hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Berlin Airlift

“For most of Germany, this act [the March 1948 Soviet walk-out from the Allied Control Council] merely formalized what had been an obvious fact for some time, namely that the four-power control machinery had become unworkable. For the city of Berlin, however, this was an indication for a major crisis”.

President Harry S. Truman
The First Berlin Crisis

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 June. Seventy years ago this week the Soviet Union began the Berlin blockade by closing the road and rail corridor that linked the American, British and French occupation zones within the city with their respective occupation zones in the west of Germany.  The same week the blockade began a massive Western airlift started that between 24 June 1948 and 12 May 1949 saw 441 American and 248 British aircraft fly 277,804 sorties delivering 394,509 tons of essential supplies to the people of Berlin. 

As my KLM flight from Berlin to Amsterdam taxied onto Tegel Airport’s long runway last Thursday I suspect I was the only one on the flight who realised the historical significance of that stretch of tarmac at that moment.  What is now (and still so given the sorry tale of Berlin’s new non-airport) the city’s main airport was opened on 5 November 1948 having been constructed in some 69 days.  Tegel was constructed when it was realised that Berlin Tempelhof could not handle the enormous number of Allied flights needed to keep Berliners alive in the face of Stalin’s brutal and clumsy attempt to starve the Western Allies out of the City.

A Crisis and a Republic

The cause of the First Berlin Crisis was ostensibly the introduction of the new Deutsche Mark in the city by the Western Allies.  For Stalin, the introduction of the currency was a step on the road to the eventual re-emergence of a strong Germany that could again eclipse three of the four occupying powers – Britain, France and the Soviet Union. To some extent he was right.  However, for Stalin, the emergence of a democratic Germany was as great a threat if not more so than the re-emergence of a functioning and in time independent German state.

Throughout 1946 the Americans and the British completed work on the so-called Bizone which unified the economies of their respective occupation zones. On 1 June 1948, the French occupation zone also joined forming the Trizone and thus establishing the sovereign space for the Federal Republic of West Germany to emerge on 23 May 1949 (a month or so after the Washington Treaty and the founding of NATO).  To ensure the Federal Republic would be viable on 7 March 1948 Stalin’s ire was further provoked when it was agreed that the Marshall Plan or European Recovery Program would be offered to the whole of Germany, something Moscow rapidly rejected for its area of occupation.

In the first half of 1948, the Soviets increased the pressure on Berlin.  On 5 April 1948 a Soviet Yak-3 fighter collided with a British European Airways Vickers Viking as it attempted to land in Berlin at then RAF Gatlow.  In what had been a blatant act of harassment by the Soviets all 14 people on the civilian airliner were killed together with the pilot of the Soviet fighter.

What was particularly impressive about the Berlin airlift was that many of the American, British and crews from other countries taking part had also been engaged in the great Allied bomber offensives that had sought to destroy Berlin only some three years prior. In total 39 Britons, 31 Americans and 13 Germans were killed during an airlift so intensive that normal rules of air safety had to be relaxed. Given that much of the effort took place throughout a cold and foggy Berlin winter it is frankly surprising there were not more fatalities.

By May 1949 it was clear to Stalin the blockade was not working. On 16 April 1949, the air-bridge delivered more supplies than the combined road and rail link prior to the blockade with one Allied aircraft landing every minute. And, given he was unwilling to provoke an open conflict with the Americans who at the time were still the only atomic power (the Soviets did not test their first atomic bomb until 29 August 1949) Stalin lifted the blockade on 12 May 1949.

Would Germany do the Same?

There is a twist to this story.  I have been at the forefront of those defending Germany and its actions in contemporary Europe. Yes, Germany can be ruthless when it comes to protecting German interests – one has only to look at the car emissions scandal to see that.  And yet I have always believed Germany’s assertiveness to be more angst than any concerted plan to dominate Europe. And yet as I sat on the plane considering history I was still niggled by the contempt just shown to Britain and me by my German colleagues over Brexit.  It led me to wonder if Britons faced a similar crisis would Germans act with the same largesse and urgency.  Indeed, I would like to think so but I really do wonder. As for me, if Berlin faced the same or any other life-threatening challenge there would be no question of my offering British support. Ho hum!

In memory of those who gave their lives so that the people of Berlin could survive the blockade which in time helped enable that great city to re-emerge and thrive at the heart of a great country.

Julian Lindley-French   

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Averting Britain’s Pending Defence Crisis

“We know that in tough times, cynicism is just another way to give up, and in the military we consider cynicism or giving up as another form of cowardice”
James Mattis

Britain’s Defence Crisis

Alphen, Netherlands. 26 June.  Britain’s ends, ways and means do not add up, which means the ends, ways and means of Britain’s armed forces do not add up either.  Consequently, the defence of the realm is in crisis. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss hinted as much when she warned last night that London would continue to only recognise as much threat as the Treasury would permit and that Britain’s Potemkin defence ‘effort’ would continue.  Defence now joins a whole raft of crises NOT being dealt with by Government.  With knife crime soaring justice is in crisis. With the population swelling, Britain faces an enormous housing crisis. With double-decker buses now being swallowed up by pot-holes, the size of Slough Britain’s infrastructure is crumbling. Well, that is a bit of an exaggeration but the trains really are in crisis but arrive too late for anyone to notice.  Then there is Brexit; there is always bloody Brexit! 

