hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Ed Lucas: Back in the EUSSR

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever!”
George Orwell, 1984

Alphen, Netherlands. 30 December. Ed Lucas wrote a piece in The Times this morning which left me saddened and worried. Entitled, The EU empire’s a mess but we must stick with it, Lucas offered a vision of the future EU ‘empire’ that was closer to fascism and sovietism than liberal democracy. Now, I must confess I know, like and respect Ed Lucas and most of the time agree with him. His writings on Putin’s Russia are both realistic and persuasive. However, when I read this morning’s piece I wondered at times if Ed was describing Russia rather than the EU and had somehow got the titles wrong. Indeed, I searched in vain for irony which might have redeemed the future EU Ed has on offer.

Democracy is dying in Europe. That is in effect the central argument of the piece which can best be described as “oh well, democracy was not that important”. Rather, the piece implies an Orwellian vision of an EU that sacrifices democracy for efficiency and influence as something we are all simply going to have to accept. Never!

Ed’s EU ‘empire’ is constructed on three mini-empires – singlemarketland, euroland, and Schengenland.  He suggests that in the emerging blocworld (my invention) such structures will be the only way Europeans can be a) efficient; b) competitive; and c) free (to move). His central assumption is that by aggregating European state power via supranational structures Europeans will retain not only credible influence over big power, but the capacity for decisive action.

The assumption is dangerously flawed. First, the Soviet Union also contained diverse and disparate cultures many of which were forced into a currency and trading union that was inherently unsustainable. Second, the assumption that by aggregating power said power can then be turned into decisive action is also nonsense as it is more likely to simply become unwieldy. Indeed, the EU bears greater resemblance to Terry Pratchett’s Discworld carried as it is on the back of three giant elephants, themselves atop a ginormous and lumbering turtle, than anything vaguely resembling the US.

Only finally does Ed admit that democracy is a “problem”. However, he then goes onto say ‘tough’. If ‘you’ want singlemarketland, euroland, and Schengenland then such ‘considerations trump democracy”. In any case, he suggests, there is always the European Parliament. Oh really? Is that what passes for democracy in your vision Ed? A packed assembly that dilutes the value of citizens’ votes tenfold and which spends more time legitimising distant power than holding it to account.  

There is an implicit irony in the piece which is unless challenged by democrats Ed’s Orwellian vision may be proven correct. Democracy is indeed dying in Europe for the same reasons it died just after it began in Russia, and died before it even got started in China. Europe’s elites are offering people a choice in the form of the European Project; security and prosperity or democracy. It is of course a false choice and it is a choice dictators have offered over the ages to justify the over-concentration of power in a few inefficient self-serving hands.  However, that is the choice on offer as we Europeans enter 2016.

However, what disappoints me most about Ed’s piece is a complete lack of alternative vision. How about this? Political union is scrapped. The EU reverts back to a European Community of states. Some states able to qualify agree to a single currency, but under the control of nationally-elected parliamentarians who rotate through an oversight body.  Other states remain part of a single market which is the core of the project. There is a new political settlement between those in a shared currency and those without to ensure legitimacy, accountability, representation and influence are distributed in a manner befitting a super-alliance of democracies.

In the wake of the November Paris massacre I said I would abandon my support for Brexit. I had seen what damage the Scottish independence referendum had done to Britain’s capacity to act in a crisis. Make no mistake Europe is not just in one crisis but several and Brexit will indeed critically undermine the capacity of Europeans to deal with them. However, the solution is not to abandon everything that we stand for, to spit on the legacy of my forebears who fought and died in the fight against Fascism and sovietism only to create an EU that looks very like Orwell’s Big Brother.  If that is what is on offer I want out of the EU and my country with it.

In 1984 Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth. He is tasked with re-writing history to justify the current political position of the Administration. Smith changes newspaper and magazine articles to remove ‘unpersons’. However, in the end Smith is broken by ‘the Party’ and forced to accept the assertion that 2+2=5.  Sadly, I fear something not dissimilar is going to happen during the run up to next year’s Brexit referendum now that it has emerged that both Downing Street and the European Commission are going to rig the vote by massively outspending those campaigning for Britain to leave.

2+2=5? Is this all we have to aspire to in Europe, Ed? Is the only justification you can come up with for your ‘empire’ is that its collapse could be marginally worse than its survival? You are right, the EU Empire is indeed a mess and needs fixing. However, we must not “stick by it” at any cost, which is precisely what you appear to be suggesting.

