hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 8 June 2018

Ready to Go? The 4:30(s) from Brussels (NATO)

“Today, Allies committed, by 2020, to having 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons, four combat vessels, ready to use within 30 days or less”.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, 7 June 2018

NATO’s New Realism?

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 June. NATO took some important steps yesterday to modernising Article 5 collective defence.  NATO also enjoyed a ‘first’ – the first ‘Defence Ministerial’ in its shiny new railway terminus, sorry, headquarters.  At American bidding, the ministers agreed a NATO Readiness Initiative. The so-called ‘Four Thirties’ will be central to reinforcing deterrence in an emergency by enabling rapid reinforcement of forward deployed forces. The proposed force is a kind of beefed-up version of the old Allied Command Europe Mobile Force which was disbanded in 2002 (due to British defence cuts) and was designed to act as a strategic reserve able to move quickly to any NATO hot-spot.  Critically, the new force will plug a dangerous gap between spearhead forces, immediate follow-on forces (NATO Response Force), and the bulk of NATO forces which would take up to 120 days to mobilise in an emergency. If, that is, the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

My hope is that the June 2018 Defence Ministerial will also come to be seen as the prelude to a July 2018 NATO Summit at heads of state and government level at which realism finally broke out amongst the Allies. And, that the prospect of real war might just make those discussing a trade war at today’s G7 meeting in Canada pause for thought.  My other hope is that Secretary-General Stoltenberg will be given the credit for his quiet professionalism and his determined focus on returning the Alliance to the fundamentals of an innovative, modernised Article 5 collective defence.  If, that is, the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

Adaptation in Action

Some very good people have been working for a long-time to realise the agreements at this week’s ministerial. The adaptation of the NATO Command Structure is a vital step towards an Alliance that will be able to respond quickly to crises across both the conflict spectrum and the Euro-Atlantic theatre, a vital component of a credible deterrent. The new Joint Force Command in Norfolk, Virginia will be a vital partner for Allied Command Transformation and re-establish a relationship between new thinking, new doctrine and new ‘doing’ that was broken when the US scrapped its own Joint Force Command.  Critically the new command will also help preserve all-important interoperability with US forces. If, that is, the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

The new Enabling Command based in Ulm, Germany is a contemporary realisation of Omar Bradley’s famous dictum that ‘amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics’. The Alliance must be able to generate high-end military force quickly or move the right for force to the right place rapidly and then sustain such a force for the entirety of an emergency. If not, the very foundation of military power projection (there is no such thing as a static defence these days) upon which twenty-first century Article 5 defence and deterrence stands will be critically undermined. Readiness of force and rotation through an emergency are the twin components upon which the Alliance conventional deterrent relies. Too weak or too slow and the threshold to possible nuclear force is lowered. Of course, to realise such a force the nations must keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

The Defence Ministerial also confirmed a new Cyber Operations Centre, evidence that NATO is truly beginning to adapt to the new warfare that stretches across hybrid, cyber and hyper domains and which was the centre-piece of the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative ( which was led by General John Allen and for which I had the honour to be lead writer.  If NATO is to meet the challenge of twenty-first century ‘war at our seams’ deterrence and defence will need to stretch across resiliency, protection and projection. Indeed, if NATO is to maintain all-important military comparative advantage its forces will also need to be empowered with a new form of mission command flexibility at all levels that will need to reach across the seven domains of twenty-first century warfare: air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge.  But, only if the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

Secretary-General Stoltenberg also pointed out the, “four consecutive years of real increases in defence spending”. He went further, “All allies are increasing defence spending. More allies are spending 2% GDP on defence and the majority of Allies now have plans to do so by 2024”. Stoltenberg highlighted the $87 billion more that Canada and the European allies have spent on defence since 2014. And, that, “When it comes to capabilities, Allies have committed to investing 20% of their defence spending on major equipment”. One does not have to read deep down between Stoltenberg’s lines to see NATO’s boss endeavouring to forestall a Trump-bashing over equitable burden-sharing at the forthcoming Summit. Burden-sharing will be the elephant in the elegant conference room and if Canada and the European allies want the Alliance to survive, and to be more than a force generator for coalitions led elsewhere, they will all need this time to keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

Trump-Proofing the Alliance

This is precisely why recently I proposed to both the White House and London that when President Trump make’s his big ‘you bloody Europeans start pulling your military weight or else’ speech during his July visit to NATO and the UK he might want to do it on the deck of Britain’s brand new 72,500 ton heavy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. By the way, the first of ‘Big Lizzie’s’ teeth arrived yesterday at RAF Marham in Norfolk, England in the form of four F-35B strike fighters.  For once, well done Britain! Good timing. In other words, President Trump needs to avoid making a, ‘you Europeans are a bunch of free-loading, appeasing, weak and pathetic wasters who for too long have sponged off the American taxpayer and I am going to put a stop to it’ type of speech.  Why? Because America needs allies.

