hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Monday, 19 February 2018

Munich: Talking About Bigness

“The wise man does at once what the fool does finally”
Niccolo Machiavelli
The Munich Security Conference
Munich, Germany. 19 February. I suppose it was French Defence Minister Parly’s call for “strategic autonomy” that gave this blog its mission. There is nothing like a stuck French record to get an Englishman going. My brief foray into the fray of the great, the good, and the not so good that is the Munich Security Conference was interesting. My takeaway? Europeans have a problem with bigness. Yes, we are very good at talking about bigness, and collectively we can come up with no end of plans, papers and prescriptions to pretend we are dealing with bigness. And, for many years we Europeans got away with pretend bigness because in historical and strategic terms whilst there was a lot of relatively smallness to be getting on with, there was little real bigness. No more! Take all the issues discussed at the conference, and cast them together into a cauldron of causality and what you walk away with is the need for Europeans to deal together with real bigness.  
Big Elephant # 1

There were three large elephants in the room at Munich, bigger even than some of the egos on show. Big elephant 1 was Europe’s very tentative relationship with bigness. Almost every issue on the agenda was big, global and European, demanding of a European grand strategy; the application of immense means in pursuit of very great but complicated and vital ends, requiring the consistent application of considered policy via sustained strategy over both time and distance. And yet, grand strategy is precisely what Europeans are rubbish at. Yes, like third string footballers at an English Premier League soccer club they practice endlessly, get paid very well, but do not really expect to play. PESCO is proof of that – a lot of political practice for the defence third team.

And, Europe’s bigness problem is getting bigger by the day. Any cursory analysis of Europe’s place in a rapidly-changing world would suggest that most of said change, which hitherto has happened beyond Europe’s shores, is now about to crash upon Europe’s shore like those Atlantic rollers I used to surf as a kid. 

The conference also reflected Europe’s unhappy tryst with bigness in the gap between rhetoric and reality. There was German Foreign Minister Gabriel saying the US should not try and divide Europe…Europeans are very good at doing that themselves, thank you very much. He also talked about the foreign policy of a German coalition that does not as yet exist, which was interesting.  There was British Prime Minister May talking about how vital Britain’s security and defence assets were to Europe, whilst she sets about cutting further those same assets beyond the point of serious utility at the pointy, high-end of destructive bigness.  Then there was US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster trying not to say anything that might offend the White House.  If McMaster has not got a clue what US policy is, what hope have the rest of us?  Now, I am against capital punishment, but I am willing to make an exception if anyone, anymore says Americans and Europeans are “bound together by shared values”.  The more we talk about ‘values’ the more we reveal a lack of any shared idea on policy or power.

However, what really worried me was General Mattis praising the European allies for very modest increases in defence spending from a very low base. It is a sure fire sign the Yanks no longer care when they begin praising mediocrity. 

Big Elephant # 2

Big Elephant # 2 was just how uncomfortable European leaders are with bigness.  What struck me about the European leaders on show is how small they stand on the world stage. How wedded they are to the endless comforting discussion on parochial processes ,such as Juncker’s Euro-building. And, how so many of them see such process as a deliberate distraction from bigness, let alone the complex, interactive bigness that is fast emerging as the reality signature of the twenty-first century.

Take, cyber – threat flavour of the month.  Europeans dealing effectively with cyber-attacks from Moscow (and others) is not just about dealing with a spotty bunch of Russian nationalist geeks in St Petersburg. It is also about having a big idea about the new big warfare that exerts a range of disturbing, destabilising and destructive pressures across the social, political and conflict spectrum. It is also about working out what defence and deterrence actually means in the twenty-first century, with what and with whom, and at what cost. Not a jot of it, although NATO SACEUR General Scaparrotti went just about as far as he could go in hinting at the war to come, that collectively we need to stop coming.  

Helping to stabilise the Middle East and North Africa is also a generational challenge almost as vital to Europeans as to the people of the region.  As I wrote in my 2017 book Demons and Dragons: The New Geoolitics of Terror (which is brilliant and very reasonably-priced at Amazon) Syria is merely the epicentre of a conflict of faith, power and uber-power that whilst focused on the Middle East is really about the new big New World Order.

Big Elephant # 3

Big Elephant 3 was the urgent need for Europeans to start dealing with bigness. The McMaster cliché revealed the extent of a very real challenge faced by that cornerstone of the global security edifice, the transatlantic relationship. Unless Europeans far more actively work to keep America strong, America will soon not be strong enough to adequately defend Europeans given its increasingly onerous responsibilities world-wide, and its increasingly uncertain politics state-side. In other words, no autonomy without capability. 

Resolving that conundrum must be central to the essential transatlantic relationship between the US and Germany.  Now, I have the very distinct honour to be part of the Loisach Group, co-hosted by the George C. Marshall Center and the Munich Security Conference, which seeks to foster just such a relationship.  As a Briton I have no problem at all with a strong US-German relationship. Not only do I welcome it, but I just wish the strategic illiterates in London would realise they can help it by reinvesting in, not cutting, Britain’s strategic brand. However, to ensure ends, ways and means even begin to align in the US-German (and wider) relationship Berlin and Washington also need a special relationship, and as yet ‘special’ it ain’t.   

