There are two kinds of state in today’s world; those shaping reality and those denying it. Unless Europe’s hopeless leaders begin to take a long view about the emerging big global picture then something very nasty is going to happen to Europeans…again!
Monday, 31 March 2014
Alphen, Netherlands. 31 March. “Forget these frivolous demands which strike a terror to my fainting soul”. So pleads the Devil’s agent Mephostophilis to Doctor Faustus in Christopher Marlowe’s Goethe-inspired play. Faustus has just agreed twenty-four years of power and luxury in return for the eternal damnation thereafter of his soul. The opportunity Moscow seized to annex Ukraine-Crimea was made possible by three factors; Europe’s energy dependency, Russian investments in European financial centres most notably London and European unilateral disarmament.
Today, Russia supplies EU member-states with 25% of their oil and gas. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland import between 70% and 100% of their gas from Russia. Russia has also created a very strategic cartel called the Gas Exporting Countries Forum which holds up to 70% of the world’s reserves. Russia is playing hard poker as Europe as ever plays bad chess.
The other day at a conference a senior British politician called me “sweet, naïve and young”. As insults go it was a pretty mild attack and I have known worse, although I did object to him calling me “young”. My naivété to his mind was to rebuke British politicians for their enduring ability to sacrifice the long-term strategic well-being of Britain for the short-term political fixes that have and continue to exaggerate and accelerate the UK’s precipitous decline. In his utter cynicism he revealed why politics in Europe has become the enemy of strategy.
The defence figures alone speak for themselves. The US invests roughly $100k per soldier in 2014 compared with an average European investment of $24k with the interoperability gap between US and European forces growing daily. And, whilst the US can deploy some 12.5% of its force many Europeans can only deploy on average 3.5% . Moreover, whilst the US spends only 36% of its defence budget on personnel some Europeans are spending between 70% and 75%. Russia is investing some $700bn in a new military by 2020.
Now, I am no nostalgist about defence. States should only have the minimum military power commensurate with the achievement of legitimate foreign and security policy goals. However, not only are Europeans selling themselves body and soul for energy and dodgy money they are fast abandoning the very means to assure their collective defence. The farcical sanctions the EU imposed on Russian officials simply reinforced the sense of dangerous impotence which today characterises Europe in the world and for which Europeans will pay a dear price.
London is a case in point and has become dangerously unbalanced in its strategic prescriptions. Although the British are investing some $250bn in new defence equipment over the next decade if one listens to British officials it is very hard to understand why. Indeed, they reject the very idea that the world is returning to Realpolitik even though it is plan to see. At a meeting in London last week the London Establishment’s obsession with soft power was all too illuminating. British officials were dismissive of Ukraine-Crimea. They inferred it was a minor event and that Britain should remain focussed almost exclusively on counter-terrorism and aid and development. If one fills a government with counter-terrorism specialists then every problem becomes counter-terrorism.
All of this makes President Obama’s speech in Brussels last week sound not a little desperate. “Going forward, every NATO member state must step up and carry its share of the burden by showing the political will to invest in our collective defence and by developing the capabilities to serve as a source of international peace and security”. Not a chance! As he was speaking I was talking to a high-ranking NATO officer who told me bluntly the Alliance can no longer carry out the very collective defence President Obama referred to. Another senior NATO officer mused with me about how far the new Russian Army would make it across Europe before it was stopped. Capability, will and intent are the stuff of power not wishful thinking. Now, I do not expect Russia to roll across Europe but the Baltic States are rightfully concerned.
To my British politician friend I say this. If I am ‘naïve’ to demand leaders confront the world as it is not as they would like it to be then so be it; if I am ‘sweet’ for calling upon leaders to face reality then I am so condemned; and if I am ‘young’ for requiring principles of power and influence are adhered to then guilty as charged.
In his dying hour Faustus faces up to the consequence of his hubris as he watches the hand of a clock move inexorably towards his damnation. “O lente, lente currite noctis ecquis”, he pleads - “Oh slowly, slowly run the horses of the night”.
Europe: Faust or Whore?
Thursday, 27 March 2014
Alphen, Netherlands. 27 March. Yesterday my email was hacked by the (or a) Russians. The attack took place as I was briefing NATO commanders at the NATO Rapid Deployment Corps - Italy just outside Milan.
This was not the now usual bit of e-criminality that daily blights our lives. The people who know about these things confirm it was a sophisticated and personalised attack from somewhere/someone in Russia. Clearly something I had written had upset someone. As that someone said to me this morning - this was a shot across the bows - a warning.
And that is the point; implicit in the current crisis over Ukraine-Crimea is not just the use of force to assert territorial claims which is simply plain wrong. There is also the big issue of freedom and respect. If this kind of attack is how a Russian Europe would operate then count me out.
The frustrating thing for me is that I am sensitive to the Russian world view and I really want to understand it. Indeed, I have a huge respect for Russia and have studied its culture and its history. Indeed, unlike most Westerners I think I get Russia and understand the frustrations both the Kremlin and Russians feel about their treatment by the West, particularly over the past twenty years. Last year I had the very real honour of addressing the Moscow European Security Conference and was deeply moved and honoured to visit Victory Park and the War Museum.