And yet, top of the flops one finds the health crisis. As the Holy National Health Service (NHS) approaches its seventieth birthday there are real concerns that the United Kingdom will be unable to survive this black hole at the heart of the British state.  Prime Minister May has managed to buy some time on health, as she does, by again sacrificing the strategical for the political by depriving the long-awaited Defence Modernisation Programme of the up to £2bn per annum or £20bn in total that would be needed to put the words ‘defence’ and ‘modernisation’ in the same phrase and mean it.  It is amazing what damage an ideological commitment to low taxes, low spending and high demand can do to help those in charge ignore danger.

The consequences? At least the Germans are honest about free-riding on the Americans, even if they over-play the eloquence of history stuff. Years ago, I got into trouble (a much-visited place for me) by writing in the International Herald Tribune that for decades the Americans, French and British had told Germans not to spend too much on defence because of World War Two, whilst for the past decade Germans have told Americans and Britons they cannot spend too much on defence because of World War Two. Plus ├ža change?  For years British ministers have banged on about the UK Armed Forces (UKAF) being the finest in the world, just as they were about to plunge a knife into what is left.

Arise Sir Max

Arise Sir Max Hasting.  Now, Sir Max is something of a hero of mine whom I have followed for many years. My Mattis quote at the top of this piece is not aimed at him, although his ‘depressive realism’ about contemporary Britain is so hard at times that it to borders on cynicism. Rather, it is the culture of ‘managing decline’ that pervades the elite Establishment and which so undermines Britain’s strategic ambition.  Writing in The Times Sir Max revealed put his finger on an essential reality of contemporary Britain: neither the country’s national strategy (in as much as there is one) nor its defence strategy are coherent and because they are not coherent nor are they sustainable. And yet I profoundly disagree with the conclusions Sir Max reaches. Reading the piece it is hard to escape the conclusion that Sir Max thinks Britain should abandon, Dante-esque, all hope of remaining a substantial power in the world and that its armed forces have ‘had it’. Sir Max believes that Little Britain is now so diminished and its people so decadent that London should simply concentrate on counter-terrorism because that is all a snowflake population understand.  And, that if a real shooting war were to break out, say, with Russia Britain would simply not want to fight it.  Sorry, Baltics! In fact, I do not think Britain would have much choice but to fight.

The article is less convincing when it discusses the now regular ‘not one of us’ Establishment sneer about the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. At least, Williamson, a fellow Yorkshireman, is trying to stand up for defence and embed Britain’s defence effort in some form of considered strategic logic, even if at times I too wonder if his manner may be self-defeating for himself and for the department he leads. ‘Crass’ is ‘la parole du jour’ to use against Williamson these days as he fights Prime Minister May and Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond. However, for all Williamson’s supposed rough edges the real political problem with defence is caused by May, who has yet to demonstrate any understanding of or empathy for security and defence policy, and Hammond who views the nation’s finances as little more than an exercise in cash flow management rather than the directing of vital public resources in essential public services, of which defence is one.  Worse, it is hard to escape the conclusion that for May and Hammond (Clarkson?) the defence budget is little more than a secret contingency reserve for the NHS.

Still Managing Decline

There are now some seventy Conservative MPs threatening to vote down the forthcoming budget if the UKAF are not ‘properly’ funded but they also seem muddle-headed.  The real question should not simply concern how much, but rather to what end?  It is the three issues of purpose, structure and capability where the ends, ways and means crisis faced by UKAF really strike home.  There is a profound and growing gap between the defence roles and missions assigned to UKAF, the military task-list such roles generate and the capability and the capacity to meet such demand.  This crisis is not just strategically challenging it is also politically disastrous. For years Britain’s shrinking but highly-competent armed forces have been used to mask a culture of ‘managing decline’ which courses through the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster (Post-Traumatic Suez Disorder?).  Central to Britain’s strategic brand, UKAF have tended to mask such declinism even as they declines and have thus been an essential generator of influence in key capitals such as Washington, Paris and Berlin.

Not anymore. UKAF may just about still be a ‘Tier One’ (to use the armchair analysts slogan of the week) force if such a force is defined as one that possesses nuclear weapons, some high-end strike and forced entry capability and a little bit of strategic lift.  Indeed, a little bit of everything but not much of anything just about sums up UKAF these days. Ask any American in the know and even if they are being polite UKAF are now seen as little more than a Bonzai force – very pretty, still quite sharp, but very small.

Why has this happened?  Leaving aside London’s lamentable conduct of Brexit negotiations (Brussels AND Whitehall on the ‘let’s limit the damage to the EU’ side and David Davis on the ‘let’s get the best for Britain but no clue how’ side) the state of UKAF reeks of the smelly culture of decline management that pervades the Whitehall elite. It also demonstrates once again that the Westminster political elite completely fail to understand the twin and linked concepts of influence and leverage in international relations. Worse, it also suggests that London does not think UKAF are actually meant to fight a major war if, in the worst-case, one should break out.  Therefore, if UKAF no longer have a role, and if even limited military capability might lead to the Americans actually asking their British counterparts to again fight alongside them, would it not be best to reduce the force to the point of incapacity?  No force, no Washington demand, no problem.  One certainly cannot explain the state, size or nature of contemporary UKAF by trying to link the force to the threat. 

