hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 30 December 2016

2016: The Year of Vladimir Vladimirovich

“Moscow has three main reasons for engagement in Syria: to demonstrate that Russia is a world power which must be taken seriously; to maintain Russia’s Mediterranean base and the possibility of imposing Area Denial on the West in the Eastern Mediterranean that it gives Russia; and to have lever­age in places where Russia’s strategic concerns are more vitally engaged, such as Ukraine and the Baltic States”.

The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons (Routledge: January 2017)
William Hopkinson and Julian Lindley-French

Alphen, Netherlands. 30 December. Yet again Vladimir Vladimirovich has out-flanked his hapless American counterpart and in so doing has engineered the impression it is Washington not Moscow engaged in a new Cold War.  The same day Putin played peacemaker in Syria outgoing US President Obama expelled 35 Russian ‘dips’ from the US, and imposed new sanctions on Putin’s inner-circle for Russia’s cyber-adjusting the recent US elections. So, how has Putin pulled it off and what can the West do about it?

Like many Western analysts I heard the news of the Russian ‘guaranteed’ nationwide ceasefire in Syria with deep ambivalence. The liberal democratic ‘me’ is relieved that there may just be a pause in the slaughter. However, the Realpolitik ‘me’ knows only too well that this strategic pause is but a hiatus in the grand strategic ambitions of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin as he takes stock on what has been a year of success beyond his wildest dreams.

Vladimir Vladimirovich has brilliantly exposed the wishful-thinking of Western elite establishments on both sides of the Atlantic. Remember a year ago (a long time ago, eh?) when politicians and establishment pundits were certain in their complacency. Brexit was the preserve of eccentric, nostalgic, English insurgents. Trump was an insult to prevailing political correctness who would not make it beyond the Republican primaries, let alone become president. And, Chancellor Merkel was busy telling her fellow Germans ‘wir schaffen das’, as the country reeled under the impact of over one million irregular migrants arriving en masse. Merkel should at least have read her history of Arminius, his defeat of the Roman Empire in the First Century BC, and Rome’s forced withdrawal from Magna Germania.

However, it is in Ukraine and the Levant where Vladimir Vladimirovich has most exposed the powerlessness and fecklessness of the West. Having changed Europe’s established borders by force in 2014 Putin has consolidated his hold on Crimea and Eastern Ukraine by entering into the charade that is Minsk I and Minsk II. If I were Ukrainian I suspect I would prefer to call it Munich I and Munich II. After all, saving Chancellor Merkel’s ‘peace in our time’ political face in an election year seems to be the only possible ‘benefit’ to have emerged from either agreement. There is clearly going to be no peace in or for Ukraine.

In Syria Vladimir Vladimirovich has thus far achieved almost all of his policy and strategy goals. He has humiliated the West (a goal in and of itself for Moscow) and in so doing gravely undermined American and European influence across the entire Middle East and North Africa. He has forced EU and NATO members to the east of the West to wonder if NATO these days is in fact Munich on steroids. He has also begun to exert real destabilising influence across much of southern Europe and brilliantly driven a wedge between Turkey and its NATO allies.

That he could achieve his aims reflects a strategy that in turn brilliantly combines a mix of force, deft diplomacy, and the sustained use of disinformation and destabilisation to create an image of a Russia of which he personifies which is far stronger than it actually is. However, make no mistake, Vladimir Vladimirovich could not have made 2016 his own without the active and complicit participation of the Obama administration and Europe’s strategically-illiterate leaders.

So, what can be done to stop Vladimir Vladimirovich, beyond the holding of yet another strategically-flatulent EU or NATO summit? Political realism is needed. 2017 is unlikely to be the year President Putin is confounded.  President Trump will be in the White House in 19 days-time and seems more intent on buddying-up to Putin and teaching the ‘allies’ a lesson than containing the former or reinforcing the latter. Worse, Brexit and a deepening Eurozone debt crisis will again likely consume much of ‘Europe’s’ political energy during a 2017 when several key EU members will be engrossed in elections.

Firstly, the US and EU must endeavour to maintain sanctions (a big if) to curb Putin’s undoubted ambitions. Secondly, it will be vital to steadily strengthen the eastern NATO/EU border with a forward military presence that can act as a credible trip-wire and thus deterrent. Above all, Vladimir Vladimirovich must no longer be allowed an uncontested cyber and information space. In other words, Western powers must go on the cyber and information offensive against Russia.  That act alone would finally send out the signal to Vladimir Vladimirovich that the West has got his combative message, and that if Russia continues to attack the many vulnerabilities of Western societies, the West will attack Russia’s many weaknesses.

The brilliance of Vladimir Vladimirovich’s strategic understanding is that he is a strong leader of an essentially weak state, attacking weak leaders of states that are essentially far stronger. but who are incapable of his ruthless grasp of power and strategy. In other words, Vladimir Vladimirovich may be brilliant, but he is also ultimately weak.      

