hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Speaking Big Truth unto Big Power

Riga, Latvia. 29 September. It is a curious phrase to speak truth unto power. It is believed to have originated in the US in the 1950s when a group of pacifist Quakers wrote a book seeking an alternative to the Cold War. It has also become a virtual motto for the British Civil Service. Now, regular readers of this blog will know that I am no pacifist, but I am utterly committed to the maintenance of a just peace and as committed to the defence of freedom. The purpose of this blog is not to frustrate establishments or annoy elites (although the latter has an allure). States need effective elites and establishments. My purpose is to help make them better and to remind them that in democracies they are accountable to me the citizen.  

Back here in Riga I am at the sharp-end of democracy, a place where the benefits and dangers of big power are very clear. For Latvians the rise again of its noisy neighbour and the illiberal ‘big’ military power it eschews raises big questions about whether the liberal states of the West are any longer capable of generating the necessary countervailing big military power needed to defend Latvian freedom. However, the need for such big power also raises a fundamental question that is at the heart of Europe’s, and indeed America’s political malaise; big power is necessarily distant power and distant power can be inherently anti-democratic. 

This paradox was brought home to me on the plane over here last night. For much of the journey I read pro-EU Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his new book “The Euro”. It is a masterpiece and I will devote another coming blog to the many lessons Stiglitz has for Europe’s failed elite from the failed single currency. However, what struck me reading Stiglitz is the extent to which in the absence of proper democratic oversight far from becoming more efficient Europe’s distant elites became progressively and dangerously inefficient. For Stiglitz the Euro disaster was caused by an ideologically-driven elite whose fervour for ever more ‘Europe’ led to them dismissing the political and economic fundamentals needed to make function a single currency across of continent of widely differing polities, economies, languages and cultures.

Tonight I will have the honour of addressing His Excellency the State President of Latvia Raimonds Vejonis, together with an audience of assembled dignitaries on the defence of the Alliance.  My message will be blunt (as it often is); in spite of the many other pressures on Western democracies the first duty of the state to its people is their security and defence. That means a Europe that once again begins to understand the first principles of big defence power, how to afford it and apply it.  

And yet the defence of the Alliance is being undermined by dangerous disillusionment in publics across Europe and the wider West. This is partly the inevitable consequence of eight years of austerity (see Stiglitz) following the 2008 banking crash that was caused by yet another unaccountable big power elite. It is also partly the result of a failed ‘ideological’ Brussels elite (again see Stiglitz), and partly because the drift towards mega power, as expressed through mega trade deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, has inexorably fuelled a popular sense that power is inexorably moving away from the people leaving democracy a fallen, rotting husk on the autumn lawn of power. Brexit was certainly driven in part by this unease and the historical English distrust of unaccountable, distant power.

Free from any real accountability some ‘democratic’ elites have begun to do the same thing to their people as illiberal states routinely do to theirs; treat them like children because they the elites ‘know best.  Worse, bereft of influence or power organised legitimate dissent has drifted away from the chambers of representative democracy towards the new, extreme, and often illegitimate anarchism of social media. A drift that has further weakened the bond between leaders and led in democracies and too often enabled the likes of President Putin to insert an alternative ‘truth (MH17), and to further undermine the social and political cohesion vital to the defence of freedom. 

But here’s the ultimate paradox; in the world of the twenty-first century big power IS necessary. Indeed, the very freedom of the individual to express dissent about big power is dependent on effective big power. What is needed is for her/him to again feel a connection with it. If the West’s political elites are to re-capture the trust of the people which in a true democracy is the real foundation for the defence of freedom then they must begin to treat their fellow citizens like grown-ups and speak truth unto people. If not ‘populists’ and Putins will continue to fill the vacuum of mistrust with their own very trumped-up truths, and the West will continue its downward plunge into decline and division.

Therefore, what is desperately needed is for Western elites to again conceive of big power differently to illiberal big power. That means re-embracing democracy rather than treat it the same way large companies treat tax; something to be circumvented, and if possible avoided. In this dangerous age big power must speak big truth unto its big people, but it must also learn to listen and mean it.

