hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Saturday, 20 July 2019

One Small Step…

“Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has Landed”.
Neil Armstrong

Alphen, Netherlands. 20 July. This is a very personal recollection of the Apollo 11 mission, the first lunar landing fifty years ago today, and the story of my disastrous contribution to it.

Like most Britons of a certain age I can remember precisely where I was at 2117 British Summer Time on Sunday, 20 July 1969. Along with millions of British children I was transfixed by the BBC coverage of Apollo 11’s Lunar Excursion Module, or LEM, successfully landing on the surface of the moon. The tension was such I can still feel it today, fifty years later. With Cliff Michelmore in the lead, ably supported by James Burke and Patrick Moore, and with Michael Charlton at Cape Kennedy in Florida, the BBC covered the entire mission pretty much from launch to ‘splashdown’ eight days later in the Pacific. The BBC coverage was but a part of what was one of the first truly global television events, with some half-a-billion people estimated to have watched world-wide.

The entire US space programme, which a then patriotic BBC told us on a daily basis could not have been possible without British engineers, was an inspiration. In fact, the chief architect of the lunar programme was a German, Werner von Braun, who had designed the V1 and V2 missiles which had rained terror on London in 1944. And, whilst I did not want to be an astronaut like so many of my generation, for me what the Americans achieved that day was nothing short of out-of-this-world.

The moon landing is also a bitter-sweet memory. In the run-up to the Apollo mission our science teacher, Mr Taylor, a war ace who had flown RAF Mosquitoes in World War Two and whom we all revered, commissioned me to build a model moonscape out of papier-maché, complete with balsa wood LEM. It took me weeks to get the model right and I was proud of the outcome. It had to be kept in the store-room at the back of the classroom because it was simply too big to take home. Come the morning of the exhibition we were all asked to present our work. Disaster! As I entered the little room to my horror a big footprint sat staring back from slap bang in the middle of my Sea of Tranquillity.  It would have been some twenty miles long on the real moon. Someone had stepped on my moon!

At least Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin did not have the same problems, although in completing a successful landing they overcame a whole host of others, including a computer overload that forced Armstrong to fly the LEM manually. Even before that triumphant moment the National Aeronautic and Space Agency’s (NASA) Gemini and Apollo programmes had overcome a host of other challenges. The sheer cost was a constant problem, even for the mighty United States.  President John F. Kennedy had set out his famous astronomical goal at Rice University, Texas on 12 September 1962 to put an American on the moon before the end of that decade. Almost as soon as the President had made that commitment he began to worry about the cost. He was right to be concerned. At one point, the Apollo programme was consuming some 4% of the entire US GDP. In 1962, Kennedy even asked then Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev if the Soviets would consider pooling their efforts. Kruschev declined.

The space programme also took place against the difficult backdrop of the Cold War.  Indeed, there would probably have been no such programme without the Cold War. On 4 October 1957, the Soviet Union had shocked the Americans by placing the Sputnik 1 satellite in low-Earth orbit. This proved to the Americans the Soviets had the capability to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile rendering the continental United States vulnerable to a strike for the first time in its history. The so-called ‘missile gap’ frenzy was further compounded on 12 April 1961, when Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin completed one and half earth orbits. It seemed the Russians were ahead in what became known as the space race, even though much Soviet ‘superiority’ was but an illusion.

The space programme also experienced tragedy. On the 27 January 1967, Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee were burned to death by a flash fire aboard the ground-testing capsule of their Apollo 1 spacecraft. The tapes of their last moments are truly chilling and testify to the enormous risk associated with a programme that tested the boundaries of science, engineering and people, at times to extremes and beyond.        

By the time of Apollo 11’s launch from launchpad 39A on July 16 1969 political and popular enthusiasm was already waning with NASA’s admittedly enormous budget falling.  President Richard M. Nixon lacked the fervour of President Kennedy for space exploration, even if Vice-President Spiro Agnew wanted to press ahead to Mars by the end of the century. America was changing and increasingly-mired in a losing Vietnam War, whilst at home protests against the war and the growing power and influence of the civil rights movement captured many of the headlines. With the 1968 assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King America was not a happy place.  

