hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Brexit: Hotel California, the Great Escape Foiled or Stay, Pay and Say?

“Governments lose respect and legitimacy as they seem to become more detached, more self-interested and more powerless. The EU, attempting to transcend national politics, makes things worse. Hence the rise of angry forms of ‘populism’ democracy detached from traditional politics.”

Professor Robert Tombs

The week that Brexit died

Alphen, Netherlands. 21 January. Brexit died last week with the crushing of May’s Withdrawal Agreement. Who killed Brexit and what now? The only choice the British people now have is between May’s Hotel California, ‘you can check out anytime you want, but you can never leave’ Withdrawal Agreement, something far, far worse akin to The Great Escape’s Stalag Luft 3 in which a soft Britain will be permanently incarcerated or stay, pay, but at least have a say. That my once great country faces such a choice makes my blood boil as I am not some whingeing Remoaner. Yes, I campaigned for Remain on geopolitical grounds but unlike many, I accepted the result of the 2016 Referendum. Vassal-state plus?  

My essential point is this; we are where we are and the purpose of this blog is to identify optimal strategic outcomes in often sub-optimal strategic circumstances. Therefore, given the Hobson’s choice (i.e. no real choice) now being imposed upon Britain and its people analytically the by far least bad option available is for Britain to remain a member-state of the EU, but make life hell for Brussels and the intransigent fundamentalist federalists therein. Were there a deal on offer that would offer real ‘take back control’ sovereignty I would recommend it, but I find it hard to recommend the disastrous stew of a compromise that is being cooked up that will probably end Britain as a power, and possibly as a country.

Who killed Brexit?

From that June day in 2016 when the Leave campaign won by over a million votes in what was sold as a binding in-out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in the largest ever exercise in British democracy, a successful counter-insurgency has been mounted against it. It has been led by a British Establishment and its friends in Brussels who at best do not believe in Brexit or at worst have ‘systematically’ herded the British people towards this moment. There are reasons for this. As Christopher Bickerton has argued, for many in the elite EU states are no longer the nation-states to which many of us still owe our allegiance, and which still act as the centre of democratic gravity in Europe remain for millions of people.  They have instead become ‘member-states’ of an EU in which networks of elites exist separate and divorced from the millions of ordinary citizens.

It is this multifaceted elite that killed Brexit. They include other-worldly academics who buy into ‘ever closer union’ and the European super-state fantasy.  They refuse to see that all such a ‘state’ would realise is the centralisation of ever more power on an unaccountable Brussels few. Whilst the most vocal they are perhaps the least influential part of the anti-Brexit coalition. Particularly influential are the globalised business elite to which people like Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond is close. The only loyalty of such people is to their shareholders and balance sheets. Then there are the Metropolitan lefty London elite that one funds in the BBC and other organs of the Fourth Estate who talk ‘Europe’ but do not understand it. For them the nation-state is the fashionable root of all evil and an easy solution to a world-view well divorced from either the reality of power or history.  

Then there are Britain’s Members of Parliament. One thing that has struck me listening to British MPs discuss ‘Europe’ of late is how few of them have any real understanding of the deep structural issues of power, governance and democracy that are implicit in Brexit. Push them ever-so-slightly on substance and they collapse into a not-so-towering heap of meaningless slogans.  Brexit has too often fast become the utterly mediocre in pursuit of the utterly misunderstood via the often totally incomprehensible.  Such people often talk of a blind Brexit. In fact, Parliament is full of short-term, blind Remainers.

Now, if all of the above sounds arrogant then guilty as charged. I have several EU-related degrees and many books and articles to my name. I have also worked for the EU and spent a lot of my long career in and around Brussels. It is my firm belief that Europeans need something like ‘Europe’ but not this self-interested, ‘we know best’, taxpayer’s money is EU money, Brussels. ‘Brussels’ is an eternal struggle between the advocates of ever closer union, ever more Europe and those who advocate a more pragmatic Europe. Right now, the influence of those who advocate super-state Europe have been blunted but their ambitions remain. It is vital Britain does not abandon pragmatic Europe, not least because such a ‘Europe’ is a vital British interest.

A European super-alliance

In short, I am a Realist Remainer. Brexit was always about the relationship between Britain and Europe ten, twenty, thirty years hence and my on balance judgement at the time of the referendum was that Britain needed to be in the EU helping to shape it. This is not because I believe in Euro-theology, but rather because I want to stop it. My vision is for a European super-alliance of free nation-states. Critically, neither Britain nor Continental Europe has ever fared well when Britain has stood aside from the eternal game of power that is ‘Europe’, whatever mantle within which it is cloaked.  Europeans face a range of growing threats which must also be faced together and which the elite obsession with ever closer political union, the shape of institutions and the consequent emaciation of the nation-state prevents. 

My Brexiteer friends tell me that the history of Britain in the EU reveals a once powerful country reduced to little more than a minority voice with the very idea of ‘Europe’ having helped loosen the ties between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Now, I have some sympathy for that because the creation of an alternative pole of power within the UK in the form of Brussels, allied to parallel political devolution has clearly weakened the bonds that have traditionally bound Britain together. Where I disagree with Brexiteers is the extent to which the EU is the real factor in British decline.  Of far more importance to me is the culture of unnecessary declinism that has infected Britain’s elite establishment allied to a strange kind of strategic political correctness in which all British history must now be seen as a form of political self-flagellation. As an Oxford historian, the one thing I will not do is judge the past with the present. That is just bad history.