Rather, and respectfully, the President’s speech should read something like this: “Today, I am standing on the deck of this beautiful, gorgeous ship (I am factoring in Trump-speak). This mighty brand new, multi-million dollar warship.  And, friends, you know what, she does NOT fly the Stars and Stripes but the White Ensign, the symbol of our Old Ally Britain and Britain’s mighty Royal Navy which has for centuries brought order to the world’s oceans.  HMS Queen Elizabeth, great name friends, is proof-positive that with the right will our European allies can step up to the plate. And, that our Europeans allies have finally come to realise that America can only defend them if they do more to defend themselves. Proof positive that when the Allies keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to NATO really is the shield which protects us all and a sword which together we can all wield in the name of righteous peace.  The good news?  Next year our British allies will launch another of these great ships”.  Cue Royal Navy F-35Bs flying over in salute. 

The Allies have committed, by 2020, to having 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons, four combat vessels, ready to use within 30 days or less”. But, only if the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to. This train must leave the station. It cannot afford to be late!

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

A Europe of Nations. Why I am a Gaullist

“History does not teach fatalism. There are moments when a handful of free men break through determinism and opens up new roads”.

Charles de Gaulle

A Gaullist European Union?

Garmisch-Partenkirchen. 5 June.  Tomorrow is the anniversary of D-Day.  It is time for Europeans to save ‘Europe’...from themselves.  Specifically, it is time to abandon the idea of a federal Europe once and for all and return to de Gaulle’s realist idea of a true European union of nations in which Brussels is once again reduced to where it should always have remained: servant not master.  Europe will only survive if it is reformed and brought back closer to the people and that can only happen if the EU becomes a true union of states.

Charles de Gaulle was a great man, and although not always a friend of Britain he remains a hero of mine.  He led his country at a moment of abject weakness in the wake of France’s defeat in 1940 and with iron will defended both its honour and its interests.  Oh, for a British de Gaulle now!  Brexit is turning out to be the disaster I feared with Theresa May simply the wrong person in the wrong position at the wrong time.  Her lack of leadership has set Britain adrift whilst much of the government machine charged with negotiating Britain’s orderly departure from the EU is completely unsympathetic to the very idea of Brexit.  Add to that a Parliament determined to gut Brexit and my once great country – a top five world economic and military power - is heading into a self-imposed form of servitude.  The darkest hour?

What Brexit Really Reveals

My on-balance rejection of Brexit back in 2016 was for geopolitical reasons and out of solidarity with friends in Eastern Europe. However, I also foresaw this mess precisely because the British Establishment long ago abandoned all notions of power and influence (see my book Little Britain) that de Gaulle and, of course, Churchill understood.  If it were not for the fact that Britain’s revoking of Article 50 would only encourage an arrogant and increasingly autocratic and technocratic European Commission to seek more power, and the consequent further hollowing-out of democracy in Europe it it leading, I could envisage the abandoning of Brexit in spite of the political crisis it would cause in the UK.  What is now clear is that THIS Brexit will not be in the national interest.  

For all that, Brexit is also a symptom of a much deeper malaise that stretches across Europe. It is a malaise that results in a ‘Europe’ today far less than the sum of its parts. It is also a malaise caused primarily by a battle between ‘unionists’, such as me who believe in the EU as super-alliance, and power-centralising Brussels federalists. The extent of this malaise was evident last week when Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told Italians-in-crisis to work harder.  So much for solidarity.  What should be a set of European issues – the failure of the Euro and effective management of migration - was again dumped on a single member-state proving once again that ‘solidarity’ is the most over-worked word in the Brussels Lexicon.   

Union or Federation?

Any analysis of the EU’s current state demonstrates the over-arching contradiction at its elite core: for THIS EU and its institutions to work ‘Europe’ needs more and deeper state-shrivelling political integration. However, most Europeans refuse to accept the shrivelling of their respective states because it is the state, not Brussels, to which most Europeans remain loyal. 

