hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

EU and UK: A Fight to the Death?

 “A customs territory generally involves the removal of all internal tariffs, and a common approach to external trade partners. Regulatory regimes can vary within a customs territory but the removal of internal tariffs and associated barriers is generally considered to be fundamental to the nature of a customs territory. This fundamental reality is central to the way the Protocol needs to be implemented, given its clarity that Great Britain and Northern Ireland form one customs territory.”

 Article 4, Northern Ireland Protocol

Rump UK and the inner-British border

June 22nd, 2021. The tensions between the European Union and the United Kingdom over the Northern Ireland Protocol to the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement are not a legal dispute but a power struggle and should be seen as such. Failure to come to a working solution that would remove the inner-British border and further weaken ties within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland could lead to far more than a trade war between the EU and UK. The future of both the EU and the UK are at stake.

It is 2030.  Ireland is unified following the 2029 Border Poll, albeit facing serious disruption from a large and angry Unionist minority.  In 2028, Scotland also left what was left of the United Kingdom following a 2025 referendum which Whitehall botched, and is now mired in an economic and financial crisis as Edinburgh’s public finances collapse and is desperately pleading with Brussels to allow accelerated membership of the EU.  England and Wales are still together but angry, isolated and divided. Much of the blame for the destruction of Britain is aimed at an incompetent London that for far too long had too often spent too much time obsessed with the irrelevant, whilst too often failing to grip the fundamentals of power and change and how to manage them.  Few Britons properly understood the full implications of B Brexit until it impacted them and their families. However, blame is also aimed at Brussels for creating the conditions that led to the collapse of fragile post-Brexit Britain.  Fantasy?  Paranoia?  There are those in the European Commission who would be only too happy to see such an outcome. They fear that if Britain that makes a success of diverging from EU rules and regulations others will be tempted to take the same route and they will go to great lengths to prevent such secession.

Leaked figures from the British Government tell a stark story about the EU’s implementation of the Protocol. The EU is now imposing more than 500 checks each day on the transfer of goods between the mainland and Northern Island across the Irish Sea. Up to May 23rd, there were 41,807 documentary checks at the now imposed inner-British ‘border’, of which 36,702 were documentary checks whilst 2,831 physical inspections of goods also took place.  As of June 81,000 checks in 123 days have taken place averaging 650 each day.  As a result, trading patterns have been transformed.  British exports to Ireland are down 39 percent in 2021 whilst exports to Northern Ireland from the Republic have increased by 40 percent compared with the equivalent period in 2020, and are 54 percent above 2018 levels. Trade from Northern Ireland to the Republic is also 61 percent above 2020 levels and 111 percent above 2018 levels. 

In other words, the EU is carrying out more checks at the inner-British border than along the entirety of the rest of the EU’s external border for fear that goods crossing the Irish Sea might enter the Union and damage the integrity of the Single Market. The EU is thus demanding a far higher test for the ‘integrity’ of the Single Market along the inner-British border than anywhere else around the EU’s external border.  President Macron let slip the EU’s political ambitions implicit in such figures when he suggested last week that Northern Ireland was not really part of the UK.  What is also clear is that London has profoundly miscalculated the attitude the EU would adopt in the wake of Brexit.  The Northern Ireland Protocol was only ever going to work if both parties to the agreement interpreted it in much the same way as the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which brought peace to the north of Ireland – creatively and in a spirit of constructive co-operation. The European Commission has no such intention and seems intent on taking the hardest of hard lines over how it interprets the Protocol.  It is strategic coercion dressed up as EU legalism. The lack of an effective mechanism for the settling of disputes is now all too apparent.  .

A Struggle to the death?

Why? There are no more dangerous adversaries than two fragile powers because relatively small matters can threaten their very survival and rapidly lead to a zero sum game.  Unfortunately, the United Kingdom is not the only fragile polis coping with the consequences of Brexit.  As Europe begins to move out of the pandemic the economic and political damage done by COVID-19 will become apparent along with the coming struggle between the European Commission and several Member-States over the next phase of European integration.  After all, it was Jean Monnet who suggested Euro-federalists should never waste a good crisis.

That is the context for the just launched Conference on the Future of Europe. It is really a metaphor for how the EU might spend far more of other people’s money. Or, to put it more directly, the future Europe will have four interlocking elements none of which will prove politically comfortable: the transfer of far more of Germany’s budget surplus and the relative ‘wealth’ of the northern and western European taxpayer to the east and south of Europe without upsetting the German taxpayer too much; mutualisation of much of the incurred debt of most EU member-states so that all EU taxpayer’s become responsible; increased borrowing powers for the European Commission thereby giving it the powers (and appearance) of a state; and alignment of the fiscal policies of EU member-states to enable the Commission to better impose discipline on the spending plans of said EU member-states.  

All of the above takes place when both the EU and Britain are engaged in a series of power struggles both within and without that will ultimately decide the future of both. However, post-Brexit Britain is not the only country with which the Commission is engaged in a power struggle.  On June 8th, the European Commission launched legal proceedings against Germany over a decision by the latter’s highest court, the Constitutional Court that the Commission considers to “…fundamental violations of EU law”.  The German court’s ‘crime’ was to reject the decision by the EU Court of Justice that the October 2020 issuing by the Commission of 17 billion so-called European social bonds were legal.  In a direct challenge to the authority of the ECJ the German court stated that the Luxembourg court had acted “ultra vires,” and gone its competence.  Brussels fears that the German decision might encourage Poland and Hungary, both of which are battling Brussels over the relationship between EU and national law.  The Commission is pursuing the case even though the issue at hand, the issuing of Eurobonds which began week ago, has been settled. The Commission claims that the German judgement “…constitutes a serious precedent both for the future practice of the German constitutional court itself and for the supreme and constitutional courts and tribunals of other member states”.  In other words, and as Commission spokesman Christian Wigand stated, “This could threaten the integrity of [EU] law and could open the way to a ‘Europe a la carte’”.  In short, a power struggle.  In fact, if any precedent is being set it is the issuing of bonds by the European Commission which will ultimately have to be guaranteed by the European (i.e. German) taxpayer.

It is against the backdrop of the geopolitics of Europe that the struggle over the inner-Irish border is taking place and why the Commission’s fears Brexit could pose an existential threat to its vision of ‘Europe’.  Ideally, the Commission and its backers would like to use the Northern Ireland Protocol to force the whole of the UK into compliance with EU rules and regulations.  However, so-called ‘dynamic alignment’ would mean the British accepting EU rules without any influence over them.  No self-respecting sovereign state, let alone a major power, could accept such an imposition.   

