hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 15 November 2019

Europe Puissance or Macro-Gaullisme?

“What we are currently experiencing is the brain-death of NATO. You have no co-ordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None.”
President Emmanuel Macron


Alphen, Netherlands. November 15. Is NATO suffering “brain death”? President Macron of France certainly thinks so. In an interview for The Economist last week, the transcript of which I read carefully on two planes to and from Rome, Macron suggested the US can no longer be trusted to defend Europe, and effectively called on Europeans to defend themselves. Clearly, Macron’s one-time ‘bromance’ with President Trump is now mired firmly in ‘la merde’. So, what is motivating Macron? Is it another French attempt to generate Europe puissance, or just more Macro-Gaullisme, the applied and sustained hubristic application of a weak French hand in pursuit of French interests through more ‘Europe’ and less America?

The Economist interview reveals three strands of Jupiter-sized frustration. He is clearly frustrated that President Trump signalled his intention to withdraw US forces from Northeast Syria without informing his close allies.  This is understandable angst given the exposure of both British and French Special Forces to the White House decision.  His second frustration is that Europeans (for that read Germans) remain lukewarm to his idea of a high-end, projectable, robust European military capability – the European Intervention Force. This is even though nine European states have signed up, including the still-vital British, there is profound disagreement about the level of strategic autonomy from the Americans implicit in French ambitions. St Malo redux? However, it is the third strand of Macronian frustration that is at the heart of his concerns and pose the most fundamental of questions. Are the tensions in the transatlantic relationship simply due to one US president, or is there a deeper structural change taking place that will inevitably lead to the allies drifting apart? More of that later, but what of Macron’s prescriptions?

The six paradoxes of Macro-Gaullisme

The Macronian solution is for ‘Europe’, however Paris defines it, to generate far greater “strategic military sovereignty”.  There are six paradoxes the European defence of Europe would need to overcome:

1.   The Franco-British strategic defence partnership: Any such sovereignty could only be generated, to the extent it could, by Paris re-committing to a close military-strategic partnership with nuclear-armed London.  That would mean building on the 2010 Franco-British Security and Defence Treaty. And yet, President Macron also wants to make Britain pay for Brexit by insisting on the hardest of trade ‘deals’ in any future ‘strategic partnership’ between Britain and the EU. For Macron to think he can attack Britain at one level and forge a close strategic partnership at another is less Macro-Gaullisme, more Macro-fantasie.

2.  Less America, more Russia: As Macron wants to distance himself from the US, he also wants to move closer to Russia.  There is a strangely ‘zero sum’ quality to strategic Macronianism. The paradox here is that only though the strong presence of the US in Europe would any rapprochement with an inherently unstable and aggressive Russia be at all safe. Moreover, if less America, more Russia is really the basis for Macon’s future ‘strategic sovereignty’ very few other Europeans would ‘buy’ into it, and absolutely no-one east of the Oder-Neisse line.

3. The sheer cost of European military sovereignty: To replace the US-funded military-strategic architecture under which Europe’s deterrence and defence shelters would be immense.  It would also likely require the complete restructuring of the European defence technological and industrial base (EDTIB).  The recent experience of Galileo, Europe’s hugely expensive and alternative ‘GPS’ system, is a chilling example of the likely outcome of strategic Macronianism. Any such ambition would, and necessarily so according to Macron’s own time imperative, demand a rapid and massive taxpayer-funded investment in a raft of high-end European strategic defence enablers from satellites to air and fast sea lift. During a disastrous July software upgrade Galileo crashed. It is still not working properly. If one listens hard enough one can hear the European establishment trying to keep this quiet. Galileo, like the absurdly high-maintenance A400M military transport aircraft, is but another example of high-cost, low return European defence-industrial projects that have more political benefit than military. Plus ça change?

4. Common or collective? The only way for the architecture implicit in Macron’s vision to be afforded would be a much more integrated European defence effort, along the lines of the European Defence Union that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen favours. In fact, neither Paris nor, more importantly, Berlin are willing to countenance the loss of the national defence sovereignty Macron’s European military sovereignty would demand. And yet, deep military sovereignty is the essence of Macron’s vision, and the only way to balance the strategy, capability, technology and cost required.

5.   Public or private? Given the pace that new civilian technologies, such as artificial intelligence, are entering the battlespace, much of it American, transatlantic defence-strategic public private partnerships will become more not less vital to European defence. And yet, what Macron is proposing reeks of yet another of those French statist, protectionist European ‘solutions’.  Given the sorry state of Europe’s collaborative defence research and development and the uncomfortable relationship between defence policy and industrial policy in Europe, the likely result will be a Europe more not less vulnerable to twenty-first century warfare.  The European Defence Agency and the European Defence Fund? Amateur hour.

6.  Anglosphere versus Eurosphere: Perhaps the most hubristic of Macron’s ideas, and the greatest paradox therein, is Macron’s implicit suggestion that Europe could defend itself in the complete absence of ‘les anglosaxons’. Such an idea is utter and complete nonsense, and the reason why Berlin immediately dismissed Macron’s demarche.     

Right analysis, wrong solutions

For all of these paradoxes President Macron is essentially correct to demand Europeans do more for their own defence. It is time. However, he is dangerously wrong to believe that by doing more for their own defence Europeans should, or could, distance themselves from the Americans. No, the reason Europeans should do more for their own defence is because that is the only way NATO can and will survive as a meaningful deterrent and defender.  It is also the only way the Americans will, over time, be able to maintain their security and defence guarantee to Europeans.  The US is facing a growing challenge to its military power across the globe, most notably from an emergent, autocratic China. Like all the democracies it is also facing a growing threat across the 5Ds of twenty-first century warfare – disinformation, deception, destabilisation, disruption and implied or actual destruction.