Here in Germany that contradiction is particularly and peculiarly apparent. There is much nonsense talked about Europe as a German Empire implying Berlin’s power is cast in the image of Wilhelm or Adolf.  Yes, Berlin can be frustrating and at times seem to want the benefits of leadership without the cost. In reality Germany is strong enough to be called upon to lead, but insufficiently strong to lead without help.  Chancellor Merkel seems to have finally understood this even if her own political capital is declining fast. In a weekend interview in Der Spiegel she seemed to accept President Macron’s case for more ‘Europe’ but only via deeper co-operation between states, i.e. a Europe of nations.  Whilst she countenanced the idea of temporary loans to assist EU countries in financial distress she quite clearly ruled debt mutualisation or the financial federalisation which would transform the Euro into a wealth transfer-mechanism from north to south. Even President Macron’s ideas for a new European military intervention force seemed to de-federalise EU defence even as he presented the plan as ‘more Europe’.  For France keeping Britain somewhere between EU member and third country is clearly vital, especially for defence co-operation. Second country?   

The Trump Factor

Cue the Trump factor. The Sunday Times this week, as part of a series of interviews with respected German commentators, stated, “…for years Germany lived under the cosy assumption that America would underwrite its defence while running up a trade deficit buying its cars”.  In other words, Germany and other Europeans have for too long assumed that America would pay for the defence of Europe whilst Europeans argued endlessly over the shape of Europe.  With the world now pressing in on Europe, and America hard-pressed the world over, the need for Europeans to get serious about their place in the world is fast becoming more important than the place of Europeans in ‘Europe’. As de Gaulle once said, “It will not be any European statesman who will unite Europe: Europe will be united by the Chinese”.  Maybe, just maybe, Europeans will be forced into some form of meaningful unity by an America that forces Europeans to finally wake up to America’s twenty-first century reality.

Testing Times
How does Europe get out of this mess? Brexit is again illuminating. The same pressures that led to Brexit are apparent in Poland, Spain and whole host of EU countries, as is the hard-line taken against the British by a European Commission worried about the fate of Project Europe and interpreting to the limit both its mandate and the treaties, even if that sows mistrust amongst numbers of European citizens about distant, unaccountable power and the point of voting if Brussels effectively orders member-states to scrap outcomes it finds inconvenient. The Brussels federalists are deeply worried that Brexit marks not simply the quasi-departure of a turbulent anti-federalist ‘pest’, but rather the beginning of the real struggle between unionists and federalists.  When placed in that context the true reason for the struggle over Brexit becomes apparent. 

Which brings me to the central contention of this piece.  Like some enormous ice-berg that is breaking away from a continental ice-field Europe is creaking, cracking and groaning its way to a new shape for power on the Old Continent. My hope is that a new and legitimate political settlement can be forged before Europe itself melts.  However, for such a settlement to be seen to be legitimate by the people of Europe, it would once again have to be seen to put the European nation-state to the fore.    

The tests?  If Brexit actually happens (and anything more than a sham Brexit remains a big ‘if’) the Commission will propose that it is given tax-raising powers to offset the loss of Britain’s budget contribution.  If the Commission is given tax-raising powers Europeans will have crossed the Rubicon towards a European super-state.  Europeans must collectively resist these ambitions and convene, instead, an intergovernmental conference or IGC to prepare for new European treaties built on a simple set of principles that would realise de Gaulle’s vision of a Europe of nations – more European Council, a bit more European Parliament, and a lot less European Commission.

A Europe of Nations
It is time for a real European union of nations of which Britain and everyone else can feel a part.  A European union of nations that would enable European states to again make sovereign decisions in a world in which the logic of European co-operation is overwhelming.  Europeans need not fear such a future.  Europeans have come a long way since World War Two and few if any would seek to resolve differences on the battlefield.  As the great man once rightly said, “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first: nationalism when hatred for other people comes first”.   

Maybe, not only would Europe be politically re-invigorated but a vital transatlantic relationship re-forged as a strategic Europe finally emerges with Britain at its core and a new US-German special relationship at its heart.
And no, objecting to giving ever more power to Brussels does not make me a populist. A realist yes, a populist no.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 1 June 2018

Broad Deterrence: We Need a Complete Re-think!

