hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 24 November 2017

Brexit: The Geopolitical Price for Humiliating Britain

Alphen, Netherlands. 24 November. In January 2016 I stood in the snow near Trakai, Lithuania and made an important decision.  In spite of my profound concerns about the EU and the future direction of travel towards an over-centralised ‘Europe’, as the Commission endeavoured to build its ‘tower’ ever closer to Euro-heaven, and the danger it poses to substantive democracy on the Continent I would reject Brexit.  My decision came after listening to H.E. Linas Linkevicius, the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, at the famous Snowmeeting.  At that moment I became a ‘Big Picture Remainer’ and decided geopolitics, particularly the threat posed by Russia to my friends in the Baltic States, Poland and elsewhere trumped my concerns about who governs me.  I have not changed my position. However, I now fear for the Brexit humiliation of Britain and the geopolitical consequences that will ensue.

Yesterday, I read carefully the 20 November Brexit speech Chief EU Negotiator Michel Barnier made to a Brussels conference organised by Charles Grant’s Centre for European Reform. Now, I know that M. Barnier is at the negotiating schwerpunkt of Brexit and that he has ambitions to become the next President of the European Commission.  And, for much of the speech he merely stated the obvious – “Brexit must mean Brexit” and the “orderly withdrawal” of Britain from the EU must see solutions found for the divorce bill, citizens’ rights, the inner-Irish border, and so-called ‘pass-porting rights’ for banks based in the City of London post-Brexit.

However, by far the most unconvincing part of his speech was when he said his objective was not to punish Britain. Yes, it is. As former Minister and TV pundit Michael Portillo said last night, Barnier’s aim is to discourage others from making “a break for the prison walls”. Now, I might use different language but Barnier and his colleagues of course need to be seen to punish Britain if for no other reason…pour encourager les autres. Indeed, to the EU Britain has become a latter day Admiral Byng.

This morning Prime Minister May is in Brussels to discuss with European Council President Donald Tusk upping the Brexit divorce bill to some £40bn in return for a written commitment that the EU will begin trade talks.  Good luck with that.  She is also there to attend the EU’s Eastern Partnership Summit (I wonder if in future there will be EU Western Partnership summits) with six states, as the name suggests, to the east of the EU.  May will not only confirm, and rightly so, that Britain will maintain its commitment to the security and defence of Eastern Europe post-Brexit, she will also offer some £100m of British taxpayer’s money to counter disinformation in the region.

So, all well and good? No. First, beyond the liberal chattering classes one finds in London, British think-tanks, and politically mono-cultural EUtopian British universities there is growing public anger at what is perceived as the Brexit humiliation of Britain by the EU. Mine is not a scientific survey but the more ‘ordinary’ Brits to whom I speak, both erstwhile Brexiteers and Remainers, I detect growing anger as what many see now as an attack on Britain. Whatever May and the Establishment say it could well become very hard to convince British citizens to risk geld and lives for what one called those, “bastards trying to damage us”. They thought democracy meant they had a legitimate choice.

Second, if one examines ‘planned’ cuts to the British armed forces under the forthcoming National Security Capability Review that National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill is conducting, much of the axe will (again) fall on those very high-end expeditionary forces needed to defend allies in an emergency, such as the Royal Marines.  Given the cuts it is hard to escape the impression that Britain is retreating behind its nuclear deterrent.  After all, Britain is a nuclear island power.

Third, will Britain’s expeditionary spirit survive Brexit and Trump? In an email exchange this week with a very close friend, who happens also to be a former US Ambassador to NATO, he warned me to get used to the end of the ‘special relationship’ with the Americans and recognise that henceforth London can expect no more than a “transactional relationship” with Washington.  By way of return, Washington had better get used to the British being 'non-actional'. The only thing that has been keeping Britain’s expeditionary spirit alive these past decades is history and the demand by the Americans for British support. If the Americans don’t give a damn about Britain, and Europeans simply want to damn Britain, and a significant part of the population does not believe in British military power anyway then beyond the inevitably rhetorical we could be witnessing the beginning of the end, if not the very end, of British expeditionary internationalism.

