hms iron duke

hms iron duke

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

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Lies, Damn Lies & Brexit!

“There are lies, damned lies, and Brexit”
Mark Twain’s possible contribution to the Brexit mess.

Brexit: Power, Pomposity & Policy

Alphen, Netherlands. 12 September. A United States of Europe never, the States of Europe United, forever. Regular readers amongst you will have noticed, no doubt with some relief, that I have steered clear of writing about Brexit of late. There has been nothing to write about. This blog is devoted to matters strategic and the froth and nonsense of what both Brussels and London claim passes as Brexit negotiations are a disgrace to the Latin origins of the word negotiationem; to carry on business. The EU’s lead negotiators Messrs Barnier and Verhofstadt (Mr Tusk?) are Euro-federalists who want nothing more than Britain’s capitulation, suggesting a vengeful Holy Union Empire, rather than the free association of national democracies in which I still believe. I worked for the EU and I saw at close hand just how elitist Brussels is, how vengeful it can be towards non-believers, and how little regard Brussels really has for effective democracy, proper accountability, and the will of the people.  The British side has ridiculously failed to understand this reality, and that the negotiations are not about the policy and legal technicalities beloved of Whitehall Mandarins, but about power. However, what has driven me to pen this blog today is the sheer bloody, God awful irresponsibility of all those charged with leading the Brexit process – Leavers, Remainers, Remaoners, Wreckers, and Commissioners alike.

Let me first deal with the issue of power, particularly that of Brussels, and to some extent Berlin. For the EU Brexit is about the power relationship between the European institutions and the non-German member-states, something which hitherto London has failed to understand, and which explains why Michel Barnier and a poorly-advised David Davis seem so often to be speaking different languages, both literally and figuratively. The British should approach the negotiations as a top-five world economic and military power, not a pitiful supplicant seeking concessions from its imperial masters. There is at least some suggestion that London is beginning to understand this hard reality. Today’s ‘position paper’ from the British on future UK-EU security and defence co-operation hints at the importance to ‘Europe’ of Britain’s armed forces, diplomatic machinery, and vital intelligence capabilities. It is an approach I have long been calling upon Britain to adopt, and was the centre-piece of a speech I gave at the Royal Society in late 2016.  It was also an approach that I was told repeatedly by Whitehall that London did not want to adopt. Better late than never, I suppose. The no-brainer admission in the paper that Britain’s security will be ‘indivisibly linked’ with the rest of Europe will certainly be welcomed in Paris, which only sees Brexit in terms of power.

Leavers, Remainers, Remoaners, Wreckers, and Commissioners (et al)

So, what of Leavers, Remainers, Remoaners, Wreckers, and Commissioners (et al). Frankly, all sides in this many-sided dispute leave me close to despair. Last night a weak British government managed to get a relatively comfortable majority for the ‘first reading’ of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill through the House of Commons. It was just the beginning. The Bill faces months of blocking and wrecking amendments in the House of Lords, and the various parliamentary scrutinising committees. Some revisions will be precisely what a reinvigorated and sovereign Parliament should do. Sadly, a lot of it will be die-hard Remoaners determined not simply to improve the Bill, but to destroy it.  At the very least the Government needs to make an important distinction between amending Remainers and Wreckers.

