hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Simulating Smart NATO: the Scheer-Gaulle of it!

“…they should know when we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies, ‘Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting’”.
Winston Spencer Churchill (No, I am not raising the ghost of Winston to make a point about Brexit!)

Can NATO REALLY adapt?

Izmir, Turkey. 14 March. How can we better engage Alliance leaders with the security and defence of their own citizens in a dangerous world? A shifting balance of military power is often glacial and takes place over many years but at times it can also act like an earthquake as a fault-line gives a bit. This week the fault-line definitely gave a bit. On Tuesday, I had the honour to speak to NATO commanders at the LC3 conference hosted by Lt. General Thompson and his excellent team at NATO LANDCOM here in Izmir. My speech, on NATO and Future War, came a week after Russia’s now long-serving Chief of the General Staff, General Valerij Gerasimov, had laid out his thinking on Russia’s future military strategy. It was also a week in which the US launched a $718bn defence budget, whilst also announcing the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman will be paid off early to enable the US to afford an entirely new generation of weapons to match those being developed and deployed by China and Russia. In this week’s Defense News RAND’s David Ochmanek frankly admitted that, “In our [war] games, when we fight Russia and China blue [Allied forces] gets its ass handed to it”.
My message to NATO commanders was thus necessarily uncompromising – unless NATO REALLY adapts to the security environment, shapes it and fast the old West could be heading for catastrophe. The message I got back from a few of my senior military colleagues was equally and justly compromising – ‘We hear you, Julian, but do our leaders?’ It is this disconnect between NATO collective defence and much of the Alliance’s political leadership which is potentially the greatest vulnerability.

Which Trojan, which horse?

Let me deal with the nature and scope of the threat. A piece in Foreign Affairs this week by Chris Miller asked if economic stagnation is the new Russian normal. It would certainly seem so. Contrast that with a 4 March speech by the Russian Chief of the General Staff entitled The Development of Future Military Strategy at Moscow’s Academy of Military Sciences.  Gerasimov echoed (immodestly on my part) a lot of what I had written in my latest article for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Complex Strategic Coercion and Russian Military Modernisation He talked of the transformation of military threat and the need for a “…system of knowledge and action for the prevention, preparation and conduct of war”. He placed particular emphasis on strategies of what he calls global war, nuclear deterrence and, critically, indirect action.

Gerasimov, predictably, painted the US as the aggressor state and accused the Americans of ‘Trojan horse’ policies designed to eliminate the statehood of “unwanted countries”, undermine state sovereignty, and impose enforced change on elected bodies. Russia see thyself? He also cited what he called Washington’s expansion of its military presence on Russia’s borders and the US abrogation of arms control treaties such as INF as proof positive of Russia’s need to deploy new, advanced missile systems…some of which breach INF. You get the picture.

5D warfare and the new method of struggle

Gerasimov also talked of new ‘methods of struggle’ and the shift towards the integrated use of political, economic, international, and other “non-military measures, albeit implemented with reliance on military force”. Critically, he re-stated his long-held conviction that the main effort for Russia’s military strategy must be the preparation for war and its conduct, primarily, but not exclusively, by the armed forces.
All of this chimes rather neatly with my own concept of 5D warfare – the systematic application of deception, disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, and implied destruction as strategy.  Gerasimov’s vision for the Russian future force also echoes American thinking about the coming conduct of warfare simultaneously across the seven domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. Gerasimov placed particular emphasis on the prosecution of what I call war at the seams of our complex societies and war at the margins of our complex institutions, most notably NATO and the EU.

Shock and some limited aweski?

At the heart of Gerasimov’s remarks was a very Russian idea of shock and awe, albeit in pursuit of limited strategic objectives.  To that end, he highlighted the need for constant high combat readiness and rapid force mobilisation to achieve decisive surprise. To reinforce that aim he called specifically for the systematic identification and exploitation of the vulnerabilities of adversaries and the threat of “unacceptable damage” as a means of imposing influence and deterring a response.

Gerasimov’s Ultima Ratio Regum is that Russian force of arms be underpinned by strengthened Russian nuclear and non-nuclear ‘deterrence’ via the continued deployment of advanced weapons systems with his military art ‘enlightened’ by the strategic and operational lessons Russia has learnt in Syria for the conduct of what he calls “restricted actions”. Gerasimov also talked at some length about the large-scale use of military robotic and other unmanned systems allied to the enhanced exploitation of electronic warfare but again only as part of “strategy of limited action”. In other words, Russia still only envisages fighting a brutal but short war, if it fights one at all.

What particularly struck me was the level of understanding Gerasimov displayed of Allied vulnerabilities and weaknesses. There was also a particular emphasis on innovative thinking via so-called ‘Forecast Scenarios’ that would enable a better understanding of armed conflict might be started and exploited by Russia for maximum political effect.  In other words, Gerasimov is seriously thinking about war with NATO and how to fight it.

The problem for the Alliance is just how ‘limited’ is Gerasimov’s ‘limited’? A Norwegian friend and colleague at the meeting said that the real danger posed by Russia was that it was “risk willing”. In fact, threat is the consequence of President Putin’s ‘risk willingness’, the scope of his strategic ambition, and the risk aversion of many European leaders in combination. It is a threat that is further compounded by a very Russian idea of a strategic-economic ‘model’ – the weaker the economy becomes the more Moscow invests in ‘security’. History suggests this ‘model’ more often than not eventually falls apart and leads to catastrophe.

Simulating Smart NATO

How could a smart NATO counter Russia’s unsmartness?  This week also marked the twentieth anniversary of the moment when former Warsaw Pact states the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland exercised their right to self-determination and joined the Alliance. Thereafter, a wave of former Cold War adversaries became allies. Reading General Gerasimov it is clear how much this profound shift in the political and security geography of Europe still rankles with Moscow and the Kremlin’s determination to re-impose influence over many of those states around Russia’s western border with force a key component in Moscow’s complex coercive influence strategy.