And yet, come that moment when Neil Armstrong set his foot upon the lunar surface, the first time humans had stepped on a celestial body other than their own, the world was captivated. My model? My Taylor was so angry he made the entire class line up so he could inspect which of us had the guilty signature of wasted paper-maché on our school shoes.  Having inspected the entire class and found no felon Mr Taylor then insisted on inspecting mine. Sure enough, the souls of my shoes were caked in moonscape.

Fifty years on and Apollo 11 continues to amaze and inspire. As for my contribution, it was one small step for me, one giant (beep - profanity deleted) for my kind.

Julian Lindley-French     

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

S-400: Why Turkey is NOT in Russia's Pocket

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 July. This month’s first delivery to Turkey of the advanced Russian S-400 air defence missile system is to some a sign that Ankara is leaving the Western Alliance. Washington has even threatened sanctions under the Countering American Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). In fact, Turkey is not in Russia’s pocket, as one headline suggested, but Ankara has been alienated from the West. Here is why.

A few years ago I visited Gallipoli as the head of a delegation. It was humbling to see so many Turkish families paying respects to the ancestors who had given their lives defending the peninsula from Allied forces in 1915. On the summit of the ridge that dominates Gallipoli, I stood where Kemal Ataturk had commanded Turkish forces, before he became leader of the Turkish Republic and set his country on a path of reconciliation and alignment with his erstwhile Western enemies. Indeed, as part of that same visit I had the great honour of laying a wreath at the tomb of the great Turk in Ankara. Departing Turkey I came away with a sense of how Turks view their country and their place in the world. It is that view which, I believe, informs contemporary Turkish policy.

Much has been made of Ankara’s decision. Moscow likes to portray the decision to acquire Russian S-400 air defence missiles, and jointly develop the new S-500 system, as evidence that President Erdogan is aligning himself with President Putin. Washington is even threatening to withhold delivery of advanced F35 fighters to Turkey for fear that Moscow may be right. Rather, both Moscow and Washington simply fail to understand either Turkey or President Erdogan.

President Erdogan, like many Turks, has become increasingly frustrated with his Western allies.  The refugee crisis that resulted from the war over Turkey’s border with Syria placed the country under intense pressure with over three million people having arrived seeking shelter.  Ankara’s view is that Turkey’s European allies made little effort to assist, preferring instead to blame the Turks for allowing huge numbers of refugees to illegally enter the European Union via Greece.

The sense of alienation from ‘Europe’ Turks felt over the refugees was compounded by the final realisation by Ankara that Turkey would never be offered full membership of the EU. The accession process began as early as 1987, with negotiations for full EU membership starting in 2005, albeit painfully slowly. In 2016, Chancellor Merkel agreed a new deal with President Erdogan that would have seen control of migrant flows into Europe in return for visa-free travel for Turks across Europe. The Turks believe they have kept their side of the bargain, whilst the EU has not. In February 2019, the European Parliament voted to suspend all accession talks with Turkey, partly in response the draconian wave of arrests that followed the failed July 2016 coup.

There are additional factors that fuel Turkey’s sense of grievance. US support for Kurdish forces in the struggle against Daesh in Syria triggered deep concerns in Ankara that Washington would eventually back the creation of a de facto Kurdish state in northern Syria adjacent to Turkey’s border. The very idea is utterly inimical to Turks. President Erdogan was also offended by what he saw as tacit European support for the coup attempt by ‘liberal’ army officers.

The all-too-evident distaste of Chancellor Merkel and President Macron for President Erdogan is also a factor.  They, like several other liberal Western European leaders, view Erdogan as a reactionary determined to reverse the separation of Mosque and state started by Ataturk.  They also regret that he does not behave like a Western European liberal. The point they seem to forget is precisely that: President Erdogan is NOT a Western European liberal and shares few of the same values.

Which brings me to why Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 does not mean Ankara is now a Russian ally. President Erdogan is a traditional Turkish leader of a country faced with Russia to the north, Iran to the east Syria, Lebanon and Israel to the south, with the Balkans to contend with to the west. Shorn of what he any longer regards as reliable Western allies Erdogan is behaving like a classical Turkish or Ottoman leader of old.  He also understands all too well his country’s strengths and its weaknesses. Turkey’s strength is that it sits at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, the West and the Middle East, and (critically and decisively) between Russia, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Turkey’s weakness is precisely all of the above.  President Erdogan is thus simply doing what generations of Turkish leaders have done in ages past; focus exclusively on what he regards as Turkey’s vital interests and states in need of Turkish support work for the ‘privilege’. In other words, President Erdogan is a classical Turkish strategic horse-trader willing to deal with anyone who can offer a good deal to Turkey…and him.        