Macron’s problem is that he confuses his strategic mission with his political mission. Gaullism sought to forge French political unity at home by talking France up abroad.  Macron is doing exactly the same by demanding other Europeans commit to an overtly French need for the Elysée to be seen to standing up to America in the name of Europe puissance. This, whilst privately French diplomats reassure the Americans about the vital importance of the Franco-American strategic partnership.  What is the French word for ‘hubris’ again?

The real strategic paradox is that the Americans will need capable European allies almost as much as Europeans needs Americans. The ‘West’ is now a global idea, not just a Euro-Atlantic place which Europeans need to help secure and defend.  A truly capable high-end, fast, first responder European Intervention Force that could operate to effect across twenty-first century multi-domain warfare would represent a real sharing of transatlantic strategic burdens. It is how best to realise more equitable burden-sharing between Americans and Europeans which Macron should address, rather than offering Macro-Gaullist European defence fantasies.  Indeed, more equitable burden-sharing is the surest route to strategic autonomy.

Here’s the cruncher, the real reason for greater European military ‘sovereignty’ is the precise opposite to the prescriptions of Macro-Gaullisme. Europeans need to become militarily stronger to the US to remain close to the Americans, increase their importance to DC, and thus exert the very influence over Washington’s strategic choices, the lack of which clearly frustrates President Macron.

Europe puissance or Macro-Gaullisme?

President Macron is right to try and shift Europe out of the defence no-man’s-land in which it has been mired for too long. However, whilst his analysis is essentially correct, the solutions he offers are doomed to fail. If France really wants to lead the way towards a more strategically autonomous Europe France must, at the very least, put its ‘argent’ where its ‘bouche’ is, and increase French defence expenditure to, say, 3% GDP. Don’t hold your breath! Perhaps the ultimate Macronian paradox is that the only way to begin realise his vision will be to make the 2019 NATO Military Strategy work. That means Europeans fulfilling the defence planning Christmas wish-list the Pentagon has suggested. Do that and the NATO Defence Planning Process might finally cease to be the greatest work of European fiction since Dickens, or do I mean Flaubert and his masterpiece about unfulfilled bourgeois aspiration, Madame Bovary.

Is NATO suffering “brain death”? No, but it does (again) have a French headache. Does Macron’s vision promise Europe puissance? Non! It is Macro-Gaullisme on the road to Europe faiblesse!  Is Macron right to push Europeans to become strategically serious, militarily-capable and to better understand their place and role in a dangerous world? As the Americans would say, ‘hell yes’!

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Berlin Wall 30 and the Fall of Germany

“This 9 November is an historic day. The GDR has announced, starting immediately, its borders are open to everyone. The gates in the wall stand wide open”.
Joachim Friedrichs, ARD Tagesthemen, 2300 hours, November 9, 1989

Berlin, Germany. November 7. Tears rolled down my cheeks. The sight of people power pulling apart parapets of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago this week was history in (e)motion. The true end of World War Two was happening before my eyes at a speed no-one had believed possible. With each epoch-ending strike of each pick-axe Ossis and Wessis sent a hot, sharp knife through the crime that was the 1945 Yalta Agreement under which peoples and lands had been handed over from Nazi to Soviet. My tears were tears of hope.

Here in Berlin thirty years later that grandest of grand moments has seemingly been replaced with something all the more stodgy: the Stollen cake parochialism of a Germany that is so much less than the parts of a hoped for greatness. Mired in endless petty politicking Berlin stumbles from one infighting crisis to another. The one-time ‘imperial’ capital of a once-future German Europe? Not even close. The real question is more whether a German Berlin or a Berliner’s Germany?

Europe’s 911 was not just a moment of hope. The prospect of a united Germany filled some with dread – France’s Francois Mitterrand and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher to the fore. Not for the first time it was the leadership of a US President, George H. W. Bush, who reassured Germany’s allies by re-committing the US to the balance of Europe in a balanced Europe. Helped, in no small measure, by Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s commitment to a single European currency – the then soon-to-be Euro – to ease French fears that Europe would be ‘crushed’ under the weight of the mighty Deutschemark. What few realised at the time was that the cost of Ossis to Wessis made any such threat a chimera of fear over reality.

Strange then that German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas this week went out of his clumsy way to thank everyone else for Germany’s peaceful reunification but the Americans who had guaranteed it, or the British who in 1954 committed its forces at great cost to the permanent defence of the Federal Republic, and in so doing opened the way for one-time foe to join NATO, and fostered Chancellor Konrad Adenauer’s dream of a ‘normal’ Germany. Critically, a France that overcame its historic fears to turn enmity into a partnership that with the 1962 Elysee Treaty became the bedrock upon which ‘Europe’ built its own edifice of freedom.  Herr Maas also slapped down an idea from his colleague, Defence Minister Anna Kramp-Karrenbauer, for a European Security Force in Syria to which Germany would contribute. German strategic responsibility? Don’t hold your breath.