The Elephant NOT in the Room

Which brings me back to the Munich Security Conference. Many of the bases were covered at the conference, precisely because many of those bases were loaded.   However, whilst there was much talk of European leadership it was the one big elephant that was NOT in the room. The problem is there is not much of it in Europe, and millions of European citizens know it. Worse, they no longer believe their leaders have any more idea how to ensure their security and defence than they do. It is as if the Emperor has stepped out in his resplendent ‘new clothes’ and some oick in the crowd shouts ‘Oi, mate, you’re stark-staring, bollock naked!’ If this is not quite yet the age of European defence, it is most certainly no longer the age of European deference. 

Until there is evidence of such leadership Europe will continue to be the mouse that roars. Establishing such leadership will not be easy, not least because Europe’s citizens also seem to be profoundly split between the ‘they are all a bunch of crooks lock ‘em up’ school of political thoughtlessness, or the ‘peace in our time’ school of political thoughtlessness. Trust in each other, and in leaders, is to say the least, at a premium. 

There are two other big European problems with bigness. First, Europeans only like their bigness in small pieces, not the big pieces bigness could well soon drop on them. Until Europeans start to put all their many small bits and pieces together into a big bit and piece effectively dealing with bigness will elude them, however long they bang on about PESCO. Second, European leaders refuse to see the world as it is, not as they would like it to be. Instead, they crave for a world of values and institutions, when it is fast becoming clear that Europe resides in a big world of big power, big states and big interests. The bigness paradox for Europeans is that they will not realise their world, until they properly invest in the real world…and do it together. 

Eighty years ago another small, parochial leader came here and failed to deal with bigness…but that was another Munich.  

Julian Lindley-French     

Friday, 16 February 2018

Brexit and the War of Little Britain versus Little England

“Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves gone…In the name of God, go!”

Oliver Cromwell, the dissolution of the Long Parliament, April 1653

Toxic Brexit

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 February. This is blast and I make no apology for it. Britain is broken and at war with itself. The utterly toxic Brexit debate seems now to be wholly dominated by extremists; Little Britons on one side, Remoaners who do not believe in Britain as a power or even a country, and Little Englanders on the other, who want foreigners out and long for an England that exists only in their nostalgia. The division is so deep, the country so divided that were this another age I fear Britain could be on the brink of a civil war.  This week, lead Brexiteer Boris Johnson tried, in his way, to seek common ground, but probably only further entrenched the hatreds (yes, hatreds) that now exist on both sides of Britain’s polarised air waves. Why has Brexit come to this, what are the consequences, and what, if any, is the way out of this God awful mess?

Let me state something at the beginning of this missive which might surprise Little Britons who seem to think Britain is Lichtenstein-on-Sea without the money. According to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and United Nations Britain still possesses either the 5th or 6th largest economy of any state on the planet.  The International Institute for International Studies also has Britain as the 6th biggest defence spender on Earth. If power is essentially a combination of economic, diplomatic and military tools then Britain should not be able to govern itself but also to exert real power and influence.  Add Britain’s soft power, language and a tradition of power that stretches back centuries and Britain could continue to be a major force in the world if it wanted to. And yet, all that London exudes these days is weakness, retreat and decline. 

Little Britons v Little Englanders

Why is Britain so divided?  The contrasting profiles of the extremist Little Britons and Little Englanders who dominate the debate is illuminating.  Little Britons tend to be younger and have been taught to despise patriotism, that Britain is on the wrong side of history, and seem only too happy to buy into the federalist propaganda of Promised Land, a new Utopia called ‘Europe’.  They claim themselves to be ‘patriotic’, but in a very different way to Little Englanders and in support of another ‘state’. Nor is it their fault.  For over forty years much of the elite Establishment (Westminster politicians and Whitehall bureaucrats combined), which also no longer believes in Britain (see my 2015 book Little Britain) has quietly engineered a retreat from British patriotism. This re-engineering of patriotism has also helped spawn a kind of illiberal liberalism that hates anyone or anything that challenges its utterly unworldly shibboleths, of which there are many.

Little Englanders are no better. They tend to be older and long for the days when Britain was either a superpower, or at least a ‘pocket superpower’ (a phrase I coined many years ago in a piece for the then International Herald Tribune). They reject the forces of globalism which are re-shaping the world. Impossibly, many of them want Britain isolated from globalism which Britain helped create, possibly more than any other state. Some Little Englanders are also quite often poorer than middle class Little Britons. For this group Brexit is a desperate cry from a group of people who believe themselves ignored and despised by a liberal elite Establishment which has for many years put the well-being and interests of the ‘other’ before them. 

Another Munich?

This weekend I will travel to the Munich Security Conference to take part in a high-level US-German event.  The Berlin-Washington relationship is difficult, but essential. Indeed, given Britain’s spectacular demise it is today the only transatlantic ‘special relationship’ that exists in anything like substance. Yes, the Anglo-American intelligence and mil-mil relationship remains close, but strong?  In the absence of a Britain willing and able to assert its interests or invest properly in the tools of statecraft across the diplomatic and military spectrum, or craft the policies of influence Britain will need as it leaves the EU, that relationship will become even more one of master-supplicant. Indeed, one reason the US-German relationship is so complex is precisely because it is one between relative equals. If the US remains a European power its equal within Europe is Germany. On Saturday, Prime Minister Theresa May will also be in Munich seeking to re-assure the audience that Britain is, and will remain, committed to the defence of Europe, as it should be. However, toxic Brexit begs yet another question: how can the defence of Europe be strengthened if Britain is broken? 

