hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Military Mobility: Moving Mountains for Europe’s Defense

 March 3rd, 2021

 The Imperative

In the wake of the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine NATO has placed renewed emphasis on credible deterrence and defense, strengthening its posture, enhancing its responsiveness and speed of reinforcement. However, military mobility is not simply vital for deterrence. EU civil-military crisis management also pre-supposes the rapid movement of forces across Europe and to crisis regions adjacent to the bloc’s borders. Therefore, given these strategic imperatives, both NATO and the EU must together act to improve the military mobility of military forces and resources across Europe prior to and during emergencies.  To that end, the CEPA Military Mobility Report https://cepa.org/the-cepa-military-mobility-project-moving-mountains-for-europes-defense/  is launched today, the aim of which is essentially simple: to ensure Allied forces and resources can be moved quickly and securely during a crisis to where they are needed.

Credible deterrence requires demonstrated capability and the will to use it. The prime component is speed: speed of recognition that an attack might be imminent; speed of decision to begin necessary movements and preparations; and speed of assembly to ensure sufficient combat power is in place to deter.  In the contemporary and future defense of Europe, credible deterrence will depend on military mobility that is fast enough to at least match Russian forces.

The Report

Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) designed the Military Mobility Project to identify the conditions needed to markedly and affordably improve military mobility in Europe.  The report is built around five different scenarios which reached across Europe and beyond and which were considered at length by civilian and military practitioners and experts from the EU, NATO, industry, governments and the media. The report is also the result of a year-long, comprehensive examination of all the facets needed to accelerate military mobility.  Facets that span across the four core pillars of the report:  adapted rules, regulations and procedures for the movement of forces, resources and dangerous goods across borders; improved and strengthened transportation infrastructures; effective command, control and co-ordination; funding; bespoke special capabilities; resilience and security of movement; and robust testing through constant exercises.  The report also calls for the establishment of a 24/7 network of national points of contact, and the standing up of territorial commands by transit and host nations to facilitate smooth movements along multi-modal movement corridors, all of which must be properly supported by logistic hubs. Realization of the vision at the core of the report will require a new level of NATO-EU cooperation and of personal engagement between their respective senior leaderships.

The report is also just the beginning.  A first step down the road to improved military mobility.  An expert network has now been established that will help steer a campaign to convince leaders that investment in military mobility is a post-pandemic value-for-money investment in Europe’s future peace and security. It is an investment that will not only benefit Europe’s security and defense, but physically strengthen the solidarity between its peoples, and the wider Euro-Atlantic community.  Indeed, enabling Europeans to better share burdens with their North American allies is hard-wired into the DNA of this project.

Military Mobility: Moving Mountains for Europe’s Defense

Admiral Rob Bauer, the Chief of the Netherlands Defense Staff, and Lieutenant-General Scott Kindsvater, Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, in their support for the Military Mobility Project acknowledge the vital importance of fast and secure military mobility to credible defense and deterrence and effective crisis management. They also recognize far more needs to be done.  Unfortunately, Europe is still a long way from satisfying all the requirements accelerated military mobility will demand. European Allies have insufficient capacity and capability, there are few if any clear lines of authority, and determining clear chains of command remains a major weakness.

Perhaps the biggest question that remains outstanding is why military mobility?  The answer is strikingly simple. Enhancing military mobility is not about preparing to fight a war, but to prevent one.  NATO is ultimately in the business of deterrence, and deterrence is the business of convincing Europe’s adversaries that any threat will be met quickly and decisively.

It is time to act. It is time to move.

Ben Hodges, Heinrich Brauss, Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 22 February 2021

Britain, France and Germany need a Defence-Strategic Reset

 “I would like to recall that in 2017 President Emmanuel Macron and the German Chancellor Merkel set up a very ambitious agenda in armaments programmes, to foster our strategic autonomy……The one we are talking a lot about right now, FCAS or NGWS, is not only an incredibly ambitious technological project……Not only is it highly strategic, but it is also living proof of our trust in Europe, and more particularly in the strength of the French-German relationship. It is something that you can only do with true friends, the ones who stand by their word, who are well aware that our national destinies go hand in hand with our European identity and commitment”.

 French Defence Minister, Florence Parly, February 2021

A tale of three cities

February 22nd, 2021. In the wake of last week’s virtual NATO defence ministerial, US Secretary of Defence, Lloyd J. Austin III, said "I….stressed our ironclad commitment to the security guarantee under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty," and "I don't use that word 'ironclad' lightly. Our shared responsibility as allies – our duty – is to protect our populations and our territory. And to meet that duty we require what the secretary general refers to as credible deterrence and defense."  Amen to that, but what does credible deterrence and defence need?

The purpose of the meeting was in part to discuss the future of the Alliance with the new Biden administration following the publication of a report by the NATO Reflection Group that looked out to 2030. The theme of the debate was one of rejuvenation and reset. All well and good. However, they missed what is fast becoming a raging bull elephant in the increasingly China-paid for Euro-shop: the collapse in trust between Europe’s three most powerful cities, London, Paris and Berlin.

When I first read the Parly statement I must admit my first reaction was that she was having another ‘go’ at Britain.  Following Brexit Paris has seemed to revel in doing damage to Britain. From fishing to financial services and from shellfish to vaccines the Macron regime has missed no opportunity to put the boot into Britain.  In fact, Parly was having a ‘pop’ at the Germans for failing to follow through on their 2017 commitment to support the planned Franco-German-led Future Combat Air System or FCAS which, much like the F-35, is intended not only to serve as a NextGen fighter, but as the command hub for a whole host of ‘intelligent’ drones that would act as ‘loyal wingmen’.  The plan is to have the first prototypes of this Next Generation Weapon System (NGWS) flying by 2025, but full deployment is not expected until 2040 and beyond.  The Germans are having cold feet.  First, they will probably need to replace their Eurofighter Typhoons earlier than 2040. Second, they are baulking at the cost of what some in Berlin see as a form of German state subsidy for the French defence industry. 

Plus ça change…?  

It would be easy to dismiss such frictions as little more than ‘plus ça change, but they go deeper and the implications for the Alliance are profound.  Indeed, implicit in the debate over European strategic autonomy that took place during the defence ministerial is an Alliance that is fast dividing into an Atlanticsphere and a Eurosphere, and a Eurosphere that is fast collapsing into a struggle between France’s strategic culture and Germany’s complete lack of it due to its profound unease at undertaking combat operations.  Indeed, one senior French parliamentarian has even suggested to the Germans it would be easier for the French to work with the British! Zut alors!

