hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 29 October 2018

Nelson, Future War and the Pursuit of Victory

Alphen, Netherlands. 29 October. Last Thursday night on board HMS Nelson in Portsmouth I had the honour to give the Trafalgar Night dinner speech to the ancient Royal Navy Club of 1756 and 1785 in commemoration of Admiral Lord Nelson’s famous victory and untimely death off Cape Trafalgar on October 21st, 1805. Entitled Nelson and the Pursuit of Victory my speech also considered the challenge of the Royal Navy in the face of the revolution in military technology underway and how Nelson would have fought what is euphemistically called future war.

Nelson and the Pursuit of Victory

Honoured Guests, Distinguished Officers of the Naval Service, ladies and gentlemen

My subject tonight is Nelson and the pursuit of victory. My aim is to pose and answer a question - how would Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronte, Admiral of the White and Colonel of the Marines have pursued victory in what we euphemistically call future war?

To that end, I will consider Nelson’s victories at Copenhagen, the Nile and, of course, his valedictory victory at Trafalgar on October 21st 1805, before I conclude with a very personal anecdote.

My themes? Selection and maintenance of the aim (the Master Principle): the destruction of the enemy, Nelson’s genius for combining innovation, superior technology and firepower at the decisive moment, his acceptance of considered and controlled risk, and his understanding of the power of a trusted and committed team in battle. But, above all, Admiral Lord Nelson’s mastery of decisive leadership through instinct, experience and learning, not least from his own many mistakes.

At the August 1795 Battle of the Nile Nelson seized the moment created and afforded by a tactical mistake by his opponent the French Admiral Brueys. However, it was an opportunity sealed by his tactical genius and his innovative thinking. At the Nile, Nelson ensured each French man-o-war always faced at least two British. Then, with the superior rate and weight of fire his gunlock cannon and their well-trained gun-crews afforded the Fleet, allied to a willingness to take a calculated risk in shallow waters, Brueys was quickly disabused of his complacent belief that his defensive position was strong.

Nelson was also willing to take personal risk.  The night before the action during dinner on board HMS Vanguard Nelson said, (and I quote) “This time tomorrow I shall either have gained a peerage or Westminster Abbey”.  And, whilst Nelson eventually battered the French fleet into submission it was not before he had been wounded in the head. He knew the risk, but he also knew that ending Bonaparte’s ambitions on Egypt was a strategic prize worth the risk-reward decision he had to take.

Nelson’s understanding of the role of force in the national interest was also evident at the 1801 Battle of Copenhagen. Indeed, Nelson fully understood the grand strategic implications of ensuring the modern Danish fleet could never have been employed against the Royal Navy in possible combination with Russia and Sweden. To that end, Nelson was prepared to accept significant risk against a strong defence because again he understood the strategic significance of the action. When Admiral Sir Hyde Parker signalled that Nelson might consider withdrawing under heavy fire Nelson said to his flag captain Thomas Foley, “You know, Foley, I only have one eye and I have the right to be blind sometimes”.

Nelson’s use of truce during the battle also demonstrated just how politically savvy he had become, unlike earlier in his career. Under a flag of truce Nelson sent a note to the Danish Crown Prince. It is a masterpiece of forceful British diplomacy. It said, and I quote: “To the Brothers of Englishmen, the Danes. Lord Nelson has directions to spare Denmark when she is no longer resisting, but if firing is continued on the part of Denmark, Lord Nelson will be obliged to set on fire the floating batteries he has taken, without having the power to save the brave Danes who have defended them”.

However, it is the October 1805 Battle of Trafalgar and Nelson’s relentless pursuit of victory for which the world best knows the Great Man. Indeed, as an example of the Master Principle applied in action, it is unsurpassed. By Trafalgar Nelson had established psychological superiority over his enemies, particularly the French commander Admiral Villeneuve, who he had pursued across the Atlantic and back. Critically, Trafalgar is also the apex of Nelson’s ‘band of brothers’ forged not only by his decisive leadership, but by his trust in those under his command – naval officers, Royal Marines and ratings, and by no means all of them British. As my good friend Lt General Ed Davis, the Governor of Gibraltar, told this august body in 2013 (and note the emphasis on Marines), “…17,000 Sailors and Marines, from 22 nations manned Nelson’s Fleet of 27 ships off the Cape of Trafalgar…[and] contemplated how they would ‘do their duty’ to deliver their Commander’s battle-plan for defeating Napoleon’s Fleet…..“Swift and bold, swift and bold; engage closely, engage closely”.  

You see Nelson believed in the fighting spirit and had supreme confidence in the skills, experience, tactical nous and fighting power of his brother officers from Collingwood down and the men who served them. It showed in the risk he took by sailing slowly at the Franco-Spanish fleet in two columns with the intention of breaking the enemy’s battle line. To do that Nelson effectively enabled Villeneuve to ‘cross his T’, something that Jellicoe was to achieve twice over a century later against Scheer’s High Seas Fleet at Jutland.

For an extended period, the French and Spanish were permitted to pour a much heavier weight of fire upon the British fleet than could be immediately returned. However, even though the British fleet was out-numbered and out-gunned, such was Nelson’s belief in his ‘team’ he felt emboldened to take the risk as he knew the discipline, patience and seamanship needed for his masterstroke to work would be maintained. That is why prior to the battle Nelson famously said, “No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy”.

Once the enemy line had been broken what happened thereafter was an exercise in systematic destruction by a patently superior British fleet. The strategic consequence? Not only was the threat of invasion by Napoleon’s Grande Armee lifted, but Britain’s dominance of the seas was confirmed for over a century.

Nelson’s determination to put the right people with the right stuff in the right place at the right time brings me to my own very personal anecdote. In June 1980, shortly after Schools at Oxford and confident of a very good degree in Modern History, I tried to join the Naval Service. Hard though it is for this noble throng to believe I was a little full of myself at that age. In I breezed to the Recruiting Office where I handed over my CV to a grizzled old Chief Petty Officer who looked like he had stepped straight from the gun-deck of Victory. ‘Where do I sign?” was written all over my face. A face which clearly filled him with all the enthusiasm of the middle watch on a stormy South Atlantic night. Suddenly, what passed for a grimace emerged from beneath the beard – “You failed your physics O-Level, did ya?” he asked in a broad Devon drawl. “Yes”, I said, somewhat recoiling, “but I have a legion of other O-levels and a host of top grade A-levels”. “Not good enough”, he growled, “…now bugger off”.