Some months ago, I had dinner in Izmir with a friend of mine, who is also a confidante of President Erdogan. He assured me that Turkey was not withdrawing from the West, but rather taking steps ensure its own security. The purchase of one system, my friend assured me, was not proof that Turkey was ‘defecting’ to the Russian camp, on intent on stymieing NATO. Rather, Turkey lived in a turbulent neighbourhood, the Russian air defence system was value-for-money, and relatively good relations with Moscow made strategic sense given where Turkey sits on the strategic map.

The big strategic question Americans and Europeans should thus ask themselves is not what Turkey can do for them, but how important Turkey is to their security, and what price are they willing to pay to keep Turkey onside? There is a particular urgency about this question for Europeans.  Europe is in headlong retreat from power-realism whilst insisting on a rules-based system in a world where those with real power prefer Realpolitik. Dealing with President Erdogan is thus a test-case for how Europeans maintain a vital partnership with a leader with whom it shares few values.  To succeed, ‘Europe’ will need to stop lecturing Ankara and start dealing with it. There is a deal to be done. The S-400 deployment does not mean Turkey is in Russia’s ‘pocket’. The only ‘pocket’ in which Turkey is ‘in’, under President Erdogan, is decidedly Turkish, and tailored exclusively in Ankara.

Julian Lindley-French  

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Spitzenlanden: European Union, Alliance or Empire?

Alphen, Netherlands. 10 July. Last week’s Franco-German coup effectively ended hopes of a real European political union, and set Europe back on the road to a European alliance of states, with a touch of empire thrown in. Having followed much of the commentary over the past week I am surprised how few have realised the enormity of what has just happened. 

A mediocre German defence minister is suddenly parachuted into the post of European Commission President. A member of the French Establishment, and current Head of the International Monetary Fund, is summarily made Head of the European Central Bank. A placeman, lame duck Belgian Prime Minister, the second Belgian out of three, is appointed President of the European Council, whilst a septuagenarian placeman Spanish foreign minister is confirmed as the next High Representative of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. Last week’s imposition by Germany and France of Ursula von der Leyen, Christine Lagarde, Charles Michel and Josep Borrell certainly came as a surprise to most Members of the European Parliament.  As an exercise in closed-door Euro-elitism/power-play it is straight from the annals of Richelieu and Bismarck. It was not meant to be like this. What happened and what are the implications for the future of the EU?

What happened? French and German power ‘happened’. There are few things that unite the very disparate ranks of the European Parliament and current Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, but last week’s Franco-German coup did.  The European Parliament had believed that a precedent had been set with the appointment of Juncker.  He had been the ‘spitzenkandidat’, chosen, and thus legitimised, by the largest political grouping in the European Parliament, the EPP.  European federalists had hoped that such a process would deepen political integration by enabling the European Parliament to ensure appointments to the Commission, and the other great offices of the European would-be ‘state, would be in its gift. Some have suggested the appointments came about because the EU 27 could not agree on other candidates. This is not the case. Berlin and Paris simply moved to decisively re-exert their control by exploiting the divisions between the member-states.

What are the implications? Last week was certainly a big step back from European Union. Whilst there have been ‘big’ country Commission presidents in the past, Roy Jenkins and Jacques Delors come to mind, the political balance within the EU has tended to be best served by having those from the smaller states as the respective heads of the European Council and European Commission.  It was assumed that such a ‘balance’ would be maintained, which is why the Dutch Socialist and Commission Vice-President, Frans Timmermans and the Swedish Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, were touted so strongly for the Commission job.  Now, that political balance has been effectively demolished by Berlin and Paris, with a German taking control of ‘power’ within the EU, whilst a Frenchwoman has been put in charge of the money. 
Here was Europe’s two power-states, Germany and France (in that order), effectively taking back control  - spitzenklanden? It is not difficult to see why. Efforts to ‘democratise’ power in the EU have left it rudderless and leaderless, adrift in a sea of dangerous change.  Critically, little has really been done of note to solve the underlying structural weaknesses of the Euro, or to prepare for a more secure Europe. Berlin and Paris clearly agree it is time for some leadership to be injected into political and economic union, albeit by stepping back from political and economic union.