Two other critical factors were missing in the defence ministers’ debate.  First, the cost to Europeans of maintaining interoperability with the high-end US future force by 2030 and beyond, upon which the true credibility of NATO’s defence and deterrence rests.  Second, the vital importance for NATO of Britain, France and Germany working closely together to realise the high-level transatlantic defence cohesion of tomorrow.

Army of none?

So, what is needed to reset the British-French-German defence strategic relationship? Two things – realism and vision. First, London-Paris and Berlin must start a real and pressing discussion about the looming impact of future tech on tomorrow's European battlespace. Second, why Europe’s two future advanced defence tech programmes, such as the Franco-German-Spanish FCAS and the British-Italian-Swedish Tempest-FCAS, are looking to deploy manned systems post-2040, when most other peer competitors will be looking to deploy AI-enabled/AI drone swarms etc.  One only has to read the latest report of the US National Security Commission on AI (NSCAI) and its chair, Robert O. Work, or Army of None: Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War by Paul Scharre to grasp the pace of development of so-called Autonomous Warfare Systems (AWS). Third, the real place of cyber, space and information in NATO’s future deterrent posture. Fourth, how best for Europeans to defend against the systematic AI-driven exploitation of Allied vulnerabilities within the hybrid-cyber-hyper war continuum.

There needs to be a much better understanding over why Europeans spend their respective defence budgets so poorly, the lack of a strategic culture that leads to such choices, and the exaggerated influence of defence-industrial parochialism. Europeans also need to accept that the ability of the US to continue to defend Europe will rest increasingly on Europeans, due to the changing nature of threat the US faces and the cost of US domestic renewal. Third, a much better European understanding is needed of the cost of maintaining critical interoperability with the high-end US future force. Third, the form and cost of ‘European strategic autonomy’, the ‘independent’ European security architecture it would entail, and the military capabilities and capacity that would be needed to underpin it? After all, ‘autonomy’ is a function of power, not words.

There is another issue. In an attempt to ‘renovate’ NATO after the bruising Trump years some Americans are trying to change the mood music by suggesting that because Europeans spend four times more than Russia on defence things are really not that bad. Frankly, it is irrelevant if Europeans spend four time more if they also spend ten times worse.  The true test of European defence credibility will be military power purchasing parity not nominal defence expenditure.  Indeed, the reason Europeans must spend more is precisely because such expenditure is the cost of Europe’s defence divisions. 

Tempest in a tea-cup or a complete FCAS?

Which brings me back to FCAS and Tempest-FCAS.  Or, to put it another way, why on Earth are their two FCAS programmes in Europe? FCAS and Tempest-FCAS should be merged but in the insane world of European defence competing national egos, defence industrial interests and differing specifications always trump (excuse the pun) logic.  There is also the hideous problem of the 80-20 rule which compounds the insanity.  All involved can normally agree on 80% of the solution, but it is the remaining 20% which kills co-operation.

Paradoxically, both the future solution and the future problems of both FCAS and Tempest-FCAS can be found in the F-35 Lightning 2, which is currently deploying in various forms with several European forces. The F-35 is going through exactly the same teething troubles as history teaches us will afflict Tempest-FCAS and FCAS.  First, because F-35 was the world’s first truly 5G platform it involves incredibly complicated technology much of which is still only working to point.  Second, in spite of being in-service for five years the plane is still very much in development.  Third, costs have exploded as a consequence leading the commander of the United States Air Force, General Brown to call for a ‘5G minus’ solution by which F-35 would operate alongside cheaper platforms (although Brown rejects upgrading the F-16). However, in spite of all of the above the simple fact is that F-35 IS in service. Moreover, F-35 affords pilots vital advantages over anything else flying or soon to fly in European air forces: situational awareness, the ability to penetrate advanced air defences and electronic warfare packages that offer intelligent counter-measures.   Critically, the aircraft is also at the beginning of a life-cycle that will see this flying hard drive upgraded exponentially over the planned 26,000 hours each aircraft will fly.

So, here’s a novel idea. Why not simply merge FCAS and Tempest-FCAS, compromise on some aspects of ‘spec’; recognise that even then the costs will be far higher than the prime contractors suggest (as will development and production), because they always are; share the costs more widely, recognise that no air force from past European experience is going to get anything that even smells a bit 6G until 2045 at the earliest; and run a joint development programme with the Americans that looks at an unmanned alternative.  One other thing; in the interim Europeans should buy F-35 (with offsets thrown in) to increase the production run and lower the costs of production, maintenance and in-life servicing. 

Will that happen?  Probably, in the end, but only after an awful lot of mutual recrimination and only after European governments are forced to confront the real cost of both FCAS and Tempest-FCAS in their post-COVID reality.  However, before any of that can be agreed Britain, France and Germany will also have to again rediscover they are friends and allies.  That would be nice.

Britain, France and Germany need a strategic reset and fast!

Julian Lindley-French

 

 

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Jibber Jabber and Jab-a-grabber

 Jibber Jabber: To talk in a rapid and excited way that is difficult to understand.

Oxford Dictionaries

A Northern Ireland no-no

Last Friday I held my head in my hands.  I had just heard that the European Commission was threatening to suspend the Northern Ireland Protocol of the Brexit agreement and impose a hard border across the island of Ireland. For anybody who spent any time in Northern Ireland as I did in the 1980s, and who believes in the peace-bringing 1998 Good Friday Agreement (GFA), such an act was not simply stupid, it was downright dangerous.  Thankfully, the Commission was forced to back down even though a lot of damage was done to the fragile politics of the ‘North’. Since the June 2016 Brexit referendum the Commission had been insisting there could be no border on the island of Ireland precisely to preserve the GFA and yet within weeks from the end of the Brexit transition period here they were threatening just such a move. 

Sadly, it gave the distinct impression that for the Commission what really matters is not peace on the island of Ireland but the weakening the integrity of the United Kingdom. How on Earth could Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen and her team even ever have arrived at the point of making such a decision?  The answer is a sorry tale of bungling, arrogance, panic, jibber jabber and jab-a-grabber.

A tale of two responses

On January 30th, 2020 a meeting took place at the Nuffield Department of Medicine of the Oxford University Life Sciences team led by Sarah Gilbert, Adrian Hill, Andrew Pollard, Teresa Lambe, Sandy Douglas and Catherine Green. At that meeting it was suggested that an adaptation of technologies developed to treat Ebola and Mers could lead to a vaccine for COVID 19. After some toing and froing with potential US developers, and with the British Government to the fore, in late March 2020 the Anglo-Swedish company AstraZeneca agreed to a partnership with the Oxford team and to provide the British with written undertakings of a guaranteed supply and only at cost. This was something the Oxford scientists had insisted upon.  On March 30th, Oxford University and AstraZeneca signed a partnership deal and on April 14th both signed a deal to provide the British Government with 100 million doses. In May 2020, businesswomen Kate Bingham was appointed by the British Government to ensure the effective use of British taxpayer’s money to develop an efficient supply chain under a task force that she led to effect and which also supported the development in the UK of two other possible vaccines.

