and at a range of meetings in London, including a presentation for my friend Chris Donnelly at the Institute for Statecraft entitled Future War and Hard Choices: Policy, Strategy and Capability.  Naturally, I was brilliant and very reasonably-priced. As I refine my thinking in the face of emerging threats I am convinced NATO is not only pivotal to the defence of Europe but also the only place to properly consider and grasp the rapidly changing character of warfare. If not, Allied deterrence could fail.

Now, like many Brits of a certain age, but almost no Brits of any other age, I grew up with a certain received view of World War Two.  It tended to involve the defeat of entire Nazi divisions or the sinking of their battleships by a mythical figure called Tommy or his naval counterpart, Jack. Tommy and Jack, your average British soldiers and sailors of the age, was a titan of the battlefield. They were invariably armed with little more than a broken pen-knife, an elastic band, an anti-tank weapon that involved a large spring and discarded fairground equipment, and some strange secret weapon (‘kit’) invented by some clever ‘boffin’ in his garden shed.

Now, to get said piece of ‘kit’ to Tommy the boffin in the shed inevitably had to overcome all sorts of bureaucratic obstacles laid in his path by upper class idiots in Whitehall of such startling chinless incompetence they could only have been working for the other side – a bit like Brexit today. Finally, and normally because the immortal ‘Winston’ liked it, said piece of ‘kit’ was given a chance and the results were spectacular. Naturally, the Yanks (‘over-paid, over-sexed and over here’) would make a film about it, make all the heroes American, and, of course, claim all the credit. It was ever thus.  It was, of course, all complete and utter bollocks, except the bit about the Yanks…and Whitehall.  NATO is beginning to feel a bit like that.

Burden-Sharing, Spending and Innovation

Much of the talk over the past week has been about the forthcoming July NATO Summit in Brussels. As ever, expectations are exaggerated. One thing seems clear: President Trump is going to deliver a blast about transatlantic burden-sharing, or rather the lack of it.  He is right. The defence of Europe is now in full-blown crisis because most Europeans simply do not spend enough on defence, fail to spend what they do spend at all well, and have not spent enough well enough for many, many years. As an aside, I have proposed to those in lofty places in Brussels, London and Washington that President Trump should be invited to deliver his warning on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s new 72,500 heavy aircraft carrier, preferably with the White Ensign flying behind him as he speaks.  The message? “With the right political will etc. etc...”

The need for more European money, or rather defence investment, is the natural and understandable focus of growing American ire. However, before significant amounts of extra money are invested in Europe’s armed forces they will need to be structurally reformed and a culture of innovation established. If not, Europe’s armed forces will become like Britain’s Holy National Health Service, a large, bottomless hole in the political road into which politicians pour millions of ‘virtue-signalling’ pounds to absolutely no actual effect. 

A Sentient Dreadnought?

The essential problem is that Europeans simply have no clue upon what to spend to generate security and defence effect in the twenty-first century. Consequently, there is a crunching disconnect between the level of ambition needed and the level of investment required.  A fundamental reason for Europe’s defence brain fade is that Europeans simply do not understand the likely nature of future war. During my several flights over the past week, I have re-read Amir Hussein’s brilliant book on artificial intelligence and machine-learning, The Sentient Machine. Now, I am cautious about the impact of new technologies on warfare, not least because military structures, both allied and not, tend to be replete with old mind-sets building long careers afloat on unrocked boats.  This is dangerous. NATO is facing a Dreadnought moment. In 1906 the British suddenly revealed HMS Dreadnought, a battleship that was faster, more powerful and and stronger than any other warship afloat and thus at a stroke rendered all other navies effectively obsolete.

The thing about Dreadnought was that its superiority was not simply a question of technology, but rather the fusion (current defence-strategic buzzword) of strategy, capability and technology via innovation.  I am currently writing my latest book The Defence of Europe with General John Allen and Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges. The paradox of the crisis in European defence is that it also presents Europeans with an opportunity to reform and invest in deterring future war via new thinking and new technologies that is rarely afforded Great Powers.  To do this Europeans needs to reach out to people like Amir Hussein to consider fully how artificial intelligence and machine learning could act as a force multiplier, particularly at the so-called human-machine interface. A sentient Dreadnought?

The European Defence Crisis: Dambusting Inertia

Which brings me back to the Dambusters again.  Regrettably, I am ever more concerned that the world could suffer another crippling systemic war unless the democracies act to stop it. However, if the European defence crisis is to end innovation will needs to break down the great dams of inertia that have created it.

As part of the work on the book, I am undertaking a systematic assessment of strategy, capability and technology to better understand what it would take to defend Europe in the twenty-first century. And, as part of that, what will Europeans need to do to keep America strong where she needs to be strong. Indeed, keeping America strong will be the only way for America to guarantee European defence if Europeans themselves are not up the task…as they are not.  There is no room for complacency. A report out this week by US Army Chief of Mark Milley suggests that if the cost of labour is removed from the US defence budget China is not spending much less on defence than the US.

Strategy in war now extends across a new scale of escalation from fake news hybrid war to robotic visions of hyper war via cyber-induced disruption and destruction.  Add new military capabilities to the mix, such as hypersonic weaponry, AI and deep machine learning and it is equally clear that not only will war become far faster, far more remote and far more automatic, but the transition from peace to war will also become far faster. In other words, other people’s technology is already fundamentally changing warfare. It is also dividing the world into illiberal predators and liberal prey with a new idea of ‘war’ that now stretches across the distinction between war and peace. Indeed, in many ways, we are already at ‘war’. However, with few exceptions, Europe’s prey politicians are in denial and do not want to think about it.  

We are all grasping to understand how new technologies will be applied to warfare and, particularly in democracies, if such technologies can be constrained via arms control. My sense is not and that democracies will need to consider applications where first hybrid AI will see increasingly intelligent machines augment humans in warfare, and, eventually, how and when AI will begin to replace humans leading to fully automated future war.

A NATO Future War Centre of Excellence

NATO’s task is to defend its citizens through collective defence.  By its very nature future war implies a big war and only the Alliance is best placed to consider the fusion of game-changing strategy, capability and technology. And yet, I see no evidence of the Alliance preparing for the credible deterrence of, or sound defence against, future war in anything like the systematic, innovative and creative way I and many of my colleagues believe necessary. Rather, much of NATO Europe is still refusing to recognise any threat that is either inconveniently too dangerous or even more so, inconveniently too expensive.  The worst example of this lunacy is rich Germany.  The state of the German armed forces is now so bad I really do begin to wonder if Tommy really could deal it a grievous blow - broken pen-knife, elastic band and all.  The Russians?

NATO has become a ‘bits and pieces’ alliance – a bit of force modernisation here, a bit of nuclear deterrence there, a bit of command reform here, a bit of hybrid there, and a bit of cyber over there.  What is lacking is a real NATO future war strategy within which to conceptually and practically embed twenty-first century collective deterrence and collective defence.  There is certainly no real understanding how to generate the vital new relationship between 21st century people protection and 21st century power projection upon which such deterrence and defence must will and must rest.

