hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 21 November 2016

Why is London so Crap at Brexit?

“Nature abhors a vacuum”.

Alphen, Netherlands. 21 November. Why is London so crap at Brexit? In my 2015 book Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (which is of course brilliant and very reasonably-priced, and can be bought incredibly reasonably at I state, “…managing decline has become the ethos of so many British governments and too often simply masks the damaging lack of imagination of a political class and a bureaucratic elite who have for so long seen strategy made elsewhere that they now take decline for granted”. The book goes on, “Such failings are now apparent across government, reflective of a Westminster culture that routinely places politics before strategy”. I wrote that passage well before this year’s Brexit referendum. Sadly, as expected, London’s political and bureaucratic elite are making a mess of Brexit. Here are eleven reasons why.

Devolution: there are now several competing poles of power in Britain thanks to Tony Blair’s disastrous experiment in devolution. The Westminster Parliament looks increasingly like an English parliament in which the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish rule on English matters. One of the many implicit battles of Brexit is the sovereignty of Westminster versus the encroaching sovereignty of politically inimical devolved parliaments and assemblies.

The Ruling Caste: This past weekend Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, the man who drafted Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, said that the British need mass immigration because we British are “so bloody stupid”. Sadly, this comment typifies the arrogance of what has become an unaccountable ruling bureaucratic elite for whom national sovereignty and democracy are simply inconveniences. In Riga I challenged bluntly another member of that EU governing caste who suggested openly that the British people were too ignorant to know why they voted to leave. The EU gets blamed for a lot that is not of its own making, but there is no question that the EU has also fostered a ruling bureaucratic uber-elite that treats the people with utter contempt.    
Irreconcilable Remoaners: Such elite arrogance provides the political momentum for the Remoaners. Democracy works by people accepting the results of votes. Too many Remoaners are simply refusing to accept the referendum result thus turning a crisis into a disaster. Forget all the guff about respecting the vote 'but' that one hear’s from such people. There are many Remoaners in very high places determined to ensure Britain never leaves the EU.

Incompetent Brexiteers: Too many of the leading Brexiteers abandoned the political field of battle in the wake of the referendum in the belief the decision had been made. And, at a political level Theresa May decapitated the Brexit campaign by taking three of the leaders into government, in effect muzzling them. This left the field open for Remoaners to cause trouble. A political opportunist if ever there was one it now looks like even Tony Blair senses a chance to return from the land of the walking political dead to scupper Brexit.

A Divided Cabinet: Theresa May’s Cabinet is itself hopelessly split. On one side of the split are the so-called soft Brexiteers, i.e. Remoaners, led by Philip Hammond, who want Britain to remain part of the Single Market. This means Britain would have to accept free movement of citizens (as agreed in the amended 1991 Maastricht Treaty), pay into the EU budget, and remain under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. In other words, they want Britain to remain a member of the EU, albeit without any voting rights, the worst of all Euro-worlds. On the other side of the split are the increasingly frustrated Brexiteers. This weekend the latter set up the European Research Group in an attempt to hold Government to account over Brexit.  
A Politicised Civil Service: During the thirteen years of the Blair-Brown governments the civil services became progressively politicised. This process was reinforced by the use of legions of so-called Special Advisors (SPADS) and years of politically-correct recruitment. Whereas once the Civil Service was patrician conservative with a small ‘c’, it is now overwhelmingly bourgeois, pro-EU and soft left. Yes, making Brexit happen is technically difficult, and yes, there are still excellent senior civil servants trying to make inchoate politics work in the finest traditions of a once fine service. However, there are too many senior civil servants quietly trying to frustrate Brexit. The extent of this dissembling was made clear by Cameron Downing Street insider Daniel Korski in a recent piece in Politico.

A Hard Brexit or No Brexit: ‘Soft Brexit’, ‘hard Brexit’, ‘clean Brexit’, ‘cliff-edge Brexit’, ‘transition Brexit’, ‘one-minute past midnight Brexit’. There are now so many Brexit options an already complex political challenge is fast becoming a strategic nightmare. In fact, there are only two Brexit options – a hard Brexit or no Brexit.   This reality was reinforced to me by a senior German politician over dinner in Brussels last Wednesday.  For the EU anything else would probably presage the unravelling of an already vulnerable and fragile Union.

