hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Crash! How Future War Would Start

“When do you decide you want to bomb an adversary’s electrical company? It’s the same answer for when you would launch a cyber-attack on their electricity sector – it is just a question of how you do it”.
Buky Carmeli, former Director, Israeli National Cyber Security Authority, August 2018


Alphen, Netherlands. 29 August. Buky Carmeli, former Director of the Israeli National Cyber Security Authority, has called for “…a strategic paradigm shift in thinking about cyber operations” in order to place them squarely at the centre of deterrence and defence. He also warned about the growing danger from a “cyber doomsday weapon”.  His message mirrors what Generals Allen and Breedlove, Admiral Zambellas and I called for in our recent paper Future War NATO in which we suggested threat must be seen as a continuum across a new spectrum of violent escalation from hybrid war to hyper war (including space war) via cyber war.

Imagine this. 0812 hours the electricity grid crashes. A few minutes later internet and phone systems – fixed and mobile – also crash. At first people are bemused, almost resigned, but confident that in a short time their lives will be restored to normalcy. As time passes and nothing happens bemusement becomes concern. They search their FM and AM radios for news, but nothing. A day passes and they have neither news nor power.  Just in time delivery systems of food and medical supplies fail, still no news.  With fridges down people consume much of the food they have bought before it goes rotten.  Questions are asked as neighbours begin to talk to each other. What is happening?  Is there any news? Panic begins to seep into their consciousness and in the absence of information rumours abound. With citizens isolated from the state and from each other authority, order and control begins to steadily collapse.  Slowly, word spreads of cyber-attacks and sabotage across the country and still no news from government.

Fantasy?  At 0812 hours my house and much of the surrounding region lost power. The internet and phone systems crashed along with much of the road and rail network. Power was restored at 0917 hours, which was impressive given the size of the outage but worrying also in that the cause was failure in one high-tension wire and an entire region of the country lost power. For sixty-five minutes my wife and I were completely isolated – no phone, no internet, no information. In a real national emergency sirens would have blared out their sombre call to crisis. What crisis? What to do? What action to take? To whom to speak and how?

Double Dutch defence?

When power goes down in the Netherlands it is often whole swathes of the country that is effectively taken out.  Yes, the Dutch, like many European states are very good at talking about security. For example, the impressive Hague Security Delta is a leading security cluster that involves all leading stakeholders engaged in assuring societal security and stability.  And yet, what happened here reveals that for all the talk the country’s critical infrastructure and by extension society is extremely vulnerable to mass disruption.  Worse, talking a lot about such threats seems to be fast becoming part of the problem.  For politicians ‘threat’ remains far too abstract, as if simply funding research is a form of defence in its own right and thus a way of delaying doing anything much about it. New concepts are developed, such as hybrid war, cyber war and hyper war (yes, guilty as charged) and people like me talk sagely and not-so-sagely about what needs to be done to make society more ‘robust’ and ‘resilient’ in the face of emerging threats. It is not enough.

This weekend I had dinner with a close friend of mine who also happens to be the best Dutch strategic analyst. He made two important points. First, the Dutch do not really know the extent of the vulnerability of their power grid to attack. This is partly because that have never really tried to find out and partly because they rely for much of their power on the German national grid. Second, the Dutch have made little or no effort to prepare their population for a sustained outage generated by an attack. The Dutch are not alone. Much of the rest of Europe is equally vulnerable and ill-prepared. National government is ill-prepared and local government by and large wholly unaware what real civil defence would mean and entail in a prolonged emergency.

What is the threat?

So, what is the threat? In an August article for The Jerusalem Post, Carmeli confirmed that offensive cyber capabilities were becoming an ever more important part of the strategic arsenals of major military powers such as Israel.   Indeed, what Carmeli had to say should be sobering news for all Europeans. Russia and China have ‘cyber-compromised’ Israel far more than Iran or Hezbollah. He pointed to the number of cyber-attacks on Israel mounted daily by states, groups and companies and called for cyber-defence to be seen as part of broader national defence. Carmeli also warned against making a false distinction between war and peace. “Cyber is an endless battle – you are always playing chess with the other side”.

