hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 26 February 2018

NATO Review: Adapting NATO to an Unpredictable and Fast-Changing World

Morning All! It is my pleasure to announce the publication of a new article in the excellent NATO Review. Entitled Adapting NATO to an Unpredictable and Fast-Changing World, the piece is (of course) brilliant and unbelievably well-priced (free!). 

Building on the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Report which was published in late November, and for which I was lead writer, the article scrupulously lays out the main findings of the report.  The Steering Committee I served comprised people who really know that their NATO: Generals John Allen and Wolf Langheld (former NATO commanders), Ambassador Sandy Vershbow (former US Ambassador to Moscow and NATO Deputy Secretary-General), Admiral Giampaolo di Paola (former Italian Minister of Defence and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee) and Ambassador Tomas Valacek (former Slovak Ambassador to the North Atlantic Council).  

The link to the NATO Review article is:

The link to the GLOBSEC NATO Final Adaptation Report is:

The main message from the report and the article?  “NATO leaders should commission a strategy review, which might be embodied in a new Strategic Concept. NATO needs a forward-looking strategy that sets out how the Alliance will meet the challenges of an unpredictable and fast-changing world”. 

Have a good day!

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Julian’s New Concept of Deterrence Effects?


Regular readers of this missive know that it is not my normal practice to post a blog a day. I am too busy for that.  Still, this morning I sent a memo to a very senior friend and colleague who had asked me to expand my thinking on a new concept of deterrence outlined in my blog of 13 February entitled MAD Again? Competing in the New Strategic Arms Race.  Therefore, given I am grappling with a range of ideas on the future of deterrence I thought I might try and provoke a wider debate in the strategy community by sharing the memo with you. 


My aim is to arrive at a new concept of deterrence by which new and emerging non-nuclear technologies could be 'bundled' and applied via new strategy and new thinking to generate deterrent effect across the conflict spectrum in conjunction with existing Alliance conventional and nuclear capabilities and postures.

THEREFORE, if deterrence is an effect the question I am posing is thus: could the Alliance generate the same or similar deterrent effect as nuclear escalation across the low to high yield, SRM to ICBM nuclear spectrum by matching new strategy with new non-nuclear technology, rather than return to a form of mutually assured nuclear destruction or MAD-ness?


1.   I am concerned that if we simply follow the Russians by matching nuclear system for system - SRMs, MBRMs, IRBMs, ICBMs – that will not re-set a ‘strategic balance’ and make the situation even more unstable by destroying treaty frameworks and with it arms control.
2.   By introducing new nuclear systems into Europe such a response could lead to similar if not more intense 'populism' to that prior to signing of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty when the Carter administration wanted to introduce enhanced radiation weapons (ERW) in the 1970s, and deployed Cruise and Pershing 2s in the 1980s, to match Soviet SS20s.
3.   Such a popular 'revolt' would cause significant political strains within the polis of already fragile political systems in many European countries, tense after many years of austerity etc., and would probably split NATO.
4.   By introducing Iskandrs, SS-29, RS 28, enhanced A2/AD, advanced nuclear-armed submarines etc. that is precisely the political calculation Moscow has made. Indeed, such deployments are part of Moscow’s strategy to offset its relative weakness by exploiting the 'strengths' of what the Putin regimes sees as a far more powerful, but divided adversary. Given that an adversarial relationship with much of the West is central to the Kremlin's domestic justification of power it is unlikely that such a strategy is going to change soon.

New Concept of Deterrence Effects?

My assertion on deterrence effects can be thus summarised: deterrence is an effect not a technology or even a capability, even if it is dependent on both. Indeed, technology is merely a means to a deterrence end. Since the 1950s deterrence has been dominated by nuclear experts because for decades what might be called 'strategic deterrence' has essentially been about balancing nuclear systems of mass destruction. Therefore, every nuclear 'hammer' has, by and large, been matched by a matching nuclear 'hammer'. The recent US Nuclear Posture Review was a continuation of that tradition.

However, our November 2017 report (GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Report rightly identified new forms of warfare, and new technologies and new strategies IN future war, precisely to reduce the threat of such warfare - from hybrid to hyper via cyber war as we deemed it. In that context, si vis pacem para bellum (‘if you want peace prepare for war’) requires entirely new thinking (si vis pacem bellum cogita, or If you want peace think about war) about strategy, technology, capability and effects.  This is not least because such new thinking would play to ‘our’ strengths and thus enable the Alliance to set the deterrence agenda, not simply respond to agendas set elsewhere.