In fact, the history of Britain since the 1707 Act of Union between England, Wales and Scotland has always been about power and representation and the crafting of a strategic narrative, a story of Britain, to accommodate the two strands. The unnecessary loss of strategic mojo by Britain’s inept and irresolute elite Establishment is the real reason for the irresolution evident during the Brexit negotiations.  Ineptitude and irresolution confirmed to me by friends inside the European Commission who were amazed at how easily Britain’s negotiators rolled over on issues they assumed were vital for London.

The other Great Escape?                         

Now that Brexit is effectively dead how can Britain escape from the political mess its leaders have created? Not with Theresa May at the helm. She may be stoic and resilient but she is also visionless and lacks the leadership skills to deliver on anything other than a Brexit in name only. A Brexit in which the British ‘stay’, pay but have no say over the customs union and Single Market as part of a deal some are now mischievously calling Common Market 2.0.  Some want a second Brexit referendum in the hope that it will wish away the first one. Given the social and political fragility of the country, I cannot imagine the damage that such a ‘now get it right this time, you morons’ vote would do. Those in Parliament advocating such a vote are the very same people who agreed prior to the referendum to sub-contract the decision on Britain’s future partnership with the EU to the people. If Remainers won second time around it is hard for me to see how millions of my fellow citizens could trust the result of such a vote which they would undoubtedly see as a Remainer Establishment stitch-up. What price democracy then?

No, and here I know I will be shot at for this suggestion which goes against every grain of my belief in democracy. This is particularly so as my politics has always been akin to that of Churchill’s father Lord Randolph Churchill, “Trust the people!”  However, given the circumstances and the stakes Britain needs a new leader who not only treats the British people as grown-ups and pushes through the smoke and mirrors Whitehall loves to mask its failure, but also admits to the colossal failure of leadership implicit in the Brexit fiasco. This leader would probably need to emerge in the wake of an ever more likely General Election and from beyond the failed May-Corbyn political generation. Critically, such a ‘leader’ would have to have the political courage, and hopefully, the mandate, to simply admit that remaining within the EU is the least unpalatable strategic choice Britain now faces given the loss of any chance of a meaningful Brexit.

In return for such a decision that same leader would also have to say that a return to a pre-referendum status quo ante is also impossible. And, that in return for the overturning of the June 2016 plebiscite such a leader would promise not only to stop ever closer political union but to mean it. He or she would thus, at the very least, need to introduce legislation strengthening the so-called Constitutional Lock preventing the transfer of any more British sovereignty, power and/or money to Brussels without the specific consent of the people in the form of referenda. After all, the precedent for such votes on important constitutional questions has now been established. There would also need to be a full public enquiry into the Brexit fiasco that is properly conducted and with findings published before all those involved are safely ennobled in the House of Lords, retired or both.  Free movement? All European leaders need to begin a full and frank debate of the impact of free movement on host communities. If not, I fear Brexit is just the beginning of a populist surge across Europe.

Britain is not alone

The good news is that Britain is not alone. Yes, there are those in Brussels who see Britain as little more than a tethered offshore fat cow to be milked for their grandiose EU projects. Yes, there are those in Brussels that if Britain force majeure changed its mind over Brexit would see it as a masterstroke of grand manipulation similar to what happened when voters in Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Ireland objected in 2005 to the planned Constitutional Treaty. All the Brussels federalists did then was to change the ‘etiquette’ on the bottle and call it a Constitutional Treaty. For these people ‘Europe’ is a bit like the Borg Empire in Star Trek: The Next Generation – “Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated”.

There are also many across Europe who would welcome an activist Britain within the EU fully committed to ensuring the EU remains what it always should have been – a strategic enabling mechanism for the states that comprise it. Nothing more, nothing less.  A new report just out from the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy entitled European Variations makes the case clearly for such a Europe. Brexit, it suggests, is an EU failure and that ever closer political union must be stopped. A ‘one-size fits all’ EU simply will not work.

This is the paradox of Brexit. Whilst at present it is fashionable for Brussels and much of the London-elite to lambast Britons for the ‘heresy’ of wanting to leave the one Universal Union many of the issues implicit in Brexit matter to all Europeans. Who governs us? What is the relationship between voting and power? Who spends our money?  Who controls who lives in our countries? Nor should Britons fall into the trap of seeing Brexit as a kind pan-European exercise in Brit-bashing. As I find living here in The Netherlands there is a lot of goodwill towards Britain, if not a little bemusement at present.  Last week in The Times that goodwill was expressed in an outstanding letter from senior Germans to the British people. Put simply, Britain matters and very few apart from the likes of Martin Selmayr in the Commission are seeking to humiliate Britain. Yes, Britain could still matter outside of the EU, but Britain is likely to matter far less if the kind of deal on offer is ever accepted simply to get the Government and Parliament out of a mainly self-made political mess.