Contrast Britain’s performance with that of the Commission.  In spring 2020, the French, German, Italian and Dutch governments became increasingly concerned at the Commission’s seeming inability to respond to the crisis and created their own Intra-Vaccine Alliance. Keen to work with the Commission the four governments ensure Brussels was closely involved in negotiations for what Italian adviser, Professor Walter Ricciardi, called “the common good”. As Ricciardi states, “We opened the door for the Commission to take over but even then it took time, even when we tried to speed up the process….There were some countries fully aware of the importance of the vaccine, but there were others that were reluctant to put money into this without guarantees of the result. That took time and the best possible energy of the Commission. They did recruit the best possible officers to do that, but it was a long process”. 

On June 13th, the Alliance signed a contract with AstraZeneca for some 300 million doses.  However, the Commission intervened to prevent the deal from being formalised and insisted it was responsible for ordering vaccines for the whole of the EU. Unfortunately, this led to three months of delay and the contract with AstraZeneca was only agreed in late August. Some had also wanted Britain to join the Commission’s EU-wide plan, but unlike EU member-states Britain would have been excluded from the governance of a vaccine invented in Oxford and produced mainly in the UK at sites in Oxford, Keele and Wrexham.

The situation then went from bad to worse.  The decision that regulatory authorisation would be conducted by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and not national regimes only slowed the roll-out further, as EMA protocols and process were markedly slower. One alleged reason for such tardiness was that should any vaccine prove dangerous liability would fall on the manufacturer and not the EU.  In September, a world-wide trial began of the AstraZeneca vaccine. It was paused a couple of times when some patients showed adverse reactions (and a Brazilian doctor who had been administered a placebo sadly died). However, by early November promising interim results of so-called phase three trials were complete.  

However, in early November 2020 the German company BioNTech announced it had made a breakthrough in the development of its own vaccine. In mid-December, Von der Leyen, clearly hoping for a vaccine developed in Germany/EU even tweeted, “It is Europe’s moment”, and announced that the vaccination of EU citizens would begin in late December.  She was premature. The problem was that the EU had failed to invest in the production base that would be needed to provide the requisite doses.  Indeed, whilst the UK had already committed €1.9bn, and the US €9bn, the Commission only invested €1.78bn of so called ‘risk money’ for the whole of the EU. In January 2021, the EU strategy came off the rails. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna both announced they needed to reduce production of their respective vaccines to upgrade facilities and that they would only be able to resume full scale production in late February. The Commission still believed it would have access to some 400 million AstraZeneca doses over the coming year.  However, by January 29th, the Oxford vaccine had still not been approved by the EMA and due to a filtering problem at a plant in Belgium AstraZeneca could only deliver some 25 million of the 100 million planned EU-made doses during the first quarter of 2021.

At this point, the Commission began issuing threats against Britain claiming that British AstraZeneca plants were part of the EU contract.  Apparently, they even looked at customs records to see if AstraZeneca had shipped doses produced in the EU to the UK, but there was no such evidence. The British response was understandably blunt: given the contract Britain had with AstraZeneca any vaccine produced in Britain would first be administered to the British people.  The Commission responded by suggesting EU Member States could block the exports of vaccines to Britain, which is what finally led to the suggestion that the Northern Ireland Protocol might be suspended.  Thankfully, cooler heads in certain national capitals prevailed and forced the Commission to withdraw what many saw as a post-Brexit nuclear option.

Political irresponsibility

Why has the Commission gone out of its way to attack Britain? The only possible conclusion is that having failed the Commission was determined to shift both responsibility and blame. However, there might another possible factor at play: German Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen.  2021 is a year of elections in Germany and the German press is incandescent with ‘VDL’s’ handling of the vaccine fiasco and has been looking for someone or something to blame.  For once, that something is not Britain, with one German newspaper even claiming to now understand Brexit.  However, the German political class has not been so magnanimous.  First, Von der Leyen was a CDU politician sent to Brussels by Chancellor Merkel in the wake of her pretty disastrous handling of the German defence ministry.  Clearly, the CDU does not want to be tarnished by Von der Leyen’s bungling of the vaccine. Second, it would appear Von der Leyen herself has political ambitions back home in Germany after her stint as Commission president.  This could explain why she appears to have tried to shift blame onto her Latvian Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, a very decent man whom I have had the honour to meet.

Jibber jabber or jab-a-giver

In writing this I am in no way crowing over Britain’s better performance.  Thankfully, neither is Britain and rightly so.  First, Britain has also made terrible mistakes in the management of the pandemic. Second, Europe, including Britain, will only begin to return to some level of normalcy (remember that?) when the greatest number of vulnerable Europeans have been sufficiently protected to enable a critical mass of economic activity to resume.  Third, I live in the Netherlands and have no idea when I will be offered a ‘jab’. In other words, the desired outcome towards which everyone should be working demands a pan-European policy and strategy if the best application of the best vaccines to the right people in the right places over an appropriately actionable period is to be realised. 

The real problem is that throughout this sorry episode the Commission has shown itself to be too rigid and inflexible to be an effective crisis manager.  It has also revealed itself unwilling to put aside the politics of Brexit and unable to adapt to meet the particular demands of the crisis. Rather than attacking the British to mask their own catastrophic handling of the vaccine contracts, which sadly has become the new normal for much of the European policy establishment, every opportunity should have been seized by all concerned to work together for the common good.

If the Commission is ever to become an effective crisis manager two things need to happen. First, the European Commission has to have the political self-confidence to properly assess and respond to its own failings.  Contrary to what some in Britain believe the Commission is not brim full of swivel-eyed ideologues, but it does suffer from its own form of Papal Infallibility. Institutions that are incapable of identifying and learning lessons cannot adapt and in time fail. Second, the Commission must stop treating Britain like some distant breakaway province that has dared to challenge its authority and more like the neighbouring state and partner that according to World Population Review in 2021 has the world’s fifth largest economy and fifth biggest defence budget. Sadly, this will not be the only crisis Europeans will likely face and will need to face together.

It is time to end the jibber jabber and when possible Britain should be a jab-a-giver but for everyone’s sake the Commission (and others in the EU) should end threats of a jab-a-grabber and all that would entail for the wider EU-UK relationship.

 Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 28 January 2021

President Biden and the US-German Special Relationship

 “In the long run, the United States can only maintain its role as a global power through close cooperation with a stable, democratic, prosperous Europe capable of acting collectively. Similarly, Europe can only maintain and strengthen its collective ability when working with a transatlantic partner in place. Hence, devotion to European integration and transatlantic engagement will continue to be two sides of the same coin”.

 “More Ambition, Please! Towards a New Agreement between Germany and the United States.” https://www.gmfus.org/publications/more-ambition-please-toward-new-agreement-between-germany-and-united-states

 Hard multilateralism

January 28th, 2021.  A new German Marshall Fund report is out that shines a light on the future of the transatlantic relationship and the coming Biden Doctrine of hard or assertive multilateralism. Full of Hanoverian and Hanseatic common sense More Ambition, Please! Towards a New Agreement between Germany and the United States calls for a revitalised US-German strategic partnership (during the Cold War the US-German relationship was always vital). Whilst German/European (I am never quite sure of the German distinction) ‘ambition’ is the headline of the report it is really about the re-forging of transatlantic cohesion in the wake of the Trump administration and in a changed post-pandemic world. At the core of the report is a very serious call by very senior Germans for Germany to do far more in defence of Europe, to become a more reliable partner of the United States, and to think and act strategically rather than ‘mercantilistically’.  The central message is that given the many challenges faced by both North Americans and Europeans across a spectrum of threats from Russia, China, Iran and terrorism such challenges can only be successfully faced together. 

Ironically, by offering a roadmap for Germany to do more in a revitalised transatlantic relationship the authors also highlight the vital importance to the US of militarily-capable European allies and the urgent need for Washington to again invest in multilateralism.  Germany rightly wants the Biden administration to see international institutions much as Germans do; as far more than necessary constraints on lesser powers who do not live in America’s shining city on the hill.  The report thus implies the need for both Americans and Europeans to converge on a new policy of hard, assertive multilateralism in which adherence to the norms and values of international regimes is also guaranteed by a sufficiency of hard military democratic power. The aim?  To put a firm brake on Chinese and Russian efforts to establish Machtpolitik as their preferred method for the conduct of twenty-first century international affairs.  

The strength of this report is that it rises above German parochialism to offer strategic perspective infused with ambition by establishing fundamental strategic realities Berlin must now grip. First, Germany must be at the fore in engaging together the coming strategic challenge of China which is still only in its infancy.  Second, Germany must help lead Europe’s collective defence effort to enable it to become far more efficient and effective in the post-pandemic economy to assure Allied defence and deterrence.  Third, during an emergency in which the US is engaged world-wide Europeans, with Germans to the fore, must assure their own defence. Indeed, as the report rightly states, whilst the US affords Europeans defence ‘reinsurance’, the insurance policy itself must be European.

NATO: the Atlanticsphere and the Eurosphere

NATO? It must be transformed, not merely adapted built around two re-modelled ‘plug and play’ pillars that transcend the increasingly diluted boundary between member and partner, EU and NATO – the Atlanticsphere and the Eurosphere. The Atlanticsphere would be organised around the US with Britain, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, the creed of which would be intelligence-gathering and maritime security in the North Atlantic.  The Atlanticsphere would be linked closely linked to Five Eyes, the intelligence-sharing community that involves America, Britain, Canada and Australia (ABCA) plus New Zealand, and increasingly and interestingly, Japan.  The Atlanticsphere would be centred on two power-projection navies – the United States Navy and the Royal Navy (yesterday one of Britain’s new aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth became the fleet flagship).  Whilst focussed on operations in and around the North Atlantic, as its name suggests, it would also enjoy a strategic creed and culture that could enable it to operate far beyond. Britain?  In spite of current challenges London will increase its defence budget by some ten percent over the next four years with an increasingly powerful Royal Navy the main beneficiary. London’s message to Washington and other allies is thus clear: new US-EU, US-German strategic partnerships will be important but when it comes to another crisis crunch it will be good old Britain with its developing strategic raider force that will be the most able and capable.

Biden’s ambitions for Germany will thus depend on the extent to which the Eurosphere offers the US partnership beyond words and transatlantic piety. The report is thankfully practical on this crucial issue.  Whilst the Eurosphere would necessarily be built on the Franco-German strategic partnership it would also be re-fashioned to de-conflict EU and NATO security and defence efforts.  Critically, whilst the report calls for European defence integration it does so from the perspective of a deep collective effort rather than the Nirvana of a common defence.  The report thus reflects a necessary balance between the need for a stronger Germany and Berlin’s perpetual and rightful angst over German power and its potential to destabilise Europe. 

Biden internationalism versus German mercantilism

However, President Biden and his foreign and security policy team should be under no illusions about the challenge of building such a special relationship with contemporary Germany and hold Wandel durch Handel (change through trade) has over Berlin’s foreign and security policy. The true test will be Germany’s position on the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline, a project of such strategic implications that it could rapidly create a decoupling German-Russian mutual dependency. Indeed, in anticipation of a Biden push to impose more sanctions on Putin’s Russia Chancellor Merkel said recently, “We need to talk about whether we don’t have any more trade with Russia or what level of dependency is tolerable”. 

Armin Laschet, Chancellor Merkel’s chosen successor as leader of the CDU and possible future chancellor, emphasises the scale of the challenge.  Over recent years Laschet has revealed himself at best sceptical of both the US and the UK.  His public disparaging of criticism of Russia in the wake of the 2014 invasion of Crimea and the use of Novichok by the GRU in Salisbury in 2018, revealed a strongly pro-Russian position.  This may have something to do with there being some 1200 or so companies that trade with Russia in Laschet’s fiefdom of North-Rhine-Westphalia. Herr Laschet and his ilk might also suggest that Germany already has a special trading relationship with the US and needs little more. In that case, Germany also has a ‘special relationship’ with China. After all, every second VW that rolls off the production line is made in China.  Perhaps most worryingly, a November 2020 Pew poll revealed only one in ten Germans to have a positive view of the US. 

There is also an American flip side to all of this that Germans also need to better understand: with so much to do at home and with US forces stretched thin the world over the amount of political capital the Biden White House is willing to invest in a new US-German strategic partnership may be distinctly limited. In other words, like it or not Berlin could well soon have to pay the real price of leading Europe and make a choice between a French-led ‘autonomous’ European defence and a US-guaranteed European defence.  Clearly, for Berlin a return to pre-Trump transatlantic business as usual is really not an option.