Carmeli then went on to hint at the importance of offensive cyber capabilities. Of the democracies only the US, UK and Israel have really begun to develop such capabilities. Critical to the debate about the changing character of war he suggests that launching a potentially catastrophic cyber-attack should only take place in conjunction conventional attack.

Too many European leaders are in denial about the possibility of future war and the role of cyber-attacks therein. The experience my wife and I had together with well over 100,000 other Dutch households is precisely how a twenty-first century war could start. A carefully planned disinformation and disruption campaign that would proceed or parallel any military campaign of destruction.  Defeat could happen at a stroke simply because government would be powerless to respond, and society would simply have no idea how to respond.  Resiliency? 

War at our seams and the new civil defence

War at the many vulnerable seams of our societies is now the chosen weapon of enemies. In the twenty-first century there can be no ‘defence’ if a new and purposeful balance is not struck between defence and deterrence, protection and projection.  The mistake all European governments make is to see the security debate and the defence debate as separate. They are not. Rather, they are part of a continuum of effects (including cyber) that must be generated if the citizens of twenty-first century democracies are to live their lives reasonably free from the fear of externally-generated violence by states and non-states alike, quite possibly in harness. The very nature of twenty-first century warfare is such that neither security nor defence can be generated unless governments actively treat their citizens as partners in their own security.
What is needed is an entirely new concept of civil defence that works in tight conjunction with information, cyber and military defence.  First, re-established civil defence would restore the broken link between people protection and legitimate power projection aimed at deterring aggressors.  Second, civil defence would reinforce deterrence by demonstrating the ability of society to recover. Third, active civil defence would help restore the big partnership between power and people vital to security and defence.

Hardening democracies

To achieve what will to some appear to be an oxymoron – hardened democracies – specific investments will need to be made to harden those critical infrastructures upon which freedom from the fear of aggression and violence depends. Above all, governments must embark on a much more systematic campaign of education so that people are made aware of the threats and would critically know what to do in a genuine emergency when the siren sounds. Contemporary security and defence is not simply about investment, much though it is needed. It is about a fundamental change in the political culture of many European democracies so that ‘sec-def’ is treated with more than political lip service and citizens treated as more than overgrown children.

Now, I am not suggesting a major shock war is going to break out in Europe tomorrow. However, as I suggest in my new piece for Internationale Politik about Germany’s role as a strategic peacekeeper, such a war is no longer beyond the realms of possibility. For those of us schooled in the consideration of the worst case it is simply time again for those in power to at least think about war. Why? History suggests over-mighty, predator-lkie illiberal states and groups with extreme motivations see irresolute, distracted and weak liberal states as prey creating the ‘best’ conditions for strategic shock. Recognise it?

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Norsdstream 2 and Germany's Two-Legged Foreign Policy

Let us lift Germany…into the saddle. Surely, when that is achieved, it will succeed in riding as well”.

Otto von Bismarck, 1867

A German, German foreign policy

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 August. Apparently, it did not go terribly well. Officially Saturday’s meeting between Kanzlerin Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the late-Baroque splendour of the Schloss Meseberg discussed Ukraine, Syria, Iran and the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline project.  The meeting, like so many Russo-German meetings of late, involved ‘hard talking’ but made little official progress. And yet, in spite of the tensions, Nordstream 2 just ploughs ahead tying Russia and Germany ever closer together in mutual energy dependency and threatening to by-pass much of Eastern Europe with profound security implications. Nordstream 2 also reveals the two legs of contemporary German foreign policy which is both legalistic and mercantilist at one and the same time.