Julian Lindley-French                 

Monday, 26 September 2016

Defence Brexit: Anglosphere and Eurosphere

“Where do we stand? We are not members of the European Defence Community, nor do we intend to be merged in a federal European system. We feel we have a special relationship to both…we are with them, but not of them”.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill, 11 May 1953.
Alphen, Netherlands. 26 September. The defence implications of Brexit are enormous. It is now three months since the Brexit referendum which saw the British people vote 52% to 48% to quit the EU. Since then, and in the absence of firm leadership in London, a phoney war is being ‘fought’ into which all sorts of nonsense is being injected. However, the defence aspect of Brexit has been by and large AWOL, both in Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Speaking in Riga, Latvia last week the need for Europe’s strongest military democracy to remain fully committed to the defence of Europe is as clear to me as ever. That commitment is in danger and here is why.

Nasty Brexit: Last week Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico warned that the, “V4 (Visegrad) countries will be uncompromising. Unless we feel a guarantee that these people [V4 citizens in the UK] are equal, we will veto any deal between the EU and Britain”. Whatever emollient British politicians and diplomats might say if the V4 states (or others) did indeed veto a Brexit deal the commitment of British public opinion to the defence of other European states would be dangerously undermined. Mr Fico cannot expect to threaten Britain and still expect British soldiers to possibly lay down their lives in defence of Slovakia and others. A nasty Brexit would thus not only damage the EU, but also NATO, an outcome that must be avoided at all costs. Remember, I called Brexit right!

Disarming Corbyn: The re-election on Saturday of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader threatens to critically undermine Britain’s military power. The leader of the main political opposition party is not only committed to unilateral nuclear disarmament, he is also a committed pacifist. This weekend Corbyn said as prime minister he would want to re-direct Britain’s armed forces towards ‘emergency support’. In other words, if Corbyn ever gained power in London he would turn the British armed forces into little more than a poorly-armed first aid force. An anti-NATO, anti-American Prime Minister Corbyn would thus put the entire Western defence architecture at risk at what is a dangerous time. There must be no complacency about the threat Corbyn poses to European defence.

Rearming Barrons: Last week the leaked ‘haul down’ report of recently-retired General Sir Richard Barrons warned that Britain’s armed forces have become a ‘shop window’ force due to repeated ‘skimming’ of the defence budget by Government. They look good but there is little of substance beyond the image. He argued (and rightly) for the need to reinforce the front-line with all the necessary support elements needed to ensure and enhance the ability of the force to project power projection, strike, and command coalitions and thus fulfil the roles and tasks assigned to it. Europe’s future defence will be dependent to a significant extent on just such a British military capability.

Anglosphere: If the Corbyn disaster can be averted post-Brexit Britain will inevitably form part of the American-centric defence Anglosphere (Yanksphere?), itself at the hub of the coalescing World-Wide West. For Britain the move towards Anglosphere is obvious. With the commissioning of the two new super-carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, the British will find themselves integrated ever more deeply into the global power projection order of strategy of an over-stretched US.
Eurosphere: The rest of Europe will have to move towards some form of defence Eurosphere via tighter European defence integration. Indeed, as efforts to save the Euro intensify the only way for the Eurozone states to make the single currency work AND afford credible security and defence will be to radically re-order their defence effort and integrate more tightly. Such integration would not, at least in the first instance, lead to the creation of a European Army, but rather a very tight intergovernmental structure favoured by EU foreign and security policy supreme Federica Mogherini in the EU’s recent Global Strategy.

Implications for post-Brexit NATO: The Alliance would continue to be organised around an American-led pillar and a European pillar. However, the US and Canada would be joined by the post-Brexit British, and by extension non-NATO strategic partners such as Australia, and possibly even India and Japan. The Eurosphere would in time begin to take on the appearance of an EU-centric European pillar of the Alliance. This is what perhaps Jean-Clause Juncker was implying in his State of the European Union speech this month when he called for NATO-friendly defence integration.

Implications for the Defence of Europe: Brexit will thus lead to a new organising principle for the defence of Europe with profound implications for several European states. France will be finally forced to demonstrate just how much ‘Europe’ she is really willing to accept in defence. The Nordic states will have to balance their traditional closeness to Britain with their commitment to EU defence, as will the Netherlands. And Germany will be forced to assume the mantle of European defence leadership that for understandable reasons is still politically sensitive if not toxic in many quarters of the Federal Republic. Italy?