The Biden Doctrine and European strategic responsibility

The hard truth the report reveals is that Wandel durch Handel is simply not enough anymore.  For the transatlantic security relationship to remain more than some latter day Potemkin village American soldiers must see properly equipped German forces of scale alongside them ready and willing to fight the hard yards of Europe’s future defence.  Berlin is right to reject the idea of strategic autonomy being peddled by Paris, which smacks too much of some latent Gaullist obsession with the American presence in Europe. Rather, Germans must match the hard multilateralism of the Biden administration by promoting complementary European strategic responsibility with Germany (and France) to the fore.

A US-German Special Relationship would in no way detract from the relationship that Britain, France or any other European power has with Washington, all of which are special in their own special ways.  Indeed, in spite of the usual coterie of detractors the Special Relationship between Britain and the US is secure in its uniqueness and will continue to be so. However, as the report states, the US and Germany now have a chance with a new Administration to create a strategic partnership built on the best of both strategic and political cultures. Carpe diem!

Biden and the US-German ‘special relationship’

There are some caveats Germans must recognise. First, attempts to bully Britain will fail. Britain remains a very important military power that will be critical to the future of the Alliance and the sharing of transatlantic burdens.  This is something many Europeans simply do not want to hear right now in the wake of Brexit.  Let me be clear; Brussels, Berlin and Paris cannot have their gateau and ‘mange’ it when it comes to Britain’s role in NATO.  If current EU efforts to make post-Brexit life as hard as possible for the British continues popular support for defending Europe will plummet and Britain will retreat further behind its nuclear shield. President Biden and his German allies need to realise that danger and bring Britain with them. The Atlanticsphere and the Eurosphere must complement each other, not become alternatives.  

Second, trust must be built by investing in legitimate power.  Indeed, the future of the transatlantic relationship will rest as it always has on power and trust.  There must be sufficient power to ensure the Alliance is credible in its core mission of defence and deterrence, and sufficient trust in each other to know that when the next inevitable crisis comes Americans and Europeans not only will stand together but can stand together with the necessary military and resilient civil capacity and capability to act together.    

Third, re-assert NATO’s true purpose by re-establishing a power strut at its core.  NATO’s duty is to stop a major war in and around Europe by proving the Alliance can fight one.  The Alliance has always been built around a core relationship to keep it aloft, a bit like the central wing strut on a plane. For the early part of its existence the Anglo-American relationship provided that strut because it was built on the experience of combined operations forged during World War Two.  Indeed, NATO emerged out of such experience. With France having excluded itself by the 1970s the Federal Republic of Germany provided much of the strut, at least on the European landmass.  Now, Germany is being again called upon but to act as a just such a strut of the Alliance. However, to do so Germans will have to confront something many would prefer not to – how to fight and win a war.

More ambition needs more action!

More Ambition, Please! Towards a New Agreement between Germany and the United States is an important German statement that would have been difficult for responsible Germans to write even a decade ago.  The rest of us? We will never forget your past, Germany. How could we, yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day.  The Shoah will never be forgotten. However, most of us are also prepared to trust modern, liberal, democratic and responsible Germany with our future as long as Germany is prepared to trust itself. As L.P. Hartley wrote in 1953, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”.

Julian Lindley-French 

Monday, 18 January 2021

Scottish Independence: Be Warned!

 “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley, And leave us nought but grief and pain, And for promised joy”.

 Robert Burns

Peter Kellner has just published an article for Judy Dempsey’s wonderful Strategic Europe series entitled The Gradual Disintegration of the United Kingdom.  The piece is what one would expect from Peter Kellner, a hard line anti-Brexiteer who like many of his ilk (both in the EU and the UK) almost wish for the dissolution of my country as the price of Brexit. Like so many such pieces it is also couched in terms of a warning.  Who is he warning? Me. Those of us who are both British and English and for whom the UK is central to our identity. Frankly, I am tired of being ‘warned’. So, here is my respectful English response.

First some facts, as the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) like to say.  Scotland will always be a small and beautiful country stuck on the end of much larger, richer and more powerful England and no constitutional shift will ever change that. Scotland represents 8.2% of the population, but contributes only 5% of the UK’s export revenue, whilst the Scottish economy represents only 7.4% of the UK economy. Over 90% of Scottish trade comes to or passes through England, whilst 61% of Scotland’s trade is with the rest of the UK. The massive bulk of that trade is with England, more than the rest of the world combined. Oil? That's just about gone. In other words, the first irony for an independent Scotland would be its economic dependence on England.

There can be no doubt given the genius of the Scottish people that they would in the end make Scotland economically viable, but it would also be significantly poorer.  Last year, government spending per head in Scotland was some £11,247 compared with £9246 in England, yet Scotland’s deficit is some seven times higher than that of the UK as a whole.  One of the hardest realities most Scots would thus have to face post-independence would be the level of taxation the Scottish economy required to sustain the level of public services so many Scots now take for granted.  Indeed, the future of Scottish public services, and who would pay for them, would likely be the battleground over which any Indyref2 would be fought.  The one thing now clear is that the so-called Barnet Formula, the mechanism by which Westminster divides up UK tax income between the nations would for Scotland stop from day one of Scottish independence and quite possibly before. Would Nicola Sturgeon then still be able to offer all Scottish National Health Service employees £500 cash bonus as she did at the end of the 2020? The second irony of Scottish independence would be that England would be richer.

Scotland could, of course, appeal for fast-track EU membership. First, if the EU granted it the acquis would still take a minimum of 5 years and Scotland would also be required to adopt the Euro. Second, France and Germany would know they would risk seriously annoying a still powerful England if Berlin and Paris supported Edinburgh. Third, Brexit has seen the EU budget contract by 16% and the entry of another poor country into the EU would mean structural funds being spread even thinner. Would central, eastern and southern European member-states be happy with that? Fourth, would EU member-states with their own secessionist movements want to help Scotland make a success of secession? The third irony of Scottish independence it would make Europe poorer.

The SNP would no longer be THE political party OF Scotland as it is inside the UK, but A political party IN Scotland. The Edinburgh government would be profoundly divided between the SNP and pro-Unionist parties, whilst the long postponed civil war inside the SNP would almost inevitably break out. In other words, Scotland would be a weak and divided state.  Perhaps the biggest shock to many Scots when faced with the reality of EU membership would be the prospect of a hard border between England and Scotland.  Their fishermen complain now about the problems of exporting to the EU. What if they faced similar problems exporting to England?  The fourth irony of Scottish independence would be a Scotland less not more united.