No, I do not like President Putin, but I do respect him. And, I must admit, I vaguely fear him. Which, after all, is the very objective he set out to achieve.

2016: the year of Vladimir Vladimirovich. 2017?

Happy New Year!

Julian Lindley-French          

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Robert Hunter’s Yuletide Failures!

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 December. This is getting to be like one of those end of year ‘hits of…’ TV programmes. After my Twelve Failures of Christmas (which Judy Dempsey cites in today’s Washington Post) blog, my old friend and America’s former top man at NATO Ambassador Robert Hunter has emailed me with a few more yuletide failures to add to my own. Robert has kindly given me permission to publish them in this blog:

“13. Failure of the United States to get a sensible set of policies for the Middle East that let Syria get out of control and thus produced so many of these migrants (forget about the gross failure by the US, aided and abetted by Lap Dog Blair, in invading Iraq).

14. Failure of the Obama administration to keep a steady focus on Europe, in its entirety.  And ignoring all advice to do something about it.

15. Failure of the Obama administration to do things that might, just might, have prevented Putin’s actions in Ukraine (e.g. trying to mastermind a coup.) As a result, US military leaders call Russia an “existential threat” to the US (nonsense) as opposed to seeing the mess in Europe, partly of America’s causing (and with no American effort to help out), as far more important and “existential,” thus taking the American eye off the ball and failing its European partners, and thus the West as a whole.

16. Putting in senior foreign policy positions in the US, beginning late in Clinton, accelerated in Bush, and continued in Obama, people  who were over their heads, with no capacity to fit pieces together, while meanwhile keeping at arms-length people who know what they are doing and have proved it.

17. The failure of the US (and Western) foreign policy establishments to do any serious and original thinking since the late 1990s on the grounds that history has come to an end, Russia is of no account, and we are on top.

That’s enough to be getting on with…..and I haven’t even got to Putin and Trump playing with their nuclear toys.

The Grinch won!

But Happy Christmas, anyway.  The world has seen worse”.

Sadly, Robert is to a large extent right. Some years ago another old friend Chris Donnelly tried to establish a think-tank that could ‘think the unthinkable’ at the heart of the British security and defence establishment. It was shot down precisely because it thought the unthinkable and was thus deemed politically unacceptable, even though much of the thinking has since been proven entirely credible.  And, because such thinking was rejected much of Britain’s security and defence is today increasingly incredible.

Another old and trusted American friend, Hans Binnendijk, challenged me over Christmas to focus on the positive in 2017. Fair point. The ‘positive’ will (sort of) come from me in January with the publication of my new book Demons and Dragons: The New Geopolitics of Terror, which is of course brilliant, very reasonably-priced, and can be pre-ordered on Amazon! Well, Hans, I will do my best, but in the end all any of us can do is call it as we see it. Right now, Western security and defence is not a pretty picture.

Still there are two bits of good news. First, Sheffield United beat Oldham Athletic 2-0 on Boxing Day to remain second in League One of the English Football League. ‘League One’ is a bit like Britain’s defence policy – the third rate misleadingly described as first rate. Second, there will be much for me to write about in what is going to be a 2017 every bit as bumpy as 2016.    

The retreat of the Big West from strategy into process and wishful thinking has accelerated the West’s own decline and bolstered posturing mini-powers such as Putin’s Russia, and micro-powers such as IS, and made them far more dangerous than need be the case.

Happy New Year!

Julian Lindley-French  

Friday, 23 December 2016

Amri: The Twelve Failures of Christmas

Alphen, Netherlands. 23 December. Sadly, given the events in Berlin I am not feeling particularly Christmassy this year. No, I am angry. Angry at the Islamist who took the innocent lives at a Berlin Christmas market. Angry at the failure to capture the alleged perpetrator Anis Amri. Above all, I am angry with our so-called leaders. Yet again one event has revealed them for what they are; wishful thinking, bungling incompetents seemingly unable or unwilling to properly defend the very people who put them in their ivory towers. For Amri, or whoever carried out the Berlin attack, to get behind the wheel of that articulated lorry and mow down swathes of festive revellers there were at least twelve failures to act:

Failure One: The very fact that Amri was allowed to get to Europe reveals again the farce that is the EU’s so-called external border.

Failure Two: The failure of Italy to deport Amri back to Tunisia once he was convicted of setting a detention centre alight.

Failure Three: The radicalisation of Amri within an Italian prison. Prisons across Europe seem to be little more than incubators for Islamisation these days.

Failure Four: Failure by Italy to deport Amri after he had served his sentence.

Failure Five: Failure to monitor Amri as he made his borderless way through Schengenland from Italy to Germany.

Failure Six: Having established that Amri was a threat the failure to maintain surveillance on him in Germany, partly as a function of the limited resources available to the German security services and partly due to the German government’s own fragmented structure.