However, when Russia makes big mistakes as it has just done by using force to annex Ukraine-Crimea I will call it as I see it and stand firmly with my friends in Eastern Europe who have been left concerned and uneasy by Russia's actions.
The bottom-line is this Moscow; until you engage criticism openly then it will be very hard for those of us willing to engage you constructively but critically to feel a dialogue is worth having. As for my views Moscow you should read what I say about our Dear Leaders in Brussels!
So long as Russia seems determined to replay the nineteenth century rather than the twenty-first we will simply talk past each other and that would be a tragedy not just for Europe but the wider world.
So, for the record, I am not in Kiev, I am not on holiday, I have not been mugged and I have not had anything whatsoever to do with the British Embassy therein. Mind you I was deeply moved by those of you out there offering to help. My apologies for any inconvenience.
Yes, Russia, I am hacked off!
Monday, 24 March 2014
Alphen, Netherlands. 24 March. The Netherlands is shut today for a bit of nuclear grandstanding. The reason for all the chaos is Nuclear Security Summit 2014 which is taking place today in The Hague (as well as a bit of Russia-less G7). In 1917 US President Woodrow Wilson said that the world must be made safe for democracy. Implicit in this summit is the need to make the world safe for power.
On the face of it the Summit is one of those strategic photo-ops/jamborees/champagne bun-fights for politicians that promise so much and deliver so little. However, this one takes place just when the balance between might and right, power and law upon which nuclear restraint rests is again being tested.
To underline the challenge Russia’s President Putin pulled out of the Summit in the wake of his invasion of Ukraine-Crimea demonstrating the extent to which the world now hovers between might and right. It could go either way.
The ‘Nuclear Top’, as the Dutch rather disarmingly call the Summit, focuses on the very real danger of nuclear terrorism. It should have focused on President Obama’s 2009 vision of a “Global Zero”, a world free of nuclear weapons. However, that has about as much chance of happening as I have of being NATO’s next Secretary-General (I am still available and at very reasonable rates).
The Summit will address the danger that nuclear material might fall into the wrong hands, which of course implied it was always in the ‘right’ hands. The specific concern is that terrorists could gain access to sufficient radiological material to make a “dirty bomb”.
Sister Summits in Washington and Seoul produced a Framework to combat nuclear terrorism that is being discussed as I write. The Framework has three elements: reduce the amount of dangerous nuclear material in the world; improve the security of existing material; and increase international co-operation.
Such grandiose great power démarches have a chequered history, particularly when the great powers are at geopolitical odds. Be it efforts to ban chemical weapons a century ago to the many and varied attempts at conventional and nuclear arms control and disarmament efforts to constrain and restrain massive destruction within laws and regimes has been constant and not always successful. Indeed, The European Union was born out of just such an effort; to constrain state action by legal precept thus rendering the ability of Europeans to wage war on each other impossible.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine-Crimea confirms all too eloquently that the twenty-first century could well be little different than the twentieth. Good old-fashioned Realpolitik is back with a bang and along with it hierarchies of prestige, spheres of influence and balances of bunker-busting power in which how big is one’s arsenal again matters.
The paradox of this Summit is that it also implies one of the struggles that could well come to define the twenty-first century – the state versus the anti-state. The presence of China’s President Xi attests to the concern of leaders that mass destructive nuclear power could fall into the hands of terrorists. After all, nuclear technology is now some eighty years old and in the anarchic world of globalisation terrorists could conceivably get their hands on anything with the right contacts, money and time.
And it is the latter threat that so exercises Presidents Obama and Xi, and in the absence of Putin that other titan of geopolitics, President Herman Van Rompuy of Europe (excuse the giggles). Moreover, it is not just the idea that nuclear-armed terrorists could inflict real damage on societies, but that such groups could also be instrumentalised as proxies by third states and in so doing neutralise great power.
Hard truths abound. First, hyper-immigration has also made open societies ever more vulnerable to the hatreds that drive catastrophic terrorists with nuclear ambitions. Second, the weakening of many states in the face of anti-state actors such as Al Qaeda has promoted the ‘anarchisation/democratisation’ of mass destruction as ever smaller groups now seriously seek to gain access to radiological and nuclear capabilities. Third, leaders of the Western powers in particular feel ever more uncomfortable using force for fear of the retribution it could trigger from enemies within.
In other words, states and groups that are on the face of it far weaker than some of those represented around the table in The Hague could negate the very influence upon which great power is established if they can successfully obtain such technologies.
Paradoxically, the vulnerable states include Russia if only Moscow could see it. Russia may be an autocracy and be far less open than the rest of Europe. However, in the wake of the disastrous war Russia fought in the 1990s to prevent Chechen independence Moscow now faces the worst of all worlds – Islamists threats along its southern border in the very lawless places where leaking nuclear technology, catastrophic terrorism and criminality co-exist.
In other words, this summit matters. However, because once again might and right are again at odds terrorists will seek to exploit the seams between them. As Machiavelli once said, “A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise”.