Chief Petty Officer? That man should have made Admiral, Admiral, for he undoubtedly saved the Naval Service and the country from perhaps the worst naval officer ever to have darkened the forecastle of any British man-o-war.  Indeed, I can only imagine Nelson’s response to my misplaced ambition. “Sink me, sir. Hoist your Colours elsewhere and be smart about it!”

Future War!

Nelson’s pursuit of victory was built on the solid principle embodied in Vegetius’s third-century insight and motto of the Royal Navy – si vis pacem para bellum – if you want peace prepare for war. That is not bellicosity, but rather the recognition that if a peace endures that honours our ancient freedoms the Naval Service must be at the core of a new band of brothers and sisters – a warfighting deep joint force that respects Britain’s place as a top five world power, that projects Britain's still undoubted power, reinforces our American allies, assures the defence of Europe and keeps open the sea lanes which are still the sinews of prosperity. A naval fighting force with carrier strike at its expeditionary warfighting core that knows it history from Drake to Hawke to Nelson et al and through confident self-belief enables coalitions central to our strategic method, exerts our legitimate interests, and deters our enemies and adversaries.

It is my firm belief that if the Navy’s build programme is honoured by the government (a very big if) the new Royal Navy – the future force - will be of sufficient power and capability to sit at the heart of future Allied maritime/amphibious power projection coalitions and when needed exert Britain’s authority.

My cri de coeur is thus: having invested in so many new assets it would be irresponsible bordering on criminal not to ensure our ships, submarines and aircraft, but above all our people, have the right tools to do the job that a no-longer-impossible major war could call upon you to fight. To afford you the necessary protections in the face of the future war revolution in military technology that is now upon us.  My responsibility to you as a citizen is to afford the Naval Service, sufficient confidence of mission success at a reasonable level of risk and underpinned by an appropriate scale of forces and resources. THAT is for me what I would call the Prime Nelsonic Lesson.      

So, to conclude, my master message is this? Whatever the technology there are enduring principles of leadership in the crises of warfare that Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronte, Admiral of the White and Colonel of the Marines embodied. For Nelson the Naval Service must, first and foremost, be a warfighting force designed, equipped, trained and educated to prevail in war. The Nelson Touch did not refer to diplomacy or his sensitivity to humanitarian need, however rightly important they are in this modern age. No, the Nelson Touch referred to the combination-in-action of innovation, education, instinct, technology and teamwork in the pursuit of victory.

Leadership IS thus the Nelson Touch which he is why the Great Man is not only Britain’s greatest naval hero, he is regarded the world-over as THE naval hero. He also remains for many of us the very embodiment of a national hero – a man who served and saved his country through valour at a decisive moment in its history and being.

Let me leave the last words to Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, his brother in arms at Trafalgar.  Soon after Trafalgar Collingwood wrote: “He possessed the zeal of an enthusiast directed by talents which Nature had very bountifully bestowed on him, and everything seemed, as if by enchantment, to prosper under his direction. BUT, it was the effect of system, and nice combination, not of chance”.

Admiral.   Thank you.

Julian Lindley-French, Portsmouth, October 2018

Monday, 22 October 2018

Trump, INF and the Putin Trap

“Dual-track would see Alliance conventional forces significantly strengthened and its nuclear forces modernised, whilst seeking new arms control talks with Moscow.  The aims of these talks would include: re-establishing Russian compliance with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty; reducing the imbalance in non-strategic nuclear forces in Europe; enhancing transparency and predictability of conventional forces, and reducing destabilising concentrations of forces along NATO’s and Russia’s common borders”.

The 2017 GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Report

INF & Putin

Alphen, Netherlands 22 October. President Trump’s decision to unilaterally abrogate the December 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) threatens not only to start a new arms race but to split NATO asunder and with it the wider transatlantic relationship. In spite of being justified on several levels to walk away from INF, he is wrong to do so.

The INF Treaty eliminated all nuclear and conventional missiles and their launchers in Europe with a range of between 500 and 1000 km (short-range) and 1000 to 5500 km (intermediate range).  In June 1988 the Treaty came into force and ended one of the most destabilising periods of the Cold War.

President Putin has made no attempt to conceal his desire to rebuild the Soviet Union, at least in part. He has also made it abundantly clear that Russia is locked into a policy of using both conventional and nuclear military capability to threaten, coerce and intimidate his neighbours, both NATO and non-NATO members. He is also conducting a significant war in Eastern Ukraine. In other words, those ‘experts’ who suggest that President Putin would not dare launch another misadventure in Europe simply do not know. Putin is developing the military capability, he has stated his intent, and all he needs now is the opportunity. The three Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Norway’s North Cape and the Arctic, as well as the Black Sea are all at risk.

Putin’s INF-busting and the Trump decision

The specific weapons system of concern to the Americans is the Novator 9M729 missile (NATO codename of SSC-8). It can be launched at very short notice with either a conventional or a nuclear warhead and has the range to strike almost all NATO European countries. Novator is a development of the 9K720 Iskandr M missile system (NATO codename SS-26 Stone) and its naval equivalent Iskandr Kalibr.  Implicit in the deployment of the SSC-8 is President Putin’s continuing assault on all the treaties agreed that were designed to stabilise the European continent at the end of the Cold War.  Not only has the INF Treaty been undermined by Russia’s break-out but also the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe from which Russia withdrew in March 2015.

President Trump’s decision bears the clear hallmark of his hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton. Bolton has long-believed that such treaties are for lesser powers than the US which for the sake of peace needs to maintain a decisive military advantage over all other powers if peace is to be preserved.   Equally, the Trump administration clearly has a point about Russian cheating. However, if one looks at President Trump’s INF statement he also lines up China in his sights. China is not a signatory to INF and one justification Russian claims for developing treaty-busting systems is that INF prevents Moscow from matching Beijing’s burgeoning weapons systems. President Trump is thus not only accusing Russia of breaking out of the INF Treaty, but by including China in his remarks he is also suggesting that the Treaty itself is being overtaken by technology and events.