Brexit has also revealed an elite Establishment that has also lost the will to power that has traditionally underpinned Britain’s security and defence effort.  President Macron’s recent visit to Britain hinted at the strategic consequences of broken Britain.  Whilst Paris drives a hard Brexit bargain behind the scenes President Macron is calling for the strengthening of France’s vital strategic partnership with Britain.  The problem, Monsieur le President, is that if you and your Euro-mates succeed in humiliating broken Britain the will to power that is an essential pillar of European defence will, I fear, be completely destroyed.  Yes, Britain will go through the NATO motions by cooking the books to pretend London spends 2% on defence, when it does not.  However, this increasingly self-obsessed, self-loathing nation will have little interest or desire to defend those who many Little Englanders see as having helped to humiliate Britain ‘pour encourager les autres’.  In other words, Little England could well become Little Britain.

Re-learning the Art of Power

Seventy years of managing decline, forty plus years of handing power to Brussels, and almost eighty years of trying to hang on to America’s oft capricious coat-tails, has emaciated Britain’s ability to exercise power, Or, to put it another way, Britain is incapable of thinking strategically for itself.  Yes, Britain can build all the large aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines it likes, but if London lacks the capacity for leadership such ‘toys’ are neither tokens of power nor greatness. At the very least, post-Brexit London will need to re-learn the art of power. It is clear from the split in Cabinet and Parliament that some of the elite want to try, others simply do not believe it possible. This is dangerous. ‘Power’, or rather its absence reveals itself in extremis. As an Oxford historian and a strategic analyst of some modest note let me ‘un-reassure’ you; there will be a lot of extremis this century.

You see Extremis is where the rubber of leadership hits the hard road of reality. It was that capacity to lead in extremis which made Churchill a great leader in crisis. It is the lack of such capacity which reveals Theresa May’s inability to lead and which will condemn her to be one of Britain’s worst-ever prime ministers.

A New Britain?

There is no doubt in my mind that Boris Johnson is genuine in his desire to re-create a political consensus that would better enable sound governance.  He said so in a speech he made this week on Brexit, albeit in that ever so BoJo way – part Churchill, part Groucho Marx.  Unfortunately, he is simply the wrong man to mend my country. He is simply a representative of a failed political elite, a failed political generation that has led Britain into this sad place. It is a sign of the times that the choice I will soon have at the ballot box will be between divided incompetents and closet (and not-so-closet) Marxists. 

The British people deserve better. As the opinion polls continue to suggest most British people – the unheard of and unheard from majority – simply want May to get on with Brexit. Maybe, just maybe, over the next fortnight May will finally take a firm position on Brexit and present how she sees Britain’s future relationship with the EU beyond the slippery clichés of the Lancaster Gate speech orthe begging platitudes of the Florence speech, which to my mind read more like May ‘running something past’ Brussels. If not, then I fear an uncertain May and her quarrelling ‘team’ will ‘lead’ Britain to the worst-of-all Brexit worlds: a half-Brexit, a Conga Brexit – half-in, half-out with little room for Britain to shake anything much about.  On this I am with BoJo.

What to do?

Whatever happens post-Brexit (and hard though it is to believe there will be a post-Brexit) Britain will need to start again as a power. To that end, a new generation of politicians must be bought forward and quickly who are untainted by the disaster of Brexit. New leaders who can hopefully breathe some life back into the very ‘idea’ of Britain, before the waiting predatory nationalists and secessionists move again to tear the country apart.  It is a re-start that cannot come soon enough.  This future Britain does not need to be my Britain, but it does need to be need to be a Britain that properly understands the dangers of remaining glued to political decadence.  It is political decadence which has driven London’s fantastical retreat from political realism and made Britain, Europe and the wider world very much more insecure places than need be. 

At the very least Boris Johnson and Phillip Hammond, with his visionless ‘we only recognise as much threat as we can afford’ nonsense, must be cast into the footnote of history where they belong. PM May? For once, just for once, she must demonstrate she understands what ‘leadership’ really means by showing she has some idea of how to get Britain out of this bloody mess. Indeed, if she sits on the Euro-fence much longer she will not only develop rust, she will become permanently skewered, and my country with it. Her chronic indecision has exacerbated the division within the country and encouraged hard-liners in Brussels to believe that not only can they humiliate Britain, but as former British Euro-crat Lord Kerr suggested recently, bring Britain to heel, like some misbehaving dog.  

Get Out of the Gutter, Britain!

Anyone of any political sense knows that Brexit is hard.  It is made harder by a Civil Service that really believes the ‘sovereign will’ of the people to be wrong on Brexit.  However, the real tragedy of Brexit is that had the Cabinet been even vaguely well-led, and ever-so-slightly more unified Brexit need not be anything like as hard as Britain’s ‘leaders’ have made it.  In the political vacuum created by this lack of leadership extremist Little Britons and Little Englanders between them have come close to wrecking Britain as a power, possibly as a state, and even potentially as a society.  The rest of us just look on aghast. 