At the forthcoming NATO Brussels Summit in July leaders will discuss how to strengthen the transatlantic bond (yawn), how to build on NATO work with Partners to better fight terrorism (again), strengthen NATO’ Black Sea presence (interesting), and the stepping up of Alliance efforts to counter cyber-attacks and hybrid threats (quite interesting). Here’s my idea for the agenda: the UK should offer to host a NATO Future War Centre of Excellence which considers the Alliance’s role in future war in the round. Naturally, I would be its first director. After all, I am brilliant and very reasonably-priced…or so I keep on telling myself. Now, where’s my elastic band?

Julian Lindley-French 

Friday, 11 May 2018

Iran and Israel: Sparta and Athens?


“Should the July 2015 Vienna Nuclear Framework Agreement falter, which commits Iran to halt its efforts to develop nuclear weapons, the Middle East could quickly move towards a general war”.

Demons and Dragons: The New Geopolitics of Terror, 2017 (London: Routledge) by William Hopkinson and Julian Lindley-French

Sparta versus Athens

Alphen, Netherlands. 11 May. In the fifth century, BC Thucydides wrote the seminal History of the Peloponnesian War which took place between 431 and 404 BC.  Thucydides had served as an Athenian general in the war and sought to write an account that would survive the test of ages.  His central thesis was that religious, pious Sparta attacked Athens because it, “…feared the growth in power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta”. Next week the State of Israel will turn seventy. It is arguably under as great a threat now as at the time of its founding and the war of 1948.  Israel faces enemies to its north (Hezbollah and Lebanon), to its east (Syria) and to its south (Hamas in the Gaza Strip). So, did this week’s decision by President Trump to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action (JCPOA) make an all-out war between Israel and Iran more or less likely?  

In signalling his intention to withdraw President Trump made it clear he regards the Accord as deeply flawed. There can be no doubt that Iran’s efforts to destabilise Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as its efforts to spread a form of Shia fundamentalism via proxies such as Hezbollah is a threat to the already tattered ‘peace’ of the Middle East.  There is a clear inference from the White House that it believes the lifting of sanctions associated with the 2015 Accord has assisted Iran in its efforts to exert its influence right up to Israel’s borders. Wednesday night’s attack on Israeli positions on the Golan Heights by Iran’s al Quds Brigade and the Israeli counter-attack reveals that Tel Aviv and Tehran are engaged in some form of war.

JCPOA: A Limited Nuclear Accord or a Putative Peace Treaty?

To properly consider the impact of Washington’s decision it is necessary to make a distinction between the specific aims of the Accord and the wider politico-strategic ambitions ascribed to it.  At one level President Trump has a point. Let me quote Thomas Hobbes (as I do regularly), “Covenants without the sword are but words and of no strength at all. The bonds of words are too weak to bridle a man’s ambitions, avarice, anger and other passions, without the fear of some coercive power”.  The JCPOA lacks any real sanctions. This is partly because the so-called ‘E3’ – Britain, France and Germany - convinced themselves long ago that covenants without the sword can be strong if they have enough words.  The ‘P5+1’, in addition to the United States and European Union, also included China and Russia as signatories to the Accord.  These are the ‘other’ Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council with whom there is little agreement over geopolitics these days – either in the Middle East or the wider world.

The Accord itself committed Iran to effectively freeze its nuclear weapons development programme for at least thirteen years by massively cutting both its stockpiles of medium-enriched Uranium, the number of centrifuges needed for such enrichment, and to not build any new facilities where heavy water could be manufactured.  In a spectacular coup de theatre last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Mossad had infiltrated Iran’s nuclear programme and that he had proof of Iranian cheating.  And yet, part of the Accord enabled verification of compliance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). According to the IAEA, there is no evidence of systematic Iranian cheating on the terms of the Accord.  In other words, there may well be some level of Iranian cheating but little sign Tehran is actively pursuing the development of nuclear warheads at the same level as prior to the Accord and therefore little chance at present that Iran could soon match the existing 250 or so nuclear warheads that Israel holds in its arsenal at Dimona.

Let me now turn to the wider politico-strategic ambitions for the Accord. There is no question that the three non-Russian European signatories did hope back in 2015 that the Accord could ameliorate Iran’s aggressive regional behaviour and that progressive relief from economic sanctions could strengthen so-called ‘moderates’ around President Hassan Rouhani. There is little or no evidence of such hopes being realised. Tehran has increased its efforts to destabilise Syria and Yemen increased its efforts to develop medium to long-range ballistic missile systems, as well as extended its backing for sworn enemies of Israel, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Tehran has also inserted its own forces into Syria dangerously close to Israel.  

Do No Harm

In our 2017 book Demons and Dragons: The New Geopolitics of Terror William Hopkinson and I warned the West to collectively apply the Hippocratic Oath to the Middle East and do no harm. We warned that the war in Syria was potentially just a curtain-raiser to a wider and even more deadly general Middle Eastern war and which had the potential to spread even further.  At first glance, President Trump’s withdrawal from the Accord and his seemingly unequivocal support for Tel Aviv could make Israel more secure.  However, such support has never been in doubt. In fact, the Accord has been one of the few oases of collaboration in a Middle Eastern desert of tension.  And, in spite of Grand Ayatollah Khamenei’s profound reservations about the Accord President Rouhani managed to get it past the hard-liners in Iran.

The Accord had another politico-strategic purpose – to prevent the emergence of blocs. European leaders Macron, May and Merkel clearly understood that one purpose of the Accord was to prevent the Middle East further splitting into something akin to pre-World War One Europe with Israel and the US on one side (plus the tacit and not so tacit support of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states) and Iran and quite possibly Russia on the other. In that sense, even by its existence, the Accord prevented the further polarisation of powers in the region and Great Powers beyond.

A Trump Doctrine?

There is a wider problem with President Trump’s decision.  There is a necessary place for coercion in international relations, something to which Hobbes and Thucydides would attest. However, the conduct of international relations is rarely the business of decisive breakthroughs and grand gestures, particularly in the Middle East.  Indeed, there is no place on the planet where the phrase ‘on balance’ must be applied more rigorously. And yet, President Trump does not do ‘on balance’ and if there is an emerging Trump Doctrine it seems to be one that pre-supposes that, with the exception of Israel, the whole world is trying to screw America, even long-time allies. If you want proof of that listen to yesterday’s diatribe about the new embassy in London.  It may be that President Trump secures what appear to be spectacular short-term ‘triumphs’. He may indeed come back from his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un with a piece of paper saying ‘denuclearisation in our time’. And, Iran may even quietly accept, at least to a point, that the Accord must be adjusted to prevent its dire economy completely tanking if sanctions are re-imposed a fortnight from now.  Then again, it might not. One thing is clear: the Accord will not survive the withdrawal of America, whatever the Europeans say.

Do no (more) harm, Mr President

US foreign and security policy is increasingly beginning to look like a reflection of President Trump’s complex mix of prejudices, self-generated beliefs and gut instincts about the rest of us.  If that continues not only will a general war in the Middle East become alarmingly more likely, America will lose friends, even close ones. That would be a tragedy for America because it needs friends to ‘make America great again’.  It would also be a tragedy for the rest of us who believe in the United States of America, the transatlantic relationship it leads and the chance Washington has to cast itself as the hard core of a new global West that is more idea than a place.