German foreign policy is increasingly neither European nor transatlantic, just German.  The strengths and weaknesses of German foreign policy were reflected in the Merkel-Putin meeting.  The German position reflects the deep and abiding commitment of contemporary Germany to international law, a kind of ‘Lexpolitik’.  For all its undoubted power these days contemporary, democratic Germany remains essentially self-constraining with international relations viewed through a very legalistic institutionalist lens. Contrast that with President Putin’s world-view which virtually a polar opposite. Putin is buccaneering with a penchant for Machtpolitik, even though Russia has not actually got much ‘macht’ beyond the purely destructive (of which it has a lot!).  The reason little progress was made at Meseberg thus becomes clear: the Germans would have pushed for ‘solutions’ commensurate with international law, whilst Vladimir Putin would no doubt have snorted that ‘law’ to him is whatever he decides it is.

Nordstream 2 and German strategy

German foreign policy is not all about the pursuit of virtue. Nordstream 2 reveals the strong mercantilist strand in German foreign policy. When it comes to the interests of German business it is Realpolitik that tends to become the norm.  One only has to examine the influence German business has in the EU to understand the centrality of German business to the German interest, and the lengths Berlin is prepared to go to protect this interests. The repeated blocking by Germany of the EU Services Directive prevented powerful British firms gaining a competitive foothold in the German market and had a not unimportant role in Brexit.

And yet, Nordstream 2 is also where German legalism and mercantilism flow together. For Germany, this grand strategic project is a way to keep the Russians talking whatever martial fantasies in which President Putin might indulge.  Indeed, it is interesting the contrasting ways Berlin and Moscow see the strategic utility of Nordstream 2. The Russians see the pipeline as a means to use gas supplies to coerce other Europeans into a grudging acceptance of Russian influence over Moscow’s near abroad and a bit beyond. The other day I was cold called by a Gazprom-led consortium here in the Netherlands offering me cheaper gas. Crimea led to some sanctions being imposed by Germany and other Europeans on Moscow which may be having some limited impact on Russia’s elite. After the Skripal attack on Britain by Russia one might have expected more sanctions, but no. This is because for the Germans the need to keep the Russians talking is at the very heart of the German foreign policy concept precisely because it was born in the charnel houses of Tannenberg in 1914, Stalingrad in 1942 and the divided Germany of the Cold War.  Frankly, Berlin is right.  Therefore, the best way to understand Nordstream 2 is to place the project firmly in contemporary Germany’s strategic and historical context. 

Nordstream 2 should thus be seen less as a pipeline pumping Russian gas directly to Germany and beyond, but rather as a gigantic money-transfer conduit designed to keep Russia afloat. Berlin has reason to be concerned about Russia’s stability and all points European in between. In 2017 the Carnegie Moscow Centre stated: “A substantial part of Russia’s production capacity – more than 40% by some estimates – is both technologically and functionally obsolete and cannot produce competitive and marketable products. For instance, Russia’s machine stock has shrunk by almost a half in the last ten years…Over the next few years, we can expect a decline in investment…This downward spiral will eventually lead the country to economic collapse”. In other words, President Putin is committed to exactly the same course of action as the Tsars (both White and Red) before him: a level of strategic ambition that simply cannot be sustained over the medium to long-term and which unless mitigated or changed will lead to a crunch.  If Russia catches a bad cold the rest of Europe…

Nordstream 2 is mercantilism as strategic stability and thus very German – both noble and self-interested at one and the same time. Saturday’s meeting reflected that eclectic mix of German values and interests. It was thus perhaps fitting that today is the fiftieth anniversary of the Prague Spring and the then-Soviet Union’s invasion of Czechoslovakia to prevent it from breaking out of the Soviet straitjacket. The Prague Spring played an important role in pushing then West Germany to develop its first real post-war independent foreign policy – Ostpolitik. At a time when the Americans were deeply distracted with Vietnam Willy Brandt sought to establish a direct relationship with both the ‘other’ Germany, the German Democratic Republic and the Soviet Union.

What price gas?