Thursday, 20 March 2014
Somewhere in Deepest England. 20 March. Russia has used force in twenty-first century Europe to militarily occupy a significant and strategic portion of a neighbouring sovereign state...and it is about to get away with it. It does not matter that a majority of Crimeans may have wanted to rejoin Russia. In taking Crimea Russia has made a mockery of several treaties, badly undermined Europe’s security architecture and reopened questions about the relationship between might and right in Europe that were thought to be the stuff of history. What must be done?
I have just been attending a high-level meeting to consider NATO's strategic narrative and the agenda for the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales. My colleagues and I talked against the background of a faint but constant drum-beat as Russia consolidated its Crimean land grab. One must be conceptually clear at such moments; there are few if any short-term actions NATO and its members can take to get Crimea back to Ukraine, but there should be both a decisive response and medium-to-long term consequences for Russia.
First, the West must escalate not de-escalate. Therefore, the desire to rationalise away what President Putin has done must be pushed away. This is a strategic power struggle between Russia and the West about influence along the entirety of Moscow’s western and southern borders. As such Russia’s action has potentially the most profound of consequences for Europe and beyond.
Second, the invasion of Crimea should not be seen as an event but rather part of Russian strategy. At the meeting one of my colleagues said that Russia will pay a high financial price to maintain Crimea. Moscow could not give a jot. Russia’s invasion is about history and strategy. As such Putin’s masterstroke has been to destabilise every former Soviet republic with one act. He has also reinvigorated Russia’s sphere of influence and greatly damaged the strategic credibility of the West of which NATO is a central pillar. He has also ended any pretence to further EU and NATO enlargement and with it the idea of a Europe whole and free.
Third, President Putin has also come out of the power closet with a bang and in so doing redefined the meaning of ‘legitimacy’ in Russia. Any hope that Russia would at some point morph into a liberal European style parliamentary democracy is now gone. Russia is now a fully-blown aggressive revisionist power on Europe’s border with a classically Russian strong man at the helm who is wrapping himself in the Russian flag to justify power and position. That might not work for more urbane Muscovites but it goes down a hoot in much of rural Russia.
This precisely the kind of moment NATO is for. So, what can be done?
- NATO leaders must move quickly to place military forces in the Baltic States. This will reassure them and assure their security under Article 5 of the Treaty of Washington.
- A Western military tripwire must be established along NATO’s border with Russia to complicate Moscow’s regional-strategic calculation.
- The US must quickly bring back two additional Brigade Combat Teams to Europe to reinforce the existing force.
- Exercises must begin for the rapid reinforcement of NATO forces in Eastern Europe in the event of a crisis as part of a new Forward Deployment strategy.
- NATO must end its reluctance to base Allied forces in Eastern Europe out of fear it might be seen by Moscow as provocative. Russia is the provocateur.
- The NATO-Russia Council must be suspended;
- The modernisation of Article 5 collective defence must now be urgently reconsidered to include cyber and missile defence.
The invasion also completely resets the challenge NATO will face at the Wales summit in September which must now send a stiff message. High-level political guidance must be given to the NATO Secretary-General to undertake a broad sweep of the new strategic landscape, Russia’s place in it and thereafter begin the necessary planning.
Specifically, the Alliance must be tasked with considering all the necessary means to counter Russian intimidation and possible aggression and include within that wider consideration of Russia’s influence, not least in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Sadly, Russia will end the weak co-operation of late over Syria and Iran but that was probably intended by Moscow in any case. Critically, the summit should re-establish the symbolic commitment of all NATO nations to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence.
What will happen? Sadly, NATO is split right down the middle between Central and Eastern European members rightly alarmed by the invasion and Western Europeans fast rationalising Russia’s action away. It is that which Putin has understood and it is precisely the seams and grey areas of Alliance resolve that he has brilliantly exploited with speed and to effect.
Crimea is gone and the fate of Eastern Ukraine probably lies in the resolve and will of Western capitals. Thus far there has been no will and little resolve, particularly in Western Europe. Indeed, Ukraine could face a dark fate if Europeans in particular continue to show the almost derisory and utterly spineless response they have shown thus far.
If all of the above sounds assertive and uncomfortable…it is. This is not yet a new Cold War but it is certainly the start of a Cold Peace. It is time for the West to stand up and stand together. Failure to act and NATO's strategic narrative may well have been written by Hans Christian Andersen.
Saturday, 15 March 2014
Alphen, Netherlands. 15 March. One of those peculiarly British spats boiled up this morning. The Education Secretary (Minister) criticised his boss David Cameron for the "preposterous" number of old boys from Britain's poshest school Eton that he has silk hankerchiefed into his inner circle. Five out of the six people charged with writing the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2015 General Elections are 'OEs', one of whom recently told a friend of mine of his contempt for the electorate. This is not only bad politics on Cameron's part, it demonstrates the degree to which the Prime Minister and his clique are out of touch with the reality of the very people he needs to keep him in power.
OEs will no doubt respond that Gove's jibe and my concerns are the politics of envy. And it is certainly the case that some of my best friends and their children either went to or are currently at Eton. However, those that would accuse me of inverted snobbery should pause a moment. For my sins I was one of the first if not THE first Comprehensive School pupil/'oick' to go up to Oxford in 1976.