Respectful Brexit: Britain’s REAL commitment to the defence of Europe, the use of Britain’s armed forces as an agent of influence not simply a function of defence, the cohesion of an Alliance organised along new lines, and the commitment of the British people to the defence of eastern and southern Europe, are all dependent to a significant extent on a respectful Brexit. 

Therefore, if there is a respectful and reasonable fulfilment of the democratic desire of the British people to leave the EU, allied to a clear British commitment to remain close friends and partners of the EU and its member-states, then security and defence Brexit could even help reinvigorate the security and defence of Europe. If not, then the deep divisions that ensue will in turn ensure that no-one in democratic European ‘wins’ and everyone is less secure.

Brexit will mark the final and irrevocable end of Britain’s dalliance with European defence integration, just as it will inevitably mark the start of a new era of European defence integration. It is time to plan accordingly to ensure the Western Alliance is organised for optimal effect in the Europe of tomorrow, not the Europe of yesterday.

Britain must be with ‘Europe‘, even if it is no longer of it.

Julian Lindley-French         

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Putin: The Illusion of Power

“I have conquered an empire; but I have yet to conquer myself”
Peter the Great

Riga. Latvia. 22 September. The news that United Russia, the party President Putin backs won 54.2% of the vote in last week’s elections for the Duma, Russia’s parliament, hardly came as a great political surprise. United Russia now holds 343 of the 450 seats in the Duma, with the nearest rivals having gained only 13% of the vote, whilst the ‘liberal’ failed to surpass the 5% threshold and lost their last remaining seats. President Putin really has kicked the 1990s into the long, long grass of Russian history. President Putin also rules (or is that reigns) supreme and is thus free to further cultivate the Russian strongman image he has carefully crafted both at home and abroad. It is an illusion, but seen here from Latvia it is an exceptionally dangerous illusion.

In reality Russia is growing relatively weaker than most of its European and Western partner-adversaries in every area that matters, save armed force. The facts speak for themselves. According to the UN in 2016 Russia has an economy worth some $1.8 trillion, which is about the same size of that of Canada, and slightly bigger than that of Australia. This compares with a US economy worth $17.3 trillion, a German economy worth $3.7 trillion, and a British economy worth $3 trillion. And yet, SIPRI suggests that whilst the US in 2015 spent 3.3% of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defence or $597 billion and the UK spent 2% or $55.5 billion, Russia spent $66.4 billion or 5.4% of its GDP on defence. In fact, the true ‘burden’ of the Russian security state on the Russian economy is closer to, if not more than, 10% of GDP.

Why is Putin committing so much Russian taxpayer’s money to defence and other ‘security-related’ expenditure? For many Russians ‘strength and greatness’ means a strongman leader backed up by armed forces geared for aggression. For them history has taught that forcing supplicant respect from neighbouring others is the only way Russia can be secure. Consequently, Russia is an aggressive isolationist power that sees itself and sets itself apart from contemporary European/Western ideas of mutual interdependence. It is a profoundly Russian sense of isolationism twinned with exceptionalism that runs deep in the Russian soul, reinforced by President Putin’ belief that the disastrous Yeltsin years simply confirmed that closeness to the West simply makes it easier and cheaper for the perfidious West to confound Russia.

However, there are other factors driving President Putin’s over-mighty security state, not least the sheer size of Russia. President Putin is determined to instil centralising political discipline on regional governors and oligarchs in an enormous country that covers 13 time zones, suffers from poor infrastructure, and in which Vladivostok is roughly the same distance from Moscow as London is distant from Chicago. In a conversation I had with Mikhail Khodorkovsky a couple of years back I was struck by the extent to which even the illusion of threat instils a fierce loyalty to Mother Russia.

If there is an illusion of threat, there is also an illusion of power. Russia has simply been unable to come to terms with the twenty-first century and instead reached for those two great comforting balms beloved of many Russians; nostalgia and illusion. President Putin appeals to a sense of false nostalgia that afflicts many Russians outside relatively more liberal Moscow and St Petersburg. An idea that somehow the Soviet Union was the ‘good old days’ when Russia had the respect of the world, even its Western enemies. It is an illusion that President Putin is brilliantly (for the moment) and ruthlessly fostering. It is also why Moscow engages in lethal strategic grandstanding in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere, even if contemporary Russia simply lacks the power fundamentals to be a true twenty-first century Great Power over the medium to longer-term.   