None of this is easy for me to say, but I feel it my duty as a patriotic Briton to say it. The here and now strategic reality of Britain and Brexit must here and now be confronted. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair is right; Britain can either be in the EU or out of it, but it cannot be in and out of it at the same time.  Therefore, as a strategic analyst that a few out there respect let me state for the record that after much thought and analysis my conclusion is given what and who Britain is, given where Brexit is at, the world into which Britain and the rest of Europe are heading and, above all, given the appalling ‘choice’ Britons are now faced with between Hotel California, Stalag Luft 3 and ‘stay’, pay but no say then surely it is better for Britain to remain within the EU. A Britain that engages the federalist fundamentalists and is again a leader on the big questions all Europeans must address together.

There is, of course, an enormous ‘if’ in my core assumption of which I am acutely conscious. The same failed British Establishment, leaders and officials alike, who for too long have been too supine in their dealings with Brussels, would need finally to grow a backbone if Britain were to play the role I envisage in Europe. They will only do that if properly led and I still live in hope that amongst the mediocrities who cram the green benches of the House of Commons somewhere, somehow there is someone I would be proud to call ‘leader’.

The hard truth we must all face is that Britain crossed a Rubicon last week with the crushing defeat of May and much though I do not like it the danger to Britain posed by whatever ‘deal’ Parliament finally passes is greater than simply staying in the EU and building a new alliance to change it.

Julian Lindley-French




Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Snowmeeting 2019: A Tale of Two Europes


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only”.


A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens


Europe’s Western Europe problem


Alphen, Netherlands. 16 January. The future defence of Europe has a Western Europe problem. This past week has been somewhat of a surreal experience for me. It began with a visit to Vilnius for another excellent Snowmeeting hosted by His Excellency Linas Linevicius, Foreign Minister of Lithuania. The highlight was an audience with Her Excellency Dalia Grybauskaité, President of the Republic of Lithuania. Last night I returned from London after a meeting with the Royal Navy at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on the Future Fleet Operating Concept. Let me start where I began, in Lithuania.


Over the many years I have had the honour of attending the Snowmeeting for me the highlight has always been the audience with the President. President Grybauskait√© is a real leader and I can only hope as she contemplates the end of her term as Head of State this former European Commissioner might also consider becoming the first woman President of the European Commission or European Council, or, indeed, the first woman Secretary-General of NATO. Frankly, there is no-one better suited to these high positions at this moment in Europe’s history. The reason is quite simple. She knows what it is like to lead a country on the front-line of freedom under constant threat and her leadership contrasts so markedly with so many of Western Europe’s feckless ‘leaders’.  


A cold dose of strategic reality


The Snowmeeting is an annual snapshot, a dose of strategic reality. It contrasts with so many of the meetings I attend in Western Europe in which harsh reality is rarely allowed to intrude on pleasant and pleasing theory. What I took away from this year’s Snowmeeting was the extent to which the real problem with transatlantic relations and European defence is really a problem with Western Europe.  Throughout the meeting at the wonderful IDW Esperanza resort in Trakai a constant theme became apparent to me: the warming security mantle Central and Eastern Europe has wrapped itself since the end of the Cold War is becoming threadbare in the face of cold blasts from the east because much of Western Europe is fiddling whilst the world churns. 


As usual, much was made of the state of the transatlantic relationship and the travails of President Trump. Senior Lithuanians felt Trump had a point about the fecklessness of ‘Europeans’ when it comes to Europe’s defence, i.e., Western Europeans. The debates on European ‘strategic autonomy’, and what Germany’s defence minister, the other female candidate for Europe’s top jobs Ursula von der Leyen suggested this month is a ‘European army’ that was ‘taking shape’, seemed surreal at times. Yes, President Macron and von der Leyen are not suggesting that some integrated single European force a la EDC is about to emerge. Rather, they see the EU’s PESCO bringing national forces closer together to create a joint rather than a common force. They do envisage more ‘common’ EU structures and, as I observed at the meeting, past experience suggests that will lead only to more European lawyers than European warriors.  


It is the mismatch between ambition, cost and investment which makes this latest European army ‘thing’ like all the other European army ‘things’ that have come before it.  Unless any such emergent military structure is specifically and unconditionally assigned to NATO, and thus underpinned by the Americans, then the true cost of the ‘strategic autonomy’ to which Macron and von der Leyen aspire would be at least 4% of GDP especially for the French and Germans who aspire to lead it. Are Berlin and Paris willing to bear such a cost? 


Read between the lines and far from representing a Germany suddenly at ease with hard power and hard leadership ‘strategic autonomy’ and a ‘European army’ are yet more political devices to actively avoid such unpleasantness. Sure, Berlin wants to lead but it does not want to pay either the actual or political price such leadership would demand. And yes, Paris always wants to lead so long as someone else pays for it. Germany? The result is that both the French and the Germans are again dancing on the head of a blunt euro-pin between strategic reality and strategic pretence, and neither can move forward without the Americans and the British.