New Thinking about ‘New’ Thinking

What is urgently needed is new thinking about ‘new’ thinking at the top in London. Brexit is having the same effect on Britain’s elite Establishment as the 1956 Suez Crisis did on their well-heeled forebears: a wonderful excuse to slide deeper into cynicism, exaggerated decline and, yes, policy cowardice.  There is no reason if led with ambition grounded in realism, why a state with the power of post-Brexit Britain (a top 5 or 6 world economic power and a top 5 or 6 defence investor) could not far better align its national strategic effort with threat, power and ambition.  Even though I remain a Big Picture Remainer I reject this nonsense that Britain’s departure from the ‘glorious’ EU will inevitably mark Britain’s demise. Put simply, no one knows.  The EU is dysfunctional, as this week’s migration non-summit attests, and still far too obsessed with curtailing the power of bigger states in Europe than magnifying the collective or common influence of Europeans beyond Europe.

Where I really part company with Sir Max is over his elite Establishment defeatism.  The other night in Rome I had a delightful dinner with a senior British officer and, yes, we probably drank a tad too much Brunello, or whatever it was.  We both agreed that if one can look beyond the mess that is London an opportunity exists for Britain and its armed forces IF Britain’s leaders have the courage to seize the moment.  Carpe diem, and all that!

The Americans are stretched thin the world over.  The Germans have no intention of spending the c$70bn on defence that meeting the NATO Defence Investment Pledge of 2% GDP on defence would require for fear that defending Europe will lead to accusations of dominating Europe.  Put simply, a hole in the market exists for Britain to provide a modest but powerful command hub for a host of allies increasingly aware that the conduct of medium-to-high end operations will be via coalitions rather than either the Alliance or the Union. Twenty years on from the St Malo Declaration the French clearly understand that which is why President Macron convinced London to sign-up yesterday to the distinctly non-EU European Intervention Initiative.

Balancing Ends, Ways and Means

Which brings me to where Britain’s ends, ways and means should meet UKAF ends, ways and means. To ‘modernise’ defence, ‘defence’ itself must be re-considered in the round if London is to engineer a new defence that strikes a credible balance between resiliency, protection and force projection.  Yes, Britain lacks the heavy industrial base of old. However, the country still retains a whole raft of advanced science and engineering capabilities across the supply chain together with cutting-edge expertise in areas such as artificial intelligence and machine-learning, cyber and intelligence where much future war will be fought and future deterrence centred.  The Defence Modernisation Plan is good as far as it goes but goes nothing like far enough.  What this again reveals is a critical lack of imagination at the heights and heart of Government about twenty-first century threat and Britain’s role in dealing with it. At the very least, if Britain is to fix the broken supply, re-supply and procurement shambles UKAF need a twenty-first century version of the pre-war Weir Plan which helped ensure the country’s industrial base was better prepared in 1939 for a long war than Nazi Germany. Indeed, the source of the threat posed by Russia is essentially its re-focusing of much of its state, intellectual and industrial capacity on coercing others.

UKAF also need a new balance to be found and afforded between mass and manoeuvre and between human and technological capital. Years ago I had dinner with General Sir Mike Jackson at Ditchley Park in which he emphasised the value of a force having mass and that the UK had sacrificed it. He is right.  And yet, with twenty-first century warfare now likely to stretch across a broad and new spectrum of coercion from hybrid war to hyper war via cyber war (see the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Report John Allen, Sandy Vershbow, Giampaolo di Paola, Wolf Langheld, Tom Valacek and I completed late last year) ‘mass’ need not simply be generated by boots or metal. The emergence of new fighting technologies such as swarm and AI suggest virtual mass is now a very real option.

What about the here and now? Is the existing and near-future force really that hopeless?  Yes, UKAF have been hollowed out to the point at which combat support services no longer meaningfully exist. However, take the Royal Navy as an example.  Yes, the Naval Service has too few hulls but IF the two new heavy aircraft carriers (Sir Max calls them ‘behemoths’) are properly-resourced, reasonably-equipped and appropriately-protected (big ‘ifs’ I know) the UK will create a new strike force with platforms available to US Marine Corps that will also act as a command hub for Allied power projection and protection of deployed land forces. At the very least such a force will ease the increasing world-wide pressure on the United States Navy in a very meaningful way, which will afford Britain some influence in Washington and over American military choices.

It is to the future that Britain should look. Future UKAF will need to be competent war fighters across seven domains – air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge.  Indeed, as a ‘Command Force,’ it is not beyond reasonable ambition for Britain to be at the forefront of such defence and deterrence efforts aimed at reinforcing comparative advantage over adversaries.  Therefore, what is really needed is a considered analysis of where best to invest British defence resources that will always be constrained, whether Britain spends 2%, 2.5% or 3% GDP on defence, as a report last week by House of Commons Defence Committee report called for. 