Leavers: it is now well-established that the 2016 campaign claim that leaving the EU would a) see £350m a week repatriated; and b) contribute to funding the holy National Health Service was a bald-faced lie.  There are other lies Leavers are peddling. The Leave mantra of ‘take back control’ plays to the fear of mass immigration in parts of Britain, and implies London will soon be able to ‘control’ Britain’s borders.  With Brexit Britain might indeed re-establish responsibility for its borders, but it is unlikely to control them. If Britain really wanted to control its borders it would mean deporting a significant number of people with no right to remain, which is implied by a leaked Home Office (Interior Ministry). That would also mean in turn repealing the Human Rights Act beloved of human rights lawyers. There is neither the political nor legal will to do that, nor any apparent willingness in London to invest in the infrastructures and agencies needed to ensure a properly-controlled border.
Remoaners: on Saturday a sizeable march of Remoaners took place in Central London which was addressed, amongst others, by Sir Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats – the clue is in the name. Sir Vince railed against the incompetence of the incumbent government (fair point), and talked at some length about what he feared would be the negative economic impact of Brexit. He also implied the EU was a functioning Utopia. However, he singularly failed to admit that today’s EU is not set in stone.  He failed to mention the federalist imperative at the heart of Union (the clue is also in the name), nor that were Britain to change its mind about Brexit, and reverse Article 50, it could only do so by accepting the Euro and many other tenets of the federalist European project – including one day a European Army.  He also failed to mention that implicit in the European project is a ‘finalit√©’ that Messrs Barnier, Juncker and Verhofstadt have been working towards all their political lives; the end of the European nation-state and its replacement by an elitist, Mazarin-esque European super-state.
So, Why (on balance) Did I Back Remain?

Regular readers will also know that in spite of my profound concerns about democracy, governance, and the accountability of ever more distant power in the EU, I decided in 2016 that, on balance, Britain should remain in the EU. There were several reasons. Firstly, I foresaw this mess and did not believe the mediocre British political and high-bureaucratic class, which does not believe in Brexit, were up to the challenge of delivering a political settlement that did not look like the compromise from hell.   Secondly, I feared Brexit would make an already fragile United Kingdom even more fragile. Thirdly, I feared (and still do) that London’s self-induced weak negotiating position would reduce a leading power to the status of de facto EU colony – forced to abide by rules made by others. That is certainly the Barnier Gambit. Fourthly, I rejected a central tenet of the Brexit argument – that the EU was responsible for the immigration levels that had driven so many (and not without reason if one witnesses the tensions in my home city of Sheffield) to vote to quit the Bloc.  To my mind the inclusion of Central and Eastern European states in the EU on equal terms was a fruit of victory in the Cold War, and was an opportunity that had to be seized.

Ultimately, I rejected Brexit on ‘big picture’ geopolitical grounds. There are a range of very real strategic dangers faced by Britain and its allies and partners from a revanchist Russia, and a virulent Islamic State. My quintessential fear was that Brexit would undermine the very cohesion upon which sound security and defence must be established, weaken the EU’s important security role, and damage NATO’s all-important collective defence role. My fears were not misplaced.

Lies, Damn Lies & Brexit!

For all my concerns I am at the end of the day a democrat.  A decision was taken by the British people in a legitimate poll. Like many Remainers I am now firm in my belief that Brexit must be realised at the minimum cost to all concerned.  Therefore, given the dangers we Europeans collectively face those responsible for negotiating the new post-Brexit political settlement (that will inevitably come) must stop posturing, stop trying to turn the clock back, and stop wallowing in deceit and half-truths, and get this whole damnable process over with quickly.

In other words, both sides need to recognise their political responsibilities if the strategic consequences of Brexit are not to be disastrous.

Assessment? Fat chance!

Lies, damn lies & Brexit!

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

NATO, Silicon Trench & the Rambusters

“There is a natural opposition among men to anything they have not thought of themselves”.
Sir Barnes Wallis

Alphen, Netherlands. 6 September. Last Thursday in Rotterdam I had the very distinct honour for an Englishman of chairing the annual Johan de Witt conference on future war in the maritime amphibious domain. Apparently Johan de Witt was some Dutch bloke who was instrumental in the 1667 ‘nicking’ of the Royal Navy’s flagship, the “Royal Charles”, from Chatham Naval Yard.  Although I have long ascribed the aforesaid Dutch ‘borrowing’ of the fleet flagship to a dose of chain rust, it was de Witt who made the Medway Raid possible through reform of the Royal Netherlands Navy…and innovation.

To start the conference I had prepared a scenario script, which was brilliantly put together into a film by my friends at Scenarios4Summits in The Hague, with me doing the voice-over in a manner which, to my mind, combined the very best of Burton and Olivier. The film portrayed the 2025 start of a new European War in which an under-funded and under-equipped NATO force, commanded by the British heavy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, was destroyed by a Russian force which forged submarines, robotics, and advanced artificial intelligence (AI) into a deadly trinity.