Gove also had a swipe at 'Oxbridge' in his remarks. When I arrived at University College, Oxford ('Univ') in September 1976 I suffered an enormous culture shock. Indeed, had I not been an athlete I probably would have jacked the whole thing in during my first year because of the appalling upper class, public (private) school snobbery I suffered from some (by no means all). Thanks to a few good people some of whom were indeed public school boys and the US, Canadian and Australian Rhode Scholars I persevered.
However, if I look at Univ today the efforts the college has made to reflect a changing society are legion. Yes, more can always be done but I am intensely proud of Univ for such efforts to cope with 'oicks' like me. Indeed, when I go to Univ today it is much nicer place and for me a better college for it than back in 1976.
It is therefore a profound shame Cameron has surrounded himself almost exclusively with old 'chums' and chums of chums. It gives the impression of a throwback prime minister, a man who is only comfortable amongst his 'own'. Sometimes Cameron's inner-circle exudes the impression of a cast of characters that have escaped from a Tom Sharpe novel suffering from various degrees of noblesse oblige. Or perhaps I mean School for Scoundrels?
Now, I am as critical of the tyranny of diversity as I am of self-perpetuating class-based elites. One only has to look at the way in which 'diversity' has become a metaphor for the Left's growing control over England's judiciary and the promotion in some sectors of mediocrity for the sake of it. Any artificial filters on progression and promotion must be removed.
However, Cameron's anti-diversity is equally inexcusable. By surrounding himself with Old Etonians and perhaps the odd Old St Paulian (I do not know the collective noun for those blessed with an education at St Paul's School) David Cameron confirms the suspicion of many that he is a self-promoting upper-class 'hooray henry' who had a helping hand into the upper echelons of politics and is now doing similar favours for his chums. It is as though Britain is being cast back into the politics of class which profoundly undermines the idea that Britain's best and brightest can make it to the top if good enough.
My own absolute belief is that for Britain to compete and survive in the twenty-first century the Whitehall Establishment will need to be truly open to the best irrespective of class, race, gender or orientation. Too often whenever I attend meetings in Whitehall class is all too apparent. The bosses speak with cut-glass, upper class, Eton (or some other posh school) educated accents. The 'gofers' tend to be from the bourgeoisie or perhaps the lower middle classes. The lower levels? Draw your own conclusions.
The strangest thing of all is that the Whitehall elite are forever talking about 'access' whilst quietly ensuring it is only their own they allow past the pearly gates of power.
Cameron's cliqueism sends all the wrong signals. Cameron's clique is totally incapable of picking up the real signals modern Britain sends.
Thursday, 13 March 2014
Alphen, Netherlands. 13 March. Four events this past month have highlighted the rapidly shifting balance of military power in the world. Yesterday General Sir Peter Wall, Head of the British Army, warned that “moral disarmament” would be exploited by Britain’s enemies and that he could not rule out future “force-on-force” conflicts. In fact, Britain is morally and actually disarming along with much of Europe. According to US think-tank CSIS cuts to European defence budgets between 2001 and 2013 represented a per annum compound reduction of 1.8% per annum or about 20% over the period.
Last month American Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced further cuts to the US armed forces. Hagel said it was “time to face reality”, as he followed Britain in announcing a 15% reduction in the size of the US Army, as well as other cuts.
Russia’s February 2014 invasion of Ukraine-Crimea should have reminded Europeans of the inextricable link between military power and political ambition, particularly for the non-democracies. Indeed, what was thought unthinkable in Europe even a month ago is very clearly thinkable in the Kremlin.
In the immediate aftermath of Russia’s bungled 2008 invasion of Georgia the Kremlin ordered a major review of the Russian Armed Forces. It was not a pretty picture. On 31st December 2010 Moscow launched a massive military equipment programme for the ten year period 2011-2020 that was to cost some $775bn. The investment envisioned annual average growth in the Russian economy of around 6.5%. In the event Russia is likely to grow more modestly over the period at between 4-5% per annum. Such growth will still result in some $700bn of military investments by 2020 or an increase in defence expenditure from the current $90.7bn per annum to around $122bn.
Affordability is a (not THE) key criteria for military expenditure. Contrast the Russian figures with France. In 2012 the CIA estimated the relative purchasing power of the Russian economy to be some $2.6tr whilst France was valued at $2.3tr. If Moscow is right and the economy does indeed grow at 4-5% per annum up to 2020 the Russian economy would then be worth some $3.5tr. Given the Eurozone crisis the best that can be hoped for France (and many European economies) is 1-2% growth per annum (if lucky). Even at 2% growth per annum the French economy will only be worth some $2.5bn by 2020.
Last week Beijing announced that the 2014 Chinese defence budget will increase by 12.7% to $132bn per annum. Beijing has been growing the defence budget by at least 11% per annum since 1989. If China continues to grow the military by about 12% per annum, which is implied in the China’s 2013 Defence White Paper then by 2020 China will be spending $230bn on defence.
Whilst such expenditure will not match the planned US c$560bn of expenditures in 2020 taken together the combined Chinese and Russian expenditures on their respective armed forces will total some $350bn. Many of those forces will be modern. And, whilst the Pentagon’s January 2012 “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices” paper points the way to a future US force that will be cutting edge most European armed forces will remain at best only partially modernised. This will mean that each euro/pound spent will in effect generate far less capability than Europe’s American, Chinese and Russian counterparts. Given that Britain and France represent some 50% of all European defence expenditure and much of the c200bn spent each year by Europeans on defence is wasted the Euro-strategic balance is shifting markedly and rapidly.