There is no alternative?

The European Commission backed by President Macron also claim there is no alternative to the Protocol?  Really? If one goes back to December 2017 and the so-called ‘joint report’ between the EU and the UK the principle of consent was established. The Commission seems to have conveniently forgotten this by effectively invalidating the democratic legitimacy upon which the Protocol is meant to be based. Article 18 of the Protocol is designed to ensure the Protocol is aligned with the Good Friday Agreement. In 2024, the Northern Ireland Assembly will vote on whether to maintain the trade elements in the Protocol and thus keep the inner-British border. The Commission seems to be gambling that rejection of the Protocol would lead to such trade friction as to render Article 18 of the Protocol little more than a fig-leaf of political legitimacy for London.  Equally, if the Commission pushes things too far London can trigger Article 16 of the Protocol and unilaterally suspend part of it, although that will almost certainly trigger a trade war with the EU.  Brussels and London came close to that last week as end of the so-called grace period for the transition approached. However, London sought a three month extension which has merely postponed the coming reckoning.


The real tension is most revealed by the relationship between the Protocol and the Good Friday Agreement which both sides claim to be intent on upholding.  Central to the ‘GFA’ is the concept of full freedoms across both the inner Irish border AND the Irish Sea. It is because of his profound concerns about the impact of the Protocol on the Good Friday Agreement which led Lord Trimble to highlight the fact that there are now more inspections taking place at the inner-British border than in Rotterdam or the entirety of the EU's eastern external border.  In other words, under the GFA there can be no inner-British border.

Strategic implications

Last week at both the G7 and NATO summits a central theme emerged; the need for the democracies to stand together in the face of big world challenges from autocratic powers such as China and Russia.  This past weekend’s ‘elections’ in Iran show the scale of the coming challenge.  Central to any such effort will be unity of effort and purpose between the major democratic powers.  Indeed, such Free World unity was implicit in the New Atlantic Charter whilst the NATO Summit Communique showed the vital need for Britain, France and Germany to lead Europeans together towards a much higher level of defence-strategic ambition.  Such ambition will be vital if the Alliance’s growing deterrence crisis and the over-stretch of US forces is to be eased.  However, such a vision will never be realised if Europeans retreat into yet another introspective ‘war’ over who runs Europe. Worse, a ‘war’ in which the EU in effect seeks to dismember one of Europe’s Great Powers ‘pour encourager les autres’.   

At some point France, Germany and, yes, the US will have to decide how far they will permit the ideologues of the Commission to push a hard political line against Britain in the name of Euro-legalism.  To be fair to the British they have made proposals that would remove the inner-British border but Brussels, Berlin and Paris (for that is the trinity that matters) have shown little interest in making the necessary compromises. That begs a question. Is it really in the interests of France, Germany and the US, let alone NATO, to see the United Kingdom humiliated and even broken up? Those are the stakes and that is clearly what some in the Commission would like to engineer. France clearly wants to push Britain into a corner, primarily because President Macron wants to crush any lingering attraction ‘Frexit’ might have for the French.  France will sooner rather than later have to decide which is more important for the French interest: punishing Britain for Brexit or rebuilding the vital strategic defence relationship between Europe’s two power projection nuclear powers which currently lies in tatters. France cannot do or have both.

There were many reasons why I decided that on balance Brexit was a bad idea. First, it was bad geopolitics. In today’s world Europeans need to be looking out at the world together, not tearing each other apart from within.  Second, it was bad politics. The EU is too important to Britain for London to abandon any influence over its future direction.  Third, I feared that the UK had become too fragile, too divided and too poorly governed with too many competing poles of power to survive the inevitable consequences of Brexit.  Indeed, even though I harbour deep and profound concerns about the future of democracy in the face of the European Commission’s power legalism I campaigned against Brexit for fear of what could now happen.  Some might see the Northern Ireland Protocol as a legal technical treaty issue. It is a power struggle.  However, with good will on both sides pragmatic solutions could, indeed, can still be found to ease frictions at the inner-British border, such as the broad adoption of ‘trusted trader’ agreements.  In the absence of such good will, which is in precious short supply, there is every chance that the struggle over the Protocol will turn into something much more dangerous, a struggle to the death between the EU and UK. Let’s avoid that please.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

G7 and NATO: At the Crossroads of History

“This was a meeting which marks forever in the pages of history the taking up by the English-speaking nations, amid all this peril, tumult and confusion, of the guidance of the fortunes of the broad toiling masses in all the continents, and our loyal effort, without any clog of selfish interest, to lead them forward out of the miseries into which they have been plunged, back to broad high road of freedom and justice. This is the highest honour and the most glorious opportunity which could ever have come to any branch of the human race”.

Winston Spencer Churchill, August 24th, 1941

The New Atlantic Charter 

June 15th. On June 10th, against the stunning backdrop of Cornwall’s Carbis Bay, President Joe Biden of the United States and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom signed the New Atlantic Charter.  As the signing took place one of Britain’s new 70,000 ton heavy aircraft carriers, HMS Prince of Wales, could be seen sailing majestically offshore.  It was no coincidence. Eighty years ago in August 1941 Winston Churchill had arrived in Canada’s Placentia Bay on board another brand new symbol of the might of the Royal Navy, the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales. Churchill was there to meet US President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the midst of world war at a crossroads of history as the sun was setting on the imperial age and dawning on what would prove to be the brave new Atlantic world. 

 Like the New Atlantic Charter the 1941 Charter was a deliberately ambiguous call to arms.  The US was still four months away from entering World War Two.  However, Roosevelt still wanted the British to sign up to America’s soon-to-be war aims, whilst Churchill was desperate for American military equipment to stay in the fight against the Nazis. At the meeting both agreed the Axis powers had to be defeated and, at Roosevelt’s behest, a new world order be established thereafter based on the twin principles of self-determination and free trade.  The Atlantic world was born.  

In fact, Churchill and Roosevelt disagreed about pretty much everything else.  Churchill even believed he could interpret the Charter’s call for self-determination in such a way as to preserve the British Empire.  Roosevelt, rightly, was having none of it and viewed European empires as part of the problem. Roosevelt’s gross strategic miscalculation came later in the war when he thought her could co-opt Stalin’s Soviet Union into becoming a partner in his vision of a United Nations and a Free World.  The Americans also miscalculated the destabilising effect of the rapid de-colonisation they insisted upon which helped the spread of the very Communism the US so came to fear in the 1950s. 

