hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

5D Warfare and China’s 5G Digital Silk Road

“…if some [EU] countries believe that they can do clever business with the Chinese, then they will be surprised when they wake up and find themselves dependent”.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, March 2019

Alphen, Netherlands. 26 March. Source code is the software ‘brain’ at the heart of a computer, its directing command. Control source code and one controls the machine. And, as man and the machine become ever more intertwined via the internet of things, control the machine and one controls mankind. It is that threat which is behind going Western concerns about China’s digital Silk Road, its funding of global 5G networks, and the role being played by its surrogate company Huawei.

5G Dreadnought?

The other day at Munich Airport I enjoyed a coffee with General James L. Jones, NATO’s one-time Supreme Allied Commander Europe. General Jones talked eloquently about the threat posed by China and its efforts to control Europe’s 5G future.  As he spoke my mind cast back to an earlier age when technology again changed the strategic balance at an instant. In 1906 the Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought – the world’s first all-big gun, big armour, turbine- driven battleship which made every other warship afloat obsolete. 5G threatens to do the same thing but on a much grander digital scale than any single ship could ever do.

In a sobering paper for the Strategic Insights Program of the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security General Jones is clear, “5G is a fifth generation “disruptive” technology which, when used in its secure mode, will transform our societies in ways that we are only starting to understand”.  At its heart, 5G is a way to fast super-network stand-alone computers undertaking a myriad of functions critical to our daily lives. At best, such a network offers life-transforming super-efficiency thus reducing the cost of actions for greatly increased output. At worst, control of such a network offers critical command over those same actions and, by extension, the lives of our states, institutions and ourselves.

5G will also have a host of military applications, not least as the beating heart of artificially-intelligent drone swarms – the digital ‘queen’, if one will, of an attack hive. During any major attack future war would see such swarms probe, fail, learn and finally overcome defences and then intelligently exploit such weakness to devastating effect. Digital decapitation?

Why China? At the centre of Jones’s paper is a profound warning about China’s role in developing digital coercion as part of wider complex strategic coercion. As Jones states, “Huawei is a tool of state power and a critical asset in China’s global economic and geopolitical competitions and ambitions”. Even the most cursory glance at Chinese national strategy confirms Beijing’s strategic intent to use whatever means at its disposal –financial, economic and, if needs be, military - to gain strategic advantage.

Beware Chinese bearing gifts

The specific danger from Huawei is that because it is an agent of the Chinese state it is significantly cheaper than its Western commercial competitors. What Huawei offers is not simply a 5G ‘product’ but an entire digital infrastructure.  Imagine a digital version of all the roads, railways and airport in your Western state that is what Huawei, and by extension China, is offering.  Now, imagine that as part of the ‘package’ your state effectively hands over access to your digital roads, railways and airports to China. The Huawei ‘deal’ is thus lucrative, seductive and utterly dangerous.

It is a threat reinforced by work the British have been doing to identify the controlling source codes of the Huawei capability. In 2010 British Intelligence set up the Huawei Cyber Security Evaluation Cell near Banbury as part of its National Cyber Security Centre with a specific remit to quantify the nature and scope of the threat. In late 2018 HCSEC stripped back networking gear and millions of lines of code to assess the extent to which Huawei afforded Beijing ‘Trojan horse’ industrial and military espionage and other ‘command’ capabilities.  Its findings were deeply concerning to London not least because Huawei tried to mask the real source codes from the British. Consequently, the head of MI6 warned against any 4G and 5G nework reliance on Huawei.  The EU and Britain’s other Five Eyes allies, such as Australia, and New Zealand are beginning to join the Americans to warn of the threat posed by Huawei, although the British Government has yet to divest itself of much of the investment it has already made in Huawei technology.

5D warfare and China’s 5G digital Silk Road

So why does this all matter? Now, it would be easy to suggest that this is some form of American ‘dog in a manger’ warning not dissimilar to the ‘reds under the bed’ hysteria that swept the US during the 1960s. The evidence suggests otherwise. Much of my work of late has been focused on pioneering the concept of 5D warfare – the planned and systematic application of disinformation, deception, destabilisation, disruption and implied destruction against open societies by the strategic autocracies, most notably China and Russia.  Much of Europe is making such warfare plausible by its refusal to consider the worst-case and the dangerous interaction that a fusion of strategy, capability and technology affords adversaries. In other words, too many Western European states simply refused to believe the post-Cold War peace is over and that, like it or not, Europeans must again face strategic competition red in tooth and claw.
Worse, the determined European focus on the cheap and the short-term is creating the conditions for an externally-driven digital diktat.  And, it may be that the Silk Road policy has already achieved its strategic goal by fracturing European political solidarity and defence cohesion as countries desperate for Chinese investment effectively sell their strategic soul in some form of latter day Faustian pact. President Macron this week implicitly warned the Italians about being naive in their dealings with China, even as President Xi was about to visit France.