The world strategic balance is also shifting. Read between the lines of both Chinese and Russian military strategies and their aim is clear; to complicate America’s strategic calculation by forcing the US to stretch its armed forces the world over. With most Europeans wilfully refusing to help resolve Washington’s deepening and acute strategic dilemma $560bn will by 2020 be worth far less dollar for dollar and Chinese and Russian investments worth more.
Sadly, autocratic regimes are being emboldened the world over by the West’s moral and actual disarmament in what is fast becoming a new Tepid War. The signals being sent of US retrenchment and European disarmament have clearly encouraged Moscow, Beijing and others to up the military ante. Only the most strategically-illiterate of political leaders could now discount the established link between military power and policy goals. And yet in Europe illiteracy rules the day; hard power thinking offends the high priests of soft power.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine-Crimea and China’s serial hiking of defence spending really should mark the end of the fantasy that the ideal of a new liberal world order is shared by all. It is power that is shaping the twenty-first century not values. And, if values are to mean anything they must be backed by power.
It is indeed time to face reality.
Wednesday, 12 March 2014
At the core of Britain’s defence strategy must be a force able to lead coalitions via a combined and joint force concept that is so closely co-ordinated that, in effect, it represents a true revolution in military affairs – organic jointness. In a 2013 speech to the Royal United Services Institute, the British Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Houghton stated, “As far as the force structure is concerned, we must exploit the advent of the Joint Forces Command to champion the enablement of the force. This command is now the proponent for C4ISR, for Cyber, for Special Forces, for Joint Logistics and Defence Medical Services. It owns those things that represent the nervous system of capability. And it has come of age”. In fact, the new Joint Force Command (JFC) must become far more than a mere proponent – it must drive change.
Therefore, it is time for Britain to be defence radical. It was Britain that created the first all-professional force back in 1960. Britain must now create the first truly strategic and truly joint force. The new Joint Force Command is a start, but it goes nowhere near far enough and, at the very least, must have high-level representation from all three services, if the new Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) is to be realised as a strategic rather than an economy force. To that end, a showcase is needed that demonstrates the capacity of British forces to reach and strike and afford Britain effective command and control of coalitions. In that context, jointness means synthesis thorough combined and integrated forces, including appropriate civilian elements.
However, it is precisely in the domain of joint and integrated capability that organic jointness is vitally needed. For too long Service chiefs have seen such capability as secondary to their own core Service capabilities. That must end. Joint and integrated capabilities are the bedrock upon which the Joint Force must be established, and central to the working up of organic jointness. This is vital for effective command and control and strategic situational awareness. The Joint Force Command must therefore be given the status and authority to drive organic jointness across the three Services. It should also be given a further role (with supporting capabilities and resources) to reach out to all civilian national means.
To achieve such a radical shift Britain's 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 2015) would need to mark a clean break from SDSR 2010. SDSR 2010 was a spread-sheet review, where balancing the books came well before establishing a coherent strategic military capability. To be fair, this is not surprising given the current government was faced in 2010 with unfunded spending commitments of £74bn when it came to power. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, faced with such a liability, was right to suggest that one of his main tasks was to end what he called a “conspiracy of optimism” at the Ministry of Defence and defence equipment. However, balancing strategy with commitments has proven harder than expected.
Indeed, whilst those who drafted SDSR 2010 understood this requirement and accepted capability “holidays”, there was apparently very little linkage between the SDSR’s cost-cutting mission and the ‘strategy’ trumpeted by government and the defence review singularly failed to properly align resources and commitments. Consequently, Future Force 2020 (FF2020) is a messy compromise driven more by budget considerations than strategic calculation. The current buzzwords of MoD-speak – agile, flexible and adaptable – must thus be seen as metaphors for cuts rather than some new concept of jointness or interoperability and, at the very least, SDSR 2015 must move to resolve that tension.
The sheer scale and pace of cuts also had a disastrous effect on British influence. SDSR 2010 nominally cut the defence budget by 8% but, in reality, went far further, whilst the Government’s June 2013 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) ‘shaved’ a further 7% off what was meant to have been the absolute defence bottom-line. This sent a very negative set of signals to allies, partners and the armed forces themselves. It almost certainly encouraged those who would welcome diminished British and, by extension, Western influence in the world.
Hopefully, with the CSR the British defence budget appears to have at last been stabilised, although the Chancellor is calling for a further 20% off public expenditure post 2015. Moreover, defence cost inflation is running markedly higher than the allowances incorporated into planning the defence budget, which is still declining in real terms. The Special Military Reserve will be cut by £900m but this is in line with reducing operational costs as British forces begin their withdrawal from Afghanistan. The CSR retained the defence resource budget at £24bn ($37bn) and the defence equipment budget was fixed at £14bn ($21bn), with a year-on-year real-terms increase of 1% up to 2020.
