hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

NATO: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

“Laws are silent in times of war”

Rome, Italy. 27 October. War is unthinkable. Therefore, it must be thought about. I am back in the Eternal City reading about Cicero and his ultimately fatal tryst with Caesar over the age-old struggle between law and power. In a sense it is that struggle which is the theme of my blog today. Tomorrow I address the NATO Defence College on the future of NATO against the backdrop of two challenges to Western ideas of power and law. ISIS seeks to impose extreme religious law on the world, whilst President Putin simply wants power to trump law. My presence in Rome is certainly timely as I have just returned from an outstanding conference organised by Dr Robert Grant of Wilton Park on NATO and Russia. What was for me fascinating and worrying in equal measure was the inability of many of the ‘dips’ and officials around the table to admit that Russia’s actions of late have moved Europe closer to a major war than at any time since World War Two. Therefore, as the Alliance prepares for the 2016 Warsaw Summit it should heed the fourth century AD words of Roman philosopher Vegetius in De Re Militari, “Si vis pacem, para bellum.” (If you want peace, prepare for war).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am no militarist. I am far too much the historian for that. Equally, I am very much a political realist and thus all too aware that illiberal regimes thrive by intimidating liberal regimes and people’s by the very implication of their power irrationality.

At the Wilton Park conference much was made of the new NATO “Russia Strategy”. The debate moved up and down, back and forth but it did not address the real issue; the possibility of war. The trouble was I could not ignore the ‘war’ word and intervened to suggest that if Russia’s warlike preparations on NATO’s Eastern Flank look like a war-duck, quack like a war-duck, and all-too-often violate air-space by flying like a war-duck, maybe just maybe we should listen to the signals President Putin is sending us and thus prepare for war. Naturally, my intervention was greeted like a bad fart at a diplomatic reception; clearly apparent but best politely ignored.

By ‘war’ I do not mean the Band-Aid, pretend strategy NATO currently has on offer.  Reassurance Action Plans, Spearhead Forces et al are all very well and good. However, they bear little relation to what is needed to properly establish credible forward deterrence on NATO’s eastern flank. This sense of playing at deterrence ran through the conference. Indeed, one has only to see the gap between the rhetoric at the September 2014 Wales Summit about the need to strengthen deterrence via increased defence spending (eventually) and increased investment in defence equipment (occasionally), and today’s unforgiving reality. Indeed, for a new report by Price Waterhouse Coopers states that in the period 2014-2015 the only region in the world to actually reduce its defence expenditure was Western Europe – hardly the hard signalling of steely resolve.

Rather, conference seemed to place the preservation of fragile unity before political and military credibility.  Naturally, much was made of various ‘action’ plans to be discussed at the Summit but all fell far short of the reformed full spectrum capability that NATO’s twenty-first century collective defence will need if the Alliance is to meet the challenges posed by Russia, ISIS, and by extension US over-stretch. It is as though the Alliance is lost in a strategy vacuum, mouthing the right words but prevented from turning pious words into proper policy, planning, and action.

The most pressing danger to NATO is a lack of leadership at the top. Indeed, the fault lies not with those diplomats and officials who valiantly try to eek some sense of strategic unity of effort and purpose out of irresolution and weakness. As I indicated in my interview last week with European Geostrategy the fault lies with the political minnows who pass themselves off as our leaders and for whom pulling the short-term political wool over the eyes of the people is far more important than preparing for their sound defence.

In such a leadership vacuum no diplomat or official, however skilled in the art of statecraft can fashion credibility from craven strategic illiteracy. The hard reality is that Europe’s political class from Chancellor Merkel down are simply unable or unwilling to bring themselves to face hard reality. That is why Europe is so crap at crisis management, any crisis, and why President Putin can get away with his power super-bluff.

What to do? The only way for NATO (not the EU, OSCE or UN) to restore credible deterrence (the primary mission of the Alliance) is to return to the principles of worst-case planning which informed the Alliance at its founding back in 1949.  Indeed, it is the Alliance’s wilful retreat from the principles of traditional defence planning that have reinforced the strategy vacuum that President Putin is now exploiting.

When it came my turn to present at Wilton Park I offered a sobering worst-case scenario. It is 2020. The Russian economy has suffered repeated energy shocks and the domestic position of President Putin has become vulnerable, possibly unsustainable.  Suddenly a crisis erupts in East China Sea involving key US allies and the US is forced to respond in force.  After weeks of de-stabilisation, disinformation and deception power and information networks suddenly crash in the Baltic States, and across much of Eastern Europe.  Alarming reports begin to appear of ‘Little Green Men’ at Riga, Tallinn and Vilnius airports. Military exercises underway in Kaliningrad and Belarus intensify and expand and the Kremlin begins to talk of NATO aggression and cites violations of Russian air, sea and land space, as well as attacks via cyberspace.

Russian forces begin to cross into the Baltic States to “restore peace and stability” and to consolidate a “peace buffer” between Russia and an “aggressive NATO”.  Russian nuclear forces – both strategic and tactical – are placed on full alert. In a national TV address President Putin tells the Russian people he is simply straightening Russia’s “strategic defensive line”, acting to prevent the “oppression” of Russian minorities, and removing a final “anomaly” that has threatened Russia ever since the end of the Cold War.

Shortly thereafter Putin rings President Clinton and German Chancellor Merkel (surprisingly still in power) and tells her he had no alternative and does not seek a wider war with the West.  He apologises for the ten American, five British and five French servicemen killed during Russia’s advance. He also offers compensation to the families and his “sincere condolences”, together with the immediate return of all those captured in what is now the Occupation Zone. He also offers free gas supplies to several EU member-states as a mark of his bona fides. At home flushed by apparent ‘success’ President Putin nationalist credentials are now on a par with Alexander Nevsky and Peter the Great.