My reason for being in Berlin was a meeting of The Alphen Group (TAG), the network of high-level, senior analysts and practitioners that I have the honour to chair. Our speaker for the day was one of the most senior insider-observer Germans. A man who knows and understands the very highest levels of this most late Roman of new Berlins. His message was stark: Germany is in a “period of funk”, drifting from stability to stagnation to stasis. The coming domestic crisis will emasculate German foreign policy, much of it caused by the endless Berlin political crisis of grand coalitions going towards a grand nowhere, other than sustaining their grand denizens in grand office. Indeed, the 'groko' is a bit like the massive Forth Railway Bridge in Scotland, ninety percent of which is simply there to hold the edifice up, whilst only ten percent is devoted to undertaking purpose.  

A consequent ‘reformstau’ which blocks all efforts to modernise an economy and society steadily losing the global competitive race of the twenty-first century. A Germany which simply occupies a map with no particular foreign policy and no particular view of towards Russia, China, the US and/or Brexit, and which lacks the sense of solidarity to have a vision for Europe. Worse, if Americans try to force Berlin to choose between Washington and Beijing the leader of the West might be surprised by Germany’s answer. It is an answer already implicit in the even more implicit Realpolitik of Heiko Maas’s “Union of Multilateralism”. Whither NATO?

What pains this Oxford historian, long a friendly, constructive but critical believer in this Germany, is the failure of vision of a Berlin that talks endlessly of little else. When all that really defines German foreign engagement is ‘wherever the money is, at whatever the strategic and political cost’ mercantilism, allied to a peculiarly German form of vacuous ‘do as we say, but not what we dare do’ internationalism. The fall of the ‘Wall’ was not simply about a glorious dawn in that dark, dank November Berlin night. It was about a Germany that finally been offered the chance to take its rightful, peaceful place at the heart of Europe’s eternally fractious story that it had for so long craved. A place that others guaranteed would not be threatened.

The importance of that moment cannot be over-stated. On three separate violent occasions Germans had tried to impose their place in Europe on Europeans. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, the Great European War of 1914-1918, and the real World War of 1939-1945. The ghosts of those wars can never by laid completely to rest, and the millions of ghosts of murdered Nazi victims can never rest, something of which, legions of decent Germans are acutely aware.  That night in 1989 also led to something that would have been impossible even thirty years prior - a gift of trust in a future Germany Americans and other Europeans. A real gift of trust from those who had really won Germany’s right to be whole once again; Poles, Czechs and those millions of Europeans whose families had been scorch-earthed by past German power and its ambitions.

In return, Germany was asked to pay only the most reasonable of costs.  A truly western Germany would enshrine freedom at its core. And, any return of German power from provincial Bonn to once-imperial Berlin be paid for by German political and actual investment in the two institutions in which the gift was embodied – the EU and NATO. Thirty years on that gift, the promise it contained, and the institutions it served are being broken on the rock of Berlin’s visionless political parochialism and the strategic vacuum that too many German leaders confuse with strategic patience.

My tears now, as with so much today, are virtual tears. Odes to joy? No. Rather a sense of a grand European chance missed by a wannabe great country, led by a once (and future) grand city the parochialism of which is failing the test of power, too often of principle, and most certainly of leadership.  In so doing, THIS Germany has failed the hope of that wonderful Berlin night thirty years ago. A Germany that is also failing its own sternest of tests – Germany’s own history, and Europe’s possible future.

Why does Berlin matter? Neither Germany nor Europe can be secure until and unless Berlin’s political dragons of today finally get a grip of the demons of Germany’s past and set fair a course for a fair Europe with a fair Germany at its heart. In other words, if Europe and the transatlantic relationship really are as important to Berlin as it claims Germans need to start matching deeds to words.

Berlin Wall 30 and the fall of Germany.

Julian Lindley-French     

Thursday, 31 October 2019

The Digital Fog of Future War and Allied Command Education

“That which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts;
Made weak by time and fate;
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.
Ulysses, Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 October, 2019. Transformative change is coming, and the Alliance had better be prepared. In my forthcoming book, Future War and the Defence of Europe, which will be brilliant and very reasonably-priced, I suggest that multi-domain warfare reaches across air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. Last week, I had the honour of addressing senior Allied and Partner officers at the excellent NATO Defence College in Rome. Founded by the then Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the mission of the College is to provide to NATO officers two of the most important strategic enablers – knowledge and understanding.

Writing my latest book I have been struck by the vital importance knowledge and understanding at all levels of command will have in the maintenance of deterrence, the conduct of defence and, if needs be, the fighting of future war. Knowledge and understanding will be vital to block and mitigate adversaries’ planned exploitation the digital fog of future war. Indeed, isolating command from its force and effects, and leaders from led, will be a primary aim of the future enemy warfighter.

This challenge got me thinking. If, as many at the higher echelons of NATO believe, the Alliance is moving fast into multi-domain future war, surely the place and role of all strategic enablers should be afforded equal importance in NATO’s changing, informal, and real, strategic concept, and more particularly in its military strategy.  After all, Allied Command Operations (ACO) covers the ‘doing’ stuff, and Allied Command Transformation (ACT) drives force transformation and development. And, whilst I accept that transformation also includes a role in command mindset-change, I am not sure ACT should, or could, affect the kind of knowledge-change mindset-change NATO forces will need to deal with a future war emergency.  Such change will be critical if the Alliance is to successfully and really adapt to credible future deterrence and defence against what the US Strategic Technology Office calls ‘mosaic warfare’.