As the great Thucydides once wrote, “wars spring from unseen and generally insignificant causes, the first outbreak being often but an explosion of anger”. For the sake of Israel and the people of the wider Middle East do no (more) harm, Mr President! Has President Trump made war between Iran and Israel more likely? He certainly has not made it less likely.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Schuman, Galileo and the Return of Great Power Europe


“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it’.

Robert Schuman, 9 May 1950

The Schuman Declaration, EII, Britain and Galileo

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 May. Sixty-eight years ago today French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman made a speech which laid the foundation not only for the future European Union but also the future of European defence. And yet, for all its vision, the Schuman Declaration was grounded in Gallic pragmatism.  At the time France and the rest of Europe faced a clear and present danger with Stalin’s Red Army standing just across the River Elbe.  Today, Europe faces a range of dangers which again require Europeans to make a ‘proportionate effort’ if Europe’s long peace is to be preserved for longer. This week, at the behest of French President Emanuel Macron, the EU took a step towards Schuman’s pragmatic vision by agreeing to set up a defence body that is separable but not separate from the EU.  The European Intervention Initiative or EII, as its name suggests, harbours the ambition (again) to create a European military force under European command that could intervene rapidly the world over and involve post-Brexit Britain.  Yet, at the same time, the European Commission is trying to freeze post-Brexit Britain out of the Galileo system.  The problem is that Britain could not be a part of the EII AND be denied access to Galileo. What is even more surprising is that having called for the EII France is backing the Commission’s hard-line stance, thus threatening any future security and defence treaty between the EU and Britain upon which the EII would depend. La France perfide?

Let me first deal with the issue of utility.  Galileo was gathering momentum when I was Senior Fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris back in the early noughties.  At the time, I could not for the life of me understand why Europeans wanted to spend some €10 billion on a system that duplicated the US Global Positioning System or GPS.  I recall that my suggestion that Europeans invest instead in more European satellite intelligence capabilities, more deployable forces, or preferably both, went down like the proverbial lead satellite. 

One argument advanced by the proponents of Galileo was that such a space-based architecture would enable Europeans to deploy advanced deployable military forces independently from the Americans.  What advanced military forces? By spending €10 billion (it is in fact far more) on a duplicate system to GPS Europeans helped ensure they lacked the very advanced deployable military capabilities that would use the system.  In fact, it was clear from the outset that Galileo was a glorified, taxpayer-funded boondoggle for French, German, and to a lesser extent British and Italian defence industries.

Then there is the issue of strategic common sense. Thus far Britain has contributed some €400 million to the project.  Galileo is also dependent on ground bases in the Falkland Islands, Ascension and Diego Garcia, all British territories.  Britain is already threatening to deny the EU use of such bases if it continues to threaten London with exclusion.  Surreally, Britain is also threatening to construct its own rival system at a cost of some €4 billion over ten years with annual running costs of around €250 million. Past experience of big-ticket British procurement projects would suggest it wise to double both the cost estimates and the time it would take to deliver such a system. Surely, at a time when Britain’s front-line forces are being starved of vital capabilities to balance the books, it would make far better sense to invest in advanced military kit and rely on GPS. If Britain is utterly dependent on the US for its strategic intelligence, which it is, why would the Yanks turn off GPS? Britain is not, as far as I am aware, planning to invade Suez…even if it could.

Ever Closer Union…

It is the eternal struggle between European vision and pragmatism that is as ever causing this latest spat, fuelled naturally by Brexit. The European Commission is desperate to retain control over what it sees as a ‘common’ asset and because of Brexit Britain is fair game.  Indeed, for the Commission Galileo is a vital component in any future and real common security and defence policy (as opposed to the still-born Common Security and Defence Policy). As such, for the Commission, the EII is the thin edge of an intergovernmental wedge that could see the beginning of the end of EU defence integration. The Euro-federalists are clearly worried, which explain why Federalist-in-Chief Guy Verhofstadt is again calling for an EU Army.  

France is only backing the Commission on excluding Britain from Galileo because it wants more work for its voracious defence industry. However, Macron cannot have it both ways – a Britain-excluding Galileo and a Britain-including EII.  Macron, like Schuman before him, is ultimately a power pragmatist who is driven as much by hard geopolitics as lofty vision.  He sees the re-emergence of expansionist Great Powers on the world stage. In Europe, a newly re-inaugurated President Putin clearly has expansionist tendencies. In President Trump, he sees an American leader who evinces an extreme Republican view that institutions and treaties are there to constrain other lesser folks not the “shining city on the hill,” as demonstrated by the White House’s hostility to the flawed but important Iraq nuclear deal (more about that Friday). And, like sensible British leaders, Macron recognises that regimes and institutions that are covenants without the sword are, as Thomas Hobbes once had it, of no use to any man.   

Or Ever More Pragmatism?

And yet there is an even wider issue revealed by the whole Galileo debate – the slow emergence of a hybrid EU. Brexit is not just changing Britain, it is also changing the EU. Seen from the Dutch side of the Ditch this is an essential point too often missed in the dismal exchange that passes for the Establishment’s Brexit debate in Britain.

Naturally, much effort is being made by Paris to suggest that the European Intervention Initiative is in line with the creation of an avant-garde that promotes permanent structured co-operation (PESCO) and thus, the EII is a natural extension of CSDP. Far from it.  In fact, the EII has far more to do with the November 1998 Anglo-French St Malo Declaration (see my brilliant article Time to Bite the Eurobullet in the June 1998 New Statesman), the 2010 Lancaster House Treaties (see my even ‘brillianter’ Chatham House paper entitled Britain and France: A Dialogue of Decline?) and the development of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force or CJEF between 2010 and 2016. That is why the May Government is right to embrace EII, albeit with a caveat. Europeans are not in need of more acronyms, they need more capable forces.  

Schuman, Macron and Cob-Webs

Therefore, what President Macron is offering (for he is the architect) is not only the further cementing of France at the centre of a cob-web of influence axes that stretches across Europe, much in the same way as Schuman.  He is also offering Britain a chance to continue to exert its influence on European defence after Brexit.  However, such influence will only be leveraged if Britain maintains the necessary military power to justify it. Such power is by no means guaranteed so long as the link between threat, policy and British capability remains broken. At the very least, the eternal threat to the defence budget from the Sword of Hammocles and the strategy-free tyranny of HM Treasury’s Green Book will have to be eased for a time if London is to exploit the influence capable British armed forces would afford it.

Galileo Galilei once said that “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them”. The EII is established on a simple truism that no autonomous, credible European defence capability could exist with the British locked outside.  For all Macron’s lofty talk of an ever deeper, German taxpayer-funded EU, Macron also understands the relationship between pragmatism and change.  Read between M le president’s eloquent lines and another Talleyrand-esque reality becomes apparent – future Europe will also necessarily be a great power led Europe if Europe is to meet the threats it faces. Read even further between Macron’s lines and one can see the emergence of a hybrid EU that not only Britain might one day feel comfortable to re-join, but which many Europeans would want Britain to re-join.  Brexit is not the end of a game of thrones, it is just the beginning of a game that is as eternal as the struggle for power in Europe.