In effect, Putin’s fait accompli offers President Clinton and Chancellor Merkel the same choice Britain and France faced in 1939 over Poland – space for time. In other words, having been unable to defend the Baltic States Putin poses NATO leaders a chilling question; does the rest of the Alliance really want to go to war with nuclear Russia to free them? After all, US forces are too over-stretched to respond in force in both Asia-Pacific and Europe (“the US  cannot make 30,000 into 300,000”), and NATO Europeans are too militarily-weak and politically-divided to act as effective first responders. Surely, Putin implies, would it not be best for all concerned to negotiate the best terms possible for the people of the Baltic States now again under Russian rule?

If the Warsaw Summit does nothing else it must re-consider how to properly establish credible forward deterrence. That means a NATO that must think again about war, big war. Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation must be instructed to do just that. For, as Thomas Hobbes once said, “Covenants without the sword are but words”. After all, it is Russia who is doing the intimidating and escalating, not NATO.

Quod, si vis pacem, para bellum. Thus, if we want peace, we must prepare for war…or at least be seen to be thinking properly about it.

Julian Lindley-French


Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Lessons of Agincourt

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Henry V, William Shakespeare

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 October. What are the lessons of Agincourt? Six hundred years ago today King Henry V of England won the most famous English victory over the French. Even if one peers through the many layers of propaganda that have been laid over the battle, most famously by William Shakespeare, Agincourt remains a stunning victory for English arms. The English wracked by hunger and disease were out-numbered by at least four-to-one, and probably more by the French.  Critically, the French possessed the heavy armour of their day, the mounted knights on heavy horse. And yet some four hours after the battle commenced the flower of the French nobility lay shattered on the field of Agincourt, with between 7-10,000 French dead of a force that probably numbered between 25-35,000 men.  The English suffered at worst 200 killed, and by some estimates as few as 112, although amongst them lay the king’s brother Edward, Duke of York.  Leadership, tactics, technology and timing won the day for ‘Harry’ and England.

Leadership & Command: “In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility, but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the actions of the tiger…” Henry V (1413-1422) had a dubious claim to the English throne. Indeed, his father Henry Bolingbroke had usurped it from Richard II in 1399. And was complicit in Richard’s murder in 1400. However, the younger Henry was an inspirational war leader.  Henry thus offered the English force a clear purpose and ensured unity of effort through his leadership, unlike the French who were riven with jealousies and petty rivalries at the highest levels of command. 

Tactics: “A very little, little let us do. And all is done”.  The French rode and marched without due regard for the carefully laid trap that had been laid before them, so dismissive of the tiny force before them were the French Constable, the Dauphin and the rest of the French command. Some years ago I walked the battlefield next to ‘Azincourt’ and was surprised by how little has apparently changed. Indeed, it is still relatively easy to imagine the French heavy horse and their men-at-arms advancing downhill into the v-shaped trap where up to 8,000 English archers lay in wait.

Technology: "For many of our princes - woe awhile - lie drown'd and soak'd in mercenary blood; So do our vulgar drench their peasant limbs in blood of princes; and their wounded steeds fret fetlock deep in gore and with wild rage yerk out their armed heels at their dead masters" Prior to the invention and proper military application of cannon and musket the English longbow was the decisive military technology of its European age. Whilst the French crossbow was more sophisticated it took far longer to load and could not carry a similar weight of weapon to the longbow. Thus, the English had the advantage in rate, weight, and indeed range of firepower and were this able to stand off and mercilessly tear French ranks to pieces.  Some years ago I stood next to a longbow. Made of English yew it was some five feet (1.5m) long with arrows of a similar length, some of which mounted armour piercing warheads (bodkins) and some flesh-tearing warheads. It was a truly awesome weapon and it is not surprising that the exhumed skeletons of English archers all share a deformation caused by the strength required to launch arrows from the longbow.

Timing: “This day is call’d the feast of Crispian”. The day itself played a vital role in England’s victory. 25 October was deep into a French autumn and the field of Agincourt was wet.  As the French man-at-arms advanced downhill towards the English lines they did so over a field deep in the mud ploughed up by the French heavy horse. In other words the French became quite simply stuck and it was this mud that not only destroyed French order but enabled the English longbowmen to pour volley after volley into the French. Thereafter, English men-at-arms moved onto the field alongside archers transformed into infantry to finish off the French and claim French nobles for ransom.

There is another lesson of Agincourt and it comes in the form of a big ‘but’. If the strategy of a campaign is essentially misguided however stunning a military victory gained it can never compensate for misplaced and ill-executed ambition.  Indeed, whilst much is made of Henry’s stunning victory the fact he had to fight the battle at all reflected his strategic failure.  Worse, whilst Agincourt damaged the French monarchy, the blow was not fatal.

Henry had landed in France on 13 August, 1415 to stake a claim to the French throne to reinforce his own. By October 1415 he was desperately seeking the sanctuary of then English-controlled Calais. Moreover, within seven years of Agincourt Henry was dead. With the victory of Jean d’Arc at Orleans in 1429 the French effectively won the Hundred Years War and ended English (or to be more precisely Anglo-Norman) claims to the French throne once and for all. Thereafter, and in spite of a brief respite England descended into the Wars of the Roses with the authority of the monarchy only established by the victory of the Lancastrians/Tudors at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

The lesson of Agincourt for today? This past week I attended a meeting that was meant to be about NATO and Russia, but was really about the agenda for the 2016 NATO Warsaw Summit. At one point I lobbed in a verbal grenade; why are there so many NATO summits? My point was that too many NATO nations seem to place more importance on preparing summits and writing the declarations thereof, than actually preparing the military force vital to deterrence of threats. It is summitry before strategy, form before substance, eloquence before efficiency and effectiveness.

Henry V demonstrated on that fateful day in 1415 just what a small force, brilliantly-led, properly-deployed, and armed with decisive technology could achieve against a much larger force, divided at the top of command, badly-organised, and poorly-led in the field.  As NATO commanders consider the role of Allied forces both on its eastern and southern flanks they may wish to re-consider the Battle of Agincourt. Indeed, with cyber and disinformation possibly the new longbows unless NATO re-establishes credible unity of effort and purpose at both the political and military levels it could be the Alliance that one day finds itself cast in the role of the French Constable at Agincourt, and President Putin an unlikely Henry V.