Happy New Year, Ed!

Julian Lindley-French 

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

2016: Ttipping Point?

Alphen, Netherlands. 23 December, 2015. 2016 will be a tipping point for the West between power and weakness. The other day I spoke at an event at the Clingendael Institute here in the Netherlands on the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Most of my colleagues were focused on technicalities and what for me are justified concerns about the relationship between power and the individual in the West. The elite penchant for grand architectures such as the EU and TTIP are shifting the balance of power away from democracy towards bureaucracy; efficiency at the expense of accountability through the creation of sham democracy.

Equally, in a room in which there were many elephants implicit in the debate over TTIP was the creation of a new American-centric West. Indeed, if one combines TTIP with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) a new form of West becomes apparent, one which is more idea than place. All well and good? Well no. The problem with such grands dessins as TTIP, TPP and indeed the EU, is that far from aggregating the capacity of states to act experience suggests such architectures exaggerate inaction. The EU is the most obvious and dangerous example of that. 

Western powers will need to act. From Libya to Syria and on to Afghanistan the anti-state is defeating the state and by extension the West.   This morning David Miliband, Chairman of the International Rescue Committee, described the world as “interlinked but instable”. In Afghanistan the Taliban are threatening to take Sangin, a key strategic town in Helmand province in Afghanistan which over 100 British soldiers died defending between 2006 and 2014. If Sangin falls the chances of President Ashraf Ghani creating an inclusive Afghan state in which the Pashtun tribes invest will be much reduced and Western strategy will again be seen to have collapsed.

And yet 2016 will see the West on strategic hold. The US presidential elections will consume much of America’s political energy. Sure, the US administration will go onto automatic and holding operations will be conducted across the world. However, as America debates its next president much of the world’s many contended spaces will be vulnerable to adversaries. Russia will continue to be the West’s ‘frenemy’, co-operating on Moscow’s pro-Assad terms in Syria (forget the talk of a new peace process as Russia is not going to abandon Assad), whilst seeking to extend its influence over an arc from the Baltic States in the north through to Georgia and Central Asia to the south. Eurasian Union? China will continue its efforts to exclude the US from the East and South China Seas and in so doing push forward its long-term strategy to establish strategic hegemony over Japan, the Koreas, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

That EU will also continue to fail in the face of an unfixed Eurozone and a chronically mismanaged migration crisis. Then there is Brexit. It was strange listening to former British Prime Minister Sir John Major the other day suggesting that the EU had made Britain more prosperous, more secure, and more influential.  The EU is hopelessly over-governed, uncompetitive and insecure with much of the problem the EU itself! The EU’s open borders have helped migrants and indeed terrorists march at will across Europe. As for Britain Germany continues to block key areas of the Single Market which favour Britain, whilst France and Germany force Britain into a form of serfdom by denying Britain its rightful leadership place.

The only way to fix these dangerous structural problems is to create a new EU. Moreover, experience suggests a new EU will mean a) a new treaty; b) more elite bureaucracy in the guise of ‘ever closer union’; and c) less democracy. The new EU will also need a new political settlement for Britain and all non-Eurozone member-states if cost is to be matched by benefit of membership which frankly is ever harder to see.  Whatever happens it will take years before Europe’s infernal, eternal struggle over internal ‘ordnung’ is resolved and Europeans can at last play the role to which they should aspire in the world.   

With an EU unable to act, and major Europeans rendered incapable of action, Europe has been rendered effectively impotent. Worse, two of Europe’s major state powers Britain and France are too often constrained to act by the EU, whilst Germany now apparently takes it for granted that European ‘integration’ should effectively mean the abandonment of sovereignty by all other EU member-states abandon so that Berlin can govern Europe through Brussels. Reminds me of something.

Worse, the very existence of European states is now threatened by the Balkanisation of Europe. The EU helped almost destroy my country Britain in 2014 and could do so again if England votes to leave the EU next year and Scotland does not.  Indeed, all European states with significant minority groups are now threatened because minority nationalist groups invariably look to Brussels as an alternative to national capitals. This week Corsican separatists were elected in what is a region of France.  

For all the above reasons 2016 will be a tipping point. Until and indeed only if, the Americans elect a president willing and able to re-commit the US to leadership and the major European state powers break out of their EU-induced strategic torpor my fear is the West will continue to retreat.  Sadly, the world will be a far more dangerous place for the West’s retreat.