Failure Seven: To permit a ‘fighter’ on a martyrdom mission to walk away from the scene of his crime and to bungle the investigation for twenty-four hours.

Big Failure Eight: The well-intentioned but absurd pretence by Chancellor Merkel with her ‘wir schaffen das’ mantra that by letting in well over one million irregular migrants into Germany (and thus Europe) without any real effort to properly document the new arrivals.

Big Failure Nine: The determined refusal to ignore the relationship between a failed migration policy and a failed security policy at a time when Islamic State declared their determination to attack Europe.

Big Failure Ten: To infer that any criticism of gross elite incompetence is somehow a right-wing political conspiracy and express feigned surprise when more European citizens die at the hands of an extremist permitted to make his way across Europe in spite of a whole raft of warning signs.   

Big Failure Eleven: To place more importance on hiding the facts of failure from citizens above establishing a proper policy, structure and system to manage both extreme migration at a time of extreme insecurity. This failure includes failing to prepare for or manage the huge and dangerous inflows into Europe, to establish a mechanism for establishing nationality early, to properly monitor dangerous individuals, to establish a proper system for deporting failed asylum seekers, to deal effectively with radicalising Mosques and individuals.    

Big Failure Twelve: If Amri is indeed the perpetrator, and that has yet to be properly established in a court of law, perhaps the biggest failure this whole tragic saga reveals is this; Europe’s leaders deemed Amri’s human rights to be more important than the human rights of the victims of his attack who had their lives snuffed out at that Christmas scene I know so well.

Europe is in a security crisis. Yet again the seemingly total inability of Europe’s leaders to properly secure and defend the very European citizens who elevate them has been revealed. Not for the first time, and I suspect sadly not for the last, I must again ask of our leaders how many more of us have to die before they get collective their security act together.   

Europe today is neither secure nor properly defended precisely because of the dangerous conceits of an incompetent European elite political establishment who simply refuse to face up to the hard realities of this dangerous world. And, in spite of their abject failure Europe’s leaders wonder out loud why so-called populists are emerging to challenge their complacency. Just how many Amris are stalking our streets? Europe’s leaders have not got a clue.

Get you act together, leaders!

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Just Published in Latest NATO Review: Biscop & Lindley-French debate NATO-EU

DEBATE: What are the real prospects for strengthened European defence?

Two experts debate the significance of the conclusions of the European Council meeting on 15 December 2016.
European leaders agreed that Europeans must do more to strengthen Europe's security and defence in a challenging geopolitical environment.
They discussed proposals to implement the EU Global Strategy in the area of Security and Defence, which sets the level of ambition of the European Union. They welcomed the Commission's proposed European Defence Action Plan and looked forward to the establishment of a European Defence Fund and the joint development of capabilities commonly agreed by EU member states. They also urged swift action to implement EU-NATO cooperation in jointly agreed areas.
Sven Biscop

Who will do it?
Since June, when the United Kingdom voted for Brexit and High Representative Federica Mogherini published the new EU Global Strategy, we have seen a flurry of proposals to step up the defence efforts of European nations through more cooperation. Only by drastically increasing cooperation, by moving to military integration even, can Europeans hope to acquire the capacity “to act autonomously when and where necessary and with partners wherever possible,” as the European Council put it on 15 December.
Including the objective of “strategic autonomy” in the Global Strategy was prescient. The focus of US strategy had already shifted to Asia and the Pacific, and US President-elect Donald Trump seems set to reinforce this trend. Distrust is also growing between many European capitals and NATO-ally Turkey. In that light, it is self-evident that Europeans nations need the enhanced military capabilities, and access to a command structure, that would allow them to act alone when that is the only option. Of course, any extra European capability automatically is an extra for NATO too.
But, which European nations are really willing to use the incentives and facilities (such as Permanent Structured Cooperation) that the EU has created? Many nations have submitted proposals, most have yet to act upon them.
Julian Lindley-French

We have a problem. Sven and I are in violent agreement.
This is a big strategic moment. There should be every opportunity for the rump EU to move towards what many member states have pretended they always wanted – a form of European Defence Union and in time a European Army. In fact, the recent ‘EU defence summit’ raised but dashed expectations – it was the same old ‘emperor’s new clothes’: only recognise as much threat as we can afford.
If ever there was a time for EU radicalism it is now – a real chance to restructure the Alliance into a mutually reinforcing Anglosphere and Eurosphere. An effective Common Security and Defence Policy is vital because the flag atop an operation is as important in complexity as the force deployed.
A year ago I rejected Brexit, standing in the snows of Lithuania, because I placed the liberty of my fellow Europeans before my irritation with the anti-democratic tendencies of Brussels. I might quibble with the cost of establishing a separate EU command structure but if it meant real strategic vision I would accept that as the political price.
Sorry, but yet again another EU ‘defence summit’ has simply failed to pass the ‘so what?’ test.
“Today we agreed to step up our work on security and defence, in partnership with NATO.” – Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, 15 December 2016, Brussels. © European Union
Sven Biscop