Julian Lindley-French   

Monday, 19 October 2015

Britain's Nuclear Nanking: Kowtowing to China

“HER MAJESTY the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and His Majesty the Emperor of China, being desirous of putting an end to the misunderstandings and consequent hostilities which have arisen between the two countries, have resolved to conclude a Treaty for that purpose . . .” The Treaty of Nanking, August 1842

Alphen, Netherlands. 19 October.  Kowtow: Chinese custom of touching ground with forehead as a sign of worship or absolute submission. (Oxford English Dictionary). There will be senior Mandarins in Beijing smiling this morning at the satisfying irony of what is in effect the nuclear equivalent of the 1842 Treaty of Nanking.  On 29 August 1842, at the end of the First Opium War, Britain imposed the Treaty of Nanking on the Chinese Emperor under the then mighty guns of the Royal Navy. It was the first of the so-called ‘unequal treaties’. This week Britain will touch the ground with its forehead to seek Chinese money and technology at outrageously advantageous terms to Beijing to fund three nuclear energy plants. It is nothing short of a nuclear Nanking, and pay-back for China’s past humiliation at British hands. In a desperate bid to close Britain’s looming energy gap is Britain about to make a dangerous choice between America and China?

Naturally, no mention will be made of Nanking as President Xi Jinping arrives today in Britain to begin a four day state visit which Beijing is heralding as the start of a “golden era” in Anglo-Chinese relations. However, even as President Xi sets foot on British soil America’s most modern fleet is on course to enter the South and East China Seas in a ‘freedom of navigation’ exercise to challenge China’s occupation of 209 islands and what looks like the construction of military bases on some of them.

Since the early 1970s Britain has had a foreign, security and defence policy that is at best a contradiction; the former focused on the EU, with the latter focused on the United States.  Amongst friends such a contradiction could for the most part be massaged away by Whitehall’s many political masseurs. However, British Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) and true architect of government policy George Osborne, wants to take the art of strategic massage into even more intimate spaces by in effect giving much of Britain’s civil nuclear energy policy to China.

In spite of warnings from Britain’s security services, and in spite of a series of announcements that will be made this week about ‘guarantees’ to UK-Chinese cyber ‘relations’, the deal is replete with risk to Britain and indeed its allies.  Indeed, not long ago I was told by a senior British military officer that Britain was under ‘daily industrial cyber-attack’ from China. Now, China is Britain's new “best friend”. Have I missed something?

The deal is as ever being driven by those masters of the short-term HM Treasury, who never seem to miss an opportunity to make the wrong strategic decision for all the wrong short-term reasons. Yes, a strong trading relationship with China is of course desirable, but not at the expense of Britain’s security and defence.

Whitehall likes to hide Britain’s supine and abject weakness at such moments with a blast of hubris. By ‘engaging’ China in such a way Britain is not selling its defence-strategic soul for energy, but rather helping to make China a responsible world citizen. To demonstrate Britain’s lofty ambitions, the official line goes, London will again raise China’s abuse of human rights.

Let me tell you how Britain ‘raises human rights’ with China. The last time David Cameron went to China there was a box marked ‘human rights’. Yes, a box. The box was given to the Chinese Foreign Ministry by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. During Cameron’s visit a junior British official met with the most junior of Chinese officials to ‘discuss’ human rights. By that ruse Cameron could say he had raised human rights with the Chinese. It is of course complete and utter nonsense. Indeed, it would be far better to simply admit the truth; trade with China is far more important to Britain than China’s abuse of human rights. If such supine kowtowing to dodgy, rich regimes is what future British life outside the EU will look like it almost makes me want to stay in…almost.  

In for a penny, in for a pound (or is that yuan)? If the government is prepared to offer China the equivalent of a nuclear Nanking, why not go the whole nuclear hog and ask Beijing to pay for Britain’s other big nuclear project; the planned replacement of the Trident nuclear missile system and the four nuclear submarines that would carry them. At the very least Britain could ask the Chinese to lease Britain the nuclear submarines upon which the US-built missiles would be carried? Surely, the US Navy would not mind and in any case it would be good for trade.

My cynicism is well-founded. Those same smiling Mandarins will be fully aware of the impact this deal will have on London’s taut and fraught strategic relationship with Washington. It is a consequence that will not have been lost on Beijing as it seeks to isolate America from its broke European allies via the strategic application of sovereign wealth. Indeed, this nuclear Nanking will only reinforce a perception gained in Washington when Britain backed China’s Asian Investment Bank that London no longer thinks strategically. And, that Britain can no longer be relied upon as an ally in dealing with an increasingly aggressive and assertive strategic competitor.

In 1842 the Treaty of Nanking was the product of a Britain at the height of its imperial power and reflected a foreign policy crafted by Lord Palmerston that was predicated purely and simply on mercantilism – the enrichment of Britain through ‘free trade’ on British terms. Today, Britain’s leaders are still obsessed with mercantilism but see themselves as powerless. That is why George Osborne is kowtowing to the Chinese. Indeed, this nuclear Nanking has Little Britain written all over it!

A year after the Treaty of Nanking Hong Kong Island was given to the British in perpetuity. Therefore, it would only be fair to offer President Xi the Isle of perpetuity. No, no, no! I was only joking London.  Is Britain about to make a dangerous choice between America and China? Only time will tell but London at least needs to think about it!

Julian Lindley-French      

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The MH17 Report

"The inflight disintegration of the aeroplane near the Ukrainian/Russian border was the result of the detonation of a warhead. The detonation occurred above the left-hand side of the cockpit. The weapon used was a 9N314M-model warhead carried on the 9M38-series of missiles, as installed on the Buk surface-to-air missile system. Other scenarios that could have led to the disintegration of the aeroplane were considered, analysed and excluded."