The essential ‘thing’ about the NATO Defence College is that it is not a stand-alone institution. It supports and enables security and defence colleges across the Alliance by promoting best-practice models of education and research – how to know and what to know given the mission.  If the College is to further adapt it must also build on its efforts to exploit the digital domain through distance and e-learning, and by promoting a life-long professional military education culture that will be critical to future success at every level of mission command. More is needed. NDC should be given far more tools so that it can partner ACT and ‘transform’ education and training to drive forward ‘the cohesion, effectiveness, and readiness of multinational formations’.

The College adds real value to the Alliance mission, which is why, each year, I go there with enthusiasm. I believe in the mission. It is certainly not for the money.  What they offer, to my mind, is already at the cutting edge of professional military education. Still, as a former member of the NDC Academic Advisory Board I am also convinced they could offer so much.  If critical cohesion is to be afforded Alliance forces in an age of pan-spectrum digital fires what is needed is a range of best-practice education and knowledge ‘products’ from junior to senior levels of command, including simulation and table-top exercising, and which can be offered to all NATO nations.  The NATO Defence College is the place to develop and provide such ‘products’ precisely because it has the legitimacy and, with the support of the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, because it can.

Is there a problem? No. However, there is a possible confusion of roles in adaptation between transformation and education. The danger is that Allied Command Transformation might see education and knowledge as a sub-set of military transformation. They are not. They are, at the very least, the equals of transformation for without knowledge transformation military transformation can neither be generated, nor enacted.

Therefore, I have a simple suggestion: turn the NATO Defence College into Allied Command Education, arm it with a strategic education and knowledge mission, and promote the commandant of the NATO Defence College to Supreme Allied Commander, Education. Such a step would be both transformative, adaptive and exploit a critical Allied comparative advantage – its people.

To paraphrase Tennyson: that which we are can be improved; to equal understanding in heroic hearts; made strong by knowing and commanding our fate; to strive, to seek, to find, to know, so that we never have to yield.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Royal Navy Strike's Back!

“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”.

Julian Lindley-French, Trafalgar Dinner Speech, HMS Nelson, Portsmouth 2018

Alphen. Netherlands. 22 October. This past week one of Britain’s new 70,000 ton aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth, took delivery of her first four F-35B Lightning 2 strike aircraft. It was quite a sight and a very big moment! Royal Navy carrier strike is back!

As she was receiving the first of her aircraft off Florida, the second ship of the class, the brand-new HMS Prince of Wales, was undergoing sea trials off the coast of Scotland. The Royal Navy is once again reinventing itself as Europe’s command hub navy, Britain’s future maritime-amphibious strike force, and a true burden-sharing friend of the United States and its overstretched navy.

This week last year I was in the UK, where I gave the annual Trafalgar Night dinner speech on board HMS Nelson at Her Majesty’s Naval Base, Portsmouth. It was a big night and a great honour. There were also two First Sea Lords in attendance. One told me I was a controversial figure, apparently (and hopefully) because I dare speak hard truth to often dim power. The other did not like the film I had made entitled The Second Battle of North Cape, during which a Russian hypersonic anti-ship missile sinks HMS Queen Elizabeth, even though he knows I am a big fan of the carrier programme. 

In a sense, both miss the point of my message. Given the fast changing character of war, and if Britain really does aspires to remain a ‘Tier One’ military actor, and the two carriers clearly indicate it does, then it will also need to face the hard realities of Tier One warfare in the twenty-first century.  If the two carriers are not properly protected against twenty-first century technology then they could be little more than a “target of convenience”, as one Russian admiral put it. Anything less is dangerous strategic pretence.

So, why am I fan of the carriers? My speech in Portsmouth was entitled Nelson and the Pursuit of Victory.  My theme was Nelson’s ruthless pursuit of adaptation and innovation to win. The Royal Navy has always been at the forefront of adaptation. It adapted in the wake of Nelson’s wooden-walled battleship fleet to become the imperial policeman of the High Victorian age. The Naval Service again adapted in the face of Wilhelmine Germany’s challenge to create the Dreadnoughts and super-Dreadnoughts of the Grand Fleet, which in May 1916 inflicted a strategic defeat on Admiral Scheer’s High Seas Fleet.

As a broke Britain began to decline in the wake of World War One and the drastic cull of the Geddes Axe, the Royal Navy was forced into a trap in which it has been ever since. The Naval Service simply could not be both a battle-fleet in being and an imperial policing force at one and the same time. With the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and the Mediterranean, and Tojo in Japan, all with naval ambitions, it simply became impossible for the Naval Service to defend the home base, imperial lines of communication, and the eastern British Empire.  The disaster that was waiting to happen took place off Malaya in December 1941, three days after Pearl Harbor, when a previous HMS Prince of Wales was sunk, together with the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, by the air power of the Imperial Japanese Navy (I wrote an Oxford thesis on all of this!).

The essential problem was that from the early 1930s Britain was trying to be a pocket superpower on a shoestring budget with London committing the Navy to too many tasks, over too much space, and with too few hulls. Not unlike today. Some suggest that the ‘RN’ today has too few hulls to be both a ‘Corbett Navy’ (imperial policing) and a ‘Mahan Navy’ (a battle fleet). Thankfully, it does not have to. In the wake of World War Two the RN handed the global policing role to the United States Navy, which is today facing similar pressures to that faced by the Royal Navy in the 1930s. The task of the Royal Navy became then, as it is now, to help keep the US Navy strong where it needs to be.