Given my assumptions my central hypothesis is thus:

1. The primary weakness of the Alliance deterrence posture is the lack of a heavy 'conventional' reserve force able to support front-line states in strength, quickly, and across a broad conflict spectrum in a crisis and during an emergency, if the threat comes from several directions at once.
2. Such threats would see an attack from Russia to the east, chaos and terrorism to the south of the Alliance, and attacks within Alliance states, allied to sophisticated and co-ordinated efforts to generate popular discord via disinformation and attacks on critical infrstructures, and thus undermine an effective and coherent response.  
3. Such a threat would be dangerously exacerbated if the US was also engaged simultaneously in a major crisis elsewhere, such as in Asia-Pacific.
4. Even if the Americans, Canadians, and possibly the British, could despatch a heavy reserve force simultaneously to the East, North and South of NATO's European theatre the infrastructures to transfer such forces across the Atlantic/Channel quickly, receive them effectively and efficiently, and then transport them rapidly into the Area of Operations (AOO) simply do not exist.
5. Much of the ‘Main Force’ assigned to the NATO Command Structure either exists only on paper, or is incapable of acting (see “German Army Problems ‘dramatically bad’”
6. To offset what I call the 'deterrence gap or deficit' the reflex tends to be to resort to nuclear weapons. Indeed, first and early use of such weapons was the central assumption of Alliance deterrence during the Cold War on NATO's Central Front when our forces were a) not as extended as far to the east as they are now; and b) the south was relatively more stable, thus enabling a vaguely credible conventional Main Effort.
7. Resorting early to nuclear escalation in Alliance defence strategy would be a political trap for all the reasons I explain above. The political consequences for strategy could thus be the weakening of political solidarity upon which credible deterrence and defence stands at the Schwerpunkt or decisive climax of a pre-war crisis, dangerously weakening, not strengthening, Alliance deterrence.

Desired Deterrence Outcomes?

1.   My desired deterrence outcome is a natural follow on to our NATO Adaptation Report. The strategic 'bandwidth' that could be applied to generating credible deterrence seems to be expanding exponentially due to emerging technologies.
2.   These emerging technologies act across the AI, quantum computing, big data, etc, etc spectrum, and could be coupled with new forms of 'conventional' capabilities involving enhanced range, precision, and destructive weapons.
3.   Such technologies should be allied to new thinking on the possible application of critically disruptive strategies and technologies able to exploit systematically the seams that exist with an adversary - societal, political, economic, as well as critical infrastructure destruction and disruption.
4.   The legitimate counter-argument would be to question the applicability of such technologies and the time it would take to develop and deploy them, not least because NATO Europe is so bad at fielding times for new systems.

More thinking and work needs to be done on a new concept of deterrence effects, which I will do. However, to my mind what is urgently needed is that such new thinking takes place, and not only by me.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 19 February 2018

Munich: Talking About Bigness

“The wise man does at once what the fool does finally”
Niccolo Machiavelli
The Munich Security Conference

Munich, Germany. 19 February. I suppose it was French Defence Minister Parly’s call for “strategic autonomy” that gave this blog its mission. There is nothing like a stuck French record to get an Englishman going. My brief foray into the fray of the great, the good, and the not so good that is the Munich Security Conference was interesting. My takeaway? Europeans have a problem with bigness. Yes, we are very good at talking about bigness, and collectively we can come up with no end of plans, papers and prescriptions to pretend we are dealing with bigness. And, for many years we Europeans got away with pretend bigness because in historical and strategic terms whilst there was a lot of relatively smallness to be getting on with, there was little real bigness. No more! Take all the issues discussed at the conference, and cast them together into a cauldron of causality and what you walk away with is the need for Europeans to deal together with real bigness. 

Big Elephant #1

There were three large elephants in the room at Munich, bigger even than some of the egos on show. Big elephant 1 was Europe’s very tentative relationship with bigness. Almost every issue on the agenda was big, global and European demanding of a European grand strategy; the application of immense means in pursuit of very great but complicated and vital ends, requiring the consistent application of considered policy, via sustained strategy over both time and distance. And yet, grand strategy is precisely what Europeans are rubbish at. Yes, like third string footballers at an English Premier League soccer club they practice endlessly, get paid very well, but do not really expect to play. PESCO is proof of that – a lot of political practice for the defence third team.