Implicit in the New Atlantic Charter is another crossroads of history and, not without some irony, the end of the Atlantic age.   Yes, the Western democracies will still afford the world a cornerstone of democratic peace, but given the shifting correlation of forces (à la Lenin) they will no longer be able to do it exclusively, not even mighty America.  In effect, the New Atlantic Charter marks the beginning of a new Free World Charter, which is why it was signed in the margins of the G7.  A call to arms for democracies the world over to stand up to the new techno-absolutism of China and Russia and reinvest in the great institutions of multilateralism which eventually grew out of the Placentia Bay meeting. 


It was against that Grand Strategic backdrop that yesterday’s NATO Summit of Heads of State and Government took place.  This is the season of summits.  Last week the G7 graced Cornwall’s wonderful north coast, and tomorrow Biden will meet Putin in Geneva.  The latter event will have personal echoes for me.  In November 1985 Gorbachev and Reagan went for the famous ‘walk in the woods’.  I was working just around the corner. It would be tempting to suggest such meetings are merely the theatre of geopolitics, but with Great Power competition (or GPC as the US State Department now calls it) back in vogue these meetings matter. 

It is always a bit of an ego-massage for authors when reality follows ‘art’.  Much that was agreed at the summit can be found in the pages of my new book Future War and the Defence of Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press).  The Allies agreed to draft the ‘Next’ Strategic Concept by the June 2022 summit (just read the book!).  They also adopted the excellent NATO 2030 Agenda.  Crucially, NATO finally recognised that the Alliance must adopt a new defence and dialogue dual track approach to China. The rise of China as a military power of geopolitical weight is forcing the Americans to further stretch their already over-extended forces.  Any such factor that weakens US forces also weakens NATO and the American security guarantee to Europe. Indeed, anyone who suggests China has nothing to do with NATO is, to use a phrase, brain dead.

The theme of a new dual track ran throughout the summit. On the dialogue side of the NATO ledger there were calls for a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia.  On the defence side a new NATO Innovation Fund is to be set up and something curiously called the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic or DIANA (must be a British thing).  There was also agreement to extend capacity-building support for Partners and some waffle about climate change and reducing further the carbon emissions of Europe’s already very small armed forces (Bonsai climate change?)

NATO 2030: the real test

For me the centre-piece of the summit was the adoption of the NATO 2030 agenda and the agreement to draft of the Next Strategic Concept for the Alliance.  Both matter, or at least they should matter, because this time all of NATO’s nations need to actually mean what they sign up to.  It is getting too dangerous for the usual NATO summit declaration bromide because the next decade will be tumultuous and dangerous and if peace is to be assured NATO deterrence must be reinforced if it is to work in all cases including the worst-case.  The worst power Great Power case for NATO over the next decade is an engineered high-end emergency that takes place simultaneously in the Indo-Pacific, Middle East and Mediterranean, the Arctic and Europe and which stretches US forces thin the world over. 

In such a scenario credible deterrence would rest on the three major European powers leading a NATO European pillar able to act as high-end first responders.  In other words, NATO 2030 and the forthcoming Strategic Concept will only be truly credible as foundations of the Alliance’s core deterrent mission if they also commit NATO Europeans to the creation of a high end European Future Force able to act across the multi-domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge.  A robust and fast European force will become even more important as emerging and disruptive technologies enter the battlespace and 5D warfare is employed against Europeans across the spectrum of disinformation, deception, destabilisation, disruption and implied or actual destruction.  Indeed, artificial intelligence, super/quantum computing, big data, machine learning, drone swarming, hypersonic weapon systems are the future of ultra-fast warfare and must thus also be the future of NATO deterrence.

Today, the very idea of NATO deterrence must be expanded to create a new form of escalation dominance from hybrid war to cyber war to ultra-fast hyper war demonstrating to all and any adversary that any incursion onto Alliance soil would simply not be worth the risk. Credible deterrence is always built around a relatively strong conventional military force. Therefore, what should ideally emerge from today’s NATO Summit would be an Allied Command Europe Heavy High-end Mobile Force that could quickly to deter aggression AND support national forces in front-line states.  At the very least, it is vital that NATO with the big three Europeans to the fore re-conceptualise Alliance deterrence and the far greater role Europeans will need to play therein.  The sad reality is that they will not for all the strategically myopic and illiterate reasons discussed above.

NATO’s Black Elephants and Swans

So, everyone is happy? No. There were, as ever, a herd of Black Elephants and a flock of Black Swans at the summit.  As my friend Professor Paul Cornish has said, “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.”  The elephants and swans come in the shape of the three most powerful European states Britain, France and Germany (you can decide who is a swan and who is an elephant).

These three very significant powers are the core of NATO’s European pillar and yet the relationship between them is toxic as the strategic implications of Brexit play out.  Indeed, anyone who believes the implications of Brexit for NATO are limited should think again. The tensions are now so great that the credibility of NATO deterrence and defence is now at risk.

Credible deterrence rests upon sending an adversary a clear and believable message that any use of force will incur unacceptable costs.  NATO deterrence has always rested on three pillars: a sufficiency of relative military capability (usually American); a demonstrable strategic commitment to bear the risks and costs of deterrence; and tight European political cohesion during crises.   Unfortunately, the China-imposed global over-stretch of US forces has revealed the crisis at the heart of NATO deterrence caused by the dissonance that exists between the three major European powers and their commitment to afford deterrence to other, smaller NATO allies at the geographical margins of the Alliance.

Such strategic dissonance is not entirely due to Brexit.  It is partly due to sheer selfishness because none of them are really threatened by Russia or, for the time-being, China, and they know it. Britain is significantly increasing its defence budget but much of the new money will be on new things, such as cyber. London is also grappling with a host of post-Brexit domestic issues and has become overly bureaucratic, risk-averse and fragile. France is also struggling with a host of domestic issues. Macro-Gaullist Paris is also unable to give up on the Gaullist fantasy that the EU can do ever more on defence. The EU and PESCO have a hugely important role to play at the heart of a meaningful EU-NATO Strategic Partnership but the Union will never replace the Alliance.  Paris will deny such ambitions but deep down they are still there.  