Dutch Safety Board

Alphen, Netherlands. 14 October. It is not with a certain irony that as the Dutch Safety Board was releasing its technical report into the destruction of Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17 I was briefing Air Marshal Sir Christopher Harper and his team at the International Military Staff at NATO HQ on “The Aims, Method and Application of Russia’s Ambiguous Foreign, Security and Defence Policy”. The irony, such as it is, is that Gilze-Rijen airbase where the report was launched, and where the remains of the doomed airliner rest, is right next door to where I live.

Some seven hundred pages long and divided into six volumes the report is the product of a seven country, fifteen month investigation and addresses several key technical questions concerning the destruction of the Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The questions can be thus summarised: the exact sequence of destruction; the suffering if any of the passengers and crew prior to death; and the likely launch site of the missile.  However, the report does not apportion blame for the massacre as a parallel criminal investigation is underway.

The main finding is that at 1620 hours local on the afternoon of 17 July, 2014 193 Dutch citizens, 43 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 10 Britons, 4 Germans, 4 Belgians, 3 Philippine citizens, 1 Canadian and 1 New Zealander were murdered by a Russian-built Buk 9M38 series anti-aircraft missile which detonated some 1 metre above and to left of the aircraft’s cockpit. The three crew on the flight deck were killed instantly. However, the report suggests that at least some passengers to the rear of the aircraft were not killed by the explosive decompression caused when the forward section of the plane detached from the main fuselage due to the force of the warhead’s detonation and the impact of many thousands of shaped steel fragments from the Buk’s warhead. Indeed, the report suggests that some passengers may have survived up to ninety seconds before they became unconscious and died.  

The report also states that the missile was launched from an almost two hundred square kilometre area south of the town of Snizhne, then controlled by separatists supported by Moscow. Whilst the report implies blame rests with Moscow and the separatists it arms, Kiev is not exonerated.  Indeed, the report is firm in its condemnation of Ukrainian authorities for not closing the air space over the conflict zone prior to the disaster.   Indeed, a further one hundred and sixty civilian aircraft flew over the area the same day before the air space was closed after MH17 crashed.

Upon release of the report Russian authorities moved swiftly to discredit it. Moscow asserted that the missile in question was not the 9N314M variant but an older version, implying that the missile that shot MH17 down could have been fired by the Ukrainians. Moscow also contested the area from which the missile was fired suggesting a much larger area than the report, again implying the Ukrainians could have been responsible.

Thus, a tragedy high above Ukraine involving the nationals of ten nations is still being compounded by a Moscow that simply refuses to come clean. Well-informed sources with whom I have had contact over the past few weeks have confirmed to me from where the missile was launched.  As time passes the now incontrovertible evidence will mount. Therefore, it would do Russia credit and give the relatives of the victims some sense of justice if Moscow simply admitted that the downing of MH17 was a terrible tragedy, resulting from a series of errors, misconceptions and mistakes on the part of poorly-trained Ukrainian separatists recently-returned from a training camp in southern Russia, and their GRU (Russian military intelligence) handlers.

The tragic mistake that is the MH17 disaster was compounded by the inability of the radar tracking system to identify the transponder on MH17 that would have confirmed the civilian identity of the airliner. Sadly, at the time of launch the main command and radar trailer was not attached to the launch vehicle.  Consequently, those responsible thought initially that they had shot down a Ukrainian AN-26 military transport aircraft. Although a Boeing 777 is far larger than an AN-26 the radar signature on the small auxiliary radar on the Buk launcher would not have afforded the operator the ability to distinguish between the two aircraft at a height of some 33,000 feet (10,000 metres).

There are two further ironies that echo from that terrible day. Ninety of the victims came from Noord Brabant where I live. Indeed, my wife lost a colleague at the University of Tilburg, together with his wife and two children. Moreover, I was at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport that day and quite probably walked past some of the victims who just a few hours later were blown out of the sky by a Russian missile.

Russia did not intend for this to happen but its recklessness created the circumstances in which this massacre could happen.  One of my many reflections from MH17 was the inspiring class and dignity shown by the Dutch nation and people in the aftermath of the disaster. It is time for Moscow to show some class and dignity and not just honour the victims of MH17, but all the victims of the conflict in Ukraine, on both sides. Therefore, Russia must sit down within the Minsk framework and Normandy format to resolve grievances peacefully...and apologise.

In honour of the crew and passengers lost on Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, 17 July 2014.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 12 October 2015


“There are three people who understand the Schleswig Holstein question. One is dead, the other quite mad, and I am the third, and I have forgotten”.

Lord Palmerston

Alphen, Netherlands. 12 October. What role does cyber and hybrid warfare actually play in strategy? Hybrid warfare is the strategic flavour of the month at present and at times I feel pretty much like Lord Palmerston about the Schleswig Holstein question, particularly when hybrid and cyber warfare merge. Therefore, this Monday morning in an attempt to better understand how cyber and hybrid warfare interact, and there place in the order of strategy/battle I have determined to fashion a new concept - cybridity. Brilliant, eh?

Now, as far as I can fathom (or not) ‘hybrid’ to most practitioners actually means anything or anyone ‘we’ do not much understand, doing things ‘we’ cannot fathom, in ways that seem to make little clear strategic sense, in pursuit of ‘interests’ that by and large seem utter madness. In other words, hybrid is simply not cricket. Add cyber warfare to the mix and our misunderstanding is compounded.

Cyber ‘warfare’ ranges from the irritation caused by some kid with Asperger’s, to states and wannabe states engaged in systematic mass disruption. By the way, why is it these kids are always kids, and why is it they always have Asperger’s? Until recently I thought Asperger’s was a posh, upper class English public (private) school somewhere in deepest bucolic Hampshire. Worse, bring ‘hybrid’ and ‘cyber’ specialists together and I am reminded of worst nightmare conferences of international relations theorists – the unintelligible in pursuit of the utterly incomprehensible. Thankfully, last Thursday at a conference in The Hague, at which I was of course brilliant, a senior NATO official, who is also a friend of mine, finally cast all the guff that is spoken about ‘cybridity’ into some form of strategic shape.