“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die”.
Mel Brooks

Transatlantic Foot Shooting

Alphen, Netherlands. 1 June.  On Wednesday I posed a question that was received a bit like a fart in a lift (elevator to the Yanks amongst you) – are we actually deterring any adversary anymore?  That said, today is not a good day to propose re-conceiving deterrence. The decision by President Trump to start a trade war is a Vladimir Putin wet dream.  The EU’s likely retaliation will almost certainly lead to both Americans and Europeans shooting each other in the foot.  Well, the Europeans would shoot themselves in the foot, but the gun was decommissioned some time ago due to lack of spares.  Either way, a transatlantic trade war endangers the central pillar upon which credible deterrence rests – political and strategic solidarity.  So, bear with me and let me assume for the moment that both Americans and Europeans miss their respective feet and that somehow, and in spite of the best efforts of our ‘leaders’, the transatlantic relationship stumbles on.  If so, Americans and Europeans together will need to completely re-think deterrence if NATO’s Article 5 collective defence is to remain credible in the face of twenty-first century challenges.

Back in February I called for a new concept of deterrence by which new and emerging non-nuclear technologies could be 'bundled' and applied via new strategy and new thinking to generate deterrent effect across the conflict spectrum in conjunction with existing Alliance conventional and nuclear capabilities and postures.  My purpose was to close the dangerous deterrence gap that now exists between weak Allied conventional forces in Europe and last resort strategic nuclear deterrents. At the same time I posed a question: could the Alliance generate the same or similar deterrent effect as nuclear escalation across the low to high yield, short-range missiles to intercontinental ballistic missiles nuclear spectrum by matching new strategy with new non-nuclear technology, rather than return to a form of mutually assured nuclear destruction or MAD-ness?

On Wednesday, I gave a lecture at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London on the subject of Strategic Stability, Missile Defence and Nuclear Deterrence. Now, I say gave a lecture, having risen at 0230 in the morning and driven well over a 100 kilometres to Amsterdam Schiphol airport I found my flight to London City cancelled, and then the flight upon which I was re-booked also cancelled. Thanks, KLM…British Airways was flying.  So, I came home and gave my lecture via Skype. 

Broad Deterrence

My message was succinct; we need a new concept of Broad Deterrence that stretches across a new escalation spectrum from hybrid war to hyper war via cyber war. War at the seams of our governments and societies is already a fact with opportunistic Russia and long-game China already exploiting those seams to effect.  In that context, NATO’s very limited debate about the place of its hopelessly limited missile defence simply underlines much of the old-fashioned nature of the wider debate within the Alliance about who to deter and against what to defend. 

Therefore, new thinking is needed as a matter of urgency, hence my idea of Broad Deterrence.  However, such new thinking will only take place if there is a critical change of mind-set at a very high-level and in Europe.  One of my excellent interlocutors posed a question I found quite stunning (and my apologies if I got this wrong); do we want to admit we are in an arms race with the Russians?  My reply was blunt; if it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck, it is an arms race!  Our choice is simple: we either convince the Russians to stop (not very likely given the current attitude of President Putin and the rest of the Siloviki who ARE the Russian Government), or we win the arms (relatively easy given Russia is an economic minnow if we turned our minds to it).  The most dangerous situation is the one in which we now find ourselves in which one side is arms racing and the other (us) is still pretending we are on a strategic picnic. As an Oxford historian let me tell you the thing about history: shock happens!

How Would Broad Deterrence Work?

So, what is Broad Deterrence and how would it work?  Broad deterrence would deter across hybrid, Artificial Intelligence (et al), cyber war, electronic warfare and hyper war domains, as well as across air, sea, land, cyber, space, nuclear, information and knowledge space to combine and enhance resiliency, strengthened protection and enhanced projection. The aim would be to build a new deterrence ladder to raise the threshold of 'success' for any adversary and to confound their own thinking by forcing them to onto the back foot to consider how they deter us.  NATO would be the guardian of Broad Deterrence with such new thinking central to NATO adaptation.

How do we begin? The other great deception used by those who simply do not want to face reality is that European public opinion would not understand.  Let me be utterly elitist by way of response.  Publics know squat about defence and deterrence and pay their leaders to handle such matters.  European leaders and thinkers really need to stop wearing this Emperor’s New Clothes argument about public opinion and start leading.

