Alphen, Netherlands. 13 December. Yesterday I returned from Stockholm where I gave a speech at a conference jointly organised by my friend Anna Wieslander, Director of the Atlantic Council, and Berlin’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. The conference was entitled The European Defence and Security Dimension in Northern Europe. The session was chaired by my great friend Kate Hansen Bundt, Director of the Norwegian Atlantic Committee, and the speech considered the internal and external challenges for Northern European security. As you will read, in a week when Britain’s humiliation and loss of influence have been all too apparent I do not pull my punches on the possible defence-strategic implications of Brexit for Northern Europe.The European Defence and Security Dimension in Northern Europe
Thanks, Kate. There are three questions this session addresses: How is the deteriorating security situation in Northern Europe relevant to the future development of European defence? How should the transatlantic link develop in light of deepened European defence co-operation? How will European defence co-operation with the UK look post-Brexit?
My core message is this: be it Arctic resources, the Northern Sea Passage, China’s interest in the region with the Arctic Road Initiative or Russia’s determination to defend its nuclear bastions and extend its access to the North Atlantic, including Moscow’s growing A2/AD bubble, Northern Europe is for the first time on the global frontline of systemic competition – both economic and strategic. Consequently, the allegiances of the democracies in the region will become more not less important. But, will they be any good?
How is the deteriorating security situation in Northern Europe relevant to the future development of European defence?
Relevant Fact: Of 116 major cyber-attacks identified by Crowdstrike Foundation, cyber-security specialists, in the first half of 2018 the Chinese and Russian state together were responsible for well over 60% of the attacks with over 35% of such attacks targeted on technology firms.
All open democratic societies face 5D warfare by the strategic autocracies and this region is no exception. Disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, destruction and deception are and will be applied across a new spectrum of escalation from hybrid war to cyberwar to possible high-end hyper war.
The method of war is to undermine the margins of Alliance and Union and to engage in war at the seams of complex, diverse societies with the aim of coercing people and thus undermine NATO and the EU in the eyes of its citizens to foster more instability. Consequently, there are no distinct flanks in Europe just places and peoples to be manipulated. The strongest defence is thus strategic solidarity, political cohesion, hardened systems and more robust and resilient peoples as part of a new partnership between the state and the citizen.
The good news is that whilst Northern Europe might be on the front-line of such attacks the states herein are sufficiently cohesive with the appropriate historical experience of galvanising society in defence to lead by example in the striking of a new balance between people protection and the projection of deterrence and the necessary defence power that deterrence and defence in the twenty-first century demands.How should the transatlantic link develop in light of deepened European defence co-operation?
Relevant fact: According to General Mark Milley, the newly-appointed Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, during his testimony to the Senate Appropriations Sub-Committee on Defense, if one strips out the relatively high cost of US labour the combined defence outcomes China and Russia generate are dangerously close to that of the US, and far, far beyond any defence outcomes Europeans aspire to.
General Milley, went on. “I’ve seen comparative numbers of US defence budget versus China, US defence budget versus Russia. What is not often commented on is the cost of labour. 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”. In other words, US forces maybe over-paid, but they are also over-stretched, over here and pretty much everywhere which magnifies the military purchasing power parity of China and Russia which is already far closer to that of the US than a mere comparison of headline budgets would suggest.
The message is clear: if the US defence guarantee to Europeans is to be maintained given the global reach US forces must maintain in the face of an aggressive Russia and a strategically-insurgent China, not to mention the regionally-strategic challenge posed by the Middle East and North Africa, Europeans are going to have to become far more militarily capable and able in the worst-case to act as effective first responders. The question is how?
Neither PESCO nor the European Defence Fund suggests the EU, in terms of defence strategic ambition, envisages a European defence capability that will transform the European pillar of the transatlantic relationship. Creating ever more acronyms without ever more forces will not solve Europe’s defence gap.
Therefore, the transatlantic link is likely to become more transactional and more conditional even as it becomes more important with coalitions of the strategically-willing and really capable the future unless institutional European defence – NATO and/or the EU – finally gets its act together. On that front, it is interesting that the British are now talking about a Five Eyes satellite positioning system now London has effectively been expelled from Galileo (for which Britain has paid a lot of its taxpayer’s money and invested much technology).
