hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 4 December 2017

The Future of European Militaries

“European militaries will need (at the very least) to undertake three security and defence roles, possibly simultaneously. First, to deter Russia and if needs be defend NATO and the EU from an armed Russian incursion. Second, to help stabilise states and regions in chaos, which in turn threatens European security. Third, to ensure and assure interoperability with the US future force”.
Report on the high-level conference The Future of European Militaries, Wilton Park, 25-27 September, 2017

Download my conference report at:

Alphen, Netherlands. 4 December.  My reports are rather liked the ill-famed urban legend about London busses of old. You wait for ages for one and then four come along at the same time.  For those of us schooled many years ago by waiting in the bloody rain for the dreaded ‘216’ non-bus service this story is more than legend. It is where soggy characters were formed and drenched backbones stiffened. Indeed, there were times after a particularly long wait I wondered if the bloody bus itself was mere legend.

A month ago you had my paper co-written with Allen, Breedlove and Zambellas on Future War NATO ( Three weeks ago you had my report for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute on Brexit and the Shifting Pillars of NATO ( Last week you had the entire opus of the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative Final Report plus all supporting papers ( Of course, they are all brilliant and particularly reasonably-priced – they cost nowt!  Today, for your delight and delectation, I offer you my latest scribbling my Wilton Park report entitled The Future of European Militaries. You lucky, lucky people. And you thought Christmas was still weeks away?  

First, my thanks.  The report emerges from a great conference held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Agency Wilton Park deep in the beautiful Sussex countryside between 25th and 27th September.  My dear friend, Wilton Park Programme Director Dr Robert Grant and I had the pleasure of co-chairing the conference with me acting as Scribbler-in-Chief or Rapporteur. My thanks go also to the staff at Wilton Park who do such a fantastic job looking after the conference delegates. My good friend Dr Holger Mey at Airbus, and Cdr Jeroen de Jonge at the Dutch scientific research company TNO stumped up much of the sponsorship for the conference, along with the UK Ministry of Defence (thank you chaps!), and my old friend Dr Jeff Larsen at the NATO Defence College in Rome.

So, what, after all the necessary formalities, did we actually conclude about the future of European militaries, other than it would be a very good idea if they had a future, and that said future was a together future?  The conference focused on six themes: force structure, threat and response, the implications of Brexit for European security and defence, technology and future war, institutional and command relationships, and the future of European militaries.

The conference also endeavoured to answer pivotal questions that the leaders of European states need to answer right now. What will be the centre of gravity of European forces in the twenty-first century? Should a European future force be focused on the warfighting high-end of the conflict spectrum, or the medium to low end? What balance between force mass and force manoeuvre should European militaries aspire to? Is there sufficient consensus among, and between Europeans to fashion what would look like a European force credible across the conflict spectrum?

The conference concluded that if those questions are to be answered positively then European militaries will need to “embrace broad spectrum innovation” that combines technologies, skills and knowledge into an affordable, but necessarily radical future force concept”.

Key findings (inter alia) from the conference were:
·       European defence planning must be able to satisfy national requirements, enable pan-European cooperation, and ensure interoperability with US, Canadian and other forces.
·       Credible deterrence and defence rest on the twin pillars of military capabilities and capacity.
·       The European command and control (C2) structure needs to be sufficiently robust to enable Europeans to be force providers, command European operations, and organise European militaries into a far more coherent and consistent force.
·       No single European country can any longer afford complete strategic autonomy.
·       Smaller European states should be organised into EU and NATO compatible groupings. PESCO can help with the development of such groupings.
·       The NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) should act as the “interoperability pivot” by promoting “enhanced transatlantic interoperability”.
·       Procurement and acquisition must be re-established on new, common and shared requirements that underpin national, EU and NATO defence industrial policy.
·       Acquisition and innovation cycles must be accelerated.
·       NATO and the European Defence Agency (EDA) must harmonise their respective efforts to operationalise innovation and to ensure security of supply and re-supply.
·       NATO and the EU must be far better able to talk to each other at all levels, and during all stages of a crisis.
·       The US needs to be clearer about the future strategic partnership it seeks with its European allies.
·       Europeans must better understand the role of force across the conflict spectrum from hybrid war to cyber war to hyper war.
·       NATO needs more forces throughout the command structure.
·       Speed of recognition during a crisis is vital to understand when an attack is an attack.
·       The Allies should create an A2/AD bubble over the Baltic States.

To conclude, future war will demand a smart mass of forces able to exert influence and effect across great distance very quickly, particularly as new technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing massively and irrevocably speed up the command pace of war. Therefore, given the threat array Europe’s armed forces need to be bigger, stronger, and more agile, smarter and with far more capability and capacity than they enjoy today. They will also need to be allied more deeply to sharper intelligence-led indicators that are better able to warn of pending danger.

Or, in other words, Europeans will need a combined future force able to undertake at least one major joint operation and three smaller joint operations. And, to create such a force in the current strategic, political, financial and economic environment Europeans together need to act now.

Britain?  Brexit or no the British must be at the core of such efforts as the UK provides 30% of Europe’s high-end military capability. The message? United we stand, or divided we fall. One final thing – the conference concluded that there was a vital missing ingredient in the goulash of European militaries: political leadership! Ho hum…

Julian Lindley-French

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