Robert Schuman understood power. So does President Macron. Precisely because the ambitions of both Schuman and Macron were far greater than the ability of France alone to deliver them they both envisioned French-centred European mechanisms to deliver them. And, when it comes to matters concerning ‘defence l’europe’ such mechanisms must also necessarily be Brit-friendly. In that sense, little has changed in French thinking since May 9, 1950. Therefore, expect a ‘proportionate’ French-led European response to the dangers which threaten it to include a Britain that is both in the EII and Galileo. The Commission? Dream on.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Britain’s Greatest Warship or HMS Hood 2?


Alphen, Netherlands. 3 May. Tough one this. I am a great fan of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales and have been since they were conceived in 1998.  The two ships provide Britain with a command and power projection capability that will enable London to lead military coalitions of allies and partners for years to come. The two ships will also leverage Britain’s unique maritime-amphibious expertise and are a testament to those who say that Britain can no longer cut it at the cutting edge of military power. All well and good.

Captain Jerry Kyd and his mainly young crew are to be congratulated for their efforts to get HMS Queen Elizabeth commissioned and ready for front-line service. She has undergone a tough programme of sea trials during which she has not just been tested to breaking point she has also had to dodge all-too-predictable headlines about this or that bit of kit not working properly.  The clue is in the name - sea trials.

Britain’s Greatest Warship?

And yet I am also deeply concerned. On Sunday evening I watched the third episode of a BBC documentary about ‘Big Lizzie’ entitled Britain’s Greatest Warship.  Like all BBC documentaries, the ship was only of secondary importance and in the programme fast became a floating metaphor for contemporary multicultural, gender-equality Britain. Still, that is the Britain that the ship will help defend and as I have been a long-time supporter of women naval professionals on Royal Navy ships you will hear no complaints from me on that score. Indeed, I have seen at close quarters that these naval professionals are every bit as good as their male counterparts.  The programme did at times come close to ‘tokenising’ these women and an American friend did ask me if the programme might be better entitled Britain’s Greatest Female Warship. The documentary spent far too much time on the ship’s advanced waste disposal system, which failed. Indeed, it spent more time discussing the waste disposal system  than the F-35B Lightning II fast jets HMS Queen Elizabeth will carry, the first of which she is due to take on board later this year off Florida. 

So, why am I concerned?  HMS Queen Elizabeth is not only a metaphor for contemporary Britain she is also a metaphor for all that is wrong with British defence policy. UK National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill has just told a parliamentary committee something I have been banging on about since I published my 2015 book Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (which is, of course, brilliant and very reasonably-priced). Sedwill noted that there are weaknesses across the entire British national security system and that Russia poses the greatest direct military threat. I am tempted to say halle-bloody-lula that a senior government official has finally come clean about this dangerous reality, although he failed to warn about that that other great threat to the British armed forces, HM Treasury.  Indeed, I very much doubt if aforesaid HM Treasury will accept the consequences of the logic of Sedwill’s statement – that Britain must spend more, more intelligently and quickly on a strengthened defence.  This is because Britain’s defences are in a mess precisely because of the Government’s own short-termism and the 2010 and 2015 Strategic Security and Defence Reviews which reflected a London that only wanted to recognise as much threat as it thought could afford.

Big Lizzie in a Crisis

HMS Queen Elizabeth is like a marathon runner who having run 35km of a 42km race declares that he has finished.  In terms of the threats HMS Queen Elizabeth could face in the front-line she is by no means finished.  So much so that last year I made a short but very well-informed film in which I sank her simply to demonstrate precisely the danger of failing to fully equip and protect her.  Now, some apologists for government policy suggest that whatever the weaknesses in the Royal Navy’s surface and sub-surface capabilities she will always be surrounded by very capable allies. This is nonsense. Let’s suppose, in 2025 say, the Americans are busy with a major crisis in Asia-Pacific and Russia uses that crisis opportunistically to cause trouble in Europe.  In such circumstances, it could well be that Britain and its European allies would be called upon to act as first responders.

HMS Queen Elizabeth would then need to rely on European allies to form the backbone of a task group of which she would be the command core.  Only the French Navy comes close to the required offensive and defensive capabilities such a deployed task group would need facing a hostile Russian Northern Fleet.  The Royal Netherlands Navy, the Royal Danish Navy, the Royal Norwegian Navy all face critical weaknesses, whilst the Belgian, Italian and the once-mighty Germany Navy are mired in full-blown cost-capability crises.

Russian Roulette

Russia is also deploying a range of new submarines and anti-ship systems. Let me highlight one such system – the 3M22 Zircon. Zircon is a carrier-sinking manoeuvrable hyper-sonic cruise missile capable of a range of 1000 kilometres at a speed of 9800 kilometres per hour. The system was successfully tested in June 2017 and will be deployed to the Russian Navy in 2020 with an export variant being prepared.  The Royal Navy’s supersonic Sea Ceptor missile, which equips some of the Duke-class Type 23s and is scheduled for deployment on the future Type 26 frigates, can only intercept airborne threats up to Mach 3. Zircon is capable of speeds up to Mach 6.

Two things are likely to happen. London is aware that without the Americans present in some strength HMS Queen Elizabeth is extremely vulnerable to an attack from the state just identified as the main military threat. In such circumstances, London would do all it could to avoid deploying her undermining not only Britain faced with a crisis but NATO too.  Consequently, she would become an ‘anything-but-war’ ship.  This raises a fundamental question: given pressures on British defence budgets have always suffered a certain tightness due to the eternal gap between stated British intentions and actual British capabilities why on Earth did Britain build her if she could not be used for the very scenario that justified her expense. Her cost has undoubtedly warped both naval budgets and naval strategy and helped create the very unbalanced and under-hulled Royal Navy of today.

There is a second possible course of action, which really concerns me.  In 1919 Britain launched HMS Hood. She looked fantastic and soon a myth emerged around ‘the mighty Hood’. That did not matter so much in the early 1920s and enabled the then British Government to mask the necessary but swingeing cuts to the enormous Grand Fleet wielded by the Geddes Axe in the immediate aftermath of World War One.  However, the myth of the Hood persisted and even the Navy began to believe it. She underwent a partial modernisation in the 1930s but defence cuts meant they were never completed.  In truth, far from being the fast battleship, some claimed her to be, she was the same old flawed battlecruiser design that had seen three of her forebears explode at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. Ships that sacrificed vital protection in the mistaken belief that increased speed afforded the best protection.  On 24 May, 1941, in company (and not without irony) with the then brand new battleship HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Hood engaged the new German fast battleship, KM Bismarck.  Shortly into the battle, a shell from Bismarck’s fifth salvo penetrated the aft main armament magazine and HMS Hood exploded and sank with the loss of all but three of her complement of 1418 men.