Gerasimov has one clear advantage over his NATO counterparts – his boss President Putin has given him unequivocal instructions to do just that - coerce. President Putin routinely chairs exercises and simulations in which he plays himself. When one talks to NATO commanders the work they are doing to counter Gerasimov and his now several ‘doctrines’ is impressive. However, unlike Gerasimov, NATO commanders struggle with real political buy-in at the highest levels.

Part of the problem is political culture, particularly across much of Western Europe. There was a time when politicians would routinely take part in exercises and simulations to properly understand their own role during an emergency. Now such participation rarely, if ever, happens. And, one of the many seams Gerasimov is seeking to exploit is the yawning seam that too often exists between NATO’s political leaders and their military commanders.

It is not easy to get latter day Western European politicians (and this problem is to a large extent a Western European problem) to engage with such challenges beyond the routine but only occasional NATO Summit. One idea would be to tack a simulation onto such events – be they at Heads of State and Government level or foreign/defence ministerial level. NATO’s leaders need to see and understand why NATO needs to plan for the worst-case and how their own role would unfold during a fast-burning and inevitably multifaceted crisis of the sort General Gerasimov is planning.  

The Scheer Bloody Gaulle of it!

Simulating NATO would thus be a good step towards a smart NATO because a smart NATO is a vital part of a wider strategy that offers Moscow both a way out of the economic and strategic contradiction into which it is driving itself, and protects the free citizens of the Alliance from the very worst case consequences of Russia’s potentially catastrophic contradiction.  

Such an approach might also help Western European leaders stop their latest retreat into defence pretence. This was also the week when senior German CDU politician Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested France and Germany together build a new aircraft carrier. Given the state of Europe’s land forces there are many other things the French and Germans might consider building if they were serious about playing a serious role together in deterring Russia and projecting power.  Still, if they ever do build this thing (which of course they will not) I have come up with the perfect name for – the Scheer-Gaulle. Get it?

Julian Lindley-French      

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Could the Lamps go out all over Asia?

“I said to the German Ambassador that, as long as there was only a dispute between Austria and Serbia alone, I did not feel entitled to intervene, but that, directly it was a matter between Austria and Russia, it became a question of the peace of Europe, which concerned us all”.
Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, 1914

A trilogy of tensions

Alphen, Netherlands. 5 March. Is there a new Serbia in Asia? Three seemingly unrelated but potentially critical events took place in Asia this past week, the world’s new cockpit of Realpolitik. First, south Asia’s two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, exchanged fire and fatalities over disputed Jammu-Kashmir. Second, the second nuclear disarmament for sanctions relief summit between US President Donald J. Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un collapsed. Third, on Friday last, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured the Philippines that if Manila’s forces were attacked in the South China Sea American forces would come to their aid under the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty.

The dispute over the status of Jammu-Kashmir is not merely between India and Pakistan. China also occupies part of Kashmir following its victory in the 1962 Sino-Indian War and the establishment of a so-called Line of Actual Control.  China also acts as the benefactor and de facto guarantor of Pakistan.  Since independence from Britain in 1947 and partition India and Pakistan have fought four wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. Relations between the two powers remains tense, even if on this occasion both Islamabad and New Delhi seem to have chosen to de-escalate the crisis. However, given New Delhi’s concerns about what it regards as terrorist training camps in Pakistani-held territory the threat of war remains.

The implications of the failure of the US-North Korean summit in Hanoi are yet to be understood. The distance between the two sides was evident. Pyongyang appeared to want complete sanction relief for partial disarmament. The Americans would only offer linkage between sanctions relief and disarmament. Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un clearly has no intention of scrapping his current nuclear programme. After talking with Beijing Pyongyang will be deciding this week whether to seek renewed high-level talks with the Americans (lower level talks will continue) or return to a policy of de facto nuclear blackmail of South Korea and a stand-off with the Americans.

Then there is the South China Sea. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was unequivocal during a visit to Manila last Friday, “China’s island-building activities in the South China Sea threaten your (Philippines) sovereignty, security and economic livelihood as well as the United States”. He went on to say that in the event Chinese forces attack Philippine forces the US would intervene militarily in support of the latter. The specific source of friction between China and the Philippines concerns the so-called ‘Nine-Dash Line’, a zone of self-declared Chinese sovereignty over much of the South China Sea plus unrecognised Chinese claim over all the islands and reefs therein.  In July 2016, China effectively lost a case brought before the UN by the Philippines known as South China Sea Arbitration, although Beijing has consistently refused to recognise the decision demanding instead such disputes are resolved bilaterally. In other words, divide and rule.

In recent years China has militarised a string of islands and reefs around the perimeter South China Sea to enforce its claim for an Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ which covers much of region. With the Americans determined to enforce freedom of navigation and China seemingly set on at some point closing the Sea to outsiders the scene is being set for possibly the world’s first truly systemic confrontation.

Asian Realpolitik

In his masterpiece Diplomacy Henry Kissinger wrote, “By 1890, the concept of balance of power had reached the end of its potential. It had been made necessary in the first place by the multitude of states emerging from the ashes of of medieval aspirations to universal empire. In the eighteenth century, its corollary of raison d’etat had led to frequent wars whose primary function was to prevent the emergence of a dominant power and the resurrection of a European empire. The balance of power had preserved the liberties of states, not the peace of Europe”. For nineteenth century Europe read twenty-first century Asia. European communitarians might not like it but it is Chinese Machtpolitik and Realpolitik in Asia (or what the Americans now call the Indo-Pacific) that is defining the strategic map of both its region and the wider world.

Chinese power is fast becoming a defining force that itself forces all other powers to react to it, most notably the United States. Chinese power comes in many forms, not just military. Beijing’s use of debt diplomacy in Europe is already beginning to warp the strategic decisions of several European states in which China is ‘investing’ thus undermining the cohesion of NATO and the EU.