And, Europe’s bigness is getting bigger by the day. Any cursory analysis of Europe’s place in a rapidly-changing world would suggest that most of said change, which hitherto has happened beyond Europe, is now about to crash upon Europe’s shore like those Atlantic rollers I used to surf as a kid.
The conference also reflected Europe’s unhappy tryst with bigness in the gap between rhetoric and reality. There was German Foreign Minister Gabriel saying the US should not try and divide Europe…Europeans are very good at doing that themselves, thank you very much. He also talked about the foreign policy of a German coalition that does not as yet exist, which was interesting.  There was British Prime Minister May talking about how vital Britain’s security and defence assets were to Europe, whilst she sets about cutting further those self-same assets beyond the point of serious utility, particularly at the pointy, deterrence-guaranteeing, high-end of destructive bigness.  Then there was US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster trying not to say anything that might offend the White House.  If McMaster has not got a clue what US policy is, what hope have the rest of us?  Now, I am against capital punishment, but I am willing to make an exception if anyone, anymore says Americans and Europeans are “bound together by shared values”.  The more we talk about ‘values’ the more we reveal a lack of any shared idea about policy the application of power.

However, what really worried me was General Mattis praising the European allies for very modest increases to defence spending from a very low base. It is a sure fire sign the Yanks no longer care when they begin praising mediocrity.#

Big Elephant #2

Big Elephant #2 was just how uncomfortable European leaders are with bigness.  What struck me about the European leaders on show is how small they stand on the world stage. How wedded they are to the endless comforting discussion on the parochial process of institutionalism, such as Jean-Claude Juncker and his Euro-building. And, how so many of them see such process as a deliberate distraction from bigness, let alone the complex, interactive bigness that is fast emerging as the reality signature of the twenty-first century.

Take, cyber – threat flavour of the month.  Europeans dealing effectively with cyber-attacks from Moscow (and others) is not just about dealing with a spotty bunch of Russian nationalist geeks in St Petersburg. It is also about having a big idea about the new big warfare that is already exerting a range of disturbing, destabilising, disruptive and destructive pressures across the social, political and conflict spectrum. It is also about working out what defence and deterrence actually means in the twenty-first century, with what and with whom, and at what cost. Not a jot about that, although NATO Supreme Commander General Scaparrotti went just about as far as he could go in hinting at the war to come, that collectively we need to stop coming.  

Helping to stabilise the Middle East and North Africa is also a generational challenge almost as vital to Europeans as to the people of the region.  Again, a lot of analysis but few ideas. As I wrote in my 2017 book Demons and Dragons: The New Geopolitics of Terror (which is brilliant and very reasonably-priced at Amazon) Syria is merely the epicentre of a conflict of faith, power and über-power that, whilst focused on the Middle East, is really about the new big New World Order.

Big Elephant #3

Big Elephant #3 was the urgent need for Europeans to start dealing with bigness. The McMaster cliché revealed the extent of a very real challenge faced by that cornerstone of the global security edifice, the transatlantic relationship. Unless Europeans far more actively work to keep America strong, America will soon not be strong enough to adequately defend Europeans, given its increasingly onerous responsibilities world-wide and its increasingly uncertain politics state-side. In other words, Madame Parly, no strategic autonomy without real capability.
Resolving that conundrum must be central to that most essential of transatlantic relationships between the US and Germany.  Now, I have the very distinct honour to be part of the Loisach Group, which is co-hosted by the George C. Marshall Center and the Munich Security Conference, and which seeks to foster just such a relationship.  As a Briton I have no problem at all with a strong US-German relationship. Not only do I welcome it, but I just wish the strategic illiterates in London would realise they can help foster it by reinvesting in, not cutting, Britain’s own strategic brand. However, to ensure ends, ways and means even begin to align in the US-German (and wider) Berlin and Washington also need a special relationship, and as yet ‘special’ it ain’t.
If Berlin and Washington are to enjoy a ‘special relationship’ Berlin needs first to deal with its own schizophrenia over foreign, security, but above all defence policy. Indeed, there is an urgent need for Germany to pose its own German Question. Let me explain. At a formal lunch at the conference a leading German commentator tried to dismiss me with indignant bluster at for asking if the German people realised and accepted what NATO’s core mission of collective defence actually means and entails in the twenty-first century.  People like me were far too pessimistic he said. The ‘glass was half full’ (another bloody cliché) for both Germany and NATO he said. The next day, Hans-Peter Bartels, Berlin’s parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, published a report which bluntly stated that when it comes to defence Germany’s glass has a dirty great crack right through the middle.  The report was clear; the Bundeswehr is stated “is not equipped to meet the tasks before it”. And yet German Defence Minister von der Leyen is seeking to load even more tasks onto a hopelessly under-funded force that is already stretched to breaking point. It will not end well. As an aside I will deal with these and many other issues in my forthcoming book The Defence of Europe (which will, of course, be brilliant and very reasonably-priced).