Paris is also adopting an extreme hard-line interpretation of the Northern Ireland Protocol to inflict real damage on the sovereign integrity of the only other truly strategic power democracy in Europe - Britain. Macron’s offensive statements on the position of Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom represents wholly unacceptable interference in the affairs of an Allied country.  It is also utter hypocrisy and irresponsibility because Macron would never accept that Corsica is similarly semi-detached from France.  Consequently, I have now abandoned my life-long francophilia. France is no longer my friend.  As for Nordstream Germany it seems more interested in developing mercantilist relationships with China than Russia than sharing the burdens and risks of deterring them that its size and weight in Europe and the Alliance demand of it.  Berlin is abjectly failing to properly prepare the Bundeswehr for its vital future role as the core land deterrent in Europe.  And then there is COVID and the additional debt all Europeans must soon confront. 

Hubris and history

Perhaps the most important event is one I have not yet mentioned. Yesterday, I addressed the Brussels Forum that took place in parallel with the NATO Summit. I did not pull my punches. First, NATO is far more in the business of deterrence than in the business of defence.  Second, given the nature of twenty-first Great Power competition North Americans and Europeans will need NATO and each other more not less. Third, Europeans are going to have to do far more for their security and defence if the Americans are to continue to afford their post-war guarantee.  Fourth, if today’s NATO really has to defend in a high end emergency some of our fellow Europeans will be in the deepest of trouble. In other words, the greatest danger NATO faces is hubris.

On December 10th, 1941, four months after Churchill and Roosevelt had met in Placentia Bay, HMS Prince of Wales was sunk by Japanese aircraft off the coast of what was then British Malaya.  The decision to send her and the ageing battlecruiser HMS Repulse to those far-off waters without any air cover was an act of profound hubris caused by the profound gap that existed at the time between Britain’s ambitions and her capabilities for which some eight hundred and forty Royal Navy sailors paid with their lives.  

The New Atlantic Charter, the G7, yesterday’s NATO summit and tomorrow’s Biden-Putin meeting in Geneva are important moment precisely because they signify another crossroads in history.  For a changing West it must not become another lesson in hubris.  Indeed, all those who attended the G7 and NATO summits should reflect on perhaps the most important lesson of history: hubris is the father of catastrophe and catastrophe is timeless.

Defence is about doing.

Julian Lindley-French

Sunday, 6 June 2021

NATO, Military Mobility and the Dark Defence Web

 NATO, Military Mobility and the Dark Defence Web


Ben Hodges and Julian Lindley-French

D-Day, June 6, 2021

   “We have to be ready for the hardest game”.

Admiral Robert Burke USN, Commander, Allied Joint Force Command, Naples

NATO Exercise Steadfast Defender 2021

The only true test of a major military exercise is if it properly prepares those engaged for a dangerous reality they may one day have to face.  Too often, such exercises are like Hollywood disaster movies.  When all seems lost there is suddenly a miraculous event.  The reality is that people and institutions only really learn from failure.  That is the essential message of two major pieces of work that we have just published.  Co-written with Gen (Ret.) John R. Allen our new book Future War and the Defence of Europe (Oxford: Oxford University Press) examines how Europe can be defended in a battlespace being transformed by new technologies.  Co-written with Lieutenant-General Heinrich Brauss a major report entitled Military Mobility: Moving Mountains for Europe’s Defence (Washington: CEPA)  examines how forces and resources could be better moved to bolster both deterrence and defence.

NATO Exercise Steadfast Defender 2021 is designed to test Alliance collective defence against the backdrop of an Article 5 contingency. Involving over 9000 troops from 20 nations, 18 ships, a submarines and some 50 aircraft the exercise not only stretches across the entirety of the Euro-Atlantic Area from North America to Romania it also spans the spectrum of hybrid war, cyber war and what is fast becoming the future of warfare, ultra-fast hyperwar. At its conceptual core is the urgent need to improve the interoperability and survivability of Allied forces in the most testing of environments, as well as their readiness.  NATO Exercise Steadfast Defender 2021 is also testing many of the assumptions that both the book and the report challenge. Steadfast Defender began on May 12th and will continue until June 22nd

NATO and the Dark Defence Web

General Sir Patrick Sanders, Commander of Britain’s Strategic Command has highlighted the urgent need for more ‘cyber warriors’.  As part of Steadfast Defender Britain’s new Carrier Strike Group under the command of HMS Queen Elizabeth, one of Britain’s two new 70,000 ton heavy aircraft carriers, will turn off all electronic systems, including mobile phones to simulate the loss of satellites, to counter cyber-attacks. However, such measures are hardly the advanced counter-measures and force protection allied forces will need.  Future War and the Defence of Europe opens with a scenario in which on the brink of a major emergency a deployed NATO maritime task force also under the command of HMS Queen Elizabeth suffers just such an attack. This leads to a host of critical poorly protected command systems crashing leaving the task force effectively defenceless.  Moments later two Russian hypersonic anti-ship missiles crash into Big Lizzie sending her and her crew of 1500 to the sea bed. 

In any future war such a deployed NATO force will need both defensive and offensive cyber capabilities as part a deep, integrated defence.  This is because China and Russia are daily engaged on the emerging dark defence web to identify defence vulnerabilities and ruthlessly exploit them.  Credible future defence will rest on a host of interactions between societal resilience, increasingly ‘robotic’ conventional military forces, cyber capabilities and the nuclear deterrent.  Given the entry of artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data and soon-to-be quantum computing in the command chain it is vital the system is future proofed against such emerging and disruptive attacks.

Military mobility and the Black Sea

Endex will take place with a simulated attack by Russia on Romania.  Some of the planning seems to presume the entry of a large NATO maritime-amphibious force into the Black Sea.  However, permission for Allied ships to transit the Dardanelles will depend on Turkey which is not only an important NATO ally, but a pivotal player in the entire Black Sea Region but far beyond. In 1915, Britain and France found to their great cost what happens when they tried and failed to force the Dardanelles. Moreover, as the recent crisis on Ukraine’s borders attests Russia has placed a lot of military capabilities in its southern military district, including advanced anti-air and anti-ship capabilities.