Over to Berlin. Defence is fast becoming the next issue on which everybody looks to Germany to provide leadership for Europe.
Consider the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) in the EU and the Framework Nations Concept in NATO (groups of Allies working together on a multinational basis to develop forces and capabilities, coordinated by a ‘framework nation’) – Germany launched the latter and will come out with new proposals on the former. Both aspire to the same: taking the leap from defence cooperation (making oneself interoperable with partners) to integration (creating permanent multinational force packages including jointly owned and operated strategic enablers).
Both frameworks can work. PESCO has the advantage of prospective European Commission funding. So far, the Commission plans for a European Defence Fund to invest in capability projects are the most concrete item on the table. And it might work, if the Commission puts up a good share of the money itself.
And it might work if France makes the leap as well. Both Paris and Berlin must play, for without them no integrative scheme will reach the scale required to make it viable. For France, however, the UK remains the military partner of choice. At the same time, France needs defence integration in order to continue to live up to its own high ambitions. Can there be a Franco-German axis in defence?
Julian Lindley-French

Again, so what? Words not swords! Does EU defence tinkering add any real defence power?
Next spring President Trump will come to Brussels demanding a big NATO burden-sharing summit. For Trump, the 2%/20% defence investment pledge made by Allies at the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales – i.e. a commitment to spend a minimum of 2% of their Gross Domestic Product on defence and more than 20% of their defence budgets on major equipment, including related research and development within the next decade – is simply a down-payment on America’s future defence of Europe and he will want it now.
Yes, the agreement to create a mini EU HQ, better procurement spending and marginal force integration might lead to marginally improved effectiveness. And yes, the declaration by the EU to honour the 2%/20% defence investment pledge (sort of) is also to be welcomed.
However, none of the above helps Europeans confront Europe’s defence fundamentals. An arbitrary declaration over such a long timeframe (2024) is in effect meaningless as it fails to match what needs to be done with what has been promised (sort of).
This is an age of unforgiving power. Berlin is simply politically and psychologically unable to lead anything other than a soft, small European defence in a big, hard age. Britain will increase defence expenditure precisely because it is London’s big Brexit card, which will force the French closer to London not Berlin.
y, this latest EU summit was more pretence than defence (again).

Can there be a Franco-German axis in defence? Since 1989, a Franco-German Brigade has formed part of the EU’s Eurocorps and has been deployed to Kosovo. © Marie-Lan Nguyen
Sven Biscop

The British investment in defence will be very important – and hopefully will not suffer if, the moment the UK effectively leaves the EU, its economy and the Pound might suffer. Today may be the calm before the storm.
France definitely continues to see the UK as its partner of choice for serious military operations. But, with the UK absorbed by the Brexit negotiations, can France alone be the engine of Europe’s expeditionary role? And, in terms of multinational European capability development, Paris knows that it cannot count on London joining in, especially not after the Brexit referendum – but it can hope that German money will make it work. So, we need a Franco-German axis as the core of an increasingly integrated European full-spectrum force package (supported by Commission incentives), which builds interoperability with the UK.
The EU, and NATO, can facilitate this, but only the nations can do it. Do they really want to?
Perhaps Europeans should start thinking about the choice that the UK made in the mid-1930s: we can no longer assume that there will be no serious threat, or that someone else will come and avert it for us, so we have to start seriously rearming. We can do with less than the 1.5 million people that the EU28 currently pay to wear uniform, but we sure need a lot more real capabilities, for expeditionary operations and defence.
Julian Lindley-French

By way of response to Sven's excellent analysis, let me take a step back and look at the bigger strategic picture.
The inner-European defence debate will remain sheer self-obsession if it continues to fail to connect European security with world security. We need BOTH EU and NATO to be credible security and defence actors if we are to protect our people against the range of threats and threatening actors who now confront us.
That means a real NATO-EU strategic partnership, the proper 'integration' of both Britain and Turkey in that effort, and an engaged America allied to a Europe engaged in America's global mission. That will require strategy, vision, flexibility, and commitment.
2017 will be the year when we discover if our leaders are big enough to realise the need for win-win politics or condemn us all to the petty ‘lose all’ of a little Europe in a big world. Your call leaders...

Monday, 19 December 2016

Aleppo & Putin’s Great Crusade

“His courage, cunning, energy and patience made him the most remarkable man of his time”
Ali ibn al-Athir on Richard the Lionheart during the Third Crusade (1189-1192)

Alphen, Netherlands. 19 December. Europe’s small-minded, little thinking little leaders seem unable to grasp the strategic ambition behind Putin’s Great Crusade. With the brutal fall of Aleppo this past weekend President Putin is well on his way to creating a puppet state in the Middle East as his Great Crusade gathers momentum. The West has failed Aleppo and itself in part because its leaders thought Putin was fighting a small war for small ends. In fact, Putin is fighting a a series of small ‘wars’ in pursuit of very big strategic ends; influence around the Black Sea, through south-eastern Europe, across much of the Levant and the northern Middle East, as well as the Mediterranean basin.  

