hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

N.A.T.O.A.I?

“Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe”.
H.G. Wells

Brussels, Belgium. 17 October. Yesterday, I took part in a small but great meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. The purpose of the meeting was to report to the ‘Sec-Gen’ on progress towards completion of a series of reports for the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative.  The main report will be published in a month or so, and will be entitled The Future Tasks of the Adapted Alliance. Watch this, and many other spaces.  For obvious reasons I will not disclose too much of what was discussed. However, I was deeply impressed by Secretary-General Stoltenberg’s understanding of the rapidly-growing defence-strategic importance of artificial intelligence (AI). Over lunch at the Atlantic Treaty Association the brilliant Amir Husain, Founder and CEO of sparkcognition, an American company at the cutting edge (my cliché of the day?) of AI, gave a masterclass on the importance of AI and intelligent machines across multiple domains of human endeavour.  Now, I would not go as far as to suggest it was AI for dummies, but this dummy sure did learn a lot.   

NATO maintains defence by keeping the threshold of deterrence high. NATO is a defensive alliance the principal purpose of which is to cast a credible deterrence and defence posture by striking a balance between military capability, military capacity, and affordability. This is NATO’s iron triangle. However, Europe’s under-invested and under-capitalised military forces are dangerously weak and fast losing their deterrent value. Yes, the European Allies are spending more money on defence, but in the all-important battle of relative conventional military power NATO Europe continues to decline.
Right now there is a gap, a vector, between NATO’s conventional deterrent and its nuclear deterrent, which is – to employ Yorkshire strategic language – bloody dangerous.  Worse, Europeans can no longer expect the Americans to offset European weakness indefinitely.  It is unlikely, given the shifting balance of military power in the world, that the Americans will be defence-strong everywhere, all of the time. Thus, NATO Europe’s military power is vital to the enduring defence-credibility of the Alliance.  Yes, enshrined in NATO collective defence is nuclear deterrence.  However, if NATO’s conventional forces fail early in a future war some European allies could be faced with that most unpalatable of choices; surrender or nuke. NATO must assure and ensure no Ally ever faces that choice.

AI could help close NATO’s deterrence gap by assisting NATO European forces to increase their defence effectiveness through enhanced defence efficiency by exploiting such technologies without increasing the size of the peacetime force. AI would also ensure European and US forces will be able to work together safely and efficiently into the future.  This is because NATO’s deterrence gap is not simply a function of the exaggerated legacy weakness of too much of Europe’s military metal (and too many of Europe’s military people).  It is also a function of a growing ‘technology-interoperability’ gap between US forces and their European counterparts. Indeed, such is the revolutionary nature of AI that the very strategies and structures of the forces that employ it will themselves be changed radically by them. AI will also create winners and losers.  

There is, however, a major impediment to N.A.T.O.A.I: NATO does not understand the new AI defence sector, and the new defence sector does not understand NATO.  Critically, NATO does not understand the companies driving AI, and with which it will need to work to fashion an affordable twenty-first century defence. Nor, at present, is NATO (or many of its nations) ready to countenance the radical change in its own approach to procurement and acquisition if vital new relationships with such industries are to be forged via a new NATO defence-industrial partnership. NATO is simply too clunky, an analogue alliance in a digital age.

What must NATO do?  First, NATO must gain a far better understanding of the nature of AI and associated technologies, and their potential application to credible and affordable defence. Second, NATO must become far more acquisition nimble. The companies driving AI are not defence giants who can afford to wait for five years or more to be paid.  They need to be sure that if they invest limited people and resources on NATO projects their existence will not be threatened by sclerotic acquisition practices with fielding times so long that the defence of Europe is also put at risk.  Third, defence planners and technology-drivers like Mr Hussein need to better understand each other.  Too many defence planners in Europe do not really understand AI (even if they talk about it), too many technology-drivers do not understand either Europe or defence.  

Why N.A.T.O.A.I?  AI is not simply another civilian technology with military applications. It is an enabling architecture.  Indeed, NATO IS architecture and thus the natural locus for the development of collective AI-empowered defence.  AI, robotics, intelligent drone-swarms, big data, and a host of new technologies are now being applied to that most basic of human endeavours – war.  NATO needs to grasp this new reality and grip AI. This is because AI can a) act as an affordable defence-multiplier; and b) China, Russia, and the US are far AI-advanced of NATO Europeans.  

If you don’t believe me then let President Putin educate you.  Last month he said; “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”  Need I say more?

Julian Lindley-French


Thursday, 12 October 2017

Brexit: Germany Risks Turning Remainers into Leavers

“The secret of politics? Make a good treaty with Britain”.
Otto von Bismarck (actually he said Russia, but you get my drift)

Alphen, Netherlands. 12 October. It was a telling moment.  At a recent conference I was engaged in a forthright, but honest debate with a senior German colleague I have known for many years, and whom I both like and respect.  Suddenly, as I was in mid-sentence, he turned on his heels and walked away. It was rudeness bordering in contempt, which is pretty much Berlin’s attitude towards Britain these days.  This was not an isolated incident. What struck me was the gulf at the conference between senior non-official Brits and senior non-official Germans at the conference over Brexit.  There were three convinced British ‘big picture’ Remainers (including me) who became increasingly frustrated to the point of protest at what all three of us saw as the intransigence of our German colleagues. They seemed determined to punish the British people for an egregious act of democracy that committed Britain to leaving what was meant to be a free association of democracies. These are not at all unreasonable people, so why the attitude? There are four reasons; Berlin politics, Germany’s legalistic tradition, the German need for control, and echoes of history.