For that to happen the obsession must end with judging comparative defence capability simply on comparative headline defence spending. Defence purchasing power parity is what matters together with the outcomes it generates.  Therefore, before a British government suddenly and miraculously discovers that reasonably-strong UKAF is an investment in real influence and splurges out money on some ill-defined end, the Defence Modernisation Programme should be expanded to consider what mix of forces, capabilities and people and what level of capacity will really be needed to meet considered defence ends. Then, and only then, will sound defence be seen as an investment rather than a cost, and defence and influence finally seen as a public good, not a public burden. 

Si Vis Pacem…?

In his piece in The Times Sir Max referred to a dinner at which, ‘there were the brightest and best brains in the war studies universe’. They were probably also the most accommodating as according to Lord Heseltine, who also attended, the collected ‘stars’ offered little by way of new thinking.  Now, there’s a surprise. My limited experience of such events has been one of carefully-controlled get-togethers put together by defensive senior defence civil servants ostensibly to ‘inform’ a minister or two, but in reality to ‘protect’ him or her from dangerous new ideas.  Thus, such events are normally where the elite Establishment meet their ‘chums’ in the academic aristocracy in some nice, inevitably genteel setting where no-one speaks truth unto power for fear of not being invited back. No doubt these days there is also obligatory ‘diversity’. Disruptive thinkers? Not a chance. And guess what?  Such groups, group-think, which inevitably leads to yet another ‘successful’ exercise in decline management…and so on and so forth.
The British elite Establishment are trapped in a virtual Ten Year Rule, all too happy to delude themselves that a major war involving Britain will not break out in the next decade.  All they need so is look around!  In the early Thirties, Britain at least had the sense to scrap the original Ten Year Rule which had been established in 1919 in the immediate aftermath of World War One.  Vegetius once wrote, “Si vis pacem para bellum”, or if you want peace prepare for war.  It is not warlike but prudent for Britain to again think about war because only by so doing can an innovative defence be mounted and deterrence re-established.  If Sir Max is right and Britain is about to go into strategic retirement and that the main concern of Government really is to maintain a childlike public in its childlike state then Britain, Europe, America and the wider world will be a far more dangerous place for it. 

Now, it is customary in conclusions of such pieces for writers to say that none of the above can be resolved until Britain has decided what kind of country and what level of power it aspires to be. This is nonsense. The world imposes roles on countries. The more powerful a country the more its own relative power imposes responsibilities upon it. The only choice Britain has is to face those responsibilities, and thus help the cause of peace, or shirk them and make the world a more dangerous place.  Making even that limited choice will require leadership. Sadly, there are precious few leaders in London these days and on that Sir Max and I are in violent agreement.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 22 June 2018

The Transatlantic Bond: Promises, Trust and Choices

“An Alliance that has kept us safe and secure for almost seven decades. And has helped to provide the foundation of our growth and our prosperity.  Our bond is strong. But today, some are doubting the strength of that bond. And yet we see differences between the United States and other Allies. Over issues such as trade, climate and the Iran nuclear deal. And there are disagreements within Europe too. Over the future direction of the European Union. Over values and populism. These disagreements are real. It is not written in stone that the transatlantic bond will survive forever. But I believe we will preserve it”.

NATO Secretary-General, Jens Stoltenberg, London, 21 June 2018

The Transatlantic Bond

Berlin, Germany.  22 June 2018. The transatlantic bond: choices, promises and trust. As Secretary-General Stoltenberg was making his speech in London I was here in Berlin at a meeting of the excellent Munich Security Conference-George C. Marshall Center organised Loisach Group. As the meeting progressed President Trump announced plans to meet President Putin in Europe either before or after the Brussels NATO Summit and Prime Minister May announced plans to hike funding in the National Health Service at the expense of Britain’s ‘Tier One’ military status. So, where does all of that leave the Alliance? 


As I leave Berlin I am re-confirmed in my belief that the twenty-first century transatlantic relationship will be very different to its twentieth century forebear. It will also be very much more conditional. At the meeting, German colleagues danced on the head of a Defence Investment Pledge pin.  Back in 2014, Germany had signed up to 2% GDP on defence by 2024, of which 20% per annum would be spent on new equipment.  Yes, the specific language of the NATO Wales Summit Declaration states members would only “aim at” 2% by 2024.  Political semantics to spare German and other Allied blushes. The simple but hard strategic reality is that if a state like modern Germany, a model democracy, and a very rich one at that cannot devote a historically low 2% GDP to defence then NATO is in real trouble and so is Stoltenberg’s transatlantic bond.  Berlin’s argument is that German domestic public opinion would not accept an investment that would take Berlin’s defence budget above some $70 bn.  It would not worry me.  In any case, we all have domesticated publics. Sadly, like all ‘imperial’ powers German domestic opinion does matter more than that of other allies, precisely because Germany has the power to impose it on others…for a bit and to an extent. 