On Monday I will launch the massive GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Report at NATO HQ.  As a member of a high-level Steering Committee I am proud of the work we have done looking to the future of NATO and the many papers that have been produced under the orb of the project by some of the West’s best strategists.  And yet, I cannot but feel a sense of foreboding, particularly concerning four of the central assumptions that underpin the Alliance.  Firstly, that the Americans will really remain committed to NATO and the defence of Europe in the future.  Secondly, that Europeans really will spend enough on defence, and organise sufficiently well, to justify the American taxpayer continuing to guarantee European security and defence.  Thirdly, that NATO and the EU really will forge an effective partnership that will ensure sound security across the conflict spectrum. Fourthly, that in spite of Britain’s Brexit humiliation, a country which remains for the moment a leading economic and military power, will also remain not only committed to the defence of Europe, but able to play its full and appropriate role in defending Europe.  Much of that role will also rely on a continuing close strategic relationship between London and Paris. However, as my well-placed sources tell me, Paris under President Macron is in the vanguard of those EU countries wanting to punish/damage Britain for Brexit. Pas bon, mes amis!

To conclude, I remain a ‘Big Picture Remainer’. However, the simple geopolitical truth is it is impossible to separate Brexit from the EU from European defence from NATO. Let’s hope a Brexit breakthrough is made this December, even though with Germany in such a political shambles it is hard to see how such a leap forward can take place. If the current tensions pertain for too long then not only will the EU lose Britain, but also I fear the US will lose Britain, and possibly even NATO in all but name. In which case, Britain would become like any other European – talking about defence, investing little in it, and able to do little for it.  PESCO?

As for my country being humiliated, that is certainly how I feel right now. Sadly, as our Irish friends revealed this week, such humiliation is in no small part due to the incompetence of the people who lead it, and the profound divisions between them over Brexit. 

Europe must see the Big Picture of Brexit and sort it out quickly, before it becomes any more toxic.

Julian Lindley-French 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Brexit and the Shifting Pillars of the Alliance

Alphen, Netherlands. 21 November.  It is my honour to announce the publication by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute of my latest paper Brexit and the Shifting Pillars of the Alliance. The paper can be downloaded at:

Will Britain’s departure from the EU lead to the creation of an Anglosphere and a Eurosphere within NATO? Unfortunately, there are a range of challenges to such a formulation. First, if the EU continues to drive a hard post-Brexit relationship with the British, it may be increasingly difficult for any government in London to convince the British people that other Europeans are worth defending. Second, would the United States, Canada and others entertain such an idea? Third, France is not going to abandon its strategic relationship with Britain – Brexit or no Brexit. Fourth, there will be a Brexit deal and Britain will remain a key factor in European defence. Fifth, “events, dear boy, events!” However, Brexit or no Brexit, NATO’s pillars are shifting. The United States will demand more of its allies if Washington is to maintain a credible security and defence guarantee for Europe. The changing nature of conflict will tend to emphasise intelligence and power projection, both of which play to Britain’s residual strengths. 

Canada? It is hard for an outsider to discern Canadian defence policy, other than bumbling along in strategic suburbia with the desire to be seen as the good neighbour. This is a mistake. NATO’s shifting pillars will have profound implications for Canadian security and defence policy. A formal Anglosphere and Eurosphere within NATO? Most likely not. A U.S.-sphere and German-sphere? Quite possibly, but don’t mention it in polite company. Canada? Who knows?

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 17 November 2017

PESCO, Collective Pretence and the 2% Scam

“The difference between a republic and an empire is the loyalty of one’s army”.
Gauis Julius Caesar

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 November. Here we go again! Another EU defence initiative that promises a roaring lion, but delivers a squeaking mouse.  PESCO, or permanent structured co-operation, was launched amidst the usual political fanfare, as have so many such initiatives over the years.  With its ‘voluntary’ projects across the operational and defence-industrial landscape for those EU member-states willing to co-operate PESCO is meant to pave the way to an eventual European Defence Union or EDU, even though the €5bn ($6.5bn) on offer to realise such a goal is by defence standards not even paltry. Rather, PESCO echoes the failed 1952-1954 European Defence Community (see my Oxford Chronology of European Security and Defence, which is brilliant and very reasonably-priced). Is PESCO any different from its failed predecessors? Europe certainly needs to address its appalling defence deficit.