The Hollowed-Out British State: The EU has hollowed-out much of the British state through the transfer of ‘competences’ from London to Brussels. Proof positive of how successive British governments quietly transferred huge amounts of British power to Brussels, whilst telling the British people quite the opposite. Two leaked memos this past week have revealed the lacunae in skills in Whitehall needed to negotiate Brexit. This has (of course) been denied by Downing Street, but from my experience it rings horribly true, particularly when it comes to trade negotiators.   

A Politicised Judiciary: I am not one of those who attacks the judiciary for judgements made, as I believe strongly in the separation of powers. However, the same process that shifted the political centre of gravity from soft right to soft left in Whitehall, and all the assumptions that go with it, was also applied to the judiciary by Tony Blair. Unlike many I have read the judgement of the three High Court judges on the case brought by Gina Miller to the effect that the Government cannot use Royal Prerogative to invoke Article 50. Sorry, but some of the ‘legal’ assumptions in the ruling strike me as essentially, and quite clearly political. 

Political Weakness: It may be that in staying ‘mum’ Theresa May is playing a wonderfully canny game in preparing the ground for Article 50 and Britain’s subsequent departure from the EU. I cannot see nor have I heard any evidence to that effect. Rather, the same old Whitehall-Westminster foreign policy tendency of wanting to appease all and sundry without appearing to do so seems to be in play. It is precisely this weakness that has encouraged German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble to state this weekend that Britain will be forced to pay into the EU budget even after it leaves the EU. The consequence? Even though Britain is a top five world economic and military power it does not act like one. Britain will need to fight (politically) if it is to realise Brexit.

A Lack of Elite Belief in Britain: At root the Brexit fiasco reflects a London political and bureaucratic elite too many of whom simply do not believe in Britain. Some of them even want to break the UK into its four constituent ‘nations’ so that they could in time become part of a new ‘state’ called ‘Europe’. Too much of the London elite spend too much time lost in the intellectual desert that is universalism having abandoned the very idea of patriotism and the nation-state. This sets them at odds with huge swathes of the British people who remain stubbornly patriotic. It also creates a political gap that the likes of Nigel Farage (and Donald Trump in the US) are filling. If the elite do not actually believe in Britain how can they fashion a sense of the national interest other than some vague extension of their even vaguer notions of universalism and globalism?    

In spite of my profound misgivings about the EU, its governance, its efficiency, its unworldliness, and its erosion of democratic oversight and political accountabuility I eventually turned against Brexit. This was partly due to reasons of geopolitics, but also because I foresaw the almighty strategic and political mess Brexit is fast becoming.  Soft Brexit? Hard Brexit? No, we need quick Brexit, not lingering death Brexit, which is what the elite is now conspiring to deliver. 

For the sake of Britain, the EU, and indeed NATO, it is vital that Brexit is resolved in a quick, orderly and friendly manner. A responsible elite would recognise this strategic truism, honour the vote that was taken on June 23rd as I have, and move to re-establish a new relationship with the EU outside of the institutions. In so doing they would pull together to realise the will of the people in what was a UK-wide vote and make it so.

Is that going to happen? No. Why? Brexit is precisely the big, complex, strategic, substantive process London has become useless at. And, because too much of the British political and bureaucratic elite is not only irresponsible…it is also crap!

Julian Lindley-French    

Friday, 18 November 2016

NATO-EU: Cybrid Jawfare?