Do Germany and France share a vision for the future European Union? No. President Macron appears to want to move faster towards banking and fiscal union than Germany, and wants Germans to pay for the debt mutualisation such integration would entail. Conversely, Germany wants to move towards some form of European Defence Union, with ‘VDL’ an enthusiastic champion, whilst France wants to keep defence a strictly intergovernmental business, not least to maintain links with the British.

Could Britain have stopped the coup if it had not been consumed by the disaster that is Not Brexit?  Probably not. With a few notable exceptions Germany and France have traditionally sought reasons to block the appointment of a Briton to the EU’s two senior positions – the twin presidencies of the Council and the Commission.  The reason offered has usually been that Britain is not ‘European’ enough. It is certainly not ‘European’ enough now.

There is a profound Brexit irony in these Franco-German shenanigans.  The Franco-German coup shifts the EU back to being precisely the kind of super-alliance between states London long championed, and decisively away from the European super-state that London so feared.  In a sense, the coup simply re-confirms the essential paradox at the heart of the European project: more ‘Europe’ means less European state, but few, if any, European states want less of themselves. It is also clear that neither Germany nor France are really willing to countenance any decisive loss of national sovereignty in the name of ‘Europe’, preferring instead to control ‘Europe’ in pursuit of their respective, vital national interests.
In other words, when power-push comes to power-shove the Franco-German idea of ‘Europe’, is not that far from the traditional British idea of ‘Europe’. For Germany, ‘Europe’ remains a legitimate institution in which to embed German power, so long as Germany effectively controls it. France, ‘Europe’ still simply a mechanism for a bigger France. Plus ca change…

European Union, Alliance or Empire?

Julian Lindley-French     

Friday, 5 July 2019

ACE 2: America, NATO and the Future Defence of Europe

ARRC Poland follow-up

As a follow-up to my previous blog, below is my considered response to a senior and much-respected British colleague and friend who contacted me about the wider strategic utility/challenge of deploying the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) to Poland. 


Many thanks for the comment and good, as ever, to hear from you. Of course, you are right about HQ ARRC, it is only an HQ. Therefore, key to my thinking would be the new ACE Heavy Mobile-style force (recognising the limitations on the old one) I recommend, which the ARRC would develop and command. My colleague and friend Paul Cornish suggests the emphasis should be on ‘heavy’ as we have far too many light mobile (i.e. cheap) forces in Europe.  He is correct, even if I would take twenty-first century ‘heavy’ to mean any force big enough, agile enough and lethal enough to seriously complicate the thinking and planning of General Gerasimov and his Staff, or any group or force that threatens Europe. In that light, ‘heavy’ today means the capability and capacity to generate intended effects and outcomes across the seven domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge/awareness.  

Let me deal with the issues implicit in such an idea over two periods – the short-term and the medium to longer-term. Over the short-term, which is pretty much between now and 2024, what I am suggesting is a make-fix with a focus on boosting the deterrent value, and thus messaging, of the new NATO Military Strategy. As you know, all such planning requires a series of balances and trade-offs. The primary aim must be to maintain the forces, resources and infrastructure of US forces in Germany central to any meaningful Allied defence, whilst enabling Multinational Corps Northeast (MNC NE) to maintain its vital strategic focus and to enhance its capability and credibility in that role. Having examined the issue at some length a ‘Fort Trump’ in Poland, that some are calling for, would be little more than a short-term political gesture at the expense of longer-term deterrent and defence.  This is because it would simply create another trip-wire, albeit at the expense and capability of the very US force central to the defence of the Eastern Flank. 


There can be no perfect defence given the correlation of forces in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea Regions, but boosting deterrent values therein would be a useful first step. Moving the ARRC to Poland would also help plug NATO’s two deterrent gaps: between Allied conventional and nuclear forces, and between the forward deployed forces and the bulk of all-too-slow-to-move NATO European forces.  Critically, the deployment of the ARRC would also need to be linked to the creation and development of a new ACE-style Heavy Mobile Force (ACE2?).