There could also be some serious defence implications of the UK’s dismemberment.  First, if the English believed other European states had helped accelerate the destruction of the UK already taut relations would worsen.  There would be little appetite to help defend countries that had helped destroy the UK. Second, whatever the UK’s successor state would be called would have its modernising nuclear shield (which would be moved south albeit at great expense) and an increasingly powerful Royal Navy.  The Scots would get nothing of Britain’s Armed Forces. Third, the loss of Scotland to NATO (at least for a time) would complicate Allied operations in the Northern Atlantic and for the Scots to be a member of the Alliance they would have to accept nuclear weapons. Fourth, the construction programme for the new Type 26 and Type 31 warships that are due for construction in Scotland would almost certainly be moved to north-east England. Would Scots want to see what is left of their industry effectively destroyed? The fifth irony of Scottish independence would be a Scotland and a Europe less secure.

The mistake people like Peter Kellner routinely make is to equate Scotland leaving the UK with the UK leaving the EU.  Whilst I regret Brexit as bad statecraft Britain is still the world's fifth biggest economy and Europe's top defence spender. The UK still has the critical mass of capability, capital and creativity to survive and prosper. Scotland would certainly survive and eventually make its way, but prosper? On what? By the way, if the SNP really believe Brexit is illegitimate because 60% of Scots voted to Remain why did they legitimise both the UK and the 2016 Brexit referendum by campaigning in it? The real choice the Scottish people face is one the SNP wants to hide: to be part of the UK or be independent-lite and de facto dependent on England.

Picture this! The day after some future Scottish independence a SNP dominated Edinburgh Government suddenly finds itself facing a hostile England.  The English might not be particularly anti-Scottish, but they would certainly be anti-SNP and the UK would have withdrawn much of its money and the right of Scots to use the pound. Faced with profound uncertainty over monetary stability most of Scotland’s major businesses would already have moved south. Whatever currency Edinburgh adopted (the Groat?) would also have no bank of last resort and they would be forced to appeal to the English and the City of London for support, especially so given the debt an independent Scottish state would find itself in. Unfortunately, Scotland simply would not have the borrowing power of the British state. Which brings me to perhaps the greatest irony of all about Scottish independence: the people who want it the most, the SNP, are the very people who will be unable to make it work for lack of moderation and an inability to build a friendship with Scotland’s closest neighbour.

The SNP likes to say the Scots do badly from the Westminster system. Really? Each Scot receives some £2000 more per capita per annum from the Westminster system than the English.  Under devolution the Scots have far greater influence over the seat of Edinburgh power for a whole host of domestic policies than the English who have no distinct English Parliament. You see, the final irony of Scottish independence is this: it will only ever work if English people like me in some way support it. If I am asked nicely and convinced of the case I would support Scottish independence as I am deeply respectful of the will of the Scottish people. Indeed, as an Englishman and a Briton who believes in democracy, and who is also part Scot, I want the best for Scotland.  However, if I am repeatedly threatened my goodwill tends to erode.  

The SNP are my political enemy precisely because they keep threatening and insulting me and want to destroy something in which millions of us still believe. They also want to do it in a particularly unfriendly way for which reason I would not lift a finger to help those ‘numpties’. As for England, with a population of 56.5 million, a GDP worth $2.3 trillion and the City of London at the beating heart of its adaptable economy, it will be fine.  England and the English are no better or worse than anyone else in Britain and I utterly reject the creed of Little Englanderism.  However, there are far more of us than anyone else.  Moreover, the political history of the British Isles would not stop because of Scottish independence and England will always be the political and economic superpower of the British Isles. We might also be pissed off. Therefore, with respect to those of you warning me, be warned...and be nice!

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 8 January 2021

Elephants and Swans: The Annual TAG Report

https://thealphengroup.home.blog/

Elephants and Swans

 The Annual TAG Report

 A Personal Review by Professor Dr Julian Lindley-French, Chair of The Alphen Group

8 January, 2021

Abstract:

This TAG Annual Report is my personal take on the Group’s activity in 2020 and my reflection on the outstanding analysis offered by its members over the past year. Perhaps the dominant theme in both our PREMIUM blogs and the virtual ZOOM conferences we held was the search for priorities in uncertainty and the urgent need to better understand the balance of risk faced by Americans, Canadians and Europeans. COVID-19 dominated news and lives in 2020 but the pandemic also accelerated systemic change with China possibly a clear ‘winner’ with all the profound strategic implications such a ‘victory’ would entail. However, China is not quite yet and enemy and some hope still possibly a partner. Given that the nature of the threat China poses, and indeed the opportunities it could afford COVID-19 ravaged economies remains unclear and it is that uncertainty over China that is doing as much to divide the West as any overt act of coercion by Beijing. What price are Europeans in particular willing to pay for partnership with China what price would the transatlantic relationship pay for it?  What of the West itself? During the final tumultuous months of the Trump administration some Europeans even seemed to be playing with the prospect of diminished Atlanticism with calls for European ‘strategic autonomy’ one moment offering to strengthen the transatlantic community, the next moment threatening to replace it. Implicit in all these debates was the search for a renewed sense of strategic purpose. This raised another question: will Germany ever be able to lead Europe?

2020 was also a year of expansion for the TAG and I had the honour to welcome to our fold Professor Yves Boyer (France), General (Retd) Sir James Everard (United Kingdom), Admiral (Retd) Giampaolo di Paola (Italy), Professor Zaneta Ozolina (Latvia), General (Retd) the Lord Richards of Hurstmonceux (United Kingdom), Professor Ste Rynning (Denmark), Paul Schulte (United Kingdom) and Colin Robertson (Canada) and Ambassador Alexander Vershbow (United States). It is great to have you all on board.

Swans and elephants

During one of our virtual ZOOM conferences one TAGGER suggested that, “The real threat to NATO and its cohesion are Black Elephants; risks that are widely acknowledged and familiar (the ‘elephant in the room’) - but ignored. When the elephant can no longer be ignored it is passed off as an unpredictable surprise (a ‘black swan’) by those who were slow to address it. NATO’s biggest Black Elephant is the reluctance of its member countries to spend on defence.”  I agree.  Black Elephants are indeed a major risk to the Euro-Atlantic community and the wider security and defence of Europe. However, it is black swans which could prove the most deadly.   

Judy Dempsey in her TAG blog “Multilateralism Buckles under Corona” spelt out the consequences of both elephants and swans. The post-1945 order was in bad shape, she said, even before the Coronavirus swept across the globe. “In the midst of the pandemic, it is barely surviving with few prospects of being revived”.  Holger Mey in his TAG blog “Dealing with Risks” offered an insight as to why. Those who were surprised by the outbreak and world-wide spread of COVID-19, Holger suggested, had either no understanding of biology or history or both.  Everything that happened was foreseeable and foreseen as well as predictable and, indeed, had been predicted. In April, another TAG v-Conference went further. “COVID-19 should have been predicted. The response to it will dominate the political and strategic agenda on both sides of Atlantic for the foreseeable future”.