In effect cybridity is a function of globalisation in which hybrid and cyber warfare together act as the most significant agents of change – multiplying strength, magnifying weakness, and offsetting both. In other words, hybrid warfare is a form of strategy and cyber warfare a form of, er, warfare. Therefore, the importance of cybridity as a means of attack and defence in the twenty-first century is clear and must not be under-estimated. The scale of warfare is stunning. For example, NATO deals with some 20 million cyber incidents against its 32 networks each day.  A senior British officer told me on a visit to RAF Leeming that Britain is under ‘industrial’ cyber attack daily from China and Russia.

Cybridity works on several levels of power. At the softest level of power cybridity helps attackers manipulate history by employing influence to generate an alternative narrative that undermines political cohesion in the West and the legitimacy of any course of action. At the interface between soft and hard power cybridity complicates policy and defence planning by generating offensive disruption below the level of offensive destruction and thus further complicates the very idea of what constitutes an ‘attack’. At the high-end of hard power cyber can generate a readiness to escalate rapidly to the use of conventional force by destabilising an opponent and keeping opposing military power off-balance. Such action can either be taken directly by state or through hard-to-nail proxies. For example, Russia uses criminal gangs and networks necessitating the fusion of military and criminal intelligence by way of response.

Cybridity also penetrates modern society by dint of its very openness. The stability of a modern Western societies is dependent on so-called critical infrastructure. Such infrastructure incorporates both public and private systems and networks both of which are vital to the functioning of aforesaid societies.  In modern Europe some 85% of critical infrastructure is owned by the private sector which means any aspiration to render a society more resilient is dependent on robust co-operation between and across government, the private sector, and given the cross-border nature of cyber international systems and structures.  In other words, cybridity demands a holistic view of security that incorporates classical defence and goes far beyond in terms of the ambition required to mount a credible response.  

How is NATO defending against cybridity? By properly understanding the place of cybridity on the conflict spectrum and its crucial role in force escalation NATO is endeavouring to craft a new form of collective defence.  First, the Alliance is beefing-up situational awareness by creating new early-warning indicators that enable leaders to know exactly what it is they need to look for to confirm an attack. Second, NATO is seeking to speed up the decision-making cycle to enable early intervention, never easy in a multi-national organisation like the Alliance that acts through consensus. The particular focus of the Alliance is on searching for the strategic design behind cyber events.  Third, the Alliance is in the vanguard of efforts to generate a much closer set of relationships between international and national responses. Such an effort runs in parallel with similar efforts across the road in Brussels at the EU, and thus affords both organisations new areas for co-operation. In 2016 NATO and the EU will undertake their first joint exercise since 2003 to test co-operation in the face of cybridity. Finally, NATO is reinforcing the credibility of NATO’s military readiness and responsiveness by better understanding the place of both hybrid and cyber warfare in the order of strategy and battle. The focus is on countering Russian cybridity, particularly in Poland and the Baltic States, and primarily through forward-deployed Special Forces.

However, for counter-cybridity to work a new partnership between the state, NATO, the EU, and the individual citizen will also be needed. During the Cold War for all the Protect and Survive nonsense which encouraged people to hide under the kitchen table in the event of a nuclear attack, there was a legitimising partnership between the state and the citizen in the defence of both – the state and the people that is, not the kitchen table. 

One of the many retreats of the past twenty-five years has been the retreat from transparency by the state in matters security and defence. Consequently, strategy has been sacrificed for short-term politics. The result is that security and defence have come to be seen by much of the population as somebody else’s business.  The danger posed by cybridity means that the age of strategic childishness must end.  Indeed, the greatest defence against cybridity will be the resilience of the responsible, aware citizen, because the greatest threat cybridity poses is that to the relationship between the citizen and the legitimate use of force on his or her behalf.

In the final analysis both hybrid and cyber warfare are simply the latest ‘ways’ to achieve ‘ends’ via the continuation of policy by all ‘means’ available.   Ironically, the most powerful exponents of cybridity can be found in the West itself, not least in the teenage lay-about-hood who lurk in bedrooms across the West. Therefore, if the likes of Russia, China and ISIS can use cybridity to mess around with us, it is nothing compared with ‘our’ capacity to mess around with them.

Let me finish with quote from Professor Paul Cornish of RAND, one of the relatively few other experts who properly understand the role of cyber and hybrid warfare in war and strategy - cybridity.  “At the level of states and governments, it is clear that in some quarters the Internet is becoming viewed as a battlefield where conflict can be won or lost. The threats can inter-connect when circumstances demand – terrorist groups, for example, can be sophisticated users of the Internet but can also make use of low-level criminal methods such as hacking in order to raise funds. The challenge to cyber security policy-makers is therefore not only broad, but complex and evolutionary”.  Some of us would suggest the challenge is now revolutionary.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 9 October 2015

Brexitwatch: To Europe or not to Europe?

“To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune, Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles…” 

French President Francois Hollande, er sorry, Hamlet. 

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 October. Why Brexit? With Queen Angela of Europe looking on the Prince Regent Francois Hollande yesterday gave an impassioned and ever so slightly niggled response in the European Parliament to Blackadder Farage. In so doing Hollande finally drew up the battle-lines over Brexit. The Great Pretender Cameron must have been squirming because the last thing he wants is such a deliciously clear statement of Hollande’s implacable opposition to the EU reforms Cameron is seeking. 

Such is the importance of the statement it is worth quoting President Hollande in full: “If we don’t want to strengthen Europe, then there’s only one road and I heard what Mr Farage said that the only road is for those who are not convinced of Europe to leave Europe. There is no other way. It’s a horrible path, but it’s a logical path. Leave Europe, leave Schengen (sic Britain is not actually in Schengen), and leave democracy. Do you really want to participate in a common state? That’s the question”. 

Does Britain want to participate in a common state? As a Briton and an Englishman my response is a respectful, but absolutely firm ‘no’! Does that mean I actually want to leave ‘Europe’, or rather the EU? No. President Hollande has clearly made his choice; Britain out of the EU. This is why he is framing the choice in such a stark way. So, why am I still the ‘soft sceptic’ Farage despises, and why is my ageing backside still gathering rust sitting on an EU fence? 