The broader danger is that Asia is fast becoming to resemble pre-World War One Europe as it divides between China and US-backed states with India a kind of freelancing power within the broad orb a new ‘West’ that is defined not by place but by ideas. This division is something I witnessed a few years ago during a visit to Pakistan when I was briefed by their Inter-Services Intelligence. The closeness between Beijing and Islamabad was already evident. In much the same way that Europe divided into blocs around Imperial Germany, on the one hand, and Britain, France and Russia, on the other, Asia is today a monument to the enduring nature of balance of power politics. As in the Europe of old the balance of power can be maintained for an extended period and, for the moment at least, China seems to want to do precisely that, albeit insisting on bilateral solutions to conflicts that are mainly of its own creation and to its advantage. History suggests sooner or later such balance will collapse and with it the peace of much of Asia, and quite possibly the world beyond.

China, power and the rules-based order

Europe? If Europeans really do want to help convince China to return to a rules-based order they must invest in the real power that must underpin real rules. Europeans must also help keep America strong where she needs to be strong. In other words, like it or not, Europeans must invest in the global balance of power even as they work to reform and uphold the rules-based global order. That starts with an end to European strategic pretence and a proper commitment to regenerate NATO in Europe’s own strategic neighbourhood. It also means the end to empty European gestures. For example, the British have ‘threatened’ to send one of their two new aircraft carriers to the South China Sea (even as rumours persist that they will mothball the the other one) as a ‘gesture’ of solidarity with the Americans. It is an empty gesture by a hollow power and the Chinese know it.

The policy aim? To convince the Chinese to obey rules Beijing is today leveraging to its advantage by their persistent flouting. China is not the strategic spoiler that is Putin’s Russia. Beijing is, rather, a strange mix of nationalist power adolescent and sophisticated actor. Which direction China finally settles on is still up for grabs. Whilst that issue is being settled in Beijing Chinese assertiveness must be held in check by US-led power and further checks on Chinese attempts to buy acquiescence, not least in Europe. In parallel, there must be ongoing engagement with Beijing to convince it that Chinese interests in the bipolar world it is now creating will be best served by a China that invests in global norms for peaceful international relations.    

The Chinese century?

The danger China poses is the implicit presumption behind much of contemporary Chinese foreign and security policy that the twenty-first century will be shaped on Chinese terms. Whilst it is couched in the language of maintaining peace and stability much of the tone of such policy is ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ on Chinese terms. There is also a Chinese assumption of a coming confrontation with the United States, but only when the correlation of forces are so in China’s favour, and at a time and place of China’s choosing, that Chinese power alone, and with it the humiliation in Asia of the United States, will be the best guarantor of peace. A Chinese world order? What is really spooky for those of us versed in the strategic literature of the European century is how strikingly similar such presumptions and assumptions of ‘inevitable’ Chinese superiority and dominance are to their nineteenth century nationalist counterparts in Europe.

The lamps are going out?

On the eve of World War One a despairing Sir Edward Grey wrote, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. There is now a growing possibility that the lamps will go out in Asia and if they do much of the rest of the world. World War One was triggered by a regional dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. The system of blocs and alliances that had formed in Europe prior to 1914 were meant to prevent a wider systemic war. In the end they helped precipitate it.  This begs two questions; is there a new Serbia in Asia, and if so where? 
Julian Lindley-French      

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Why Atlanticism needs German Leadership: My speech to the Loisach Group at the Munich Security Conference

Good evening. 

It is of course an honour to be here at the Munich Security Conference supporting the US-German Loisach Group. My subject – why the US-German strategic partnership is vital even if it is not special. We are amongst friends so I am not going to pull my punches. My theme – US-German leadership at a strategic inflexion point. My challenge – if we cannot face hard truths together about each other, as friends and allies, we will never rebuild the transatlantic relationship, for that is what is at stake. My message – Europe and the wider transatlantic relationship needs German leadership. Honest, open, listening German leadership. Real German leadership that does not hide in the EU or manipulate power behind EU scenes. Leadership that reflects what you Germans today are – democratic, tolerant and decent. A Germany that understands that Germans cannot be secure and prosperous unless other Europeans are secure and prosperous. During my remarks I will address Germany and Great Power competition, German leadership and the transatlantic relationship, Germany and a European Army, strategic responsibility and autonomy, a European future force, Europe’s only real defence choice, Brexit and the future of the transatlantic relationship. 

Let me start with this statement of the strategically obvious: without German leadership the transatlantic relationship – that cornerstone relationship of European and world peace will fade.  The EU might be Germany’s vehicle of choice for its values and influence in Europe, but it is the German relationship with the US that is the only real vehicle of choice for German and European values and influence in the world. The alternative is Realpolitik and does modern Germany want really to go there? Nordstream 2 presents a Germany that plays bad Realpolitik when it suits and claims Lexpolitik – the upholding of ‘law’ and international community - when it is convenient. Berlin cannot have it both ways. There must also be a sense of urgency because the transatlantic relationship is fragmenting and losing momentum just at the moment its value and utility is most clear. America is offering little more than frustration, as we saw with Vice-President Pence’s speech here yesterday, and Germany is offering little more than words, as we saw from Chancellor Merkel.  If we continue down that track given the challenges we face the West will fail and we will lose the great battles of strategic contention that are now washing over us.

The impetus for my remarks:

The impetus for my remarks is the MSC 2019 report “The Great Puzzle: Who Will Pick up the Pieces? The report is impressive but was also a puzzle to me because the answer to the questions it poses is not THIS Europe and certainly not this Germany.

Several things stood out to me from the report:

        All Great Powers are the same and there is a kind of moral and strategic equivalency between the US, China and Russia.

        Germany is calling for the defence of multilateralism via a European Army.

        Brexit is purely self-inflicted, but has no strategic implications for the defence of Europe.

        ‘Europe’ must show leadership and strategic responsibility, but little about Germany showing leadership and responsibility.