On 20 December, as the marginalised West begins its long Christmas break and in spite of today's tragic murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, a series of meetings will begin between Iran, Russia, Syria and Turkey to discuss a resolution to end the Syrian War. Even though Ankara has hitherto been an implacable opponent of Assad it is likely Syrian ‘moderates’ (both real and synthetic) will be invited to ‘peace’ talks charged with ending the war and re-establishing some domestic ‘legitimacy’ for the Assad puppet-state. A general war is also likely be declared against all ‘terrorists’, i.e. any groups deemed to be standing in the way of the interests of the four states represented. This will include all Islamist groups, including some Sunni groups close to the Saudis, and all Kurdish groups inimical to President Erdogan. Erdogan will also be offered an anti-Kurd ‘buffer zone’ along Turkey’s southern border, not dissimilar to the one Putin himself seeks along his own western border. The meeting will also probably pave the way for the coming attack on Idlib.

The very fact of the meeting, its timing, and its location is strategically critical. In the face of lamentable Western weakness 2016 saw President Putin become the power-broker across much of the northern Middle East and beyond.  He has strengthened Shia Iran in its proxy wars with Western-leaning Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Co-operation Council, tightened a strategic vice on Israel, and forced the government in Baghdad to look increasingly to him and not the Americans. By confirming Russia’s in-for-the-long-haul military presence at his two military bases in Syria Putin now threatens Cyprus and has extended his influence across the Mediterranean basin, both north and south.

However, Putin’s ‘jewel in the crown’ at the Moscow meeting will be Turkey. In this year of shocks (i.e. Western retreat) much has been made about Brexit and the election in the US of an apparently pro-Putin President-elect Trump. However, the biggest strategic shock to the West in 2016 has been the rapid loss of Turkey. Just over a year ago in November 2015 Turkey shot down a Russian fighter-bomber. Russo-Turkish relations were at a low ebb. A year on and Russia and Turkey are fast-forging a strategic partnership with immense implications for the region, NATO and the West.

So, why is Turkey switching allegiance? President Erdogan has all but abandoned the Western-leaning strategy of modern Turkey’s great founder, Mustafa Kamal Ataturk. Erdogan was deeply frustrated and angered by what he saw as lukewarm Western support during the failed July 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan also believes that Moscow will prove a more decisive ally than the West in preventing the emergence of a de facto Kurdistan. 2016 was also the year that Turkey’s ambitions to join the EU finally evaporated.

What does Putin gain from such an alliance? The Russo-Turkish alliance changes the big strategic picture. Firstly, Putin now has protected access for the Russian Black Seas fleet into the Mediterranean. After concluding operations off Syria I would not be at all surprised if the aircraft-carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and its six ship task group sail into the Black Sea and onto Sevastopol. Secondly, with a pro-Russian government in Bulgaria, an EU member-state, and Russian influence over Cyprus, Greece, Hungary and Italy growing. President Putin is offsetting Russia’s intrinsic relative weakness vis-à-vis the West by ‘deconstructing’ his adversaries.   Thirdly, the Turkish alliance helps Putin further dissemble NATO. Since the coup Ankara has steadily removed Western-leaning officials and officers from the command chain of the Alliance and replaced them with ultra-nationalist hardliners.

Furthermore, if Francois Fillon is elected ‘President de la Republique’ in May 2017 I would not be at all surprised if the two French-built Mistral-class assault ships recently ‘sold’ to Egypt suddenly appeared alongside the Kuznetsov. This would create a powerful Russian Mediterranean Fleet just at the moment when the US Navy is being challenged to over-stretch in the Pacific. The sooner the British can bring its two new fleet carriers fully into service the better. However, to do so the British must for once see beyond London’s strategic myopia and look at Putin’s big strategic picture, and properly prepare those ships for service.

However, a word of warning. In 1095 sheer force of Frankish arms conquered Jerusalem for the Crusaders. For fifty or so years the Frankish kingdom tried to consolidate itself. However, in 1187 Jerusalem fell to the mighty Salah ah-Din Yussuf ibn Ayyub.  Allegiances and prospects can change very quickly in the Middle East and Putin could lose all his influence just as quickly as he has gained it.  

2016 has been the year of Putin and at the Moscow meeting he will demonstrate that to the world and to his own people on the eve of the Russian Orthodox Christmas on January 7th. President Putin has succeeded because he understands the cynical application of power and strategy. Because of that President Putin is brilliantly changing the strategic order not just in the Middle East, but across much of Europe, and along Russia’s southern borders.

Perhaps President Putin has been inspired by the words of the Salah al-Din. On seizing Aleppo in 1183 Salah ah-Din said that Aleppo was “the key to all the lands”.  He also said, “I warn you against shedding blood, indulging in it and making a habit of it, for blood never sleeps”.