However, before I dive into my main argument, let me say at the outset that Germans have some grounds for the contempt in which they clearly hold Britain.  The British people have been very badly-led by their leaders over a good too many years. Yet, as Chancellor Merkel said earlier this year, Britain remains an immensely powerful actor and should be treated as such, which is clearly not the case at present.

Berlin politics: Germany does not presently have a government, which tends to set policy into a default mode. Chancellor Merkel is locked in negotiations with FDP ‘liberals’ and the Greens in an effort to form a new coalition.  For her this is not the moment to be seen to ‘award’ Britain for what many Germans see at best as a family tragedy, and at worst an act of treachery.

Germany’s legalistic tradition: Britain and Germany have very different foreign policy traditions, at least since World War Two.  The Germans have a very legalistic approach to international relations as an antidote to both Machtpolitik and Realpolitik (German words for a reason), and the excessive emphasis on power for power’s sake that characterised German foreign policy between the fall of Bismarck in 1890 and 1945.  One delegate to the conference went as far as to say that European treaties could not be changed, simply because the treaties exist. This is nonsense. International treaties exist to prevent extremes of unregulated state behaviour. If the situation changes and threatens to see an uptick in such behaviour, as is the case with Brexit, then new treaties must be forged.

Berlin’s need for control: Germany’s mixed reaction to President Macron’s 26 September ‘more Europe’ speech was illuminating.  Berlin rejected the idea of a European finance ministry and decisive fiscal convergence for fear it would make the German taxpayer liable for the massive debts of countries like, err, France. However, if Berlin was really committed to the idea of creating a state called ‘Europe’ (which German rhetoric implies), and accepted that Germany itself would one day be reduced to something like a German ‘lande’ today, then such institutions would be vital. Rather, Berlin sees the EU more as a mechanism for exerting German control, than a prelude to some European super-state.  The irony is Germany is Britain’s best guarantor against the realisation of such a super-state.  Berlin is angry with Britain because Brexit implies a loss of German control. Did Germany ever seriously think it could ever control the British?  Which brings me to history.

History in Europe is like a fart at a state banquet – everyone can smell it, but everyone pretends to ignore it.  In many ways, Britain and Germany are natural allies in that they both normally take a pragmatic attitude to inner-European relations.  A legitimate German frustration is the sense that London has taken leave of its senses across a whole raft of matters strategic – a frustration that regular readers know I share.  Unfortunately, Berlin is also the problem, but unable to see it. Contemporary Germany is appallingly bad at holding a mirror up to itself. One question the Germans should be asking and are not is this; why are all three of Europe’s major peripheral powers, in their varying ways, – Britain, Russia, and Turkey – now alienated from Germany and the ‘European Project’? One reason is that all three, in their varying ways, fear the European Project is in fact a German Project. Senior Brits will not say that publicly, but it has been mentioned to me in private on several occasions.

As I write, the fifth round of Brexit talks between chief negotiators David Davis and Michel Barnier are about to stall.  My sources tell me that it is not the fault of M. Barnier, or even the European Commission, but primarily Berlin, egged on by an opportunistic Paris.  Berlin must be careful. Most commentators seem not to realise that the next two months prior to the December European Council are the most critical for the entire negotiating process.  There is much talk in Britain at present of ‘no deal’. If German intransigence continues there will, indeed, be no deal and the new post-Brexit European political settlement vital to the stability of Europe could be put in danger.  Worse, more ‘big picture’ Remainers like me, who see themselves as friends of modern Germany will switch to leave. France?  Paris cannot expect to preserve a close strategic defence relationship with London if it continues to play ‘mini-me’ to Berlin, and seek to scavenge from the carcass of a dead Britain. 1. Britain will not die. 2. Britain will not forget.  

Even though I remain a ‘big picture’ Remainer there could come a point when friends and allies who seek to damage my country stop being my friends and allies, and become something else. Maybe Berlin needs to think about that…respectfully.


Julian Lindley-French 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Defence Blindness: Why Are Our Leaders Destroying Our Armed Forces?

Adjust: ‘to adapt oneself to one’s environment’; ‘Cuts’; ‘to reduce expenditure, to prune.’
The Concise Oxford Dictionary
Cuts; ‘to adapt oneself to one’s [political] environment’; Adjust: ‘to reduce expenditure, to prune’.
British Ministry of Defence Speak

Alphen, Netherlands. 10 October. I am on nonsense-watch this morning. This blog emerged from a weekend debate I had with a British friend with very senior experience at the top of the Whitehall machine.  He raised two interesting questions about defence policy, not just in Britain but across Europe.  First, if what is desirable/necessary is politically impossible should one call for its enactment? Second, would an alternative not be to point out the consequences of political choices and failure? This raised in my mind a third question. Why are Europe’s leaders destroying Europe’s armed forces?