Britain today is a hollowed-out husk of a once Great Power that punches well below its weight in the world, led by a political elite obsessed with input-led, virtue-signalling, rather than properly upholding the responsibilities that power imposes.  For those of us who, somehow, still believe in Britain Brexit has become a sadly all-too-predicted disaster. Indeed, this is one of the reasons why, in spite of my profound concerns about the drift of the EU towards soft authoritarianism, and having undertaken a detailed SWOT analysis prior to the June 2016 referendum, I decided that on balance Britain should remain in the EU.  Still, I despair of those ‘we know best’ elite Little Britons doing all they can to destroy Brexit.  What on Earth do they think they are doing seeking to over-turn a legitimate vote?  If they succeed, just what kind of country do they think they will ‘inherit’?  Whatever happened to that sound pragmatic application of Britain that once underpinned the ‘greatness’ of Britain?  Not to mention those head in the sand Little Englanders who seem to want a return to the 1950s, and want it now!

Britain IS still a Great Power and, on paper at least, will remain so for the foreseeable future.  However, a state can possess all the nominal economic and military power in the world, but if the elite Establishment is split asunder and unable to craft coherent policy and strategy then influence drains away like summer rain down a storm gutter.  And, in my long-life, I have never seen Britain so firmly mired in the gutter as now.  Sadly, that is what happens when people who do not believe in either an idea or the country they lead take power. For them everything is impossible, nothing possible.

One final thought, if Brexit means more of the utter irresponsibility on show from Honourable Members of the so-called Mother of Parliaments then perhaps Oliver Cromwell had a point! After all, Britain’s ‘sovereign’ Parliament, far from governing in the name of the people is simply the cock-pit where this new civil war is being fought.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

MAD Again? Competing in the New Strategic Arms Race

“The West won the world not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion […] but rather by its superiority in applying organised violence. Westerners often forget this fact; non-Westerners never do.”
Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

MAD Again?

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 February.  A new strategic arms race is underway. If it goes unchecked it could well mark the end of all arms control and disarmament frameworks and lead to the re-emergence of mutually-assured destruction (MAD) as the defining feature of security. Could the arrival of a new combination of technologies in the battlespace help prevent that?
The just published US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), and I suspect the forthcoming US National Military Strategy (NMS), will reveal the extent of this arms race and its implications. Most striking is the nuclear arms race, but unlike in the past ‘nukes’ are not the only show bombing town. China has just mounted the first ship-borne hyper-sonic gun that can fire a projectile at more than 5000 mph over 100 miles. Growing applications of Artificial Intelligence, machine-learning, quantum computing, big data and Nano-technologies suggest that a whole host of new ways to achieve Clausewitz’s ghastly  purpose of war: to engender new and ‘better’ political end-states.

Because of the NPR the focus of this missive is on the new nuclear arms race. This is for no other reason than I have spent the past few days reading and considering the document.  As I read what for me is a surprisingly conventional document, given the new technologies and strategies of war the Pentagon is considering a question sprung to mind: is the best way to counter nukes in the twenty-first century more nukes?

Exploiting the Deterrence Gap

Moscow is seeking to modernise the Russian nuclear arsenal whilst maintaining Europe’s ‘snowflake’ politicians in the comforting fantasy that their own retreat from defence seriousness does not carry with it strategic and political consequences.  Russia is deliberately  seeking to exploit a ‘deterrence gap’ between a global-reach, but over-stretched US military, an under-funded, under-equipped and relatively small European forces, and a strategic nuclear deterrent that could only credibly be used in an absolute nuclear emergency. 

In an attempt to close that gap, and to counter Russia’s driving of a nuclear ballistic missile submarine through both the New START and Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the NPR calls for new smaller nuclear warheads and new shorter range missile systems. The military strategy designed by Russian Chief of the General Staff General Valery Gerasimov envisions Russian strategic, tactical and short-range nuclear and nuclear-capable systems being used as essentially ‘political’ weapons to ‘escalate to de-escalate’ a crisis, i.e. to use the threat of nuclear weapons to consolidate any gains Russia’s conventional forces may make in a future European war.

To that end, Moscow is intentionally ‘blurring the lines of long-established treaty frameworks by deploying weapon systems that straddle the ICBM category (any missile with a range in excess of 5500 km), intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM: 3000-5000 km range), medium-range ballistic missiles (MBRM: 1000-3000 km range), short-range ballistic missiles missiles (SRM: with a range of up to 1000 km) and theatre ballistic missiles (TBM: 300-3500 km).

There is, I suppose, a certain irony in that under New START, which was agreed in 2010 and ratified in February 2011, this month was meant to see both sides limit the number of deployed nuclear warheads in their respective arsenals to 1500.  And, yes, whilst as of today the Russian Federation slightly exceeds that figure at 1565, and the US is somewhat below that target at 1393, the Federation of American Scientists believes both sides fail to live up to the ‘build-down’ spirit of that treaty. For example, Russia has some 4500 ‘strategically operational warheads’, whilst the US possesses some 4000.

The RS-28 Sarmat monster (NATO codename Satan 2) will be able to carry up to 10 heavy thermonuclear warheads or 15 of a ‘lighter’ yield. RS-28 Sarmat is a successor to the Soviet-era heavy SS-18 missiles and is due for deployment in 2020.  The RSM-56 Bulava submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) has a range of some 10,000 km which can carry 10 x 150 kiloton warheads and is designed for deployment on the new Borei-class heavy ballistic missile submarines.