Jones’s 5G defence

If the West, in general, or more specifically Europe, is to avoid waking up one day to find itself facing a digital Dreadnought against which it has no defence far more digital realism is needed.   General Jones recommends a series of actions to prevent Chinese 5G digital dominance built on awareness-raising and systems-hardening. Crucially, Jones calls on the US and its allies to halt work with Huawei and use “alternate companies” whilst “technical standards be designed to withstand cyber attacks. He also calls on the US to establish a “…long-term national spectrum strategy” that confirms federal control over all aspects of 5G and its application, as well as the streamlining of US federal procurement practices that build cost into bids for 5G development work that Huawei simply does not have to consider.

General Jones also highlights a fundamental flaw in the West’s privatisation of structural security technology and China’s one-way exploitation of it.  There are some emerging technologies that are of such profound capability that they must be prescribed for fear they will be instrumentalised against the West and its peoples.

China’s Silk Road policy is an unashamed attempt to compete with the West and extend its influence. On the face of it there is nothing wrong in that. A peaceful China trading assertively but fairly is to be welcomed. However, Beijing is also in the business of strategic dominance. The invisible silk strings that run alongside the Silk Road combine debt dependency with aggressive cyber and espionage that is far more dangerous than some mutually-beneficial trade agreement.  There is, of course, one easy test to which China could subject itself if it wished to demonstrate at a stroke that the fears of General Jones and others are ill-founded. It could open up its market to Huawei’s competitors, show a willingness to purchase significant parts of its own burgeoning 5G network from American and other contractors, and cede control of Huawei’s source codes to its customers thus making it impossible for Beijing to manipulate to advantage. Unlikely.

Julian Lindley-French                        

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Simulating Smart NATO: the Scheer-Gaulle of it!

“…they should know when we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies, ‘Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting’”.
Winston Spencer Churchill (No, I am not raising the ghost of Winston to make a point about Brexit!)

Can NATO REALLY adapt?

Izmir, Turkey. 14 March. How can we better engage Alliance leaders with the security and defence of their own citizens in a dangerous world? A shifting balance of military power is often glacial and takes place over many years but at times it can also act like an earthquake as a fault-line gives a bit. This week the fault-line definitely gave a bit. On Tuesday, I had the honour to speak to NATO commanders at the LC3 conference hosted by Lt. General Thompson and his excellent team at NATO LANDCOM here in Izmir. My speech, on NATO and Future War, came a week after Russia’s now long-serving Chief of the General Staff, General Valerij Gerasimov, had laid out his thinking on Russia’s future military strategy. It was also a week in which the US launched a $718bn defence budget, whilst also announcing the aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman will be paid off early to enable the US to afford an entirely new generation of weapons to match those being developed and deployed by China and Russia. In this week’s Defense News RAND’s David Ochmanek frankly admitted that, “In our [war] games, when we fight Russia and China blue [Allied forces] gets its ass handed to it”.
My message to NATO commanders was thus necessarily uncompromising – unless NATO REALLY adapts to the security environment, shapes it and fast the old West could be heading for catastrophe. The message I got back from a few of my senior military colleagues was equally and justly compromising – ‘We hear you, Julian, but do our leaders?’ It is this disconnect between NATO collective defence and much of the Alliance’s political leadership which is potentially the greatest vulnerability.

Which Trojan, which horse?

Let me deal with the nature and scope of the threat. A piece in Foreign Affairs this week by Chris Miller asked if economic stagnation is the new Russian normal. It would certainly seem so. Contrast that with a 4 March speech by the Russian Chief of the General Staff entitled The Development of Future Military Strategy at Moscow’s Academy of Military Sciences.  Gerasimov echoed (immodestly on my part) a lot of what I had written in my latest article for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Complex Strategic Coercion and Russian Military Modernisation He talked of the transformation of military threat and the need for a “…system of knowledge and action for the prevention, preparation and conduct of war”. He placed particular emphasis on strategies of what he calls global war, nuclear deterrence and, critically, indirect action.

