hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 28 May 2018

The Great European Defence Crisis

“All cruelty springs from weakness”.

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 May. The great European defence crisis is upon us. It has been a long time coming and can even be traced back to the very founding of NATO. Most Europeans never got over World War Two and have been happy to do the least possible to defend themselves ever since, albeit commensurate with ensuring the Americans did their defending for them.  However, news that Germany, Belgium and in reality a host of other Europeans have absolutely no intention of honouring the NATO Defence Investment Pledge (the appropriately-named DIP). The DIP was the formal commitment made by the nations of the Alliance at the 2014 Wales Summit that by 2024 they would all spend 2% GDP on defence of which 20% each year would be on new equipment.

When the Cold War began spluttering joyfully to an end in 1989 ‘Europe’ re-defined itself as a civil power.  Subsequently, European armed forces were cut to the bone and often beyond in the decades that followed.  Slashing defence spending became a habit. Now, Europe again faces threats some of which demand a level of force commensurate with establishing a new level of deterrence, credible defence and meaningful engagement. Sadly, ALL Europeans are failing the test implicit in that challenge, whatever the small ‘dead cat bounce’ increases in defence spending that some leaders have championed.  What has caused the great European defence crisis and is there a way out?

Lack of money and unreformed militaries: Some leaders have questioned the commitment they made to the Defence Investment Pledge, whilst some have suggested that they spend c. 1% GDP on defence so well it is, in fact, the equivalent of 2%. This is nonsense. 2% GDP on defence spent moderately well would be at least twice as effective as the 1% currently spent very badly.  However, before such increases could take place many European forces and their procurement systems would need to undergo thoroughgoing reforms if new money is to be applied to any effect. There is little sign of such reforms taking place.

Financial crisis: The effects of the financial crisis that started in 2008 and the austerity that followed have had a disastrous effect on most European armed forces, even the strongest. Last week the much-respected Paul Johnson of London’s Institute for Fiscal Studies suggested the UK government can no longer take money away from defence to fund the National Health Service. The raiding of hard security to fund social security has been a phenomenon across Europe.   The Dutch armed forces are a case in point. Reduced to the verge of incapacity by successive governments they have just received a small cash inject that will do little to resolve the force-resource crisis in which they are mired.

Strategic pretence: In an effort to wiggle out of the DIP EU member-states last year re-invented Permanent Structured Co-operation or PESCO.  The idea at the core of PESCO is that by being more efficient and more together EU member-states could generate the same defence outcomes spending 1% GDP on defence as each state separately spending 2% GDP on defence.  This is again nonsense. I wrote my doctorate on European defence and I have seen the same political trick used time and again.  Indeed, there is an inverse correlation from which European defence suffers: the more acronyms created the more military capabilities lost.

Loss of strategic and political cohesion: Europeans either do not agree on what the main defence effort should be or still do not believe defence is that important or both.  This lack of strategic and political cohesion and the lack of defence seriousness it engenders has been revealed over the past week during the latest attempt by the European Commission to punish Britain for Brexit. The Galileo satellite positioning system is the one piece of EU security architecture that matters to the British armed forces, and yet the Commission wants to exclude post-Brexit Britain from using the highly-encrypted core of the capability. This is even though British money and expertise has gone into developing Galileo and Britain’s loss of access to it would weaken the defence of Europeans. Sadly, such misplaced intransigence is all too totemic of the great European defence crisis. For the European Commission punishing Britain is more important than the safety of Europeans.

American over-stretch: Over the weekend the United States Navy conducted a freedom of navigation exercise in contested waters in the South China Sea. The growing challenge of China is exacerbating the strategic over-stretch of the United States which remains the world’s only global, albeit hard-pressed military power. Europeans must share more of America’s burdens if America is to credibly maintain its security and defence guarantee to Europe. However, too many European leaders remain in denial about the challenges faced by Washington and the implications for the defence of Europe.  Indeed, a few see free-riding on the Americans as a right.

New technologies of war: In 1906 the Royal Navy commissioned HMS Dreadnought, the world’s first all-big gun, heavily-armoured, fast battleship. At a stroke, the warships of all navies (including Britain’s) were rendered obsolete. The emergence and deepening combination of artificial intelligence, machine-learning, offensive cyber capabilities and electronic warfare in the battlespace suggests a new ‘Dreadnought’ moment is fast approaching. However, it could well be illiberal command powers, such as China and Russia who make the breakthrough, rather than Europe’s technologically dilatory social market powers.

Populism: Overnight President Mattarella effectively blocked the formation of a new populist government in Rome, effectively tipping vulnerable Italy back into political crisis.  The rise of populism across Europe is destroying the ability of European states to credibly defend themselves or uphold their commitments to allies.  Italy is one of Europe’s major powers and there is now the very real danger that in effect Rome will be lost to NATO and Europe.  There is a profound and dare I say tragic historical metaphor in this latest Italian crisis.