The other place 


Talking of strategic pretence let me now turn to my London visit. As I sat in the meeting on Whitehall I could see the Union flag flying proudly at the gaff above the Houses of Parliament. As it fluttered in the wind the self-interested massed mediocrities who imitate Britain’s political class were Brexit fluttering below. Let me be clear; yesterday witnessed the death of Brexit. The crushing defeat of the draft Withdrawal Agreement, and with it the strategy of Britain’s failed prime minister Theresa May, means that if any such agreement is to finally pass the Remainer House of Commons it will leave Britain so close to the EU that there will be no point in leaving at all. It is precisely THAT objective that the British Establishment has sought to bring about in what historians will come to see as a brilliant exercise in willful strategic incompetence. 


What are the implications? The paradox of yesterday for me was that the meeting I attended with the Royal Navy revealed another Britain. A Britain that can still think strategically and which is taking the necessary steps down a long road to a future force that is built around the military ‘effects’ the British need to generate. i.e., the preservation of peace and the maintenance of effective deterrence. The problem is that the strategy that underpins any such effort, and which the people of Lithuania need to work, is predicated on two now doubtful requirements. First, strategically-competent British political leadership. Second, a Britain in a position to lead coalitions in the event of an emergency. The latter requirement for possible coalition leadership is particularly important given the increasing pressures on US forces worldwide.


As I walked past Parliament the massed ranks of divided dissent lined the other side of Abingdon Street. One could feel the tension in the air between the ‘we will never accept the referendum result’ Remainers and the ‘you are about to betray me’ Brexiteers. Perception is everything in politics. Given the events of last night, it is hard for me to see any way out of this mess that will not leave millions of Britons hating the EU and wanting to have little to do with the defence of other Europeans. They believe Britain is being humiliated by its political class and by Brussels and would much prefer to hide behind the British nuclear deterrent than risk the lives of their young people or their taxpayer’s money defending the very Europeans they believe are screwing them – rightly or wrongly.


Snowmeeting 2019: unity of purpose and action 


Back to the Snowmeeting. Another of my takeaways was an overwhelming sense that others cannot be trusted to defend Lithuania and that Lithuanians must thus take matters into their own hands.  There was a feeling that the Americans cannot be trusted because President Trump is making America ‘great’ again in a very President Trump way, even if the US commitment to the defence of Lithuania is actually increasing. Britain cannot be trusted because much of its people now hate ‘Europe’ and much of its political class are idiots. France and Germany cannot be trusted because their defence words never seem to match their defence deeds. That worried me. The real deterrent that protects Lithuania is the unity of purpose and action implicit in the very existence of both the EU and NATO. 


What happened last night in London matters to Lithuania. It was about far more than the nature of Britain’s eventual self-subjugation to the EU and Brussels. It was about whether Britain any longer has the will to be a major defence power. It was about whether Europe has any chance of generating sufficient strategic seriousness and a strategic culture to match so that it could mount an effective first response during a major crisis. It was about the nature of the coming resistance movement that could emerge in Britain in the wake of the Brexit disaster if political leaders are not sensible and the boost to populism Europe-wide such resistance would afford. It was about the very nature of the future transatlantic relationship which Britain helped create.  Above all, it was about whether any serious leader in any major Western European country will ever emerge to get serious about Europe and its real defence, not a rhetorical defence. 


As for the future defence of Lithuania and Europe’s liberty let me paraphrase the quote of NATO’s first Secretary-General Lord Ismay that he never actually made. We must find a way to keep America in, Britain up, France and Germany real and the rest of Europe free. No more strategic pretence. 


Madam President, we need you! All of us! Thank you!


Julian Lindley-French             

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Briefing: Complex Strategic Coercion and Russian Military Modernisation

“A transition from sequential and concentrated actions to continuous and distributed ones, conducted simultaneously in all spheres of confrontation, and also in distant theatres of military operations is occurring”.


General Valeriy Gerasimov as reported by the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, 24 March 2018

9 January 2019

Purpose of the paper

With the December 2018 announcement by President Vladimir Putin of his decision to deploy a new nuclear-tipped missile system (Avangard) purportedly capable of evading all US defences, and with the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) about to conduct a major Arctic exercise, the purpose of this short briefing paper is to consider the capability and utility of contemporary Russian forces in relation to the strategic goals set by President Putin. Specifically, the critical role played by Russia’s ‘New Look’ military force in the realisation of Moscow’s political goals via complex strategic coercion.

Complex strategic coercion is the use of all national means and beyond by a ‘securitised’ state such as Russia to systematically undermine the command authority and the political and social cohesion of adversary states and institutions. This end is achieved by creating and exploiting divisions within diverse societies, interfering in national political processes and exacerbating tensions between democracies. Complex strategic coercion is underpinned by the threat of overwhelming conventional military power against weaker states at a time and place of the aggressor’s choosing, allied to the implicit threat of nuclear and other means of mass destruction to confirm the changed facts on the ground by preventing strategic peer competitors from mounting a successful rescue campaign.          