The Trump decision also reveals a truth Europeans find very hard to accept – a full-blown arms race is again underway and must be confronted because it has huge implications for the Alliance. Back in 1975 the Euromissiles crisis erupted when the Soviet Union deployed the SS20 a mobile, hard-to-detect, triple-warhead nuclear-tipped missile system that could strike European capitals with little warning, but not continental North America. Moscow’s political objective was to ‘decouple’ the defence of Europe from the strategic nuclear arsenal of the United States. By deploying these missiles the Brezhnev regime of the time posed a question to Washington that has been at the heart of NATO’s deterrence dilemma since its 1949 inception – do Americans really want to die for Europe?

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Carter and Reagan administrations responded by deploying Cruise and Pershing 2 intermediate missiles to Europe to counter the Soviet weapons and to reinforce the Alliance with a further layer of deterrence. However, the deployment of the American weapons to Europe spectacularly backfired politically and was so controversial that Washington’s attempt to counter Soviet attempts to de-couple the US from its European allies almost achieved the opposite.

One reason Cruise and Pershing 2 deployments were so controversial was that the Soviet Union set out to make them so. Moscow undermined Alliance solidarity by funding radical, leftist groups across Western Europe to make it as hard as possible for European governments to accept the new American weapons on their soil. The Soviets backed that covert effort up with a barrage of propaganda which painted the Americans as the aggressors.  At one point the Carter administration proposed deploying an Enhanced Radiation Weapon, or Neutron Bomb as it was dubbed, that would kill people but not buildings. What has been an attempt to reassure West Germans that the defence of Europe would not be at the cost of their annihilation collapsed when Moscow suggested the system was a capitalist bomb designed to preserve property at the expense of people.

Putin’s trap and the rules-based system

So, why is President Trump wrong to walk away from INF? Role on forty or so years and the rise of the radical, youthful left is again apparent in European countries.  Much of its political energy is coming from social media which Moscow is manipulating and exploiting  It is part of a new concept of warfare that I have dubbed ‘4D warfare’, through which Russia combines disinformation, destabilisation, disruption and destruction to achieve the political pre-conditions to potentially inflict three other ‘D’s on Europeans – deception, decoupling and political decapitation.

If President Trump were to unilaterally abrogate the INF Treaty he would walk straight into a carefully laid political trap that President Putin has laid for him.  Moscow would first suggest that for all the West’s talk of a rules-based system American ‘aggression’ proves what he has been saying all along that the West are hypocrites when it comes to rules. President Trump’s assertion that the US would “…not let Russia go out and do weapons [whilst] we’re not allowed to” implies the US might press to reintroduce ‘Euromissiles’ into Europe. Not only would such a deployment split the Alliance and threaten again to ‘decouple’ the US from its European allies, but it would also almost certainly lead again to massive and destabilising street protests by Europeans who have no memory of the Cold War, fuelled by Kremlin-backed hackers and trolls across social media. Indeed, any legitimate counter-measures the Alliance deploys, such as strengthened missile defences will be presented as ‘aggression’.

Furthermore, Moscow will now claim it has every right to press ahead with yet more deployments and treaty-illegal weapons systems. Worse, the American decision will enable Moscow to again create a Euro-specific nuclear strategy better designed to destroy structures and systems vital to the defence of Europe. Above all, Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from INF will re-energise the Kremlin’s ‘paranoia strategy’ and strengthen the narrative of external threat and thus ensure Russians are kept firmly locked in autocracy.   

Dual track and broad deterrence

Rather than walk away from INF, the Trump administration should do all it can to offset Russian cheating by turning INF against Putin. This could be done not only by highlighting repeated Russian breaches but by developing new and legitimate ways to counter the Russian systems. For example, INF does not prohibit sea-based systems, an anomaly that was included in the Treaty to protect the British and French nuclear arsenals. Washington should also remind the allies of just how the 1987 INF Treaty was eventually secured – dual track! At the time NATO both sought to talk to the Kremlin whilst at the same time reinforced its conventional military power to ensure deterrence remained credible.

There is something else the Americans should push the Allies to do – innovate. The West needs a new concept of Broad Deterrence that stretches across a new escalation spectrum from hybrid war to hyper war via cyberwar. War at the seams of our governments and societies is already a fact with opportunistic Russia and long-game China already exploiting those seams to effect. Broad deterrence would deter across the new domains of warfare such as Artificial Intelligence (et al), cyberwar, electronic warfare and hyper war domains, and across air, sea, land, cyber, space, nuclear, information and knowledge with the aim of enhancing resiliency, strengthening protection and enhancing power projection upon which all contemporary defence must be established. The specific aim should be the construction of a new escalation ladder designed to raise the threshold of 'success' for any adversary and to confound their own thinking by forcing them to onto the strategic and political back foot. 

INF, 4D warfare and the Putin trap

The World is entering a new cynical ‘ideological’ (cynological?) struggle in which re-invigorated strong men the world over, such as President Putin, are challenging the rules-based system. Putin and his ilk want a return to Machtpolitik in which might is right and the strong do what they can, whilst the weak accept what they must. The West, American and Europe together to the fore, must re-galvanise themselves for this new struggle by preserving the rules-based system for which two world wars and a cold war were fought.  America will not achieve that noble aim if one of its first acts in the new struggle is to destroy one of the very rules which must be defended and in so doing hand President Putin the very propaganda victory he seeks. As for the European Allies, they must finally realise that if the twenty-first-century transatlantic security contract is to endure, and Washington to remain committed to upholding the system from which they have so benefitted, then Europeans are going to have to do a lot more deterring and if needs be a lot more defending. Like it or not, in an emergency the lawfare beloved of Europeans and enshrined at the heart of their many institutions will afford them no defence in warfare.

The simple truth is that one does not defend the rules-based system by breaking its rules and destroying the system which upholds them. President Trump is certainly making a mistake by abrogating the INF Treaty, although he is surely right to highlight the dangers posed by those that breach it.  What now? If we are going to avoid Euromissiles 2, it is time for Dual Track 2.

Julian Lindley-French    

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Yemen and the Gulf: Where the West's Interests and Values Collide

“The war in Yemen is not a war that we wanted – we had no other option. There was a radical militia allied with Iran and Hezbollah that took over the country. It was in possession of heavy weapons, ballistic missiles and even an air force. Should we stand idly by while this happens at our doorstep, in one of the countries in which al-Qaeda has a huge presence? So, we responded, as part of a coalition, at the request of the legitimate government of Yemen, and we stepped in to support them”.[1]

Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubier, Foreign Minister, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. 