Europe’s leadership vacuum: There is a vacuum in the leadership of European defence that an opportunistic Russia is exploiting. That vacuum is primarily caused by an irresponsible and increasingly selfish Germany which seems to want the benefits of leading Europe but refuses its responsibilities. For those of us who respect modern, democratic Germany this failure of leadership is a profound regret.  Two issues reveal the extent of the German malaise.  The Nordstream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany is a reflection of Berlin’s profound ambivalence when it comes to the defence of Europe.  This weekend the Joint Investigation Team cited the Russian military as culpable for the July 2014 downing of Malaysian Airline MH17 with the loss of 298 souls. There is a meeting in Brussels to consider the conclusion.  It is almost certain Berlin will try to water down any action proposed against Russia. Berlin’s ambivalence is compounded by the appalling state of the German armed forces.  With most German ships and submarines confined to port for lack of spares and only two of the Luftwaffe’s fleet of more than 90 Tornado aircraft fitted for night action Germany is a central cause of the great European defence crisis.  

The European military mobility crisis:  The European force generation and mobility crisis is the consequence of the great European defence crisis. Naturally, all of the above has a profound impact on the ground. Back in 2014 much was made of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence and strategic reassurance to the Baltic States. And yet, in an emergency NATO forces would find it extremely difficult to move any force of any size quickly across the Continent in support of the trigger/trip-wire forces now in situ in the Baltic States. At a meeting ten days ago I suggested it would thus make more sense to move the main bulk of forces further east to overcome the crisis in mobility faced by the defenders of Europe. No, I was told, it would make those forces more vulnerable.  This is nonsense. A senior officer confided in me that the real reason is that most European states do not wish to antagonise Russia and/or are simply not prepared to pay the cost of preparing an effective force to be maintained at a higher-level of readiness beyond their own borders.

Is there a way out of the great European crisis? Yes, but it will require political leadership. Last year, as lead writer, I supported General John Allen, Admiral di Paola, General Wolf Langheld, Ambassador Tomas Valacek and Ambassador Alexander Vershbow in preparing the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Reports (  In addition, several of the West’s leading thinkers contributed major papers.  For all the insight and creativity the project generated it faced a simple reality: unless such efforts are backed up with a mix of political vision and defence realism at the top of government across Europe the great European defence crisis will continue.  Too many of Europe’s leaders are still in denial about the dangers Europeans face and will face and I only hope they will not one day be condemned by history and their citizens for it.

European defence is in crisis. It must first be faced before it can be resolved. Peace through legitimate strength!

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

NATO: Dambusting Inertia?

“I must study war and politics so that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy”.

John Adams

London, United Kingdom. 23 May. Last Thursday marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the famous Dambusters raid and Operation Chastise in which RAF 617 Squadron destroyed or damaged three German dams vital to the Nazi war effort using a bomb (Upkeep) that bounced across water like a stone skipping across a pond before rolling down the dam wall and exploding.  The resultant destruction caused by the Mohnekatasprophe released millions of tons of water and killed a lot of people, German civilians and Russian and Ukrainian prisoners alike.  However, the raid was a master-piece of strategic, tactical and technical innovation the success of which shook the Nazi leadership. In other words, innovation. Is NATO any longer capable of such innovation?

This past week has left me feeling a bit like a bouncing bomb delivering talks in Garmisch-Partenkirchen at the George C. Marshall Center, the GLOBSEC conference in Bratislava, and at a range of meetings in London, including a presentation for my friend Chris Donnelly at the Institute for Statecraft entitled Future War and Hard Choices: Policy, Strategy and Capability.  Naturally, I was brilliant and very reasonably-priced. As I refine my thinking in the face of emerging threats I am convinced NATO is not only pivotal to the defence of Europe but also the only place to properly consider and grasp the rapidly changing character of warfare. If not, Allied deterrence could fail.

Now, like many Brits of a certain age, but almost no Brits of any other age, I grew up with a certain received view of World War Two.  It tended to involve the defeat of entire Nazi divisions or the sinking of their battleships by a mythical figure called Tommy or his naval counterpart, Jack. Tommy and Jack, your average British soldiers and sailors of the age, was a titan of the battlefield. They were invariably armed with little more than a broken pen-knife, an elastic band, an anti-tank weapon that involved a large spring and discarded fairground equipment, and some strange secret weapon (‘kit’) invented by some clever ‘boffin’ in his garden shed.

Now, to get said piece of ‘kit’ to Tommy the boffin in the shed inevitably had to overcome all sorts of bureaucratic obstacles laid in his path by upper class idiots in Whitehall of such startling chinless incompetence they could only have been working for the other side – a bit like Brexit today. Finally, and normally because the immortal ‘Winston’ liked it, said piece of ‘kit’ was given a chance and the results were spectacular. Naturally, the Yanks (‘over-paid, over-sexed and over here’) would make a film about it, make all the heroes American, and, of course, claim all the credit. It was ever thus.  It was, of course, all complete and utter bollocks, except the bit about the Yanks…and Whitehall.  NATO is beginning to feel a bit like that.