My plea

My plea thus comes in the form of a plea from a British friend and ally not just about the vital importance of the US-German strategic partnership, but the need for Berlin and Washington to stop playing at it and start really working at it. You see, my country, Britain’s days as a transatlantic leader could well be done. Britain is broken and defeated by Brexit, a defeat Germany has helped bring about (more of that later). The security and defence of Europe is thus in the balance at a time when much of Europe is just plain broke. European publics just wallow in the vacuum of ignorance created by a lack of leadership. Put simply, there can be no defence of Europe without American engagement and German leadership. Where is it?

My essential take on the MSC report was thus: those that value rules don’t like power, whilst those that have power don’t like rules, most obviously China and Russia (in that strategic order). Still, I was struck by how the report implied the US is also part of the latter group, even if Ambassador Ischinger qualified that impression at his MSC press conference. Surely, after all the US has done for Europe, and whatever one might think of President Trump, Americans deserve better.

The report also talked at length about ‘evidence’. For me the critical evidence pertinent to the defence of Europe and an equitable transatlantic relationship was missing: According to the IMF between 1999 and 2017 the Eurozone countries grew by a total of 26% compared with UK compound growth at 44% and US at 42%. Italy grew by a total of 6.7%. Add indebtedness to the mix and where is the growth to fund defence? The one Eurozone country with the money to help fund and thus lead European defence is Germany. By the way, China and India grew by factors of multiples. 

Great power competition

Let me deal with the issue of Great Powers and equivalency head on.  Yes, I see where it is coming from. There are legitimate concerns about the Trump administration. The abrogation of INF is not the European way even though there are good reasons for that and Germany has a different take on how to deal with Russia.

But…to even imply that the United States, the state which remains the indispensable core of European defence precisely because we Europeans and you Germans do not want to pay for the real cost of our own defence, is not only unfair, and unfair bordering on the insulting. Worse, it is unhelpful.  The actual evidence of continued US commitment to the defence of Europe suggests a wholly different reality.  As for the recent Pew surveys on popular European viewpoints on US power, it just reveals how many Europeans are bloody ignorant and how too many European ‘leaders’, including German leaders, are willing to justify such nonsense as an excuse for inaction. Indeed, my sense is that too many Europeans, with Germans to the fore, are using President Trump as an alibi to avoid the responsibility Berlin claims it wants. 

Germany and a European Army?

Which brings me to the German call for a European Army. Years ago I found myself in what is my normal state of being the Yorkshireman in the European doghouse when I wrote a piece in the International Herald Tribune. For fifty years, I wrote, we the allies have told Germany it could not do very much because of World War Two, for the last ten years Germany has been telling us it cannot do very much because of World War Two. Today?

The strategic bottom-line, ladies and gentlemen is thus: the land component of Alliance deterrence will rest increasingly on the capability, capacity and credibility of German forces. And, for all the political finessing I have heard of late from Berlin the Bundeswehr is in a state of almost complete disrepair with the gap between Berlin rhetoric and Bundeswehr reality would grace a Gunter Grass novel. Instead, Berlin bangs of about the fantasy of a European Army. This begs a question: is modern, democratic Germany serious about a European Army, or even an army of Europeans? Or, is it simply more German political displacement games to given the appearance of responsibility where little or none really exists?

The contradiction at the heart of the Aachen Treaty would suggest so. It called for a Franco-German Defence and Security Council to provide “…aid and assistance by all means at their disposal, including armed forces, in cases of aggression against their territory”. Very French, very joint. BUT, it also stated that the Council would help foster a “common military culture” that, “…contributes to the creation of a European Army”. What on earth does that mean? 

You see there can be no European Army without a European Government. The failed European Defence Community of 1952-1954 is a salutary lesson from history. It could never have worked then or now because the placing of our young people in harm’s way involves a complex mix of identity, authority and legitimacy. The EU simply does not have that in anything like a level of sufficiency of those vital political commodities. Only nation-states do. And, recent operations such as Libya, Sahel, Syria etc. have again highlighted divisions between member-states and shown the more defence efforts are integrated the less chance a force could be used unless in absolute extremis. 

Strategic responsibility?

There has also been much French and German talk of late about strategic responsibility and autonomy. It is certainly time Europeans took more responsibility for our own continent’s defence. The Americans are over-stretched, Europeans face a range of emerging threats, Transatlantic relations need a Europe that at the very least can act as an effective first responder, NATO cannot function unless Europeans generate more capability and capacity and the Brits maybe in no mood to seriously defend other Europeans. As for the much discussed recent ‘increase’ in European defence expenditure just how many new expeditionary and deployable new forces will emerge and when? 

Which brings me to strategic autonomy. Yes, it is time for some European strategic autonomy, I get that.  But, such autonomy will only emerge as a function of real European military power not empty European rhetoric.  Again, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Germany still sees defence as essentially an issues of Berlin politics. The real German leadership challenge will be to change that perception on the part of those of us who would welcome German leadership. 

So, let’s not get distracted by more empty blah, blah. It is getting too dangerous for that. To evince real strategic responsibility Europeans will need to develop more capable, interoperable and standardised forces to make NATO work better and to ensure the EU-NATO strategic partnership is credible given the threats Europeans face. These forces will also often be organised into coalitions operating either under NATO, EU or national flags. Or, to be clear, German leadership might we be embedded in the EU but at times the sound defence of Europe will require German leadership and Germany must stop trying to avoid that hard reality.  

What a real German-led European Future Force would look like…

 A future European Future Force will need to be a joint force not a common force, which would simply generate more lawyers than warriors. It would be focussed squarely on the nation-state. It would need to be protectable and projectable and strengthen the European pillar of NATO and give credence to EU-flagged operations in really dangerous places. Given that the only real European ‘army’ choice Europeans have is between an analogue EU-led army of Europeans that just bolts together a lot of European legacy stuff, or an information-led digital 5D future defence that counters disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, deception and destruction which Germany helps lead Europe towards. 