History is still the eloquent driving force in German foreign policy but it is history that paradoxically leads to the contradiction from which Berlin’s internationalism suffers.   German foreign policy is not all about Russia, Nordstream 2, or that other great elephant in the room at Meseberg, at least in spirit, US President Donald J. Trump. Germany is now simply too powerful IN Europe to simply remain yet another European ally OF America. Viewed from Berlin Germany is surrounded by supplicant states all either seeking German money, German blessing or both on a continent in which only Germany can guarantee order. That includes Britain and France. And yet Germany still seems ill-at-ease with the very idea of German power and leadership. It is strategic recalcitrance that could well flunk lead Berlin to flunk the hard test that is inevitably coming Germany’s way.

Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger, Chairman of the Munich Security Conference, suggests the problem with German foreign policy is that it does not want to get ‘wet’, i.e. face hard realities when things go wrong and have the will and the means to do something about them. It is also why the Nordstream 2 strategy could fail. Given the nature of the Putin regime, Moscow might simply use the new gas money that will flow up Nordstream 2 to further reinforce the very tools of international coercion which threaten other Europeans and upon which Russia has been investing for a decade since the August 2008 invasion of Georgia. What price gas then?

Can ‘Wet’ Germany Lead?

Europe certainly needs German leadership and Europe has not had a better Germany to lead since 1870. Unfortunately, German foreign policy is also a two-legged stool critically lacking a third leg – hard power. Back to Germany and Russia.  Today, Russia commences Vostok 2018, the largest Russian military exercise for forty years, Germany’s weakness is that its foreign policy is an ‘anything but war’ policy, whilst Russia’s foreign policy is ‘war or the threat of war as a means to an end’ policy.. At Meseberg these two very different ideas of power tried to speak to each other and failed, which is why Europeans will continue to need American engagement in its affairs.  Sadly, Russia will not be a ‘normal’ power (nor have a future) until it reduces the level of state investment in intimidating others and starts investing in its own people. Germany will not really be a normal power until Berlin recognises that ‘shit happens’ when dealing with the likes of Putin’s Russia – big shit! It is not Russian power that is a threat to Europe but Russian economic weakness in conjunction with an over-bearing and unaffordable Russian security state. No amount of money Germany pours into Russia via Nordstream 2 will avert eventual Russian collapse unless Berlin can convince Moscow to change course.  

The need for a three-legged German foreign policy is pressing. If the transatlantic relationship is not reinforced and Germany continues to seek the fruits of leadership but refuses to bear its burdens there could come a moment when the ‘correlation of forces’ are so adverse for the European democracies that the military opportunism that has pot-marked the Putin era will be impossible for Moscow to again resist. In that case, it is unlikely to be Germans who will suffer in the first instance, even if Berlin would bear a lot of responsibility.

Europe needs German leadership but as President Teddy Roosevelt might have put it Germany must also continue to speak softly but learn again to carry a reasonably big stick.

Julian Lindley-French  

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Europe’s Defence Gap and the Expanding Bandwidth of War

“I’ve seen comparative numbers of US defense budget versus China, US defense budget versus Russia. What is not often commented on is the cost of labor. We’re the best-paid military in the world by a long shot. The cost of Russian soldiers or Chinese soldiers is a tiny fraction”.

General Mark Milley, US Army Chief of Staff, May 2018

Hard choices

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 August. The stress faced by all Western defence establishments is not simply a function of constrained resources.  It is also due to the rapidly expanding bandwidth of warfare across a new spectrum of coercion from hybrid war to hyper war via cyber war demanding forces capable of reaching across air, sea, land, space, cyber, techno-space, information and knowledge.  Only a radically new concept of combined and joint arms will enable Europeans to close the rapidly expanding defence gap.  

In Radically Re-thinking Britain’s Security and Defence William Hopkinson and I made the provocative suggestion that the British should consider scrapping the Royal Air Force.  The intention was not to insult the RAF.  The relationship between air power and innovation is well-established and to lose bespoke air power also risks killing vital innovation.  Rather, it was to demonstrate that if London continues to misalign the ends, ways and means of Britain’s defence policy then hard choices will need to be made.