Secretary-General Stoltenberg suggests that differences between the United States and other Allies are real. They are. One German colleague suggested that President Trump and the United States is now a threat to the rules-based order that the Americans (not Germans) guarantee.  One can understand the angst. President Trump certainly gives the impression at times of being (perhaps) the first-ever illiberal leader of a real and very powerful liberal democracy. He also seems far more comfortable in the company of President Putin and President Xi with a world-view that seems to divide the world into power-predators and power-prey with his European allies now the latter. 

Still, the logic of the German critique of Trump would also suggest that Berlin believes Washington can no longer be trusted with the defence of Europe and that Europeans should do far more and spend far more.  And yet, Berlin rarely moves beyond the blah, blah rhetorical, and the EU rhetorical at that – PESCO, European Security and Defence Union.  Germans are seemingly happy to claim the right to criticise America to the point of giving offence even while it still expects the American taxpayer to defend them.  The able British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson hinted at the same in an excellent piece in The Times this morning.

Stoltenberg also said there were disagreements in Europe over Europe.  There are. The self-satisfied and frankly conceited German view of Britain and Brexit can be thus described: “Those poor, dumb Brits. They have brought on their own calamity by voting legitimately to leave the fantastic European Union, that by the way, we lead, and we are going to give them one hell of a kicking for it. And, we also expect Britain and its citizens to spend more on the defence of Germany and the rest of Europe than we do”. Frankly, it is becoming ever harder by the day for me to defend my position as a Big Picture, geopolitical Remainer. Germany and the Commission are systematically seeking to damage my country for Brexit and force Britain into a corner seemingly in the hope London will capitulate and Brexit will be reversed on German terms. Britain’s incompetent elite might be happy with that, but it is hard for me to believe the majority of the British people will put up with it. The implications for NATO? They were apparent this week.  May’s questioning of Britain’s status as a Tier One power is code for a Britain that is already retreating behind its nuclear shield. Just look at how tiny the British Army has become. As for the European Union, I thought it was a free association of free peoples for which leaving would incur a cost but not some form of cold war. Silly me.


Europe is in a dangerous place that is getting more dangerous by the day.  Threats to Europeans now range from fake news and war at the seams of our societies to possible invasion of countries at the margins of our Alliance and the Union.  Disinformation, disruption, destabilisation and destruction are merging to such an extent that credible defence and deterrence will demand entirely new thinking. First, far better collective understanding of the nature and scope of the threats Europeans face and who is behind them. Second, acceptance that if Americans are to maintain the credible defence of Europe, Europeans with Germans to the fore are going to have to break their addiction to free-riding. Third, Germans need to treat Americans with far more respect than they do at present if, as one German participant at the Loisach Group meeting suggested, the credible defence of Europe is to continue to rely primarily on the willingness of Americans to die for it.

The reason I bother to invest time and energy in the Loisach Group is because it is important and because its members are good people willing to face hard realities. We ALL need that right now. For all that there is still a big power picture that Germany as Europe’s big power simply refuses to think big about which limits the ambition of the US-German strategic partnership.  Indeed, if I was to paraphrase the American view of the Loisach Group it is as a mechanism to get the Germans to think big about big threats so that whilst they might not agree with Americans about every danger to be faced Berlin and Washington can at least think big about the partnership and their disagreements.  What I see is an over-stretched global America locked in a debate with a parochial, very European Germany which at times sounds to me – a now irrelevant Brit – as two countries separated by two completely different ‘strategic’ languages.

Promises, Trust and Choices

If Stoltenberg’s NATO is to do its job as defined by Secretary-General Stoltenberg it will not be achieved by command structure reform or new cyber operations centres et al important though these ‘adaptations’ are to the working effectiveness and efficiency of the contemporary Alliance. No, trust in each other is the essential strategic ingredient in alliance. And, if trust is to be re-discovered, for it is a rare commodity these days in this Alliance, it will first and foremost be achieved by the re-building of strategic partnerships founded on and in political and strategic realism.  Without that realism, Trump’s America with its new penchant for conditions will drift away from Europe, and a Britain that Stoltenberg seems to suggest still matters to the defence of Europe will withdraw into itself. This is in spite of what the strategically incapable Prime Minister May says, as she moves to further deplete the fast emptying toolbox that still affords both Britain influence and Europe defence.

The Loisach Group is an important initiative that considers the vital US-German essential relationship. If Secretary-General Stoltenberg’s faith in the enduring nature of the transatlantic bond is to be realised it is the US-German relationship that will be the core of Alliance strategic credibility. This is particularly so as Britain’s elite establishment condemns Britain and its people to an exaggerated and accelerated decline. Lions led by donkeys?  Therefore, I will continue to offer my blunt Yorkshire analysis and advice if Germans and Americans want me to.  Why? Call me old-fashioned but I actually believe in the United States and in modern Germany, and I still believe there is a place for Britain in a reformed EU built on the Gaullist principle of a Europe of nations.  As for NATO it is the most important defence alliance then, now and in the future.  And, strange though some Germans seem to find it, I actually believe in my country and will defend it when attacked, even if those charged with leading Britain clearly neither believe in it nor are they willing to defend it or its interests.