Core message

Western strategists increasingly confuse strategy, capability and technology thus undermining deterrence and defence efforts. It is precisely the fusion of the three elements of warfare that the Russian Chief of the General Staff General Valeriy Gerasimov has been pioneering for a decade. The modernisation of Russia’s armed forces must thus be seen in the context of a new form of complex strategic coercion that employs systematic pressure across 5Ds: disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, deception and implied destruction. Russia’s strategic goal is to conduct a continuous low-level war at the seams of democratic societies, and on the margins of both EU and NATO, to create implicit spheres of influence where little or no such influence should exist. In the worst case, complex strategic coercion would be used to mask Russian force concentrations prior to any attack on NATO and EU states from above the Arctic Circle and Norway’s North Cape in the north, through the Baltic States and Black Sea region and into the south-eastern Mediterranean. The enduring method of the strategy is to use the implicit threat of force to keep the Western allies permanently strategically, politically and militarily off-balance and thus to offset any innate advantages afforded Western leaders by either their forces or resources. If the Alliance concept of deterrence and defence is to remain credible an entirely new and innovative concept of protection and projection must be considered as a matter of urgency.

Why complex Russian strategic coercion?

There are three elements to Russian strategy which provide the all-important strategic rationale for Russia’s military modernisation: intent, opportunity and capability. The intent of Moscow’s complex coercive strategy is driven by a world-view that combines a very particular view of Russian history with the political culture of the Kremlin that is little different from that of Russia prior to the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. For Russia, the end of the Cold War was a humiliating defeat which saw power in Europe move decisively away from Moscow to Berlin and Brussels. For Moscow, the loss of all-important prestige was compounded by NATO and EU enlargement as proof of the designs of an insidious West to destroy what Russians see as the ‘legitimate’ legacy of the Great Patriotic War and with it Russian influence in Europe.

The 2014 EU Association Agreement with Ukraine reinforced the Kremlin’s paranoia that Russia’s voice no longer mattered.  The traditional Russian reliance on force as a key component of Russian influence reinforced the tendency of the Putin regime to imagine (and to some extent manufacture for domestic consumption) a new threat to Russia from the West. The threat of force has thus again come to be seen by the increasingly ‘securitised’ Russian state as a key and again legitimate component of Russian ‘defence’, albeit more hammer and nail than hammer and sickle. Hard though it is for many Western observers to admit it is also not hard to see how Russia, with its particular history, and Putin’s Kremlin with its very particular world-view, has come again to this viewpoint.  The mistake for the West would be to believe that such a world-view is not actually believed at the pinnacle of power in Russia. It is.

The opportunity for Moscow’s complex coercive strategy is afforded by an under-defended Europe, a fractured transatlantic relationship and an over-stretched America faced with the rise of regionally-aggressive China. Brexit has also reinforced Russian prejudices about the EU. From the Russian perspective the supine British political and bureaucratic elite are an example of what happens to an old Power that tries to negotiate ‘constructively’ with a German-centric European Commission that sees itself on an historic mission to unite all the peoples of Europe via the aggregation of state power into some form of superpower organised around and for Berlin. For the Kremlin, there is no such thing as ‘community’ in international relations, only power, the balance or otherwise thereof and the zero-sum reality of winners and losers.

Military-strategic analysis

Russia’s military modernisation began with the ten year State Armament Programme of 2010 and the so-called ‘New Look’ reforms.  The main elements have been as follows:

Russian Aerospace Forces: Strategic communications are central to Moscow’s method of coercion, particularly for an aggressive but weaker power in competition with stronger, albeit more diverse and passive powers.  The Russian Aerospace Forces are thus a vital component in Moscow’s complex strategic coercion and act as a ‘showroom’ to the West of Russian military capability. Together with the development of highly-deployable airborne forces the Russian Air Force and air defence have received the biggest tranche of funding in the 2011-2020 Strategic Armaments Programme.  Since 2014, the air force has acquired more than 1000 aircraft – both fixed and rotary wing. Much investment has been made in new hypersonic missile systems such as the Avangard, Kinzhal and Zircon systems. A new intercontinental ballistic missile, SR28, has been deployed together with further deployments of mobile systems such as TOPOL M, as well as a raft of short and (controversially) intermediate-range systems, such as Novator. The latter breaches the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) and once again raises the prospect of the US strategic arsenal being ‘de-coupled’ from the defence of NATO Europe. Nuclear torpedoes have also been tested as well as new ship-busting systems, such as the nuclear-capable SS-N-X18. Russia’s air defence forces have been markedly upgraded to form a multi-layered air defence with the creation of 44 new missile battalions armed with the advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile and other systems.   Russia’s space-based systems are also being modernised with 85 military satellites, 21 of which offer high-resolution imagery and high-speed data transfer.

Russia is also seeking to better exploit unmanned and robotic systems, with a particular emphasis on the use of drones to enhance tactical and operational reconnaissance. However, whilst Moscow is keen to develop a heavy reconnaissance and strike drone its programmes are still some way from being completed.

Strategic Command and Control: The National Defence Management Centre (NDMC) acts as the brains of the force charged with considering the utility and application of force in line with presidential strategy. The NDMC balances centralisation of strategic command with decentralisation of operational command.  Four smaller versions of the NDMC have been recreated in the four military oblasts (districts).