When I was Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy I witnessed at close quarters how small, under-funded armed forces too often talk ‘joint’ but do ‘dis-joint’. An inordinate amount of time, money and talent is wasted by army, navy, and air force staffs on preserving army, navy and air force staffs just so they can fight each other over ever-shrinking resources.  Whatever ‘joint’ mechanisms are created to prevent such conflict too often become the battlefields upon which the struggle is fought. How often have I heard European defence establishments invoke tradition to avoid facing the hard military consequences of the political choices imposed upon them?  

Whither transatlantic defence?

Worse, many Europeans no longer understand why they spend any money on defence. In the past, the Americans pretty much decided what defence Europe ‘bought’ with Europeans little more than spokes on an American defence hub.  Their defence spending choices were by and large dictated by the need to maintain military ‘interoperability’ with US forces. However, as the transatlantic relationship creaks and groans under the weight of political and strategic tensions and in the absence of leadership Europeans simply want to stop the world and get off. The latest Deutsche Presse Agentur opinion poll suggests 42% of Germans want the complete removal of US bases from Germany. At the same time, Germany also refuses to face the defence consequences and cost of strategic estrangement from America. Having one’s cake and eating it?

Upon what should Europeans spend? At July’s Brussels NATO Summit President Trump tried to get the European allies to spend more on defence.  Fearful of the consequences of American withdrawal there is now the danger that some Europeans start to throw a bit more money at their legacy armed forces simply to show good intent.  One would have to work hard to find a greater example of pouring scant public money down a large black hole to no particular end. Increased European defence investment should only take place in conjunction with defence reform, but to what end and how?

Defence outcomes & Purchasing Power Parity

Defence outcomes, not defence input are the true test of relative strength upon which all-important deterrence rests. It is the paradox of American defence outcomes which, Trump or no Trump, explains why Washington desperately needs its European allies to awake from their collective strategic torpor. The 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) envisages an increase in the US defence budget from c$690bn to $718bn, and that does not even include the cost of the US Space Command President Trump called for in June and which Secretary of Defense Mattis apparently resisted.  In a sign of future times, the Act also allocates some $40 million to the military uses of Artificial Intelligence. This is vital but also highlights the American dilemma; the need to deliver military strength the world over all of the time. No other power – adversary or ally- faces such a continuous test.  Therefore, the headline US defence budget appears to be massive expanding geo-strategic and technological pressures upon US forces threaten to dilute its ability to deliver fires and effects. In other words, the headline budget might not be all it appears to be given the funding tensions between the now and the future force.

Then there are personnel costs to add to the mix. The planned 2.6% pay raise for US personnel intensifies the bandwidth dilemma US forces face and highlights a critical European defence failure: unforgiving relative purchasing power. General Mark Milley in his May 2018 testimony to the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Defense pointed out that if one strips out the relatively high cost of US labour the defence outcomes China and Russia generate are dangerously close to that of the US, and far, far beyond any defence outcomes Europeans aspire to.   

A New Combined and Joint European Force Concept

European defence? The expanding bandwidth of war, the state of European public finances and the nature of European society effectively mean that no European state can any longer alone afford to secure itself domestically and defend itself from external threats. In a speech last week at the Atlantic Council in Washington the British Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson suggested two unlikely outcomes. First, that Britain would remain a ‘tier one’ military power and, second, the need for Allied grand strategy – the considered organisation of immense means in pursuit of high ends. If he is serious what would ‘grand strategy’ mean? Now, I have some time for Williamson as he is the first British minister for some time actually thinking about Britain’s defence needs and its value rather than how to reduce Britain’s defences and its cost, inventing metaphors to mask further defence cuts from the media or both.

Britain also exemplifies the European defence dilemma. Britain could hike the defence budget to afford the more high-end kit and greater numbers of personnel needed to increase post-Brexit Britain’s influence a Washington vital to British policy. The Americans would certainly appreciate that. Well, at least this week. But, just what influence would London actually buy with what and at what cost? Alternatively, Britain could engage more deeply in European defence co-operation and help shape it accordingly. 