Burden-Sharing, Spending and Innovation

Much of the talk over the past week has been about the forthcoming July NATO Summit in Brussels. As ever, expectations are exaggerated. One thing seems clear: President Trump is going to deliver a blast about transatlantic burden-sharing, or rather the lack of it.  He is right. The defence of Europe is now in full-blown crisis because most Europeans simply do not spend enough on defence, fail to spend what they do spend at all well, and have not spent enough well enough for many, many years. As an aside, I have proposed to those in lofty places in Brussels, London and Washington that President Trump should be invited to deliver his warning on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s new 72,500 heavy aircraft carrier, preferably with the White Ensign flying behind him as he speaks.  The message? “With the right political will etc. etc...”

The need for more European money, or rather defence investment, is the natural and understandable focus of growing American ire. However, before significant amounts of extra money are invested in Europe’s armed forces they will need to be structurally reformed and a culture of innovation established. If not, Europe’s armed forces will become like Britain’s Holy National Health Service, a large, bottomless hole in the political road into which politicians pour millions of ‘virtue-signalling’ pounds to absolutely no actual effect. 

A Sentient Dreadnought?

The essential problem is that Europeans simply have no clue upon what to spend to generate security and defence effect in the twenty-first century. Consequently, there is a crunching disconnect between the level of ambition needed and the level of investment required.  A fundamental reason for Europe’s defence brain fade is that Europeans simply do not understand the likely nature of future war. During my several flights over the past week, I have re-read Amir Hussein’s brilliant book on artificial intelligence and machine-learning, The Sentient Machine. Now, I am cautious about the impact of new technologies on warfare, not least because military structures, both allied and not, tend to be replete with old mind-sets building long careers afloat on unrocked boats.  This is dangerous. NATO is facing a Dreadnought moment. In 1906 the British suddenly revealed HMS Dreadnought, a battleship that was faster, more powerful and and stronger than any other warship afloat and thus at a stroke rendered all other navies effectively obsolete.

The thing about Dreadnought was that its superiority was not simply a question of technology, but rather the fusion (current defence-strategic buzzword) of strategy, capability and technology via innovation.  I am currently writing my latest book The Defence of Europe with General John Allen and Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges. The paradox of the crisis in European defence is that it also presents Europeans with an opportunity to reform and invest in deterring future war via new thinking and new technologies that is rarely afforded Great Powers.  To do this Europeans needs to reach out to people like Amir Hussein to consider fully how artificial intelligence and machine learning could act as a force multiplier, particularly at the so-called human-machine interface. A sentient Dreadnought?

The European Defence Crisis: Dambusting Inertia

Which brings me back to the Dambusters again.  Regrettably, I am ever more concerned that the world could suffer another crippling systemic war unless the democracies act to stop it. However, if the European defence crisis is to end innovation will needs to break down the great dams of inertia that have created it.

As part of the work on the book, I am undertaking a systematic assessment of strategy, capability and technology to better understand what it would take to defend Europe in the twenty-first century. And, as part of that, what will Europeans need to do to keep America strong where she needs to be strong. Indeed, keeping America strong will be the only way for America to guarantee European defence if Europeans themselves are not up the task…as they are not.  There is no room for complacency. A report out this week by US Army Chief of Mark Milley suggests that if the cost of labour is removed from the US defence budget China is not spending much less on defence than the US.

Strategy in war now extends across a new scale of escalation from fake news hybrid war to robotic visions of hyper war via cyber-induced disruption and destruction.  Add new military capabilities to the mix, such as hypersonic weaponry, AI and deep machine learning and it is equally clear that not only will war become far faster, far more remote and far more automatic, but the transition from peace to war will also become far faster. In other words, other people’s technology is already fundamentally changing warfare. It is also dividing the world into illiberal predators and liberal prey with a new idea of ‘war’ that now stretches across the distinction between war and peace. Indeed, in many ways, we are already at ‘war’. However, with few exceptions, Europe’s prey politicians are in denial and do not want to think about it.  

We are all grasping to understand how new technologies will be applied to warfare and, particularly in democracies, if such technologies can be constrained via arms control. My sense is not and that democracies will need to consider applications where first hybrid AI will see increasingly intelligent machines augment humans in warfare, and, eventually, how and when AI will begin to replace humans leading to fully automated future war.