Cue carriers! The job of the reinvented carrier-strike Royal Navy is essentially to have the capability, the offensive strike power and defensive strength to command a coalition of European/Allied navies in a future high-end emergency in the Atlantic in which the Americans are busy elsewhere.  In other words, the ability to act as a credible fast, first, high-end responder force in and around Europe. Does that mean on occasions the RN might not be able to be everywhere all of the time? Yes. This is not the Navy of Admiral Parker.

However, with a powerful future fleet of two QE-class carriers, Type 45 destroyers, Astute-class nuclear-attack submarines, and Type 26 and Type 31 frigates, the Royal Navy is once again reinventing itself as the core of European maritime-amphibious coalitions. The delicious irony, given all the Trafalgar stuff, is that to make this logical strategy work the Royal Navy will need to work closely with the French Navy, which it does.  One of the finest dinners I ever enjoyed was on the gun deck of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, sitting opposite the admiral in command of France’s finest.  

To conclude, peer through the political nonsense of Brexit, which will at some point ease.  Britain’s enduring position as a major European regional-strategic power is embodied in the two new carriers, and will continue to be so, for many years to come. HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are two armed icebergs at the tip of a largely unseen British security and defence effort that transcends politics and Brexit. For the sake of Europe’s defence, and the health of the transatlantic relationship, it would be a profound loss if Britain simply became another of those ‘talk a lot, do very little’ European countries that seem to think their defence is someone else’s job. However, precisely because Royal Navy carrier-strike is back London must finally invest in the strategy their existence demands.

As for sniffy Royal Navy admirals, ‘tant pis’, as Admiral Villeneuve might have said. British admirals should know their own history. Informed members of the awkward squad like me are vital if HMS Queen Elizabeth and/or HMS Prince of Wales are not one day to suffer the same fate as another one-time ‘invincible pride of the Royal Navy’ – ‘The Mighty Hood!  Just read my forthcoming Oxford book – Future War and the Defence of Europe.

The Royal Navy’s carrier strike is back! Now, let’s finish the job and give them the tools to do what they are really designed for – to deter a high-end war by being demonstrably able to fight one!

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

The Riga Test 2019

“We are all inclined to judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their acts”.
Sir Harold Nicholson

Alphen, Netherlands. October 16. For many years I have had the honour of attending the annual Riga Conference. It is quite simply superb. And, every year I pose the Riga Test: can the good citizens of Riga sleep more safely in their beds than last year.  Naturally, given the location of Latvia the big issue is Russia, the now constant coercion against the Baltic States, and the threat posed by Moscow’s powerful armed forces just over the border.  This year the test also concerns Russia, but not directly. Rather, it concerns the implications of the latest Kurdish-Turkish war for the people of Riga.

Two conversations struck home to me at this conference. The first was my interview with an old friend and colleague, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, the former US Ambassador to Moscow and Deputy Secretary-General of NATO. You can see the interview on YouTube at  Sandy’s message was clear; Russia must be managed. However, managing Russia must be seen against the backdrop of a rapidly changing geopolitical environment driven by the rise of China, not least in Europe.

My second conversation took place over breakfast with the former British Foreign and Defence Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Malcolm reminded me of a 1939 book entitled “Diplomacy”, which had been written on the eve of war by British diplomat Sir Harold Nicholson. Nicholson warned there are three types of people that are anathema to good diplomacy – fanatics, lawyers and missionaries.

Russia’s success in the Middle East has been driven precisely by the combination of Trumpian fanaticism, European legalism and irrelevant evangelism.  It might sound strange to accuse President Trump of fanaticism, but a fanatic is someone so committed to his/her own cause that they will act at whatever cost to themselves and their cause. This latest Middle Eastern war was triggered by President Trump’s arbitrary decision to pull US forces out of North-West Syria thus ending their role as a buffer between Turks and Kurds. The consequent strategic vacuum is now being filled by the forces of Erdogan and Putin.

Now, I am not one of the European Chicken Little Brigade when it comes to President Trump. My first instinct is to respect the US Commander-in-Chief. However, it is increasingly hard to respect an increasingly capricious US president the actions of whom seem overwhelmingly driven by his need to assuage his domestic political base, and at any geopolitical cost to America’s standing.  

However, my main concern for Rigans rests not with Americans, but fellow Europeans. America’s withdrawal from Syria has revealed once and for all the complete absence of European strategic responsibility and any meaningful capability even in a region the fate of which has dire implications for all Europeans. Why? One need look no look no further than an expensive roll of toilet paper called the EU Global Strategy. Listen to the warbling of EU-funded European think-tanks one would think that the EU is about to become some proto-superpower.  In reality, the ‘Strategy’ was written by lawyers and missionaries and has just about enough reach to influence the Brussels Beltway, but little beyond.  It also says everything about the essential malaise of European external action – the gulf between values, interests, and power.

Contrast that with President Putin. For Putin the only ‘law’ is power, and whilst Europeans talk and Americans politic, Russia acts. As for President Erdogan, why are Europeans so surprised he is attacking the Kurds? Indeed, I even predicted this moment in my 2017 book The New Geopolitics of Terror. Even a cursory glance of Turkish history confirms Erdogan could never tolerate a Kurdish ‘state’ along Turkey’s southern border out of fear for Ankara’s eastern provinces. The absurdity of the Trump position is to sacrifice the Kurds (not for the first time in history) for domestic politics, but also sacrifice the US relationship with a critical Turkey. This is not US Realpolitik, this is just plain geopolitical incompetence. Nicholson, who was born in Tehran at the height of British imperial power, must be spinning in his grave, not least because Russia is now the referee of ‘rules’ in the region that it creates, and by which others will now abide.