There are two options for European defence co-operation; common or combined. The ‘common’ approach would see Europeans move decisively towards a fully-integrated force that effectively scrapped national command structures and formations. The ‘combined’ approach would see the further development of a plug and play system in which national European forces could be applied more effectively across the conflict spectrum, not unlike Anglo-American forces during World War Two or NATO today.  The common force would be more efficient in theory, whilst the collective force would be more practical in reality.

For all the inflated rhetoric a ‘common’ European force beloved of the EU is very unlikely to happen if for no other reason than Europeans lack a shared strategic culture. In any case, the utility of such a force would require a European Government which is also very unlikely to happen. Therefore, no more time should be wasted on this Brussels fantasy. The alternative is a kind of combined super European Intervention Force along the lines suggested by France’s President Macron that builds on the ethos and structure of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) Britain and France have already pioneered, and which would be by and large Brexit proof.    

Strategic torpor is normally only broken either by an ally, an enemy or both.  Whatever way one looks at the defence dilemma faced by all Europeans only radical change will realign ends, ways and means and re-establish the credibility of deterrence and defence.  Closing Europe’s yawning defence gap will only ever be realised via an entirely new combined and joint European force concept.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Amiens 1918: The Birth of Blitzkrieg

“Tactical success in war is generally achieved by pitting an organised force against a disorganised one”.
J.F.C. Fuller
The Battle of Amiens

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 August. ‘Blitzkrieg’, a sudden and utterly irresistible military attack that can strike anytime, anywhere leading to rapid collapse of defences and quick defeat. 

British Imperial forces called it the Battle of Amiens. The French called it the Battle of Montdidier. In many ways what was happening one hundred years ago today as I write just north of the French city of Amiens was the birth of a new way of war that would span World War One, World War Two and beyond.  The unleashing of combined arms warfare on German forces that wartime summer day would become the inspiration for what Hans von Seeckt, Heinz Guderian and others would later dub ‘blitzkrieg’.  The Allied victory that day was so complete that German Commander-in-Chief Erich Ludendorff was moved to call 8 August 1918, “a black day in the history of the German Army’. This is the (brief) story of the Battle of Amiens?

At 0420 hours the British Fourth Army, under the command of General Sir Henry Rawlinson and the French First Army under General Marie-Eugene Debeney, unleashed a force of over 100,000 men against over-extended and exhausted German forces. As part of the plan the usual British and French practice of massed artillery barrages prior to attack had been abandoned. German commanders were caught completely by surprise. The first German front lines knew of the attack was the sight of some 400 massed British tanks rumbling forward supported by 800 aircraft of the then new Royal Air Force with an artillery barrage provided by over 2000 guns creeping forward in front of the advancing British, Australian, Canadian and French forces.

At 0710 hours the Royal Tank Corps captured the first of the German strongholds, whilst at 0730 hours British III Corps captured another. Thereafter, the German front rapidly began to collapse as the Allies advanced over a front of 4000 yards/3500 metres punching a large hole in German lines. By 1100 hours Australian and Canadian forces had advanced over 3 miles/5 kilometres with British forces capturing over 400 German guns and destroying half the enemy force.  Entire enemy formations began to surrender en masse having been completely de-stabilised by the force, pace and surprise of the attack. By 2100 hours Fourth Army had advanced a further 5 miles/8 kilometres.

Over the ensuing three days the pace of the advance slowed but such damage had been done to the German Army that whilst bloody the ensuing ‘Hundred Days Offensive’ did not stop until the November 1918 Armistice. In March 1919 the newly-formed British Army of the Rhine conducted a victory parade in Cologne. The death toll was heavy. By the end of the Battle of Amiens the British and the French had both lost 22,000 men. However, the by then resource-poor Germany Army had lost 75,000 men.