A NATO Future War Centre of Excellence

NATO’s task is to defend its citizens through collective defence.  By its very nature future war implies a big war and only the Alliance is best placed to consider the fusion of game-changing strategy, capability and technology. And yet, I see no evidence of the Alliance preparing for the credible deterrence of, or sound defence against, future war in anything like the systematic, innovative and creative way I and many of my colleagues believe necessary. Rather, much of NATO Europe is still refusing to recognise any threat that is either inconveniently too dangerous or even more so, inconveniently too expensive.  The worst example of this lunacy is rich Germany.  The state of the German armed forces is now so bad I really do begin to wonder if Tommy really could deal it a grievous blow - broken pen-knife, elastic band and all.  The Russians?

NATO has become a ‘bits and pieces’ alliance – a bit of force modernisation here, a bit of nuclear deterrence there, a bit of command reform here, a bit of hybrid there, and a bit of cyber over there.  What is lacking is a real NATO future war strategy within which to conceptually and practically embed twenty-first century collective deterrence and collective defence.  There is certainly no real understanding how to generate the vital new relationship between 21st century people protection and 21st century power projection upon which such deterrence and defence must will and must rest.

At the forthcoming NATO Brussels Summit in July leaders will discuss how to strengthen the transatlantic bond (yawn), how to build on NATO work with Partners to better fight terrorism (again), strengthen NATO’ Black Sea presence (interesting), and the stepping up of Alliance efforts to counter cyber-attacks and hybrid threats (quite interesting). Here’s my idea for the agenda: the UK should offer to host a NATO Future War Centre of Excellence which considers the Alliance’s role in future war in the round. Naturally, I would be its first director. After all, I am brilliant and very reasonably-priced…or so I keep on telling myself. Now, where’s my elastic band?

Julian Lindley-French 

Friday, 11 May 2018

Iran and Israel: Sparta and Athens?

“Should the July 2015 Vienna Nuclear Framework Agreement falter, which commits Iran to halt its efforts to develop nuclear weapons, the Middle East could quickly move towards a general war”.

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

Sparta versus Athens

Alphen, Netherlands. 11 May. In the fifth century, BC Thucydides wrote the seminal History of the Peloponnesian War which took place between 431 and 404 BC.  Thucydides had served as an Athenian general in the war and sought to write an account that would survive the test of ages.  His central thesis was that religious, pious Sparta attacked Athens because it, “…feared the growth in power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta”. Next week the State of Israel will turn seventy. It is arguably under as great a threat now as at the time of its founding and the war of 1948.  Israel faces enemies to its north (Hezbollah and Lebanon), to its east (Syria) and to its south (Hamas in the Gaza Strip). So, did this week’s decision by President Trump to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action (JCPOA) make an all-out war between Israel and Iran more or less likely?  

In signalling his intention to withdraw President Trump made it clear he regards the Accord as deeply flawed. There can be no doubt that Iran’s efforts to destabilise Iraq, Syria and Yemen, as well as its efforts to spread a form of Shia fundamentalism via proxies such as Hezbollah is a threat to the already tattered ‘peace’ of the Middle East.  There is a clear inference from the White House that it believes the lifting of sanctions associated with the 2015 Accord has assisted Iran in its efforts to exert its influence right up to Israel’s borders. Wednesday night’s attack on Israeli positions on the Golan Heights by Iran’s al Quds Brigade and the Israeli counter-attack reveals that Tel Aviv and Tehran are engaged in some form of war.

JCPOA: A Limited Nuclear Accord or a Putative Peace Treaty?

To properly consider the impact of Washington’s decision it is necessary to make a distinction between the specific aims of the Accord and the wider politico-strategic ambitions ascribed to it.  At one level President Trump has a point. Let me quote Thomas Hobbes (as I do regularly), “Covenants without the sword are but words and of no strength at all. The bonds of words are too weak to bridle a man’s ambitions, avarice, anger and other passions, without the fear of some coercive power”.  The JCPOA lacks any real sanctions. This is partly because the so-called ‘E3’ – Britain, France and Germany - convinced themselves long ago that covenants without the sword can be strong if they have enough words.  The ‘P5+1’, in addition to the United States and European Union, also included China and Russia as signatories to the Accord.  These are the ‘other’ Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council with whom there is little agreement over geopolitics these days – either in the Middle East or the wider world.

The Accord itself committed Iran to effectively freeze its nuclear weapons development programme for at least thirteen years by massively cutting both its stockpiles of medium-enriched Uranium, the number of centrifuges needed for such enrichment, and to not build any new facilities where heavy water could be manufactured.  In a spectacular coup de theatre last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Mossad had infiltrated Iran’s nuclear programme and that he had proof of Iranian cheating.  And yet, part of the Accord enabled verification of compliance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). According to the IAEA, there is no evidence of systematic Iranian cheating on the terms of the Accord.  In other words, there may well be some level of Iranian cheating but little sign Tehran is actively pursuing the development of nuclear warheads at the same level as prior to the Accord and therefore little chance at present that Iran could soon match the existing 250 or so nuclear warheads that Israel holds in its arsenal at Dimona.