Let me put PESCO in its very hard strategic context. In the forthcoming new and massive GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Report, for which I am lead writer and which will be published later this month, the facts are clear.  The United States provides 75% of Alliance forces and pays some 68% of the cost. The 70:30 Alliance defence investment split between the US and its allies is simply unsustainable.  If NATO is to survive sooner rather than later Europeans must shoulder at least 50% of Europe’s defence burden.  That means, at the very least, all NATO Europeans (and others) meeting the solemn pledge they all made at the 2014 NATO Wales Summit to spend by 2024 2% GDP on defence, of which 20% each year would be spent on new equipment. If Europeans honoured the Defence Investment Pledge or DIP they would release an extra $100bn into the European defence effort each year. That is the order of magnitude of defence investment needed to make PESCO more than yet another political alibi for collective defence pretence.

For the record, I am not one of those Brits who is implacably opposed to a strong NATO-friendly EU defence role.  And, whether more and better European defence spending is EU or NATO-focused I am pretty much beyond caring, if at last it leads to a strategically-responsible Europe. I am also an expert. My PhD in Florence was on this precise topic, and I was one of the many architects of the ‘breakthrough’ November 1998 St Malo Declaration (if you do not believe me read my piece in the June 1998 edition of New Statesman entitled Time to Bite the Eurobullet).  Back in the day (I think that is the fashionable way of saying some time ago) I was also lead writer for the famous, if slightly unfortunately named Venusberg Group and its many reports on EU security and defence. To top all that I worked for the EU on this very issue.

Furthermore, if PESCO did indeed lead to an enhanced and more autonomous European pillar of a revamped post-Brexit NATO, and helped to make European defence industries more than the scam on taxpayers too many of them are, then all well and good.  However, this PESCO will not realise that aim. Or, to put it another way, PESCO is yet another one of those unfunded aspirations, politics dressed up as strategy, political pretence masquerading as European defence démarches that the EU often resorts to when facing a crisis  - in this case Brexit.

It is only by reading between PESCO’s lines do the real political objectives become apparent.  At the risk of scrambling my acronyms, far from a decisive move towards an EDU PESCO has been created to avoid the DIP and thus offer a way out for those many NATO Europeans now reneging on the Wales pledge. PESCO does that by implying that deeper European defence integration could in time lead to the same ‘Wales’ defence outcomes albeit at lower levels of investment via better spending.

PESCO, as with all such EU initiatives, is also all things to all 23 signatories, all of which want something different from it, and none of whom are prepared to spend the money needed to close the gap between lofty language and Europe’s failing defence.  Indeed, the suggestion by German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen that PESCO is somehow Europeans taking responsibility for their own defence in the face of a capricious American president is simply nonsense, defence pretence at its worst.

The main PESCO players also want different things. Berlin wants to avoid defence leadership at all costs for fear of history and the EU looking even more like a putative German Empire. Germany is also acutely aware that if Berlin honours its DIP commitment to spend 2% on defence that would mean a Bundeswehr with a budget of some $70bn per annum, dwarfing the British and French defence budgets.  It would not only be the German people who would be uncomfortable with that.  PESCO is for the Germans a defence alibi and, frankly, one that is understandable.

France, on the other hand, sees PESCO very differently. With echoes of its Gaullist traditions Paris wants an autonomous European military core group that would support France and its expeditionary missions. However, for all President Macron’s talk of a European Defence Union, France will never permit its armed forces to be submerged into some kind of European Army. The most important defence-strategic relationship for France is with the non-PESCO pesky Brits, Europe’s other nuclear and power projection power – Brexit or no Brexit. The rest?  They are all either broke, have no strategic tradition to speak of, or suffer strategically-illiterate political leaders who would simply like nasty things like defence to go away. Only those on the front-lines of European defence, such as the Baltic States and Poland, really understand or believe that credible European military force matters any more.