“Boost our ability to counter hybrid threats, including by bolstering resilience, working together on analysis, prevention, and early detection, through timely information sharing and, to the extent possible, intelligence sharing between staffs; and cooperating on strategic communication and response. The development of coordinated procedures through our respective playbooks will substantially contribute to implementing our efforts”.
EU-NATO Joint Declaration, 8 July, 2016

Alphen, Netherlands. 18 November. On Wednesday, in my capacity as Vice-President of the Atlantic Treaty Association (ATA), I had the honour of chairing a meeting at the European Parliament in Brussels on NATO-EU co-operation on hybrid warfare. To be honest, as someone who knows a bit about hybrid warfare, my definition of it – the use of all state and many extra state means to exploit the seams and vulnerabilities of an opponent via disruption, destabilisation and disinformation – was also a pretty good description of NATO-EU relations up until recently. Anything changed?

In fact, the ATA pulled off something of a coup in having such a meeting take place in the august if somewhat labyrinthine bafflement that is the European Parliament. The fact that a NATO Assistant Secretary-General spoke at the meeting was also a sign that relations between the Alliance and the Union are improving.

Here’s the ‘but’. Many people think hybrid warfare is cyber warfare. And yes, in an age of ‘digitisation’, as outgoing President Obama yesterday called it in Berlin, cyber is a very important line of hybrid warfare operations. However, cyber warfare is only a part of hybrid warfare. The problem with the meeting was that I got the distinct impression that apart from me very few of the speakers knew what hybrid warfare actually is, and just how dangerous it can be if practised by an opponent that does know what it is – Russia. Consequently, what happened is what happens at all such meetings when those present do not really know what they are talking about. The meeting rapidly elevated into the upper atmosphere of strategic semantics, whilst at one and the same time retreating into the weeds of technical cybernetics.

One reason much of the meeting focused on what I rather disparagingly call ‘cybrid jawfare’ is precisely because ‘we’, be it the Western ‘we’, the NATO ‘we’, the European ‘we’, or the EU ‘we’, (and therein lies a very big problem) simply lack a counter-hybrid strategy worthy of the name.  Yes, we have the EU-NATO Joint Declaration and it is a start, but there have been so many starts in EU-NATO relations. Speak in the margins of any such meeting and as ever the gap between rhetoric and reality is precisely one of those seams adversaries can exploit.

There was the usual talk about the need for accelerated decision-making, better sharing of information and intelligence, the enhancing of societal resiliency, and the reinforcing of national efforts. However, when I pushed it was clear to me that far from preparing both the Alliance and the Union for a new form of warfare, much of it is still simply jawfare.  Why? Because the single most effective defence against hybrid warfare is still missing – political solidarity.

This is dangerous. The time for talking about doing needs to be rapidly replaced by simply doing. Yesterday, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linus Linkevicius said he was very worried that Russia would ‘test’ NATO before the Trump administration is sworn in on January 20th next. So am I. That ‘test’ could well come in the form of hybrid warfare and an attempt to destabilise the Baltic States via an aggressive strategic communications campaign, cyber-interference, and the use of military power to intimidate the three countries. This week the Estonian government fell giving Moscow a gold-plated opportunity to interfere in the coming elections.

The threat is profound. If ‘we’ cannot protect the home base, ‘we’ will be unable to project power. Hybrid warfare is not half warfare, or pretend warfare, it is part of full-on warfare. Quite simply, we Europeans are still unable to protect our frighteningly open societies from destabilising political and social penetration. As such we are also unable to safeguard the political and societal resilience which effective policy and strategy requires. Therefore, we are unlikely to be able to project the influence, power and effect vital to preserving a credible security and defence, let alone a credible defence and deterrence posture.

The good news was that such a meeting took place at all in the European Parliament. It simply would not have been possible even five years ago. For that reason I very much applaud the initiative and it was an honour to chair it. However, the dictates of institutionalism come well before the rigours of policy and the disciplines of action. That can only happen because those in power see inter-institutional games as more important than forging a real partnership. In other words, complacency still reigns precisely because power does not as yet take the threat seriously enough.

There can be no security in contemporary Europe without the creation of a new ‘iron triangle’ – the US, NATO and the EU. Right now, ‘reality’ looks more like a meringue triangle – the appearance of a hard crust on the outside, very soft in the middle. Until the hybrid threat is seen as the strategic threat it is NATO and the EU will continue to act like two wary bull elephants dancing around each other on the head of a shrinking pin. Real progress will only be seen when effective and real strategy is crafted and the agility and adaptability central to the conduct of effective hybrid warfare is realised.