Credible Allied defence of Romania and much of the Black Sea Region will depend on the ability to move forces and resources quickly across infrastructures that as yet do not exist.  This is a weakness that one of the co-authors of this piece rather painfully discovered as Commander of US Army, Europe.  Nor is the challenge merely one posed by out-dated or incapable infrastructure.  The CEPA report on military mobility in Europe is clear: “Romania is in need of major improvements to its air, road, river and rail infrastructure. Romania’s road infrastructure is not at all suitable at present for large deployments of forces due to narrow roads, weak bridges that would be unable to support large and heavy vehicles, and narrow tunnels.  There are also several river crossings in Romania where bridges cannot support armour (the Focșani and Galați bridges being the exception). Romania does have airfields which could be used by large aircraft to transport a spearhead force, such as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF).  The Danube River is a major thoroughfare, but needs more ports of entry to be constructed and infrastructure improved along the length of the river from Germany to the Black Sea. If the River Danube is to be exploited as a corridor for mobility ferries on the Danube could provide a logistical reserve capability and should be developed by both Romania and Bulgaria. The Romanian rail system would be unable to transport a huge tonnage of equipment via rail, but could transport some military equipment at a relatively high speed”.

NATO’s Future Integrated Defence

NATO will soon embark on the drafting of a new Strategic Concept – the what, why where, when, how and with what of the Alliance. At its heart there will need to be a truly integrated defence across the broad spectrum from sensors to shooters.  To be credible such a system will need to be digital resilient and able to identify and respond to a host of attacks. Emerging and disruptive technologies are fast changing both the character and nature of warfare across the multi-domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space information and knowledge in which all vulnerabilities are ruthlessly exposed and attacked.  ‘Defence’ itself will need to counter disinformation, deception, destabilisation, systemic disruption and coercion through implied or actual destruction. 

Future War and the Defence of Europe ends with a second 2029 scenario is which a deployed NATO task force is attacked but has been armed, equipped and worked-up to be able not just to respond but counter any such threat.  The attack takes place against the backdrop of a Europe replete with sufficiently robust civilian and military systems, structures and infrastructures to deny an enemy the spoils of illegal war at anything like an acceptable cost because of decisions taken now and which were enshrined in the December 2021 Strategic Concept.  

Therefore, the true test of exercises like Steadfast Defender 2021 will be whether or not the Alliance is really prepared for the kind of warfare it will soon face.  In that light, Steadfast Defender is a good start, but only a start of what must necessarily be not just the adaptation of Alliance defence and deterrence by 2030 at the very latest, but its wholesale transformation.  In other words, NATO must be hard enough to engage in what is already a hard game that will become ever harder.

Ben Hodges and Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 2 June 2021


June 2nd, 2021.  Today, I did something which every pet owner dreads. I decided to put my beloved cat, Benji, to sleep.  The decision came suddenly. Last week I had thought Benji to be a healthy and happy cat.  He had to go into the vet for some minor dental treatment but he would be out the same day and fully recovered within twenty-four hours, we were told. It was not to be.  After a week of unexpected suffering and Herculean efforts by my wife to find a cure this afternoon it was discovered that Benji suffered from an incurable illness.  It would not kill him overnight but would in the end take his life after a painful decline. Benji was always my cat, my little lad, with whom I had developed an incredible bond since we rescued him from a cat sanctuary several years to go. As a young cat he had spent a winter on Dutch streets and survived.  He was smart, tough and incredibly loving and to me he was very,very special.  Indeed, I would go as far as to say he was one of the loves of my life.  I had always said I would be with him when he died but I had hoped it would be several years hence. Today, I held his head and stroked him as he went and as he slipped into death he gave me one last affectionate head butt. Rest in peace, my little lad. Will will miss you, but you will always be in our broken hearts. Your loving dad, Julian 

Monday, 24 May 2021

HMS Hood


 “…the danger persists that Europeans are moving inexorably towards a lowest common denominator European force, an analogue ‘European Army’ in a digital age which simply bolts together a lot of European legacy forces”.

Future War and the Defence of Europe

John R. Allen, Ben Hodges and Julian Lindley-French

(Oxford: Oxford University Press)


0559 hours, Denmark Strait time, May 24, 2021

Eighty years ago to the minute in the Denmark Strait between Iceland and Greenland, a fifteen inch (38cm) armour-piercing naval shell from the German fast battleship KM Bismarck crashed into the starboard side of the British battlecruiser HMS Hood between the main mast and one of her aft main gun turrets.  The shell penetrated deep into the innards of Hood, pierced the armoured deck and then exploded in one of the shell rooms for the ship’s 4 inch guns, right next to where the shells for two of the Hood’s own main 15 inch batteries were secured. As Bismarck’s shell exploded the stored and ‘ready’ British shells joined together in an almighty chorus of cataclysmic death that sent a cathedral spire of flame towering over the doomed ship. As Hood exploded X turret, one of her two main aft gun batteries which weighed some 2500 tons, was seen soaring into the sky above the ship almost completely intact. Immediately, the entire forward section of the ship began to rear up as the Hood broke first into two sections, and then three, as the forward main magazines also ignited.  Within three minutes of the initial explosion Hood had vanished below the surface of the frigid North Atlantic taking 1415 men down with her.  Only three survived, Able Seaman Ted Briggs, Able Seaman Bill Dundas and Able Seaman Bob Tillmann.

Under the command of Captain R. Kerr CBE, and displacing some 47,000 tons, The Mighty Hood was the very symbol of British naval might during the interbellum. HMS Hood was joined in the action by the brand new, but effectively still incomplete battleship HMS Prince of Wales under the command of Captain J.C. (Jack) Leach DSO, MVO which was forced to undertake a drastic evasive manoeuvre to avoid hitting the rearing, burning, tortured wreck of the sinking Hood in front of him. Bismarck also struck Prince of Wales seven times during the action and Captain Leach was forced to make smoke to mask her range correctly broke off the action even though it afforded the Germans what appeared at first to be a major naval victory.  However, HMS Prince of Wales had also scored three hits on the Bismarck, one of which was in the forward oil bunker of the German ship and which would in time prove fatal.

Some years ago film was unearthed.  It is a unique record of the battle and includes the moment HMS Hood exploded.  It was shot by a brave German officer on board the heavy-cruiser KM Prinz Eugen which was escorting the Bismarck. There is an enormous flash on the horizon as HMS Hood blows up suggesting that the explosion or explosions which blew the Hood apart may have had the force of a low yield atomic weapon. In July 2001 David Mearns and his team at Blue Water Recoveries discovered the wreck of HMS Hood lying in the silt plains of the Irminger Basin some 270 miles/400km west southwest of Reykjavik at a depth of 1497 fathoms or 3000 metres. She rests in three sections with the bow on its port side some distance ahead of an upside down amidships section, whilst what remains of the stern rests a further distance away from the rest of the debris field. Astonishingly, some 300 feet (or 100 metres) of the hull appears to have simply disintegrated, testament to the force of the explosions that destroyed her.  