Hold on to your hats! 2016 is going to be a bumpy ride.

Merry Christmas!

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 17 December 2015

2015: The Best Case for the Worst Case

Libenter homines id quot volunt credunt – Men freely believe whatever they want.
Gaius Iulius Caesar – De Bello Gallico

Upper Reading Room, Bodleian Library, Oxford, England. Another world, another time. This is quite simply my favourite room in the world. Oxford’s oldest library drips with past learning. Before me the spires and cupolas of All Soul’s College stand proud. To my right the Radcliffe Camera soars in its Enlightenment certainty. Sadly, it is that very ‘certainty’ that today seems so alien in a world that teeters between the spires of creation and Stygian destruction. Last night I was a guest at the Royal United Services Institute to listen to the Annual Christmas Lecture by General Sir Nicholas Houghton, the UK Chief of Defence Staff. His subject was Britain’s newly-minted Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR 2015) and his theme “Interesting Times”. I think that was British under-statement as I came away somewhat impressed, but also worried.

The test of good strategy is what happens when it fails.  Sir Nick delivered a solid speech that tip-toed between Britain’s invisible dividing lines of strategy, politics, diversity, and hard reality. At the end of his speech I posed a question. It was not perhaps one of my better conference questions as to put it bluntly I am knackered (tired). It has been a long year, I have worked and travelled extensively, and I need a break. However, Sir Nick clearly missed my point which was this. There is no mention of ‘war’ in SDSR 2015 beyond dismissing it out of hand. This to my mind suggests little appetite for the kind of worst-case planning upon which all sound defence reviews should be established. My question couched the challenge of ‘war’ in the context of Russia and the possibility of a major war in the Middle East. Thankfully, my friend Professor Paul Cornish added acuity to my rather blunt edge by raising a potentially aggressive China.

My point was not to suggest that Russia is about to embark upon a major war, but rather that such a war should no longer be dismissed as a planning scenario. To my mind there is a critical weakness in SDSR 2015 and the thinking behind it, in what is otherwise a solid security and defence review.  Moreover, it is a weakness that is not exclusive to SDSR 2015 and which helps to explain the failure of Europe’s elites to deal with the crises that are now breaking over and upon Europe.

Any worst-case strategic analysis worthy of the name would have suggested that a) Russia under President Putin was eventually going to prove difficult; b) in the wake of the 2010 Arab Spring parts of the Middle East and North Africa were going to explode/implode; and c) given the complex nature and interaction between Middle Eastern, North African, South Asian, and Western European societies political Islamism would create some friction. 

Unfortunately, the refusal to think worst-case is compounded by worse-case change. An over-stretched American military, a rapidly shifting balance of military power between the non-US liberal ‘West’ and an illiberal Rest, and a financial crisis that devastated European security and defence credibility is pushing the worst-case ever closer to being the here-and-now case.

Just look at the 2015 (about to become the 2016) migration crisis. Given the mix of rapidly rising birth-rates, failing states, proximity, access, organised crime, and the gulf between rich Europeans and poor Arabs and Africans, it should have been clear to Europe’s that sooner rather than later huge numbers of the latter would up sticks and move to the lands of the former.

European leaders even had advanced warning of mass migration a decade ago when western European labour markets were opened up successively to eastern Europeans. What leaders had hoped for was the managed movement of a relative few. What they got was mass movement to the West took place which in Britain’s case has been so badly managed it could actually drive the UK out of the EU.  The tragic irony is that freedom of movement within Europe is one of Britain’s great triumphs in helping to win the Cold War.

The essential problem is that to think worst-case one needs a political culture robust enough to countenance the worst-case. However, because politicians so assiduously avoid the worst-case (even in private) the strategy piece of a defence review is rarely permitted to demonstrate that thinking is being conducted into the unthinkable. Rather, too many European politicians see the worst-case as devil’s work; as though those of us prepared to think the unthinkable actually want the unwantable. In fact we think the unthinkable precisely to ensure it remains at worst thinkable. The failure to think the unthinkable is now all too plainly visible in the form of the migration crisis.