The bottom line is this: it is hard to imagine the US relying on neither NATO nor the EU in an emergency as they are currently resourced and postured.
How will European Defence co-operation with the UK look post-Brexit?
Relevant fact: post-Brexit some 80% of European defence capacity will be outside the EU. The UK already represents 25% of European defence capacity.
European defence depends on a committed Britain. However, Britain is undergoing a national humiliation akin to a strategic defeat at the hands of its partners and allies that potentially has huge implications for the future defence of Europe. As a very sensible fellow Briton put it to me recently, “why should we defend those bastards when they are trying to force us into submission and subservience?” Let me be blunt. Do not think for a moment that European defence can be separated from Brexit as the hard-line taken by the European Commission over Galileo has revealed. In the Brexit worst-case such defence-strategic co-operation could be deeply undermined if the political relationship becomes even more toxic. No Galileo, no access to British intelligence?
Yes, at one level we British are going nowhere. I fully acknowledge and support Britain’s defence-strategic engagement in Northern Europe with its focus on the Joint Expeditionary Force or JEF. And, it is good to see that two Royal Navy ships have visited Stockholm in the past six months. The close co-operation between Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and British forces during the recent NATO Exercise Trident Juncture was particularly important.
But, let me be equally clear about the Brexit danger we all face: I campaigned for Remain but like many British people I will never accept aspects of the current EU Withdrawal Agreement, specifically the so-called Irish backstop as currently envisaged. Worse, if Britain is manipulated back into the EU via some ‘now get it right this time you morons’ second referendum then, whilst the EU was seen as an irritant by many in the past, it could well come to be hated, a form of virtual occupation. It is utterly unacceptable for other Europeans to humiliate a top five world power, be it by design or by error, and expect that power to defend them at one and the same time.
You do not want that and I do not want that, so let’s not go there. We need together to find a basis for a real, enduring and legitimate partnership between Britain and the EU that ensures our people can commit if needs be to the real price that credible defence demands – a willingness to put national treasure and British lives on the line in your defence. If such a relationship is not forged then make no mistake popular support in Britain for defending other Europeans will plummet. Of course, the Mediocracy who run Britain will not admit any of what I am telling you but this IS the reality you must all confront if you want Britain to engage fully in the future defence of Europe. In other words, you will need to consider burden-sharing not just with the Americans, but also the nature of the future strategic relationship between Britain and the EU which, like it or not, will have profound implications for NATO and thus the security of Northern Europe.
In fact, Britain’s strategic drift towards the mid-Atlantic is already underway. You should examine the defence-strategic choices the British are making rather than the words London is using. All the major defence investments are in areas where the British can rely upon and/or are dependent on US systems and defence-industrial capabilities – maritime/amphibious power projection built around new US Marine-friendly Queen Elizabeth class heavy aircraft carriers, data-linked F-35 Lightning II air assets, new Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarines and new Dreadnought-class ballistic missile submarines. In an emergency, the British Army is meant to generate two divisions under NATO command for the defence of Europe. Fat chance of that with the Army at its smallest since Napoleonic times.
The implicit strategic message? Britain is a nuclear-armed island and, in the worst case, if somewhere on Europe’s margins fell to a fait accompli Russian attack, and whilst London would see such an attack as disastrous, it is hard to see Britain going to war given the current configuration and capability of Britain’s armed forces, the state of British politics and the stretched relationships between Britain and its European partners. Thankfully, having worked at both the EU and NATO I am still confident in the enduring nature of our friendships and the creativity we can all foster, and that given goodwill a solution to the Brexit imbroglio can be found with which we are all comfortable.
The only real winner if this mess continues would be President Putin and others who wish none of us well. I want the JEF to be an exercise in real defence co-operation aimed at boosting deterrence rather than some Brexit political crisis management gambit that is little more than an exercise in damage limitation.Galileo anyone?
Thanks, Kate.Julian Lindley-French