This illusion of power runs right through the Kremlin. In a recent interview with the BBC Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich warned that Brexit would weaken Europe and that no individual European state could anymore influence world affairs alone. Russia? For example, Britain is an intrinsically stronger power than Russia so why does Moscow think weaker Russia can influence world affairs when stronger Britain cannot? President Putin believes Russia is at its ‘strongest’ outside a rules-based world order and that Moscow’s very unpredictability is Moscow’s strength.

Whilst I am a fierce critic of President Putin I have a genuine respect for the man. Indeed, I find it nauseating when European political leaders express shock at his actions. He is not, and has never claimed to be, a woolly European liberal democrat. He is a Russian nationalist who will act in what he sees as the Russian national interest whatever that takes and we in the West had better come to terms with that. His world-view is the product of Russia’s war-winning, land-grabbing sacrifice in World War Two which fashioned a love of country from the dark, dark crucible of destruction. In other words, President Putin believes he IS Russia and that is all the political legitimacy he needs. He is not alone in this belief. For several years I educated Russian officers and diplomats at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and I never ceased to be impressed by their love of country, their profound belief in Mother Russia, and their determination to defend her.

The Russians have a saying, “umom Rosiya neponjat” or one can never understand Russia.  For the sake of friends and allies such as Latvia the West must stop trying to look at President Putin through ‘why can’t he be likes us’ Western eyes and quickly. The very disconnect between Russia’s weak power fundamentals and Russia’s vaunting power ambition that is driving Russian policy means Russia’s power illusion is as much a danger to itself as to its neighbouring others. Unless President Putin changes course Russia will again sink under the burden over its own over-securitized insecurity. The reckoning may take a little longer to arrive than some Western commentators believe because Russians are willing to sacrifice longer for what they believe to be Russian ‘greatness’ than most ‘soft’ Westerners. However, catastrophe will come.

President Putin is hoping that by then he will have re-established Russian influence over its near-abroad to such an extent that his place in Russian history will be assured, and that whatever test Russia must ultimately face durable Russians will outlast weak Westerners. In preparing the ground for this great ‘test’ of strength President Putin sees himself as the natural heir of Peter the Great. However, President Putin should remember that the use of the suffix ‘Great’ was not simply because Tsar Peter understood power. He also understood that to make Russia a real eighteenth century Great Power he had to transform Russia from a fifteenth century state. 

If President Putin is to make Russia a real twenty-first century Great Power then he will have to transform Russia from a twentieth century state. At present there is no sign he understands that precisely because he has failed to reform, which is precisely because he has failed to conquer himself and his many prejudices about Russia and the ‘other’. Yes, much of President Putin’s power is but an illusion, but when viewed from here in Latvia it is a very real and a very dangerous illusion.

Julian Lindley-French     


Monday, 19 September 2016

The Barrons Revolt: Why Big Wars Start

Alphen, Netherlands. 19 September. Big wars involving democracies usually start for three reasons; disarmament, distraction, and denial. The West today suffers from all three afflictions. The leaking of the so-called ‘haul down’ report of General Sir Richard Barrons, the former commander of Britain’s Joint Force Command, is simply the latest warning from a senior commander. Some years ago I worked briefly with Barrons. I have rarely met a more thinking or erudite officer.

In an interview with The Times of today Barrons warns that Britain and NATO have no effective plan for defending Europe from a Russian attack because of splits within the Alliance. Russia, he says, could deploy tens of thousands of troops into NATO territory within 48 hours whilst it would take months for the Alliance to do the same thing. The result; “…some land and control of airspace and territorial waters could be lost before NATO 28 member states had even agreed to respond”.

Disarmament: The July NATO Warsaw Summit Declaration states; “Since Wales we have turned a corner. Collectively, Allies’ defence expenditures have increased for the first time since 2009. In just two years, a majority of Allies have halted or reversed declines in defence spending in real terms”. This statement might be right in fact, but it is complete nonsense in reality. It is not absolute power that is critical in any given military balance of power, but relative power. In relative terms too many NATO nations continue to disarm relatively to Russia, which is still busting its economy to rearm. Indeed, what really worries me is the combination of a weak Russian economy crippled further by massive defence investments by an autocratic regime that seems to claim political legitimacy from what is a policy that can only end in disaster.