It was striking the extent to which TAGGERS also believed that the pandemic has accelerated strategic trends already in play.  The TAG believes not only that strategic competition with China will increase in 2021 but that distracted Western policymakers will remain too reactive and too slow to respond. The Group was scathing in its assessment: “The West has naively connived in its own vulnerability and must now seek a more balanced relationship with China”. The sense was that lazy assumptions about the benefits of globalisation far from promoting mutually beneficial interdependence could lead to a distinctly unhealthy form of dependence on Xi’s Middle Kingdom. And, whilst “Globalisation will not end but rather slow down a process of re-regionalisation is also likely to ensue”. The TAG also called for “a full and dispassionate assessment of COVID-19 crisis management”. This is because the response and responsiveness of the machinery of government on both sides of the Atlantic appeared at times to be confused and sluggish.  Moreover, far from being a crisis of globalism, COVID 19 could well prove to be the first global crisis of twenty-first century nationalism”. Only a properly considered “functionalist response will counter nationalism”.

Strategy, action and leadership

The TAG also considered the crisis of leadership. Events in Washington in early January revealed the dangers to complex democracies of irresponsible leadership. The problem in Europe leans more towards the risks of irresolute leadership. In many respects Germany epitomises and exemplifies the difficulties Europeans have not only in dealing with and confronting risk and establishing and implementing the necessary strategies for prevention and effective response and management. These dilemmas beg a further and seemingly interminable European question the answer to which the wider world is unlikely to await: who leads?

Anna Wieslander of the Atlantic Council in Stockholm suggested Germany should lead the way towards a truly European Pillar in NATO. Anna called the “European pillar” an old idea whose time has come. Indeed, rather than pursue yet more confusing debates on “strategic autonomy”, a “European Army” and/or an eventual “European Defense Union”, all of which not only make little sense to many but positively repel others (post-Brexit Britain?), the 21 states that are both members of NATO and the EU should focus on defining, developing and strengthening the European pillar of NATO. Is Sweden finally abandoning non-alignment? It should. It is not.  Why Germany? “The responsibility falls on Germany, who is well suited as the traditional unifier in the EU and with a defense which is mostly integrated into NATO”. If only Germans shared Anna’s vision and confidence.

German TAGGER Alexandra Schwarzkopf by and large agreed with Anna but had no illusions about the domestic political challenges any strengthened German leadership role would need to overcome. In her TAG blog “Making Security a “Kitchen Table Topic” in Germany” Alex was clear: “Seventy-five years after the end of World War Two, Germany is a major economic and democratic power. I think it is time for us to assume more responsibility worldwide.  And especially given our past, we should vigorously contribute to the defense of our allies and the democratic world order to which post-War Germany owes so much”. However, “To do this we need a societal debate – a kind of citizens’ forums - about German foreign and security policy as part of a broader debate about its strategic role in the world of the 21st century. The most populous and biggest economic power in the EU cannot be a bigger version of Switzerland. Germany’s “strategic beauty sleep” must end”. Most TAGGERS would echo such sentiment but I am reminded of a piece I published many years ago in The International Herald Tribune in which I suggested that for many years Germany’s friends and allies had used World War Two to impose modesty on Berlin, too often Berlin now uses World War Two to imposed excessive modesty on itself. Europe and the wider transatlantic relationship needs modern, democratic, decent Germany to lead alongside a United States that needs more capable allies more urgently by the day.  Let me be clear: neither Europe nor Germany can any longer pretend to be elephants or swans. This world does not permit bystanders to history as this coming decade will make all too clear.  

Risk, change and strategy

The effective management of risk pre-supposes not only a firm grip of such risk and the policy priorities which flow thereafter, but sufficient public support for the costs and constraints that flow thereafter. Public diplomacy and strategic communications (they are not the same things) but the reputation of democratic government for competence is being sorely tested by the use of fake news. Canadian TAGGER Colin Robertson highlighted the extent to which black swans and black elephants feed on fake news (flying elephants?) to sow confusion and discord. Colin was clear: “Disinformation is a clear and present danger to liberty and representative government. Technology, especially artificial intelligence, have amplified its threat.  The liberal democracies need to get their acts together. This means investing in science, restoring civics to the curriculum, teaching critical thinking, relentlessly exposing and penalizing the sources of disinformation. Having failed the test of self-regulation, social media must be held accountable through government regulations and enforcement. Governments need to be more forthcoming with the public. Transparency is the best disinfectant for disinformation”.

Liberty, security, free speech and freedom. Just what is the balance between rights and responsibilities in the twenty-first century? Does ‘freedom’ mean the right to implicitly endanger others through irresponsibility? Who decides? Who or what is the new Leviathan and how much freedom must the individual surrender to avoid anarchy? What about the autocracies who foster such anarchy for their own ends in a world in which ‘warfare’ now seems a permanent feature across the mosaic of information and digital warfare in which neat ideas of identity and sovereignty seem increasingly quaint.  

Power, structure and crystal balls

Such profound change has, of course, equally profound consequences for order and structure. An enduring TAG theme throughout 2020 was the impact of such change on institutions and their respective members.  This was most apparent in the debate over the crises of ends, ways and means with which the EU, NATO and their respective nations are grappling.  It is a crisis that was evident in the two formal submissions of evidence the TAG was called upon to offer. 

The TAG submission to the NATO Reflection Group did not pull its punches about the need for a new NATO Strategic Concept and for Europeans to do far more for their own security and defence. As the submission stated: “NATO is ultimately a European institution for the benefit of Europeans. The NATO Reflection Group can do the Alliance a great service if, like Harmel, it confronts NATO’s hard realities. If not, it is simply another exercise in political self-deception in which political cohesion is given more importance than credible defence and deterrence.  The hardest of those realities is thus: for the transatlantic relationship to continue to function, and NATO with it, Europeans will need to do far more for their own defence, and become better able to support the Americans when they so choose.  Given the investments such an outcome will entail European leaders will also need to better protect and inform their people and make both them and the critical systems that support them far more resilient in the face of Russian coercion and terrorism”.