Europe? It is hard to describe complete inaction and irrelevance as incompetence. Beyond the usual wittering the EU has said and done virtually nothing to influence a major crisis on its doorstep.  A few European powers have now moved to stop arms sales to Turkey – a NATO ally – which could well be met by Ankara re-opening the route for refugees to enter Europe en masse.  However, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, sanctions are simply the last resort of the strategically-incompetent and politically-inept.

Nicholson’s warning was a call for power and pragmatism in equal measure. Skilled diplomacy is the art of balancing the two to ensure the best outcome is not the enemy of the good outcome.  Turkey is a pivotal power for the defence of Europe, the Kurds, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Force, have been loyal allies in the struggle against Daesh. Now, more than ever, Europeans as ‘Europe’ should stand up to demonstrate precisely the strategic culture and responsibility they keep banging on about by trying to broker a peace. Such a peace would ease America’s burdens, keep the Russians in check, help keep Turkey on board, and afford some level of protection to Kurds now forced into the clutches of Assad. If ever there is to be a point to ‘Europe’ and its place in the world, it is right now and in that place. As ever, Europeans will neither agree nor act, beyond the now traditionally desultory.

Can Rigans trust America, or will they too wake up one day to suffer they have also been sacrificed on the hard anvil of geopolitics? My sense is they can trust the Americans, but I am less and less sure.  Can Rigans trust their fellow Europeans? What is there to trust beyond words and a few under-equipped soldiers? Indeed, what worries me most is not a capricious President Trump, but a Europe that seems incapable of ever growing up to meet the challenges and threats its peoples face. For, as Thomas Hobbes once said, “Covenants without the sword are but words, and of use to no man”. Europe?

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

The Warsaw Uprising

“The city [Warsaw] must completely disappear from the surface of the earth and serve only as a transport station for the Wehrmacht. No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation”

Heinrich Himmler, October 17, 1944

Warsaw, Poland. October 2. On September 17 1944, Stanley Nosecki, of the Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, was preparing to jump into the Netherlands under the command of the redoubtable Major-General Stanislaw Sosabowski. He was to take part in the disastrous Operation Market Garden and Field Marshal Montgomery’s attempt to seize the bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem. However, Nosecki’s mind was elsewhere, in Warsaw. Before Nosecki jumped he closed his eyes and dreamt of the Poniatowski Bridge, the King’s Castle, the Zygmunt Column and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier”. “Are they still fighting on those famous streets of Nowy Swiat and Tamka? Is the Holy Cross Church still there, where I used to serve as an altar boy every other Sunday?” ‘They’ were his fellow patriots in the Polish Resistance, led by the Polish Home Army and the Polish First Army, who were fighting a desperate battle against battle-hardened Nazi troops. On October 2, 1944, seventy-five years ago today, these brave men and women were finally forced to lay down their arms.

Being here today at the excellent Warsaw Security Forum is an act of pilgrimage to those Warsaw fighters who stood up for Poland. It was not just the Nazis they had to face, but also the brute cynicism of Stalin. The aim of the uprising was to install a free Polish government that would affirm Polish sovereignty before the Red Army, which had pushed the retreating Nazis back to the shores of the River Vistula, installed a puppet regime loyal to Moscow. The Home Army had hoped for support from the Americans and British, but as so often their hopes were all but dashed.

Operation Tempest had begun on August 1 and was planned as a nationwide campaign. For sixty-three days the Poles fought in what was the largest resistance operation of World War Two.  There were possibly up to 49,000 Polish combatants, but only some 5000 at most had any guns. They faced up to 50,000 well-trained and well-armed German troops. By the end of the struggle over 15,000 Poles were either dead or missing.     

In the initial phase of the Uprising, the Poles seized much of central Warsaw and the surrounding forest. They tried to make contact by radio with Soviet forces, but the Red Army did not respond. Worse, they just waited on the edge of the city for the Germans to exact their bloody revenge. Over time, the Nazis divided Polish forces into six pockets, which they then systematically destroyed. Neither the Red Army, nor the Soviet Air Force, made any meaningful attempt to support the Poles.

Churchill argued at length with both President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin, but to no avail. Frustrated, Churchill ordered the Royal Air Force, with Bomber Command’s Polish squadrons to the fore, to support the Uprising. Between August 4 and September 28 the RAF dropped some 300 tons of supplies at low level, albeit some 50% fell into Nazi hands. Roosevelt eventually relented and permitted the US Army Air Force to conduct one high-level mission, which missed the target. The Soviets? They refused the RAF use of their airfields, forcing the RAF to fly long missions, and even fired on RAF aircraft. Forty-one aircraft were lost and three hundred and sixty RAF aircrew died. The Soviets did, in the end, drop some 13 tons of supplies, but much of it was dropped from high altitude with no parachutes and destroyed. In any case, it was all too little too late. On this fateful day, seventy-five years ago, some 15,000 Polish fighters were taken prisoner, and faced a grisly fate. By then, between 150,000 and 200,000 Polish citizens had been killed, with a further 700,000 expelled from the city. Himmler kept his criminal word, and razed Warsaw to the ground.       

Fifty metres from my house there is a cemetery. Within its gates some twenty young Poles lay interred in Dutch clay. They had died, like so many Poles before and since, fighting for the liberty of others so they too might one day be free. They had died free men. The men and women of the Warsaw Uprising who laid down their arms that dark October day all those years ago were not defeated. No force, however haughty in its hubris can ever defeat the Poles, for the flame of freedom burns too brightly in them.