Distraction:  Reading the outputs from last week’s EU informal Bratislava summit I became very concerned. Apparently. Britain is now the enemy of the EU and many of its member-states. And yet, many of those same EU (and NATO) states routinely expect British soldiers to lay down their lives in their defence. Let me be clear; if in the Brexit negotiations the EU and its members attempt to punish the British people for an act of democracy it will weaken the commitment of Europe’s strongest democratic military power to the defence of Europe. Cut the stupidity, and stop turning Brexit into what is an almighty strategic distraction.  Fight Britain, Europe loses.

Denial: In a recent exchange with the former Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski I challenged Poles to confront the myth that Britain and France betrayed Poland in September 1939. Incompetence yes, betrayal no. The fact that both countries declared war on Nazi Germany on 3 September and fought a world war that ended them as world powers was proof that London and Paris were willing to honour their commitment to Poland. Moreover, I argued, if one looked at the deployment of German forces on 1 September, 1939 there was precious little else Britain and France could have done. The Wehrmacht may have had some sixty divisions on the Polish border before the invasion, but it had forty-six divisions on their western border reinforced by the Westwall (or Siegfried line) at its very strongest.

However, the Poles also have a point. Britain and France did not simply offer ‘commitments’, they offered solemn treaty guarantees for Poland’s defence before the conflict, and ‘guarantees’ of action once the war began. Neither happened. Worse, the real power in the West at the time, the United States, had retreated into isolationism. The result was that when the unthinkable happened the Western democracies were forced to trade the space of their allies for the time to ultimately defeat the enemy.

Which brings me to a fourth ‘D’; deterrence. Barrons is making essentially the same point that was made recently by NATO’s former No.2 soldier General Sir Richard Shirreff in his excellent book 2017: The Coming War with Russia.   Now, I am not equating Putin’s Russia with Nazi Germany because I have too much respect for Russians and their sacrifice in World War Two to do that. However, the warning from Barrons, Shirreff, me and others is clear; when faced with aggressive, unpredictable, nationalist, autocratic regimes that seek a critical military advantage at a place and time of their choosing one has no choice but to prepare for the worst. In other words, wishful thinking does not make for sound deterrence.
NATO's Warsaw plan is to base 1000 troops in each of the three Baltic States. Barrons says this of the plan; “There is no force behind it, or plans or resilience…It is an indication of how, at this stage in our history, I think many people have lost sight of what a credible military force is and requires. They think a little bit of posing or a light force constitutes enough and it isn’t”. So, just how many troops does Russia have right at this moment in the Western military oblast directly adjacent to the Baltic States? Four corps or 120,000 troops.

As an Oxford historian who has studied and written at length about the causes of both World War One and World War Two I have been, and I am, increasingly worried that an unstable Russia could at some point be unable to resist the opportunity to exploit an overwhelming local advantage to take Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and present the West with a nuclear-backed fait accompli. Many of you out there will think that is unthinkable. You are in denial. It really is now thinkable. My mission, and that of Sir Richard, is to ensure that never happens.

World War Two happened because of Adolf Hitler. However, it also happened because like so many of the leaders of today’s Western democracies Britain and France were for too long in denial about the extent and the scope of the threats to the borders of democratic Europe. What to do about it? Political leaders must finally face hard reality and begin the complete and proper overhaul of NATO defence and deterrence so that defensive forces properly deter offensive forces. This means going far beyond the Warsaw window-dressing where getting the language agreed for the Declaration was more important than defending Europe.  Nothing less than the strategic renovation of the Alliance is needed. To that end, I will co-lead a major project in the coming months with retired US General John Allen. Will the politicians listen? They should because if they don’t THEN history really might be revisited…and on their watch.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 15 September 2016


“Victory in this war will belong to the belligerent who is the first to put a cannon on a vehicle capable of moving on all kinds of terrain”.
Colonel Jean-Baptiste Estienne, 24 August, 1914

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 September. At 0515 hours on the morning of 15 September, 1916 at Flens Courcelette in the Somme battlefield the air was rent by a sound new to the battlefield. The engines of 32, 29 ton British Mark I tanks of the Guards Division powered up to a crescendo before beginning their lumbering 3mph/4kph advance towards the German trenches. Seven tanks immediately broke down. The sight of 25 of these ‘monsters’ suddenly appearing out of the early autumn fog in which the Somme valley was swathed led some German troops to panic. However, as one would expect of the German Army, most did not. Although the British tanks, supported haphazardly by infantry, made some limited, initial gains once the shock had worn off the inevitable German counter-attacks negated much of the early advance.