However, whilst there will be no cuts to the numbers of soldiers, sailors and airmen, major cuts were earmarked for defence civilians which will mean either the engagement of expensive contractors, the diversion of military personnel to undertake jobs hitherto done by civilians or simply a reduction of capacity to undertake work.
Monday, 10 March 2014
Alphen, Netherlands. 10 March. Thomas Hobbes once wrote that “covenants without the sword are but words and of no strength to protect a man at all”. One hundred years ago in Britain Asquith’s Liberal Government was about to face the most terrifying decision of all – whether or not to go to war with Germany. The Cabinet was deeply split. Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey believed that Britain had no alternative but to honour treaty obligations to protect Belgian neutrality from German aggression and a secret 1912 commitment made to protect French ports in the Channel and the Atlantic. Others in the Cabinet tended towards the view that ancient and/or secret obligations were but words and should not commit Britain to war. Thankfully, whilst war is not imminent Russia’s invasion of Ukraine-Crimea has once again demonstrated Hobbes’s truism; if treaties are not reinforced by all means of influence then might prevails.
In 1994 America, Britain, Russia and Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum. In return for the abandonment of Soviet-era nuclear stockpiles that for a time made Kiev the world’s third nuclear power Ukrainian sovereignty was to be protected. Ukraine, of which Crimea was clearly a sovereign part, duly fulfilled its obligations. France and China later gave similar assurances. Sadly, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine-Crimea has demonstrated that such assurances are as empty as the old Soviet nuclear silos that still pockmark the Ukrainian landscape.
The Kremlin has also revealed something else; Europe’s much-lauded soft power is simply a metaphor for empty power. Indeed, if Hobbes were alive today he would write that civil power is of no strength at all. EU leaders can make all the phone calls they like to to a dissembling President Putin but the Kremlin knows such bluster is but words. Worse, by allowing a Moscow that sees the world purely in term of power to ensnare Europe in energy dependency there is nothing that can be done to stop Russia from annexing Ukraine-Crimea.
What will it take for Europeans to wake up and realise that investment in armed forces is not blind militarism but rather part of the essential strategic balance? Indeed, such investment is vital to demonstrate to the Kremlin and others a clear determination that all covenants will be honoured. And yet it is precisely the abandonment of the hard strategy that underpins such covenants that made the invasion of Ukraine-Crimea possible.
This is typified nowhere more pointedly than in London where hard strategy has been replaced by hard accountancy. Phillip Hammond, Britain’s Secretary-of-State for Defence last week made one of the most dangerous assertions I have heard in recent years to justify the abandonment of strategy. Hammond warned of the danger of setting strategy without knowing first how much money could be spent. It is precisely the abandonment of long-term strategy for the sake of short-term politics that I write about in my new book Little Britain? Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (www.amazon.com).
The first duty of any government is the security and defence of its citizens. What Hammond is really saying that Britain’s government will only consider security and defence investment after it has paid for welfare, health and everything else that might just keep has government in power. Only then will the British Government consider how much threat they can afford. This is precisely how accountants corrupt strategy. And, given than NATO and the EU are central to British security strategy Britain’s non-strategy damages both and has undoubtedly encouraged the Kremlin’s taste for military adventurism.
This is also tragic for Russia. Last year I had the very distinct honour of addressing Russian leaders at the Moscow European Security Conference. I am no Russophobe. In typical fashion I was blunt. “Get over the Cold War”, I said. “The only stable border you have is with us in the West”. They did not listen. Shortly thereafter I made a speech in Riga, Latvia entitled NATO’s Riga Test. In that speech I said that the true test of NATO’s worth was whether the good people of Riga and across the region could sleep soundly in their beds secure in their own security.
Russia is not about to invade Latvia. However, if Europeans continue to arm covenants with words only then an unstable Kremlin might, just might, be tempted at some point to exploit “Sudeten Russians” to boost its nationalist credentials. The use of the ethnic-Russian card to justify invasion is no different from Hitler’s demand that Sudeten Germans be united with the Reich in 1938.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion real leaders would urgently undertake a scan of the strategic horizon and re-consider their respective defence postures. Such a scan would demonstrate to all but the strategically-myopic the dangers that are growing in the international system and the extent to which such dangers are exaggerated by Europe’s self-generated inability to uphold the very international law it claims to champion. And yet nothing…
Peace in our time? Make no mistake; Ukraine-Crimea could be Munich revisited if Russia is simply given a slap by the strategically limped-wristed. It will be seen as simply another “quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing” that gets in the way of short-term strategic convenience. If that is indeed the case then all the solemn treaties Europeans have signed since the end of the Cold War will be seen by the likes of Beijing, Moscow and others to be covenants without the sword.
At the very least NATO nations must commit to the agreed 2% GDP expenditure on defence. That alone will send the necessary signal that covenants such as Budapest and indeed international law in general really do matter.
What will it take indeed?
Friday, 7 March 2014
Izmir, Turkey. 7 March. 2014 is a strategic tipping point for NATO. The December end of major combat operations in Afghanistan is being foreshadowed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine-Crimea. Ideally, at this pivotal moment NATO’s September 2014 Wales summit should consider the strategic and operational future of the Alliance into the 2020s. To that end, I am attending high-level conferences in Washington, Britain and Paris to consider those issues and will act as rapporteur for one of those meetings. It is against that backdrop I have just attended and addressed the Corps Commanders’ Meeting at Allied Land Command in Izmir, Turkey in support of Lt. General Hodges and his team. Are NATO corps ready for the coming challenges?