A Pain in the Rollocks

I have been accused of late of being a negative pain in the rollocks over HMS Queen Elizabeth.  This is not because I am against either the Navy or HMS Queen Elizabeth. My grandfather served and was sunk (more than once) in the Royal Navy, I believe in the Royal Navy and I believe that Britain should have strategic assets such as start-of-the-art aircraft carriers if it is to play its rightful role in the deterrence afforded by NATO.  No, my concerns are for the young men and women on board that ship if Britain’s leaders do not move quickly to close the gaping hole between identified threat, defence policy and the resourcing thereof. At the very least the crew of HMS Queen Elizabeth should be afforded every capability that would enable the ship to do what it was designed to do at great cost if needed – fight, survive and prevail!

One of the few things I can claim some expertise in is the changing character and future of war. Indeed, my latest book will be on this very issue with two distinguished American generals. Make no mistake, future war, if and when it happens, will be astonishingly fast and devastatingly destructive – even before nuclear weapons are used.  For Britain to play at such power will simply transfer risk from politicians to service personnel. For that reason, I will continue to be a pain in the rollocks however inconvenient my concerns are for the upper echelons of Britain’s armed forces or the bureaucracy of government.

Quelling a Myth Before it Starts 

There is already a myth developing around HMS Queen Elizabeth that was implicit in the title of the BBC documentary. HMS Queen Elizabeth might be Britain’s biggest ever warship but she by no means the greatest, let alone the mightiest. Indeed, in relative terms, given the enemy she was designed to fight, her forebear, 1915 commissioned Super-Dreadnought HMS Queen Elizabeth was mightier yet, as the song goes. 

London must complete the marathon and properly equip HMS Queen Elizabeth and the ships and submarines that will protect her from the dangers she could well face.  Indeed, finishing the job that is HMS Queen Elizabeth will go a long way to preventing the very disaster I describe. It is called deterrence.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 30 April 2018

North Korea: My Big Bang Theory




"Women ran into the streets with children in their arms, many only half-dressed in housecoats and slippers, the men running henny-penny with them, certain of them in uniform, giving the scene a weird drama. People ran up the stairs that lead up the slopes of the hills. Someone fell, he was picked up and dragged. Cars jammed the routes out of town. The cars were packed, but despite this, they stopped to pick up children which their mothers literally threw into the arms of strangers. Screams, cries, curses – all drowned out by the thunder and howl from the volcano that was Mount Okol'naya (Soviet Northern Fleet ammunition dump). Black with an orange-purple mushroom top, growing to its full height in an instant, nodding toward the town, but afterwards, it began to slowly settle in the direction of the tundra and the ocean."

Eye-witness account of the Severomorsk disaster, May 1984

A Korean Peace?

Alphen, Netherlands. 30 April. This is a speculative blog so bear with me. On June 25, 1950, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) invaded the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The Korean War had begun. On September 15, 1950, US forces under General Douglas MacArthur landed at Inchon and took up command of United Nations force committed to the defence of South Korea. On October 27, 1950, 270,000 troops of China’s People’s Liberation Army attacked US-led United Nations forces by crossing the Yalu River into North Korea. On July 23, 1953, the Korean Armistice was signed at Panmunjom establishing a truce and a demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea at the 38th Parallel, but no formal peace. By the 1953 agreement of the truce some 2.5 million people had been killed of which 1.13 million were Korean.  The consequences of the war also affected Europe leading to an intensification of the Cold War, German rearmament and a failed attempt to create a European Defence Community (See Lindley-French J. “A Chronology of European Security and Defence 1945-2007” Oxford: Oxford University Press). On April 27, 2018 ‘an inter-Korean summit’ saw President Kim Jung-un make history by crossing the 38th Parallel (a short step for man, a giant leap for Korean kind?). He was the first North Korean leader to do so, even though North and South Korea are still technically at war. South Korean President Moon Jae-in hailed the move and hoped that in time the Korean War could be formally ended and a “permanent and solid peace” established.  For good or ill history is on the move again on the Korean Peninsula. So, what has led Kim Jung-un to a potentially historic change of mind?

President Kim Jung-un is clearly on a political and strategic journey.  In November 2017 he declared in that North Korea was a nuclear power capable of striking the United States.  In January 2018 North Korea indicated its willingness to take part in the Winter Olympics in South Korea and on 9 February Korean athletes marched at the Opening Ceremony under a flag depicting a united Korean Peninsula.  South Korea and the US agreed to postpone joint military exercises during the Games, even though Pyongyang indicated it did not object to such exercises, a first in and of itself.  On 8 March, having threatened the United States with nuclear destruction Kim suddenly announced that he would have face-to-face talks with US President Donald J. Trump.  In late March Kim also paid a surprise four-day visit to Beijing.

Why has Kim Moved Now?

There are several schools of thought. One school is that having established North Korea as a credible nuclear power, at least in his own mind, and having shored up his own position at home following a purge of possible rivals, Kim now feels strong enough to negotiate.  China may also be a factor.   The recent visit by Kim to Beijing had something of the summons about it. This is pure educated speculation but it may well be that President Xi made it perfectly clear to Kim the limits of China’s political, economic and military support for Pyongyang. Specifically, that China would not tolerate Kim starting a war with South Korea and the United States and that Beijing would not continue to sustain the Pyongyang regime if it continued to behave with reckless strategic abandon. It could even be possible that by talking directly to the United States Kim is trying to leverage influence over Beijing.

And then there is sentimentalism.  September 9th, 2018 will mark the seventieth anniversary National Day since the founding of DPRK and the rise to power by his grandfather Kim Il-sung in 1948.  It could well be that Kim wants a spectacular success to mark the anniversary.

Two Systems, One Peninsula?

What should be hoped for from the negotiations? A formal end to the Korean War whilst an important symbol would only be a first step on the road to a sustained peace. The Korean People’s Army, which recently celebrated its own seventieth anniversary, can call upon over 6 million personnel in a crisis. Moreover, North Korea has some 15,000 artillery pieces and missile launchers less than 35 miles/55 kilometres from the South Korean capital, Seoul.  As I wrote in a previous missive it would be a mistake to focus solely on the nuclear issue and to draw down US conventional forces on the Peninsula as part of a new peace agreement without also addressing the threat posed by Pyongyang’s conventional forces.  The danger in such circumstances would be that the possibility of a Korea unified would become real, albeit on Kim’s terms. After all, Pyongyang regularly threatens to ‘liberate’ South Korea. Therefore, the most that can be hoped for, or indeed aimed at in 2018 is a change in the atmospherics of the key relationships and the establishment of some form of road map to peace. 

What would that mean in practical terms?  The route any road-map follows, and the length of the road itself, should be dictated by compliance and verification. In the first instance, the US and its South Korean ally should commit to a verifiable build-down of the forces of both sides on the Korean Peninsula and the withdrawal of DPRK artillery and short-range missiles beyond the range of the demilitarized zone.  In return for compliance, some sanctions on Pyongyang would be lifted. As a mark of goodwill families divided for generations should also be allowed to meet and a whole host of exchanges take place from the highest levels of government to all levels of society, and across all age groups.