Gerasimov, predictably, painted the US as the aggressor state and accused the Americans of ‘Trojan horse’ policies designed to eliminate the statehood of “unwanted countries”, undermine state sovereignty, and impose enforced change on elected bodies. Russia see thyself? He also cited what he called Washington’s expansion of its military presence on Russia’s borders and the US abrogation of arms control treaties such as INF as proof positive of Russia’s need to deploy new, advanced missile systems…some of which breach INF. You get the picture.

5D warfare and the new method of struggle

Gerasimov also talked of new ‘methods of struggle’ and the shift towards the integrated use of political, economic, international, and other “non-military measures, albeit implemented with reliance on military force”. Critically, he re-stated his long-held conviction that the main effort for Russia’s military strategy must be the preparation for war and its conduct, primarily, but not exclusively, by the armed forces.
All of this chimes rather neatly with my own concept of 5D warfare – the systematic application of deception, disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, and implied destruction as strategy.  Gerasimov’s vision for the Russian future force also echoes American thinking about the coming conduct of warfare simultaneously across the seven domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. Gerasimov placed particular emphasis on the prosecution of what I call war at the seams of our complex societies and war at the margins of our complex institutions, most notably NATO and the EU.

Shock and some limited aweski?

At the heart of Gerasimov’s remarks was a very Russian idea of shock and awe, albeit in pursuit of limited strategic objectives.  To that end, he highlighted the need for constant high combat readiness and rapid force mobilisation to achieve decisive surprise. To reinforce that aim he called specifically for the systematic identification and exploitation of the vulnerabilities of adversaries and the threat of “unacceptable damage” as a means of imposing influence and deterring a response.

Gerasimov’s Ultima Ratio Regum is that Russian force of arms be underpinned by strengthened Russian nuclear and non-nuclear ‘deterrence’ via the continued deployment of advanced weapons systems with his military art ‘enlightened’ by the strategic and operational lessons Russia has learnt in Syria for the conduct of what he calls “restricted actions”. Gerasimov also talked at some length about the large-scale use of military robotic and other unmanned systems allied to the enhanced exploitation of electronic warfare but again only as part of “strategy of limited action”. In other words, Russia still only envisages fighting a brutal but short war, if it fights one at all.

What particularly struck me was the level of understanding Gerasimov displayed of Allied vulnerabilities and weaknesses. There was also a particular emphasis on innovative thinking via so-called ‘Forecast Scenarios’ that would enable a better understanding of armed conflict might be started and exploited by Russia for maximum political effect.  In other words, Gerasimov is seriously thinking about war with NATO and how to fight it.

The problem for the Alliance is just how ‘limited’ is Gerasimov’s ‘limited’? A Norwegian friend and colleague at the meeting said that the real danger posed by Russia was that it was “risk willing”. In fact, threat is the consequence of President Putin’s ‘risk willingness’, the scope of his strategic ambition, and the risk aversion of many European leaders in combination. It is a threat that is further compounded by a very Russian idea of a strategic-economic ‘model’ – the weaker the economy becomes the more Moscow invests in ‘security’. History suggests this ‘model’ more often than not eventually falls apart and leads to catastrophe.

Simulating Smart NATO

How could a smart NATO counter Russia’s unsmartness?  This week also marked the twentieth anniversary of the moment when former Warsaw Pact states the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland exercised their right to self-determination and joined the Alliance. Thereafter, a wave of former Cold War adversaries became allies. Reading General Gerasimov it is clear how much this profound shift in the political and security geography of Europe still rankles with Moscow and the Kremlin’s determination to re-impose influence over many of those states around Russia’s western border with force a key component in Moscow’s complex coercive influence strategy.

Gerasimov has one clear advantage over his NATO counterparts – his boss President Putin has given him unequivocal instructions to do just that - coerce. President Putin routinely chairs exercises and simulations in which he plays himself. When one talks to NATO commanders the work they are doing to counter Gerasimov and his now several ‘doctrines’ is impressive. However, unlike Gerasimov, NATO commanders struggle with real political buy-in at the highest levels.

Part of the problem is political culture, particularly across much of Western Europe. There was a time when politicians would routinely take part in exercises and simulations to properly understand their own role during an emergency. Now such participation rarely, if ever, happens. And, one of the many seams Gerasimov is seeking to exploit is the yawning seam that too often exists between NATO’s political leaders and their military commanders.