PESCO will also fail. There is a fatal tension between the stated strategic objectives of PESCO and its proposed political and military structures.  If a group of countries begin to move towards a more common defence by creating a more integrated military force, its timely use at a time of crisis can only be ensured by a more integration command structure.  To be credible either as a deterrent or a defence such a force would also need integration to go to the very top of supreme political authority. In other words, PESCO, and by extension EDU, would need a European government. If not, 23 separate states are unlikely ever to agree to their people being sent into harm’s way unless it is for a very ‘permissive operation’, i.e. not dangerous at all, or World War Three, in which case Europeans would turn desperately to NATO and America. The same problem bedevilled the once much-heralded, but now forgotten EU Battlegroups, which one French military friend of mine calls “EU lunch groups”.

One of the perks of my job is I get to go places. On Wednesday I sat on a bench above Rome’s Circus Maximus, where once chariots raced to the death, gazing up at the mighty remains on the Colis Palatinus where in quick historical succession Caesar Augustus, Tiberius, Nero and Domitian built their enormous imperial palace.  And yet it lies in ruin. Rotten from within self-obsessed Rome eventually fell because it had lost the will to defend either its interests or its values, unable to afford the means for its own defence in a world no longer in awe of Roman power. Europe?  Europe is already a continent of self-willed decliners. And, as Caesar implied, for the use of force to be credible the people on whose behalf it is used must believe it to be legitimate. Like it or not, and as of yet, not enough Europeans want the EU to defend them.  Consequently, like so many ghosts of EU defence past PESCO will vanish down the PLUG-OLE of history.

If PESCO would help Europeans begin to close the yawning gap between what they need to spend on their own defence, and what they are willing or able to spend then OK.  It is European weakness as much as Russian ‘strength’ that is helping to de-stabilise Europe’s eastern flank. However, even a cursory analysis suggests that PESCO is simply another a bit of re-heated old EU freezer fodder bought from the defence equivalent of LIDL. You see the real problem of PESCO is that EU leaders do not mean what they say. If they did they would vote the means to realise their vision, not simply talk endlessly about the ends and the ways of it, like some scene in some ghastly arty European sequel to Bill Murray’s film Groundhog Day.  

Still, at least PESCO has EUtopian fantasists excited. For them PESCO is nothing to do with the defence of Europe (it never is). It is all about who or what governs Europe. Plus ça change…

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 13 November 2017

What is wrong with Trump Foreign Policy?

“Who do I call if I want to call America?”
Dr Henry Kissinger re-imagined.

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 November. What is wrong with Trump foreign policy? There was an audible hissing sound as President Trump gave his ill-judged America First speech to the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam this past Thursday.  It was the sound of hot air escaping from the balloon marked “American influence in Asia”.  As he spoke another balloon, a big red one, was inflating. It read, “Chinese influence in Asia”. Something that President Xi rammed home in his speech the same day.  The sight of an American president calling essentially for protectionism, and a Chinese president championing free trade (albeit pretend free trade) added yet another perceived twist to America’s topsy-turvy foreign policy.
It was not without a certain tragic historical irony that the Trump speech took place in Da Nang, Vietnam’s third largest city.  Da Nang is in many ways the poster city for post-war American foreign policy failure.  It was in Da Nang that US combat operations in the Vietnam War ended on 13 August, 1972. It was also Da Nang that was the last city that Communist forces ‘liberated’ on 30 March, 1975.

Now (to mix my metaphors), I am not a member of those seemingly countless ‘headless chicken’ Europeans who a year ago met the elevation of Donald J. Trump to the White House by running around doing passible impressions of Edvard Monck’s The Scream.  Many of those same Europeans, by the way, expect Americans to pay for their defence whilst they feel free to insult America and its president.  My respect for the United States, the Office of President and the American people is too great for me to join that coterie of clowns.  There are also friends of mine in the Administration whom I both respect and like.
Still, what happened in Da Nang this past week revealed something that is now inescapable; by equating foreign policy with the art of the deal President Trump fundamentally fails to grasp the nature of foreign policy.  The core assumption upon which he bases his interpretation of foreign policy is also wrong: that America is so powerful that it alone gets to choose the nature of geopolitics.  Rather, President Trump’s take on foreign policy is the ‘shining megapolis on a mountain’ view of such policy, in which constraining institutions such as APEC, EU, even NATO, and most definitely the UN are for lesser states whilst mighty America stands above and beyond like some latter day Hobbesian Leviathan.