Another implied counter-argument to new thinking was that my concept of Broad Deterrence would be too complicated to turn into policy, strategy and architecture.  The simple answer to that is we do not know until we try.  In any case, that is precisely why people like myself occasionally get paid.  Therefore, having staged a conference last year on the future of European defence I am now proposing one of my Wilton Park conferences to now consider the future of European deterrence for which (naturally) I would write the report. He who holds the pen and all that…


One final thought, for all of the above to have any chance of working there has, of course, to be an ‘us’.  Here Europeans need to really get real.  America’s problem is not deterring Russia, the United States can do that quite comfortably. America’s critical twenty-first strategic problem is that its credible deterrent ‘reach’ will need to be global AND high-end all of the time, and all over the place. Which means even mighty America will need to make hard choice and tailor its deterrent posture.  For Europeans, America’s coming choices will be profound. If America cannot deter high-end adversaries the world-over. In other words, Alliance deterrence will equally depend on the ability of Europeans to deter Russia as Europeans. Indeed, if one separates the US from its European allies the deterrence gap in Europe between Europeans and Russia is enormous and mainly due to wilful European weakness.  And, for Broad Deterrence or any other form of deterrence to work there needs to be an ‘us’. Trade wars between allies are not particularly helpful on that front.

Peace through legitimate strength!

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 28 May 2018

The Great European Defence Crisis

“All cruelty springs from weakness”.

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 May. The great European defence crisis is upon us. It has been a long time coming and can even be traced back to the very founding of NATO. Most Europeans never got over World War Two and have been happy to do the least possible to defend themselves ever since, albeit commensurate with ensuring the Americans did their defending for them.  However, news that Germany, Belgium and in reality a host of other Europeans have absolutely no intention of honouring the NATO Defence Investment Pledge (the appropriately-named DIP). The DIP was the formal commitment made by the nations of the Alliance at the 2014 Wales Summit that by 2024 they would all spend 2% GDP on defence of which 20% each year would be on new equipment.

When the Cold War began spluttering joyfully to an end in 1989 ‘Europe’ re-defined itself as a civil power.  Subsequently, European armed forces were cut to the bone and often beyond in the decades that followed.  Slashing defence spending became a habit. Now, Europe again faces threats some of which demand a level of force commensurate with establishing a new level of deterrence, credible defence and meaningful engagement. Sadly, ALL Europeans are failing the test implicit in that challenge, whatever the small ‘dead cat bounce’ increases in defence spending that some leaders have championed.  What has caused the great European defence crisis and is there a way out?

Lack of money and unreformed militaries: Some leaders have questioned the commitment they made to the Defence Investment Pledge, whilst some have suggested that they spend c. 1% GDP on defence so well it is, in fact, the equivalent of 2%. This is nonsense. 2% GDP on defence spent moderately well would be at least twice as effective as the 1% currently spent very badly.  However, before such increases could take place many European forces and their procurement systems would need to undergo thoroughgoing reforms if new money is to be applied to any effect. There is little sign of such reforms taking place.

Financial crisis: The effects of the financial crisis that started in 2008 and the austerity that followed have had a disastrous effect on most European armed forces, even the strongest. Last week the much-respected Paul Johnson of London’s Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested the UK government can no longer take money away from defence to fund the National Health Service. The raiding of hard security to fund social security has been a phenomenon across Europe.   The Dutch armed forces are a case in point. Reduced to the verge of incapacity by successive governments they have just received a small cash inject that will do little to resolve the force-resource crisis in which they are mired.

Strategic pretence: In an effort to wiggle out of the DIP EU member-states last year re-invented Permanent Structured Co-operation or PESCO.  The idea at the core of PESCO is that by being more efficient and more together EU member-states could generate the same defence outcomes spending 1% GDP on defence as each state separately spending 2% GDP on defence.  This is again nonsense. I wrote my doctorate on European defence and I have seen the same political trick used time and again.  Indeed, there is an inverse correlation from which European defence suffers: the more acronyms created the more military capabilities lost.

Loss of strategic and political cohesion: Europeans either do not agree on what the main defence effort should be or still do not believe defence is that important or both.  This lack of strategic and political cohesion and the lack of defence seriousness it engenders has been revealed over the past week during the latest attempt by the European Commission to punish Britain for Brexit. The Galileo satellite positioning system is the one piece of EU security architecture that matters to the British armed forces, and yet the Commission wants to exclude post-Brexit Britain from using the highly-encrypted core of the capability. This is even though British money and expertise has gone into developing Galileo and Britain’s loss of access to it would weaken the defence of Europeans. Sadly, such misplaced intransigence is all too totemic of the great European defence crisis. For the European Commission punishing Britain is more important than the safety of Europeans.