It is not easy to get latter day Western European politicians (and this problem is to a large extent a Western European problem) to engage with such challenges beyond the routine but only occasional NATO Summit. One idea would be to tack a simulation onto such events – be they at Heads of State and Government level or foreign/defence ministerial level. NATO’s leaders need to see and understand why NATO needs to plan for the worst-case and how their own role would unfold during a fast-burning and inevitably multifaceted crisis of the sort General Gerasimov is planning.  

The Scheer Bloody Gaulle of it!

Simulating NATO would thus be a good step towards a smart NATO because a smart NATO is a vital part of a wider strategy that offers Moscow both a way out of the economic and strategic contradiction into which it is driving itself, and protects the free citizens of the Alliance from the very worst case consequences of Russia’s potentially catastrophic contradiction.  

Such an approach might also help Western European leaders stop their latest retreat into defence pretence. This was also the week when senior German CDU politician Kramp-Karrenbauer suggested France and Germany together build a new aircraft carrier. Given the state of Europe’s land forces there are many other things the French and Germans might consider building if they were serious about playing a serious role together in deterring Russia and projecting power.  Still, if they ever do build this thing (which of course they will not) I have come up with the perfect name for – the Scheer-Gaulle. Get it?

Julian Lindley-French      

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Could the Lamps go out all over Asia?

“I said to the German Ambassador that, as long as there was only a dispute between Austria and Serbia alone, I did not feel entitled to intervene, but that, directly it was a matter between Austria and Russia, it became a question of the peace of Europe, which concerned us all”.
Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, 1914

A trilogy of tensions

Alphen, Netherlands. 5 March. Is there a new Serbia in Asia? Three seemingly unrelated but potentially critical events took place in Asia this past week, the world’s new cockpit of Realpolitik. First, south Asia’s two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, exchanged fire and fatalities over disputed Jammu-Kashmir. Second, the second nuclear disarmament for sanctions relief summit between US President Donald J. Trump and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un collapsed. Third, on Friday last, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured the Philippines that if Manila’s forces were attacked in the South China Sea American forces would come to their aid under the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defence Treaty.

The dispute over the status of Jammu-Kashmir is not merely between India and Pakistan. China also occupies part of Kashmir following its victory in the 1962 Sino-Indian War and the establishment of a so-called Line of Actual Control.  China also acts as the benefactor and de facto guarantor of Pakistan.  Since independence from Britain in 1947 and partition India and Pakistan have fought four wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999. Relations between the two powers remains tense, even if on this occasion both Islamabad and New Delhi seem to have chosen to de-escalate the crisis. However, given New Delhi’s concerns about what it regards as terrorist training camps in Pakistani-held territory the threat of war remains.

The implications of the failure of the US-North Korean summit in Hanoi are yet to be understood. The distance between the two sides was evident. Pyongyang appeared to want complete sanction relief for partial disarmament. The Americans would only offer linkage between sanctions relief and disarmament. Supreme Leader Kim Jung-un clearly has no intention of scrapping his current nuclear programme. After talking with Beijing Pyongyang will be deciding this week whether to seek renewed high-level talks with the Americans (lower level talks will continue) or return to a policy of de facto nuclear blackmail of South Korea and a stand-off with the Americans.

Then there is the South China Sea. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was unequivocal during a visit to Manila last Friday, “China’s island-building activities in the South China Sea threaten your (Philippines) sovereignty, security and economic livelihood as well as the United States”. He went on to say that in the event Chinese forces attack Philippine forces the US would intervene militarily in support of the latter. The specific source of friction between China and the Philippines concerns the so-called ‘Nine-Dash Line’, a zone of self-declared Chinese sovereignty over much of the South China Sea plus unrecognised Chinese claim over all the islands and reefs therein.  In July 2016, China effectively lost a case brought before the UN by the Philippines known as South China Sea Arbitration, although Beijing has consistently refused to recognise the decision demanding instead such disputes are resolved bilaterally. In other words, divide and rule.

In recent years China has militarised a string of islands and reefs around the perimeter South China Sea to enforce its claim for an Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ which covers much of region. With the Americans determined to enforce freedom of navigation and China seemingly set on at some point closing the Sea to outsiders the scene is being set for possibly the world’s first truly systemic confrontation.