China begs to differ, and now has the power that differing no longer requires China to beg.  Beijing skilfully used APEC to reinforce the mechanisms it is constructing to exert growing power and influence, which for all the warm words of President Xi, China sees coming at America’s zero sum expense. America? In making that America First speech in Da Nang President Trump walked into a carefully constructed Chinese trap.

And yet the problem with contemporary US foreign policy goes deeper than the wiles of a capricious president.  There are simply not enough people making US foreign policy and doing ‘it’. One of the most revealing facts about nature of the Administration is the number of posts at Assistant Secretary of State (and equivalent) level in Washington that remain vacant.  ‘ASSes’ are in the boiler-room of American foreign policy and where much of the grunt work is done to maintain existing relationships and build new ones in pursuit of the national interest – the essence of the conduct of foreign policy.  The Administration undertook a wholesale clear-out when it came into office, but has yet to show any signs of a wholesale clear-in.

It is thus very hard to know to whom one must talk to in Washington these days.  For the past year the Administration has been locked in an ideological struggle with itself for the soul of American foreign policy.  With Steve Bannon now gone from the White House it appeared that the radical America First/America Isolated school of thought had been banished, and that the more establishment American internationalist/realist school had prevailed. Indeed, foreign and security policy professionals such as Secretary of Defense Mattis and National Security Advisor McMaster seemed to have gained the upper hand.

Not last week! President Trump was in full America Alone mode.  Yes, he is right that too many of America’s trade partners engage in dodgy trade practices.  And yes, such rhetoric plays well to his dwindling political base back home.  However, it is unlikely that such an approach will make the lives of his followers better, other than providing them with the short-term pleasure of pissing off pesky foreigners.

The implications for the wider West are dramatic, and all involve relative decline.  With Europeans engaged in the seemingly never-ending Battle of Ant Hill over Brexit, also refusing to see that the EU is fast becoming a temporary alibi for a continent of decliners, and having abandoned any pretence to global role beyond endlessly aspiring to it, the Americans are left to ‘lead’ in isolation. Indeed, European critics of Trump should look closer to home. Euro-isolationism is a major cause of the West’s precipitous decline, which is often overlooked masked, as it is, in so many layers of Euro-bullxit.
Back to that hissing sound. Taken together President Trump’s decidedly lukewarm attitude towards NATO and its European allies (rightly or wrongly), the abandonment of the Paris Climate Change Accord, the weakening of NAFTA, and the rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership all suggest to us pesky foreigners that far from America First, America is in retreat. 

An America in retreat simply creates a power vacuum. That was the other hissing sound at APEC; China filling it! President Trump fails to understand that foreign policy is the art of engagement, not the art of the deal. He also fails to understand that America is not powerful enough, if it ever was, to lead without the support of allies and partners the world-over.  However, it is hard for allies to support a divided Administration.

Henry Kissinger once complained that he did not know who to call if he wanted to call ‘Europe’.  Today, it is hard to know who to call if one wants to call America.  This is a disaster not just for America, but the West and the wider world.  You see, for all the poise and confidence displayed by China’s President Xi, China is no America. Chinese internationalism is very different to American internationalism, for all its faults of commission and omission.  Why? Chinese internationalism is about Chinese power red in tooth and claw, with not a value in sight.  The world will be far more dangerous for it.

Give me a call sometime, America.