The reason Europe lacks the systems and controls to cope with mass migration is precisely because European leaders refused to think the unthinkable, just as they did with Russia’s seizure of Crimea. This is because much of the European Project and the culture it espouses is built on an incredibly rosy view of how people behave. Consequently, EU structures, such as they exist, are often a series of Potemkin villages, flimsy facades which stand proud in the good time but have little or nothing to prevent them from collapsing in a storm.  Schengen is the most obvious example; a non-structure that ISIS is exploiting to deadly effect.

In a recent blog I gave SDSR 2015 7 out of 10. Sure, SDSR 2015 contains all the right buzzwords, as did Sir Nick’s speech; ‘utility’, ‘agility’, ‘strategy’, ‘diversity’, ‘innovation’, and that hoary old favourite ‘partnership’.  However, like much that passes for strategic thinking in Europe SDSR 2015 is still grounded in a culture of best-case planning, or how much threat can we afford.  Indeed, the review too often smacks of the old Ten Year Rule. Adopted in August 1919 the Ten Year Rule stated that “…the armed forces should draft their estimates on the assumption that the British Empire would not be engaged in any great war during the next ten years”.  2015 is not 1919, or even 1989.

SDSR 2015 is certainly better than SDSR 2010 but it still too easily allows SDSR 2010’s Future Force 2020 to now morph into Joint Force 2025.  Given what has happened over the last 15 year defence planning cycle can we really afford to be so complacent about the next 15 year defence planning cycle?

2015 has highlighted the strategy malaise at the top of European power and the refusal of leaders to countenance the worse-case. Surely, if 2015 has taught us anything it should be that we must collectively return to worst-case, not best-case planning. The latter will inevitably create structures and forces which will fail. Only the former can generate the necessary strength ad redundancy upon which sound security and defence are necessarily built.

2015: interesting times indeed. And surely the best case for the worst case.

Happy New Year and all that!

Julian Lindley-French    

Monday, 14 December 2015

Europe: Between Republic, Empire and Chaos

“…no amount of power can withstand the hatred of the many…For fear is but a poor safeguard of lasting power; while affection, on the other hand, may be trusted to keep it safe for ever”.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Alphen, Netherlands. 14 December. Ten days ago on a flight from Amsterdam to Rome I re-read some of the Phillipicae; the fourteen great orations made by Marcus Tullius Cicero between 44 and 43 BC condemning Mark Anthony for his campaign to replace the Roman Republic with a permanent ‘Dictatorship’ in the wake of the March 44 BC assassination of Julius Caesar. One of Cicero’s many conceits was his belief that he could protect the Republic by supporting the adopted son of Caesar, Octavian. It was to prove one of history’s great miscalculations.  Octavian went on to become the emperor of emperors and destroyed what was left of the Republic, albeit in the very name of the Republic. A crude form of representative politics was thus replaced by the executive power of one man; Octavian became Caesar Augustus.

Last week in Bucharest I warned of the dangers of power without strategy. Watching Europe’s leaders and the EU fail to grapple with a succession of crises - the Eurozone, Libya, Ukraine, the migration crisis, IS, and Syria - reminded me of the dangers of making strategy without power. This week one of those seemingly interminable EU Summits will take place after another momentous year of momentous elite failure. One reason for the serial strategic failure of both the EU and European leaders is a Europe that hovers dangerously and ineffectively between an uber-pluralistic ‘Republic’, an ever-more centralised ‘Empire’, or just plain chaos.  Europe really is at an historic tipping point.

The EU has become a bloody awful way NOT to do things. This week’s Summit will no doubt continue that dubious tradition. EU leaders will no doubt talk at great length about the Eurozone crisis, the migration crisis, Syria, Russia, and no doubt agree some Euro-technocratic issues. David Cameron will no doubt prattle on about Brexit and plead with his politely-disinterested fellow leaders to get him out of a political mess that is entirely of his own making. Never has a leader believed less in a policy of his own making, or defended it so badly. The Presidency Conclusions of little Luxembourg will then be briefly discussed, before the Netherlands is invited to sort out this unholy mess during the first half of 2016…and report back next June.

However, the one thing assembled leaders will not discuss will be the greatest challenge the Europe and the EU faces; how to aggregate enormous effective power through new ‘architecture’ without in so doing rendering said power so far from the individual citizen that the EU becomes a bureaucratic empire, and a representative democracy in name only.  One of the many reasons the Roman republic collapsed was the inability of Rome to govern an increasingly diverse empire, preserve the delicate balance between Rome’s aristocratic families who held power through the Senate, and hold meaningful elections that gave the Roman citizenry some sense that they too had a say in and over power.