The Elephant NOT in the Room

Which brings me back to the Munich Security Conference. Many of the bases were covered at the conference, precisely because many of those bases were loaded.  However, whilst there was much talk of European leadership it was the one big elephant that was NOT in the room. The problem is there is no such elephant in Europe, and millions of European citizens know it. Worse, they no longer believe their leaders have any more idea how to ensure their security and defence than they do. It is as if the Emperor has stepped out in public in his resplendent ‘new clothes’ to face some oick in the crowd shouting, ‘Oi, mate, you’re stark-staring, bollock naked!’ If this is not quite yet the age of European defence, it is most certainly no longer the age of European deference. 

Until there is evidence of such leadership Europe will continue to be the mouse that roars. Establishing such leadership will not be easy, not least because Europe’s citizens also seem to be profoundly split themselves these days between the ‘they are all a bunch of crooks lock ‘em up’ school of political thoughtlessness, or the ‘peace in our time, don’t bother me with reality’ school of political thoughtlessness. Trust in each other, and in leaders is, to say the least, at a premium.
At base there are two big European problems with bigness. First, Europeans only like their bigness in small pieces, not the big pieces bigness could well soon drop on them. Until Europeans start to put all their many small bits and pieces together into one big bit and piece effectively dealing with bigness will elude them, however long they bang on about PESCO. Second, European leaders refuse to see the world as it is, not as they would like it to be. Instead, they crave for a world of values and institutions, when it is fast becoming clear that Europe resides in a big world of big power, big states with big interests, and even bigger strategic egos. The bigness paradox for Europeans is that they will not realise the Euro-world, until they properly invest in the real world…and do it together.

Eighty years ago another small, parochial leader came here and talked about bigness…but that was another Munich...or was it? 

Julian Lindley-French     

Friday, 16 February 2018

Brexit and the War of Little Britain versus Little England

“Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves gone…In the name of God, go!”

Oliver Cromwell, the dissolution of the Long Parliament, April 1653

Toxic Brexit

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 February. This is blast and I make no apology for it. Britain is broken and at war with itself. The utterly toxic Brexit debate seems now to be wholly dominated by extremists; Little Britons on one side, Remoaners who do not believe in Britain as a power or even a country, and Little Englanders on the other, who want foreigners out and long for an England that exists only in their nostalgia. The division is so deep, the country so divided that were this another age I fear Britain could be on the brink of a civil war.  This week, lead Brexiteer Boris Johnson tried, in his way, to seek common ground, but probably only further entrenched the hatreds (yes, hatreds) that now exist on both sides of Britain’s polarised air waves. Why has Brexit come to this, what are the consequences, and what, if any, is the way out of this God awful mess?

Let me state something at the beginning of this missive which might surprise Little Britons who seem to think Britain is Lichtenstein-on-Sea without the money. According to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and United Nations Britain still possesses either the 5th or 6th largest economy of any state on the planet.  The International Institute for International Studies also has Britain as the 6th biggest defence spender on Earth. If power is essentially a combination of economic, diplomatic and military tools then Britain should not be able to govern itself but also to exert real power and influence.  Add Britain’s soft power, language and a tradition of power that stretches back centuries and Britain could continue to be a major force in the world if it wanted to. And yet, all that London exudes these days is weakness, retreat and decline. 

Little Britons v Little Englanders

Why is Britain so divided?  The contrasting profiles of the extremist Little Britons and Little Englanders who dominate the debate is illuminating.  Little Britons tend to be younger and have been taught to despise patriotism, that Britain is on the wrong side of history, and seem only too happy to buy into the federalist propaganda of Promised Land, a new Utopia called ‘Europe’.  They claim themselves to be ‘patriotic’, but in a very different way to Little Englanders and in support of another ‘state’. Nor is it their fault.  For over forty years much of the elite Establishment (Westminster politicians and Whitehall bureaucrats combined), which also no longer believes in Britain (see my 2015 book Little Britain) has quietly engineered a retreat from British patriotism. This re-engineering of patriotism has also helped spawn a kind of illiberal liberalism that hates anyone or anything that challenges its utterly unworldly shibboleths, of which there are many.