My scenario was inspired by the famous 1955 film, “The Dambusters”. The film portrays real-life and brilliant innovation by engineering genius Sir Barnes Wallis, and brilliant military execution by RAF 617 (Dambusters) Squadron, to destroy two of Germany’s main dams in May 1943. To succeed six separate developments had to come together; a new strategy (attacks of infrastructure vital to German industrial infrastructure), a new technological idea (Barnes Wallis’s vision of a bouncing bomb), a new bomb (the Upkeep mine), a new way of casting steel, a new explosive (RDX), and a new aircraft (the Avro Lancaster bomber).

Today? Much is being made of the possible civilian applications of AI for the common good. However, like all technologies, it will also have military applications, and military applications by less than wholesome regimes. NATO and its nations cannot afford to be squeamish about this coming reality.

There are two types of innovation; applied thinking that leads to new technologies and applications, new thinking that corrals existing thinking and technologies into new capabilities. A 2007 paper by John McCarthy of Stanford University put AI and the coming strategic reality into context when he wrote that, “Intelligence is the computational part of the ability to achieve goals in the world”. AI is “….the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs. It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable”. It does not. A lot has happened over the decade since McCarthy wrote that paper. Crucially, the pace of development is accelerating to the extent that my fearsome vision for 2025 is entirely plausible.

The problem for the Allies is that, in spite of the sterling efforts of Allied Command Transformation (ACT), the words ‘NATO’ and ‘innovation’ are not ones that sit together comfortably, either in a blog sentence or in reality. The challenge AI and associated technologies and strategies (technology is now driving a lot of strategy) poses to NATO is daunting.  Use of it, and defence against it will require deep innovation.

A close US friend of mine last week put the scope of the challenge in its strategic context. He said that the Alliance suffers from a mismatch between the nature of conflict and war (the human component) and the character of conflict and war (technological advances in the waging of war). In history it is the side that creates an equilibrium between the two prevails in conflict and war. Too many of the Allies simply do not want to even consider the very real possibility of future war, and in so not-doing make such war more, not less likely.

NATO needs access to a kind of defence Silicon Valley (Silicon Trench?). Specifically, the Alliance should create a new NATO Defence Campus that brings together strategic thinkers, technology thinkers and defence innovators to consider the shape of legitimate deterrence and defence in the twenty-first century, how best to maintain comparative advantage in twenty-first century warfare, and the impact of such technologies on future war. The ‘Campus’, would operate in much the same ways as similar Google and Microsoft institutions. It could also form part of the evolving NATO-EU Strategic Partnership.  It could also be called the NATO Sir Barnes Wallis Campus, and, naturally, I would be the first Rector!

If the Alliance does not act then NATO faces a ‘Dreadnought’ moment, or worse, a new Pearl Harbor. In December 1941 Japanese aircraft sank much of the US Pacific Fleet at anchor by applying a series of deadly innovations they had copied from the successful November 1940 attack by carrier-based (HMS Illustrious) Royal Navy Swordfish, under the command of Lt. Cdr M.W. Williamson RN, on the Italian fleet at Taranto.

It is time NATO woke up properly to future war! Even showing the Alliance is thinking in such terms would be an act of deterrence. Why? Beijing, Moscow, and indeed others, are not only thinking about how best to exploit the West’s many defence vulnerabilities, they are actively seeking to engage in a war at our many seams across the hybrid, cyber, hyper war spectrum. They are also pouring a lot of money and research into realising such a capability.

The Rambusters? My name for a new NATO force designed specifically to disrupt the AI capabilities of adversaries before they are used to devastating effect against the peoples and forces of the Alliance.

As for Johan de Witt we English had our revenge.  In 1688 we invited the Dutch William of Orange to become King William III of England. It is a fate we English only impose on our worst enemies.

Julian Lindley-French