This blog is in honour of the brave Polish fighters who died defying two tyrants, and who laid the foundation for the free Poland of today. Poland, like Warsaw, emerged from the ashes, and should remind all Europeans that to defend freedom one must be vigilant...and strong.  

Julian Lindley-French     

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Fusion Defence

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 September. When I am at the later stage of writing a big book the only thing that I can think about is the bloody book. That is precisely where I am now with my latest book for Oxford University Press, “Future War and the Defence of Europe”. The blog has to go on the back-burner. Thankfully, my friend Anna Wieslander, Director of the Atlantic Council in Stockholm, last week invited me to attend a closed session with the leadership of Sweden’s armed forces. Thankfully, the subject was also close to that of the book, and whilst I cannot disclose what was discussed, I can share my own intellectual property.

My presentation considered a seminal question: What Europeans would need to do in order to act as effective first responders in a worst-case scenario? If one deconstructs that question there are four keywords therein all of which Europeans find challenging: European; act; first responders; and worst-case.

Given the implicit challenge of the question my core message was thus: European first responders during a major military crisis in and around Europe will need also to be fast responders at the high end of military capability. Moreover, given the changing character of warfare a first response would only be possible and credible if enabled by an array of sensitive sensors, indicators, allied to fast analysis. Critically, such a first response would also be dependent on robust critical infrastructure and civil defence. Society would undoubtedly be subject to all forms of coercion across the hybrid-cyber-hyper war spectrum.

Why?  Europeans are moving into an age of automated future war and complex strategic coercion in which warfare will be conducted both simultaneously and/or sequentially across the 5 ‘D’s of disinformation, deception, destabilisation, disruption, and implied and actual destruction. As AI, machine-learning, big data and other ‘synthetic’ forms of weaponry enter the battlespace speed of response, and proven speed, will be a critical element of both deterrence and defence.

What military capabilities would be needed? To be honest, I prefer to focus on the military effects that need to be generated, rather than capabilities per se. Too much of a focus on the latter tends to foster an input approach to defence investment, rather than vital defence outputs and outcomes.  To effect credible deterrence and defence armed forces will need to be able to demonstrably operate to effect across the hybrid-cyber-hyper war spectrum and deep into the domains of air, sea, land, space, cyber, information and knowledge.

What are the implications for readiness and reinforcements?  Europeans (and their American allies) need to re-conceive ideas of readiness and reinforcement, and even of defence. Given the aim of an adversary would be to force European states off-balance – strategically, politically, militarily, and societally much of the first response will be about doing what an adversary least expects or wants. This will involve the generation of counter-shock by exploiting the analysed weaknesses of an adversary systematically. Much of that response will be digital. At the force end of the response spectrum it is also critical that the future European defence force is deeply embedded in, and maintains interoperability with, US forces enabled by the revolution in military technology underway, most notably artificial intelligence and robotics.

Could hybrid warfare and new technology be increasingly used by smaller nations in order to deter and de-escalate? The advantages of a state such as Sweden, with its legacy of Total Defence, is that its pan-community concept of society and defence builds innovation into its strategic DNA.  In such a state radical new thinking tends not to be seen as a threat to the established order if such thinking is seeking to make a constructive contribution to the Public Good. This contrasts markedly with some other European countries, not least my own, Britain, which excludes such thinkers, or prefers ‘safe’ guidance from ‘safe’ thinkers – the ‘good chap’ of old. In future such thinking, and the people who generate it, will be vital for the credible future deterrence and defence of all Europeans.

The solution? Well, there are many (read the book when it comes out). However, one solution could be to transform the ailing European Defence Agency into a European equivalent of the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with a specific remit to trawl for defence-applicable new technologies.  

My concern is a deep one. Europeans are in denial about the possibility of another major war in Europe. European leaders are ignorant about the nature of coming future war. One cannot respond to that about which one knows little or nothing! Indeed, Europe’s defence establishments face a profound challenge: just how open are they to real ‘red team’ new thinking and pain in the posterior people (like me) who dare challenge politically and bureaucratically-convenient assumptions?

To conclude, Europe needs a new concept of fusion defence which forges government, new people, new industries beyond the defence sector, and new thinking into a new strategic public private partnership to generate defence and deterrence across the civ-mil bandwidth. 

First response and fusion defence are thus two sides of the same Euro-strategic coin. Europe’s future defence will depend on both!

The book? It will be brilliant and very-reasonably priced.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 17 September 2019


Seventy-five years ago today, not far from where I live, Allied airborne forces were landing in great strength. Their objective was to seize three Dutch bridges and open the road for British armoured to cross the Rhine, enter Germany, and end the war. Operation Market Garden was a bold move by General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Montgomery. It failed and gave General Bittrich and his German forces what Anthony Beevor has called Germany’s last victory. Five years ago I had the privilege of being invited to sit in the front row of the seventieth anniversary. In honour of the men of many nations who gave their youth and their lives so that the Netherlands can live in freedom, but in particular to those of my fellow Britons who fought and died at Arnhem, here is what I wrote.