Julian Lindley-French   

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Why the Royal Marines are in Danger

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 November. Funny day yesterday. Last night I gave evidence to the Canadian Parliament’s National Defence Commission on Canada in NATO. There I was, all steamed up to debate the future of the Alliance with senior Canadian parliamentarians. Yet, all they really seemed bother about was NATO as mechanism to promote more women to top military jobs. Simple; just treat men and women equally and select the best. Earlier in the day my new paper Future War NATO ( had really started to bounce around, and I even found time to berate an old friend, Steve Erlanger of the New York Times. Steve, who is truly one of the great journalists, had written what I thought was a rather sulky piece in which he trumpeted the current German line that Brexit is an act of ‘controlled suicide’ by the British.  Given the political mess in London he may be right, but the article was not up to Steve’s usual high standards. To make his case he had only interviewed Brussels-based EU-philes (and no-one else) and asked them what they thought of Britain and Brexit. Der!  

However, this blog is motivated by none-of-the-above. Rather, it was the appearance on a flagship BBC radio news programme of another old friend, Lieutenant-General Ben Hodges, the commander of US forces in Europe.  Ben warned the British against planned further cuts to the British armed forces, and made a particular plea to London not to cut further the Royal Marines, and the two amphibious assault ships, HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark.
Regular readers will recall that a couple of weeks ago I warned that any such cuts would put the future existence of one of the most respected fighting forces the world -over at risk. The piece also warned that the US Marines Corps would (not for the first time) have to cover for another act of strategic illiteracy in London and the British sea-blindness (!!!) it is fostering.  Apologists for the May Government (is it still a government or just a shambles in office?) happily told me I was wrong.  No, they said, the then Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon to the fore, henceforth the Royal Marines would be launched by helicopter from the new heavy British aircraft-carrier(s).  This is bullxit and here is why.

In 2009 I undertook a major study for the then Head of the Royal Netherlands Navy into so-called riverine or brown water operations.  At the time I was head of a department of military operational art and science at the Netherlands Defence Academy and I was supported in my efforts by a wonderful team of experienced Dutch officers and experts.  The problem I was asked to address was this: how to land a force from the sea to secure a bridgehead at a level of cost and risk that political masters would deem acceptable.
At the heart of the research was the concept of Ship to Objective Manoeuvre or STOM.  Put simply, STOM is the distance an amphibious force must travel between the ship that launches it and the objective it is charged with securing.  In practice that means anchoring large, expensive, naval grey floaty things close to the shore, or littoral as it is known in the trade, so that not only the force can get ashore quickly, but also the heavy kit vital to the effective conduct of operations.

As part of the research my team looked at a whole host of options that might reduce the cost/risk per ship per operation.  We held a conference in Den Helder, the main Dutch fleet base, with leading officers from marines across the Alliance, including the Royal Marines and the US Marine Corps.  We even invited two Dutch salvage companies, Mammoet and Smit Tak, to help identify solutions, and to see if the civilian and military sectors could work in harness, which they proved to great effect. The final report, Effects in the All Water Battlespace: Riverine Operations, is sitting in front of me in my desk as I write, and I am proud of it and the team who worked on it.

Here’s the thing.  To make STOM work it is necessary to launch marines and their kit from a bespoke amphibious assault ship relatively close to shore.  It is pure military fantasy to suggest that a British politician, few of whom demonstrate any political or strategic backbone these days, would order the new £3bn, 1500 crew, 70,000 ton aircraft-carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to be effectively parked close to a hostile shore-line from which anti-ship missiles could well issue forth to launch Royal Marines for which it was not designed.  It is also pure military fantasy to suggest that ‘Big Lizzie’ could launch Royal Marines in any strength from far out at sea in helicopters.

It is this basic contradiction of military reality that torpedoes the Carrier-enabled Power Projection strategy or CEPP which is driving this nonsense. Or, to put it another way, it is impossible to launch effective carrier-strike and effective maritime-amphibious operations on any scale from one ship, however big, at an acceptable level of risk to either the ship or the force.  The job of carrier-strike is to provide force protection for a deployed force by standing offshore, not what in military-strategic terms is inshore.