Critically, the NDMC has overseen a radical root and branch reform of Russia’s strategic, operational and tactical command and control allied to the creation of new joint forces (with a particular emphasis on new airborne forces that combine airborne units, naval infantry (marines) and special operating forces (Spetsnaz)) and the deployment of high-tech capabilities that enhance battlefield mobility and offensive and defensive performance. Particular improvements are apparent in the situational awareness of commanders and communications between the supreme political authority and operational commanders.  The flexibility of the force has been further enhanced by the adoption of a new joint battlespace information system. Live streaming for commanders has also been introduced to improve real-time operational command and decision-making. 

Personnel: The design aim of the Russian future force is to improve the strategic and political utility and flexibility of Russia’s future force. The creation of a core professional force is central to that ambition with a large augmentation force, built mainly around conscripts, reinforced, in turn, by significant reserves.  The shift in the balance between conscripted personnel and professional personnel aims to achieve a 4:5 ratio. A particular emphasis has been placed on making all cadres of non-commissioned officers (NCOs) professional to improve the junior leadership qualities of the force. Achieving such a change has been complicated by a decline in the attractiveness of military contracts since 2010 compared with civilian alternatives, but significant progress is apparent.

Russian Army: The Russian Army has proved to be the most resistant to the changes General Gerasimov has been driving in his now long-tenure as Chief of the General Staff.  The central effort to modernise the force has been focussed on upgrades of artillery and armoured systems and formations, albeit with mixed success. Much has been made of the new T-90M main battle tank and its enhanced active armour protection. However, tests of the T-90M are unlikely to be completed before 2020 at the earliest. A sustained effort has also been made to improve the fires and counter-fires capability of the Army as the use of mass artillery still remains central to Russian land doctrine. New multi-launch rocket systems (MLRS) have been deployed, together with heavy-guided artillery munitions reinforced by the increased and increasing use of drones to enhance the battlefield intelligence of artillery regiments. Russia’s missile brigades are also capable of operating at a greater range than hitherto with double the number of launchers compared with 2010. They are also equipped with new short-range systems, such as Iskandr M, with ranges up to 500km.     

Russian Navy: The Russian Navy has least benefitted of all the services from the reform programme, even though a massive new missile arsenal is nearing completion on the Kola Peninsula close to the base of the Russian Northern Fleet, Moscow’s principal naval force. Whilst significant enhances have been made to the fleets of Russian nuclear ballistic submarines with the (eventual) deployment of the four Borei-class boats (three of which are under construction) it is the development and deployment of the eight boats of the advanced hunter-killer Yasen class that are of much concern to Western navies. Russia has also deployed 11 boats of the effective Akula class and some very ‘quiet’ conventional submarines of the improved Kilo class, as well as the new Varshavyanka and Lada classes. The ability of Russian submarines to fire a range of munitions, including cruise missiles and nuclear-tipped torpedoes, makes them potentially highly-effective ship-busters.

However, the surface fleet has not fared so well with the shipbuilding yards unable to meet the demand of the Navy to replace principal surface craft with budgets for such construction in any case reduced in recent years. The much-lauded (propaganda) 30-year-old aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, is undergoing a problematic extended refit following its return from operations in the Mediterranean in 2017 and 2018.     

Lacunae: Russia’s military lacunae confirm the nature, scope and ambition of Moscow’s complex strategic coercion because they emphasise the ability of Russian forces to potentially do a lot of damage around Russia’s self-declared ‘near abroad’, but with limited strategic effect beyond without resorting to the use of nuclear weapons.  Specifically, Russian forces lack strategic manoeuvre and strategic lift which limits the range of likely conventional action from Russia’s borders. The blocking of the two French-built Mistral-class amphibious ships was a particular blow. The Russian Air Force also lacks precision-guided munitions, although steps are being taken to close that gap in the arsenal, and the development of so-called smart munitions is a priority. Russia’s strategic bomber fleet is also very old, even though systems such as the Tu-22M and the latest variants of the Tu-95 are still capable of providing platforms for the launch of new long-range, stand-off hypersonic missile systems.

Assessment

The modernisation of the Russian Armed Forces since 2010 has been impressive. However, the impression of an irresistible force President Putin likes to portray is still some way from the truth. The specific threat from the force comes in its role within and relationship to other forms of warfare Russia could wage, particularly on European democracies close to its borders.  The Russian Armed Forces of today are certainly capable of undertaking a lightning thirty-day conventional war at the margins of NATO and the EU that would enable them to seize strategic, albeit limited, objectives.  Russia’s nuclear forces are being modernised at pace (see the 2019 deployment of the Avangard system) with the objective to deter and prevent the major Western powers from intervening in sufficient force until a fait accompli land grab would be completed. As such, Russian grand strategy and military strategy are closely aligned either through the threat of force or, in extremis, the actual use of force. Why Russia would actually use such force is harder to discern, although the Kremlin’s failure to reform either the Russian economy or society could create the conditions in which a desperate regime felt compelled to resort to extreme measures.

There are also significant constraints on the Russian defence budget and the slowdown in investment planned in the 2021-2030 Strategic Armaments Programme suggest that President Putin’s original level of military-strategic ambition might also be somewhat reduced in the coming years.  Much will depend on foreign-generated income from oil and gas sales and the extent to which Russian civil society is willing to accept the cost of the onerous burden of the Russian security state (civil and military). Whilst no democrat President Putin has shown himself sensitive to the public mood, if not to the public voice.  