The force would need to be physically and intellectually-equipped with appropriate enablers to operate to effect across the seven domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge.  It would need to be supported by a European defence and technological industrial base that embraces the revolution in military technology and the application to the battlespace of artificial intelligence, big data, machine-learning, quantum-computing et al? 

Talking of distraction - Brexit

Brexit is indeed, as Germans like to point out ad nauseam self-inflicted but only to a point. And yes, not only do I regret it because Britain needs to be applying its not inconsiderable influence from within the EU not much reduced influence from beyond. I do not for a moment absolve London and the British elite for the utter strategic and political incompetence they have shown of late and which shames me.  Lions led by donkeys has never been more apt. BUT, Germany has helped turn Brexit into something worse than it need be and Germany will pay a strategic price for that, whatever Berlin, Paris and London are saying about the tripartite group etc. The German attitude towards Brexit reminds me of Voltaire’s remark in “Candide” about the the execution of Admiral Byng for having failed to sink enough of the French. It was, Voltaire wrote, ‘pour encourager les autres’.  

Let me illuminate that remark with two Brexit quotes I received this past week. The first came from a senior German EU official. “The increasingly less hidden consensus in this grandstanding-quarter of this city seems to be to punish and humiliate Great Britain for voluntarily leaving this best-ever Europe for good. My own government - quite sadly – is also playing an unholy part in that devious manoeuvre of ostracizing Great Britain”.

The second quote was given to me by a senior Briton in London. “Lancaster House is dead. The way the French have played us over Galileo is disgusting. Forget CJEF. We are simply going through the motions. Intelligence-sharing? Their threats are laughable given that we give them the bulk of the actionable intelligence they need”.

So, what are the implications for transatlantic relations and the defence of Europe from this bad Brexit? Britain is to all intents and purposes a defeated country – at least its spineless elite. There is a real danger that Britain will turn inward like any defeated country. The EU ‘victory’ in negotiations and the appalling Withdrawal Agreement will lead to years of friction between Britain and its Continental neighbours which will undermine the commitment of the British people to the defence of fellow Europeans.

If you do not believe me then look at Britain’s defence-strategic choices. Is London rebuilding the British Army of the Rhine? No. It is investing in new fleet aircraft carriers, nuclear ballistic missile submarines, new nuclear attack submarines, new frigates and a host of F-35 strike aircraft which do not a Continental Strategy make. The British Army is the smallest it has been since Napoleonic times and could fit inside Wembley Stadium. No, London is hoping the post-Brexit British economy will hold up sufficiently to close the funding gap from which the British defence budget suffers. If the British economy does not hold up who do you think will get the blame?

Implications for the defence of Europe? Transatlantic relations for what they would worth could split into a capable Yankosphere and a German-led and ever-so-not capable Eurosphere. Rather than the Alliance, alliance and cohesion-killing coalitions would emerge, more five eyes than many eyes.

To conclude…

Yes, the Yanks can be bloody annoying, we Brits know that and have much experience of it. But you Germans can also be annoying, especially given the way you play at power and leadership like some first time swimmer worried about the temperature of the water.  Your angst too often drives you to want control without the costs of leadership. Some of you will say I am being anti-German. I am not. I WANT my friend democratic, open, tolerant powerful Germany to stop talking about leadership and start doing it! I am not asking Germans to abandon Brussels or forget history as that could never be nor should it. But, Berlin must stop hiding behind Brussels and using history as an alibi. 

To conclude, if we fellow Europeans have a say in any or all of this we need you Americans and Germans to get on and rebuild the transatlantic relationship. This is because if rules are to be re-established as the basis of the global order they will only do so if Americans reinforce power with rules and Europeans reinforce rules with power and that can only come from the US and Germany in strategic sync.  It is time – get on with it! You need each other and the rest of us need you both to need each other. Clear?

The US-German strategic partnership might not be ‘special’ in the way the automaticity of the US-UK relationship still is. Frankly, you both seem to find too many ways to makes sure it isn’t and seem too often to define each other by annoying each other. However, the US-German strategic partnership is more than essential, if it vital and not just for Americans and Germans. It is the cornerstone of the twenty-first century transatlantic relationship and whatever irritations Americans and Germans might have with each other you have far more in common, which is the only reason I am here.

Guten appetit!

Julian Lindley-French,


February 2019

Friday, 15 February 2019

INF and the End of the Rules-based System?

“Look, that’s why there’s rules, understand? So you think before you break ‘em.”

Sir Terry Pratchett, The Thief of Time

From London to Munich…

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 February. It is an interesting week. I have just returned from an excellent conference at RUSI in London on missile defence, and I am about to depart to speak at a Munich Security Conference meeting. Perhaps it is a mark of Europe’s self-obsessive introspection but Russia’s 1 February decision to follow the US and abrogate the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) received surprisingly little coverage in the European media. There seemed more interest in the US where a February survey of American voters by the University of Maryland found some 77% of those asked opposed the decision of the Trump administration. Europeans should take note. 

The world of which Europeans are meant to be a part, but too often pretend they are not, is increasingly a world in which Europe’s beloved rules are being binned. It is a world in which those who believe in rules don’t like power, most notably Europeans, and those with power don’t like rules. So, does the death of INF also mark the beginning of the end of the rules-based system? If so, what should Europeans do about it?

A brief history of rules

The rules-based system was in part America inspiration and European perspiration, and of expiration at the end of World War One. It was created to constrain the anarchy of unfettered state power. Its roots date back to the many treaties that over centuries shaped Europe by moderating first extreme royal and then state behaviour. The system as we know it today began in the form of voluntary regimes rather than legal instruments and began to take shape in the late nineteenth century. It was The Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 which established the principle of international law, which in turn was a product of an era when some Europeans, France and Britain to the fore, had the power to make the rules but sensed that power could soon be eclipsed by the rise of more autocratic powers in which rule was not constrained by either law or mandate.