The other day in Italy over dinner I had a very good chat with a senior German friend and colleague about Brexit. The debate initially took a predictable and rather familiar pattern. As my 15 inch naval guns tracked round to their target American and French friends present fearing I was about to hoist battle ensigns scattered in all directions. Save, that is, my German collocutor. Instead we settled down to a reasoned debate as to why Germans find the position of Britons like me baffling, and why so many Britons dislike the EU. 

For Germany the EU has done everything that could be asked of it; neatly-wrapped German history in a European box, helped modern, peaceful Germany establish non-threatening leadership, acted as a zollverein for German exports (which this week slumped), and helped shift the centre of power gravity in Europe away from London and Paris to Berlin, with Brussels acting as the willing bag carrier of German power.

Britain's experience of the EU has been and is entirely different. David Cameron was for once spot on this week when he said that Britain would never accept the ‘ever closer union’ that Hollande is calling for (with the full backing of course of every free born Frenchman and woman). Hollande went to the European Parliament to call for precisely that: a common defence policy, which would see France’s armed forces scrapped in favour of a European Army; a common asylum policy, which would to all intents and purpose end once and for all national control over national borders; an EU coastguard, and the transfer of core national sovereignty to Eurozone institutions. In other words, Hollande wants to transfer huge amounts of state power legitimised by national voters to unelected and unaccountable EU bodies. 

I am not kidding. ‘Common’ institutions work precisely by being unaccountable to electorates. For example, the other day European Commissioner Avramoupolis said that he was not concerned with opposition to EU plans for a common asylum policy because he did not have to be elected. Technically he is right. Ever since the European Coal and Steel Community was formed in 1950 ‘commissioners’ were appointed to be above the national fray and thus accountable to nobody but themselves. Thus, the more ‘common’ the EU becomes the less democratic. 

Thus, my main concern is the nonsense President Hollande spouted yesterday about ‘democracy’. To be precise, Hollande's nonsensical suggestion that by leaving a European ‘common state’ Britain would be leaving ‘democracy’. Indeed, what Hollande called for this week offends everything I stand for as a free born Briton, in particular the growing distance between power and the people that is taking place, and the gulf between power and the people a common state would entail. To my mind such a state would represent the greatest threat to democracy in Europe since the Soviet Union. 

Furthermore, as I explained to my German colleague, the English in particular have been fighting distant, arbitrary power both at home and abroad for some eight hundred years. Indeed, if there is an English political DNA this is it – the distrust of distant, arbitrary power. By the way, it was the same distrust that inspired Englishmen to break away and form the United States of America in 1776. 

Abroad this political DNA drove first England, and from 1707 Britain, to oppose Phillip II, Louis XIV, Napoleon, Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, and now (dare I say it) the European Commission all of whom/which attempted to impose their idea of ‘Europe’ on Europeans. At home the same political DNA led to the overthrow of tyrants such as King John and Charles I, and underpinned the creation of Simon de Montfort’s first ‘modern’ English Parliament in 1265. Therefore, asking we British to accept yet another form of elite European hegemony dressed up as a ‘common state’ might work for the dirigiste French heirs of Colbert, but to many of we Britons it means the subjugation of a thousand years or so of political culture.

Some reading this will suggest I am simply another Little Englander. Far from it. I have spent much of my life living in various European countries and around the World. Today, I live in the Netherlands, I am married to a Dutch woman, I enjoy and cherish my European identity and I acknowledge that the EU helps to make my life possible. Indeed, I also acknowledge that at the micro-political level the European Commission does much good in areas such as consumer rights. Nor do I for a moment believe simply by dint of my Englishness I any more ‘special’ than my German colleague, or my French, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, or any other of my fellow European citizens. 

However, it is at the macro-political level where the threat to democracy and President Hollande and his ilk lurk. Specifically, the mad rush in the teeth of a crisis to concentrate ever more power in a few unaccountable, elite hands that is implicit and explicit in President Hollande’s call for a common state. 

For all that, it is still my hope that common sense rather than a common state will prevail, and that a new political settlement can be crafted which again balances political legitimacy with efficiency within and across the EU. That for me means a return to common sense subsidiarity so that together we as Europeans can take collective action with our national parliaments acting as the legitimate transmissions between citizens and collective action. 

If I can be assured of such political balance, that my rights as a citizen and a free born Briton can be preserved, and that my voice actually matters (which was not the case in the sham that was last year’s elections to the European Parliament) then I will vote to keep Britain in the EU. If I cannot be so assured I will vote to leave in the name of freedom, democracy, and like my forebears work to deny distant, arbitrary power. 

“And thus the Native hue of Resolution Is sicklied o'er, with the pale cast of Thought, and enterprises of great pith and moment, with this regard their Currents turn away, and lose the name of Action”. 

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

NATO: The West must play Chess AND Poker

Forli, Italy. 7 October. A grigio mist hangs over the ancient Italian hills; an infant autumn awakening. Below me ageing leaves born of a long, hot Italian summer nestle in russet mantle clad. Gentle change in ancient permanence? I am back in my beloved Italy; tired, stressed, noble Italy, in a beautiful medieval castle high above Forli and not far from where the River Rubicon of legend flows. Roman armies of antiquity were forbade to cross the Rubicon and enter what was then Italy unless they had express permission from the Roman magistrates for only they could exercise Imperium. That sense of a strategic Rubicon being crossed suffused an excellent conference organised by Rome’s Istituto Affari Internazionale, the University of Bologna, and NATO’s Allied Command Transformation. The conference discussed the threats with which NATO must contend, and the myriad complex mix of ends, ways and means the West’s adversaries present. Rapid change in strategic flux.

The other day President Obama complained about President Putin and his penchant for Machtpolitik. “This is not a superpower chess game”, Obama said. With respect, Mr President, yes it is. Or, rather this is the beginning of a new Great Game of power as the illiberal and the downright evil challenge the liberal order the West has come to take for granted. As I said in my typically modest and understated speech, NATO’s future world will be one in which “chaos, confusion and Clausewitz will meet in an unholy trinity of uncertainty”. Or, to put it rather less pompously; wake up and smell the strategic coffee!