American over-stretch: Over the weekend the United States Navy conducted a freedom of navigation exercise in contested waters in the South China Sea. The growing challenge of China is exacerbating the strategic over-stretch of the United States which remains the world’s only global, albeit hard-pressed military power. Europeans must share more of America’s burdens if America is to credibly maintain its security and defence guarantee to Europe. However, too many European leaders remain in denial about the challenges faced by Washington and the implications for the defence of Europe.  Indeed, a few see free-riding on the Americans as a right.

New technologies of war: In 1906 the Royal Navy commissioned HMS Dreadnought, the world’s first all-big gun, heavily-armoured, fast battleship. At a stroke, the warships of all navies (including Britain’s) were rendered obsolete. The emergence and deepening combination of artificial intelligence, machine-learning, offensive cyber capabilities and electronic warfare in the battlespace suggests a new ‘Dreadnought’ moment is fast approaching. However, it could well be illiberal command powers, such as China and Russia who make the breakthrough, rather than Europe’s technologically dilatory social market powers.

Populism: Overnight President Mattarella effectively blocked the formation of a new populist government in Rome, effectively tipping vulnerable Italy back into political crisis.  The rise of populism across Europe is destroying the ability of European states to credibly defend themselves or uphold their commitments to allies.  Italy is one of Europe’s major powers and there is now the very real danger that in effect Rome will be lost to NATO and Europe.  There is a profound and dare I say tragic historical metaphor in this latest Italian crisis.

Europe’s leadership vacuum: There is a vacuum in the leadership of European defence that an opportunistic Russia is exploiting. That vacuum is primarily caused by an irresponsible and increasingly selfish Germany which seems to want the benefits of leading Europe but refuses its responsibilities. For those of us who respect modern, democratic Germany this failure of leadership is a profound regret.  Two issues reveal the extent of the German malaise.  The Nordstream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany is a reflection of Berlin’s profound ambivalence when it comes to the defence of Europe.  This weekend the Joint Investigation Team cited the Russian military as culpable for the July 2014 downing of Malaysian Airline MH17 with the loss of 298 souls. There is a meeting in Brussels to consider the conclusion.  It is almost certain Berlin will try to water down any action proposed against Russia. Berlin’s ambivalence is compounded by the appalling state of the German armed forces.  With most German ships and submarines confined to port for lack of spares and only two of the Luftwaffe’s fleet of more than 90 Tornado aircraft fitted for night action Germany is a central cause of the great European defence crisis.  

The European military mobility crisis:  The European force generation and mobility crisis is the consequence of the great European defence crisis. Naturally, all of the above has a profound impact on the ground. Back in 2014 much was made of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence and strategic reassurance to the Baltic States. And yet, in an emergency NATO forces would find it extremely difficult to move any force of any size quickly across the Continent in support of the trigger/trip-wire forces now in situ in the Baltic States. At a meeting ten days ago I suggested it would thus make more sense to move the main bulk of forces further east to overcome the crisis in mobility faced by the defenders of Europe. No, I was told, it would make those forces more vulnerable.  This is nonsense. A senior officer confided in me that the real reason is that most European states do not wish to antagonise Russia and/or are simply not prepared to pay the cost of preparing an effective force to be maintained at a higher-level of readiness beyond their own borders.

Is there a way out of the great European crisis? Yes, but it will require political leadership. Last year, as lead writer, I supported General John Allen, Admiral di Paola, General Wolf Langheld, Ambassador Tomas Valacek and Ambassador Alexander Vershbow in preparing the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Reports (  In addition, several of the West’s leading thinkers contributed major papers.  For all the insight and creativity the project generated it faced a simple reality: unless such efforts are backed up with a mix of political vision and defence realism at the top of government across Europe the great European defence crisis will continue.  Too many of Europe’s leaders are still in denial about the dangers Europeans face and will face and I only hope they will not one day be condemned by history and their citizens for it.

European defence is in crisis. It must first be faced before it can be resolved. Peace through legitimate strength!

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

NATO: Dambusting Inertia?

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

John Adams

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

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

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

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

Burden-Sharing, Spending and Innovation

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

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

A Sentient Dreadnought?

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

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

The European Defence Crisis: Dambusting Inertia

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

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

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

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

A NATO Future War Centre of Excellence

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

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

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

Julian Lindley-French 

Friday, 11 May 2018

Iran and Israel: Sparta and Athens?

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

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

Sparta versus Athens

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do No Harm

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

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

A Trump Doctrine?

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

Do no (more) harm, Mr President

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

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

Julian Lindley-French