Post World War One the League of Nations was born in 1923 mainly at the behest of the American President Woodrow Wilson and his creed of Idealism.  Wilson’s impetus also revealed the nature of early American internationalism which in part continues to this day. With its sense of Manifest Destiny many Americans convinced themselves they were above the base instincts of European nationalists and that constraint upon state action was really for others. Post World War Two another American-led attempt was made to promote an ideal vision of international relations through the 1945 creation of the United Nations, albeit more embedded in the reality of the time – overwhelming American power.  American power, or rather American money, was also the ethos of the 1944 Bretton Woods conference which pretty much established the enshrining principle of democracy and free markets for money which defined the post-war US world order. Critically, Moscow and the Soviet Union never accepted the primacy of rules made elsewhere and never have. Beijing certainly did not.  

Equally, the European allies always saw American rules-based Idealism through the lens of European Realism. The 1950 European Coal and Steel Community, whilst promoted by European integrationists like Jean Monnet, was first and foremost a means to prevent the re-emergence of an aggressive Germany and thus another war between France and Germany. The subsequent European Economic Community, European Community, and the latter day European Union, were and are all part of continental European attempts to smother power with law. Today, power in Europe has become so smothered in law that there is little room for it to breathe at all. 


INF? INF always sat somewhere between American ideas of power and European ideals of law.  The Americans never accepted the European concept of law as power in and of itself, and Machtpolitik Moscow rejected such ideas completely. Arms control for the Americans and the Soviets was thus not law, but rather regime and as such part of power – its generation and its application. Indeed, whilst the Europeans have often talked disarmament the Americans, save for a brief moment, have always talked arms control. From the mid-1960s on a series of treaties such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT 1), Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty (ABM), SALT 2, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), INF, Conventional Forces Treaty Europe (CFE) and then START 2 were all designed to balance military power rather than consign the balance of power to history. 

The December 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty must be seen very much in the light of power and its balancing and thus the tradition of American and Russian ideas of arms control. It rid Europe of a whole raft of dangerous nuclear missile systems that threatened to decouple the defence of Europe from the US nuclear deterrent. INF also came to be seen as a bulwark of European security and thus a vital tool of power that helped to create the political space in which the post-Cold War rules-based system could again flourish in Europe and in its embrace the EU could emerge and evolve. 

INF died for several reasons – some immediate others more structural. The first reason is that with the deployment of the SSC-8 9M729 Novator missile system Moscow drove a large coach and horses through INF and then, in that time-dishonoured manner of Russian cynicism, denied it. In spite of Moscow’s denials the SSC-8 has a range of at least 2500km thus breaking the prohibition on any missile in Europe with a range between 500km and 5000km.  The second reason is that after a short period during which a broke Russia (sort of) obeyed the rules to which it was nominally committed, Moscow is now again locked into a policy of defection from such rules for short-term strategic gain. Given that the Russian formal abrogation of INF, whilst legal, is really because the Americans called Moscow out over the deployment of a treaty-breaching weapons system. As such, SSC-8 must be seen in the same light as Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukraine and the poisoning of the Skripals in the UK - the actions of a great state that has chosen to go ‘rogue’ against rules it believes were made by others for others.

Technology and control

The other reasons why INF died imply structural change is underway in world power. A revolution in military technology is underway which is making all past arms control look increasingly archaic. The Trump administration also harks back to past American internationalism which was always and necessarily underpinned by American Realism.  The paradox for Europeans who complain about the Americans is that their beloved rules-based system would simply not be credible without American power. 

The other factor which is accelerating the demise of the rules-based system of which INF was a pillar was the rise of China. China obeys few rules even if it claims it does. In a sense, China is the mirror image of America.  America breaks rules to ultimately ensure international rules are imposed, China breaks rules to ensure its ‘rules’ are equally imposed. Like it or not, America is the posse-forming sheriff of international relations, China is the spaghetti western outlaw. The illegal seizure of islands in the South China Sea is but part of a pattern of state behaviour that ignores all and any ‘law’ if Beijing deems it necessary in the national interest. Such behaviours extends from human rights to systematic industrial and other forms of espionage, to breaches of intellectual property law to unfair trading practices and cyber-war.  With such power now so determined to ignore the rules-based system it is thus hard to see how it can survive unless such rules are enforced.  Europe?      

The Gathering Storm

Rules matter, but rules must be also defended. A storm is gathering in the deep depression where the rules-based system once stood.  Europe’s strategic vacation is finally over, even if those that pass for European ‘leaders’ these days simply refuse to acknowledge it. Rather, Europeans have become all too expert at making vacuous statements about the need to uphold ‘international law’ and the rules-based order as if talking is doing. A ‘Europe’ that too often wills the ends without the means.  At the same time, it is a mistake for the Administration to have abrogated INF. Washington should have taken the lead in trying to expand and update INF, i.e. by making negotiation the centre-piece of power not just rearmament. This is because a principle has now been established by which the power unprincipled in Beijing and Moscow will exploit as they see fit to replace law with power. 

The death of INF matters precisely because it could mark the beginning of the end of the rules-based international order unless those who were its architects reinvest it with the political capital and power needed to ensure ‘law’ triumphs over anarchy. Both China and Russia have shown they have the capacity to be extreme states and both will need to be turned and, yes, contained if needs be.  Self-containment through law is the basis of any functioning community. Clearly, neither China nor Russia see themselves as part of any community that they do not define or dominate. For them the rules-based order is a Western imposition rather than globalist stability in which their people can flourish. Russia is simply a strategic hooligan but the paradox of China is that it is precisely the order they are eroding that has enabled China to flourish. The autocrat’s penchant for unconstrained power is clearly too hard for Beijing to resist reaching for likes some forbidden apple.  

As Thomas Hobbes once famously wrote, “Covenants without the sword are but words, and of no use to any man”. In other words, power and law are two sides of the same coin.  Indeed, rules without power are a bit like my golf swing – it looks superb in practice but collapses under all or any pressure. The death of INF is thus a victory for might that claims right by might and for those that claim Machtpolitik and Realpolitik is the way forward. It maybe the way forward for Spartans, but history would suggest it is also the way downwards towards hell.