It will take years for the relationships damaged by transatlantic tensions and Brexit to recover. However, if the defence that NATO affords its members is to be credible those same relationships must form the hard core of political solidarity that is the true foundation of deterrence. THAT is why the transatlantic bond matters.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 18 June 2018

Europe’s Leadership Vacuum and the Need for Collective European Defence

“Nature abhors a vacuum”

Europe’s Waterloo and the Fearsome Threesome?

Alphen, Netherlands 18 June. It seems somewhat appropriate to be writing this on the 203rd anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo as I feel close to having met mine. Waterloo, that is. What a week – Amsterdam, Stockholm, Rome and Portsmouth. I am knackered. ‘Knackered’ is a colloquial English term that has two meanings. Very tired, as in my case, or completely failed, as is the case of most of Europe’s leaders for that is the conclusion I have drawn from my rapid Grand European Tour.  Nowhere on my travels did I meet anyone happy with the situation in Europe, or happy with the way Europeans are NOT being led.  There is a leadership vacuum in Europe that is undermining the defence of Europeans. Contrast Europe’s ‘leaders’ with the fearsome threesome who currently hold the whip-hand of power in the world: Putin, Trump and Xi.

Julian’s Grand Tour

My week started in Stockholm watching President Trump shaking hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.  The Singapore meeting may have been light on substance but it was heavy on symbolism and in international relations such things matter, so long as they are backed up by power. Indeed, one may not like the leadership on offer from these three paragons of power modesty but it is they who now get to decide what Europeans must endure. Europe? Long on symbolism, short on influence, endlessly talking values, but no power to defend interests.

From Stockholm, I moved onto Rome where I addressed NATO senior officers.  In Rome, some form of experiment in government is underway led by a new coalition between academics and populists that will no doubt lead to a lot of erudite papers about complete nonsense. One only has to suffer the state of Rome’s roads and see the impact of mass unregulated immigration on the ‘eternal city’ to see the dangerous reality of modern Italy, a country that I genuinely love. It is clear to me that Italy will in effect cease to be a strategic actor of any weight for the foreseeable future.  Italy’s armed forces are already under intense pressure from a lack of investment. It is a situation likely only to get worse.

Having left Rome I made my increasingly knackered way to Portsmouth via Amsterdam and Southampton. My purpose was to give a talk at a conference to mark fifty years since the first patrol by a British ballistic missile submarine, HMS Resolution. Sadly, the only thing I could see afloat in the dockyard of any real capability was good old HMS Metaphor.  As this week’s new report by the House of Commons Defence Committee entitled Beyond 2 Percent states, “the Government must break out of the pattern, observable in past reviews, of strategic direction being lost because the conclusions of the review are inadequately funded and ultimately unsustainable…” Amen to that!

The May Government lacks ambition, imagination or creativity and has become dangerously risk averse.  For example, I had suggested to both the White House and London that President Trump be invited to give a speech on burden-sharing on board the brand new 70,000 ton aircraft-carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. My idea was initially very well-received on both sides of the Atlantic and as far as I know is still welcome in the White House. My reasoning was simple: if President Trump is to berate Europeans about a lack of burden-sharing at or around the July Brussels NATO Summit then at least put him on the deck of high-end European ‘asset’ so that he could put some positive spin on it.  By giving such a speech on ‘Big Lizzie’ the Trump message could then be hard and fair at the same time: “with the right political will America’s allies can invest in the kind of high-end military capability that will help share America’s great burden etc. etc.”  Europeans need to realise and fast that America’s legitimate grievance over burden-sharing goes far beyond, and far deeper than President Trump. 

The symbolism of such a speech on that ship at this time would have sent a powerful message about Britain, the Special Relationship and future European capabilities.  Sadly, over the weekend I learnt that the idea has been scrapped because it might be humiliating for Britain if there are no F-35Bs on board HMS Queen Elizabeth as yet.  First, the reason for any such ‘humiliation’ could only be the strategic illiteracy of Britain’s leaders and the lack of imagination it engenders. Second, four new British F-35Bs flew across the Atlantic and arrived in the UK this month.  If they cannot yet land on the deck of ‘Big Lizzie’ at least get them to do a fly past as President Trump concludes his remarks. Such spinelessness simply reveals a Government and an elite that lack ambition, lack imagination and lack creativity.  It also explains why Little Britain is declining fast - the little people who govern it.

In Europe, only President Macron has the vision needed to prepare Europeans for a challenging twenty-first century world, but without Germany’s support (which he lacks) Macron’s ambitions are far bigger than his country. And ‘bigness’ is the nub of Europe’s problem. None of Europe’s leaders have the vision or the courage to confront the big problems Europeans must collectively face. Europe faces immense challenges that for too long have been ducked and which range from the modernisation and digitisation of the European economy to cope with twenty-first century globalism, the consequences of mass flows of unregulated migrants into Europe, Europe’s new and rapidly worsening threat agenda to the urgent need to modernise Europe’s security and defence architectures.    
Berlin and the Loisach Group

This week, somewhat re-fortified, I will travel to Berlin to attend the high-level US-German Loisach Group of which I am a proud member. Organised by the Munich Security Conference and the George C. Marshall Center the work of the Group is vital, not least because of London’s refusal to invest strategic ambition or political commitment in the UK-US Special Relationship. Indeed, if London does not break out of its strategic and political torpor the US-German Essential Relationship offers the best hope for a renewed transatlantic relationship that organises democratic power to good security and defence effect. However, whilst the US-German relationship may be essential, it is by no means ‘special’, particularly at the moment. 