Where Americans fear to tread, Europeans refuse to think. By implying that Russia is still a superpower and thus America’s strategic equal President Obama affords woeful Russia an equality in European and world affairs that can only be an equality of fear. The Stolichnaya must be flowing in the grand halls of the Kremlin with this anointing of Putin's great power super-bluff. Sadly, the contradiction that is Russia means the inevitable end of the bluff is inevitable, and that at some point in the not-too-distant future the inevitable end of the bluff will inevtiably be more dangerous than the bluff itself. 

The focus of the conference was the 2016 NATO Warsaw Summit. Given where the summit is to be held the core topic should be clear; the re-invigoration of NATO as a conventional and nuclear deterrent. Central to that mission will be the readiness of Alliance forces. ‘Readiness’ means to be prepared to do something, anything, whatever and wherever. In the NATO context that means Allied forces able to cope with the future shock that is surely to emerge from the swamp of deceit, disinformation, and de-stabilisation that is hybrid warfare, today’s way of war.  And therein lies the challenge because keeping military forces at ‘readiness’ is expensive and as the strategic context expands and the strategic picture gets bigger, and the military task-list of nationally-funded Alliance forces grows exponentially, the size of the force is being cut.

So, give the Alliance more and better forces? Well no. Defence IQ’s new report “Global Defence Spending 2015” states, “Western and central Europe is the only region in the world that saw its military expenditure fall during the 2014-2015 period”. Nor is the problem confined to Europe. Only last week US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter warned that the threat of sequestration continues to stymy effective long-term US defence planning and that US forces are suffering from a “hand-to-mouth existence”.

Which brings me to chess and poker, the strategic metaphors du jour. President Putin likes to imply he is engaged in strategic chess. After all, Russia has had many grand masters. In fact Putin is playing military poker and he is doing so with a weak hand.  His aim? NATO, or rather the collapse of the strategic unity of effort and purpose without which NATO as a deterrent is no longer credible.

Whether it be chess or poker strength is the key to victory and weakness the guarantee of failure. Whilst chess stresses foresight, guile and manoeuvre, poker is built on the premise that a strong mind with a weak hand can trump a strong hand held by a weak mind. It is precisely that game President Putin is playing as he seeks to exploit the seam between the West’s actual strength and its strategic feeble-mindedness.  
Therefore, Europeans and North Americans must be under no illusion about the Great Game in which it is being engaged. The future of liberal international values is at stake if the Game is lost. Moreover, the West could well defeat itself through its own contradictions, specifically the tension between values and interests from which many Western states suffer. ‘Values’ for too many in the West means the replacement of interests, i.e. the success of values is defined by the abandonment of interests.  

NATO is an instrument of power. If NATO is to defend the West and its ‘values’ it must be firmly established on an equally firm understanding of shared interests, and the credible, relevant military power required to generate influence and effect.

So, Mr President, the real danger to the West, and by extension NATO, comes not from the ‘strength’ of a weak President Putin and his ilk. It comes from the growing tendency in Western capitals to define security purely in terms of values rather than interests, and the uncertainty such strategic wooliness creates in our minds, and the encouragement it affords our adversaries (or ‘counterparts’ as the Kremlin now styles itself). 

The world today is one in which chaos, confusion and Clausewitz sit cheek by jowl. In the midst of such uncertainty the West must be able to play chess and poker at one and the same time. That means a clear understanding of one’s opponents, the strategic foresight upon which stratagems can be built and the diplomatic machine to enact them, the strength of mind to raise the stakes when our interests are threatened, and the military capacity to render Western strategy and indeed NATO credible.  Thereafter, the West’s very ability to defend its vital interests will itself be the best way to promote its values.

The mission of NATO’s Warsaw Summit? Deliver on the promises made at NATO’s 2014 Wales Summit. If that means crossing a strategic Rubicon so be it…and get on with it!

Julian Lindley-French        

Thursday, 1 October 2015

SDSR 2015: The Second Battle of (Max) Hastings

Alphen, Netherlands. 1 October. Sir Max Hastings is the doyen of British military history and strategy and more often than not an expert with whom I am in violent agreement. However, in an op-ed for The Times this week entitled, “Britain needs more in its arsenal than loose-lipped generals and No. 10 fudge” Hastings misses the point about the forthcoming Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 2015) and the future force the British are (as ever) stumbling towards. The armed forces of Great Powers serve four purposes: to reinforce the state; to generate and project the influence of the state; to deter other states and those with pretentions to be a state from projecting their influence; and, if needs, be to punish and defeat the enemies of the state through violence. Therefore, given the world into which Britain and its armed forces are moving SDSR 2015 should champion a defence-strategic concept that enables Britain to exert political influence over allies and partners, and a future force established on what I call the Super Joint Force Concept.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have not suddenly become a No 10 spin doctor.  SDSR 2015 will indeed be the “fudger’s fudge” about which Hastings warns. Hastings is also surely right when he suggests there is a “…mismatch between commitments and military resources”.  Hastings certainly nails the strategic soufflĂ© that is David Cameron when he writes about the, “ minister’s eagerness to focus on the short-term terror threat, whilst running down the capability to participate in inter-state warfare, which may not be as redundant as he supposes”. Last week I briefed senior NATO commanders on the strategic direction and method of President Putin and the Kremlin’s belief that force creates “new realities on the ground”, as is now evident in both Ukraine and Syria.

However, having identified the malaise Hastings gets defence strategy wrong.  Indeed, in spite of his concerns about the need for Britain to think big about threat and risk the defence strategic implication at the centre of his article is wrong; that a mass of force is more important than a force that can truly project, credibly command, and effectively connect.

For example, Hastings complains that Cameron can do, “nothing to avert the catastrophe of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers…which are less relevant to Britain’s security needs than is the Great Pyramid”. He then compounds his error by pointing to the lamentably small size of the British Army at the outbreak of World War One.