Julian Lindley-French             

Thursday, 15 December 2016

A Strategic Assessment of the Situation on NATO’s Northern and Eastern Flanks

Date: 16 December, 2016


Given the current 'correlation of forces' and uncertainty over Western political solidarity Russia today poses a greater military threat to NATO’s northern and eastern flanks than at any time since the founding of the Alliance in 1949. Russian aggression on either flank is more likely to succeed than at any time since 1949. The Baltic States, Bulgaria and Romania, as well as northern Norway, face a range of credible hybrid and direct military threats.  In spite of commitments made at the 2014 Wales and 2016 Warsaw Summits uncertainty over the political firmness and relative military power of NATO are contributing to the threat perception.

Key facts:
  •       Russian armed forces conducted 4000 separate exercises in 2016, including major combat readiness exercises on NATO’s northern and eastern Flanks;
  •         Russia remains committed to a $290 bn force modernisation programme aimed at improving and professionalising 70% of its force by 2020;
  •         According to the Russian Finance Ministry in October 2016 the defence budget will shrink from 3.1 trillion Roubles ($50.35 bn) in 2015 to 2.6 trillion Roubles ($45.48 bn) by 2018. This compares with the 2016 UK defence budget of £45.5 bn ($57.1 bn) or 2.1% GDP. However, SIPRI states the real level of Russian defence spending in 2015 was $66.4 bn or 4.5% GDP
  •       In May 2016 Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev ‘approved’ the new programme for the development of the military-industrial complex 2016-2020. Medvedev stated: “We are currently upgrading the entire army, air forces, navy with new weapons, there are specific goals to be fulfilled, and of course, the (necessary) to ensure the competitiveness of what we do on a global stage”.
  •      There are currently some 350,000 Russian troops in Kaliningrad and the Western Military Oblast adjacent to NATO territory. Several of these formations are powerful spearhead forces. NATO’s forward deployed forces can best be described as a presence, rather than a defence in the face of such forces.

Military Assessment: In spite of the apparent planned reduction in Russian military expenditure Moscow is close to gaining a decisive military advantage on NATO’s northern and eastern flank

Recent improvements since 2010 in Russian military capability and enhancements to its military capacities, particularly strike and manoeuvre forces are such that NATO would be unable to prevent large-scale incursions from the North Cape to the Black Sea. Russia is close to perfecting through its programme of large-scale, snap and push-button exercises simultaneous operations on both NATO’s northern and eastern flanks. Russia has succeeded in developing an integrated concept of non-linear warfare that includes the use of hybrid warfare (information, cyber and other disruptions) in possible conjunction with conventional and nuclear forces to create a new force escalation ladder. By stationing both short and intermediate nuclear forces in Kaliningrad and close to the NATO’s eastern flank, allied to enhanced anti-access, area denial (A2AD) defences, Russia has succeeded in decoupling NATO’s conventional deterrent from its nuclear deterrent. The stationing of treaty-illegal nuclear forces close to NATO territory is consistent with President Putin’s objective of establishing a dominant ‘nuclear de-escalation’ (nuclear blackmail) strategy that would help Russia consolidate any land seized. Russia has gained critical local force superiority on both NATO flanks and could successfully seize key parts of NATO territory as part of a limited war strategy. However, Russian forces remain ill-prepared as yet for a major, sustained war with the West. Neither the VJTF (Very High Readiness Joint Task Force) nor eNRF (enhanced NATO Response Force) would be able to respond quickly enough or in sufficient strength to prevent Moscow realising its limited war strategy. Whilst the US in particular is re-positioning some forces back in Europe, and pre-positioning others, the scale of the response is inadequate.

Political Assessment: President Putin is close to creating the military conditions that would enable him to ‘change the political reality on the ground’:

The force build-up is in line with President Putin’s stated ambition to create a buffer zone between Russia and NATO that would stretch from Romania through Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States, Finland and including northern Norway and elements of the Arctic. The latter is important to protect egress and ingress for the increasingly powerful attack and ballistic submarine forces of the Russian Northern Fleet based at Severomorsk. Such superiority does not of course mean President Putin will use those forces to occupy territory on NATO’s northern and eastern flanks. However, the very existence of those forces in their current posture, and at their current state of readiness, enables Moscow to exert considerable coercive political influence over EU member-states and NATO nations. Moscow correctly assesses both the EU and NATO to be as divided as at any time since 1949.  This is in spite of several well-documented disagreements between the Allies over that period. The strategic rapprochement with Turkey is in line with President Putin’s plan to turn the Russian fleet base at Sevastopol, together with the Russian air and sea bases in Syria, into platforms to stymy NATO operations in the Mediterranean.  The Syrian bases will also serve as platforms for exerting coercive influence in Southern Europe and ‘co-optive’ influence across the Middle East and North Africa.