Take Britain. If the British defence budget goes on increasing at the rate the British government claims, the British armed forces will soon cease to exist! London is in the midst of yet another of those ‘defence reviews’, which I am assured is an ‘adjustment’ to the defence budget, not a further ‘cut’. It is a cut. This one is euphemistically called the National Security Capabilities Review which will see Britain’s already woefully small armed forces lose yet more military capabilities.  These were capabilities that as recently as 2015 were not only deemed ‘critical’, but irreducible.  If, for no other reason than to demonstrate and reinforce Britain’s continuing importance to the post-Brexit defence of Europe one might think London would desist from such a further cut to defence. But no. Unfortunately, Britain is not alone in pursuing politics at the expense of strategy.

Why?  Too many leaders prefer, i.e. choose sound money at the expense of sound defence.  Take Britain again. Yes, the annual deficit and national debt are far higher than should ideally (in an ideal world) be the case, although both are far lower than they were for much of the twentieth century. However, London does not live in an ideal world and yet chooses to emphasise not an ineffective policy of austerity, whilst at the same time favouring a relatively low tax regime. Now, I am (absolutely) no Corbynite, but at a time of high demand on the public purse, and a relatively small said purse something clearly has to give. Unfortunately, sound defence and sound money are at opposing poles between income and expenditure, and between strategic responsibility and political benefit, with everything else in between. London has adopted arbitrary austerity targets based on dodgy statistics whilst pursuing relatively low taxes, and yet maintains relatively high spending on areas such as health, and education for a fast-growing population clamouring for ever more entitlement and threatening political mayhem (Corbyn) if denied. Consequently, London chooses to make the armed forces weak, and thus accepts a higher degree of defence risk. It is not even grown-up politics, let alone sound strategy.

Unfortunately, Britain is by no means alone. Defying defence gravity (in both senses of the word) is also the position of Berlin, which is critical to what happens across the rest of Europe. This is why the Germans are rowing back (along with the Belgians, Dutch, and other Europeans) from meeting the solemn commitment Berlin made at the 2014 NATO Wales Summit to spend 2% GDP on defence by 2024.  Now, one can argue until the few defence cows we Europeans have left about the utility and/or appropriateness of the ‘2%’ Defence Investment Pledge. Put it this way, 2% spent reasonably well on defence is at least twice as effective as the roughly ‘1%’ many Europeans on average spend on defence, and spend badly. 

Germany’s defence effort is, not unreasonably, still influenced by the dark eloquence of Germany’s none-too-distant history, and Berlin’s legitimate concerns about the structural weaknesses of the euro, and the cost of keeping the single currency stable. And, given history, sound money is sound defence for Berlin – period.  However, by placing sound money above sound defence, Berlin imposes its own neuroses on the rest of the Europe it leads through the EU, and enables other Europeans to slide away from solemn defence commitments.

Why is a gap between sound money and sound defence so dangerous?  Danger develops when the balance between sound defence and sound money becomes so out of kilter that one or the other effectively collapses. Russia suffers from the diametrically opposing problem; unsound defence at the expense of both a sound economy and sound money.  The problem for European defence, as I implied in my last blog, is that whilst both unsound money and unsound defence can blow up in your face, only one is could at some point produce an unheralded nuclear mushroom cloud!

Here is my point (and there is one) if a European political leader accepts a higher degree of security and defence risk by cutting the very military capabilities and capacities upon which credible deterrence and defence sit then one at least ought to try and balance that by being more command and efficient and resource effective. Unfortunately, such ‘integration’ is impossible for a host of political reasons. The result is that all Europeans, NATO and EU members alike, are trapped in a kind of defence black hole between dangerously low defence investment and growing risk.  In other words, Europe’s 'leaders' are helping to create the very ‘risk space’ through which a politically unstable, economically weak, but militarily over-bearing Russia, could, in extremis, drive a new Armata tank (and many of its ilk).

Does all of the above really matter? The problem is not only do European leaders actually believe their own defence-blind rhetoric, the very real impact on European armed forces is already proving fatal. Last week the Dutch Research Council for Security published a report on Dutch UN peacekeeping operations in Mali that was so damning that both the Dutch Defence Minister and the Chief of the Netherlands Defence Staff stepped down. The essence of the report was that in April 2016 two Dutch soldiers were killed, and one gravely injured, because in 2006 the Dutch had bought cheap and untested mortars from the Bulgarians for operations in Afghanistan.  The implications of the report are clear; old, and clearly ‘dodgy’ second-hand munitions were in use only because a Dutch government deployed over-stretched, but under-funded forces for political reasons, and for which Dutch soldiers payed the ultimate price.  The continual under-funding of the Netherlands Armed Forces over twenty years and more (See my 2010 co-authored RUSI Whitehall Report on the state of the Dutch armed forces entitled “Between the Polder and a Hard Place”) meant the force was thus deployed at a far higher level of risk to its own safety than should have been the case, if they were properly funded and equipped.