Let me now turn to the wider politico-strategic ambitions for the Accord. There is no question that the three non-Russian European signatories did hope back in 2015 that the Accord could ameliorate Iran’s aggressive regional behaviour and that progressive relief from economic sanctions could strengthen so-called ‘moderates’ around President Hassan Rouhani. There is little or no evidence of such hopes being realised. Tehran has increased its efforts to destabilise Syria and Yemen increased its efforts to develop medium to long-range ballistic missile systems, as well as extended its backing for sworn enemies of Israel, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Tehran has also inserted its own forces into Syria dangerously close to Israel.  

Do No Harm

In our 2017 book Demons and Dragons: The New Geopolitics of Terror William Hopkinson and I warned the West to collectively apply the Hippocratic Oath to the Middle East and do no harm. We warned that the war in Syria was potentially just a curtain-raiser to a wider and even more deadly general Middle Eastern war and which had the potential to spread even further.  At first glance, President Trump’s withdrawal from the Accord and his seemingly unequivocal support for Tel Aviv could make Israel more secure.  However, such support has never been in doubt. In fact, the Accord has been one of the few oases of collaboration in a Middle Eastern desert of tension.  And, in spite of Grand Ayatollah Khamenei’s profound reservations about the Accord President Rouhani managed to get it past the hard-liners in Iran.

The Accord had another politico-strategic purpose – to prevent the emergence of blocs. European leaders Macron, May and Merkel clearly understood that one purpose of the Accord was to prevent the Middle East further splitting into something akin to pre-World War One Europe with Israel and the US on one side (plus the tacit and not so tacit support of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states) and Iran and quite possibly Russia on the other. In that sense, even by its existence, the Accord prevented the further polarisation of powers in the region and Great Powers beyond.

A Trump Doctrine?

There is a wider problem with President Trump’s decision.  There is a necessary place for coercion in international relations, something to which Hobbes and Thucydides would attest. However, the conduct of international relations is rarely the business of decisive breakthroughs and grand gestures, particularly in the Middle East.  Indeed, there is no place on the planet where the phrase ‘on balance’ must be applied more rigorously. And yet, President Trump does not do ‘on balance’ and if there is an emerging Trump Doctrine it seems to be one that pre-supposes that, with the exception of Israel, the whole world is trying to screw America, even long-time allies. If you want proof of that listen to yesterday’s diatribe about the new embassy in London.  It may be that President Trump secures what appear to be spectacular short-term ‘triumphs’. He may indeed come back from his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un with a piece of paper saying ‘denuclearisation in our time’. And, Iran may even quietly accept, at least to a point, that the Accord must be adjusted to prevent its dire economy completely tanking if sanctions are re-imposed a fortnight from now.  Then again, it might not. One thing is clear: the Accord will not survive the withdrawal of America, whatever the Europeans say.

Do no (more) harm, Mr President

US foreign and security policy is increasingly beginning to look like a reflection of President Trump’s complex mix of prejudices, self-generated beliefs and gut instincts about the rest of us.  If that continues not only will a general war in the Middle East become alarmingly more likely, America will lose friends, even close ones. That would be a tragedy for America because it needs friends to ‘make America great again’.  It would also be a tragedy for the rest of us who believe in the United States of America, the transatlantic relationship it leads and the chance Washington has to cast itself as the hard core of a new global West that is more idea than a place.

As the great Thucydides once wrote, “wars spring from unseen and generally insignificant causes, the first outbreak being often but an explosion of anger”. For the sake of Israel and the people of the wider Middle East do no (more) harm, Mr President! Has President Trump made war between Iran and Israel more likely? He certainly has not made it less likely.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Schuman, Galileo and the Return of Great Power Europe

“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it’.

Robert Schuman, 9 May 1950

The Schuman Declaration, EII, Britain and Galileo

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 May. Sixty-eight years ago today French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman made a speech which laid the foundation not only for the future European Union but also the future of European defence. And yet, for all its vision, the Schuman Declaration was grounded in Gallic pragmatism.  At the time France and the rest of Europe faced a clear and present danger with Stalin’s Red Army standing just across the River Elbe.  Today, Europe faces a range of dangers which again require Europeans to make a ‘proportionate effort’ if Europe’s long peace is to be preserved for longer. This week, at the behest of French President Emanuel Macron, the EU took a step towards Schuman’s pragmatic vision by agreeing to set up a defence body that is separable but not separate from the EU.  The European Intervention Initiative or EII, as its name suggests, harbours the ambition (again) to create a European military force under European command that could intervene rapidly the world over and involve post-Brexit Britain.  Yet, at the same time, the European Commission is trying to freeze post-Brexit Britain out of the Galileo system.  The problem is that Britain could not be a part of the EII AND be denied access to Galileo. What is even more surprising is that having called for the EII France is backing the Commission’s hard-line stance, thus threatening any future security and defence treaty between the EU and Britain upon which the EII would depend. La France perfide?