Strategic welfare & countering complex strategic coercion

Europe is awakening from a thirty-year strategic slumber. As with all such moments, the awakening is marked by an explosion in concepts that tend to create more heat than light for leaders and the policy and strategy choices they must make.  Definition at such moments is thus vital for defence, particularly when it concerns the need to understand adversaries and their strategic aims.  The future defence of Europe must thus be seen in the context of two main drivers. First, an offensive Russian strategy based on the systematic identification by Moscow of the coercive strategic effects the Kremlin seeks to generate and the role of both implied and actual force in the creation of such effects. Second, a revolution in military technology that is ever more apparent as the prospect of hyperwar driven Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing and machine-learning, Nano-technologies, drone and other semi or fully autonomous delivery systems start to appear in an increasingly singular battlespace that now stretches from the depths of the oceans to outer-space, across all landmasses and within and between changing societies and communities.

The mistake the Americans have traditionally made at such moments is to see technology as strategy. General Gerasimov and his Staff have adopted a very different approach. They have considered the strategic and political objectives that President Putin has set for them and the ends, ways and means (including technology) available to Russia to realise those goals. American concepts such as the technology-led cross-domain warfare in which the battlespace become an integrated air, sea, land, space, cyber, information (including electronic warfare) and knowledge super-domain for the conduct of operations are vital, but to the Russians of secondary important to strategy – a means to an end. Indeed, cross-domain warfare is seen by General Gerasimov and his Staff as an outcome and a consequence, as well as a realiser of strategy. Europeans appear to embrace neither strategy nor technology in any meaningful and systematic way, rather seeing defence as what can be afforded after the costs of social welfare have been expended. 

Russia’s military modernisation must thus be seen first and foremost as the foundation instrument for the application of complex strategic coercion across 5D continuous warfare - disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, deception and implied destruction - in pursuit of the greatest influence at the least warfighting cost to the Russian Federation.  In other words, for Moscow, the utility of the Russian future force as a political extortion racket - the ultimate tool of strategic blackmail – aimed primarily at the states around Russia’s western and southern borders, with a particular focus on what the Kremlin would call the old Soviet Empire.

The logic of such a strategy is created by Europe’s leaders, too many of whom continue to be in denial of the strategic ambition implicit in Russia’s force modernisation and the need to counter it. If Europeans and their allies are to successfully counter Russian strategy they need to see a 5D defence as strategic welfare and organise accordingly. To that end, new partnerships are needed between institutions, states and peoples to harden both systems and populations in addition to deterring Russia’s implied use of force. Back in 1967, Pierre Harmel called for a dual-track approach to the then Soviet Union – defence and dialogue. Dialogue with Russia remains vital to convince Moscow that the aggressive narrative about the ‘West’ is not only wrong, but it will eventually be self-defeating. At the same time, if Europeans are to successfully demonstrate the errors in the assumptions that underpin Russian strategy the defence of Europe will need to be recast with forces and resources applied systematically across the 5Ds and seven domains of twenty-first-century warfare. Such a strategy presupposes a strong albeit adapted transatlantic relationship, and a ‘Europe’ finally that pursues strategic unity of effort and purpose. The need is great. As Russia has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate in and around Ukraine and elsewhere 5D warfare is already a reality.

Julian Lindley-French       

Thursday, 3 January 2019

In 2019 European Liberals Must Become European Realists


“Political realism is aware of the moral significance of political action. It is also aware of the ineluctable tension between the moral command and the requirements of successful political action. And it is unwilling to gloss over and obliterate that tension and thus to obfuscate both the moral and the political issue by making it appear as though the stark facts of politics were morally more satisfying than they actually are, and the moral law less exacting than it actually is”.

Hans J. Morgenthau

Merkel might?

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 January 2019. In her New Year’s speech, and as Germany was set to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Chancellor Merkel called for the defence of the rules based order. What does that mean for Europe in 2019? The four great and uncomfortable issues of European politics in 2019 will be the relationship between immigration and security, between voting and power, between protectionism and productivity and between the real world and the pretend world too many Europeans still prefer to believe exists. Will 2019 be the year in which Europe’s (mainly Western Europe’s) liberal elite establishment finally overcomes its strategic illiteracy and faces up to the new geopolitics of power?  

Implicit in Merkel’s comments is her strong faith in the need for something called ‘Europe’, but what ‘Europe’? The need for a ‘Europe’ is something to which I also remain committed. However, given the geopolitical context in which ‘Europe’ must be fashioned the very idea will need to be rethought in 2019 or it could fail and rapidly if it continues to be the ‘stop the world I want to get off’ Europe it has become. For too long the elite in Brussels and beyond have clung onto a Monnetesque 1940s, post-World War Two vision of ‘ever closer union’ as enunciated in the preamble to the 1957 Treaty of Rome. For much of the Cold War such Euro-Idealism bubbled along under the surface of a decidedly nation-state led Europe as NATO stood to the fore in what was an existential struggle. When the Cold War ended in 1990 Euro-Idealism surged forward with a raft of integrating, centralising instruments. The 1991 Treaty of Maastricht and the creation of the European Union was followed by the 1995 creation of the Schengen Zone and finally the 1999 creation of the single currency and the Eurozone. All of these initiatives were Idealist projects with profound Realist implications that Europe’s elite chose to ignore with profound political consequences.   