Possible Courses of Action: Expect little or no change in Russian policy or strategy.

The Russian economy is likely to be sustained by an oil price that is predicted to hover between $60 and $70 per barrel for the foreseeable future. This is enough for Moscow to maintain a basic economy (by Western standards) and a burgeoning military capability for the foreseeable future. Much will depend on the attitude taken by the incoming Administration in Washington both towards the regime in Moscow and the Alliance. Unlike in Washington there are next-to-no political, or indeed any other domestic constraints on President Putin. Therefore, Russian foreign and security policy simply reflects and will continue to reflect his own prejudices, views, and aspirations. Western ideas of what constitutes a rational foreign and security policy are by and large inapplicable. Indeed, applying such ideas to President Putin could lead to yet more dangerous complacency. In the worst-case President Putin might well conclude that an opportunity exists for him to unite his people by correcting an ‘historic wrong’ and re-establish a security buffer zone between Russia and NATO.

    President Putin’s belief in the opportunistic use of force in pursuit of his strategic and political goals would be reinforced if the new Administration in Washington sees US NATO obligations as merely ‘transactional’, US military over-stretch worsens in relation to China, Russia and other potential adversaries, Europeans continue to under-invest in their own defence, and remain deeply divided on how to deal with a resurgent and aggressive Russia. Consequently, NATO’s northern and eastern flanks are vulnerable to Russian military adventurism which cannot at all be ruled out.

     Julian Lindley-French     

Monday, 12 December 2016

Something Big…

Alphen, Netherlands. 12 December. Something big will happen. Very big. It will probably be big and nasty, and it is probably coming to a town near you. If you do not believe me then look at the dark side of globalisation that since the year 2000 has driven the West into retreat and rapidly shifted the world balance of power.

The failures of campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya; the successful Russian seizure of Crimea and much of Ukraine; the murder of 298 people aboard MH17; the collapse of Syria and the expansion of Russian influence across the Levant at the expense of the West; the creation of a Russian, Iranian, Syrian axis; the egregious use of disinformation and cyber warfare against NATO and EU members with little by way of response; the development of an expeditionary-capable Russian military; the emerging Chinese-Russian strategic accommodation; the strategically-vital loss of Turkey to the West; the cutting of 40% of Europe’s military capacity and some 30% of Europe’s military capability; the banking and Eurozone crises and the collapse of European economic growth since 2008; the various ‘peasants’’ revolts via Brexit, the election of Donald L. Trump, the loss of the Italian referendum, and the rise of the populist left and right; aggressive Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea allied to a massive enhancement in Chinese military capability following 27 years of annual double-digit increases in defence expenditure; sequestration in the US and the loss of US military supremacy; the rise of global-reach Islamism, most notably the development of Al Qaeda and Islamic State networks that now reach deep into Western societies; proxy wars across the Middle East and North Africa as geopolitical and regional powers compete in the vacuum caused by the retreat of the West; the weakening of Western-led institutional security as major states begin to withdraw from the International Criminal Court and Machtpolitik again becomes the main currency of power and change in international relations; the growing ungovernability of European states as multiple identities undermine social cohesion, a fracturing of Western society reinforced by the ‘post-truth’ anarchy of social media; hyper-immigration allied to the loss of faith of indigenous economically-enfeebled populations in the judgement of ruling elites; growing food and water stress…and so on and so on.

The result? In Europe there is certainly a fin de siècle feeling these days as if a not-so-golden, but by no means bad age is fast coming to an end to be replaced by a new, but ill-defined  ‘something’ that will be far more sinister. Perhaps thinkers back in 1910 or 1935 had the same sense of foreboding and frustration that I do as I survey the ‘something big’ consequences of the interaction between power and weakness, change and events.

Why do I feel this way? You see analysis for me is not simply about wading through a catalogue of events and trying to impart some sense to each in turn. It is about insight driven by the interactions between events set against a backdrop of history and data, which is in turn illuminated by the grand strategies of power and weakness. The really strange thing about Europe today is that it is wilfully weak, as though it has lost the will to compete in a hyper-competitive world. It is a strange almost ideological weakism born of an intellectual political, over-institutionalised elite too many of whom seem detached from power, people and perspective, lost in another world of theoretical, see the world as they would like it, rather than what it is, politics. The politics of ‘isms’.

And yet this year alone should have awoken Europe’s elite from their strategic slumber. Shock has followed shock as the great plates of economic, social, and military structure have begun to crack under the growing tectonic political tension between the hoped for and the what is. Europe today is not about the management of decline, it is about the management of paralysis.   

Set that paralysis against the megatrends driving change in the World and the events and processes impacting upon Europe begin to form a toxic mosaic. The ‘something big’ that these megatrends is spawning will change the relationship forever between the once powerful, the newly powerful, and the wilfully weak, between values and interests, and between the ‘man’, the state and, quite possibly, war.