Therein lies the essential problem of European defence – too many of Europe’s political leaders are strategically-illiterate and defence-blind, and only listen to political advice, not strategic guidance.  Worse, they listen to economists! Unfortunately, if governments in Britain, and elsewhere in Europe, go on treating defence budgets as contingency reserves for funding politically convenient projects.  If, in so doing, they abandon the proper management of strategic risk. And, if sound money is deemed to be more important than sound defence and at any cost, then at some point risk will be replaced with disaster.

Back to the British. The reason for the ‘adjustment’ is to counter the fall in the value of the pound since the Brexit vote and the impact of said fall on the cost of defence imports and thus defence cost inflation.  The ‘cost’ is believed to be as high as £30bn. In the past London would have made such an adjustment by drawing money from the contingency reserve. Today, London merely cuts the force, proving conclusively that both the 2015 National Security Strategy and the Strategic Defence and Security Review were not worth the paper they were written on.

My British friend answered the question at the head of this blog in his usual succinct and crafted manner; “Strategic circumstances demand certain measures; if political decisions prevent those measures being taken, then the consequences are a high strategic risk. That has to be weighed against the arguments for those decisions. Both strategy and politics in the present world are about choices: denying that is not grown up and could prove (literally) fatal”.

At other times in history perhaps European leaders could get away with defence blindness. However, as Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman suggests in his new book, “The Future of War: A History” (London: Allen Lane), war most definitely has a future. So, why are Europe’s leaders destroying Europe’s armed forces?  Because too many of them are in denial, and history could well damn them (and us) for it. Worse, by consistently weakening their own defences the defence blind make future war more likely.


Julian Lindley-French 

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Deep Battle and the Russian Bear Trap

“Tukhachevsky hid Napoleon’s baton in his rucksack”.
Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky

Riga, Latvia. 4 October.  Can Russia reform before it starts a war? The Riga Conference is one of Europe’s top security conferences. It is excellent not just because of the quality of the organisation by the Latvian Transatlantic Organisation, but because the conference takes place on the front-line of freedom, and thus concentrates the minds of all present.  This year was no exception. Not surprisingly, the Russian bear loomed large, with the conference reinforcing a dangerous reality.  Russia is in desperate need of economic and social reform, but any such reforms would sweep away the Putin regime. Ergo, no reform.  So, how can the regime stay in power without reform?  Easy, Moscow creates artificial grievances with the West, manufactures a non-existent threat from the West, and then appeals to the deep, deep wells of Russian patriotism for support against an enemy that ‘threatens’ to surround Mother Russia.

On Saturday, I went with a small group of distinguished colleagues to visit the Latvian Land Forces Base deep in the woods at Adazi close to the strategic road between Pskov in Russia and the Latvian capital, Riga.  The group was hosted and briefed by the extremely impressive Latvian Land Forces Commander, who has some 3000 men under his direct command at the headquarters. Also present were some 1200 Canadian, Italian, Spanish, and other Alliance forces, that comprise the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) Battlegroup, Latvia. Now, my criticisms herein in no way imply criticism of my host. They are doing their level best with what they have to achieve what they can.

The collective mission of both forces (there is no single, unified command structure), in parallel with that of partner forces stationed in Estonia and Lithuania, is to deter Russian forces from invading the Baltic States.  It is a serious mission. Just across the Russian border there are some 120,000 of Russia’s best troops, including the famous 1st Guards Tank Army.  Most of these forces are centred on Pskov, some 50 miles/80 kms from the Latvian border, with a significant portion of the land in between given over to military exercising.

One of my jobs is to ask tough questions and crash-test thinking. I am good at it. They are the kind of questions that politicians, bureaucrats, and often military commanders, find inconvenient. My purpose is not to trip them up, but to make them look up and think ‘outside of the box’, to employ that vastly over-used, but rarely acted upon military metaphor.  So, bear with me (no pun intended) whilst I unfold the logic of the unease I felt as I was driven away from Adazi. 

Let me start with President Putin’s dilemma. What matters to Moscow is the appearance of strength beyond Russia’s borders, to reinforce the strength of the regime within Russia’s borders. Russia today is a toxic mix of economic decline, military expansionism, strategic paranoia (‘encircled by enemies’), and self-reinforcing nationalist assertion.  The implication being that if Russia really is unreformable, then the Russian state really is on the road to collapse.  That was certainly the message of an excellent panel at the Riga Conference. Now, a caveat is needed at this juncture.  Western Europeans (in particular) often under-estimate the toughness of the Russian people, the willingness of an awful lot of them to accept far less freedom and prosperity than other Europeans, and their passionate love of country (something for which I admire the Russians, and which not many other Europeans seemingly understand these days).  For all that Moscow clearly has a problem or two it is failing to address, and clearly has little idea how to.

Given that, what are Russia’s regional-strategic policy options? First, there is no reason to believe Russian policy will change. President Putin has already shown in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, and indeed Syria, that he is willing to use political and military adventurism to shore up his domestic position. Second, there is no reason to believe Russia’s leadership will change. President-for-Life Putin will ensure his ‘victory’ in the March 2018 presidential elections.  Therefore, and in all likelihood, President Putin will continue his efforts to ‘change facts on the ground’. Specifically, that means Russian will continue to try to force the Baltic States to look to Moscow, as much as they look to Berlin, Brussels or Washington.  Still, only in the Kremlin worst-case would Moscow consider a direct attack on the Baltic States, although it is not inconceivable. 