Let me first deal with the issue of utility.  Galileo was gathering momentum when I was Senior Fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies in Paris back in the early noughties.  At the time, I could not for the life of me understand why Europeans wanted to spend some €10 billion on a system that duplicated the US Global Positioning System or GPS.  I recall that my suggestion that Europeans invest instead in more European satellite intelligence capabilities, more deployable forces, or preferably both, went down like the proverbial lead satellite. 

One argument advanced by the proponents of Galileo was that such a space-based architecture would enable Europeans to deploy advanced deployable military forces independently from the Americans.  What advanced military forces? By spending €10 billion (it is in fact far more) on a duplicate system to GPS Europeans helped ensure they lacked the very advanced deployable military capabilities that would use the system.  In fact, it was clear from the outset that Galileo was a glorified, taxpayer-funded boondoggle for French, German, and to a lesser extent British and Italian defence industries.

Then there is the issue of strategic common sense. Thus far Britain has contributed some €400 million to the project.  Galileo is also dependent on ground bases in the Falkland Islands, Ascension and Diego Garcia, all British territories.  Britain is already threatening to deny the EU use of such bases if it continues to threaten London with exclusion.  Surreally, Britain is also threatening to construct its own rival system at a cost of some €4 billion over ten years with annual running costs of around €250 million. Past experience of big-ticket British procurement projects would suggest it wise to double both the cost estimates and the time it would take to deliver such a system. Surely, at a time when Britain’s front-line forces are being starved of vital capabilities to balance the books, it would make far better sense to invest in advanced military kit and rely on GPS. If Britain is utterly dependent on the US for its strategic intelligence, which it is, why would the Yanks turn off GPS? Britain is not, as far as I am aware, planning to invade Suez…even if it could.

Ever Closer Union…

It is the eternal struggle between European vision and pragmatism that is as ever causing this latest spat, fuelled naturally by Brexit. The European Commission is desperate to retain control over what it sees as a ‘common’ asset and because of Brexit Britain is fair game.  Indeed, for the Commission Galileo is a vital component in any future and real common security and defence policy (as opposed to the still-born Common Security and Defence Policy). As such, for the Commission, the EII is the thin edge of an intergovernmental wedge that could see the beginning of the end of EU defence integration. The Euro-federalists are clearly worried, which explain why Federalist-in-Chief Guy Verhofstadt is again calling for an EU Army.  

France is only backing the Commission on excluding Britain from Galileo because it wants more work for its voracious defence industry. However, Macron cannot have it both ways – a Britain-excluding Galileo and a Britain-including EII.  Macron, like Schuman before him, is ultimately a power pragmatist who is driven as much by hard geopolitics as lofty vision.  He sees the re-emergence of expansionist Great Powers on the world stage. In Europe, a newly re-inaugurated President Putin clearly has expansionist tendencies. In President Trump, he sees an American leader who evinces an extreme Republican view that institutions and treaties are there to constrain other lesser folks not the “shining city on the hill,” as demonstrated by the White House’s hostility to the flawed but important Iraq nuclear deal (more about that Friday). And, like sensible British leaders, Macron recognises that regimes and institutions that are covenants without the sword are, as Thomas Hobbes once had it, of no use to any man.   

Or Ever More Pragmatism?

And yet there is an even wider issue revealed by the whole Galileo debate – the slow emergence of a hybrid EU. Brexit is not just changing Britain, it is also changing the EU. Seen from the Dutch side of the Ditch this is an essential point too often missed in the dismal exchange that passes for the Establishment’s Brexit debate in Britain.

Naturally, much effort is being made by Paris to suggest that the European Intervention Initiative is in line with the creation of an avant-garde that promotes permanent structured co-operation (PESCO) and thus, the EII is a natural extension of CSDP. Far from it.  In fact, the EII has far more to do with the November 1998 Anglo-French St Malo Declaration (see my brilliant article Time to Bite the Eurobullet in the June 1998 New Statesman), the 2010 Lancaster House Treaties (see my even ‘brillianter’ Chatham House paper entitled Britain and France: A Dialogue of Decline?) and the development of the Combined Joint Expeditionary Force or CJEF between 2010 and 2016. That is why the May Government is right to embrace EII, albeit with a caveat. Europeans are not in need of more acronyms, they need more capable forces.  

Schuman, Macron and Cob-Webs

Therefore, what President Macron is offering (for he is the architect) is not only the further cementing of France at the centre of a cob-web of influence axes that stretches across Europe, much in the same way as Schuman.  He is also offering Britain a chance to continue to exert its influence on European defence after Brexit.  However, such influence will only be leveraged if Britain maintains the necessary military power to justify it. Such power is by no means guaranteed so long as the link between threat, policy and British capability remains broken. At the very least, the eternal threat to the defence budget from the Sword of Hammocles and the strategy-free tyranny of HM Treasury’s Green Book will have to be eased for a time if London is to exploit the influence capable British armed forces would afford it.