In May 1935, Winston Churchill wrote: “There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the Sibylline Books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong, these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history”.

EU-NATO: cybrid jawfare?

Julian Lindley-French           

Monday, 14 November 2016

Teddy Trump?

“Speak softly, but carry a big stick”.
President Theodore Roosevelt Jr

Alphen, Netherlands. 14 November. Last Thursday I had the honour of addressing some six hundred mainly British military personnel on Russia. Not surprisingly, the issue of President-elect Trump came up. This was hardly surprising given I presented a worse-case scenario which I suggested ‘President Clinton’ might need to deal with. Oops! The subsequent derision was the cause of much fun and ribaldry, and yes I am as surprised as anyone that Donald J. Trump now stands at the portal of the Oval Office. However, it did get me thinking about which POTUS Trump is most likely to, or rather should, emulate. The nearest I can come up with is the 26th President of the United States Theodore (‘Teddy’) Roosevelt Jr.   

Teddy Roosevelt was Republican president between 1901 and 1909 during which time he endeavoured to drive forward an activist, progressive agenda, but was consistently thwarted by a ‘conservative’ Congress??? Whatever one may think of President-elect Trump’s presidential campaign it could hardly be called ‘progressive’, at least in the contemporary understanding of the term.  Trump will certainly be activist, pending activism reinforced by the appointment yesterday of right-wing firebrand Steve Barrons as his Chief Strategist.

And, I accept that my analogy is not neat as there are many differences between Roosevelt and Trump. The former was 42 when he came to power, the latter 70. Teddy Roosevelt was acknowledged as something of a scholar having published his book The Naval War of 1812 in 1882. Whilst the name of Donald J. Trump adorns the front cover of many books, one would hardly call him a scholar.

Roosevelt was also a soldier and an adventurer. Having served as Assistant Secretary to the Navy he resigned to fight in the Spanish-American War and in 1898 he led the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (‘The Rough Riders’) with distinction at the battles of Las Guasimas and San Juan Hill in Cuba. Roosevelt was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for helping to bring about the end of the Russo-Japanese War.

So, what similarity, if any’ could (and I stress ‘could’) link Teddy Roosevelt and Donald Trump. Trump, like Roosevelt, is an adventurer, albeit a business adventurer, although ‘Teddy’ too was an entrepreneur. To suggest Trump will be an isolationist seems to contradict the global nature of much of his business empire and the President-elect’s use and understanding of power.

Roosevelt was also an exponent of American power, which I think will come to define the Trump foreign policy far more than the feared/hoped for isolationism. In 1907 Roosevelt ordered the United States Navy – the so-called Great White Fleet – to circumnavigate the world. It was a statement of American power. In the Mediterranean the British made a counter-statement about the limits to then American power by lining up the mighty Royal Navy’s entire Mediterranean Fleet on either side of the American fleet. Still, both sides really knew America’s presence in the Mediterranean was a sign of things to come. President Roosevelt was speaking softly to the British, but the ‘big stick’ was clearly implied.

So, what could this mean in practice for Trump? Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov is causing a lot of mischief by suggesting a de facto Putin-Trump alliance could a) happen; and b) implicitly accept a Russian sphere of influence over Eastern Europe and much of the Middle East. Let’s see. Like many American presidents on taking office President Trump could well seek to find a new way forward in US-Russian relations. After all, that is precisely what President George W. Bush tried as well.

And yes, there is every possibility Transactional Trump will try and do a deal with President Putin. However, far from being a sell-out he will see it as the best way to both protect the NATO allies and reduce the burden of European security and defence on the American taxpayer. What the rest of us have to do is to try and ensure President Trump is not out-manoeuvred by that wily old fox Putin. That important aim has not been assisted by the silly name-calling too many of continental Europe’s leaders have indulged in over the past few days.
It is over the role of institutions in security where there is marked difference between the Trump world-view and the European elite world-view, and thus the most likely source of friction. Trump, like Roosevelt before him, has little understanding for, or empathy with, the values-driven institutionalism of Europeanism (and the Obama foreign policy).