HMS Hood was soon avenged. Crucially, the salvo from HMS Prince of Wales that had struck Bismarck led to the loss a lot of fuel oil and she had also been flooded with over 2000 tons of sea water. Indeed, towards the end of the Prinz Eugen film it is clear that the German battleship is down by the head.  She was also listing 9 degrees to port. The damage was such that the German fleet commander, Admiral Gunther Lutjens, was forced to abandon her planned commerce-raiding mission (Operation Rheinubung) and seek refuge in Brest on the French coast. Three days later, at 0800 hours on the morning of May 27th, 1941 the Hood’s assailant capsized and sank taking with her 1995 of her 2200 strong crew. During an exercise in British sea power the Bismarck had been remorselessly hunted down by the Royal Navy, crippled by British carrier-based aircraft from HMS Ark Royal, and in what rapidly became a massacre effectively destroyed by the heavy battleships HMS King George V and HMS Rodney under the command of Admiral J.C. Tovey, Commander-in-Chief Home Fleet.  The coup de grace was delivered by three torpedoes from the heavy-cruiser HMS Dorsetshire, although German accounts claim Bismarck was also scuttled. The shattered wreck of the Bismarck now lies at a depth of 2619 fathoms or 4790 metres some 470 nautical miles west of Brest.


The British fleet commander was Vice-Admiral Lancelot Holland CB and controversy remains to this day about the tactics he adopted during the action. The intercept course plotted by Holland enabled the two German ships to engage both the Hood and Prince of Wales with their full armament, whilst the British ships could only engage with their forward main armament during the early stages of the action. However, the Royal Navy’s battle orders of the time recommended such an approach to reduce the profile of ships to the enemy, albeit at high speed.  Vice-Admiral Holland would also have been acutely aware of the vulnerability of HMS Hood to Bismarck’s plunging fire.  HMS Hood was a battlecruiser not a battleship, a flawed concept from the Edwardian age that sacrificed armour for speed in the mistaken belief the latter would protect her when under fire from ‘heavy’ opponents.  At the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 HMS Queen Mary, HMS Indefatigable, and the unfortunately named HMS Invincible, three forebears of HMS Hood, all exploded in very similar circumstances with great loss of life. Indeed, the then commander of the British Battlecruiser Fleet, Admiral D.R. Beatty GCB, OM, GCVO, DSO, PC famously remarked during the battle that, “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today”. There was, a failure of concept.

Holland was clearly trying to following battle orders and had already ordered by Hood and Prince of Wales to accelerate to flank speed or 28 knots, which explains why the wreck’s debris field extends over some 2 miles or 3 kilometres.  However, Hood did not approach Bismarck and Prinz Eugen head on but on a converging course, which enabled the Germans to target the entire length of Hood from the start of the action. Holland had also begun to turn to port in an attempt to bring Hood’s aft main turrets into action, which at that speed should have taken no more than 30 seconds.  As a ghostly reminder of those terrible events eighty years ago today the large single rudder on Hood’s wrecked upturned stern, which also reveals her vintage, is indeed locked in a 20 degree turn to port. Mistakes also seem to have been made on board Hood in identifying the main target as Holland’s flagship first engaged the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen leaving Bismarck to open fire unmolested until Prince of Wales got her range, although the Germans similarly failed to engage Leach’s ship for part of the action. A review of the Prinz Eugen film on YouTube also shows some British shells falling far from their target with little or no grouping of the shells as they splash harmlessly into the sea, whilst German gunnery was excellent throughout the action.  

However, perhaps the greatest error made is germane to my new Oxford book Future War and the Defence of Europe co-written with my friends and colleagues General (Ret.) John R. Allen and Lieutenant-General (Ret.) Ben Hodges. HMS Hood was known as ‘good, old Hood’ in the Royal Navy and by much of the country. Her image almost gave her a political allure.  Unfortunately, whilst the British tended to remember the ‘good’ they also tended to forget the ‘old’.  Launched in August 1918 at the end of World War One, by the spring of 1941 Hood was in reality no match for the Bismarck. There had been plans in the 1930s to completely refit her as a fast battleship, but due to funding constraints in 1937 such ‘modernisation’ had been only partially completed. In other words, Hood’s destruction was sorry testament to what happens when poor concept and ageing technology is over-reached by strategy, budget constraints and hubris. It is not without some tragic irony that part of the funding that had been earmarked for the modernisation of HMS Hood was diverted to complete the then new ‘KGV’ class of five battleships, one of which was HMS Prince of Wales, and the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal.  


So, why was an ageing battlecruiser and an as yet not fully worked-up battleship sent to tackle a state-of-the-art German battleship? The short answer is that the Royal Navy’s Home Fleet had nothing else of note to send.  By May 1941 Churchill had become extremely worried about the menace posed by German U-boats to war-sustaining Atlantic convoys.  Even though at the time the Royal Navy was still the world’s largest naval force it was spread thin across several theatres. For Churchill, the fate of the war hung in the balance and the thought of the Bismarck breaking out into the Atlantic and wreaking havoc on the convoys was a terrifying prospect.  Perhaps the ultimate irony is that for all the cataclysmic pathos of the Battle of Denmark Strait on the morning of May 24th, 1941, HMS Hood and HMS Prince of Wales actually succeeded in their primary mission of blocking the KM Bismarck from entering the wider Atlantic.  

Why does the tragedy of HMS Hood remain relevant?  It is because her fate was sealed not simply by the guns of the Bismarck, but by peacetime defence policy which had failed to sufficiently align strategy, technology and capability with changing reality.  In May 1941, the Bismarck was an ultra-modern battleship which combined speed, armour and firepower. Moreover, Bismarck’s own fate is equally relevant - technology, however good, cannot ever atone for bad strategy

Future War and the Defence of Europe

Today, General (Ret.) John R. Allen, Lieut. Gen. (Ret.) Ben Hodges and I will take part in the first Washington launch event of our new Oxford book Future War and the Defence of Europe hosted by the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).  If you wish to attend (and you are most welcome) you can register via  Relevance?  Without prudent defence policy in Europe there is no reason to believe something like the loss of Hood could not one day happen again.