Project ACE 2 would also inject impetus to the now politically-becalmed enhanced NATO Response Force (eNRF), give some meaning to the concept of an agile 360 degree Alliance that can support all of its flank states in an emergency, and firm up the Eastern and South-Eastern Flanks by creating a much firmer, interlocking command and force hub between US forces in Germany and EFP/TFP forces. In the first instance, the US and UK would have to support such a deployment with both forces and resources, over time the nature of the force and its very capability and capacity would act as a real framework for the development of more deployable, more agile, and more lethal European forces.  Having lived through too many false dawns of European defence such a framework would be far more useful than yet more meaningless EU defence ‘aspirations’, or more empty, hollowed-out force acronyms.

Europeans must wake up and smell the American coffee

Let me now turn to the medium to longer terms, and my wider vision implicit herein. At the heart of my thinking is the need for Europeans to generate sufficiency of strategic ambition that would in turn generate a force/forces that could act as a credible first responder in the event of an emergency with Russia or elsewhere, or even simultaneously, the ‘worst-case’ which Europe’s leaders have for too long dangerously refused to countenance.  

NATO’s adapted strategic concept should be a future Alliance that enables US forces to act as the global West’s GRAND STRATEGIC GLOBAL HEAVY MOBILE FORCE (deliberate caps) designed to add support to front line allies, be they in Asia-Pacific or Europe. To that end, the work the Alliance has done on establishing NATO Standards from force generation to coalition command and control (C2) and beyond should be shared, and further developed, with the likes of Australia, Japan and South Korea. This would enable the word’s democracies, centred upon the United States, to form a matrix of capable first responders to which the US could add critical weight when and where necessary. 

Indeed, I am increasingly of the view that if Allied 'deterrence' is to work it must be seen in the context of the global challenge from strategic autocracies, and the strategically intolerant, to the US-centric global 'West', which is more idea than place. Such 'deterrence' will not be established or assured by diluting the cross domain fighting power of US forces by forcing them to offset Allied weaknesses in disparate theatres. All that does is afford the adversary the timing, nature and opportunity to do their worst in the way they would wish. Rather, any adversary must be fully aware that the future US strategic global heavy mobile force could and would act swiftly and decisively across the seven domains of contemporary and future warfare.  

Less balance sheet, more power

Let me now conclude with some thoughts about the role of the UK, our own country. My hope is that we will soon see the end of the elite managerial/balance sheet/defeatist London with the injection of at least some strategic ambition. Your central point about the UK is entirely right:  For our size, and wealth, if not destroyed by bad policies, we should be able to field two good and deployable divisions, and two carriers, with proper escort and logistic support”. What concerns me is that if London’s current strategic illiteracy is maintained you other point will be equally valid, “At a pinch I see one just about deployable division and one thinly protected carrier as the most that we shall achieve”. 
Britain today punches far beneath its weight so this moment of transition offers at least a chance for the UK to demonstrate a return to strategic seriousness and commitment, but only if London is equally willing to commit fully to the defence of Europe. My sense is that will only happen if the Americans tell the Brits to do it, as Whitehall has become far too defeatist, the very essence of Little Britain.
There is another key role for Britain to play. ACE 2 would also need a maritime/amphibious component. Another line of British strategy would be for the Royal Navy, in partnership with the French Navy, to act as THE maritime/amphibious command hub for European navies in the North Atlantic and, if needs be, the Mediterranean. After all, the Royal Navy is developing into an important coalition hub force.  Such an ambition/force if realised would certainly ease the pressure on US forces in and around Europe, thus boosting the deterrent effect of those same forces world-wide.  However, for such a new European force concept to be realised Paris will need to stop trying to punish Britain for Brexit. France can punish Britain, or have a strategic partnership with Britain that would add defence value, it cannot have or do both! It could even be called a European Intervention Initiative if that made the French happy. 

The new global transatlantic relationship

In a sense, formal alliances are becoming less formal with the command centre of gravity of Western deterrence/defence moving towards Five Eyes-type structures, organised around and with global reach US forces at their core.  Fleet of mind, eye and foot they must be capable of striking anywhere and anytime across many domains. If Europeans stopped conspiring to weaken US forces, and began instead to enable them, the Americans would be able to reverse the current, adverse strategic situation in which it is all too easy for our adversaries to keep us off-balance – politically, socially and militarily. If such a new transatlantic relationship would be realised adversaries would be unsure where, how, when and with what the US would strike in support of their allies the world-over, all of whom would, in effect, become trip-wires, albeit powerful ones.  Britain can help lead such thinking and doing.