The essential question is what balance to strike between collective and common action. The High Priests of Project Europe would suggest the only way is for the collective approach itself to be abandoned and ‘common’ policies be adopted in their place. In other words, if Europe is to deal with big challenges it must create a big new state called ‘Europe’.  However, the notion of ‘Europe’ is theology not action and in any case its very forced creation (for that is what it would have to be) would effectively mark the end of ‘Republic’ and the creation of ‘Empire’.

The genius of Caesar Augustus was to continue with the form of representative politics, but destroy the substance. Citizens stilled queued on the Campus Martius to vote, and Senators still met to debate. However, neither group had any power or any real influence. Indeed, the ballots they cast were meaningless, and the ‘laws’ they enacted simply rubber-stamped the will of Caesar, much like the European Parliament does today. 

Rome’s Imperial system worked for a time because it was led by able emperors who understood that efficiency and effectiveness were vital to ensure and assure one-man rule via the ‘legitimacy’ of delivery. Indeed, Roman ‘virtue’ became for a time equated with imperial efficiency, effectiveness and, indeed, expansion. In effect Caesar Augustus offered Roman citizens the same deal the Chinese Communist Party offers the Chinese middle classes today – slavery in return for prosperity and stability. However, the moment the emperors were no longer able to offer such a deal, or when absolute power corrupted insanely and the likes of Nero and Caligula gained power by right of succession, then Rome began its long descent to collapse and chaos.

Liberal democratic state power is the key to meeting Europe’s crises.  Indeed, Europe needs less common action and more collective action. Indeed, if Europeans are to be led back to safety, starting right now, it is vital Europe’s power states – Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain - act. Only then will decisive action be at all possible and even vaguely legitimate. The EU would continue to function as a Senate and debate and advise power. And, of course, this new power oligarchy would need to be utterly sensitive to the views of other Europeans. It would also help if the three seriously big powers - Britain, France and Germany - could actually agree on big things and the need for solidarity at this time of crisis. However, as the risks and threats Europeans face together become ever more apparent Europe’s big powers will have little alternative but to stand together or fall divided. As for the EU, it is incapable of dealing with the crises Europe faces today, and too often is part of the problem.

Getting that balance right between power, action and legitimacy is the single most important strategic and political challenge the EU faces today.  It is a challenge that must be met by power.  

The EU: republic, empire, or just chaos?

Julian Lindley-French    

Friday, 11 December 2015

Hollow Politics: Power without Strategy

“Never was anything great achieved without danger”
Niccolo Machiavelli

Bucharest, Romania. 11 December. Credibility is everything in strategy. Watching John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, savage US Secretary of State Ashton Carter this week as I was about to brief Alliance commanders on NATO’s southern flank was sobering.  The argument between McCain and Carter essentially boiled down to the search for a ground force that could do the West’s bidding in Syria and how to pay for it.  However, implicit in the stand-off was a dangerous malaise that now afflicts all Western powers; how to achieve large structural changes in international strategy for the least effort and the lowest political cost. If Joe Nye once defined grand strategy as the organisation of large mean in pursuit of large ends what was witnessed in Washington this week was hollow politics or power without strategy.

For much of the Cold War NATO’s Southern Flank incorporated Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Today, it stretches across the Middle East and North Africa and indeed beyond. Much like Europe’s Thirty Years War between 1618 and 1648 NATO’s southern flank incorporates a plethora of tensions and conflicts all of which will require sustained strategic engagement by the West in support of regional states over decades if legitimate stability is to be re-established. However, the West has become a lame duck with lame duck leaders bereft of clear strategic or political objectives who are simply not up the challenges now posed. Perhaps it was a mark of how desperate things have become that Germany’s Chancellor Merkel was this week named by Time magazine as “Person of the Year”, having narrowly beaten IS leader al-Baghdadi to the accolade.
McCain also berated Carter and by extension the Obama administration for having no timeline for the campaign against IS. After all, the timeline is the essential backbone of any strategy. Critically, there is no absolutely sense of power applied over time, distance and cost towards any real end, other than the vague hope that air containment (for that is what the strategy amounts to) will somehow ‘degrade’ IS. In other words, a real anti-IS strategy would necessarily need a ground force that goes significantly beyond Carter’s suggestion of a “Expeditionary Targeting Force”, which sounds like something out of a Jason Bourne movie.