The Dutch have a word for stupid (in fact they have several all of which have at one time or another been applied to me) ‘stom’.  If the British do proceed with the planned cuts to the Royal Marines, a force that also supplies some 50% of Britain’s defence-critical Special Operations Forces, it will be ‘stom’.  Indeed, such a decision would to all intents and purposes end the ability of the British to conduct STOM. Given that is what marines are for, it would also mean the effective end of the Royal Marines as an amphibious force.

Canada? Ottawa must wake up to Canada’s changing role in a changing, dangerous world in which the Americans might not always be there to hold their hands.  Indeed, all the comforting values-based, strategic political correctness upon which the strategy-lite, power-lite Canadian defence policy is based, it belongs to a prior age not this one.  During the hearing I kept hearing how much Canada is respected in NATO.  Yes, Canada is respected, but mainly for the past, not for the present, and barely figures at all when discussing NATO’s future.  Given Canada’s historic role that is not only a real shame, but a disservice to a truly great country.

Julian Lindley-French  

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Future War NATO? From Hybrid War to Cyber War to Hyper War

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 November. As part of the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative I am proud to announce the publication of my latest paper - Future War NATO? From Hybrid War to Cyber War via Hyper War. The Paper was co-written with Generals John Allen and Phil Breedlove, and the former First Sea Lord and Head of Britain's Royal Navy, Admiral Sir George Zambellas. 

The paper considers two scenarios both of which centre on The Second Battle of North Cape in 2025. In one scenario a NATO naval task force is defeated by Russian forces because the Allies did not invest in future war and its complex mix of artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and offensive and defensive swarm drone technology.  In the second scenario the NATO force successfully defended itself because of decisions that were taken now to prepare just such a defence. 

The article can be downloaded at:

Enjoy...sort of!

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 6 November 2017

Cornish: The Abandonment of Strategic Reason

Alphen, Netherlands. 6 November. Only in Britain it seems can a sex scandal involving a foreign, Hollywood film mogul lead to the effective paralysis of Parliament, and the undermining of effective governance.  Watching the latest bout of elite hysteria unfold in Britain reveals the extent of the malaise in the British political class, and why sound strategy is so often subordinated to unsound politics. Sadly, an extreme form of ultra-liberal political correctness is morphing into social media lynch mobs that destroy due process. Indeed, it looks to all intents and purposes as if a new form of intolerant neo-fascism is taking over in which guilt is presumed, and innocence must be proven.  Hysteria re-fuelled by virtue-signalling political leaders like Theresa May who react rather than lead, locked into a race to ‘virtue’ they can, by definition, never win.

If such an abandonment of political reason was confined to matters domestic then perhaps Britain could weather such storms.  Unfortunately, London has abandoned strategic reason for the same strategy-consuming short-term politics.  With the appointment of Gavin Williamson, the new Secretary of State for Defence, as a direct consequence of the political hysteria in London, and as part of an occasional series of guest blogs, my close friend and colleague, Professor Paul Cornish explores the consequences of London’s abandonment of strategic reason. He does so within the context of the forthcoming National Security Capabilities Review which he warns will fail if it simply seeks to protect the Government from bad news, rather than the country from dangerous change, or the still distant but growing possibility of a major war.  Paul and I worked closely together on his new book, co-authored with Kingsley Donaldson 2020: World of War (London: Hodder and Stoughton). Indeed, I contributed much to the scenario in the chapter entitled, The Caliphate Resurrected: Cairo in Chaos.

National Security Capabilities Review

Paul Cornish

The UK’s newly appointed Secretary of State for Defence will have a lot on his plate. With the last strategic defence review not yet two years old, the government has begun a comprehensive reassessment of the country’s strategic outlook. The National Security Capabilities Review is expected to be complete by the end of the year. This is not an open-ended re-evaluation; there will be no new money, and very likely less. So, stand by for months of zero-sum argument as each defence interest – often led by a retired senior officer – pleads for a thicker slice of a diminishing cake.