It is to counter the worse-case that the impressive Latvian colonel and his team, plus the NATO battlegroup that share his headquarters, are doing what they are doing.  And, as I saw from the briefing I was given, they are very serious about their work, and clearly very good at it. But, is it enough? My problem, or rather my problems, with the EFP is that it is a bluff, and the Russians know it.  The forces that would block/harass Russian forces in extremis are too few, too light, and have too little support to stop a determined Russian thrust.  Worse, the command chain is fractured and unclear, particularly the relationship between Latvian forces and their NATO counterparts. NATO forces under current rules of engagement would only be able to fight back if they themselves were attacked.   There are also problems of communications between the deployed Allied forces, and a lack of any real deployed force protection.

If the Russians did attack they would have (at least) two options. First, they could isolate the Latvian forces from their NATO Allies, using Spetsnaz and other specialised and irregular forces, to ‘neutralise’ NATO. However, given the close proximity of Latvian forces and their NATO allies that would require of Russian forces real operational finesse, something for which they are not known.  Second, they could simply take out the main concentration points of all NATO forces in the Baltic States with a surprise strike. One senior diplomat told me not to worry because Russia has always provided indications of an attack. This is wrong. History suggests the greater the strategic gamble, the less warning there would be. And, even if there were such warnings, would Western politicians really be willing to ‘see’ what they are seeing? They refused to do so during the early phases of the 2014 Ukrainian crisis.

My analysis of Zapad 2017, the massive and recently-concluded Russian military exercise, plus my understanding of the writings of Russian Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov, lead me to a very sobering conclusion.  General Gerasimov and his team are successfully adapting the 1930s thinking of Marshal Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky and his concept of ‘deep battle’.  Deep battle a la Gerasimov involves getting an enemy used over time to large-scale Russian troop movements close to their borders and then, suddenly, and with as little warning as possible, using Special Forces in concert with large-scale combined forces to strike deep behind enemy lines to cripple the latter’s capacity to resist or defend.

To my trained eye I am watching just such a strategy unfold. What’s new? General Gerasimov is layering and combining disinformation, deception, and military doctrine as part of a new concept that entangles deep battle with deep chaos to keep the enemy (that’s us) permanently strategically and politically off-balance.  These efforts, which are happening now, are not-so-much a prelude to imminent attack, but rather designed to create the space for a quick and decisive victory should President Putin will it. 

Furthermore, looking at the nature and strength of Russian forces it is clear that in the event of a conflict, the timing and launch location of which Russia would choose, Moscow could unleash a coherent set of strategic and military operations in pursuit of limited, but dangerous objectives. However, it is also clear Russia would be as yet unable to sustain a long war, or possibly even a war lasting more that 60 days if things did not go Moscow's way immediately.  Therefore, the political aim would be to force the major European powers to make a hard, under duress and quick choice between a nuclear war with Russia, or some form of Russian-dictated peace in which the Baltic States are lost.

Now, again, I am not suggesting Russian tanks are going to drive down the road from Pskov to Riga tomorrow. And, there will be a lot of scenario-planning being undertaken of which I am not aware. However, Russia is cleverly creating the conditions in which such an attack would be a serious policy option for a Moscow in extremis. The first sign of such an attack? A nuclear mushroom cloud over Adazi. The greatest ally of this plan in the rest of Europe are leaders who continue to live in denial about just such a possibility.   

What to do? Napoleon, once said that one should never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake. For all the impressive efforts of my Latvian colonel friend and his team, plus the forward deployed NATO battlegroups that form the EFP, deterrence and defence will only be served by extending and accelerating major and urgent reforms across the entire NATO command structure. Such reforms would need to include the following essential elements: delegation of far more strategic and operational discretion to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; establishment of a far more ‘granulated’ set of indicators and early-warning ‘sensors’ across the conflict space; acceleration of the Notice to Move of all NATO forces; eradication of all road, rail and legal blocks that prevent the freedom of movement of NATO forces within the NATO Area of Operations; establishment of far more resilient (and far more) logistical hubs to enable NATO forces to conduct an extensive land, air and sea campaign. 

My aim is to stop a war not to fight it.  Even a clear, declared commitment to such reforms would reinforce NATOs defence and deterrence posture.  Fifty years ago in December 1967 Pierre Harmel published a report entitled “The Future Tasks of the Alliance”, which called for a dual-track approach to Russia – détente and defence.  That dual-track is as relevant today as it was then. However, there is a problem – too many Europeans seem to have forgotten that Harmel called not only for sound dialogue with the Russians, but sound defence.  Given my genuine respect for Russia (and I am no Russo-phobe) I am saddened that all and any analysis of Russian policy and strategy today suggests the Alliance has no alternative but to communicate to Moscow a real determination to deploy credible, legitimate and strong forces in defence of all the Allies.

In certain dire Russian circumstances (and Russia is pretty good at creating dire circumstances) Moscow may simply be unable to stop itself from attacking the Baltic States given the train wreck course upon which Russia is now embarked. Therefore, if NATO forces in the Baltic States focus too much on the concentration of limited firepower they may well be walking straight into a Russian bear trap. And, at some point, Moscow may be unable to resist springing it. 