The October 2018 disappearance and alleged murder of Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul has only added to the tension at the heart of the West’s complex relationship with Saudi Arabia and could have profound strategic and political implications.  In that context this brief article explores the regional-strategic and geopolitical implications of the West’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States through the prism of the war in Yemen, its origins and geopolitical implications and asks a simple question – are the Wests interests and its values compatible?  Indeed, as Riyadh’s reaction to an August 2018 official Canadian Tweet expressing concerns about human rights in the Kingdom attests, supporting Saudi Arabia comes at a price.  At some point the West will need to confront the contradictions that afflict both American and European policy and the profound questions they raise about the extent to which the West and its constituent elements are prepared to sacrifice its values for its interests, and to what if any extent influence can be brought to bear on its Gulf allies in the conduct of the war in Yemen.
Before any consideration of geopolitics, the human cost of the war in Yemen must be paid due respect.  The cost is high, even if figures for those killed and wounded are very hard to substantiate.  According to the Washington Post, British charity Save the Children estimated some 130 children died each day in 2017.[2] The Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) estimates that some 66% of the deaths have been inflicted by Saudi-led air strikes, although it also accuses the Houthi movement of committing atrocities during the siege of Taiz.  The UN Security Council claims that 22.2 million Yemenis of a 27.5 million population are in need of humanitarian assistance.[3]

A small country far away?

In 1938, on the eve of World War Two, former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain once said of then Czechoslovakia it was “…a small country far away about which we know little”. The rest, as they say, is now history. The same could now be said of Yemen. The August 2018 sight of Yemeni children allegedly killed by a Saudi-led coalition air strike returned the ghastly reality of war to Western consciousness. Rightly so. It was poor intelligence at best, bad target acquisition or at its worst rules of engagement completely indifferent to the suffering of civilians. And yet, beyond the suffering, the war in Yemen is not just about Yemen but the geopolitics of the Middle East and quite possibly beyond. 
The war in Yemen is a very twenty-first century form of geopolitics and yet reeks of the nineteenth century when values had no place in the pursuit of interest.  Alliances are fluid, often temporary and conditional between states that whilst aligned harbour deep suspicions about each other. At its core and most simplistic the struggle is for regional supremacy between a US-backed coalition of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) allies on one side, and Iran with implicit backing from Russia on the other. And yet Yemen’s war is far from simple, as Moscow good relations with Riyadh would suggest. What is clear is the danger the war now poses well-beyond Yemen. The Syrian War is seemingly in its final Assad-confirming stage, and in spite of Turkey’s efforts, a possible bloodbath in Idlib could be imminent. Thus, the power struggle for the Middle East and beyond which is implicit in Syria’s tragedy could well shift to Yemen as it finds itself on the front-lines of the twenty-first century.

Mackinder revisited?

A mere glance at a map explains why the struggle for Yemen has geopolitical implications. Yemen sits at the mouth of the Red Sea, guarantees access to the Suez Canal and lies not far from the Persian Gulf passage to which Iran effectively controls.  Iranian control over both the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf of Aden would effectively strangle oil exports from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.  The implications for the wider world would be profound. Saudi Arabia remains by far the world’s largest oil exporter and in 2017 by far the biggest importers of crude oil were the European Union, followed by China, the US and India.[4]

Yemen itself is split very roughly into three contesting groupings which on the face of it are also a microcosm of wider struggles across the Middle East.  Iranian-backed Shia Houthis control roughly a third of the country to the west, including much of the land around the capital Sana’a and the strategically-vital shipping artery at the Bab El Mandeb Strait. A mix of Saudi-backed Hadi tribes and local militias loyal to the government control a swathe of land in the centre and to the east of Yemen.  Critically, a huge swathe of the centre of Yemen is nominally under the control of forces loyal to Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP).

If the war in Yemen is complex it also captures the dilemma of contemporary Western policy. The reason is precisely because for much of the West the securing of interests is inextricably linked to the promotion of values, so much so that the tension between the two can create paralysis of action.  For example, much of the focus of Western debate has been about the humanitarian tragedy in Yemen and the sale of Western weapons to the Saudis and their allies, much of it from European states and most notably Britain, France and Germany.[5]

Equally, Western capitals, with Washington, London and Paris to the fore, see the Saudis and their GCC allies as a bulwark against expanding Iranian, Russian and possibly growing Chinese influence in a region still vital for the flow of oil to the West and as bases for Western influence into the region. The 2016 agreement between China and Djibouti has led rapidly to the establishment of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Support Base in the Horn of Africa with the clear intention of projecting Chinese power into the region. As Andrew A. Michta writes in an excellent piece in  The American Interest, “A wealthier and more geo-strategically assertive China is staking ever-bolder claims to a sphere of influence in Asia and is leveraging its growing wealth to gain influence in Australia, Africa, South America, and, increasingly of late, Europe”.[6]
A dangerous moment in a dangerous place

With the war in Yemen now in its fourth year, it may well be entering a new phase.  The re-imposition of US sanctions on Iran by the Trump administration is likely to intensify efforts by hard-liners around Grand Ayatollah Khamenei and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard to foment regional instability. The West has palpably failed to stop the Russian-led, Iranian-supported regime in Damascus from committing a legion of atrocities on its way to crushing the Syrian opposition. The failure of the West and its loss of influence and prestige, for that is what has happened, could also see renewed and purposeful instability spread across the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.
Back to the map. With Iran soon to be successfully freed from its destabilisation of Syria Tehran will likely seek to extend its proxy war against Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The economic disruption caused by renewed US sanctions could well lead to further adventurism by the regime in Tehran as it seeks to shore up its faltering domestic position. With the Assad regime in Syria little more than a client state and Iraq split down a Sunni-Shia divide that has enabled Iran to keep Baghdad politically off-balance, the Iranians clearly feel emboldened to further complicate the situation in Yemen for the Saudis and its allies. If successful, Iran would force Riyadh to face instability and uncertainty on three of its four sides. Thus, whilst Persian Shia Iran is unlikely ever to exert direct control over Sunni Arab Arabia it is well-positioned to further destabilise the Kingdom, the sheikdoms and emirates of the GCC. Such an outcome would not be in the Western interest.