Galileo Galilei once said that “All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them”. The EII is established on a simple truism that no autonomous, credible European defence capability could exist with the British locked outside.  For all Macron’s lofty talk of an ever deeper, German taxpayer-funded EU, Macron also understands the relationship between pragmatism and change.  Read between M le president’s eloquent lines and another Talleyrand-esque reality becomes apparent – future Europe will also necessarily be a great power led Europe if Europe is to meet the threats it faces. Read even further between Macron’s lines and one can see the emergence of a hybrid EU that not only Britain might one day feel comfortable to re-join, but which many Europeans would want Britain to re-join.  Brexit is not the end of a game of thrones, it is just the beginning of a game that is as eternal as the struggle for power in Europe.

Robert Schuman understood power. So does President Macron. Precisely because the ambitions of both Schuman and Macron were far greater than the ability of France alone to deliver them they both envisioned French-centred European mechanisms to deliver them. And, when it comes to matters concerning ‘defence l’europe’ such mechanisms must also necessarily be Brit-friendly. In that sense, little has changed in French thinking since May 9, 1950. Therefore, expect a ‘proportionate’ French-led European response to the dangers which threaten it to include a Britain that is both in the EII and Galileo. The Commission? Dream on.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Britain’s Greatest Warship or HMS Hood 2?

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 May. Tough one this. I am a great fan of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales and have been since they were conceived in 1998.  The two ships provide Britain with a command and power projection capability that will enable London to lead military coalitions of allies and partners for years to come. The two ships will also leverage Britain’s unique maritime-amphibious expertise and are a testament to those who say that Britain can no longer cut it at the cutting edge of military power. All well and good.

Captain Jerry Kyd and his mainly young crew are to be congratulated for their efforts to get HMS Queen Elizabeth commissioned and ready for front-line service. She has undergone a tough programme of sea trials during which she has not just been tested to breaking point she has also had to dodge all-too-predictable headlines about this or that bit of kit not working properly.  The clue is in the name - sea trials.

Britain’s Greatest Warship?

And yet I am also deeply concerned. On Sunday evening I watched the third episode of a BBC documentary about ‘Big Lizzie’ entitled Britain’s Greatest Warship.  Like all BBC documentaries, the ship was only of secondary importance and in the programme fast became a floating metaphor for contemporary multicultural, gender-equality Britain. Still, that is the Britain that the ship will help defend and as I have been a long-time supporter of women naval professionals on Royal Navy ships you will hear no complaints from me on that score. Indeed, I have seen at close quarters that these naval professionals are every bit as good as their male counterparts.  The programme did at times come close to ‘tokenising’ these women and an American friend did ask me if the programme might be better entitled Britain’s Greatest Female Warship. The documentary spent far too much time on the ship’s advanced waste disposal system, which failed. Indeed, it spent more time discussing the waste disposal system  than the F-35B Lightning II fast jets HMS Queen Elizabeth will carry, the first of which she is due to take on board later this year off Florida. 

So, why am I concerned?  HMS Queen Elizabeth is not only a metaphor for contemporary Britain she is also a metaphor for all that is wrong with British defence policy. UK National Security Adviser Sir Mark Sedwill has just told a parliamentary committee something I have been banging on about since I published my 2015 book Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (which is, of course, brilliant and very reasonably-priced). Sedwill noted that there are weaknesses across the entire British national security system and that Russia poses the greatest direct military threat. I am tempted to say halle-bloody-lula that a senior government official has finally come clean about this dangerous reality, although he failed to warn about that that other great threat to the British armed forces, HM Treasury.  Indeed, I very much doubt if aforesaid HM Treasury will accept the consequences of the logic of Sedwill’s statement – that Britain must spend more, more intelligently and quickly on a strengthened defence.  This is because Britain’s defences are in a mess precisely because of the Government’s own short-termism and the 2010 and 2015 Strategic Security and Defence Reviews which reflected a London that only wanted to recognise as much threat as it thought could afford.

Big Lizzie in a Crisis

HMS Queen Elizabeth is like a marathon runner who having run 35km of a 42km race declares that he has finished.  In terms of the threats HMS Queen Elizabeth could face in the front-line she is by no means finished.  So much so that last year I made a short but very well-informed film in which I sank her simply to demonstrate precisely the danger of failing to fully equip and protect her.  Now, some apologists for government policy suggest that whatever the weaknesses in the Royal Navy’s surface and sub-surface capabilities she will always be surrounded by very capable allies. This is nonsense. Let’s suppose, in 2025 say, the Americans are busy with a major crisis in Asia-Pacific and Russia uses that crisis opportunistically to cause trouble in Europe.  In such circumstances, it could well be that Britain and its European allies would be called upon to act as first responders.