Moscow is also developing an updated SS-27 Topol missile which has been named the SS-29 (or RS-24 Yars). The SS29 is reported to be able to carry three ‘heavy’ MIRVed warheads, fast, and over a range of up to 11,000 km.  The Russians have also deployed the nuclear-capable Iskandr missile with a range of some 400-500 km, and are also believed to be developing a nuclear torpedo, known as the Status-6 system, with a nuclear warhead of 100 megatons (Pentagon codename: Kanyon) with a range of 10,000 km, with a speed of 100 km/hr, and able to dive to 1000 metres.
A Very Political Weapon

Europe?  As I said, the Russians fully understand the political utility of nuclear weapons, especially in Europe.  Back in 1977, whilst I was at Oxford, the Euromissiles Crisis began.  It was a crisis upon which I cut my teeth in my later Master’s thesis.  The deployment by the then Soviet Union of the triple-warhead, mobile, SS-20 theatre ballistic missile threatened to destabilise the Euro-strategic balance. Not unlike this month’s NPR the then Carter Administration responded first with the so-called Enhanced Radiation Weapon or Neutron Bomb, which was designed to kill people but ‘limit’ the effects of blast.  

Following a furore which began in the then Federal Republic of (West) Germany, the designated nuclear killing zone in the event of a war, the Neutron Bomb was abandoned but the Americans then moved to counter the SS-20 with their own theatre missile systems – the Pershing 2 missile and the famed Cruise missile.  Through a combination of ‘fake news’ 1970s-style, and very genuine concerns amongst large segments of the European population, Moscow also helped foment a huge popular revolt against the US deployment of these systems.

The aim then was also to decouple the defence of Europe from the US strategic deterrent (which is precisely why Britain and France had their own ‘independent’ nuclear systems).  That aim was frustrated (temporarily) in 1989 with the end of the Cold War, the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, and the economic crisis that engulfed the Russian Federation during the 1990s.  However, with the 1999 arrival of President Putin Moscow once again began the long road back to strategic influence.  Today, Moscow is still committed to 'decoupling' the defence of Europe from the US. However, today Russia now employs nuclear weapons as part of a new triple hybrid, cyber and hyper war strategy with the particular aim of re-exerting influence over much of Central, Eastern & Northern Europe.  Sadly, mass destabilisation, mass disruption and the threat of mass destruction seem, once again, to have returned as the terrifying triplets of European insecurity. 

Barking MAD?

1977 revisited? For all that is the NPR right?  Again, is the best way to counter nukes more nukes? After all, Moscow has not US nukes to contend with as both Britain and France are in the process of modernising their own nuclear deterrent systems.  My concern is that if Washington moved to re-introduce shorter-range nukes to Europe, beyond the B-61 free-fall bomb, Moscow would have all the political leverage it needs to re-ignite a new wave of protest across much of NATO Europe.  Indeed, it is precisely the kind of issue that would trigger meltdown in the unworldly snowflake generation that the education systems of Western Europe seem each year to be spawning by the million. And, for once, I might be in some sympathy with them.

The problem is that in places the NPR comes across as equally unworldly.  The idea that the placing of ‘low-yield’ nuclear warheads atop existing, long-range Trident SLBM systems would somehow contribute to deterrence and a more stable 'balance' via some form of ‘sub-strategic role’ for such weapons is quite simply barking MAD.  If any of the fourteen American Ohio-class or the four British Vanguard-class ‘boomers’ (ballistic missile submarines or SSBN) were to launch a Trident II D5 missile Moscow would have no alternative but to assume it was facing the full thermonuclear force of W76 or W88 warheads.  The response would be a world-ending ‘strategic salvo’. This particular nuclear conundrum begs a further set of questions for the British, who these days seem able to either afford a future strategic deterrent or a powerful conventional future force…but not both!

Deterrence theory dictates that nuclear weapons can be either used for ‘counter-force’ targets (destroying the silos of enemy missiles or large-scale military formations) or for ‘counter-value’ targets, you and me.  Unfortunately, the targets of submarine-launched missiles are hard to discern, especially if they are MIRV-ed (can deploy multiple independent re-entry vehicles (warheads) or are MaRV-ed (manoeuvrable re-entry vehicles) designed to evade missile defences, as is increasingly the case. This danger is further multiplied if the missiles are fired on a so-called ‘flat trajectory’.

Closing the Deterrence Gap

We are not back in the 1970s! Surely, and I admit I am venturing into the world of deterrence imagination here, new technologies entering the battlespace could be harnessed to provide new concepts and methods of deterrence.  For example, could not resilient Artificial Intelligence be programmed to so damage an adversary irrespective of whether its host survived a nuclear first or second strike thus making such a strike pointless?  Emerging ‘conventional’ systems are devastating and, if allied to new robotics, cyber and other technologies, could generate the deterrent effect of MAD-ness, without the MAD-ness.

In other words, rather than go again down the road of good, old-fashioned 'screw the lot of us' MAD-ness. would it not make sense for the US, UK, France, and the wider NATO Alliance to craft a concept of deterrence concept that moves beyond nuclear mutually-assured destruction by combining new thinking with new strategy and new technology? Such an approach would help cast nuclear weapons as essentially self-defeating, self-destroying, anachronistic weapons of war made for another age, that in all or any realistic scenario have no practical or sensible warfighting role, whatever the size of the warhead.