Equally, for all that the attack failed to make the hoped for break-through this day a century ago marks the beginning of a new phase in manoeuvre warfare and the search for the right mix of speed, armour, firepower and effective strategic and tactical application of the tank that continues to this day. Indeed, even a quick glance would confirm the link between the caterpillar-tracked Mark I tank of 1916, and the advanced main battle tank of today.

One irony of the first British tanks was that they had been inspired by naval thinking of the time. First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill was behind the idea of a ‘landship’, and even to this day ‘tankers’ use nautical terms such as ‘turret’ and ‘hatch’ etc. Indeed, the only reason they are called 'tanks' is that to mask their true purpose the workers at the agricultural machinery manufacturers in Lincoln where the Mark I was being developed were told they were ‘water tanks’ destined for Mesopotamia.

The problem with the Mark I was reliability. It had been originally intended that 59 tanks would take part in operations on 15 September, but 27 of the tanks were non-operational. This was mainly due to problems with their experimental 105 bhp Foster-Daimler-Knight engines. Of the 25 tanks which made it into action they were divided into ‘male’ tanks, armed with two quick-firing 6 pound Hotchkiss cannons, and ‘female’ tanks armed with four Vickers .303 calibre machine guns.

Although the first use of tanks in action by the British undoubtedly came as a complete surprise to the Germans several countries were developing similar systems at the time. Indeed, perhaps the first real tank was developed not by the British but by Austria-Hungary, although Vienna’s ‘tank’ never made it beyond the prototype stage.

It was not until April 1918 that the first tank-on-tank battle took place at the Second Battle of Villiers-Bretonneux when three British Mark V tanks encountered three enormous German A7V tanks, each with a crew of 30. In what proved to be perhaps the slowest battle in modern military history it was eventually the solitary British ‘male’ tank which successfully struck its German enemy and forced the A7Vs to withdraw.

However, it was dawn on 8 August, 1918 at the Battle of Amiens that the tank began to be used to real effect. One of the most innovative of British commanders General Sir Henry Rawlinson had commanded Fourth Army at the Somme and had seen the potential of the tank. On what German commander General Erich Ludendorff called ‘the black day of the German Army” Rawlinson for the first time used air power, infantry and massed tanks in close order to punch a hole through the defences of over-extended German forces. What followed thereafter was a fighting German retreat that would continue to the Armistice in November 1918. The tank had come of age.

It was German commanders such as Guderian and Rommel, and Russian thinkers such as Tukhachevsky, who saw the real potential of the tank during the interbellum and properly exploited Rawlinson’s August 1918 lessons. The result was the Blitzkrieg tactics unleashed by Nazi Germany on Poland in 1939, France and the Low Countries in 1940, and on the Soviet Union in 1941. In the inter-war years the British once again retreated behind the wall of the Royal Navy, whilst the French went down the tactical dead-end of that ultimate World War One trench, the Maginot Line. The idea of static defence-in-depth had by and large been abandoned by the Germans as a concept of warfare as early as 1918 with the destruction of the Hindenburg Line.
Perhaps it is best to leave the last word on the tank action at Flers Courcelette to Winston Churchill. “My poor ‘land battleships’ have been let off prematurely on a petty scale…This priceless conception, containing, if used in its integrity and on a sufficient scale, the certainty of a great and brilliant victory, was revealed to the Germans for the mere purpose of taking a few ruined villages”.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 12 September 2016

Europe Needs a Defence Innovation Partnership

Alphen, Netherlands. 12 September. On Friday I had the distinct honour of addressing Airbus senior management at a swanky resort outside Geneva on European security and the need for a return to the principles of worst-case planning. The speech was against a backdrop of more European defence wishful-thinking last week from Jean-Claude Juncker and Federica Mogherini as they again try to use defence to counter Brexit without actually enhancing European defence. As ever with such meetings some of the most important conversations were informal. Perhaps the most important idea that emerged for me was the need for a new defence innovation partnership in Europe.