Are there any models from history? There are some commentators drawing parallels with the two Germanys at the end of the Cold War. Such aspirations seem wildly optimistic to me.  The two Germanys had not fought a hot war with each other and whilst the two economies were markedly different German unification was just about affordable for the Federal Republic. The cost of Korean unification would likely be upward of $1 trillion, or the size of the entire South Korean economy.  In other words, Korean unification could only take place with lots of external support. 

My Big Bang Theory

There could another much more straightforward and rational reason for Kim’s sudden move. During the summit, Kim apparently offered to de-nuclearise if the US promised not to invade. Yesterday came news that in May North Korea plans to close its only nuclear test site at Punggye-Ri.  In September 2017 the site was badly damaged in an explosion and subsequent landslide that killed up to 300 people.  It may be that the site is now too unstable to conduct further large-scale nuclear tests, which is perhaps why over the weekend President Kim announced the site is to close. 

In May 1984, in what became known as the Severomorsk disaster, a massive series of blasts destroyed the arsenal of the then Red Banner North Fleet, the strongest of the Soviet Union’s four fleets, and killed up to 300 people. The blast was so great that Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service first mistook the shockwave for an atomic explosion. Shortly after the disaster, the Soviet Union changed its negotiating position markedly in both the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) and Mutually-Balanced Force Reduction (MBFR) talks. This is pure speculation but it could be that North Korea simply can no longer afford to fix the site, which may present the best hope for de-nuclearisation of the Peninsula.

Is Trump Pushing an Open Pyongyang Door?

In any case, I am getting way ahead of myself here. The meeting between Kim and Moon was, in fact, the warm-up bout for the main event on the card – the Kim-Trump fight.  As such last week’s meeting should be seen as very much a first short step on a very long road. Nor is Kim likely to offer his nascent strategic nuclear arsenal as a stake, unless that is he has no alternative.   

If not President Trump is undoubtedly taking an immense diplomatic risk meeting President Kim Jung-un. Commentators are understandably focussed on the possibilities for peace such a meeting throws up and President Trump is to be congratulated for seizing the moment. However, the danger of such high-level gambles is that when they fail there is no other diplomatic route to follow and all diplomatic room for manoeuvre closes. In such circumstances, relations can drop of the edge of a diplomatic cliff and could tip Korea back onto the verge of war. At the very least President Trump would be wise to emphasise that the meeting is but a first step, that it is ultimately the responsibility of the Korean people to decide the future of the Korean Peninsula, the road ahead will be long, and the US is going nowhere until a lasting peace has clearly been established.
Trust in God and Keep Your Powder Dry

Unless that is President Trump knows something the rest of us do not that would change the entire balance of the negotiations – the Ponggye Ri disaster? In which case, Trump’s timing could be deliberate as US intelligence will be all over the September disaster. This could explain why yesterday US National Security Adviser John Bolton said that North Korean de-nuclearisation must be irreversible. He may be pushing at an open Pyongyang door.  If that is so the possibility of such a meeting serving peace has probably never been greater and Trump may have a unique chance to help establish peace on the Korean Peninsula. Equally, in dealing with North Korea President Trump would be wise to remember the words once attributed to Oliver Cromwell, “Trust in God…and keep your powder dry”.

Julian Lindley-French   

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Donald et Emmanuel?

Donald et Emmanuel?
"Franco-American relations have been, and always will be, both conflictual and excellent. The US finds France unbearable with its pretensions; we find the US unbearable with its hegenomism. But deep down, we remember that the 'boys' - came to help us two times, just as the Americans remember that the French helped them with their independence. So there will be sparks but no fire, because a real bond exists."
President Jacques Chirac
Alphen, Netherlands. 25 April. This week’s state visit to the United States by President Macron of France is already a success. Still, the body language is fascinating. Macron is clearly doing all he can to charm Trump, whatever his real personal feelings. Trump is clearly glad to have any ‘friend’ amongst the leaders of the European allies especially one who seems willing to take action in his support.  Just how deep does this new Franco-America ‘special relationship’ go?
Now, I suppose as a Brit I should be in full on snipe from the side-lines mode. Forget it! Brexit-obsessed London has of late lost the strategic plot and in doing so failed to remember the golden rule about power and influence in Washington. To hopelessly paraphrase President Kennedy it matters not what an ally did last week for America, but what an ally is planning to do next week.  In fact, I should paraphrase that statement even more in the context of the current Administration: it is not what an ally did last week for Donald J. Trump that matters, but what he is doing now and tomorrow.
You see both Macron and Trump understand power in a way that no other allied leader seems to grasp, albeit from very different angles. There is really something of the de Gaulle about Macron.  His ambitions are far greater than the state he leads and like de Gaulle, he has the Gaul to state his ambitions loud and clear and seize the mantle of leadership from those who should wear it but choose not to.  Trump sees power in very personal terms.  For him, power is maintaining his own position in the face of constant attacks because what is good for Donald J. Trump is good for America.  Both leaders are strong on ego, most leaders naturally are, unless you are Theresa May. However, whereas one applies ego in pursuit of intelligent design, the other has a visceral, predatory, feral, very personal concept of power.
There are also very clear limits to the influence President Macron and France can bring to bear on Trump’s Washington, not least because there are considerable areas of tension over policy.  The most obvious tension concerns the Iran nuclear deal.  In a desperate attempt to keep Trump on board French officials have been overnight frantically trying to strengthen the agreement by proposing new curbs on the Iranian nuclear and missile programmes and action against Tehran for its support of Assad in Syria.  It is a real test for this new ‘special relationship’.
A further question comes to mind: why does Macron get on with Trump but May and Merkel apparently less so?  The real bond, I suspect, is that both Macron and Trump are risk takers.  Macron’s France-magnifying speech last week in which he called for more ‘Europe’ not less came just as his own lustre back home is fading and goes against the mood amongst much of his own people and much of the rest of Europe. One might go as far as to say that Brexit has already succeeded in legitimising euro-scepticism and Macron’s efforts to counter it represents as much a political risk as his efforts to take on the embedded economic interests of whole groups of French workers.  Trump is the very embodiment of risk. Someone who seems to operate on the basis that any particular goal at any particular time which is worth pursuing for whatever end must be pursued at all costs and damn the consequences.  His demarche towards North Korea’s Kim Jung-un is a case in point.  Some would see it as a bold move to end the North Korean nuclear programme, others as a na├»ve step doomed to end in failure.  In fact, it is both of those things and as such is also pure Trump – a grand gamble.
Why not May nor Merkel?  Part of me is tempted to wonder out loud if President Trump’s appalling view of women may have something to do with the less than stellar relationship he ‘enjoys’ with both.  In fact, I think the problems go deeper.  Chemistry matters enormously with Trump and the ‘chemistry’ with both May and Merkel is not great.  In May’s case, Trump smells weakness something he instinctively despises.  Worse, in spite of the forthcoming visit to Britain this summer Trump has been personally offended by the repeated insults he has suffered at the hands of a British political class that has used him as a giant neon-lit virtue-signalling boardwalk sign. Merkel? Chalk and cheese. Add that to the ambivalent view of America held by many Germans and by default political space opens up for France and President Macron.
So, just how far can the Macron-Trump relationship go?  For the sake of the transatlantic relationship one hopes it goes a lot further. Indeed, the real test of Macron’s influence will be the extent to which he can exert both a shaping and restraining power over Trump. And here I begin to wonder about the depth of the relationship precisely because Macron and Trump see power in very different ways. For Macron, power is about strategy and control designed to lead to grand outcomes that showcase both him and France. Power is thus about gloire which is again something Gaullist if not Bonapartist about Macron.  Ultimately, power is about order.  For Trump power is about disorder, about divide and rule, about keeping enemies permanently off-balance. Power is thus about chaos. For Trump America’s enemies are his enemies and for that reason, most are to be found in Washington not elsewhere.
For all the above there is something enduring about the Franco-American relationship which Chirac touched on and which the constant (anti-British?) references this week to France being America’s oldest ally reflect.  Just prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq I was having lunch in Congress where I tasted the infamous ‘freedom fries’. Blair and Britain was on the up and France and President Chirac were the embodiments of perfidy. It was thus deemed on longer suitable for French fries to be on the menu.  To be honest, they were fatty and somewhat over-cooked. A metaphor? Fifteen years on and France is again in the ascendant in Washington.
Will it last? Probably not.  Whilst the relationship is indeed enduring it also swings on a pendulum over time and often between personal chemistry and enduring shared interests at one end, and profound disagreements over policy at the other, most notably NATO (although Trump is the most NATO-sceptical US president in the alliance’s history). And, of course, neither Macron nor Trump will be in power or in office or both for very long.  
Britain? London must learn again how to play the power and influence game. It could start by sending the new British heavy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth together with a task group of Type 45 destroyers and Astute-class nuclear attack submarines to the US Navy’s fleet base at Norfolk, Virginia.  There, invite President Trump to give a speech about burden-sharing aboard a mighty British warship and my bet is he will go all gooily British again. I can envision the speech already (I am willing to write it for a fee): “Here I stand in Norfolk, Virginia, historic home of the mighty United States Navy aboard a mighty warship and she flies not the Stars and Stripes but the historic White Ensign flag of the mighty Royal Navy”. I might have overdone the ‘mighty’ bit but you get the picture.
For the moment the Franco-American relationship is in fine fettle.  It is an advantage for all us who believe in the transatlantic relationship that it is and remains so.  President Macron had the courage to engage President Trump rather than join the European ‘Ode to Whatever’ Chorus of disapproval.  For that alone President Macron and French diplomacy deserve our plaudits for seeing the bigger picture and having the vision to act on it.  Prime Minister May? Bigger Picture? Power? Vision?
Chapeau, M. le president!
Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Syria Strike: The Military-Strategic Lessons for Britain