The best way for Russia to prove me wrong is to talk. I am ready to listen.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 28 September 2017

European Defence and the Dead Canary

“There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the Sibylline Books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong – these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history”.

Winston Churchill, 2 May 1935

Alphen, Netherlands. 28 September. The Future of European Militaries was an excellent conference, attended by great people, and even greater friends, supported by Airbus, TNO in the Netherlands, and the British Ministry of Defence. This three day event took place at Wiston House, an English stately home nestled below the South Downs, “in russet mantle clad” that is the centre-piece of the Wilton Park conference centre. As I looked out of the gabled window across the rolling acres of a landscaped estate the endless false promise of an English summer was fast giving way to the genteel decline of an English autumn.  With my co-chair and friend, Dr Robert Grant, I had the distinct honour of also acting as conference rapporteur. Next week I will begin writing the report that will at some point be put online. However, as I grapple with my first reflections I think the question I should pose this morning, and not a little provocatively, is this; do European militaries actually have a future?

The conference began with the showing of a new horror film I have just made with Scenarios4Summits in The Hague and for which I wrote the script and did the voice-over.  I suppose one could say that my contribution combines the best of Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Jeremy Irons, with, err, Wallace and Gromit. Naturally, like my many books the film is brilliant, and very reasonably-priced, and tells the sorry digital tale of what happens to an under-equipped HMS Queen Elizabeth and its equally ill-served NATO Task Group when it comes under attack from a Russian future force armed with artificial intelligence-driven swarms of autonomous drone weapons.  Unfortunately, I am as yet unable to share it with you, so think of it as where Stephen King meets General Gerasimov (Chief of the Russian General Staff).

My intent was to try and get the assembled expert throng to look above the deep and endless trenches of empty European defence institutionalism that stretch from the Swiss model of neutrality to the Belgian coast of nutty Euro-federalism, via (I have to say) the sensible vision of this week’s speech by President Macron (the Miracle of the Macron?).  Indeed, I wanted to walk away from the conference with some sense of vision of a future European force.  A future European force that, to my mind, must not only be strategically autonomous, but above all have sufficient real and digital mass and manoeuvre to be strategically assertive. 

To realise such a future force and the deterrence and defence it would underpin such a force would need leaders to rise far above the petty-fogging incompetence of Brexit (on both sides). It would have the mass to be able to operate simultaneously or as a high-end warfighting ‘singularity’, and under a plethora of flags – EU, NATO and coalitions.  It would need to be both able to stand-alone from the US with its own strategic headquarters to promote European strategic responsibility. It would need to demonstrate real European power support for an over-stretched America, as well as at times operate under US command, either EU or NATO command, and/or organised around one of the big European states as part of the German idea of a framework nation (although if you read my RUSI Whitehall Paper 50 of January 2000, Coalitions and the Future of UK Security Policy you will also find the idea there).

The force would need to be a digital deterrence and defence force designed to operate across the seven domains of twenty-first century military effect – air, sea, land, cyber, space, information, and knowledge. It must be a high interoperability force built upon interactive knowledge with new kinds of European digital ‘warrior’ operating alongside American digital ‘dudes’, and ‘dudes’ in democracies the world-over in a fast future age in which a global West – more idea than place – is fast forming.  Above all, it would be a European future force capable of fighting and taking the last fifty, bloody metres/yards that, whatever the technology, will forever need to be taken.

The future force would extend across a spectrum of roles and missions that stretch from the enhanced protection of our peoples to the augmented projection of legitimate power and influence.  Indeed, it must be a force that re-introduces the very idea of ‘force’ to European leaders who simply do not understand that such force retains vital and legitimate strategic and political utility. Leaders who think ‘Europe’ IS the world, when in fact it is a small island of increasingly defenceless, self-obsessed, institutional civility in a real world in which values are again being fast eclipsed by violent might and the automatic ‘right’ it confers upon those armed with it.

The canary?  When I left the conference yesterday with some fifty pages of notes I had the worrying vision of one delegate playing in my mind.  He reminded conference of the canary down a mine.  If the canary dies then gas is present and it is time to act.  Unfortunately, the canary of European defence could well be already dead. Sadly, rather like John Cleese’s dead parrot of Monty Python fame, European leaders still it seems simply prefer to insist that it is simply asleep.  No, this defence is dead, an ex-defence that has gone to meet its maker. Only radical European security and defence action in an age of radical uncertainty will bring it back to life.

European leaders are wallowing in a psycho-strategic Ten Year Rule. The Rule was adopted in August 1919 by the British Government of the day and assumed, “…that the British Empire would not be engaged in any Great War during the next ten years”. This enabled London to make massive defence cuts.  It was scrapped in October 1933 with the rise of Hitler and enabled the British rearmament programmes that began in February 1934. Complacent elite Europe remains trapped in a latter day implicit Ten Year Rule in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.