Sir Basil Liddell Hart, the military historian, once quipped ‘the only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out.’ Some might feel that Liddell Hart’s tart comment applies as much today as it did in the 1940s. With one former Armed Service Chief after another likely to make the case for more warships, battalions, aircraft etc., won’t we simply be given sight of a fantasy world in which they think their ‘old ideas’ (about international security, defence policy and national strategy) still matter? Possibly. But it’s also possible that the joke could be on us if we dismiss all these warnings, and all those who utter them, as merely new versions of an old caricature.  
With some exceptions, Service Chiefs have adhered to the convention that they should not be openly critical of national strategy and defence policy while still in uniform. But once back in civvy street they’re free to tell us if they are worried; about the variety, scale and urgency of the security problems demanding the attention of the country’s Armed Forces, and whether there are sufficient resources to meet enough of those challenges. On balance the rest of us should listen to those warnings – rather than take shelter in some trouble-free comfort zone of our own imagining. This is where the real problem lies; not so much in the ‘telling’ but in the ‘listening’ – and particularly on the part of government.

Government should listen to the warnings of our retired Service Chiefs because some of them deserve our attention. Government should listen to plenty of other people too – because not even retired Service Chiefs know everything there is to know about international security and national strategy. But here we return to the ‘comfort zone’ problem just mentioned, a form of confirmation bias that lets us ignore uncomfortable information because it’s, well, uncomfortable. If generals can be accused of ‘fighting the last war’ then the rest of us might just as pointedly be accused of ‘clinging to the preferred peace’. On the face of it, this can’t be such a bad instinct; who wouldn’t prefer a life of peace and prosperity over one of conflict and loss? But it must be government’s job to step out of the comfort zone and contemplate the uncomfortable on our behalf. In other words, we expect government to think and act strategically. But then we confront an even bigger problem. It might not be as simple as finding the ‘old’ strategic idea that animates government and replacing it with a ‘new’ one; it might be that there isn’t one there at all – and hasn’t been for some time.

There could very well be a case for the UK to acquire more warships, tanks and fighters or, at least, not to mothball those we already have. But the first task must be to recover our strategic sense, such that we can identify and manage the international security situation as it is, rather than as we used to know it (during the Cold War, for example), or would prefer it to be (the comfort zone again). But how can we avoid alarmism and over-reaction on the one hand, and complacency on the other?

The first step is to explain what is (and could be) going on around the world, and not simply to describe the international security context with such floppy platitudes as the ‘the era of constant competition’. In our recent book 2020: World of War Kingsley Donaldson and I worked with a team of experts to show how international security encompasses traditional inter-state conflict, climate change, cyber security, terrorism, mass migration, nuclear proliferation, urbanisation, resource scarcity and disease. Together, these are the serious, strategic-level challenges of our day; they need to be understood for what they are and managed with appropriate methods and means. Although the contemporary international security challenge is not as grave, singular and ‘existential’ as it was during the Cold War, the world is nevertheless very far from being stable, secure and pacific.

Complacency should have no place in national strategy, any more than scare-mongering and alarmism. We need to know the international security environment more closely if we are to manage it more effectively. Policy-makers and strategists must neither fight the last war nor cling to the preferred peace; they must have the capabilities to deal with this unprecedentedly wide range of evolving security challenges. The twenty-first century security environment is likely to remain complex, fast-changing and opaque; all that we can really know of this environment is that we’ll have to engage with it. But this all looks like hard work when complacency is so much more comfortable – and so much cheaper in the short run.

In August 1919 Lloyd George’s government adopted the ‘Ten Year No War Rule’ as a rationale for reductions in military spending. In 1928 it became a ‘rolling rule’, whereby the decade-long year strategic holiday would simply begin again each year. The rule was abandoned in 1932 and rearmament began, belatedly. 1947 saw a variation upon the theme; the ‘Five Plus Five’ rule whereby major war was not considered likely for the first five years, with the risk increasingly gradually over the following five. The rule was dropped by the Attlee government in 1948 because of deepening insecurity in Europe. In 2017 it would surely be unwise of the May government to adopt yet another version of the no war rule – but this time with no apparent time limit. History shows little respect for strategic holidaymakers.

Professor Paul Cornish,
Co-author, 2020: World of War (Hodder & Stoughton, 2017).