“Put your confidence in us. Give us your faith and your blessing, and under Providence, all will be well. We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools and we will finish the job”.

Winston Spencer Churchill, February 1941

Summary: Too much of the risk of British military operations is being transferred to British service personnel by a growing gap between the ends, ways and means of British defence policy. Therefore, given the deteriorating strategic environment the very least the British Government must do is to increase defence expenditure from its current (and questionable) 2% of GDP to 2.5% GDP AND remove the cost of the strategic nuclear deterrent from the defence budget.  Britain will also have to sort out failed defence procurement policy even if that means buying more off-the-shelf from abroad and separating defence policy from employment policy by forcing ‘national champions’ to offer better value for money. Failure to take either measure could well lead to one of those military disasters that pot-mark British history.
Limited Action, Big Implications

Alphen, Netherlands. 16 April. What are the military-strategic lessons for Britain from last week’s Syria strike and what did the action tell us about Britain and its armed forces?  Put aside for the moment the official narrative emerging from London that last week’s action was simply in pursuit of humanitarian protection and to counter the use of chemical weapons.  No, the action was part of a much wider geopolitical struggle with Russia and its new acolytes, such as Iran.  The good news for the Armed Forces was that the action was ‘limited’. The Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns, compounded by deep defence cuts since 2010 have left Britain unable to mount anything more than a ‘limited’ action.  The bad news is that coming operations are unlikely to be quite so limited.
Two events served to highlight the dangerously weak condition of Britain’s armed forces. Firstly, for several days last week in the Eastern Mediterranean an Astute-class Royal Navy nuclear-powered attack submarine was hunted by possibly two super-quiet Russian submarines (known to NATO officers as ‘the Black Hole’) supported by surface forces as it tried to manoeuvre into position to launch Tomahawk Cruise missiles.  The Russians only backed off when an American P8 Poseidon anti-submarine aircraft entered the fray. In the end, four missiles were Britain’s very limited contribution to a strike that saw the US launch 89 missiles and the French 12.  Secondly, even though HMS Duncan, a modern Type 45 destroyer was in the region it was unable to contribute to the strike because the cruise missile launcher that was due to be installed was cancelled due to defence cuts.

Bad Policy, Worse Procurement
Part of the problem is Britain’s broken defence procurement system. The procurement of complex defence systems is not easy, as the Russians are also discovering. However, Britain’s ‘system’ of procurement (‘mess’ would be a better word) minimise the defence investment value of the relatively (it is all relative) few pounds London commits to the defence of Britain and its allies.   

Take the Astute-class submarines and the Type-45 destroyers. The planned for seven Astutes have taken too long to build and according to the House of Commons Defence Committee cost 53% above budget.  Contrast that with the Russian Varshavyanka (NATO codename ‘improved Kilo’) class of the Black Seas Fleet that stalked the Astute-class sub.  The first was first launched in 2011 and all 6 had been delivered to the Russian Navy by 2016. The first of seven planned Astutes was launched in 2007 (HMS Astute) and the last (HMS Ajax) will not be commissioned until 2024 at the earliest.  The Type 45s proved so expensive that the original 12 were first reduced to 8 and then 6, with most of the class in harbour undergoing expensive repairs. In other words, the Royal Navy has the destroyers London says it can afford, not the destroyers it needs. Consequently, the British are having to keep clapped-out Type 23 frigates of the Duke class in service until at least the mid-2020s at the earliest when the planned Type 26 Global Combat Ship is due to replace them. Again, 13 of the new Type 26 ships were envisioned and that is now down to 8.  Some senior Royal Navy commanders are also concerned that these ‘cut-price’ anti-submarine ships will not even be up to the task for which they are being procured.
However, it is HMS Queen Elizabeth that shows a critical weakness at the heart of British defence policy – a lack of policy consistency.  The carrier and her sister HMS Prince of Wales were originally conceived back in 1998 as part of the then Strategic Defence Review.  In the twenty years that have passed from conception to completion ‘Big Lizzie’ was first meant to have catapults and arrester wire systems (cats and traps), then not, then in 2010 the new Government decided she should indeed have them, and then not. The result: time, money and military capability wasted, and in great abundance.