Yemen’s perpetual war?
In many ways, Yemen has been lost deep in a chasm of geopolitics for much of its contemporary history.  Indeed, if one looks beyond the confessional religious divide that stretches across the Middle East, it has been geopolitics that has driven conflict for over a century and looks set to continue to so do. The Anglo-French Sykes-Picot Accord of 1916 eventually led to the creation of many Middle Eastern states which were designed at the time by the two European Great Powers to ensure their control over them, but perpetual instability at the same time.

Yemen’s recent history has been one of almost permanent and perpetual strife fuelled by external forces. Between 1962 and 1970 the Yemeni Civil War in Northern Yemen between Republican and Royalist forces led to the creation of the Yemen Arab Republic. Riyadh only reluctantly recognised the new regime after having backed the losing side.  It was a struggle that was further complicated by fading Britain’s November 1967 withdrawal from strategically-vital Aden after London came dangerously close to being sucked into the civil war.  In the wake of the civil war, South Yemen established the Marxist People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen with Soviet backing that also led to further conflict with the Saudi-backed North.  
In 1990 Yemen was re-unified. However, Saudi-Yemeni relations deteriorated rapidly soon afterwards because of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s close relationship with President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad and Yemen’s use of Iraqi military advisors. This was in spite of the fact that Sana’a was economically dependent on the Saudis and the rest of the GCC, particularly remittances from Yemeni workers in Saudi Arabia. In the wake of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, the bulk of these workers were expelled from Saudi Arabia. 

Then came the 2004 Houthi rebellion. Between 2004 and 2011 President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been in office since 1978, launched six Saudi-backed wars against the Houthi tribes, part of Yemen’s Zaidi Shia sect. At the time he was also fighting the Salafists of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP).  A fragile peace was finally brokered in November 2011 when President Saleh stepped down in favour of his deputy Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. However, the armed forces were deeply divided over this agreement after a top general who defected to the rebellion was in part inspired by the Arab Spring, which alarmed Saudi and Gulf leaders. Today, President Hadi remains in office rather than in power in a Yemen as deeply-divided as ever along tribal, economic, social and along confessional lines and in which political power depends by and large on patronage.
A further complicating factor in what has long been a complicated Saudi-Yemeni relationship is the presence in some strength of AQAP, a group which emerged from Saudi Wahhabi or Deobandi Salafism. Cue coalition air-strikes. Saudi-led air-strikes in Yemen, as well as US drone strikes against AQAP, have reinforced a sense of grievance in an already grievous situation. Such strikes also reflect the nature and scope of an increasingly regional-systemic, geopolitical struggle in which Yemen’s internal strife and the fundamentalist threat posed by AQAP is becoming steadily more entangled with the struggle for regional supremacy between Iran and other (Sunni) actors.  Interestingly, Islamic State has been less successful in gaining a significant foothold since their 2015 appearance in Yemen.

An ever less proxy war
In my 2017 book The New Geopolitics of Terror William Hopkinson and I wrote, “…that the current struggle between Middle Eastern…states and what might be termed anti-state elements, could be but the curtain-raiser to a wider Middle East war between states, fuelled and intensified by mistrust between elites and peoples, the mutual hatred of Shia and Sunni factions, between Iran and many Arab states, and possibly between Israel and Iran, or another Iranian-inspired, proxy-led coalition. Such a war would have profound consequence for the region and the world. Europe is particularly vulnerable to the loss of energy supplies from the region, and to further major attacks upon its societies and infrastructure by AQ and ISIS-inspired Islamic fundamentalism.”[7]

The real and present danger from the war in Yemen is that the current proxy war between Iran and the Saudis will become less and less proxy and its strategic implications ever greater.  The capacity for the war to escalate and rapidly is clear. Whilst Yemen’s Zaidi Shia community differ fairly fundamentally from the Twelver Shia of Iran the Houthi movement have publicly supported Iran, particularly over its hostility towards Israel and the West. The Sunni kingdoms surrounding Yemen are firm in their belief that the Houthis are backed by Iran and claim the Houthis have received arms and training from Hezbollah and the Iranian Qods Force and thus pose a threat to them.  Whilst the alignments are nothing like as firm as the blocs that in 1914 triggered World War One in Europe the war in Syria has demonstrated how quickly competing regional-strategic and grand strategic powers from within the region and beyond can instrumentalise internal conflicts in the Middle East.
What options the West?

Faced with the threat of growing Iranian, Russian and possibly Chinese influence, as well as the threat posed by AQAP in the region allied to the continuing dependence of Europe in particular on Saudi and Gulf oil it would seem that the West has little option but to hold its nose and support the Riyadh-led coalition.  However, there must be three caveats:

First, a ‘Western’ policy worthy of the name must be agreed between Washington and its European allies. One of the many paradoxes of the West’s engagement with the contemporary wars of the Middle East is that whilst Europeans are far less engaged than the US they are far more vulnerable to the consequences, especially if oil exports are disrupted.  The Trump administration’s decision to abandon the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), aka the Iran nuclear deal, and re-impose sanctions on Tehran shows how hard it is for Americans and Europeans to agree these days on a joint course of action in the Middle East.  

Second, Western powers must collectively find ways to exert some pressure, albeit discreetly, on the Saudis and their allies to improve the conduct of the war in Yemen to limit civilian casualties and to modify Saudi behaviour. In other words, the situation in Yemen, the Gulf and the wider Middle East are one of those strategic tipping points in which no easy alignment of the West’s values and its interests is apparent.  Emphasise values and the West will lose influence over partners that remains vital to its interests. Should that happen there can be no question that other powers will move rapidly to fill the influence vacuum that emerges with the demise of the West in the region. 

Third, if Saudi complicity is established in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi the West together must not be afraid to condemn Riyadh for it. Nor should the West refrain from publicly rebuking the Saudi-led coalition if large numbers of Yemeni citizens are killed due to indiscriminate use of force. Of course, it is precisely on these issues that the West's values and interests collide. The language used by the West and any possible sanctions will need to be carefully crafted. However, that is precisely the challenge statecraft exists to meet.
However, for such a delicate policy and strategy balance to be struck the West will need a far more granulated and nuanced understanding of contemporary Saudi Arabia. Since King Salman bin Abdulaziz al Saud ascended to the throne in 2015 and his son Crown Prince Mohammed took on responsibility for national strategy the Saudis have been much more assertive than hitherto over what Riyadh regards as critical Saudi interests.  It is also clear that whilst Riyadh leans towards the West it does not do so exclusively as Russian-Saudi relations attest. Therefore, given the continued vital importance of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to the strategic economic and security interests of the West, any criticisms/advice will need to be muted and discreet if they are to have any effect in what is a very conditional set of relationships.