Asian Realpolitik

In his masterpiece Diplomacy Henry Kissinger wrote, “By 1890, the concept of balance of power had reached the end of its potential. It had been made necessary in the first place by the multitude of states emerging from the ashes of of medieval aspirations to universal empire. In the eighteenth century, its corollary of raison d’etat had led to frequent wars whose primary function was to prevent the emergence of a dominant power and the resurrection of a European empire. The balance of power had preserved the liberties of states, not the peace of Europe”. For nineteenth century Europe read twenty-first century Asia. European communitarians might not like it but it is Chinese Machtpolitik and Realpolitik in Asia (or what the Americans now call the Indo-Pacific) that is defining the strategic map of both its region and the wider world.

Chinese power is fast becoming a defining force that itself forces all other powers to react to it, most notably the United States. Chinese power comes in many forms, not just military. Beijing’s use of debt diplomacy in Europe is already beginning to warp the strategic decisions of several European states in which China is ‘investing’ thus undermining the cohesion of NATO and the EU.

The broader danger is that Asia is fast becoming to resemble pre-World War One Europe as it divides between China and US-backed states with India a kind of freelancing power within the broad orb a new ‘West’ that is defined not by place but by ideas. This division is something I witnessed a few years ago during a visit to Pakistan when I was briefed by their Inter-Services Intelligence. The closeness between Beijing and Islamabad was already evident. In much the same way that Europe divided into blocs around Imperial Germany, on the one hand, and Britain, France and Russia, on the other, Asia is today a monument to the enduring nature of balance of power politics. As in the Europe of old the balance of power can be maintained for an extended period and, for the moment at least, China seems to want to do precisely that, albeit insisting on bilateral solutions to conflicts that are mainly of its own creation and to its advantage. History suggests sooner or later such balance will collapse and with it the peace of much of Asia, and quite possibly the world beyond.

China, power and the rules-based order

Europe? If Europeans really do want to help convince China to return to a rules-based order they must invest in the real power that must underpin real rules. Europeans must also help keep America strong where she needs to be strong. In other words, like it or not, Europeans must invest in the global balance of power even as they work to reform and uphold the rules-based global order. That starts with an end to European strategic pretence and a proper commitment to regenerate NATO in Europe’s own strategic neighbourhood. It also means the end to empty European gestures. For example, the British have ‘threatened’ to send one of their two new aircraft carriers to the South China Sea (even as rumours persist that they will mothball the the other one) as a ‘gesture’ of solidarity with the Americans. It is an empty gesture by a hollow power and the Chinese know it.

The policy aim? To convince the Chinese to obey rules Beijing is today leveraging to its advantage by their persistent flouting. China is not the strategic spoiler that is Putin’s Russia. Beijing is, rather, a strange mix of nationalist power adolescent and sophisticated actor. Which direction China finally settles on is still up for grabs. Whilst that issue is being settled in Beijing Chinese assertiveness must be held in check by US-led power and further checks on Chinese attempts to buy acquiescence, not least in Europe. In parallel, there must be ongoing engagement with Beijing to convince it that Chinese interests in the bipolar world it is now creating will be best served by a China that invests in global norms for peaceful international relations.    

The Chinese century?

The danger China poses is the implicit presumption behind much of contemporary Chinese foreign and security policy that the twenty-first century will be shaped on Chinese terms. Whilst it is couched in the language of maintaining peace and stability much of the tone of such policy is ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ on Chinese terms. There is also a Chinese assumption of a coming confrontation with the United States, but only when the correlation of forces are so in China’s favour, and at a time and place of China’s choosing, that Chinese power alone, and with it the humiliation in Asia of the United States, will be the best guarantor of peace. A Chinese world order? What is really spooky for those of us versed in the strategic literature of the European century is how strikingly similar such presumptions and assumptions of ‘inevitable’ Chinese superiority and dominance are to their nineteenth century nationalist counterparts in Europe.

The lamps are going out?

On the eve of World War One a despairing Sir Edward Grey wrote, “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. There is now a growing possibility that the lamps will go out in Asia and if they do much of the rest of the world. World War One was triggered by a regional dispute between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. The system of blocs and alliances that had formed in Europe prior to 1914 were meant to prevent a wider systemic war. In the end they helped precipitate it.  This begs two questions; is there a new Serbia in Asia, and if so where? 
Julian Lindley-French