What do I mean by that? The July NATO Wales Summit Declaration referred to some modest increase in European defence expenditure in 2016. However, it is very modest and still bears little or no relation to the investment needed to render deterrence and defence credible, let alone maintain the ability to project power efficiently and effectively with the Americans. Worse, Jean-Claude Juncker only called for a more integrated EU ‘defence’ to promote his federalist agenda, whilst the more pragmatic Mogherini wants to see if Britain’s departure from the EU could lead to a more efficient investment by EU member-states in an EU-centric security and defence effort.

The problem with all such pronouncements is that they all assume the same essential defence ‘contract’ with the European defence and technological industrial base (EDTIB). In my evidence to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee late last year I highlighted the appalling waste of taxpayer’s money this ‘contract’ creates with Europeans getting far too little return on their defence investment.

The problem is that much of Europe’s defence investment has little to do with defence. Rather, it is a way a) maintain a taxpayer’s subsidy to keep inefficient defence industries in business; b) preserve a hi-tech research base when in fact the civilian sector is often far ahead; c) preserve jobs in key political constituencies; or d) a combination of all of the above. This shameful waste of taxpayer’s money is often compounded by the pretence that competition takes place between Europe’s few big defence contractors for the relatively few ‘big ticket’ defence projects on offer. In fact, such is the byzantine relationship between government and defence industries in most European countries that false competition is usually simply a metaphor for government trying to shift the risk of defence innovation onto the manufacturer and then the manufacturer claiming the cost back via cost overruns. Inevitably, it is the taxpayer who ends up footing the often exorbitant bill, although on some other politician’s watch.

There have been many attempts to overcome these problems but all have failed, for various by and large political reasons. The European Defence Agency being the most obvious of these failures through no particular fault of its own. As a consequence there are still too many metal-bashing defence industries in Europe bashing metal on very similar bits of over-priced, under-performing bits of defence metal.  Production runs are simply not long enough nor big enough to produce the necessary economies of scale. Or, the inflated cost of such platforms are made worse by what I call the Christmas Tree effect – the hanging of too many systems onto platforms rendering both the platform and the system sub-optimal because systems integration is rendered impossible by governments constantly changing the requirement.

What is needed is a new European Defence Innovation Partnership, which would necessarily include the post-Brexit Brits, with the whole idea of false competition needs to be abandoned. Now, I am not suggesting a return to the appallingly wasteful ‘cost plus’ or ‘juste retour‘models of partnership. Nor am I suggesting any more Smart Procurement nonsense by which governments mortgage their defence future by delaying fronting up to the cost of defence present.

To make such a partnership reality companies like Airbus, which struck me as surprisingly nimble by defence-industrial standards, need to form a standing partnership with other big European prime defence contractors, such as EADS, Thales, and Bae Systems. Having formed such an alliance they need to be brought into discussions about defence requirement far earlier in the in planning/political cycle than is the case today so that a new balance can be struck between defence capability and defence affordability. Thereafter, the entire industrial/service supply chain needs to be exploited, not just the bespoke defence supply chain. And, where possible, as much hardware and software as possible bought off the shelf.

Take the new British super-carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales. Much of the press focus is on what many see as the inflated cost of the two ships at £6bn. The reason for that is simple; at the outset of the project politicians and businessmen told porky pies to Parliament about the cost of the project and how long it would take to realise. If they had told the truth the carriers would have been sunk at birth.

In fact, the construction of the two carriers by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance is a story of innovation and points to the future. The ships were built in sections across the UK, with the each section then floated on barges to Rosyth where they were assembled. To realise the project the prime contractors Bae Systems and Thales UK had to make use of much existing expertise from the declining North Sea oil industry and exploit a much wider supply chain than has been traditionally the case for such projects. This helped lead to the Defence Growth Partnership and attempts by the British to generate much more defence capability for each pound spent.        
However, if ever a real Defence Innovation Partnership is to be realised politicians must begin to answer a question they have been dodging since the end of the Cold War; what does the defence of Europe require, not how much defence of Europe can we afford.

Thank you, Airbus!

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Can the West Peacekeep and Warfight?

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 September. “The UK and U.S. are determined to play our part in ensuring that our peacekeepers are up to the task of protecting civilians, abiding by the rule of law, and honouring the UN principles of humanity, impartiality and independence”. This was the central message from US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon in a piece in Today’s Times. The piece was written on the occasion of the “UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial” which Fallon will today host in London. The meeting begs a critical question that neither Carter nor Fallon were willing to address: can the West any longer undertake both peacekeeping and warfighting missions?