The Adaptation of Deterrence?

NATO is undergoing strategic adaptation, or so the story goes. Surely, the Alliance nuclear concept of deterrence needs also to be adapted beyond hoping a few ageing dual-capable aircraft (DCA) or French ‘sub-strategic’ air-launched nukes might penetrate increasingly sophisticated Russian anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD).  NATO should thus adapt its deterrent posture to include new, non-nuclear deterrence across the sweep of twenty-first century conventional, ‘unconventional’ and nuclear forces to establish deterrence as a broad-based defence that combines the ability to project power with the protection of people. 

The best way to plug the deterrence gap and the most effective deterrent is a strong conventional deterrent, albeit a strong ‘conventional’ deterrent that also includes in its mix an effective set of visions and strategies for the deterrent application of what at present remain ‘unconventional’ new technologies – Artificial Intelligence, machine-learning, quantum computing, big data, Nano-technology, offensive cyber capabilities, allied to the ‘hardening’ of critical national and social infrastructures. 

What is needed, above all, is new thinking and, for me, there is precious little of that in the new US Nuclear Posture Review.  Just a thought.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 9 February 2018

Soft Authoritarianism, GroKo & the Slow Death of European Democracy

“Rulers who destroy men's freedom commonly begin by trying to retain its forms. ... They cherish the illusion that they can combine the prerogatives of absolute power with the moral authority that comes from popular assent.”
Alexis de Tocqueville, ‘L’ancien regime et la revolution française’

Alphen, Netherlands. 9 February. In 1964 Juan Linz identified four strands of authoritarianism – limited political plurality, elite political establishments who see their own entrenched power as a necessary evil, the equally ‘necessary’ suppression of political opponents, and informally defined executive power.  Let me re-define Linz to explain the steady emergence of what I call soft authoritarianism and the slow death of democracy in Europe: the emergence of an ancien regime elite European political Caste; the ignoring of the people; and the erosion by the EU of sovereign democracy as power is concentrated ever more in the hands of a distant, unelected elite Establishment in the name of ‘ordnung’. 

In Europe today people get to vote a lot, but they always end up with the same elites pretty much making the same decisions for the same reasons. The reason is well-established; entrenched political elites cite Europe’s violent history as legitimisation of themselves as a necessary evil against so-called ‘populist’ revolts.  Political opposition to such elitism is not so much suppressed, but ignored.  As the gap between leaders and led emerges a Europe-wide political and bureaucratic elite cast is forming that ascribes to itself informal and yet ill-defined powers to ‘do what is best for the people’. 

The Caste talks the language of democracy even as it suborns it. It even has its own ‘enforcement agency’ in the form of the European Commission, complete with a rubber-stamping European Parliament that ‘legitimise’ the transfer of power from the people to a distant elite.  The caste talks to itself rather than to the people who legitimise it. They cite the will of the people when the ‘people’ seem to agree with them, and yet justify any unwillingness to listen to the self-same ‘people’ when they do not act as an inability to act, having passed much of the people’s sovereignty to unelected Brussels.

The news this week that yet another ‘GroKo’, or Grosse Koalition has been agreed in Germany may be the sign of European ‘democracy’ to come; whomsoever the German people vote for they end up with the same government.  It would be easy to argue, as Chancellor Merkel and Martin Schulz no doubt will, that they are acting in the national interest and that Groko enjoys Tocqueville’s “popular assent”. They will also no doubt argue and that the combined vote for the CDU and SPD represents an absolute majority.  This is, of course, nonsense because most of their respective voters voted to keep one or the other out of government. Political pluralism is clearly in retreat in Germany.

Defenders of GroKo will again suggest that the circumstances are unique, those seeking to justify power always do, and that whilst now a long-term political phenomenon (since 2005 there has only been four years without a Merkel-led GroKo) it is a temporary political fix.  However, that begs the question, temporary fix for what?  Liberal democracy cannot function if the elite political Establishment effectively kills opposition, which is clearly what is happening in Germany. Rather, the elite political Establishment in Berlin, uncomfortable with critical opposition, is entrenching its power. Merkel is justifying such soft authoritarianism by claiming the liberal state is under attack from ‘populists’ in the form of the Alternative fȕr Deutschland.  Tocqueville’s warning personified.

The response to ‘populism’ is fast becoming the leitmotif for soft authoritarianism. In Europe, the term ‘populist’ is bandied around by leaders to imply a link to Fascism and/or Nazism. There can be no doubt that within the ranks of so-called ‘populists’ there are, indeed, some very nasty individuals.  However, the elite political Establishment definition of ‘populism’ seems now to be morphing to encompass anyone who criticises the Europe-wide elite failure to deal with a range of big issues which affect the daily lives of millions of citizens, decent citizens at that.  This is dangerous political turf.

Nor is soft authoritarianism confined to Germany.  Here in the Netherlands, the Dutch Government is proposing an end to the right to hold referenda on specific issues if a sufficient number of citizens call for one. This move from The Hague has all the hallmarks of a being a ‘directive’ from the very unelected and very counter-democratic Caste that is the European Commission.  In April 2014 the Dutch people voted in a referendum to reject the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement by 61% to 39%, albeit on a turnout of 32%.  This ‘decision’ deeply embarrassed the Dutch Government in its dealings with Brussels. As ever with such votes the Dutch Government ‘worked with’ Brussels to find some meaningless language to justify ignoring the popular vote and thus to over-turn its consequences.

