It is of course an honour to be here at the Munich Security Conference supporting the US-German Loisach Group. My subject – why the US-German strategic partnership is vital even if it is not special. We are amongst friends so I am not going to pull my punches. My theme – US-German leadership at a strategic inflexion point. My challenge – if we cannot face hard truths together about each other, as friends and allies, we will never rebuild the transatlantic relationship, for that is what is at stake. My message – Europe and the wider transatlantic relationship needs German leadership. Honest, open, listening German leadership. Real German leadership that does not hide in the EU or manipulate power behind EU scenes. Leadership that reflects what you Germans today are – democratic, tolerant and decent. A Germany that understands that Germans cannot be secure and prosperous unless other Europeans are secure and prosperous. During my remarks I will address Germany and Great Power competition, German leadership and the transatlantic relationship, Germany and a European Army, strategic responsibility and autonomy, a European future force, Europe’s only real defence choice, Brexit and the future of the transatlantic relationship.
Let me start with this statement of the strategically obvious: without German leadership the transatlantic relationship – that cornerstone relationship of European and world peace will fade. The EU might be Germany’s vehicle of choice for its values and influence in Europe, but it is the German relationship with the US that is the only real vehicle of choice for German and European values and influence in the world. The alternative is Realpolitik and does modern Germany want really to go there? Nordstream 2 presents a Germany that plays bad Realpolitik when it suits and claims Lexpolitik – the upholding of ‘law’ and international community - when it is convenient. Berlin cannot have it both ways. There must also be a sense of urgency because the transatlantic relationship is fragmenting and losing momentum just at the moment its value and utility is most clear. America is offering little more than frustration, as we saw with Vice-President Pence’s speech here yesterday, and Germany is offering little more than words, as we saw from Chancellor Merkel. If we continue down that track given the challenges we face the West will fail and we will lose the great battles of strategic contention that are now washing over us.
The impetus for my remarks:
The impetus for my remarks is the MSC 2019 report “The Great Puzzle: Who Will Pick up the Pieces? The report is impressive but was also a puzzle to me because the answer to the questions it poses is not THIS Europe and certainly not this Germany.
Several things stood out to me from the report:
• All Great Powers are the same and there is a kind of moral and strategic equivalency between the US, China and Russia.
• Germany is calling for the defence of multilateralism via a European Army.
• Brexit is purely self-inflicted, but has no strategic implications for the defence of Europe.
• ‘Europe’ must show leadership and strategic responsibility, but little about Germany showing leadership and responsibility.
My plea thus comes in the form of a plea from a British friend and ally not just about the vital importance of the US-German strategic partnership, but the need for Berlin and Washington to stop playing at it and start really working at it. You see, my country, Britain’s days as a transatlantic leader could well be done. Britain is broken and defeated by Brexit, a defeat Germany has helped bring about (more of that later). The security and defence of Europe is thus in the balance at a time when much of Europe is just plain broke. European publics just wallow in the vacuum of ignorance created by a lack of leadership. Put simply, there can be no defence of Europe without American engagement and German leadership. Where is it?
My essential take on the MSC report was thus: those that value rules don’t like power, whilst those that have power don’t like rules, most obviously China and Russia (in that strategic order). Still, I was struck by how the report implied the US is also part of the latter group, even if Ambassador Ischinger qualified that impression at his MSC press conference. Surely, after all the US has done for Europe, and whatever one might think of President Trump, Americans deserve better.
The report also talked at length about ‘evidence’. For me the critical evidence pertinent to the defence of Europe and an equitable transatlantic relationship was missing: According to the IMF between 1999 and 2017 the Eurozone countries grew by a total of 26% compared with UK compound growth at 44% and US at 42%. Italy grew by a total of 6.7%. Add indebtedness to the mix and where is the growth to fund defence? The one Eurozone country with the money to help fund and thus lead European defence is Germany. By the way, China and India grew by factors of multiples.
Great power competition
Let me deal with the issue of Great Powers and equivalency head on. Yes, I see where it is coming from. There are legitimate concerns about the Trump administration. The abrogation of INF is not the European way even though there are good reasons for that and Germany has a different take on how to deal with Russia.