The West must understand something else. At the centre of this conflict is the relationship between Riyadh and Sana’a. Saudi policy towards Yemen is complex. On the one hand, the Saudis seek to prevent Yemen ever becoming a military threat to the Kingdom, whilst on the other hand, Riyadh wants to prevent Yemen’s complete economic collapse for fear of a migrant surge.  At one point the Saudis even began work on a fence along the Saudi-Yemen border to prevent irregular migration. Therefore, Americans and Europeans would do well to engage together in search of a political solution between the government in Sana’a and the Houthis. If successful such a settlement would help block Iranian ambitions and detach the Saudi-Iran conflict from that between the Saudis, the West and AQAP.  Encouragingly, the Saudis have been holding secret talks in Oman with the Houthis in an effort to find just such a solution. And, in September 2018 the UN made another effort to re-start stalled peace talks in Geneva in search of a ‘framework’ for peace. 
If this article reads like an attempt to balance policy on the head of a strategic pin that is because it is. However, Yemen sits at the crux of contemporary geopolitics.  And, as long as the war in Yemen continues the wider region will continue to be de-stabilised and whilst that might be in the interests of Iran, Russia and possibly even China, it is not in the interests of either the GCC or the West. For that reason, like it or not, the West and its Saudi and GCC allies are locked together for the foreseeable future and no amount of posturing will change that hard and very strategic reality.

Julian Lindley-French

[1] “Saudi Arabia and Iran: The Cold War of Islam”, by Susanne Koelbl, Samiha Shafy, Bernhard Zand, Der Spiegel, 9 May 2016,
[2] See Kareem Hafim, “The deadly war in Yemen rages on. So why does the death toll stand still?” The Washington Post, 3 August 2018
[3] See Al Jazeera, 15 March 2018 “Saudis in Secret Talks with Houthis to end Yemen’s War: Report”.
[4] Source: CIA World Factbook 2018
[5] See “Germany quintuples arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Europe”, Deutsche Welt, 14 November 2017.
[6] See Michta, Andrew A. (2018) “The Revenge of Hard Power Politics” in “The American Interest”, October 2018,

[7] Hopkinson W & Lindley-French J. (2017) “Demons and Dragons: The New Geopolitics of Terror”. (London: Routledge)

Monday, 15 October 2018

Strategikon Podcast

Please find below my new podcast with Strategikon on the strategic implications of Russia's Vostok 18 military exercise and much, much more...

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Vostok 18 and Saif Sareea 3: Carry on Warfighting?

“Your rank?” Captain Potts. “Well, that’s a matter of opinion”. Private Bailey.

Carry on Sergeant Film

Russia v Britain

Alphen, Netherlands, 10 October. Britain is conducting a major military exercise in Oman entitled Saif Sareea 3 (Swift Sword 3) with the specific objective of preparing British forces to fight states which have far stronger armed forces. Read Russia. SS3 comes a few days after Russia’s very large Vostok 18 exercise which has far stronger armed forces than Britain.  Naturally, London is dodging the real question; why are Britain’s armed force sso much weaker than their Russian counterparts? 

The hard truth is that what passes for British defence policy has left a country with a population of over 65 million and an economy nominally worth some $3 trillion with armed forces far too small for Britain’s international weight. On the other hand, Russia with a population of 144 million with an economy worth some $1.6 trillion has a security state (including armed forces) that is far too large and onerous for its international weight.  Even if one compares the power purchasing parity of the two countries, which marginally favours Russia (at least nominally) the respective figures point to one inescapable conclusion: Moscow spends money on ‘defence’ at the expense of the Russian people, whilst what money the British Government does spend on the British people thanks to the criminal irresponsibility of bankers a decade ago comes at the expense of their defence.    

Part of the reason for these twin imbalances comes down to the character of the two men who really and respectively run Russia and Britain.  For Russia’s President Putin, Western Europeans are a bunch of weak, decadent states who are no longer capable of competing where to him it really matters in international relations, hard, military power. To Britain’s Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister), the Big Business Almighty’s Chosen Representative in London and the man who is quietly but very effectively destroying Brexit, Britain’s armed forces seem to be an unnecessary luxury that messes up his beloved spreadsheet and adds little to the economy by way of productivity. For Hammond, and his merry band of unworldly post-academic, strategically-illiterate econometric modellers at HM Treasury defence is a cost, not a value – until it is needed.

A Tale of Two Exercises

SS3 involves some 5500 British troops deployed to Oman, supported by 18 tanks, 8 Typhoon aircraft and 4 ships. Compare Britain’s effort with the just concluded Vostok 18.  Whilst much over-hyped by Moscow’s propagandists it probably involved at least 75,000 Russian troops, 1000 aircraft and up to 2000 tanks, possibly far more.  Britain’s own recent history does not flatter SS3. Back in 2001 Britain held Exercise Saif Sareea 2 which saw a force deployed with four times as many personnel, aircraft, tanks and ships as it SS3. Even if one assumes the changed nature of warfare since 1981 Britain’s armed forces are today pitifully small given the range of tasks even this ‘we only recognise as much threat as we can afford’ British Government calls on them to meet.

Back in 1991 at the end of the Cold War the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR), which for much of the struggle was seen by the then still Soviet General Staff or Stavka as a little more than a bump in the road for Russian forces on their way to the Fulda Gap, alone numbered some 53,000 personnel. Marshal Zaytsev’s Group of Soviet Forces Germany, or GSFG, totalled some 333,000 troops, 4200 tanks, 8200 armoured vehicles, 3800 artillery pieces and 690 aircraft.

SS3, Vostok 18 and 4D Warfare

Last week in Latvia I gave a speech about what I call 4D warfare in which disinformation, disruption, destabilisation and destruction combine to form a new interlocking warfighting concept that spans the so-called hybrid, cyber, hyper warfare spectrum.  Or, to put it another way Russia is seeking to master a new form of coercive escalation that starts with RT (Russia Today) and the manipulation of social media, employs much of the Russian security state via the SVR, GRU etc., exploits new technologies such as cyber-warfare and hypersonic weaponry, and possibly ends up with Russia’s burgeoning and once again treaty-blurring and bristling nuclear arsenal. The aim of the Russians is clear; to exploit the now many seams in Western society, the defence of the West and the institutions and alliances through which defence is organised. 