The simple, hard, and immutable big truth is that Britain’s national defence, and that of the rest of Europe, is utterly dependent on the US, and will be so for the foreseeable future. And, given that the over-stretch of US forces will intensify if the current European ‘strategies’ and ‘capabilities’ are adhered to, Britain’s security and defence policy across the civil-military spectrum will need to established on a simple premise: how to help maintain the power of the US, and the value of its conventional and nuclear deterrent in and around Europe.  By the way, what else does NATO actually exist for?

All best,


Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

NATO: Fort Trump? Try ARRC Poland

“The [NATO military] strategy will guide Allied military decision-making and provide NATO’s Military Authorities with a definitive policy reference, enabling us to deliver our core mission – defending almost 1 billion people”.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, 22 May 2019

2 July 2019
NATO’s Ten Day Nightmare

At the core of NATO’s many challenges is a refusal by many of the Allies to consider the worst-case. NATO’s nightmare is a Russian war plan that fits all-too neatly into NATO’s defence plan, or what passes for one given there is no actual standing defence plan. Put simply, the Russians could well have achieved their ‘limited’ war aims in the Baltic States and stopped by the time the bulk of NATO forces begin to move. NATO would re-discover all too quickly von Moltke’s old dictum that all plans collapse on contact with the enemy. In such circumstances, there would be little or no time to rotate forces and resources through some neatly conceived campaign plan.  They would be faced, instead, with a Russian fait accompli in the Baltic States (or indeed elsewhere), and with it a very profound question; are NATO Europeans willing to go to war with Russia to rescue their allies? If they did, they would do so knowing all too well the risk of nuclear war. If they did not, NATO would be dead.

Last Monday, I went to Szczecin in Poland to visit Headquarters, Multinational Corps Northeast (MNC NE) to brief the impressive Lieutenant-General Slawomir Wojchiechowski, together wih senior NATO commanders, on my assessment of the strategic situation in the Baltic Sea Region.  On Wednesday, I went in to Tartu, Estonia, close to the Russian border, to address an important event on hybrid warfare and grey zone operations, which was co-hosted by the Baltic Defence College and Washington’s National Defense University, of which I have the honour to be a Distinguished Fellow. This extended think/do piece is both my assessment of the week and my recommendations.

My message? The ‘correlation of forces’ between Russian forces in Moscow’s Western Military District, and those on NATO’s Eastern Flank, is dangerously out of balance. It is an imbalance that is exacerbated by a lack of joined-upness between Allied governments, a lack of cohesion between NATO headquarters, and a critical lack of forces and resources that would be available to NATO commanders in an emergency.

Deterring means defending

If NATO cannot defend, it cannot deter. That to me is the implicit message in NATO’s new military strategy which is good, as far as it goes. However, growing world-wide pressures on US forces, allied to severe limitations on the capabilities and capacities of NATO’s European forces, mean the strategy is simply unable ease the profound and growing tensions that exist between the ends, ways and means of NATO’s Strategic Concept – the real one, not the out-of-date published one.  It also falls far short of the strategic ambition needed to provide a credible deterrent and defence posture around 360 degrees of threat because NATO forces lack both the weight of arms and speed of response upon which credible deterrence stands. Critically, the strategy fails to adequately close NATO’s two critical and dangerous deterrence gaps. First, between NATO’s conventional and nuclear deterrents, and, second, between NATO’s forward deployed forces and the bulk of the national forces the Alliance would need to call upon in an emergency.  Quality, heavy, rapidly-deployable forces are the Achilles’ heel of the NATO command and force structures. Critically, those that do exist are simply too slow, too few in number, subject to too many national caveats, or too distant to meet an attack by Russia that General Gerasimov and his Staff spend much of their time planning.  It is a crisis, for that is what it is, that would be made far worse if the Allies faced simultaneous crises on multiple fronts, as could well be the reality. What to do?

The facts speak for themselves. In the Baltic States there are four brigades with no tanks, combat aircraft and little artillery and air defence, reinforced by one multinational NATO battlegroup in each of the Baltic States designed to act as a ‘trip wire’ force in the event of a Russian attack. Trip-wire to what?