Which brings me to the P8 Poseidon that ‘saved’ the British submarine last week. Back in 2010, Britain was about to deploy the MRA4 anti-submarine aircraft. Five had been built at great cost to the taxpayer (the project was as per norm hopelessly over-time and over-budget) and I had even ‘flown’ the simulator at RAF Kinloss…and crashed! On the eve of their deployment, the Government scrapped both the project and the brand new aircraft. Indeed, I can remember standing in Hangar 4 of RAF Kinloss listening to a senior RAF commander who had flown up from London to tell his colleagues of the decision. As he spoke, a US Navy P-3 Orion aircraft that happened to be at Kinloss for repairs took off to search for two Russian hunter-killer submarines that had entered British waters. Now, Britain is to procure 9 P8 Poseidon aircraft, at even greater cost. It is enough to make any taxpayer weep.  

 ‘Can Do’ Will Not Always be Enough
Which brings me back to the military-strategic lessons of the Syria strike. A few years ago I paid a visit to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, the base of the 1979-commissioned Tornado GR4s that delivered the 4 Storm Shadow missiles that struck Syrian chemical weapons facilities.  These are very good people trying to do the utmost for their country with what they have been given.  They ooze that ‘can-do’ spirit of British armed forces personnel who time and again manage to close the all-too-wide gap that exists between British defence policy, Britain’s military capability, and the desire of Britain’s politicians to give an impression of strength when all-too-often it does not exist.
The lessons of what happened last week off the coast of Syria, and what is happening too often these days in the North Atlantic and elsewhere, concern strategic pretence and its deadly consequences. It has also revealed the dangerous and growing gap between the capabilities Britain’s armed forces have and those they desperately need if they are to successfully deter and defend Britain and reinforce all-important NATO deterrence.  Above all, the Syria strike also revealed the growing level of risk and threat the forces must face if they are to successfully carry out government policy.  All too often in Britain’s past, this dangerous equation has led to disaster.

Balance Sheet or Balance of Power
Since the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, London has been trying to row back fast from what was already a limited set of defence commitments set against the wider strategic scheme of things. Whitehall, and HM Treasury in particular, has engaged in a whole raft of political face-saving exercises to pretend further defence cuts are not in fact cuts. The latest political coup de main is National Security Advisor Sir Mark Sedwill’s review of national security capabilities. If there is no other lesson from Syria surely it must be that successfully pulling the wool over the eyes of the public and allies, whilst satisfying to those charged with the weekly political management of Government business, it is potentially disastrous for the country.  

At root, the problem with British defence policy is both political and cultural. Chancellor Phillip Hammond is so fixated on deficit and debt reduction he is impervious to the growing threats Britain and its allies face.  Now, I understand the extent of the damage done to Britain’s economy by the 2008 banking crisis. Indeed, one only has to read the excellent studies by the Institute for Fiscal Studies to grasp the scale of the damage. However, there is an ideological aspect to Hammond’s thinking as he tries to engineer a public finance surplus. Unfortunately, Hammond also forces London to make a choice between a healthier balance sheet and a more secure Britain.  What happened last week off Syria last week suggests strongly that the balance has to shift sensibly (but not totally) back to the latter. Theresa May needs to drive that shift and fast.
Britain is not alone amongst European powers in believing it can cut its armed forces at little strategic cost.  For too long Europeans have mired themselves in the theory of defence policy rather than the hard reality.  Yes, defence expenditure has begun to creep up in Europe but only from such a ridiculously low level that it has contributed actively to make Europe and the world much more dangerous than it need be. Europe does not need more acronyms, it needs more forces!

Give Them the Tools…
If British defence policy continues on its current trajectory and tasks expand across the conflict spectrum at a far faster rate than any marginal increase in real defence expenditure the risk associated with even limited operations will also grow exponentially.  The consequence could well be another of those military disasters that pot-mark British history. The options are clear: either Britain abandons its ambition to remain a serious defence actor or it increases defence investment in line with ambition. Not to do so will only court an ever-growing risk of disaster and in so doing transmute the political risk of failed defence policy for political leaders into an exaggerated life and death risk for serving military personnel.  Failure to align the ends, ways and means of British defence policy will also critically undermine both NATO and the transatlantic relationship as the Americans are already unimpressed by Britain’s pretence at burden-sharing.

Therefore, if Britain’s armed forces are to be given the tools to do the jobs that could well be asked of them Britain needs a real security and defence review that properly sets the roles and missions of the force in the wider context of British security policy and a dangerous world. Such a review would take into account the changing role of force across the new security and defence equation given the emergence of new technologies in pursuit of people protection and power projection.  And, having conducted such a review British politicians would for once then need to stick to the commitments they make. 
From my assessment of the deteriorating strategic environment, the very least Britain will need to do is to increase defence expenditure from its current (and very questionable) 2% of GDP to 2.5% AND remove the cost of the strategic nuclear deterrent from the defence budget.  Britain will also have to once and for all sort out failed defence procurement policy even if that means buying more off-the-shelf from abroad and separating defence policy from employment policy by forcing ‘national champions’ to offer better value for money.

Britain’s Biggest Warship
On Sunday night I watched an excellent new BBC documentary entitled Britain’s Biggest Warship about the Royal Navy’s new heavy aircraft carrier (she is not a ‘super-carrier’ as the BBC would have it) HMS Queen Elizabeth.  Captain Jerry Kyd and his impressive and mainly young crew are an outstanding team. Last year I sank her.  Yes, I made a short film entitled The Second Battle of North Cape in which an impressive but under-equipped NATO Task Group led by ‘Big Lizzie’ was sunk in a 2025 confrontation with Russian submarines off northern Norway. The film is, of course, a worst-case scenario but every senior officer who has seen it has said it is realistic.

So, why did I make the film? My mission is to analyse strategic and military developments and assess consequences – particularly worst-case consequences. One former very senior British officer told me I had a reputation for hitting London over the head with a very long-handled hammer. He is correct. Naturally, London does not thank me for it, nor do parts of the military command chain, even though privately they often tell me I am right. Rather, they prefer academics and analysts who tell them what they want to hear because for London politics is still more important than strategy.
There was one scene in the BBC documentary when a compartment began to flood on HMS Queen Elizabeth.  The crew fixed it with the professionalism that one would expect of the Royal Navy. Imagine that same situation in a war. The clue is in the name – warship. My fear is this – somewhere, sometime, those young, brave people who serve me and my nation so admirably will find themselves plugging the hole between Britain’s failed defence policy and the new, dangerous, potentially explosive reality they will face.  They do not deserve that which is why I will keep pushing for a return of strategic sense to Britain’s leaders, and a British security and defence policy that is based on a reasoned assessment of the threats country and its allies face, not how much threat Britain’s politicians think Britain can afford.

The reason I push and will continue to push is that I am a Briton, a European, a historian and a strategist.  My job is to study war: its past, its present and for me most worryingly its future.  Uncomfortable though people like me may be for those charged with protecting ministers from bad headlines my job is also to call it as I professionally see it.  The hard truth is that Britain’s armed forces are dangerously weak given the strategic environment in which they exist and Britain’s relative weight in the world. What will it take for Britain’s leaders to face up to that?  As the film states at the end, “if only…”
Prime Minister May showed real leadership this past week.  She now needs to prove her mettle on defence.

Julian Lindley-French