As the forward section of HMS Hood slid beneath the waves with the bow pointing almost vertically into the air ‘A’ and ‘B’ turrets, her two forward most batteries, barked out a last angry salvo. It may well have been that the guns were loaded and the firing circuits closed as the ship sank. It was also quite possibly the last defiant act of a brave but doomed sailor or Royal Marine on board a dying ship. In August 2015, HMS Hood’s ship’s bell was raised from the devastated wreck almost exactly above where the main aft magazine had exploded on that terrible day back in 1941.  It now sits proudly in the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, close to the berth of a new HMS Prince of Wales, a 70,000 ton aircraft carrier. 

The 1941 HMS Prince of Wales? Her fate is also germane to the new book. She was sunk by Japanese air power three days after Pearl Harbor together with another ageing battlecruiser, HMS Repulse, on December 10th, 1941 off the coast of modern day Malaysia. Force Z lacked air cover because their accompanying aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable had previously run aground on her maiden voyage. Worse, poor co-ordination between Force Z and the Royal Air Force stationed in what was then British Malaya meant the force was insufficiently ‘joint’.  The lack of vital air cover can also be attributed to closed minds on the part of some senior RN officers about the threat posed to capital ships by aircraft and rapidly improving torpedo technology. 

Between May 24th and May 27th, 1941 some 3400 Europeans were killed-in-action at sea.  My grandfather narrowly escaped the ghastly fate of being trapped in a sinking warship, and my great-uncle succumbed to it.  Therefore, this heartfelt article is in tribute to all those who gave their lives on board HMS Hood and KM Bismarck, British and German alike.  Once enemies, forever friends.

Requiescat in Pace. Rest in peace. Ruhet in Frieden. Venter Secundis. 

Julian Lindley-French


Wednesday, 19 May 2021

CEPA Washington Book Launch of Future War and the Defence of Europe May 24th, 2021

Dear Friend and Colleague, 

I have the pleasure to invite you to the first Washington launch of my latest book "Future War and the Defence of Europe" (Oxford: Oxford University Press) co-written with General (Ret.) John R. Allen and Lieut. Gen (Ret.) Ben Hodges. The event will be hosted by the Center for European Policy Analysis and will take place at 1100 Eastern Daylight Time in the US, 1700 hours BST in the UK and 1800 hours CET. 

You can register via the link below:

Monday, 17 May 2021

A Better Way?

 “When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains, And the women come out to cut up what remains, Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains, An' go to your Gawd like a soldier. Go, go, go like a soldier, Go, go, go like a soldier, Go, go, go like a soldier, Soldier of the Queen!”

The Young British Soldier

Rudyard Kipling

Soldier of the Queen 

May 17th, 2021. For many men and women who served on or near the ‘spear tip’ in Afghanistan or Iraq ‘strategy’ is a dirty word - a very long and often dysfunctional screwdriver that put them in harm’s way and for thousands proved fatal.  A screwdriver in the hands of a few leaders thousands of miles or kilometres from some lonely foxhole or isolated slit trench who had little real idea about the ends they ordered to be achieved, refused the means needed to realise such ends, or had no idea about the best ways to apply them.  Political leaders who too often simply willed success or mouthed ‘strategy’ that bore little relation to the real challenge on the ground, or the tactics that were needed to meet such a challenge.  Politicians for whom too often ‘strategy’ was in reality an extension of their own grubby political ends, leaving the Soldiers of the Queen or Presidents, Prime Ministers, Chancellors et al to sort out a mess of their own making.  If there are two over-arching lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq they are these: do not go to war with a peacetime mind-set; and do enter in a long war whilst trying to cut defence budgets.

 The price of such politics is a heavy one that every citizen should understand. Ghastly images of the death and suffering of comrades in arms that will be seared on the consciousness of Veterans for life. The transparent miasma that is the burning, glowing skin of the dying friend that will never be washed away from a Veteran’s soul.  An indelible, insidious, never-to-be washed away smell that is as much of fear as of flesh and once experienced can never be expunged from those sweat-induced moments during restless nights.  The 5G seared image of shot comrades as the mortal cold of death creeps across bodies watching them desperately fighting to stay awake before they fade into shock and then slide into death surrounded by their own life force bleeding out.  It is the sound of the post-battle which is rarely one of screaming, although there are those who scream, but rather the hum of those groaning under the weight of their injuries, their courage and their fear, as morphine patches reduce breathing, blood pressure and over time a last desperate hope. 

Even those who pass the life and death test of triage and are medevac’d out ‘just in time’ to some remote field hospital still leave parts of themselves in that desolate place, whilst that desolate place comes ‘home’ with them.  A home that can never quite be home again. A more-than-memory of the obscene and desolate beauty of a place far, far away about which they knew little of which they almost became eternally part.  A ‘beauty’ that can be triggered, strangely and perversely, by the sight of a bird, the sound of sheep or cattle, the rustling of crops in a field of wind, or the smell of grass.  Indeed, often such beauty is a constant companion in the midst of their own desolation and that place that travels with them and from which no traveller can ever really return.

Walking among the rest of us today are thousands of such people, our Veterans, who are here but not really here, part of us but yet separated from us by a valley as deep and wide as any in the Hindu Kush.  Veterans who suffered for a strategy designed on our behalf, about which few of us ever bothered to understand, and even fewer these days care.  Never has the gap between defender and defended been so wide in democracies, and never has the gulf between those who risk their lives on our behalf and the rest of us been so deep.  Some compensate by seeking the company of those who shared the experience.  Others, broken by it, retreat first into isolation and then hopelessness unable to live in the desolate place and the ‘home’ place at the same time. Some simply endure a lifetime of angry detachment from the silly slights and perceived injustices of civilian life.  Is this for what they fought and for what friends died?  Who are these people so familiar and yet so distant who whinge and wail?  For them, our Veterans, the greatest courage is in the forbearance to live with the impossible lightness of being others.

A failure of strategy? 