On the other side of the Estonian-Russian border, close to where I was speaking last week, the Russian Order of Battle includes the 1st Guards Tank Army, 6th and 20th Combined Arms Armies, 11th Army Corps in Kaliningrad, 3 airborne divisions, 3 Spetsnaz Special Forces Brigades, 10 rocket and artillery brigades and 30 tank/motor rifle brigades/regiments plus one naval infantry brigade. There are also significant Russian air and naval assets in the region, all of which are reinforced by Russia’s short-range, theatre and strategic nuclear forces.

In other words, Russian forces enjoy such local, and possibly regional-strategic superiority that NATO deterrence is close to being a dangerous bluff. New military strategy or no, at their current level of readiness the bulk of NATO forces would take months to assemble. Critically, in a war, vital US reinforcements will need to cross a contested Atlantic and land at vulnerable Bremerhaven, whilst military mobility across Europe will remain severely compromised for the foreseeable future.  

Complex strategic coercion: adapting to what?

If the credibility of NATO deterrence is to be reinforced, and quickly, existing forces and command resources need to be used far more effectively and efficiently across the entire 360 degree bandwidth of complex strategic coercion. That imperative places particular importance on NATO’s force hub in Germany and Poland, around which NATO pivots. This space is vital both for the defence of the Eastern Flank and the Baltic Sea Region, as well as for reinforcing support for Allies in south-east and southern Europe.

At the 2018 Brussels Summit NATO took some steps to ‘adapt’ the Alliance to meet that 360 degree challenge posed by an array of evolving and dynamic threats, and thus ease the deterrence and defence dilemma with which NATO forces must contend. The modernisation of Alliance collective defence will be reinforced with the so-called 4x30 initiative.  Efforts will also be made to enhance and improve military mobility in an emergency, much of the work to be done in conjunction with the EU. The NATO Command Structure and Force Structure are in the process of being reinforced and modernised, with a new Atlantic Command and the German-led Joint Support and Enabling Command (JSEC) being stood up. The Alliance is also moving to strengthened defences against irregular threats with the establishment of a Cyberspace Operations Centre and Counter Hybrid Support Teams.

For all that I remain deeply concerned and sceptical. NATO’s collective defences are extremely brittle and could well crack in the face of a determined enemy. My specific concerns focus on the NATO command structure, the location of key commands and the cohesion between them, as well as the false assumptions underpinning policy and planning about the nature of future conflict, and how it would impact upon Alliance forces.

Take Multinational Corps Northeast as an example. It is NATO’s ‘unblinking eye’ on NATO’s Eastern Flank, and thus central to Alliance deterrence and defence.  From my observations, MNC NE is doing all in its power to meet a central challenge to the Alliance that would be more realistic if its Area of Responsibility (AOR) was re-christened NATO’s Eastern Front, although that may resonate too eloquently with history. In any case, HQ MNC NE would be at the core of any organised NATO response to a Russian attack on the Baltic States.

Unfortunately, the constraints on MNC NE typify the ends, ways and means crisis faced by the Alliance as a whole.  It has no authority to co-ordinate between the separate forces of the three Baltic States in the event of an attack, even though it would provide command and control for Baltic ground forces and act as a Baltic Corps HQ with NATO-trained, Baltic commanders and staff officers. MNC NE would also be pivotal for organising the reception, staging and onward movement of reinforcing NATO forces into Poland, whilst also acting as a corps-level HQ to command Polish forces that would be critical in any emergency.  And yet, Szczecin is some 900km from the Lithuanian border!  

Move the ARRC to Poland

What is needed is a reinforced heavy command hub in NATO’s German-Poland pivot space that could respond to emergencies in strength across the full bandwidth of Alliance contingencies. A cluster of mutually-reinforcing, hardened, deployable headquarters able to shift their respective centres of gravity in support of each other to meet all and any emergency.  

The Poles are acutely aware that they sit not only in the midst of NATO’s pivotal space, but also in the middle of NATO’s deterrence gaps, which is why there have been calls from Warsaw for American forces to be stationed in Poland, at what President Duda rather mischievously dubbed Fort Trump. This would be a mistake. The Americans need their German command and logistics hub, as well as their vital strategic relationship with the Bundeswehr, to provide the hard core foundation of any reinforced defence should the need arise. It would be better to leave US forces permanently-stationed in Germany.