At times during the conference I must admit I looked around the ornate neo-baroque conference room to see where Bill Murray was sitting. Listening to people bang on about which institution - EU or NATO - should do what with not at all very much with forces armed with a little bit of everything, but not much of anything, and in spite of claims to the contrary, was like being an extra in Groundhog Day. I found myself reliving over and over in my minds those many conferences I had attended, some in that very same room, during the End of History, manageable crisis management world of the 1990s. Even the way we talked about the future gave me at times the impression it was a way of avoiding the hard truths of the present.

Make no mistake, people, we are entering again (sadly) a world in which existential threat is once again rearing its head, albeit this time through a Hydra-headed, multi-threat prism. What will it take, Europe, to re-animate that bloody canary?  It was a great conference with great people who made a valiant effort to rise to the challenge I had set.  Still, it is time to stop talking European defence, and time to act on it!

As for the film, should I go for a BAFTA or an Oscar? I think both – probably in the most unlikely sci-fi film section!


Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Future Navy! A Fighting Admiral Speaks

“The want of money puts…the navy out of order”.
Samuel Pepys, Surveyor-General to the Navy Board, 1666

Alphen, Netherlands. 19 September. It was a broadside. In an interview in the The Sunday Times, Admiral (Ret.d) Sir George Zambellas, who until April 2016 was First Sea Lord or Head of Britain’s Royal Navy, warned that Britain would have the military capacity of a “Third World nation”, if ministers do not invest more in the Britain’s armed forces. After years of defence cuts the Royal Navy he commanded was “hollowed out”, and that it had reached the “…bottom of the efficiency barrel”. He also said that “someone has to speak out” about the “capability gaps” in Britain’s defences. Regular readers will know that I have long been ‘speaking out’ for years about this problem. Indeed, in 2015 I even wrote a book about it – Little Britain, which is brilliant and (still) very reasonably-priced. The difference is that Sir George really is ‘someone’. He is also someone that I have the honour to call ‘friend’. How has the Royal Navy come to this sorry point?

Strategy-defying politics (of course) is a major cause of the Navy’s malaise. Someone from ‘the ministry’, grandly entitled Mr or Ms “Senior MoD Source”, parried Sir George’s criticisms in The Sunday Times by suggesting that, “…many of the challenges the navy faces today can be traced back to the decisions of the first sea lord. His criticisms come from someone who lives in a glasshouse”.  Nice try, old trick. In fact it is a ‘Mr’, and ‘he’ does not get off that lightly. You see, like many ministries of defence in many European countries, the primary mission of the Ministry of Defence in London is not the sound, strategic defence of the United Kingdom, but rather the political defence of the Government, or more specifically, the minister, Michael Fallon.

However, the real problem is both structural and strategic.  London is trying, and failing, to circle a threat-strategy-capability-money square. To be fair, at least London is still (sort of) trying to circle that square (and not the other way around). Most of Britain’s European allies have simply stopped trying to square defence circles, by simply scrapping the square.
 
In 2015 the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) laid out the threats, risks, and challenges Britain faces. The Government then decided how much money it could devote to meeting said threats, risks, and challenges.  London then divided said money into which bits would go to which bits of its broad security and defence policy, an eclectic mix of ‘instruments’ ranging from diplomacy, intelligence, aid and development, to (finally) defence. 
Unfortunately, NSS 2015 and SDSR 2015 took place against the backdrop of a government forced to divert huge amounts of public money to prevent the banks from collapsing in 2009.  Indeed, criminal bankers (very few of whom have actually paid for their alacrity) did more damage to Britain’s defences than any recent enemy.  However, the problem was further compounded by a government committed to relatively low levels of taxation at a time of enforced high spending. In other words, the search for sound money came at the expense of sound defence.

So, how is it that Mr Senior MoD Source can blame Sir George for a mess that has been years in the making, and the roots of which go back through years of successive governments only recognising as much strategic threat as they believed they could politically (and domestically) afford? Here one comes to the clever politics/dumb strategy bit.  The Service Chiefs, of which until recently Sir George was one, are responsible for the individual service budgets of the Navy, Army, and Air Force respectively. This makes said Service Chiefs convenient political scapegoats for the ambition/threat/spending/capability disconnect that is of the Government’s own making.  In other words, it is a system primarily designed to protect Minister Fallon from political criticism. It is also a system that ‘gets away with it’ only so long as there is no major crisis. Come a major crisis, as looks increasingly likely, and Britain’s leaders and it defences would soon be found wanting.
 
The Sunday Times made a brief comparison between the Royal Navy of 1982 and that of today.  In 1982, the Navy had 80,000 personnel, in 2017 29,500. Yes, the Royal Navy will soon have two very large aircraft carriers, far bigger than the two (soon to be three) it had in 1982. However, the ‘RN’ will only have 6 destroyers to protect the carriers, compared with 17 in 1982, 13 frigates compared with 38, and 10 nuclear-powered attack submarines (if that!) compared with 26. In other words, and given that only a part of the Navy can be used at any one time, due to maintenance, refits et al, a deployed British maritime-amphibious force, organised around one of the two ‘command’ carriers, would pretty much swallow up the entire available Royal Navy! Not only that, even the ships so tasked would lack vital systems, defences, sensors, missiles, and critical enabling support.

