hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 3 November 2014

American Strategy and the World-wide Western Security Web


Alphen, Netherlands. 3 November.  On 30 January, 1902 faced with global over-stretch the British forged the Anglo-Japanese Treaty with the Empire of Japan.  To conceive of such a treaty London had to a) take a global view; b) recognise its own growing weakness; and c) understand the need for capable allies that could ease pressure on British strategy world-wide.  With cuts planned between 2014 and 2020 greater than Europe’s entire annual defence investment and set against the huge defence investments being made by the illiberal powers America’s claim to be the only military power present in strength in every region of the world looks increasingly threadbare.  In other words, American strategy does not add up and the Americans need a rethink.

Amidst the deep, rich black seams of Summit blah, blah that emerged from the September NATO Summit like so much Welsh coal dust on the west wind one phrase stuck out.  US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel talked of a “core coalition” to take on Islamic State (IS) comprising the US, UK, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark (most notably in that order).  It was nothing less than a reconceptualisation of US strategy in a world in which the West is no longer a place but an idea. 

However, the implications of such a coalition-led US strategy for America’s four cornerstone military allies Australia, Britain, France and Japan are enormous.  Implicit in shifting US strategy is a witting or unwitting assumption that the changing correlation of emerging force will progressively work against Washington and by extension its allies.  Indeed, whilst the US will remain the world’s leading military power the ability of illiberal powers to complicate US strategic calculation will increase.

Therefore, given the importance of allies and partners US strategy must be recast on on four interlocking principles.  1. For Washington to prevail in the multi-dimensional, multi-spectral security environment of the twenty-first century the US must be at the core of a world-wide security web of democracies and states with shared mutual interests. 2.  Much like Churchill’s 1945 vision of British strategy US strategy must leverage three concentric circles of power; NATO, Asia-Pacific allies, and partners across Asia and the Middle-East.  3.  US Strategy must establish force generation and command and control principles built on NATO Standards that forge allies and partners into effective coalitions.  4. Like the British of 1902 US Strategy must encourage its four core allies to generate ‘Mini-Me’ command and control hubs individually and in tandem and/or in partnership with each other.

US European Command (EUCOM) must be the pivot of interlocking core and broad coalitions because it has such experience of working with allies and partners and can act as an effective broker, experimenter and mentor for both allies and partners alike. Indeed, EUCOM’s commander (COMEUCOM) who also doubles up as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), has a vital role to play as the lynch pin between allied and partner forces, on the one hand, and other US Combatant Commands worldwide.  Unfortunately, EUCOM is increasingly the poor sister of its COCOM counterparts, most notably Central Command (CENTCOM) because Washington places capability before strategy.

Critically, a unifying force concept is needed that could promote all-important unity of effort and drive forward both core and broad coalitions.  Specifically, in the context of coalitions the US and its core allies need a Four-Forces-in-One Concept that would make the most out of the little bit of everything not much of anything forces they all possess.     

Take the British Future Force as an example which today reflects neither strategy nor affordability but a strange amalgam of the two.  Coalitions focused on the US are at the very heart of British security and defence strategy.  However, to be central to a US-friendly network of sufficiently-capable modular, adaptable and agile coalitions London will need a Hub Force strong enough to command coalitions, agile and expandable over time and built around and upon command assets across the six domains of conflict.  A Core Force agile enough to work across government with other departments and civilian agencies, adapted and adaptive to lessons from the campaign in Afghanistan.  An Integrated Force to provide planning and to promote ownership of planning for complex contingencies and consequence management both at home and with allies and partners.  Finally, an Effect Force able and geared to take on robust forced entry missions as and when required either in lead or as part of of US-led coalitions.

Whilst the the Americans still possess the only truly strategic force i.e. a force that can do everything, all-of-the-time, everywhere sort of, that force today faces many of the same challenges the British faced in the late nineteenth century.  Still immensely strong on paper like the British a century ago the US faces emerging challenges to its home-base, threats to its world-wide lines of communications and to its key allies and partners from threats that merge security and defence, civilian and military, national and international.  

In a sense history is coming full circle for the Americans.  Like the British a century ago the US will needs allies and partners more not less.  Of late poor American leadership and the lack of any clear US idea of the role and utility of allies has seen its vital alliances and partnerships lose cohesion.  That must stop.  The West needs clear American strategic vision and a clear idea of the vital role of allied and partner armed forces in American strategy in a world that is undoubtedly safer when the US and the World-wide Western Security Web is strong.


Julian Lindley-French

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