Solution? Move the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) from sleepy Gloucestershire in the UK, where it is currently based, to Poland, possibly supported by a US Army corps.  There would be a range of benefits from such a redeployment:
1. The ARRC could provide the command backbone for a new mobile heavy force that would see a much upgraded enhanced NATO Response Force evolve into a twenty-first century Allied Command Europe Heavy Mobile Force.  Such a force would be a true 360 degree force and would work closely with and in an emergency reinforce, MNC NE and MND NE.

2. NATO planning is built on the premise that its nine deployable corps headquarters would rotate command during an extended emergency. In fact, there is every possibility that an emergency would be far from ‘extended’. What is needed is to prevent such a crisis from happening in the first place. Moving the ARRC to Poland would send a strong message of reinforced deterrence and enable MNC NE to retain its ‘unblinking eye’ on the defence of the Baltic Sea Region.

3. The deployment of the ARRC to Poland would improve interoperability between the respective headquarters and promote mutual mentoring. The deployment of the ARRC to Poland would thus not only create a much heavier command and response cluster centred on Poland, it could also help establish a new NATO standard for command cohesion and interoperability through a series of pan-command, ‘test to fail’ development exercises.

4. Moving the ARRC to Poland would help to break down command barriers between the nations. For all NATO’s on-paper cohesion each deployable headquarters is very much a national (and/or separate entity) over which the two Joint Force Commands have at best nominal control.  There is also a lot of petty jealousy between the headquarters. The ARRC is a case in point. It emerged from the old British I Corps and was withdrawn (ridiculously) from Rheindahlen in Germany in 2010, when Britain stopped being a power and became a balance-sheet. It also has a reputation amongst the other corps headquarters of being arrogant and stand-offish. Deploying the ARRC to Poland with the support of US forces in Germany would help reduce such perceptions.

5. The deployment of the ARRC to Poland would show that America’s European allies are willing to solve Alliance problems and share the necessary burdens with the US needed to make the new NATO military strategy credible. It would also demonstrate that the Allies were conscious of the growing global responsibilities of US forces, and the growing pressures they are under.

6. In the wake of the Brexit mess a decision by London to offer the ARRC for such a role would go far beyond the current work Britain is doing with the Joint Expeditionary Force. It would send a strong political signal that Britain remains firmly committed to the defence of continental Europe and is not going to withdraw behind its nuclear shield.  A signal that would be further strengthened if the new British prime minister offered more British forces in support of the deployment.   

7. The deployment of the ARRC to Poland, together with (inter alia) the Eurocorps, the German-Netherlands Corps, and NRDC-Italy, could also help establish an active framework for the development of high-end, US-friendly European intervention forces. As such, the deployment would be in line with President Macron’s European Intervention Initiative and an extension of the Franco-British Combined Joint Expeditionary Force. In so doing, it would help promote a European force development hub centred on France, Germany, Poland and the UK.
Fort Trump? Try ARRC Poland

Some will no doubt suggest that such a forward deployment of the ARRC would make it vulnerable to a Russian first strike.  Such a threat is real, be it in Poland or Gloucestershire. However, whilst deploying the ARRC to Poland would not completely close the deterrence gaps, it would immediately add weight, speed and credibility to NATO’s deterrence, NATO agility, and NATO responsiveness across the collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security missions. Critically, it would reinforce the mission and credibility of the Alliance’s forward deployed forces in the Baltic States and Poland by establishing a more credible graduated response to threats across the conflict spectrum. Above all, it would complicate the thinking of Russia’s General Gerasimov, as well as his experienced and able Staff, by reinforcing NATO’s spine in the critical strategic space in Poland. At present, President Putin and General Gerasimov believe NATO’s Eastern and South-Eastern Flanks enjoy peace at their discretion.
Of course, the deployment of the ARRC to Poland would not compensate for a lack of sufficiently robust European forces, armed with sufficient weight and agility, upon which credible deterrence really rests. To solve that conundrum NATO’s Europeans need to wake up to the new reality of the contemporary and future transatlantic relationship.  The Americans will only be able to assure the security and defence of Europe if Europeans do an awful lot more deterring and defending themselves. In other words, and for the sake of NATO and Europe’s citizens, European leaders must finally stop talking defence and start doing it! Deploying the ARRC to Poland would be an important first step up that particular road.

Julian Lindley-French