The same soft authoritarian method is now being applied to Britain with much of the elite political Establishment (within Britain and without) now leading a full-on assault on the June 2016 popular decision to quit the EU.  What was offered to the British people as a one-off, binding, ‘in-out’ vote by then Prime Minister David Cameron is mysteriously morphing by the day into a mere ‘advisory’ vote.  In an act of blatant, full-on authoritarianism this week the European Commission leaked a paper in which it set out a series of punishments it wishes to impose on Britain during a planned ‘transition’, including the possible grounding of flights between Britain and the EU.  Having read the paper I am very close to switching my allegiance from Remain to Leave. No-one who attacks my country in this dictatorial and arrogant manner has the right to my support, however meaningless my support is becoming.

The paradox of soft authoritarianism is that its bias is decidedly liberal.  Its defining impulse is to preserve vulnerable ‘liberal’ gains at the heart of the European idea from nationalists and worse. However, by adopting such an illiberal method to defend liberalism the very idea of a liberal Europe is being torn apart.  Consequently, elite political and bureaucratic Establishments in Europe are fast turning into a self-serving, self-justifying political caste, the very thing that Tocqueville wrote about and the fall of which precipitated the French Revolution. 

However well-intentioned Europe’s elite political Establishment might be, and I will grant that most of them (not all) are indeed well-intentioned, sacrificing democracy in the name of elite-imposed ‘ordnung’ is not the way forward for ‘Europe’ or its states. Rather, popular sovereignty has to be re-embraced.  Such elites must learn again to speak to the people to make their case.  There may well be places and times when the people revolt, such as Brexit.  At such times the sovereign will of the people must be respected.  Why?  First, because in a sovereign democracy the people cannot be wrong. Second, because contrary to the growing belief of much of Europe’s elite political Caste the people are not so stupid that they need protecting from themselves.  Most European citizens can be trusted with power if they see they are being well-led.

The issue of good leadership goes to the heart of soft authoritarianism in Europe.  Europeans have not been well-led over the past twenty years and soft authoritarianism has become the preserve of failed leaders who want to protect themselves from the legitimate anger of the peoples they have failed. 

If the elite political Caste in Europe do not up their game and soon it is they who will kill democracy in Europe, not the populists who rarely represent more than a fraction of the population.  And, they will be damned for it.

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Leangkollen: Can Norway Defend Itself?

“…NATO is turning its attention back to collective defence, and expectations of the EU in the area of security are increasing. In the north, Russia is strengthening its military capabilities and presence. This has implications for Norway”.
Setting the Course for Norwegian Foreign and Security Policy

Leangkollen, Norway, 7 February, 2018. Can Norway defend itself? The snow rolls down to the spectacular Oslo Fjord. Comfortable houses dot the landscape like raisins on a giant Christmas cake. Norway is one of the most beautiful and wealthiest countries on Earth. Over the past couple of days I have had the honour to attend and speak at one of the great security policy conferences here. The 53rd Leangkollen Conference has been organised brilliantly (as ever) by my dear friend Kate Hansen Bundt and her outstanding team at the Norwegian Atlantic Committee.

And yet I come away from Leangkollen uneasy.  Norway is yet another small European country dancing on the head of a strategic pin to justify why it does not meet the NATO Defence Investment Pledge of 2% GDP.  Yes, Oslo has increased its defence budget over the past couple of years by an impressive 9.8%, but still only spends 1.6% of GDP on defence. And, although Norway now spends some 25% each year on new equipment, easily surpassing the 20% the Alliance called for at the 2014 NATO Wales Summit, the Norwegian Armed Forces are simply too small for the country’s Defence Plan to work in an emergency.  So, here is why Norway must again increase defence expenditure.

The Threat to Norway’s North: Examine Russia’s massive military exercise Zapad 2017 closely and one vital aim becomes clear - the decapitation of Norway’s North, North Cape and the Finmark along a line from Tromso via Kirkenes to just over the Norwegian-Russian border at Pechenga. The reason can be found in Severomorsk, the headquarters of the increasingly powerful Russian North Fleet.  In a war Moscow would seize both Moscow’s North Cape and the island of Svalbard to protect the ingress and egress of Russian ships and nuclear-powered attack submarines. Russia would also move to strengthen the so-called ‘bastions’ from which Russian ‘boomers’ could fire submarine-launched ballistic missiles at North America and the rest of NATO Europe.

Russia’s growing pressure on the North Atlantic: Russian air and maritime forces are also exerting growing pressure on the so-called Greenland-Iceland-UK gap in an effort to exclude NATO forces from a vital North Atlantic area of operations.  These include regular and provocative flights either close to or within Norwegian air space.  It is prevent such Russian ambitions why NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg is calling for a new/old Atlantic Command.

Russia’s Militarisation of the Arctic: Whilst Norway claims to have a co-operative relationship with Russia over the Arctic Moscow is also steadily militarising the region. Russian air bases at Naguskoye, Rogachevo, Sredny Ostrov, Temp, and Zvyozdny are being modernised and strengthened, along with Russian ‘Naval Infantry’ (marines).  Such bases not only threaten Northern Norway, Finland and Sweden, but also Norwegian territory in the Arctic.