Such a strategy would also need a defensive as well as an offensive component, and far more joined-upness with allies than exists if it is to be sustainable. The Lebanese Prime Minister told David Cameron recently that he believed for every 1000 migrants entering Europe illegally there are at least 2 Jihadis embedded therein. This means some 16,000 IS fighters have probably entered Europe this year alone and now. And yet, all Europe’s leaders can seem do is quibble over which European institutions and which European borders should be strengthened and how best to get the ongoing influx off TV news. Talk about rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. Or is that ostriches sticking heads in the deck of the Titanic?   

The reason for this political nonsense is that no Western leader wants to be honest (so few are these days about anything of substance) about the vital strategic end implicit in the fight against IS; the restoring of stability across the Middle East and North Africa. Specifically, they do not want to admit they a) have no clue; b) cannot agree; and c) even if they could agree the time and cost required to achieve such an end. Air containment is thus the latest of the strategic placebos Western ‘leaders’ prefer to real strategy and action. Hollow politics means if a problem cannot be resolved before the next election ignore it as much as possible and use the words ‘long’, ‘term’ and ‘strategy’ endlessly.  When something ghastly happens express condolences in grave tones, talk vaguely about doing everything that can be done, and then move on.  

Take last week’s extension of Britain’s air strikes against IS from Iraq to Syria. To what end? Yes, attacking the oil exports from which IS benefits might help at the margins. Stopping financial flows to IS and disrupting IS cyber-propaganda might disrupt the group for a time. Professor Rosemary Hollis of City University, London made the valid point that stepping up air containment can only be a first step. That begs a question; what are the second, third, fourth and indeed many more steps that will be need to achieve the ultimate goal of returning political stability and physical security to Syria, the wider Levant, and in time the Middle East? Well, there will be no strategy until Sunni states across the Middle East agree to form an international coalition to fight IS on the ground, restore stability to the Levant, and stop the funding flowing out of them into IS coffers.

A coherent Western strategy? Hollow politics means that beyond the re-stating of lofty, ill-defined ends there will be no commitment of diplomatic, economic, let alone military means, because there is no political commitment to necessary ways, beyond symbolic air containment. First, there can be no strategy without US leadership and there will be no such leadership until at the very earliest after the November 2016 US presidential elections. Second, Europeans are incapable of crafting such strategy, due to both political and military weakness, and cannot even agree how to defend their own homelands and against which adversary – Russia or IS.

There is another essential Western dilemma reflected in and by hollow politics; the eternal confusion of values with interests from which Western power suffers nowadays and which render all strategic ends broad in scope, but limited in commitment. Contrast Western ‘strategy’ with contending Russia strategy. Russia has established limited strategic objectives on a relatively narrow end designed to leverage much wider strategic effect and is investing the necessary means to establish the strategic end as credible. However, the Russian end is not the preservation of the Assad regime, which is merely the means, and most certainly not the destruction of IS, which for the Russians is merely a sideshow. The end is the preservation of a Russia-friendly Syria and specifically an air and naval base in Syria which Moscow sees as vital to ensure Russian influence and interests can be maintained across the Mediterranean basin and much of the Middle East.  In other words, Russia has little concern for the broader stability of the Middle East so long as it does not affect Russia’s ability to use the Middle East as a platform for its interests.  

What air containment also reveals is a refusal to confront cause and effect beyond the ‘something must be done’ manta central to hollow politics. IS only numbers some 30-40,000 fighters which could be defeated in relatively quick order on the battlefield, especially so if they continue to aspire through the Caliphate to the creation of a relatively conventional military force. However, implicit in the Syria conflict is the very real prospect that the West could soon find itself not only embroiled in a general Middle Eastern war between states, and a simultaneous religious and sectarian war, that would look much like the gruesome 1618-1648 Thirty Years War. Sadly, such a war could be hastened not delayed by Western inaction and irresolution.

In that light air containment is merely the putting of a small Western toe into very hot water. As such, unless the air containment of IS is accompanied by revealed strategy and commitment, precisely because there is no revealed relationship between ends, ways and means it will soon come to be seen as an extension of weakness, rather than a statement of strength. ‘Strength’ in this instance would need to include a demonstrable determination by Western powers to use ‘all necessary means’.