For this vital relationship to flourish Americans and Germans will need to agree that the dangers that face both North Americans and Europeans are roughly the same and that the policy and strategy solutions they seek are compatible.  That will mean modesty in leadership from the Americans and leadership in leadership from the Germans neither of which seem particularly likely.  Worse, in Europe’s strongest power, ‘leadership’ is conspicuous by its absence.  From being Queen Angela of Europe a couple of years ago Chancellor Merkel is now in open conflict with her interior minister Horst Seehofer over migration. She wants a ‘European solution’, which means no solution, whilst he wants Germany to close its borders to migrant flows. President Trump, on the other hand, seems more at home and more comfortable dealing with the likes of Putin, Xi, and dare I say it, Kim. That Hieronymus Bosch-style photograph of Merkel trying to face down Trump at the G7 was a picture that spoke far more than a thousand political words.

A West in Crisis or a Europe in Crisis?

What that photo revealed was a West that is now mired in deep crisis, or rather a Europe that is in deep crisis.  European leaders like to blame President Trump for a lot and at times he almost revels in the role of being European Scapegoat-in-Chief. However, the crisis Europeans face is entirely of European leader’s own making. Years of refusing to face new power-realities in the world, years of uttering empty slogans about ‘Europe’ (and much else), years of talking too much and doing too little have reduced Europe to the dangerous situation in which it now finds itself.

Against that backdrop, there are eight lessons that I draw from my grand tour of Europe over the past week:

1. Europeans must stop talking about some future common defence. The defence of Europe will be conducted by European states working together.  Collective defence is what Europeans should aspire to and President Macron is right to call for a European (not EU) Intervention Force. 
2. There will be no common defence until there is a European Government and by the time there might be a European Government parts of Europe could be speaking Russian…again.
3. Keep all serious defence away from the European Union.  Brussels is too focused on using ‘defence’ to undermine the European nation-state so that it can centralise ever more power on its illegitimate self.
4. A European defence that is a consequence of yet more defence cuts will afford no defence at all. All defence cuts are matched by a similar loss of strategic ambition.
5. The future defence of Europe needs real political leadership.  At times of weak government, political bureaucrats take-over power and they are instinctively risk-averse. Just look at Britain.
6.  Given the growing pressure US armed forces face to maintain their world-wide, high-end defence and deterrence posture Washington will only be able to afford Europeans a defence guarantee that is credible if Europeans do far more for their own defence and for the Americans and focus such an effort on NATO.
7. Before significant increases in European defence expenditure can take place Europeans need to collectively agree the capabilities and capacities European future forces need and begin a sustained programme of reform and re-structuring.
8. If the European Commission succeeds in its efforts to damage Britain for Brexit there is a real risk that London will retreat behind its nuclear shield and effectively abandon its role in the defence of Europe.  Worse, London might abandon once and for all any pretence at being a major power, when in fact it still is.

Which brings me back to Stockholm where I started my week.  Of all the countries I visited the Swedes were the most clear-headed about the challenges Europeans face because they understood one thing very clearly: Europeans will not be more secure by trying to hide from threat and danger. If Europe is to be defended its leaders must collectively climb down off the vacuous Euro-cloud upon which they have for too long been perched and start properly dealing with the real problems ordinary Europeans face and meet the real strategic challenges Europe and the wider West must confront together. Read between the lines of a good speech by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte last week to the European Parliament and at least one leader seems to understand that European leaders need to do less talking to each other and more talking to their peoples. If not, ‘Europe’ will continue its precipitous and dangerous decline into strategic irrelevance and in the process make not only Europe but the wider world a much more dangerous place than it need be.

As Aristotle (and Rabelais) once said, “Nature abhors a vacuum”, but so does power.  And, if Europeans do not re-learn ‘power’ and fast someone else will impose it upon them. Then, like Napoleon, Europe will at some point face its own Waterloo…which, for the record, was won by Wellington!

Julian Lindley-French  

Friday, 8 June 2018

Ready to Go? The 4:30(s) from Brussels (NATO)

“Today, Allies committed, by 2020, to having 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons, four combat vessels, ready to use within 30 days or less”.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, 7 June 2018

NATO’s New Realism?