But…to even imply that the United States, the state which remains the indispensable core of European defence precisely because we Europeans and you Germans do not want to pay for the real cost of our own defence, is not only unfair, and unfair bordering on the insulting. Worse, it is unhelpful. The actual evidence of continued US commitment to the defence of Europe suggests a wholly different reality. As for the recent Pew surveys on popular European viewpoints on US power, it just reveals how many Europeans are bloody ignorant and how too many European ‘leaders’, including German leaders, are willing to justify such nonsense as an excuse for inaction. Indeed, my sense is that too many Europeans, with Germans to the fore, are using President Trump as an alibi to avoid the responsibility Berlin claims it wants.
Germany and a European Army?
Which brings me to the German call for a European Army. Years ago I found myself in what is my normal state of being the Yorkshireman in the European doghouse when I wrote a piece in the International Herald Tribune. For fifty years, I wrote, we the allies have told Germany it could not do very much because of World War Two, for the last ten years Germany has been telling us it cannot do very much because of World War Two. Today?
The strategic bottom-line, ladies and gentlemen is thus: the land component of Alliance deterrence will rest increasingly on the capability, capacity and credibility of German forces. And, for all the political finessing I have heard of late from Berlin the Bundeswehr is in a state of almost complete disrepair with the gap between Berlin rhetoric and Bundeswehr reality would grace a Gunter Grass novel. Instead, Berlin bangs of about the fantasy of a European Army. This begs a question: is modern, democratic Germany serious about a European Army, or even an army of Europeans? Or, is it simply more German political displacement games to given the appearance of responsibility where little or none really exists?
The contradiction at the heart of the Aachen Treaty would suggest so. It called for a Franco-German Defence and Security Council to provide “…aid and assistance by all means at their disposal, including armed forces, in cases of aggression against their territory”. Very French, very joint. BUT, it also stated that the Council would help foster a “common military culture” that, “…contributes to the creation of a European Army”. What on earth does that mean?
You see there can be no European Army without a European Government. The failed European Defence Community of 1952-1954 is a salutary lesson from history. It could never have worked then or now because the placing of our young people in harm’s way involves a complex mix of identity, authority and legitimacy. The EU simply does not have that in anything like a level of sufficiency of those vital political commodities. Only nation-states do. And, recent operations such as Libya, Sahel, Syria etc. have again highlighted divisions between member-states and shown the more defence efforts are integrated the less chance a force could be used unless in absolute extremis.
There has also been much French and German talk of late about strategic responsibility and autonomy. It is certainly time Europeans took more responsibility for our own continent’s defence. The Americans are over-stretched, Europeans face a range of emerging threats, Transatlantic relations need a Europe that at the very least can act as an effective first responder, NATO cannot function unless Europeans generate more capability and capacity and the Brits maybe in no mood to seriously defend other Europeans. As for the much discussed recent ‘increase’ in European defence expenditure just how many new expeditionary and deployable new forces will emerge and when?
Which brings me to strategic autonomy. Yes, it is time for some European strategic autonomy, I get that. But, such autonomy will only emerge as a function of real European military power not empty European rhetoric. Again, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Germany still sees defence as essentially an issues of Berlin politics. The real German leadership challenge will be to change that perception on the part of those of us who would welcome German leadership.
So, let’s not get distracted by more empty blah, blah. It is getting too dangerous for that. To evince real strategic responsibility Europeans will need to develop more capable, interoperable and standardised forces to make NATO work better and to ensure the EU-NATO strategic partnership is credible given the threats Europeans face. These forces will also often be organised into coalitions operating either under NATO, EU or national flags. Or, to be clear, German leadership might we be embedded in the EU but at times the sound defence of Europe will require German leadership and Germany must stop trying to avoid that hard reality.
What a real German-led European Future Force would look like…
A future European Future Force will need to be a joint force not a common force, which would simply generate more lawyers than warriors. It would be focussed squarely on the nation-state. It would need to be protectable and projectable and strengthen the European pillar of NATO and give credence to EU-flagged operations in really dangerous places. Given that the only real European ‘army’ choice Europeans have is between an analogue EU-led army of Europeans that just bolts together a lot of European legacy stuff, or an information-led digital 5D future defence that counters disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, deception and destruction which Germany helps lead Europe towards.