Little Englanders are no better. They tend to be older and long for the days when Britain was either a superpower, or at least a ‘pocket superpower’ (a phrase I coined many years ago in a piece for the then International Herald Tribune). They reject the forces of globalism which are re-shaping the world. Impossibly, many of them want Britain isolated from globalism which Britain helped create, possibly more than any other state. Some Little Englanders are also quite often poorer than middle class Little Britons. For this group Brexit is a desperate cry from a group of people who believe themselves ignored and despised by a liberal elite Establishment which has for many years put the well-being and interests of the ‘other’ before them. 

Another Munich?

This weekend I will travel to the Munich Security Conference to take part in a high-level US-German event.  The Berlin-Washington relationship is difficult, but essential. Indeed, given Britain’s spectacular demise it is today the only transatlantic ‘special relationship’ that exists in anything like substance. Yes, the Anglo-American intelligence and mil-mil relationship remains close, but strong?  In the absence of a Britain willing and able to assert its interests or invest properly in the tools of statecraft across the diplomatic and military spectrum, or craft the policies of influence Britain will need as it leaves the EU, that relationship will become even more one of master-supplicant. Indeed, one reason the US-German relationship is so complex is precisely because it is one between relative equals. If the US remains a European power its equal within Europe is Germany. On Saturday, Prime Minister Theresa May will also be in Munich seeking to re-assure the audience that Britain is, and will remain, committed to the defence of Europe, as it should be. However, toxic Brexit begs yet another question: how can the defence of Europe be strengthened if Britain is broken? 

Brexit has also revealed an elite Establishment that has also lost the will to power that has traditionally underpinned Britain’s security and defence effort.  President Macron’s recent visit to Britain hinted at the strategic consequences of broken Britain.  Whilst Paris drives a hard Brexit bargain behind the scenes President Macron is calling for the strengthening of France’s vital strategic partnership with Britain.  The problem, Monsieur le President, is that if you and your Euro-mates succeed in humiliating broken Britain the will to power that is an essential pillar of European defence will, I fear, be completely destroyed.  Yes, Britain will go through the NATO motions by cooking the books to pretend London spends 2% on defence, when it does not.  However, this increasingly self-obsessed, self-loathing nation will have little interest or desire to defend those who many Little Englanders see as having helped to humiliate Britain ‘pour encourager les autres’.  In other words, Little England could well become Little Britain.

Re-learning the Art of Power

Seventy years of managing decline, forty plus years of handing power to Brussels, and almost eighty years of trying to hang on to America’s oft capricious coat-tails, has emaciated Britain’s ability to exercise power, Or, to put it another way, Britain is incapable of thinking strategically for itself.  Yes, Britain can build all the large aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines it likes, but if London lacks the capacity for leadership such ‘toys’ are neither tokens of power nor greatness. At the very least, post-Brexit London will need to re-learn the art of power. It is clear from the split in Cabinet and Parliament that some of the elite want to try, others simply do not believe it possible. This is dangerous. ‘Power’, or rather its absence reveals itself in extremis. As an Oxford historian and a strategic analyst of some modest note let me ‘un-reassure’ you; there will be a lot of extremis this century.

You see Extremis is where the rubber of leadership hits the hard road of reality. It was that capacity to lead in extremis which made Churchill a great leader in crisis. It is the lack of such capacity which reveals Theresa May’s inability to lead and which will condemn her to be one of Britain’s worst-ever prime ministers.

A New Britain?

There is no doubt in my mind that Boris Johnson is genuine in his desire to re-create a political consensus that would better enable sound governance.  He said so in a speech he made this week on Brexit, albeit in that ever so BoJo way – part Churchill, part Groucho Marx.  Unfortunately, he is simply the wrong man to mend my country. He is simply a representative of a failed political elite, a failed political generation that has led Britain into this sad place. It is a sign of the times that the choice I will soon have at the ballot box will be between divided incompetents and closet (and not-so-closet) Marxists. 

The British people deserve better. As the opinion polls continue to suggest most British people – the unheard of and unheard from majority – simply want May to get on with Brexit. Maybe, just maybe, over the next fortnight May will finally take a firm position on Brexit and present how she sees Britain’s future relationship with the EU beyond the slippery clichés of the Lancaster Gate speech orthe begging platitudes of the Florence speech, which to my mind read more like May ‘running something past’ Brussels. If not, then I fear an uncertain May and her quarrelling ‘team’ will ‘lead’ Britain to the worst-of-all Brexit worlds: a half-Brexit, a Conga Brexit – half-in, half-out with little room for Britain to shake anything much about.  On this I am with BoJo.

What to do?