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 June. NATO took some important steps yesterday to modernising Article 5 collective defence.  NATO also enjoyed a ‘first’ – the first ‘Defence Ministerial’ in its shiny new railway terminus, sorry, headquarters.  At American bidding, the ministers agreed a NATO Readiness Initiative. The so-called ‘Four Thirties’ will be central to reinforcing deterrence in an emergency by enabling rapid reinforcement of forward deployed forces. The proposed force is a kind of beefed-up version of the old Allied Command Europe Mobile Force which was disbanded in 2002 (due to British defence cuts) and was designed to act as a strategic reserve able to move quickly to any NATO hot-spot.  Critically, the new force will plug a dangerous gap between spearhead forces, immediate follow-on forces (NATO Response Force), and the bulk of NATO forces which would take up to 120 days to mobilise in an emergency. If, that is, the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

My hope is that the June 2018 Defence Ministerial will also come to be seen as the prelude to a July 2018 NATO Summit at heads of state and government level at which realism finally broke out amongst the Allies. And, that the prospect of real war might just make those discussing a trade war at today’s G7 meeting in Canada pause for thought.  My other hope is that Secretary-General Stoltenberg will be given the credit for his quiet professionalism and his determined focus on returning the Alliance to the fundamentals of an innovative, modernised Article 5 collective defence.  If, that is, the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

Adaptation in Action

Some very good people have been working for a long-time to realise the agreements at this week’s ministerial. The adaptation of the NATO Command Structure is a vital step towards an Alliance that will be able to respond quickly to crises across both the conflict spectrum and the Euro-Atlantic theatre, a vital component of a credible deterrent. The new Joint Force Command in Norfolk, Virginia will be a vital partner for Allied Command Transformation and re-establish a relationship between new thinking, new doctrine and new ‘doing’ that was broken when the US scrapped its own Joint Force Command.  Critically the new command will also help preserve all-important interoperability with US forces. If, that is, the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

The new Enabling Command based in Ulm, Germany is a contemporary realisation of Omar Bradley’s famous dictum that ‘amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics’. The Alliance must be able to generate high-end military force quickly or move the right for force to the right place rapidly and then sustain such a force for the entirety of an emergency. If not, the very foundation of military power projection (there is no such thing as a static defence these days) upon which twenty-first century Article 5 defence and deterrence stands will be critically undermined. Readiness of force and rotation through an emergency are the twin components upon which the Alliance conventional deterrent relies. Too weak or too slow and the threshold to possible nuclear force is lowered. Of course, to realise such a force the nations must keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

The Defence Ministerial also confirmed a new Cyber Operations Centre, evidence that NATO is truly beginning to adapt to the new warfare that stretches across hybrid, cyber and hyper domains and which was the centre-piece of the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative ( which was led by General John Allen and for which I had the honour to be lead writer.  If NATO is to meet the challenge of twenty-first century ‘war at our seams’ deterrence and defence will need to stretch across resiliency, protection and projection. Indeed, if NATO is to maintain all-important military comparative advantage its forces will also need to be empowered with a new form of mission command flexibility at all levels that will need to reach across the seven domains of twenty-first century warfare: air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge.  But, only if the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

Secretary-General Stoltenberg also pointed out the, “four consecutive years of real increases in defence spending”. He went further, “All allies are increasing defence spending. More allies are spending 2% GDP on defence and the majority of Allies now have plans to do so by 2024”. Stoltenberg highlighted the $87 billion more that Canada and the European allies have spent on defence since 2014. And, that, “When it comes to capabilities, Allies have committed to investing 20% of their defence spending on major equipment”. One does not have to read deep down between Stoltenberg’s lines to see NATO’s boss endeavouring to forestall a Trump-bashing over equitable burden-sharing at the forthcoming Summit. Burden-sharing will be the elephant in the elegant conference room and if Canada and the European allies want the Alliance to survive, and to be more than a force generator for coalitions led elsewhere, they will all need this time to keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to.

Trump-Proofing the Alliance

This is precisely why recently I proposed to both the White House and London that when President Trump make’s his big ‘you bloody Europeans start pulling your military weight or else’ speech during his July visit to NATO and the UK he might want to do it on the deck of Britain’s brand new 72,500 ton heavy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. By the way, the first of ‘Big Lizzie’s’ teeth arrived yesterday at RAF Marham in Norfolk, England in the form of four F-35B strike fighters.  For once, well done Britain! Good timing. In other words, President Trump needs to avoid making a, ‘you Europeans are a bunch of free-loading, appeasing, weak and pathetic wasters who for too long have sponged off the American taxpayer and I am going to put a stop to it’ type of speech.  Why? Because America needs allies.

Rather, and respectfully, the President’s speech should read something like this: “Today, I am standing on the deck of this beautiful, gorgeous ship (I am factoring in Trump-speak). This mighty brand new, multi-million dollar warship.  And, friends, you know what, she does NOT fly the Stars and Stripes but the White Ensign, the symbol of our Old Ally Britain and Britain’s mighty Royal Navy which has for centuries brought order to the world’s oceans.  HMS Queen Elizabeth, great name friends, is proof-positive that with the right will our European allies can step up to the plate. And, that our Europeans allies have finally come to realise that America can only defend them if they do more to defend themselves. Proof positive that when the Allies keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to NATO really is the shield which protects us all and a sword which together we can all wield in the name of righteous peace.  The good news?  Next year our British allies will launch another of these great ships”.  Cue Royal Navy F-35Bs flying over in salute. 

The Allies have committed, by 2020, to having 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons, four combat vessels, ready to use within 30 days or less”. But, only if the nations keep their word and fulfil the commitments to the Alliance which they sign up to. This train must leave the station. It cannot afford to be late!

Julian Lindley-French