The force would need to be physically and intellectually-equipped with appropriate enablers to operate to effect across the seven domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. It would need to be supported by a European defence and technological industrial base that embraces the revolution in military technology and the application to the battlespace of artificial intelligence, big data, machine-learning, quantum-computing et al?
Talking of distraction - Brexit
Brexit is indeed, as Germans like to point out ad nauseam self-inflicted but only to a point. And yes, not only do I regret it because Britain needs to be applying its not inconsiderable influence from within the EU not much reduced influence from beyond. I do not for a moment absolve London and the British elite for the utter strategic and political incompetence they have shown of late and which shames me. Lions led by donkeys has never been more apt. BUT, Germany has helped turn Brexit into something worse than it need be and Germany will pay a strategic price for that, whatever Berlin, Paris and London are saying about the tripartite group etc. The German attitude towards Brexit reminds me of Voltaire’s remark in “Candide” about the the execution of Admiral Byng for having failed to sink enough of the French. It was, Voltaire wrote, ‘pour encourager les autres’.
Let me illuminate that remark with two Brexit quotes I received this past week. The first came from a senior German EU official. “The increasingly less hidden consensus in this grandstanding-quarter of this city seems to be to punish and humiliate Great Britain for voluntarily leaving this best-ever Europe for good. My own government - quite sadly – is also playing an unholy part in that devious manoeuvre of ostracizing Great Britain”.
The second quote was given to me by a senior Briton in London. “Lancaster House is dead. The way the French have played us over Galileo is disgusting. Forget CJEF. We are simply going through the motions. Intelligence-sharing? Their threats are laughable given that we give them the bulk of the actionable intelligence they need”.
So, what are the implications for transatlantic relations and the defence of Europe from this bad Brexit? Britain is to all intents and purposes a defeated country – at least its spineless elite. There is a real danger that Britain will turn inward like any defeated country. The EU ‘victory’ in negotiations and the appalling Withdrawal Agreement will lead to years of friction between Britain and its Continental neighbours which will undermine the commitment of the British people to the defence of fellow Europeans.
If you do not believe me then look at Britain’s defence-strategic choices. Is London rebuilding the British Army of the Rhine? No. It is investing in new fleet aircraft carriers, nuclear ballistic missile submarines, new nuclear attack submarines, new frigates and a host of F-35 strike aircraft which do not a Continental Strategy make. The British Army is the smallest it has been since Napoleonic times and could fit inside Wembley Stadium. No, London is hoping the post-Brexit British economy will hold up sufficiently to close the funding gap from which the British defence budget suffers. If the British economy does not hold up who do you think will get the blame?
Implications for the defence of Europe? Transatlantic relations for what they would worth could split into a capable Yankosphere and a German-led and ever-so-not capable Eurosphere. Rather than the Alliance, alliance and cohesion-killing coalitions would emerge, more five eyes than many eyes.
Yes, the Yanks can be bloody annoying, we Brits know that and have much experience of it. But you Germans can also be annoying, especially given the way you play at power and leadership like some first time swimmer worried about the temperature of the water. Your angst too often drives you to want control without the costs of leadership. Some of you will say I am being anti-German. I am not. I WANT my friend democratic, open, tolerant powerful Germany to stop talking about leadership and start doing it! I am not asking Germans to abandon Brussels or forget history as that could never be nor should it. But, Berlin must stop hiding behind Brussels and using history as an alibi.
To conclude, if we fellow Europeans have a say in any or all of this we need you Americans and Germans to get on and rebuild the transatlantic relationship. This is because if rules are to be re-established as the basis of the global order they will only do so if Americans reinforce power with rules and Europeans reinforce rules with power and that can only come from the US and Germany in strategic sync. It is time – get on with it! You need each other and the rest of us need you both to need each other. Clear?
The US-German strategic partnership might not be ‘special’ in the way the automaticity of the US-UK relationship still is. Frankly, you both seem to find too many ways to makes sure it isn’t and seem too often to define each other by annoying each other. However, the US-German strategic partnership is more than essential, if it vital and not just for Americans and Germans. It is the cornerstone of the twenty-first century transatlantic relationship and whatever irritations Americans and Germans might have with each other you have far more in common, which is the only reason I am here.