Whatever happens post-Brexit (and hard though it is to believe there will be a post-Brexit) Britain will need to start again as a power. To that end, a new generation of politicians must be bought forward and quickly who are untainted by the disaster of Brexit. New leaders who can hopefully breathe some life back into the very ‘idea’ of Britain, before the waiting predatory nationalists and secessionists move again to tear the country apart.  It is a re-start that cannot come soon enough.  This future Britain does not need to be my Britain, but it does need to be need to be a Britain that properly understands the dangers of remaining glued to political decadence.  It is political decadence which has driven London’s fantastical retreat from political realism and made Britain, Europe and the wider world very much more insecure places than need be. 

At the very least Boris Johnson and Phillip Hammond, with his visionless ‘we only recognise as much threat as we can afford’ nonsense, must be cast into the footnote of history where they belong. PM May? For once, just for once, she must demonstrate she understands what ‘leadership’ really means by showing she has some idea of how to get Britain out of this bloody mess. Indeed, if she sits on the Euro-fence much longer she will not only develop rust, she will become permanently skewered, and my country with it. Her chronic indecision has exacerbated the division within the country and encouraged hard-liners in Brussels to believe that not only can they humiliate Britain, but as former British Euro-crat Lord Kerr suggested recently, bring Britain to heel, like some misbehaving dog.  

Get Out of the Gutter, Britain!

Anyone of any political sense knows that Brexit is hard.  It is made harder by a Civil Service that really believes the ‘sovereign will’ of the people to be wrong on Brexit.  However, the real tragedy of Brexit is that had the Cabinet been even vaguely well-led, and ever-so-slightly more unified Brexit need not be anything like as hard as Britain’s ‘leaders’ have made it.  In the political vacuum created by this lack of leadership extremist Little Britons and Little Englanders between them have come close to wrecking Britain as a power, possibly as a state, and even potentially as a society.  The rest of us just look on aghast. 

Britain today is a hollowed-out husk of a once Great Power that punches well below its weight in the world, led by a political elite obsessed with input-led, virtue-signalling, rather than properly upholding the responsibilities that power imposes.  For those of us who, somehow, still believe in Britain Brexit has become a sadly all-too-predicted disaster. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why, in spite of my profound concerns about the drift of the EU towards soft authoritarianism, and having undertaken a detailed SWOT analysis prior to the June 2016 referendum, I decided that on balance Britain should remain in the EU.  Still, I despair of those ‘we know best’ elite Little Britons doing all they can to destroy Brexit.  What on Earth do they think they are doing seeking to over-turn a legitimate vote?  If they succeed, just what kind of country do they think they will ‘inherit’?  Whatever happened to that sound pragmatic application of Britain that once underpinned the ‘greatness’ of Britain?  Not to mention those head in the sand Little Englanders who seem to want a return to the 1950s, and want it now!

Britain IS still a Great Power and, on paper at least, will remain so for the foreseeable future.  However, a state can possess all the nominal economic and military power in the world, but if the elite Establishment is split asunder and unable to craft coherent policy and strategy then influence drains away like summer rain down a storm gutter.  And, in my long-life, I have never seen Britain so firmly mired in the gutter as now.  Sadly, that is what happens when people who do not believe in either an idea or the country they lead take power. For them everything is impossible, nothing possible.

One final thought, if Brexit means more of the utter irresponsibility on show from Honourable Members of the so-called Mother of Parliaments then perhaps Oliver Cromwell had a point! After all, Britain’s ‘sovereign’ Parliament, far from governing in the name of the people is simply the cock-pit where this new civil war is being fought.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

MAD Again? Competing in the New Strategic Arms Race

“The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion […] but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”
Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

MAD Again?

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 February.  A new strategic arms race is underway. If it goes unchecked it could well mark the end of all arms control and disarmament frameworks and lead to the re-emergence of mutually-assured destruction (MAD) as the defining feature of security. Could the arrival of a new combination of technologies in the battlespace help prevent that?
The just published US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), and I suspect the forthcoming US National Military Strategy (NMS), will reveal the extent of this arms race and its implications. Most striking is the nuclear arms race, but unlike in the past ‘nukes’ are not the only show bombing town. China has just mounted the first ship-borne hyper-sonic gun that can fire a projectile at more than 5000 mph over 100 miles. Growing applications of Artificial Intelligence, machine-learning, quantum computing, big data and Nano-technologies suggest that a whole host of new ways to achieve Clausewitz’s ghastly  purpose of war: to engender new and ‘better’ political end-states.