Faced with today’s challenges EU institutions look increasingly anachronistic and emblematic of a narcissistic European liberal elite that is eternally holding a mirror up to itself and thus unable to see the illiberal world beyond. It is a Realist world in which Europe must exist, from which Europeans must be secured and defended, and with which Europeans must learn to compete when it no longer sets the rules of the road for the first time in four hundred years. The elite, cocktail party Europe must end in which values are routinely confused with interests, in which power is made ever more distant from the people in the name of ‘freedom’, and in which elite privileges are lazily waved through as a consequence of historical inevitably wrapped in the justifying cloak of globalism. There is no alternative, Brussels proclaims, but more Brussels. There is.

Who makes the rules?

At the heart of the ‘ever more elite Europe’ elite assumption is also a massive and soon to be profoundly mega-tested further assumption: that globalization demands of Europeans ever more aggregation and that aggregation can only work if it is underpinned by political integration and legal arbitration.  The people who are going to test that elite assumption in 2019 are the European people themselves. Across Europe a revolt is underway, often dismissed by the Euro-elite as ‘populism’ this revolt will challenge the very organizing principle of power in Europe – that ever-closer Europe is vital and that such a ‘Europe’ is or can ever be legitimate.  The essential problem faced by those who propound and propose an ‘ever closer Europe’ also implicitly accept the need for less European nation-state and with it less democracy.

Who makes the rules, who enforces them and are they any good at either will thus be the big 2019 questions for Europe in a rapidly-changing world.  For much of the post-Cold War era the European liberal elite were able to offer a trade-off to voters – less democracy for more efficiency, together with a promise of security and prosperity.  ‘Liberalism’ would be implied and entrusted to a distant elite to protect. However, in the wake of the 2008-2010 banking and financial crises, the re-emergence of an aggressive Russia and the threat posed by the likes of Islamic State and Al Qaeda to European society, as well as uncertainty about America’s continued guarantee to defend Europe, the popular assumption of elite competence upon which  ‘ever closer Europe’ was established has been shattered.

The consequence has been that huge numbers of ordinary, decent people who in the past showed little sign of radical political inclinations have lost faith in Europe’s warm words, little action liberal elites. Consequently, the gap between the people and the elite has created a political vacuum which the unscrupulous have exploited to effect and in 2019 look set to exploit further.             

Europe’s sovereignty deficit: between Idealism and Realism

Europe stands in a no man’s land between Idealism and Realism. Given Europe’s history any assumption that pre-supposes an ever-greater concentration of power in a few elite hands is risky as it has rarely ended well.  The problem for Europe’s liberal elite is that even with the power they have accrued to themselves in the name of ‘Europe’ they have proven themselves by and large incompetent or unwilling to deal with the very issues used to justify that power. The result is a kind of sovereignty deficit in Europe in which neither power-emaciated European states nor Brussels have the power or the wherewithal to deal with the big issues Europeans face.

Therefore, if Europeans are break out of the paralysis into which they have been locked by their elites and, paradoxically, preserve the very liberal values that I also uphold as vital to a Europe at peace with itself and the world beyond, its leaders are going to have to become far more Realist.

A call for European Realism

This is a call for a return to European Realism in 2019. It must be liberal Realism with a focus squarely on proving elite competence by finally getting to grips with the issues which are driving Europe and Europeans apart, but Realism nevertheless.  In 2019 the implicit struggle between the European institutions (most notably the European Commission) and the European nation-state must be brought sharply to an end with the appointment of a new European Commission. May’s elections to the European Parliament may well see more ‘populists’ and Eurosceptics elected but, again paradoxically, such a Parliament would act more like a legislative assembly that holds power to account, as opposed to the hitherto rubber-stamping wannabes for ‘ever more Europe’. It is the nation-state that is still central to the political identity of most Europeans and the epicentres of real democracy in Europe, as the likely turnout to the European elections will once again attest.

However, it is in the sphere of competition with the strategic autocrats of China and Russia and intolerant fundamentalists where the need for a return to European political Realism will be most needed in 2019.  Europe’s world is simply too dangerous for the ‘who’s in charge’ debate to continue.  The paradox of Chancellor Merkel’s call for the rules-based order to be defended is that such a defence will require the power of the democracies and that power rests most decidedly with Europe’s states.  In other words, 2019 must be the year Europeans finally accept that their values can only be defended properly by collective action in pursuit of the common interest. Common action? For all but the most marginal of issues, common action is no action at all. Europe’s beloved soft power? It has its uses but unless it is reinforced by hard power in extremis soft power is no power at all.

In other words, Chancellor Merkel, given the world we must face together are you prepared to reinforce your fine words with fine deeds? Probably not.

Happy New Year!                  

Julian Lindley-French