Now, there are times when sound statecraft demands military action in a political and strategic vacuum. There are indeed times when power must be used in the absence of strategy in an effort to change the relationship on the ground between ends, ways and means.  Such action is taken precisely to create the conditions for successful strategy. However, the current action masks no such intent. Rather, they are the lame duck actions of lame duck leaders either clueless as to the reality of the threat posed to and by what is happening in the Middle East, and/or determined as ever to keep reality filed in the too politically difficult file. In other words, it is hollow politics masquerading as strategy.

Talking of lame duck leaders. David Cameron was also in Bucharest this week pretending to negotiate a new relationship for Britain in the EU. At least I was in Bucharest doing something serious!

Julian Lindley-French  


Monday, 7 December 2015

Triple Track: NATO Nuclear Deterrence is sad not M.A.D.

Alphen, Netherlands. 7 December. Seventy-four years ago today the United States Pacific Fleet was struck by a ‘bolt from the blue’, as the Imperial Japanese Navy sank much of the American fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor. During the Cold War the US strategic community was constantly exercised by the threat of a nuclear ‘bolt from the blue’ from the Soviet Union.  In the years after the Cold War it appeared that the threat of nuclear mutually assured destruction or M.A.D. had been cast into history. However, with Russia now rattling nuclear sabres almost weekly nuclear deterrence is back on the strategic agenda. What got me thinking about M.A.D.-ness was an excellent conference I attended last week at the NATO Defense College in Rome entitled, “The Future Deterrence Requirements of the Alliance”.  What struck me was not the similarities that exist between the Cold War and today, but rather the differences. What was also clear to me is that NATO nuclear deterrence has become sad not M.A.D?

NATO’s nuclear deterrence policy and posture is close to failure. Paradoxically, it is a failure made all the more likely by the weakness of NATO’s conventional forces in preventing the kind of limited war with big weapons strategy for which the Russians are now daily preparing. Let me explain. The distance from the border of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad to that of Belarus is at best 60kms (40 miles) across Poland and Lithuania. If Russia wanted to seal the Baltic States off from the rest of NATO Moscow would first close that gap. Having established a fait accompli with conventional military force Moscow would a) order forward deployed NATO forces out of the Baltic States; and b) threaten the use of its burgeoning and treaty-illegal short and intermediate range nuclear forces to prevent any kind of NATO response – conventional or nuclear.

In such circumstances it is hard for me to believe many Alliance political leaders would be willing to go to war, let alone American, British and French leaders unleash their strategic nuclear weapons. In effect, Russia would have applied to effect nuclear superiority, and in so doing proven to further effect a key dictum of Sun Tzu; that the ‘best’ wars are built on an irresistible fait accompli, just like Crimea.

Deterrence theory, and all the associated wonkery that goes along with it, relies on an essentially simple premise; that in the event of war an adversary can never be sure that the attacked would not resort to the use of nuclear weapons and quickly and has the will, capability and intent so to do. In NATO’s case the theory is adjusted to include the nuclear defence of the territory of allies, not just the three NATO nuclear weapons states. When I look at the political classes of all three NATO nuclear states I simply no longer believe that NATO leaders would resort to the use of such weapons if faced with an essentially limited war on NATO’s eastern flank.  And, if I do not believe it I am pretty damned sure Moscow does not believe it.

My doubts over the credibility of NATO’s nuclear deterrent posture are manifold. NATO does not in fact have any nuclear weapons and has no political consensus over their role or use. The US nuclear arsenal is having to play a multipolar deterrent role the world over which leads to a very different strategic calculus than the bipolar strategic symbiosis that existed for much of the Cold War. France has a robust nuclear policy and some ‘sub-strategic’ nuclear forces.  However, its limited sub-strategic air-based nuclear force would be unable to penetrate an increasingly sophisticated Russian air defence system. The British (being the British these days) are about to spend some £31bn on a new “Successor” strategic nuclear system whilst British political leaders (and not just Jeremy Corbyn) repeatedly imply they would never use it. 

My sense is that neither Britain nor France would conceive of using nuclear weapons unless as a response to nuclear use by an enemy, and for all the rhetoric to the contrary, neither power would use such weapons unless their own soil had been so attacked.  And it is that problem of decoupled proportionality that is rendering to my mind NATO’s nuclear deterrent posture ‘incredible’.