Because of the NPR the focus of this missive is on the new nuclear arms race. This is for no other reason than I have spent the past few days reading and considering the document.  As I read what for me is a surprisingly conventional document, given the new technologies and strategies of war the Pentagon is considering a question sprung to mind: is the best way to counter nukes in the twenty-first century more nukes?

Exploiting the Deterrence Gap

Moscow is seeking to modernise the Russian nuclear arsenal whilst maintaining Europe’s ‘snowflake’ politicians in the comforting fantasy that their own retreat from defence seriousness does not carry with it strategic and political consequences.  Russia is deliberately  seeking to exploit a ‘deterrence gap’ between a global-reach, but over-stretched US military, an under-funded, under-equipped and relatively small European forces, and a strategic nuclear deterrent that could only credibly be used in an absolute nuclear emergency. 

In an attempt to close that gap, and to counter Russia’s driving of a nuclear ballistic missile submarine through both the New START and Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the NPR calls for new smaller nuclear warheads and new shorter range missile systems. The military strategy designed by Russian Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov envisions Russian strategic, tactical and short-range nuclear and nuclear-capable systems being used as essentially ‘political’ weapons to ‘escalate to de-escalate’ a crisis, i.e. to use the threat of nuclear weapons to consolidate any gains Russia’s conventional forces may make in a future European war.

To that end, Moscow is intentionally ‘blurring the lines of long-established treaty frameworks by deploying weapon systems that straddle the ICBM category (any missile with a range in excess of 5500 km), intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM: 3000-5000 km range), medium-range ballistic missiles (MBRM: 1000-3000 km range), short-range ballistic missiles missiles (SRM: with a range of up to 1000 km) and theatre ballistic missiles (TBM: 300-3500 km).

There is, I suppose, a certain irony in that under New START, which was agreed in 2010 and ratified in February 2011, this month was meant to see both sides limit the number of deployed nuclear warheads in their respective arsenals to 1500.  And, yes, whilst as of today the Russian Federation slightly exceeds that figure at 1565, and the US is somewhat below that target at 1393, the Federation of American Scientists believes both sides fail to live up to the ‘build-down’ spirit of that treaty. For example, Russia has some 4500 ‘strategically operational warheads’, whilst the US possesses some 4000.

The RS-28 Sarmat monster (NATO codename Satan 2) will be able to carry up to 10 heavy thermonuclear warheads or 15 of a ‘lighter’ yield. RS-28 Sarmat is a successor to the Soviet-era heavy SS-18 missiles and is due for deployment in 2020.  The RSM-56 Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) has a range of some 10,000 km which can carry 10 x 150 kiloton warheads and is designed for deployment on the new Borei-class heavy ballistic missile submarines.

Moscow is also developing an updated SS-27 Topol missile which has been named the SS-29 (or RS-24 Yars). The SS29 is reported to be able to carry three ‘heavy’ MIRVed warheads, fast, and over a range of up to 11,000 km.  The Russians have also deployed the nuclear-capable Iskandr missile with a range of some 400-500 km, and are also believed to be developing a nuclear torpedo, known as the Status-6 system, with a nuclear warhead of 100 megatons (Pentagon codename: Kanyon) with a range of 10,000 km, with a speed of 100 km/hr, and able to dive to 1000 metres.
A Very Political Weapon

Europe?  As I said, the Russians fully understand the political utility of nuclear weapons, especially in Europe.  Back in 1977, whilst I was at Oxford, the Euromissiles Crisis began.  It was a crisis upon which I cut my teeth in my later Master’s thesis.  The deployment by the then Soviet Union of the triple-warhead, mobile, SS-20 theatre ballistic missile threatened to destabilise the Euro-strategic balance. Not unlike this month’s NPR the then Carter Administration responded first with the so-called Enhanced Radiation Weapon or Neutron Bomb, which was designed to kill people but ‘limit’ the effects of blast.  

Following a furore which began in the then Federal Republic of (West) Germany, the designated nuclear killing zone in the event of a war, the Neutron Bomb was abandoned but the Americans then moved to counter the SS-20 with their own theatre missile systems – the Pershing 2 missile and the famed Cruise missile.  Through a combination of ‘fake news’ 1970s-style, and very genuine concerns amongst large segments of the European population, Moscow also helped foment a huge popular revolt against the US deployment of these systems.