Make no mistake, historians will look back on the twenty years post 911 as a failure of strategy. If planning, as Moltke the Elder once said, fails upon contact with the enemy, strategy too often fails upon contact with politics.  In that light, the Biden administration’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan marks not just the end of the post-911 era, but also the true end of the post-Cold War era during which in theatres as far ranging as Bosnia to Afghanistan ‘strategy’ too often involved hard pressed commanders with relatively small forces and often inadequate resources too often trying to generate big change in distant complicated places at the behest of too often only partially interested political bosses.  Bosses who too often wanted to ‘win’ in places where winning and losing is meaningless. Bosses whose very idea of limiting cost was as much about their own political skins as those they ordered into such places. Bosses who too often talked in the soaring slogans of the grand macro about liberal humanitarianism and its ilk, whilst young men and women tried to make it happen in places where there is only ever a myriad of micro realities.  The grand political architects of Grand Strategy who could not properly explain what they really mean even to themselves and who all too easily retreated into false mantras and false metrics to explain progress where little or none was really apparent on the ground. 

Changing lives forever in ancient complicated places was to be achieved by new joined up, coalition warfare reinforced by whole of government efforts in which the civilian and the soldier would be forged into a ‘comprehensive approach’ that would see ancient Afghanistan and Iraq transformed into something if not irredeemably modern then no longer a threat to itself or others.  Instead, a ghastly ‘alliance’ emerged between the irredeemably pre-modern and the chaotically post-modern.  Sadly, the comprehensive approach was never quite comprehensive enough as diverse bits of foreign real estate were placed under the very different control of very different countries with very different levels of commitment and completely different ‘rules of engagement’. Shared risk is the very ethos of any coalition.  The risk was there, but it was never equally shared.  Even those ‘PRTs’ under the control of the major powers suffered from interminable turf battles between civilian and military agencies with many of the former back in national capitals proposing projects and investment that had little to do with campaign design in theatre and everything to do with domestic politics. And all of the above swathed in a never-ending and ever-changing tsunami of often meaningless acronyms.

Yes, those predicting disaster in Afghanistan might be premature, as Stefano Stefanini and I suggested in a piece last week.  Equally, whatever now takes place in Afghanistan and Iraq there can be no excuse for failing to properly understand why so many of the political objectives set for the respective campaigns went unrealised.  That would not only be delusion, but denial and deceit for the massive majority the blame (and it is blame) lies at the political level, with people too many of whom spend their life seeking reward without risk.  The military level?  Too often very able commanders were also forced by the constantly changing political landscape above them to become oven-ready politicians. Yes, mistakes were made, sometimes egregious mistakes, but from my experience the majority of commanders in the field were good people trying valiantly to find a way to close the gap between the ends, ways and means imposed upon them.  The armed forces will doubtless learn lessons with a view to becoming better at what they do, although whether they are the right lessons is open to question. 

The politicians? Ultimately the use of force is always for political ends and no commander, however brilliant, can succeed in a political vacuum in which the ends are willed without either the means or the ways.  In the wake of COVID 19 there is also the danger that the political class across much of an eternally and strategically lukewarm Europe will now lurch to the other extreme of strategic pretence by convincing themselves they will have the discretion to only fight ‘wars of choice’, and then choose not to fight any wars at all, be they of choice or no choice. The maintenance of democratic peace, like it or not, needs democracies with teeth.  Otherwise, the ‘free’ simply become prey for the predatory autocrats of the ‘unfree’.

The better way…

Make no mistake, the West, Europe in particular, is at a strategic tipping point between future peace and future war.  The consequence of the last twenty years is a profound crisis in Western policy precisely because of a failure of Western strategy, and yet it is now that future peace needs to be forged.  The temptation for many leaders will be to retreat into the abstract and the academic and talk endlessly about big but meaningless ambition, of ‘grand strategy’ and ‘strategic autonomy’.  No. If we, the democracies, are to collectively secure and defend ourselves in the face of all the threats we face then together we must have the courage to properly face up to what went wrong in those large faraway countries to which we sent our young men and women in uniform on our behalf and about which we should have known far more and far better.  The courage to undertake such a review can only come from the political top and for once it would be nice if it could also be politically honest.  No whitewash will suffice. 

The better way? 1. Choose carefully where and when we invest force and resource in pursuit of our collective national interest. 2. Have a clear understanding when designing a campaign between vital interests and desired values. 3. Do not pretend that any such venture will be cheap or quick or that we have all the answers at the outset. 4. Have the political imagination and structure that can adapt to change.  5. Create multinational and national civilian and military systems that are really joined up by building relationships across stakeholders before a crisis, not during it.  6. Create an information brokerage that can capture and fuse good intelligence and good ideas from all expert sources so that strategy and tactics are in a constant process of development. 7. Create a culture of ‘metrics’ which measures what needs to be measured and not what political leaders want to hear. 8. Do not use armed forces as a solution for the failure of others across the security-stabilisation-reconstruction-governance spectrum. 9. Own a campaign at the highest political level for its duration. 10. Treat citizens as adults and explain the costs of any such venture undertaken on their behalf. 11. Do not enter into such ventures with any form of hubris and recognise the limits of what is possible. 12. Do not embark on such ventures often and understand the risk of tying down a large amount of force and resource in one place for a very long time. 13. Unity of purpose and effort is critical.  14. Do not allow any nation to join a coalition if they are not prepared to share risk.  15. If none of the above, don’t bother.

Above all, have the political and bureaucratic courage and resilience to really learn the lessons of warfare in places like Afghanistan and Iraq and have the courage to implement them, even if that means listening to people who do not think or look like us. The greatest challenge of all will not only be our willingness to learn but to avoid that most ‘democratic’ of reactions and simply turn and walk away. For at this tipping point in world affairs, for that is where we have arrived, we the democracies face a crisis of both strategy and conscience.


At the going down of the sun…


You see, those young men and women who died often lonely deaths ‘out there’ did so for us all and no amount of indifference or ignorance can relieve any of us of that responsibility, which is why we should also at least try and understand.  Kipling’s young British soldier dies in Afghanistan because he was merely at the sharp end of a 9000 mile long imperial screwdriver. Then, now, and into the future, and whatever the war to end all wars, there will be always more ‘politics’ and endless talk of ‘strategy’. However, in the end the fight always comes down to a few good men and women placed in great danger on our behalf.  The rest of us owe them not only a profound debt of honour and gratitude but the courage to look squarely at our own failings and our failures so that we become better at what strategy for democracies should be all about – the preservation of a just and secure peace.

To finish, let me play fast and loose with Siegfried Sassoon. Good-morning; good-morning!’ the Politician said, When we met him last week on our way to the line. Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead, And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine. He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack, As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack. But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

So, do ‘we’ have the courage to face the next test and really looked at what worked and, above all, what has not these twenty years past?  Will we ever learn? 


At the going down of the sun…

Julian Lindley-French