The hard reality to which Sir George alludes is that the Royal Navy of today is simply too small for the roles and missions which the Government requires it it to perform. This is to exert some reasonable degree of sea control and sea presence, both as part of a credible deterrence and defence policy, as well as providing proof positive of Britain’s continuing power and influence on the world stage.

The Government is at least aware of this problem and has come up with a new wheeze, what Zambellas calls, “Fallon’s Frigates”.  The Type 31e (I think the ‘e’ stands for ‘economy-class’) frigate, the construction of which Minister Fallon announced amidst some fanfare, will be small, cheap, throw-away, one-hit, all operations short-of-war ships that would not last very long in a real shooting war. A shooting war which Prime Minister May recently admitted is now possible.

“You [London] have a choice now”, he said. “You either put more money in, or you stop doing serious things”. The Government’s response? “Our budget is growing and, for the first time since the Second World War, so is our Royal Navy”. First, the British defence budget is NOT growing in real terms, given the pace of defence cost inflation. Second, whilst there might be a marginal planned increase in the number of ‘hulls’ available to the Royal Navy it is ‘planned’ over an absurdly long-time – i.e. over a budget cycle, not a strategic cycle.  Third, unless real-time investment takes place in the fighting power of those ‘hulls’ the Royal Navy will continue to be as weak in relative terms to other powers (the real strategic equation) as at any time since Pepys.

The easy answer is to simply pin the blame for all of the above on years of savage defence cuts. However, there is another profound cause that goes to the very heart of the question that dogs Britain today; does Britain any longer wish to be considered a serious power, let alone a world power?


Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 14 September 2017

SHAPE-ing Irma


Alphen, Netherlands. 14 September.  You know, I suppose I should be writing today about European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Onion 2017 address, which he made yesterday to the European Parliament. So here goes: more EU; more power for the Commission President; more EU defence (the Juncker Bunker?); much more EU foreign policy; an EU finance ministry to control Europe’s money; everyone to join the Euro like it or not; less member-state (except Germany); damn Brexit and sod the Brits (or is that the other way around?)!  Clear? Right then, that sorted. Won’t happen.

Back to the real world. NATO is nervous this morning, not to mention my friends in Riga, Tallinn, Vilnius and Warsaw. You will recall that last month I wrote about Zapad (West) 2017. As I write this massive Russian nuclear-tipped, 100,000 strong military exercise is getting underway. Zapad 2017 ‘sandwiches’ the Polish-Lithuanian border between Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.  If Moscow so chose it could very quickly roll this exercise forward into an invasion of the Baltic States.  The invasions of Georgia and Ukraine followed similar such Russian exercises.

In fact, my focus this morning is rather on the efforts of NATO allies in the Caribbean to help the poor people therein recover from the mega-hurricane Irma. Now, I am loathe to load more work onto NATO’s Allied Command Operations and it senior strategic headquarters, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe or SHAPE. They will have their collective eyes and ears focused firmly on NATO’s Eastern Flank this morning. But, hear me out.

On Tuesday I had a great chat with General Philip Breedlove, until May 2016 NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR). Phil and I are working closely on a new paper entitled Future War NATO that will be published shortly as part of Harmel 2.0, the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative, and for which I am the lead writer. We discussed the crisis in the Caribbean and the efforts of Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the UK to support the peoples in the region, some of whom live in former colonies, actual ‘dependent territories, and in the case of the French and Dutch islands that are technically part of both countries.

There has been much criticism of the aid efforts of all the countries involved.  In fact, not only was there significant levels of resource and force already pre-positioned, the sheer scale of the devastation wreaked by Irma swamped the efforts of the countries involved. They have spent the last week reinforcing that effort, as evinced by the Dutch decision yesterday to send the impressive amphibious assault ship the HNLMS Karel Doorman. And, to be fair to President Juncker it was good to see him yesterday offer EU support.

However, much of the problem has been a lack of co-ordination of the efforts of the four NATO members engaged therein. SHAPE would be ideally placed to lead such operations. Indeed, it even has the Comprehensive Crisis and Operations and Management Centre (CCOMC) embedded at its core which is designed to co-ordinate both military and civilian efforts.

Phil Breedlove also made an important political point to me that he has granted permission for me to share with you.  Such a NATO effort now would also send a strong message of solidarity to those in the Western Hemisphere bit of NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Area.  There is every reason to believe that Washington and others would be appreciative of such an effort. Make no mistake, the need for the European bit of the Alliance to send such messages to the North American bit is, and will become, ever more important. The days of one-way NATO are over.

SHAPE? Right now it is busy, but the clue is in its role; it is a strategic headquarters. Recently, I have been doing a lot of scenario-building and table-top war-gaming. Every future crisis I create involves NATO facing multiple, diverse and widely-separated simultaneous crises. In other words, NATO and SHAPE had better prepare to engage at one and the same time a future, and quite possibly, even bigger Super-Zapad and an Irma. It is simply the way of NATO’s twenty-first century world.  

Zapad 2017? In fact, I don’t think Russia will invade anywhere today. Rather, Moscow is sending me and you a message. Don’t worry Moscow, I hear you. Message received and understood: “We need a strong NATO!”Clear?


Julian Lindley-French