Oosterbeek War Cemetery, Netherlands.  21 September.  A lone Spitfire barrel rolls over the assembled veterans, a C-3 Dakota transport aircraft rumbles overhead in splendid salute.  Russet autumn leaves float to the ground from the giant American oaks that surround this place of sanctuary as if the souls of the paratroopers who lay interred herein are making one final drop.  Amidst the browns, greens and greys of an ageing year airborne maroon on young and old runs like a proud seam between then and now, in a great jump across the seventy years that have passed since the great battle of September 1944.  This is a day of proud men, real men for whom the ranks of Portland stone are not just the names of young men but real people, real comrades, fallen friends.  It is these brave men many weighed down in old age by their own bemedalment who can tell the real story of the real battle for Arnhem, not Richard Attenborough’s “Oh What a Lovely War with Parachutes”, false ‘epic’ “A Bridge Too Far” that so ill-defines those fateful days between 17th and 25th September, 1944. 

Seventy years ago today Operation Market Garden had been underway for four days.  A massive combined airborne (‘Market’) and land (‘Garden’) operation in which British, American, Canadian, and Polish forces fought together with the Dutch Resistance and the Dutch Princess Irene Brigade to capture three vital bridges.  If successful Field Marshal Montgomery’s brilliant, but risk-laden operation would have seen Britain’s XXX Corps under the command of Lt. Gen. Brian Horrocks cross the Rhine and open the way into Nazi Germany.  The plan came close to succeeding, and no doubt would have but for the unexpected presence of the II SS Panzer Corps and the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions under the command of Lt General Wilhelm Bittrich.  The key to the battle was the bridge at Arnhem, today called Johnny Frost Bridge in honour of the British colonel commanding the 1st Parachute Brigade and who came so close to succeeding.

On 17 September, 1944 41,628 airborne troops launched the largest airborne operation in history.  The airborne force consisted of the British 1st Airborne under the command of Major-General Roy Urquhart, the US 82nd Airborne under the command of Major-General James M. Gavin, and the US 101st Airborne under the command of Major-General Maxwell D. Taylor with the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade under the command of Major-General Stanislaw Sosobowski held in reserve.

The strategic aim was for the airborne forces to to enable General Dempsey’s 2nd British Army to enter Germany quickly, capture the Ruhr industrial belt and so end the war by crossing the rivers Waal, Maas and finally the Rhine at Arnhem.   However, for Market Garden to work XXX Corps would need to reach Eindhoven in 2 to 3 hours and cover the 65 miles/104kms between its jump-off point at Lommel, Belgium and Arnhem in 2-3 days to relieve British 1st Airborne. 

To assist XXX Corps in its drive north the US 82nd Airborne would land in the Nijmegen/Grave area and take the bridge over the Waal and the US 101st Airborne would land in the Eindhoven/Son area closest to the September 1944 frontline and seize the bridge over the Maas.  Seven bridges in total had to be seized.  Simultaneously with the drops XXX Corps would punch a hole through the German frontlines from their start in Belgium and then drive quickly north to link up with the lightly-armed airborne forces.

The operation began well.  At 1435 hours on 17 September behind a creeping artillery barrage XXX Corps began its drive north with the Irish Guards in the lead under the command of Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur.  However, the presence of Bittrich’s forces close to Arnhem placed the British 1st Airborne in a very precarious position indeed and increased the pressure on XXX Corps to make rapid progress northwards.    

However, the US 101st Airborne failed to take the bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal at Son before it was demolished by the Germans. This led to a delay of some thirty-six hours for XXX Corps until a temporary British Bailey bridge could be constructed.  Moreover, the narrowness of the roads and the scale of liberation celebrations slowed XXX Corps significantly.  On 20th September the US 82nd Airborne after a river-borne crossing seized the north end of the bridge at Nijmegen just as a Tiger-killing Sherman Firefly tank under the command of Sergeant Peter Robinson of the British 2nd Grenadier Guards stormed across the bridge from the south.

British tanks paused at Lent north of Nijmegen due mainly to logistical reasons and the vulnerability of tanks to German Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons, which were particularly effective given that most Dutch roads are on dykes.  The delay effectively meant that 1st Airborne in spite of an attempted reinforcement by Polish forces on 21st September into drop zones that has been overrun by the Germans.  This led to the slaughter of many of the Polish airborne troops.  On Saturday, 25th September 1st Airborne received orders to withdraw the remnant of that gallant force back across the Rhine. Some wag at headquarters gave the operation the ironic title Operation Berlin. 

Operation Market Garden had failed.  However, the Allied front-line had advanced over 65 miles/110kms and large parts of the Netherlands had been liberated.  Allied losses were probably around 17,000, of which some 13,226 were British, whilst it is believed German forces suffered up to 6,000 killed.  It is believed between 500 and 1000 Dutch citizens were killed.

This morning I had breakfast with Major-General ‘Mick’ Nicholson, commander of the US 82nd Airborne and Brigadier Giles Hill of the British Parachute Regiment.  We met to discuss ‘strategy’.  However, the meeting although important was not the main event. We were all really here for the veterans. Today is their day; a day to remember the sacrifice that has given my life the freedom I never take for granted.  There was another group of guests among us, modest in number and modest in demeanor from Germany.  This is as it should be; allies, friends and partners standing in solidarity and paying respect for the ultimate sacrifice that made liberty possible.

Today I saw a past reconciled with a present in which a new generation of children offered us all a bridge to the future.  It is a bridge of liberty that must always be defended and can never be too far - then, now and into the future.

“I was there, you know”.  One brave soldier says to me, tears in his wise eyes.  “I know”, I say.  “For it is for you I have come”. 

Thank you, Gentlemen. 

Julian Lindley-French