The facts. As of 30 June, 2016 there were 16 UN peacekeeping missions led by the Department for Peacekeeping Operations with 88,221 troops deployed from 123 countries, plus police and other support staff. Whilst Western forces provide important specialised support only some 5000 or 5% of UN peacekeepers actually come from the West.

The big elephant in today’s elegant Lancaster House room will be thus: how can ever-shrinking Western forces engage in ever more missions across an ever more demanding conflict spectrum demanding in turn ever more tasks and skills? Take the U.S. and UK; sequestration has critically undermined the ability of Washington to undertake longer-term force planning as modernisation has had to be sacrificed for readiness. Whilst on paper the US Army appears strong with some 450,000 active duty personnel, plus a US Marines Corps of 180,000 personnel, 40,000 troops are to be cut by the end of 2017.  The British cut their tiny regular army down to 82,500 from over 104,000 in the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review.  Worse, problems with recruiting means the regular force is now only some 78000 strong, whilst the much vaunted ‘Reserve Army’ is finding it hard to recruit the 30,000 troops to ‘compensate’ for repeated cuts to the front-line force, which has seen limited modernisation too often come at the expense of readiness.

Michael Fallon said this morning that Western engagement in UN peacekeeping was vital to prevent weak states collapsing and consequent hyper-migration and terrorism. Back in the 1990s it might have been possible for Western forces to engage exclusively in peace-making and peacekeeping missions because in a relatively permissive post-Cold War strategic environment the idea of major war had been banished. However, as I will say in a major speech I will be giving in Geneva tomorrow, those days are long gone.

If NATO is to successfully adopt what it calls a “360 degree approach” not only will Alliance forces need to look simultaneously east, west, south north, up and down, if they are to be credible ‘deterrers’ and defenders they will also be called upon to operate to effect throughout the conflict spectrum from low-end peacekeeping, to peace-enforcement, engaged counter-terrorism operations AND prepare for a possible future major war.  That will mean large, tightly-interoperable forces able to operate to effect across the seven domains of twenty-first century warfare – air, sea, land, cyber, space, information, and knowledge.

Colonel J.F.C. Fuller, the great British military-strategic thinker said that all forms of warfare involve manoeuvre and attrition. At the lower end of the spectrum even relatively ‘permissive’ operations demand a large amount of manpower. As such peacekeeping operations are not ‘warfare-lite’, as many Western (particularly European) politicians like to pretend. As Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have demonstrated preventing a weak state tip into terrorism and migration-fuelling anarchy demands a grand strategic campaign involving the application of huge forces and resources over time and distance.

So, if the Alliance is to credibly defend Poland and the Baltic States, which is my firm commitment, NATO forces must also be ready to prevent a possible war with Russian forces, a strategic hybrid war with a nasty nuclear tinge. That means the forward deployment of NATO forces in sufficient strength and of sufficient quality, and with the demonstrable ability to reinforce quickly, overseen by crystal clear political will and deft decision-making, and underpinned by resilient societies.

So, can the West peacekeep and warfight? At present no. The Americans lack sufficient mass of force to do both, whilst the Europeans lack both mass and manoeuvre forces in anything like the strength, or indeed at the level of necessary military capability and capacity. 

On the BBC this morning Michael Fallon was not even asked this pivotal question. Rather, after announcing 100 more British soldiers will go to the South Sudan, he then retreated into the now usual strategy-defying politically-correct guff about how important it is to get more women involved in peacekeeping, and to prevent sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers. Yes, these are important topics.  However, they are also part of a displacement strategy by politicians to avoid the real issue; sending 100 more British troops to peace-keep in South Sudan is 100 less British troops to defend the Baltic States. So small are European forces in particular that such choices really are these days part of a zero sum game.

If the West wants to peace-keep and war-fight seriously it will need to first act as the West and aggregate all of its forces and much of its effort. That means more and far more, far better forces than the West’s possesses today. For the democracies to suggest otherwise is to simply engage in yet more 1930s-echoing reality-appeasing political guff. The result of such guff is all too apparent in Europe's armed forces today; small forces with a little bit of everything, but not much of anything.

Julian Lindley-French