First, Hastings seems to forget that Britain in 1914 was an imperial power with an empire built on the strength of the Royal Navy with land forces the world over primarily designed to police said empire. Second, it was reasonable for London to assume at the time that those great continental powers France and Russia could cope with Wilhelmine Germany’s Army.  Third, the role the British naval blockade played in bringing Wilhelmine Germany to its knees was vital to winning the war. Fourth, over the four years of the war it was the innovative mobilisation of British imperial land forces, and after a shaky start the development of air and land tactics together with new technologies, that led to the modern concept of military jointness. Britain’s imperial land forces also delivered the critical defeat of the German Army which eventually ended World War One.

A more open-minded view would see that the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales will in time act as a core power component for the future force, affording Britain influence, power projection, and command thus reinforcing Britain’s strategic brand.  Indeed, they will be national strategic platforms that will happen to be run by the Royal Navy (after all they float - hopefully) upon which and from which one of the world’s top five military powers will be able to launch air, maritime and amphibious operations and from which significant land operations can be supported. When I speak to French colleagues far from wanting to scrap their one aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle they want more; and France is essentially a continental, land power. In other words, Britain's super-platforms will be currencies of power in and of themselves in an age in which power is back - big time.

Hastings’s critique of the new mobilisation structure also misses the point.  Yes, in a growing economy it is hard to recruit reserves, and yes there is a large dollop of political spin masking cuts to the regular force which the part-time force is meant to hide.  However, what really matters is the mobilisation mechanism upon which the Reserve Force relies and the break-out from the professional military ghetto that the Force implies and helps.  In a true national emergency Britain would be in a far better position than most allies to begin the process of the mass mobilisation of a twenty-first century democracy, something for which Hastings at least implies there may be a need.

Hastings also implies that the Army needs to be much bigger, but for what? However big the British Army it could never be big enough to prevail in sustained counter-terror, stabilisation and reconstruction campaigns over time and distance.  The 400,000 US Army was almost broken by Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, Britain’s forces will always need to work with allies – American, Canadian, European, and of growing importance the world-wide Anglosphere, plus Japan and possibly India.  That is why a future force that reinforces Britain’s traditional strategic virtues, updates them, and thus makes Britain an indispensable ally represents sound strategic and political investment for Britain. 

Given the centrality of the United States to British defence strategy of critical importance will be Britain’s ability to retain influence in Washington, which is as weak today as I have ever known it. And yet America's NEED for a British (and by extension NATO) military that can work to effect with US forces has probably never been greater.  Indeed, an over-stretched American military is under pressure from emerging great illiberal powers such as China and Russia abroad, and from its own sequestering politicians at home.  

Therefore, to meet the defence-strategic and force-strategic challenge Britain needs a cost-effective, powerful core or hub force designed to multiply power and project influence for Britain, its allies and the international institutions to which it belongs. The force must be able to act credibly and affordably across much of the conflict spectrum,  in and across government, in support of US leadership, and at times as a coalition leader, hub or framework.

Such a force would thus be informed by three defence planning assumptions: a) Britain will be dependent on allies and partners the world-over and thus the force must act as an interoperability and command focal point for multinational coalitions engaged in counter-terrorism and stabilisation and reconstruction operations; b) the force must enshrine a mechanism that enables a ‘surge’ towards the high-end of advanced expeditionary operations alongside the Americans, and a strong national defence in the event of a major national emergency; and c) force connectivity must be an essential element of credible whole-of-government crisis responses, particularly in the event of a major terrorist or state-sponsored attack.

Critically, if SDSR 2015 is to pass muster for more than five political minutes it must be seen to balance effectiveness, efficiency and affordability. That means finding new ways to balance ends, ways and means through a radical force concept.  That in turn means developing a super or deep joint force concept that promotes a new force singularity via a new relationship between the Royal Navy, the British Army, and the Royal Air Force.  

A ‘balanced’ force would thus look something like this; the development by 2025 of a modern blue water Royal Navy, able to project, protect and sustain a pretty high-end, deployable Army of special and specialised forces (with support), and a Royal Air Force that can both protect the home base and reinforce and sustain the deployed force. Such a force will buy Britain influence, leadership and effect.

In the end, SDSR 2015 is not about the Army fighting the Navy fighting the Air Force over limited resources, much though many of them see it that way. SDSR 2015 is really about what kind of power Britain aspires to be in the twenty-first century, what kind of military power Britain needs to be, how much twenty-first century relevant influence and effect Britain is prepared to invest in, and to what extent Britain’s future forces will be able to cope with inevitable future shock. 

Therefore, SDSR 2015 must be seen in context as the first stage of a defence-strategic recovery programme.  If Whitehall and the Top Brass hold their nerve and for once evince a modicum of imagination and innovation what could (and I stress 'could') emerge from the political swamp that is SDSR would in military terms be quite exciting.

Clearly, SDSR 2015 will be a close run thing. Whilst the July decision to maintain defence spending at 2% GDP until 2020 enabled Britain’s armed forces to step back from the brink of irrelevance, it is only just. Indeed, SDSR 2015 will fail if it reinforces the pretence that Britain can afford the £100bn Successor replacement for the Trident nuclear system AND a credible global reach, highish-end, deployable conventional force from within a £34bn defence budget. SDSR 2015 will also fail if it ‘fudge’s’ Britain’s investments in so-called ‘enablers’ vital to the effectiveness and protection of the nuclear deterrent, and a deployed British force. 

However, if SDSR 2015 confirms an innovative British future force established on the Super Joint Force Concept then it will have done its job and Britain’s forces can look towards 2020 and 2025 and beyond with at least some cautious confidence. If not, and SDSR 2015 really is another astrategic exercise in ‘how much threat can we afford’, and/or a muddling-through trade-off between No 10, the Treasury and the three Services, then President Putin will be able to sleep easy firm in his belief that his strategic super-bluff will in time work.

Therefore, Sir Max, with respect, whilst you are right to be concerned about SDSR 2015 you are fighting the wrong battle, on the wrong ground, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reasons. 

Julian Lindley-French