Julian Lindley-French  

Friday, 8 February 2019

My European defence speech at the European Parliament

European defence: on the Tusks of a dilemma

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 February. As European Council President Donald Tusk was reserving a special place in hell for those who backed Brexit with no plan I was a few metres away in the European Parliament giving a speech on the military aspects of Europe’s future defence at a conference organised by the European Conservatives and Reformist Group, with a specific focus on EU defence ambitions. During the speech I addressed the defence implications of Brexit and suggested that whatever ‘agreement’ is finally fashioned it will please no-one and will likely serve as a source of intense friction between Britain and the EU for many years to come. Mr Tusk merely confirmed that. 

The important question is whether it also serves as a source of friction between Britain and the remaining EU member-states. If it does it will undermine the support of the British population for the defence of continental Europe and Britain could well retreat into a form of nuclear-armed defence isolationism. Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs, but to do just that leaders on both sides of the Channel, even in Brussels, need to be precisely that - leaders. 

The text of my speech is below:

A European army or a better army of Europeans?

Good afternoon,

The essential question all Europeans face, but many refuse to admit, is essentially simple: a European army or a better army of Europeans? That is the only realistic question all Europeans should be asking themselves. The key phrase I want you to bear in mind as you consider the future of European defence is not defence integration, but rather sovereign cohesion.

The crux of the debate is the need for Europeans to take greater strategic responsibility and the cost of the force that would make such ambition credible.  There has also been much talk of late, European defence always involves a lot of talk, about strategic autonomy, but what does it mean? Strategic autonomy cannot be simply declared for it will only emerge as a function of real European military power.

The question about what kind of army Europeans need was implicit in the 2019 Franco-German Aachen ‘Treaty’ and the implicit tensions it revealed between Berlin and Paris. Should the European future force be a joint force or aspire to become a common force? The ‘answer’ in Aachen was all too typically ‘European’, an eloquent, hidden contradiction.

The treaty called for a Franco-German Defence and Security Council that will provide “…aid and assistance by all means at their [my italic] disposal, including armed forces, in cases of aggression against their territory”. In other words, for France the focus is joint forces and the ambition collective defence. However, the Council would, at the behest of Berlin, also help foster a “common military culture” that “…contributes to the creation of a European army”.

It is certainly time we Europeans took more responsibility for our own continent’s defence. The Americans are over-stretched and could well be mired in dangers elsewhere, Europeans face a range of emerging threats from peer state competitors to the ongoing menace of violent fundamentalism in and around Europe.  The transatlantic relationship, which remains the essential pillar of any meaningful defence of Europe needs Europeans able and willing, at the very least, to act as an effective first responder in an emergency. NATO, which must remain Europe’s main defence, will be unable to function as either collective deterrent or collective defence unless Europeans generate more military capability and capacity. The British, post-Brexit, may be in no mood to seriously defend other Europeans (more of that later) whilst the abrogation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty by both the US and Russia may well mark the beginning of the end of the rules-based system that is rightly so important to Europeans.

In a sense, INF encapsulates all one needs to understand about what is wrong with how too many Europeans see ‘defence’. Those who believe in rules have no power (Europeans), whilst those that increasingly have the power do not believe in rules. As seventeenth century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes once said, “Covenants without the sword of but words, and of no use to any man”.  

A European Army? 

A European Army?  There can be no European army without a European Government. The failed European Defence Community between 1952 and 1954 is a lesson from history. It failed because the major powers – most notably France, Britain and the Federal Republic of Germany were simply not prepared to abandon defence sovereignty. Has that changed?  Poland? Sweden? Spain? Putting young citizens in uniform in harm’s way is rightly the most preciously guarded responsibility of sovereign democracy and in Europe the centre of gravity of such democracy remains the nation-state.  

Given enduring political divisions a European Army might have some limited utility for full-on collective defence, but precious little else. Recent operations, such as Libya, SAHEL, and Syria etc. have highlighted many political divisions between member-states about how and when to use force. In the absence of any automaticity of political action no true European Army can exist.  In such circumstances the more defence efforts are integrated the less chance an integrated force would likely be used for anything but the most extreme of emergencies.

So, what do Europeans really need?

So, what do Europeans really need? First, Europeans need to develop more capable, interoperable and standardised forces to build the reach, redundancy and resiliency that will make NATO work better and ensure the EU-NATO strategic partnership is credible in the face of the actual threats Europeans face. Second, Europeans must grasp that their forces will often be organised into coalitions operating under NATO, EU or national flags. Third, the scope and capability of any European Future Force (EFF) must be actively considered in relation to the threats and pressures it must ease. Fourth, the EFF must be a decidedly joint force not a common force and focussed squarely on the nation-state. A common force would kill flexibility and from experience generate more EU lawyers than warriors. Fifth, the EFF must be protectable and projectable and designed specifically to strengthen the European pillar of NATO and give credence to EU-flagged operations and thus ease burdens on the Americans.

Does current talk about EU defence match up to the scale of the challenges Europeans face?

Does current talk about EU defence match up to the scale of the challenges Europeans face? No. Indeed, it is all a bit Groundhog Day. There has always been tension between harmonisation, i.e. the creation of deep joint forces, and integration, the move towards a common force.  That tension has repeatedly stymied progress because those member-states who have tended to champion integration have tended to have few armed forces whilst those who fear such integration are the ones who have such forces. Germany? The state of the Bundeswehr puts Germany squarely in the integration camp. 