Paradoxically, the nuclear capabilities assigned to NATO are more than enough to deter against a nuclear attack by a major power, and yet are utterly unusable in the event of the nuclear-fringed conventional threat Russia poses. Even in the case of a nuclear strike by a state like Iran I find it hard to see that any of the three NATO nuclear powers would respond in kind to the use of one or two first generation warheads, even against a NATO ally.       

In effect, NATO’s conventional and nuclear deterrents are also in danger of becoming ‘de-coupled’ with no credible ‘escalation’ on offer from the use of conventional forces to the use of nuclear forces. It is ‘de-coupling that is reinforced by the strange estrangement from NATO of the Alliance’s three nuclear weapons’ states. The US sees NATO very much as a side-show. The British talk NATO but never match words with deeds. The French have only just re-entered the NATO integrated command structure and remain NATO-sceptics, in the same way the British are EU-sceptics.

Worse, NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group is kept at the margins of policy planning precisely because NATO’s 28, soon-to-be 29, nations cannot agree about whether to deter Russia or debate with Russia. As for NATO’s fabled ‘dual-capable aircraft’, most of which belong to the Alliance’s non-nuclear states, these are legacy systems that whilst capable of carrying nuclear weapons would no longer get through Russia’s air defences. Indeed, ‘NATO DCA’ is either outdated, incapable, or both. As for missile defence it is the wrong system, defending inadequately against the wrong people, incapable of being upgraded to defend against a Russian threat (whatever Moscow says), paid for by an American taxpayer who it will not defend!  In other words NATO missile defence does not fly strategically, politically, or technically.

However, the real danger posed by NATO’s conventional and nuclear decoupling is the danger that the nuclear use threshold will fall by mistake if the choice is surrender or nukes. By deploying short and intermediate range nuclear systems Russia is implying that it has already lowered the nuclear threshold, intimidating its neighbours with implied and applied irrationality.  Indeed, much of what is today called the Gerasimov doctrine (after the Chief of the Russian General Staff) looks much like the Ogarkov doctrine of the early 1980s which also implied a warfighting use for nuclear weapons.

So, how does NATO defend the Baltic States and indeed other allies? A senior American friend recently warned me against implying the Baltic States are indefensible. He is right. To my mind the Baltics must be defended. However, if a credible defence is to be established such a defence must be placed in its proper strategic context. First, NATO must protect both its eastern and southern flanks. That means conventional forces in sufficient strength to deter, prevent and interdict on both flanks. Second, to defend the Baltic States, NATO conventional forces in sufficient strength must be forward deployed to the region to act as a trip wire to further Alliance escalation in the event of Russian aggression.  In other words, NATO needs a forward deployed NATO forward deterrent. Third, the Russians must not be allowed to plan an attack that joins Kaliningrad to Belarus at little or no cost. Kaliningrad must be considered a NATO target for conventional forces in the event of Russian aggression – even if Russia deploys Iskander M and other nuclear systems to the enclave.

However, it is NATO’s ability to escalate conventionally that is most in need of attention if NATO deterrence is to be restored to credibility. Behind the Spearhead force agreed at the September 2014 NATO Wales Summit powerful conventional forces must be deployed forward that increase the risk to Moscow of even the most limited of incursions. At the very least this would need a NATO force that looked something like the Allied Command Europe (ACE) Mobile Force of the past which combined both mass and manoeuvre.

Therefore, to restore credibility to NATO’s deterrent posture next year’s Warsaw Summit should enshrine a new triple-track approach.  Track one would involve the reinvigoration of the conventional and nuclear deterrents of the Alliance. Specifically, the three Alliance nuclear weapons states would publicly re-commit to the credible maintaining of NATO as a nuclear alliance (and mean it). Track two would see the 26 other NATO nations re-commit to enhancing their conventional forces as part of a reinvigorated NATO non-nuclear deterrent, with the stated aim to keep the threshold for nuclear use high. Track three would see the Alliance put forward new arms control proposals designed to lessen tensions between Russia and the Alliance via an initial redeployment of both nuclear and conventional forces, but only in the event of a change of policy in Moscow.

Nuclear weapons are scary and most western liberal politicians and indeed peoples would rather not think about them. However, in the world into which NATO is moving the more the West's conventional military power is eclipsed by illiberal power the more NATO will rely on nuclear weapons, 

We do not want to wake up to another Pearl Harbor! We must make sure we do not!

Julian Lindley-French