Which brings me to the real challenge of Trumpism for America’s allies; if institutions like NATO can prove they act as multipliers of American power and influence then the Trump administration will likely back them. Allies will be treated in much the same way. If they can add value to American power, as Trump sees it, then they will be listened to by the Trump White House; if they cannot they will not be listened to.

Ultimately, President Theodore Roosevelt Jr, and President-elect Donald J. Trump were/are deal-makers who trade in power and results. Yes, President Trump will likely be an uncomfortable partner, and for the British trying to get close to him will be the political equivalent of riding a tiger. However, if President Trump finally forces Europe’s elite to awake from the slumber of its own self-obsession and re-connect European security with world security then he might just do Europe a favour.

There is one thing President Trump might learn from President Roosevelt – power is best exercised when it speaks softly and the stick is implicit rather than explicit. During the campaign President-elect Trump too often spoke too loudly, and too often threatened a big stick against all and sundry. However, unlike many Europeans I have faith in both Americans and the American political system, and as a matter of principle I always start from a position of respect for the office of president. For that reason I am far less concerned or shrill in my concerns about the Trump presidency than many of my rather silly fellow Europeans.

What can Europeans do? President Trump is fact. We are already suffering from Brexit-denial and too many European leaders seem to be now suffering from Trump-denial. So, stop whingeing Europe and start investing in the power that will both enhance Europe’s security and buy Europeans influence in the Trump White House - be that individually or collectively.

As for President-elect Trump, he could do far worse than try to emulate President Roosevelt.

Teddy Trump?
Julian Lindley-French


Wednesday, 9 November 2016


“We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual and it is those interests it is our duty to follow”.
Lord Palmerston

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, 9 November. Well, that went well didn’t it? I am sitting at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport about to cross the new inner-West border by flying to London. In June large hordes of British people told Brussels where to go with Brexit. Now, large swathes of the American people have told Washington where to go with Trumxit. Some Chicken Littles here in Europe are already screaming ‘the sky is falling, the sky is falling’. But is it? What are the ‘strategic’ implications of President-elect Trump’s victory? What would a Trump Doctrine look like?

US grand strategy: President Trump will certainly abandon the values that infused the ‘Obama Doctrine’ and likely adopt a hard-headed interests-led foreign and security policy. However, he alone will decide just what the US interest actually is. Certainly, there will be more money for the US armed forces, but probably also a surprisingly ‘pragmatic’ approach to dealing with the likes China and Russia. As for ISIS there is nothing Trump has said thus far that suggests he either understands the issues implicit in the threat, or is willing to commit the immense forces and resources over time and distance needed to deal with it.

Brexit: Britain suddenly has a powerful ally in the White House for the coming Brexit negotiations with the EU, if for once London can exploit such an opportunity. Trump made no effort to hide his admiration for the decision of the British to quit the EU and even claimed Brexit was an inspiration for his campaign.  The Special Relationship might linger on a little longer if Theresa May’s Cabinet can hold its nose long enough to make use of it. If I were London I would get that British new super-carrier over to the US pronto! After all, President-elect Trump clearly enjoys the theatre of power.

NATO: Much will depend on how the Allies react to President Trump. As I wrote in a piece earlier in the year President Trump is likely to adopt a transactional foreign and security policy. As such he will hold the Allies to a far greater degree of burden sharing if the US is to remain the security guarantor of Europe. He will certainly demand the Allies at the very least fulfil and quickly the commitment made at the 2014 Wales Summit to spend 2% GDP on defence of which 20% must be spent on new military equipment. However, comments this morning that NATO is finished are as ever premature.