Specifically, Moscow’s force escalation combines information warfare with political warfare and if needs be a form of tailored, high-end warfare that exerts coercion on Russia’s adversaries at several escalation levels. Agility, joined-upness and innovation are the keys to the success of such a strategy and it would appear that whilst Moscow has made big strides forward it is suffering from the typical tensions with which any rapid expansion of security capability and capacity must contend. If the GRU’s bungled ‘clean-up/mess-up’ missions post-Olympic doping, Syria and Skripal are what they appear to be – utter, bungling incompetence – then the Russian state has neither mastered the new warfare nor escaped its particular talent for cock-up!

Which brings me back to Vostok 18. The impressive Russian Chief of the General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, described one of the main purposes of Vostok 18 as being to create a culture at the key junior and mid-command leadership levels that encourages innovation via ‘non-standard solutions’ if faced with forces, events and circumstances that were not envisaged in the operational plan or Oplan – Moltke and all that. During the 1980s several massive Soviet military exercises revealed the same problem in that whilst elite assault formations were first rate the follow-on forces tended to be more mass than manoeuvre and liable to stall if all did not go according to plan.   

Carry on Warfighting?

Given the challenge implicit in Vostok 18 the scale of Saif Sareea 3 might not be as comparatively comical as at first glance. Hopefully, the thinking behind SS3 reveals a senior British military leadership is thinking innovatively about how best Britain’s far smaller force could help frustrate Russia’s ‘thirty days but not much more crash, bang and wallop’ force in the event of a real emergency. Back to history. In 1982 the US Army in Europe adopted the doctrine of AirLand Battle which required land forces to manoeuvre aggressively and in close coordination to mount a dynamic defence against advancing GSFG forces. The land force was to be supported by air power and Special Operating Forces which would attack the follow-on echelons behind the elite Soviet and East German forward formations. 

On the face of it SS3 looks like a 75% scale down of SS2 simply aimed at thwarting a Russian military advance by delaying it rather than defeating it and hoping to hell the Yanks are not too busy elsewhere and will show up in strength and in time. Or, rather, a much smaller road-bump than the BAOR on the way to the Suwalki Gap, but a road-bump nevertheless. However, given that even Gerasimov’s much vaunted Vostok 18 is, in fact, a much scaled-down strategic manoeuvre exercise compared with some of the ‘biggies’ the Soviets ran during the 1980s the scale is comparable.  In other words, Gerasimov and the British have identified the same enduring weakness in contemporary Russian forces that dogged their Soviet forebears – a Russian attack must work like clockwork if it is not to stall and then fail.

Gerasimov’s concern about his force also explains why Russia has adopted 4D warfare. Ultimately, and although much updated, Russian military doctrine still dates back to Guderian and the German doctrine of Blitzkrieg in 1940. That is apparent in the nature and scope of Vostok 18 and the way it tested forces from the Central and Eastern Military Districts by setting them against each other in an effort to outflank each other via strategic and technology manoeuvre. Here’s the thing. The essential Russian weakness is that before each force could commence manoeuvres in opposite strategic directions it had to concentrate. Any such concentration of force tends to reveal intent and makes it vulnerable to a host of attacks.  Thus, the real military-strategic purpose of 4D warfare is revealed; to reinforce Maskirovka (deception) and thus keep NATO allies permanently off-balance politically, strategically and militarily.  

A NATO Aspirin for a British Headache?

Is there a method in British madness? If the British can combine intelligence, offensive and defensive cyber capability, Special Operating Forces and an adapted form of AirLand Battle with a new form of Follow-on Force Attack (FOFA) to effect then it could show the way forward for a new NATO doctrine that could in turn counter Gerasimov defensively at every level of the fires and effects he seeks to generate.

If that is the key to success will be an adaptive NATO.  NATO is indeed adapting but it will not resolve its strategic failings unless it sorts out some of the nonsense at the operational and tactical levels. The other day a senior NATO operational commander told me he has to keep stocks of different headache tablets. Why? Because the forces in his battlegroup come from different nations and until an emergency is formally declared each nation’s force must use its own headache tablets.  Worse, manufacturers’ warranties on military equipment remain perhaps the greatest impediment to Allied military interoperability because they forbid the use of ‘kit’ by any other force than the nation that purchased it. The job of NATO’s enhanced and tailored forward presence is to make General Gerasimov’s life as complicated as possible, but Allied rules of engaging with each other make defence far more complicated and thus prone to failure than needs be. This kind of NATO nonsense must make the Good General Gerasimov laugh out loud on occasion, were he prone to such occasional expressions of jollity.

Therefore, for all the almost comical variance in scale between Vostok 18 and Saif Sareea 3, if there is some method in British military ‘madness’ and the British really are working out which of seams in Gerasimov’s 4D warfare to attack and disrupt then all well and good.  If not, SS3 does indeed look a little like one of those ‘Carry on’ movies beloved of the British in the 1950s in which incompetent but plucky little Britannia eventually prevails in spite of itself. Worse, such strategic pretence could reflect a British Army that is beginning to look ever more like Lord Gort’s British Expeditionary Force of 1940 – over-exposed, over-tasked, under-funded, under-manned and under-equipped. Any student of history will tell you where that fiasco ended up - Dunkirk!

Julian Lindley-French  

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Riga Test 2018: Latvia 200?