The basics; NATO has nine so-called Graduated Readiness Force (Land) (GRF-L) corps. Along with maritime and air forces they are the beating operational heart of the fighting Alliance – NATO’s hard corps. As such these forces are and will be the litmus test as to whether the world’s most successful politico-military alliance is fit for twenty-first century purpose.
They will need to be fit as the balance of military power is fast shifting east. This week it was announced that China would increase its defence budget this year by a further 12.2% to $131.57bn, which is probably some 15-20% below the actual figure. The ‘fruits’ of Russia’s massive military modernisation programme can be seen in Ukraine-Crimea in the body armour and equipment being displayed by the Special and Specialised Forces under General Anatoly Sidorov’s command.
In other words, once the Afghan dust has cleared NATO leaders will finally have to face a painful fact; this is the beginning of a new and dangerous strategic age. No longer can the certification and effectiveness of Alliance forces be measured purely in terms of counter-terrorism or security force assistance.
The key test will be the ability of NATO forces to deter, mitigate and if needs be fight at the high-end of conflict. President Putin invaded Ukraine-Crimea because he could. In all likelihood China will re-take Taiwan at some point by force if it can. Soft power and economic sanctions whilst important will not in and of themselves deter such military adventurism. Indeed, the only way for such military adventurism to be deterred will be for the Alliance to re-invent itself as a high-end force that is also effective across a broad conflict spectrum – both fighting force and partnership force.
And reinvent itself the Alliance must. First, this is one of those moments when NATO is looking at what is as close to a strategic blank sheet as it is possible to get. The end of major combat operations in Afghanistan will also mark the effective end of NATO’s almost exclusive focus on stabilisation and reconstruction since 1991. If the West together is to provide STRATEGIC stabilisation then the Alliance will once again have to become a hard alliance.
Second, for that to happen and given the economic backdrop in Europe the way NATO forces are generated and organised will need to be radically re-thought. The Alliance will need to be at the very forefront of a new way of armies, air forces and navies working together across five strategic domains – air, sea, land, cyber and space. Connectivity and interoperability (both actual and intellectual) will be the critical component of forces that will not so much operate together but operate as one.
So, what is my assessment of NATO’s corps? There were two NATOs on show in Izmir - hard corps and soft corps NATO. Some NATO nations get this and understand the need to re-generate Alliance deterrent credibility via a high-end force built on deployable strategic headquarters of which the corps are a key part. Other NATO nations reject this and continue to emphasise low-level peace support operations and security force assistance – a kind of strategic Telly Tubbies land. The trouble is that too many of Europe’s political leaders are also attracted to this fool’s paradise and all too keen to make the false economy of endless defence cuts. It is a kind of strategic appeasement.
Therefore, NATO leaders must consider two options urgently. The preferred option would be a reformed force re-established on corps that are themselves firmly established on a high-end warfighting capability. To that end a reform, experimentation, exercising and education development programme should ideally be put in place now to harmonise force concepts, structures, capabilities and doctrines. Another option is in effect what exists today – corps that are similar in name only, operating at very different levels of ambition and capability. At present several NATO nations seem profoundly opposed to the idea of high-end reform.
The high-end option would be defined purely in terms of twenty-first century military strategy with the focus on achieving a new balance between efficiency and effectiveness. This would see the number of corps reduced from the current nine to six with all corps able to provide deployed theatre command and thus rotate seamlessly through crises and conflicts.
if not hard corps NATO will be comprised of those Allied forces able and capable of taking on high-end military tasks. Soft corps NATO will be those forces only able to undertake the less challenging military tasks. Frankly, if that is to be NATO’s reality then the Alliance should be structured thus and the dangerous pretence ended hat unity of purpose and effort is anything but a fantasy.
However, there is another challenge that NATO commanders from SACEUR down need to grip quickly. Experience of the past twelve years of operations has severely undermined the credibility of European multinational formations in general and the corps concept in particular. Multinational formations have been disaggregated to support nationally-led provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan, been broken up to support US headquarters, or remained by and large political fantasy (EU Battlegroups).
Therefore, for Allied Land Command or indeed any other NATO command to generate all-important reform momentum the very case of such formations needs to be remade to political leaders – in terms of effectiveness AND efficiency.
My sense of the conference was of good people grappling with big issues and trying to back engineer grand strategic solutions via the military-strategic backdoor. They will only get so far. What they need is clear political guidance allied to a renewed requisite level of ambition that properly prepares NATO forces for the undoubted challenges ahead. Surely that is one lesson of President Putin’s adventurism – if that is our politicians have the courage to see that.
NATO: hard or soft corps?