Once again the future defence of Europe seems to be mired in the swamp that stretches between EU defence and European defence with Germany still too fearful of its own power to lift Europeans onto the dry land of strategic stability. Even harmonisation efforts since the Franco-British St Malo Declaration back in 1998 have been fraught with difficulty. Past such efforts have realised results that have been, at best, patchy. The European Rapid Reaction Force, EU Battlegroups and pooling and sharing all met with limited success. This is because they were all essentially cost, rather than effects-driven, lacked any inherent strategic ambition and without US enablers formations, such as EU battlegroups, had at best limited utility and pooling and sharing could only go so far. They all suffered from, and revealed the extent of the essential dilemma of European defence; what aspects of defence should be ‘European’. i.e. national, where could the EU add real value, such as the development of ‘autonomous’ strategic enablers, such as SIGINT and strategic lift, and who would decide and how to use the forces and resources so generated?

PESCO, CARD and the European Defence Fund?

PESCO, CARD and the European Defence Fund (EDF)?  They are good as far as they go but…PESCO’s 17 joint projects are useful, but will do little to ease reliance on over-pressed US forces for anything but the most permissive of European operations or lay the ground for a defence-relevant European future force.  EDF has a budget of €5.5bn per year that will help promote some synergies and efficiencies. However, and to put EDF in context, the UK defence equipment budget per annum is some €20bn per year. Moreover, the introduction of the fund could also corrupt the European defence industrial market and slow, rather than accelerate, consolidation of the European Defence and Technological Industrial Base (EDTIB) and innovation within it. Other people’s money does that if it is not accompanied by clear goals and mechanisms for compliance.

Even further European defence harmonisation will have consequences for smaller European powers that must be understood. Take the Netherlands for example. Its small but good army is close to the Germans, its small but good navy is close to the British and its small but good air force is close to the Americans. In other words, the Netherlands needs all three to agree to act in strategic alignment if its force is to be anything other than a small gendarmerie force.

Yes, I am suggesting PESCO, CARD, EDF et al go further but…

What choice do we Europeans really have?

What choice do we Europeans really have? We can either continue with an analogue EU-led army of Europeans that just bolts together a lot of European legacy stuff… or, we can collectively build an information-led digital 5D future defence that counters disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, deception and destruction. The military core of that defence will demand a twenty-first century European future force at its deterrence and defence core that masters the cross-domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. Such a force would only be realised if it is also built on a European defence and technological industrial base that embraces the revolution in military technology and the application to the battlespace of Artificial Intelligence, big data, machine-learning, quantum-computing et al.

THAT is the only real European Future Force ‘choice’ we have as Europeans and such a choice can only be realised with the European nation-state and the EU in harness, not in implicit competition. The new/old problem with the current new/old European defence debate is that still too many in Brussels and elsewhere see defence as THE Trojan horse to progressively undermine the sovereign European nation-state in favour of some vacuous and at best partial EU super-state. Europe will NEVER defend itself if the implicit ‘war’ being fought is between the EU and its member-states.

Brexit, NATO and European defence

Last night I attended a reception at which many of the great and good from this House (European Parliament) were also present. At one point a speaker referred to Britain as ‘…a small island off the north-west coast of Europe’. Everyone laughed, except me. One could feel the condescension. Oh, those poor little British lost in their post-imperial fantasy. Get over it! The speaker was clearly a geographer not a strategist! Now, I do not for a moment under-estimate the lose-lose strategic implications of Brexit for all of us, which is why I campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum. But, like many decent but pragmatic Remainers I am getting tired of such ignorance and the arrogance.

First, there are very few in Britain who harbour post-imperial, post-Brexit fantasies. Second, Britain remains a major economic and military actor. Third, Britain has Europe’s most advanced military and intelligence nexus. Fourth, given the growing importance of coalitions to defence in Europe the importance of Britain as a command force to the defence of Europe will increase not decrease. Those of you with such views need to get over your anti-British prejudice and quickly as you cannot expect to insult the British people and, at the same time, expect them to help defend you. Your choice.

Irrespective of Brexit the defence-strategic choices of the British hardly suggest the British Army of the Rhine reborn. Britain is building new fleet aircraft carriers, nuclear ballistic missile submarines, new nuclear attack submarines, new frigates and a host of F-35 strike aircraft do not a Continental Strategy make. The British Army is the smallest it has been since Napoleonic times and could fit inside Wembley Stadium.

The implications for an ever-more important NATO? We may be witnessing the beginning of a re-pillaring of NATO as it divides into a Yankosphere & a Eurosphere. Brexit will certainly push in that direction if the current tensions endure. I would counsel against such divisions because all it would likely realise is a small cluster of Europeans just about hanging onto America’s strategic coat-tails, and a Eurosphere comprised of the strategically left-behind.  Such a divide would over time kill NATO and replace it with what?

Europeans must think about future war if we are to deter it!

The motto of the Royal Navy is ‘Si vis pacem para bellum’ - if you want peace prepare for war. I am not suggesting we prepare overtly for war but we Europeans must at least begin to seriously think as Europeans about war. Europe is at a strategic tipping point and must return to defence fundamentals, credible deterrence and dialogue and do so from a position of legitimate and genuine strength, including a credible military component.

All of the above implies the move towards some form of modular army of Europeans built around the further harmonisation of national forces. Far from denying that I would welcome it. BUT, it needs a proper plan. The first step would be for Europeans to conduct a strategic audit so we know who has what and why with the aim of seeing how existing resources might be applied more efficiently and effectively.  Then we need to consider properly the sustained and systematic application of resource where it can make the most difference. In 2017, Admiral Giampaolo di Paola and I published a paper entitled Equipping & Affording European Defence. Using European Defence Agency figures the message was clear where a fundamental problem with the future defence of Europe can be found.  European Defence R&T is only 2% of total defence spending. And, whilst European collaborative defence R&T might equal some 20% of total defence R&T spending in Europe, it is still only 0.4% of total defence spending. China? Russia? India? US?

Sovereign cohesion? Spending better what we Europeans spend now on defence, spending coherently and in line with what the future defence of Europe needs not what we would like. Then, spend together on what is missing and vital with a clear vision of Europe's objective - to deter war, not to have to fight it.

Let me finish with a warning from Robert Schuman. “World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers with threaten it”. 

Thank you.

Julian Lindley-French,

European Parliament,

6 February 2019