Alphen, Netherlands. 2 October. Every year, when I have the honour of addressing the magnificent Riga Conference I set myself thereafter the Riga test. Are the good citizens of Riga safer this year than last?  Whenever I go to the Baltic States I come away convinced of two things. First, the need for something called ‘Europe’ in some form or another. Second, just how fragile freedom is and why it must be constantly defended. This year I had the honour of supporting Minister Bergmanis and his team by setting out the challenge for NATO over the coming century and chairing a vital debate about the relationship between security and liberty that democracies must strike and which, in essence, defines freedom.
My Latvian friends are celebrating one hundred years as a country this year. Sadly, they are not celebrating one hundred years as a free country. Since 1918 and those past one hundred years Latvia suffered under the jackboot of oppression for fifty-two of them as they were betrayed by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. My use of the word ‘betrayed’ is deliberate. On August 23rd 1939 Hitler’s foreign minister Ribbentrop and Stalin’s foreign minister Molotov signed a so-called Non-Aggression Pact to which a secret protocol was attached. That protocol agreed that with the outbreak of war on 1 September 1939 Poland and the Baltic States would be divided between the Nazis and the Soviets.  Two years later, on 22 June 1941, Hitler launched his gargantuan, obscene invasion of the Soviet Union that would lead to his suicide in a Berlin bunker less than four years later, but only after some thirty million Balts and Russians had perished.

The cost of freedom and the hard choices it forces on people was brought home to me shortly after I arrived at Riga Airport last Wednesday.  Last Thursday I had the honour of giving the keynote address at the excellent Tipping Point 2018 conference in Palanga just over the Latvian border with Lithuania.  To get there I was driven some 260 km along a road that in late 1944 and early 1945 was a highway of death. 
Being a historian I was only too aware through where I was being driven as I passed through places where tragedy had walked with both of its heavy feet. Saldus, Skrunda and Liepaja, and the many places in between were on the front-line between hold-out German forces and massive Soviet advances during Operation Bagration and the six battles of the Courland Pocket between October 1944 and May 1945. When I looked carefully I could see the sad signs of a struggle that consumed tens of thousands of Latvian lives with monuments and graves acting as a sentinel of remembrance as I made my peaceful way to Palanga. The Latvian countryside is truly beautiful rolling in waves likes the unfurling waves of a flag, but it also melancholy.  Where once forest had stood fields abound because to flush out resistance the Red Army had simply burnt to the ground the forests of silver birch which are the sylvan signature of the Baltic region.

What a choice the Latvian people had faced back then between Moscow’s Political Commissars and Berlin’s Leadership Guidance Officers, not to mention the SS Einsatzgruppen with their murderous mission to exterminate Jews and anyone else who stood in their way. In fact, it was no choice at all. That is why I rejected the title of my panel at the Riga Conference which asked if NATO would still be effective one hundred years hence.  For me NATO is the hard backbone of all out freedoms but for all its utility and value NATO is but a tool of defence. No, what matters far more to me was this week’s upcoming elections in Latvia for it is the popular expression of real freedom that we are together defending. The real question is how we ensure that Latvia is still holding free and fair elections when Latvia 200 is celebrated. 
Three separate but interlocking trends worry me.  The first trend is Moscow’s retreat back into over-militarised and aggressive autarky most typified by the cult of Stalin that is once again rearing its head in Russia. The second trend is America’s retreat into itself even as US power is being stretched ever more thinly the world over.  As an aside, I was offered a lift into central Riga by a Canadian colonel and two of his soldiers.  Canada is doing its bit!  The third trend is the decline of the main Western European powers into a strategic fantasy-land in which harsh reality is appeased by politicians all too willing to take risks with the lives of others.  Britain lost deep in the swamp that is Brexit. Germany, still too fearful of itself and its own history to take on the burdens that geography and history place on it. Italy? No comment. France? President Macron is Europe’s only strategic leader but like his country’s wine, there are times when the ‘etiquette’ on the bottle is far more appealing than the contents within.

The other day Sir Simon Winchester, a doyen of the British media, and all-round, fully signed-up member of the London Metropolitan chattering elite posed a question on the BBC that has not really been heard since eighty years ago on the eve of the Munich ‘peace in our time’ Accord Neville Chamberlain talked about then Czechoslovakia as “…small country about which we know little”.  “Why should Britain defend Latvia?” Winchester asked.  He should make the same journey, no, the same pilgrimage to a painful past, I have just made. You see the same past that consumed Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania in 1939 almost consumed Britain in 1940. It was only the maverick Churchill, a British people willing to fight (as opposed to much of the Lord Halifax Establishment who wished to ‘seek terms’ with Hitler) and some sane defence decisions taken in 1934 that saved Britain and thus prevented Hitler from winning.
Sadly, Britain’s heroics in 1940 also inadvertently helped paved the way for Stalin to win in 1945 and gobble up much of eastern and central Europe for generations.  It was only a relatively strong NATO, American solidarity and the absolute determination of Balts, Poles and others that over time wore down the resolve and the capability of the then Soviet Union. It is thus sobering, to say the least to hear President Putin thinks the Soviet Union was a good thing and he wants to rebuild it. I have learnt to believe President Putin when he makes such pronouncements.

For these reasons, I want neither Balts nor Brits ever again to face such choices.  For Latvia 200 to be celebrated NATO remains vital, but it must be a NATO in which Europeans do far more than at present. Why? First, because it is now time for Europeans to grow up strategically. Second, because to keep America strong in Europe Europeans must do far more to help America. 
There is a twist, as I made clear in a somewhat heated discussion I had with a senior diplomat over Brexit who is both a friend and someone I respect. It is not weapons that make NATO strong but mutual respect.  If Latvians want to face down the likes of Sir Simon Winchester and stop post-Brexit Britain simply retreating behind its nuclear shield and its powerful navy (On Saturday HMS Queen Elizabeth became Europe’s only massive strike carrier, the first of two such power projection British ships) then solidarity must work both ways. If the British people PERCEIVE they are being punished for Brexit by the very Europeans who are calling upon young Britons to defend then I am afraid NATO will be damaged and possibly the Riga test one day failed, especially if the Americans are weakened by events in Asia-Pacific.  It is perception that drives politics and strategy just as much as reality and the next two months of Brexit negotiations could well decide the future not just of the EU, but also of NATO and by extension the very idea of ‘Europe’. Think about it, Riga.  

At the end of the panel I chaired I finished with a quote from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire which had been haunting me through the debate about Europe, security and freedom.  “In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security.  They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom.  When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”
The real threat to NATO and by extension to Latvia and the people of Riga is that Europeans come to believe that the responsibility for the security of Europeans ultimately rests elsewhere. It does not. It rests on all of us together – Britons, French, Germans, Poles, Latvians, et al.

The people of Riga are no less secure in 2018 than they were in 2017 but nor are they completely safe. Free Latvia 200? Only if we are all willing to defend freedom together, not simply talk about it.
Julian Lindley-French