Monday, 3 March 2014
Alphen, Netherlands. 3 March. Article 30 of the May 2009 Russian National Security Strategy states, “Negative influences on the military security of the Russian Federation and its allies are aggravated by the departure from international agreements pertaining to arms limitation and reduction, and likewise by actions intended to disrupt the stability of systems of government and military administration…” The Russian invasion this past weekend is blatant flouting of international law. It is also a long-planned intervention that has been sitting in the files of the Russian Defence Ministry since at least 1991. The grand strategic reason for the intervention is the determination of Moscow to reassert control over what it sees as Russia’s “near abroad” with Ukraine as its lynchpin. However, there are five additional reasons why Moscow has seized the collapse of the Yanukovich regime as the moment to intervene – history, military strategy, military capability, politics and opportunity.
History: Ukraine has always had a strong pull on the Russian mind as it is the spiritual home of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1954 Ukrainian-born Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed ‘control’ of the Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. As Ukraine was then firmly under Moscow’s control the transfer mattered little, although it did mean the de facto shift of ethnic Russians and Tartars under the nominal administrative fiat of Kiev. On Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 the transfer became a matter of both historical and strategic import to Moscow. ‘Loss’ of Ukraine to the EU (and eventually NATO) would be the final humiliation to the Kremlin following two decades of perceived retreat since the end of the Cold War in 1989.
Military Strategy: One of Russia’s long held strategic mantras has been the need to maintain a warm water naval base that could enable Russian influence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Sevastopol has long provided just such a facility for the Black Seas Fleet, which is in fact the Russian Mediterranean Fleet. The nature of the Russian military operation this weekend and the use of Special Forces to establish a bridgehead at Simferopol and Sevastopol Airports are indicative. They point to a classic Russian expeditionary operation that creates and exploits local unrest to enable seizure of the seat of government as well as control of land, sea and air space. The initial aim is to secure the Sevastopol base and its lines of supply and re-supply with Russia.
Military Capability: In 2010 Russia announced it would inject $775 billion into the professionalization and modernization of its armed forces. This followed the disappointing performance of Russian forces in 2008 during Moscow’s seizure of parts of Georgia. The bulk of those new forces are established in the Central and Western Military Districts which abut the Ukrainian border. The kit being worn by the deployed force demonstrates a mix of Special Forces (Spetsnaz) and specialised forces and reflects the effort Moscow has made to improve deployability of its elite professional forces.
Ukrainian forces have enjoyed no such modernization. In any case the upper echelons of the Ukrainian military’s command chain are deeply split, as evinced by the defection this weekend by the Head of the Ukrainian Navy. Many senior Ukrainian officers owe their appointment to Yanukovich.
Politics: The Putin regime was established in 2000 and led to the cult of Putinism. It is a regime that consolidates domestic power by appealing to nostalgic Russian notions of grandeur. In particular the regime has endeavoured to recreate the sense of a Russia powerful enough to re-capture the influence Moscow enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s at the height of the Soviet Union’s super-power. The 2014 Sochi Olympics were very much part of the regime’s image-building. In 2013 US Secretary of State John Kerry gave equal billing to Russia in the handling of the Syria crisis and enhanced the reputation of the regime at home.
Opportunity: The Kremlin under Putin is first and foremost a strategic opportunist. The withdrawal of two US Brigade Combat Teams from Europe may seem small in and of itself. However, taken together with the ‘pivot’ to Asia and President Obama’s uncertain grip of grand strategy the US is no longer the stabilising force in Europe it once was. The Kremlin also has contempt for ideas of ‘civil power’ built around Germany and the EU. Moreover, Russia’s military renaissance has taken place in parallel with the West’s failures in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Kremlin is also acutely conscious of Europe’s economic travails and de facto disarmament with total defence spending in Europe down by minus 1.8% per annum since 2001. Moreover, the refusal of all but two NATO European states to meet their obligation to spend 2% of GDP on defence has also led Moscow to conclude that Europeans lack the will and capability to block Moscow’s regional-strategic ambitions.
Implications for Russia and Ukraine: The seizure of parts of Ukraine will in the short-term strengthen the grip of Putin over Russia. However, Russia faces deep demographic and economic challenges which unless addressed will see Russia continue to fade as the West, China and others eclipse Moscow.
The east of Ukraine is very vulnerable. Moscow has a cynical view of the use of power and will almost certainly use the concerns of ethnic Russians to justify an intervention that would straighten Russia’s strategic borders and thus consolidate the new Russian sphere of influence.
Recommendations: There is no quick fix available to Western policymakers. However, Western allies must use all the non-military tools at their disposal to force the Kremlin to reconsider the costs versus the benefits of such action. That will include use of international fora to build a countervailing coalition, possibly with China which dislikes sovereignty grabs. All economic tools must be applied with sanctions imposed on key officials, with Aeroflot flights to Europe and North America suspended and Gazprom slowly removed from the European market. The accounts of senior Russians outside of the the country must be frozen. Finally, the US must re-position forces back in Europe, including the Baltic States and Europeans must commit to the re-building of their armed forces.
Conclusions: Over the medium-to-long term NATO allies must re-establish credible defence as part of a balanced economic, diplomatic and military influence effort in and around Europe. Former US President Bill Clinton and former US Ambassador to NATO Nick Burns said yesterday said that the enlargement of NATO to former members of the Soviet Bloc guaranteed their security. This is correct to a point. Without the modernisation of Article 5 collective defence the value of NATO membership will over time erode and if Putin remains in power the Kremlin will exploit such weakness.