The West: The old West is dead, long-live the new West? The West was born of an Anglo-American partnership that spawned a global institution-based security order. It is not a little ironic then in that it is the Anglo-Americans who are fast killing it off, which from a British viewpoint is actually a disaster. President Trump will probably accelerate a trend toward Machtpolitik which has sadly been underway for some time, and which speaks to the very nature of a transactional foreign policy. A shared understanding of, and penchant for, big, uncouth power seems to be the spring of Trump’s bromance with Putin, and seems to be how he conducts his business empire.  Equally, if the idea of the West as a bloc is to survive under President Trump, then the Europeans will at least have to abandon some of the overdone institutionalism that passes for foreign and security policy in Europe, and properly reinvest in tools of power and influence.

There is of course a big ‘but’ with all of the above. As I write this it looks like Republicans are making gains in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. With people like Senator John McCain (R-Az) likely to hold key positions on the Senate Armed Services and other important congressional committees, the confirmation process for the new Administration will impose at least some level of balance. In any case, for all Trump’s fiery rhetoric during the campaign from about America’s place and role in the world his emphasis is likely to be overwhelmingly on undoing Obama’s domestic legacy, most notably the Affordable Healthcare Act.  Yes, the armed forces will get a boost to shore up the support of his base, but foreign policy will not be President Trump’s over-riding concern. In any case, he will be mired in endless battles with a Washington that he regards as a ‘swamp’ and which he has vowed to ‘drain’.

Which brings me to the real danger; there will be no Trump Doctrine. Rather, a Trump foreign policy could well descend into a mix of bluster, opportunism, isolationism, idiosyncratic activism, mercantilism, and trade protectionism, but offer little or no coherent or consistent strategy. Given how dangerous uncertainty is already making the world there is little question that President Trump could make the world more, not less dangerous. That is why European leaders far from rejecting President-elect Trump must now hug him close.

When Lord Palmerston made that famous statement about British interests at the height of Empire he did so firm in the belief that it was in the British interest to maintain strategic balance. President-elect Trump has as yet to evince any suggestion that he understands America’s pivotal role in the maintenance of today’s strategic balance. One can only hope he develops such a vision and quickly…for all our sakes.

Plane to catch!

Julian Lindley-French    

Friday, 4 November 2016

Closing NATO’s Deterrence Gaps

 “Russia is using the whole range of of state organs and powers to push its foreign policy in increasingly aggressive ways”.

MI5 Director-General Andrew Parker. 1 November, 2016

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 November. Russia is exploiting NATO’s many deterrence gaps because the Alliance no longer understands deterrence. Back in 1959 Bernard Brodie defined deterrence as a strategy designed to dissuade an adversary of an action not yet taken. Then deterrence was seen as what Herman Kahn infamously called the Homicide Pact Machine. However, contemporary deterrence requires far more than mutually assured nuclear destruction. Deterrence today is a complex mix of political will, conventional armed forces, nuclear forces, societal resiliency, new technology, and even psychological robustness. Moscow understands that and has embarked on a counter-deterrence influence strategy so that relatively weaker Russia can systematically undermine inherently far stronger NATO.

Moscow’s strategy operates at several levels. Russia is seeking to weaken NATO conventional military deterrence by establishing local, temporary military superiority and implying the threat of a long war that would force the Alliance to trade space for time. Moscow’s aim is to establish a virtual buffer zone of influence, not to trigger a war with the Alliance as a whole. Russia would either lose such a war, or trigger a nuclear conflict which Moscow understands would be a disaster for all. However, that does not preclude Moscow from embarking on a ‘limited’ Baltic land grab if it deemed the circumstances to be sufficiently propitious. Around the Baltic States Russia now enjoys local military superiority.  And, whilst NATO conventional forces look strong on paper, many of them are either not equipped, ill-equipped, or simply unable to move quickly in support a major crisis in NATO’s east.