Too many of Europe’s elite still seem unable to see such change. They remain in thrall to a beautiful, Utopian, Panglossian idea of globalisation in which open borders, multiculturalism, and interdependence will somehow lead to a promised land in which all the old vices of humanity would simply melt away. Now unleashed the mega-forces of globalisation cannot be stopped and they are by no means all benign. Rapid population growth and shift, the digital destruction of law, order and borders, rapid shifts in wealth patterns, global-reach terrorism and criminality, the spread of weapons of mass destruction many of them reflective of new technologies are all symptoms of dark globalisation in which aspiration and desperation merge, and which erodes the very structure and order the West gave to the world.

Yes, it is true that the hollow people who ‘lead’ Pangloss, or rather who calculate electoral success, are indeed to blame for much that is wrong. However, the forces now at play are far, far bigger than the little people we Europeans have by large charged with ‘leadership’. For that reason alone we the citizens must also bear some responsibility for allowing ourselves to be treated like children. Unable to conceive of, let alone cope with the forces now at play leaders have instead chosen to mask change from us in the hope that when the inevitable is rendered unavoidable it will not be on their watch. They treat we the people like children because we the people prefer to be treated like children, to go on pretending that change is in fact no change, even as we drown daily in evidence of change all around us.

The result is that Europe today has become Eurovision Europe, Strictly Come Dancing Europe, a ‘nul points’, song contest Europe in which the mediocre is acclaimed and false friendships proclaimed. As realism has been rejected for weakism the once great temples of our ambition and hope have become empty shells forced by the siphoning away of their power to endeavour to maintain the appearance of power, but in fact hollowed-out to the point of collapse. The United Nations is not. The European Union is yesterday’s child simply unable to cope with a new age of grand disorder and popular anarchy. Our tired leaders trot out tired mantras about NATO the cornerstone of our security and defence, even as they turn the Alliance into a gigantic and transparent bluff by denying the very tools needed to fashion that defence. And, with each passing day we grown weaker and more vulnerable to ‘something big’.

It is the forces of reaction that seem to best appreciate the scale of the ‘something big’ that is coming our way for it is ‘progressives’ are now the out-of-touch reactionaries. As the gap between the ‘progressive’ and the reactionary grows the elite retreat ever higher up their Utopian tower into irrelevance, spouting ever grander, ever more vacuous sentiments, whilst reaction occupies the lost ground of hope promising an embittered people they can go on being children for just that little bit longer. Only if globalisation can be made to work for the teeming masses will ‘progressives’ again progress. Instead, by retreating ever deeper into the la-la Neverland of politics the ‘progressives’ have ceded the field to the reactionaries who by their very nature tend to understand the dark globalisation of which they are part.

This elite retreat is often masked by the sneering language of dismissal, to call anyone who challenges fading elite authority as ‘populists’.  And yet only populism can re-connect power and people. If the elite are to regain lost authority they too must embrace some form of populism. Why? Because the case must again be made for elites. In Europe that means embracing those that simply point out the inconvenient but blindingly bloody obvious that the elitist European grand dessin has failed utterly to help Europe meet the challenges of the age. If that is populism then I am guilty as charged. Indeed, what I want, what I have always wanted, is for elites to get better so that they may better cope with the ‘something big’ that is coming; to prepare, to plan, and ultimately to prevail.

The real enemies of the people are not the elites, we need them, but rather the grand reactionaries this age is spawning.  Marine le Pen in France, Vladimir Putin in Russia, maybe Donald Trump in America, all tap into a popular and correct sense that the weakism of traditional elites is responsible for much of the failure they see around them. Their analysis is sound, even if in reality they offer nothing but political dust. The most important difference between weakist liberal elites and the grand reactionary populists is that at least the latter have the political courage to recognise ‘something big’ is coming, even if they will certainly make ‘it’ far more nasty than ‘it’ need be, when ‘it’ eventually arrives.

Ultimately, it is the creed of weakism that is to blame for the retreat of the West in which I believe and of a Europe that is and must be central to that West. It is retreat caused by elites who wilfully choose to look at a receding sunny sky and refuse to turn round and see the dark storm that is fast approaching behind them. Who endlessly file away big dangers in the not-for-today, too difficult, somebody else’s problem for another day dossier. Who spend far much time obsessing over their own status rather than trying to make the million small changes for the better that really decide between power and weakness.  

Is it too late? No, but only if our leaders wake up and break-out of their determinedly, wilfully, short-termist, little thinking dressed up as weighty grandiloquence mindset. This week in Brussels another EU European Council will take place. Yawn. Will they discuss something big. Yes, of course they will. Will the do anything about it? No, not really.

Something big is coming to a town near you. I do not know what it is, but it is big and it is coming because we Europeans have chosen to be victims of this world not shapers of it. But then again I am not at all sure who the hell ‘we’ are anymore, and that is an entirely different but parallel story.

Merry Christmas!

Julian Lindley-French