HMS Queen Elizabeth would then need to rely on European allies to form the backbone of a task group of which she would be the command core.  Only the French Navy comes close to the required offensive and defensive capabilities such a deployed task group would need facing a hostile Russian Northern Fleet.  The Royal Netherlands Navy, the Royal Danish Navy, the Royal Norwegian Navy all face critical weaknesses, whilst the Belgian, Italian and the once-mighty Germany Navy are mired in full-blown cost-capability crises.

Russian Roulette

Russia is also deploying a range of new submarines and anti-ship systems. Let me highlight one such system – the 3M22 Zircon. Zircon is a carrier-sinking manoeuvrable hyper-sonic cruise missile capable of a range of 1000 kilometres at a speed of 9800 kilometres per hour. The system was successfully tested in June 2017 and will be deployed to the Russian Navy in 2020 with an export variant being prepared.  The Royal Navy’s supersonic Sea Ceptor missile, which equips some of the Duke-class Type 23s and is scheduled for deployment on the future Type 26 frigates, can only intercept airborne threats up to Mach 3. Zircon is capable of speeds up to Mach 6.

Two things are likely to happen. London is aware that without the Americans present in some strength HMS Queen Elizabeth is extremely vulnerable to an attack from the state just identified as the main military threat. In such circumstances, London would do all it could to avoid deploying her undermining not only Britain faced with a crisis but NATO too.  Consequently, she would become an ‘anything-but-war’ ship.  This raises a fundamental question: given pressures on British defence budgets have always suffered a certain tightness due to the eternal gap between stated British intentions and actual British capabilities why on Earth did Britain build her if she could not be used for the very scenario that justified her expense. Her cost has undoubtedly warped both naval budgets and naval strategy and helped create the very unbalanced and under-hulled Royal Navy of today.

There is a second possible course of action, which really concerns me.  In 1919 Britain launched HMS Hood. She looked fantastic and soon a myth emerged around ‘the mighty Hood’. That did not matter so much in the early 1920s and enabled the then British Government to mask the necessary but swingeing cuts to the enormous Grand Fleet wielded by the Geddes Axe in the immediate aftermath of World War One.  However, the myth of the Hood persisted and even the Navy began to believe it. She underwent a partial modernisation in the 1930s but defence cuts meant they were never completed.  In truth, far from being the fast battleship, some claimed her to be, she was the same old flawed battlecruiser design that had seen three of her forebears explode at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. Ships that sacrificed vital protection in the mistaken belief that increased speed afforded the best protection.  On 24 May, 1941, in company (and not without irony) with the then brand new battleship HMS Prince of Wales, HMS Hood engaged the new German fast battleship, KM Bismarck.  Shortly into the battle, a shell from Bismarck’s fifth salvo penetrated the aft main armament magazine and HMS Hood exploded and sank with the loss of all but three of her complement of 1418 men.

A Pain in the Rollocks

I have been accused of late of being a negative pain in the rollocks over HMS Queen Elizabeth.  This is not because I am against either the Navy or HMS Queen Elizabeth. My grandfather served and was sunk (more than once) in the Royal Navy, I believe in the Royal Navy and I believe that Britain should have strategic assets such as start-of-the-art aircraft carriers if it is to play its rightful role in the deterrence afforded by NATO.  No, my concerns are for the young men and women on board that ship if Britain’s leaders do not move quickly to close the gaping hole between identified threat, defence policy and the resourcing thereof. At the very least the crew of HMS Queen Elizabeth should be afforded every capability that would enable the ship to do what it was designed to do at great cost if needed – fight, survive and prevail!

One of the few things I can claim some expertise in is the changing character and future of war. Indeed, my latest book will be on this very issue with two distinguished American generals. Make no mistake, future war, if and when it happens, will be astonishingly fast and devastatingly destructive – even before nuclear weapons are used.  For Britain to play at such power will simply transfer risk from politicians to service personnel. For that reason, I will continue to be a pain in the rollocks however inconvenient my concerns are for the upper echelons of Britain’s armed forces or the bureaucracy of government.

Quelling a Myth Before it Starts 

There is already a myth developing around HMS Queen Elizabeth that was implicit in the title of the BBC documentary. HMS Queen Elizabeth might be Britain’s biggest ever warship but she by no means the greatest, let alone the mightiest. Indeed, in relative terms, given the enemy she was designed to fight, her forebear, 1915 commissioned Super-Dreadnought HMS Queen Elizabeth was mightier yet, as the song goes. 

London must complete the marathon and properly equip HMS Queen Elizabeth and the ships and submarines that will protect her from the dangers she could well face.  Indeed, finishing the job that is HMS Queen Elizabeth will go a long way to preventing the very disaster I describe. It is called deterrence.

Julian Lindley-French