The aim then was also to decouple the defence of Europe from the US strategic deterrent (which is precisely why Britain and France had their own ‘independent’ nuclear systems).  That aim was frustrated (temporarily) in 1989 with the end of the Cold War, the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, and the economic crisis that engulfed the Russian Federation during the 1990s.  However, with the 1999 arrival of President Putin Moscow once again began the long road back to strategic influence.  Today, Moscow is still committed to 'decoupling' the defence of Europe from the US. However, today Russia now employs nuclear weapons as part of a new triple hybrid, cyber and hyper war strategy with the particular aim of re-exerting influence over much of Central, Eastern & Northern Europe.  Sadly, mass destabilisation, mass disruption and the threat of mass destruction seem, once again, to have returned as the terrifying triplets of European insecurity. 

Barking MAD?

1977 revisited? For all that is the NPR right?  Again, is the best way to counter nukes more nukes? After all, Moscow has not US nukes to contend with as both Britain and France are in the process of modernising their own nuclear deterrent systems.  My concern is that if Washington moved to re-introduce shorter-range nukes to Europe, beyond the B-61 free-fall bomb, Moscow would have all the political leverage it needs to re-ignite a new wave of protest across much of NATO Europe.  Indeed, it is precisely the kind of issue that would trigger meltdown in the unworldly snowflake generation that the education systems of Western Europe seem each year to be spawning by the million. And, for once, I might be in some sympathy with them.

The problem is that in places the NPR comes across as equally unworldly.  The idea that the placing of ‘low-yield’ nuclear warheads atop existing, long-range Trident SLBM systems would somehow contribute to deterrence and a more stable 'balance' via some form of ‘sub-strategic role’ for such weapons is quite simply barking MAD.  If any of the fourteen American Ohio-class or the four British Vanguard-class ‘boomers’ (ballistic missile submarines or SSBN) were to launch a Trident II D5 missile Moscow would have no alternative but to assume it was facing the full thermonuclear force of W76 or W88 warheads.  The response would be a world-ending ‘strategic salvo’. This particular nuclear conundrum begs a further set of questions for the British, who these days seem able to either afford a future strategic deterrent or a powerful conventional future force…but not both!

Deterrence theory dictates that nuclear weapons can be either used for ‘counter-force’ targets (destroying the silos of enemy missiles or large-scale military formations) or for ‘counter-value’ targets, you and me.  Unfortunately, the targets of submarine-launched missiles are hard to discern, especially if they are MIRV-ed (can deploy multiple independent re-entry vehicles (warheads) or are MaRV-ed (manoeuvrable re-entry vehicles) designed to evade missile defences, as is increasingly the case. This danger is further multiplied if the missiles are fired on a so-called ‘flat trajectory’.

Closing the Deterrence Gap

We are not back in the 1970s! Surely, and I admit I am venturing into the world of deterrence imagination here, new technologies entering the battlespace could be harnessed to provide new concepts and methods of deterrence.  For example, could not resilient Artificial Intelligence be programmed to so damage an adversary irrespective of whether its host survived a nuclear first or second strike thus making such a strike pointless?  Emerging ‘conventional’ systems are devastating and, if allied to new robotics, cyber and other technologies, could generate the deterrent effect of MAD-ness, without the MAD-ness.

In other words, rather than go again down the road of good, old-fashioned 'screw the lot of us' MAD-ness. would it not make sense for the US, UK, France, and the wider NATO Alliance to craft a concept of deterrence concept that moves beyond nuclear mutually-assured destruction by combining new thinking with new strategy and new technology? Such an approach would help cast nuclear weapons as essentially self-defeating, self-destroying, anachronistic weapons of war made for another age, that in all or any realistic scenario have no practical or sensible warfighting role, whatever the size of the warhead.

The Adaptation of Deterrence?

NATO is undergoing strategic adaptation, or so the story goes. Surely, the Alliance nuclear concept of deterrence needs also to be adapted beyond hoping a few ageing dual-capable aircraft (DCA) or French ‘sub-strategic’ air-launched nukes might penetrate increasingly sophisticated Russian anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD).  NATO should thus adapt its deterrent posture to include new, non-nuclear deterrence across the sweep of twenty-first century conventional, ‘unconventional’ and nuclear forces to establish deterrence as a broad-based defence that combines the ability to project power with the protection of people. 

The best way to plug the deterrence gap and the most effective deterrent is a strong conventional deterrent, albeit a strong ‘conventional’ deterrent that also includes in its mix an effective set of visions and strategies for the deterrent application of what at present remain ‘unconventional’ new technologies – Artificial Intelligence, machine-learning, quantum computing, big data, Nano-technology, offensive cyber capabilities, allied to the ‘hardening’ of critical national and social infrastructures. 

What is needed, above all, is new thinking and, for me, there is precious little of that in the new US Nuclear Posture Review.  Just a thought.

Julian Lindley-French