Such firmness and clarity over strategy was also apparent in the TAG submission to the UK Integrated Review. In spite of budgetary pressures from Brexit and COVID-19 Britain, the TAG stated, must maintain its highly-skilled, high-end armed forces and seek to reinforce the security and defence of Northern Europe, the Arctic and the Eastern Atlantic. The TAG called on IR 2020 to strike a better balance between cost and threat and afford a vision of Britain’s future role in Europe’s defence out to 2030. The reason for such a call was simple because in in the months preceding the December 2020 EU-UK trade deal the world’s fifth largest economy and defence spender appeared to steadily retreating from the defence of Europe. Thankfully, in November 2020 Prime Minister Johnson also announced a 10% increase in the British defence budget which added fuel to the TAG’s call for more innovative thinking about what sound security and defence should look like in 2021 and where best to invest. As the TAG stated, “The pooling of several departmental budgets could promote greater efficiency and effectiveness in pursuit of National Strategic Objectives, but only if the ends, ways and means crisis from which UK Armed Forces (UKAF) suffer is also addressed”.

TAGGER Paul Cornish took up the theme of strategy in his TAG blog, “Tanks for the Memory”. As Paul rightly said, “The fate of the MBT [main battle tank], and any other military capability, should be decided neither by quasi-historical projections, nor techno-fetishism, nor cost – but by strategy. Strategy is an attempt to engage with a future that is not merely uncertain, but fundamentally unknowable. But it must nevertheless be engaged with – decisions must be made in the present for the strategic posture of the future. It’s at this point that cash-conscious governments like to tell themselves (and the rest of us) that perhaps the future is less unknowable than is supposed, that they have the singular skill of peering into the future and finding, when they do, that the future is, uncannily, not too worrying and can, most conveniently, be managed on an even more limited budget or with some technological ‘fix’. Fine – but I’d prefer a MBT to a crystal ball any day”.

Resilience and the unintended unexpected

Naturally, one does not craft strategy in a vacuum and others make strategy too – that is the essence of strategic competition. Moreover, the consequences of such competition are not always linear as it generates both the intended and the unintended. The capacity to cope with the unintended and the unexpected is the sine qua non flip side of strategy. Indeed, strategy without resilience is simply oxymoronic, with the emphasis on moronic. 

Talking of the unexpected TAGGER Kate Hansen Bundt in her blog “Biden and the High North” highlighted the growing importance of China as an Arctic power. She called on President-elect Joe Biden and his team not to take their eye off the Arctic ball (should that not read ‘puck). China. Kate said, is not just challenging the US in the Deep South (of the world) and the Far East, but also in the High North.  She cited the increased threat posed by China’s icebreakers and Russia’s nuclear submarines in Norwegian waters, some seven times larger than Norway’s territory. Implicit in Kate’s warning was another tendency apparent in Europe’s response to geopolitics: the tendency towards denial, particularly for those smaller European powers which lack what some call a ‘strategic culture’.  For this reason Kate also reminded us all of the importance of multilateralism to small Nordic powers, such as her native Norway. To my mind, such multilateralism is the very DNA of Europe’s strategic culture. However, that begs a further question: why does the pooling of European sovereignty seemingly and routinely lose Europeans influence over events?  Deus ex Machina or the nature of the ‘Machina’ itself?

The unexpected also has geopolitical consequences. That was the essential message from a TAG debate on the geopolitical and defence-strategic implications of the 2020 war in Nagorno-Karabakh. In 2021 there would appear to be no small countries in faraway places about which we can afford to know nothing a la Neville. This brief but brutal European between Armenia and Azerbaijan war saw identity, religion, nationalism, geopolitics and military technology combine with Machtpolitik and Realpolitik. It also suggested a future in which the West no longer makes the rules whilst others routinely flout the ‘rules’ that so exist.  The war also challenged the hitherto neat policy and strategy prescriptions with which Western policymakers have become so comfortable. Wars amongst the people and wars between peoples suggest the escalation from one to the other could become far faster than expected, or indeed, intended.

The war should also remind Europeans if Crimea had not already that strategy is about far more than words on paper. It is about power, cause and effect. As such strategy calls for indicators that can properly warn us of threat, understanding of the nature of threat, and far quicker responsiveness, both political and military, to deal with threat. Above all, it demands the proportionate means of power and capability in sufficient capacity to enable the means and the ways to maintain the peace as a legitimate end, and if needs be restore it. Power means risk. That begs a further question of Europeans we enter 2021: can we compete if we are not also willing to take considered risk? 

The Chinese elephant and the American swan?

China was ever-present in TAG debates during 2020.  In many respects the fault-lines in the TAG over China reflect those within the wider West. Some TAGGERS believe the West should seek what one called “managed reciprocity via robust engagement with China”, whilst others were committed to active more containment and overt strategic competition.  I was not at all sure any of us have a clue what to do with China and its power.  TAGGERS, like so many others in the West, are simply unsure what to do about or with the Chinese elephant.  Can it be tamed or is it set to rampage through the china shop that is Europe (I like a good mixed metaphor)? Or will China simply buy the shop and the contents therein?

For that reason, renewed and reinvigorated American leadership will remain vital given that the “mother of all challenges” will remain geopolitics. TAGGERS hope that under President Biden the transatlantic relationship will become more predictable, more of a partnership again and thus better able to exert “shaping power” on the world beyond.  However, business as before in the transatlantic relationship is not an option for Americans, Canadians or Europeans.  Moreover, COVID-19 will continue to emphasise matters domestic with the available political bandwidth for foreign and security policy likely to be decidedly limited, not least in the US. And yes, whilst the Biden administration could well be more “decent” and better aligned with European values and the ideology of multilateralism than the quixotic Trump administration, Washington will still demand Europeans do far more for their own defence. It simply has no choice. China’s rise is stretching US forces and resources thin the world over and as events of late have simply confirmed America’s many internal divisions will be Washington’s main preoccupation. Therefore, like European mariners of old maybe it really is time for Europe to finally set a strategic course with a new Strategic Compass for a new strategic future. Just a word of warning: words do not float.

Talking of words, perhaps the final one should go to TAGGER Stan Sloan. In his TAG blog “(Some Worrying) Transatlantic Security Options” Stan suggested, or rather implied, an implicit choice was afoot between substantial continuity, positive radical change and negative radical change.  My bet is that all three will happen. Still, Stan reminded me of what was said of the French fashion designer Pierre Cardin, who died in 2020. Cardin, it was said, was always one step ahead of tomorrow. The danger is that Europe in particular is not one but two steps behind tomorrow. The task of The Alphen Group is thus to show how all of us can quicken our strategic pace. We will need to! The first step? As one TAGGER memorably put it, “The European pillow must become the European pillar”. Amen to that!

Julian Lindley-French,

TAG Chair,

January 2021