The Origins of Amiens

What eventually led to Ludendorff’s ‘black day’ had commenced on 21 March 1918 with Imperial Germany’s last great gamble – Operation Michael.  With the Royal Navy’s successful blockade of Germany triggering starvation and industrial unrest in the Fatherland it was clear to Berlin that unless the situation on the ground in France could be changed radically Germany would be forced to accept unfavourable peace terms. America’s 1917 entry into the war and the arrival of General Pershing’s American Expeditionary Force all but ensured an Allied victory.

In March German ‘Stormtroopers’ had made stunning advances pushing the British back over the land they had gained at the Third Battle of Ypres and the Battle of Cambrai in 1917. More poignantly the German Army had advanced rapidly over the old Somme battlefield of 1916.  Ludendorff’s aim had been to split the Allied armies and force the British back to the Channel. He failed. Critically, British Imperial forces did not break under the German assault and by and large retreated in reasonably good order.

Innovation and Retrenchment

Since the charnel house of the Somme British tactics had been evolving led by innovative thinkers such as Colonel J.F.C Fuller who wanted to break out of the stalemate of trench warfare. They combined new thinking with industrial power and emerging technologies to create new strategies, tactics and formations designed to destroy an enemy with shock and surprise. Ironically, the ‘grab and hold’ tactics that replaced the full-on assaults that had killed so many to little effect were copied from German ‘Stormtrooper’ tactics.

Fuller’s Plan 1919, had it been implemented would have been the first truly strategic ‘blitzkrieg’.  Twenty years later on 1 September 1939 a new ‘Amiens’ was inflicted on Poland, but on a grand strategic scale with improved command communications between air and land power the key to victory. As part of a carefully implemented information war the colloquial title given by the Germans to the attack was ‘blitzkrieg’ – lightning war.  In May 1940 Blitzkrieg was further inflicted on Belgian, French, Dutch and British forces, all of which were over-stretched and wrongly-deployed having been deceived into believing their own prejudices about the Germans and each other. In 1943 at the Battle of Kursk Soviet forces began to do the same to over-extended German forces as the British had done at Amiens, albeit on an epic scale.  The massed forces of Marshals Rokossovsky and Zhukov did not stop advancing until they sacked Berlin in May 1945.

Having gained victory via a new way of offensive warfare the Western democracies did what they have so often done in peacetime. They handed the concept and technology of victory to illiberal enemies in the interbellum.  It was ever thus.  Innovative and disruptive thinkers were marginalised whilst disarmament became a metaphor for a retreat from political Realism. The likes of Fuller, Basil Liddell Hart, Charles de Gaulle and Billy Mitchell tried to keep the flame of military innovation alive in the West. However, it was thinkers like Hans von Seeckt in Germany and Mikhail Tuckachevsky in the then Soviet Union who really pushed forward innovation.

Shock and Awe: Lessons of Amiens for today

The essence of Amiens was ‘shock and awe’. Many iterations of such tactics have taken place since, notably General Norman Schwarzkopf’s attack on Iraqi forces in 1991. What links Rawlinson to Schwarzkopf and beyond is the ever-growing distance between attacker and target and between intent and effect as technology has enabled greatly more diverse ways and means of generating shock and awe.

With a seismic shift again underway in the military balance of power away from the Western democracies the conditions are again fast being created in which the unthinkable could become the thinkable and in time the frighteningly plausible.  The problem with the ‘unthinkable’ is that it is normally the leaders of western democracies who refuse to think it.  They prefer instead to believe the unthinkable is the impossible, thus creating the perfect conditions something catastrophically nasty in Europe. 

Today, ‘blitzkrieg’ would better be dubbed ‘blitz-crash’: sudden, overwhelming, co-ordinated impact on already vulnerable and under-protected civilian and military systems using mega-disinformation, mass disruption and targeted mass destruction designed to create panic amongst populations, decapitate national and multinational command authorities and prevent an organised defence and response.

Perhaps the most fitting end to the story of Amiens came in 1952 when German General Heinz Guderian published his book Panzer Leader. It was Guderian who had almost pushed the British Army into the sea at Dunkirk in June 1940.  The Foreword to the book was written by Basil Liddell Hart.

Julian Lindley-French