However, it is Alliance nuclear deterrence where Russian strategists are employing their considerable intellectual, strategic, and indeed psychological skills. By introducing illegal short and medium-range nuclear weapons back into Europe, and by suggesting they might have a warfighting role, Moscow is trying to break the continuity link between NATO’s conventional and nuclear deterrents. Moscow is also only too happy to leave an implied threat of nuclear war hanging toxically in the minds of its fellow Europeans.
The strategy is working. Apart from a limited French mid-range airborne nuclear capability, and some ancient American assets based in Germany, there is no credible political link between NATO’s conventional and nuclear forces. If ‘enhanced forward presence’, i.e. the conventional deterrent failed the US, Britain and France would be faced with the prospect of resorting to the use of their strategic nuclear forces. Such forces could in theory play a ‘sub-strategic’ role given that most of them can carry a range of warheads with different levels of destructive kilo-tonnage and mega-tonnage. However, these systems are submarine-based and in a sense self-deter as Moscow have to assume that if such a missile appeared on its radars it would herald a country-busting strategic exchange. Given that reality the idea that such weapons could deter a ‘limited’ war in Eastern Europe let alone be used is not only politically ‘incredible’ (in the real meaning of the word), it is unthinkable.

Deterrence is not simply about weapons – far from it. Russia is employing a range of irregular methods to undermine Alliance deterrence. This includes hybrid warfare, a range of soft power tactics, through the use of social media to sow disinformation, and direct efforts to exploit the political divisions in already divided European societies.  Strategic miscommunication and disinformation is spread via a ‘hybrid truth’ strategy using television networks such as RT and Sputnik that are little more than instruments of Russian propaganda. Moscow has also bought some misguided academics and commentators in Europe to help ‘multiply the message’.
Russia’s use of cyber-warfare is proving particularly adept. Andrew Parker’s statement coincided with this week’s announcement by the British Government that it will spend some £2bn/$2.4bn on a new cyber-warfare capability that would, in the words of Chancellor Philip Hammond, enable Britain to “strike back” against attackers. Russia already has a major offensive cyber capability focussed on its mammoth Ministry of State Security, and is about to invest another $250m.

Why is Russia for the moment succeeding? The strongest/weakest pillar of deterrence is politics. Political deterrence worked during the Cold War because Moscow believed credible the NATO Article 5 premise that an attack on one Alliance member would be regarded as an attack on all. Today, the automaticity of NATO collective defence is not so clear. Last week I was in Italy. Many senior Italians simply dismiss the Russian ‘threat’ as the hysterical ramblings of a few, small Baltic States. It is a point of view held elsewhere in Europe, most notably in France. Critically, NATO’s eastern, southern, and western members are profoundly divided over where to make the Main Effort. Worse, the two traditional bastions of the Alliance are either distracted, as in the case of the US, or politically-broken, as in the case of the UK. Brexit is proving to be precisely the strategic disaster I predicted, and which forced me to abandon any support for it.

So, what to do? At the July NATO Warsaw Summit the Alliance agreed that, “NATO’s capacity to deter and defend is supported by an appropriate mix of capabilities. Nuclear conventional and missile defence capabilities complement each other. NATO also maintains the freedom of action and flexibility to respond to the full spectrum of challenges with an appropriate and tailored approach, at the minimum level of force”.

In such political circumstances NATO’s room for deterrent manoeuvre is limited. However, if the Alliance is to plug its deterrence gaps there are some things the alliance, or at least its more powerful members could do, if one assumes that a weak Russia does not actually seek all-out war. First, contest the cyber-battlespace. Do not leave the field to the Russians to exploit cyberspace at will. Second, contest the hybrid information-space. Deconstruct Russian propaganda and actively promote a message of strength and friendship to the Russian people. Third, mean what we say. Alliance members must actually fulfil the commitments they make at NATO summits.  Fourth, forge a new Resiliency Pact between NATO and the EU to render European society more robust in preventing Moscow’s efforts to divide and distract.   Above all, NATO members must prevent the strength/weakness balance of power to reach a point anywhere in the Alliance where Russia’s own internal self-contradictions might lead a Kremlin in crisis to chance a nationalist-adventurist gamble.

If NATO is to fulfil its mission the Alliance must not only fill the deterrence gaps, it must think anew about just what deterrence actually means and demands in the twenty-first century. Then, just then, we might convince President Putin to avoid actions not yet taken, and which may lead who knows where...

Julian Lindley-French