The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund: The Fund is designed to help Norway cope with a ‘rainy day’ when the oil and gas revenues decline. In September 2017 the Fund passed $1 trillion, which is roughly the size of Mexico’s entire economy.  Norway’s armed forces are also a form of ‘insurance’.  Of all the NATO European allies Norway can spend 2% GDP on defence. Such a level of defence expenditure would still be historically low and would hardly represent the militarisation of Norwegian society.  Norway is free-riding and it needs to stop – for its own sake and that of the Alliance collective defence upon which the defence of the country depends.

NATO has a Norwegian Secretary-General: Jens Stoltenberg also spoke at the conference.  During the Afghanistan Campaign the Dutch sent forces into Uruzgan, one of the more testing provinces partly because the then ‘Sec-Gen’ was Dutch. It is hard for Stoltenberg to insist that other NATO members spend 2% GDP on defence when his own rich country, of which he was once prime minister, does not.

Norway’s nonsensical Base Policy: Norway’s Long-Term Defence Plan is based on the need to “…strengthen the basis for receiving Allied support”. And yet Norway permits “…no permanent bases for foreign combat forces in Norwegian soil”. Indeed, even though the US Marines Corps has pre-positioned equipment in Norway Oslo refuses to permit the permanent basing of such forces, even if they are from NATO allies.  This is dangerous nonsense. Even if the US (or even the UK) could reinforce Norwegian forces it would clearly take far longer than the current Norwegian Army could hold out.

The question I posed at the conference is one I now regularly pose to leaders: what if conventional deterrence fails?  In fact, the answer is staring right back at me. The Leangkollen Conference takes place in a complex of buildings that were once called the “Eagle’s Nest”. They were built for the traitor Vidkun Quisling who in 1940 helped facilitate the Nazi invasion of Norway.  If deterrence is going to fail one of the most likely places for it to fail is Norway and NATO's Northern Flank. And yet, there is a big snow-hole right in the midst of Norwegian defence policy. Whilst it talks about the importance of Allied support the politics of Norwegian defence still seem to be based on the principle that Norway can defend itself, even when it is clear it cannot.   

Can Norway defend itself? No. Can NATO defend Norway? No, not unless Oslo changes its defence policy, which brings me to one final thought. During the conference a leading Norwegian politician welcomed European solidarity against ‘Brexit’.  Let me be clear; people who want my country to defend them should be careful not to attack it. Clear?

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 2 February 2018

Is the Defence of Britain now a Luxury?

“At present, the affordability gap ranges from a minimum of £4.9bn to £20.8bn if financial risks materialize and ambitious savings are not achieved”.

Mr Amas Morse, Head of the British National Audit Office

Alphen, Netherlands. 2 February.  What would be the ‘affordability gap’ if deterrence fails? Talk about recognising only as much threat as Britain can afford. A new report by London’s National Audit Office entitled The Equipment Plan 2016-2026 raises two fundamental questions: is the defence of Britain now a luxury, and can any British government forecasts any longer be relied upon?  Indeed, if one needs any further evidence that British government Brexit figures are more dodgy politics than sound forecasting one only has to see how Britain’s failing defence budget was creatively ‘made’ to meet the NATO 2% GDP defence investment guidelines.

The facts of the report make for sobering reading. The defence budget faces a possible £21bn ‘black hole’ over ten years. The Ministry of Defence did not include the cost of a planned fleet of 5 Type 31e frigates in its Equipment Plan (also published this week) and has no money to keep the fast-ageing Type 23 frigates at sea. The cost of the four Dreadnought-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) currently under construction has already risen some £576m above projections. There is also a £3.2bn gap in the funding of the support for future equipment and planned £8.1bn ‘efficiency savings’ have yet to be realized (strange how the number of defence civil servants remains stubbornly high).

There has also been a failure to include £9.6bn of forecast costs in addition to the missing money for the Type 31e frigates. It also now seems very likely that the planned seventh Astute-class nuclear attack submarine (SSN) HMS Ajax (HMS Axed?) will not now be built.  This at a time when the Russians have commissioned 15 very capable Akula-class SSN, 2 super-capable Yasen-class SSN and 5 new Borei-class SSBN. Worse, having poured billions of pounds into the development of the F-35B Lightning II strike aircraft, and constructed two enormous 70,000 ton aircraft carriers around them, not only does the Ministry of Defence have no idea of the cost of supporting the aircraft in service, last week the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Testing described the plane as not ‘operationally suitable’.

In 2015 the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) set out a baseline plan for the minimal defence of Britain and the meeting of its defence commitments to NATO and others.  In so doing it added some £24bn of additional commitments to be realised over the 2015-2026 period. Since then there has been nothing but back-sliding and obfuscation from what were already bare-minimum commitments to a sound and credible defence. 

In 2017 National Security Advisor Sir Mark Sedwill was commissioned to undertake a National Security Capability Review (NCSR). On the face of it, the NCSR methodologically sound.  He was charged with considering Britain’s security and defence challenges in the round and how best to apportion the roughly 7% of GDP London spends on both.  Warfare is changing and now bestrides the civilian and military spectrum from hybrid war to hyper war via cyber war (see my Future War NATO: From Hybrid War to Hyper War via Cyber War paper that I co-write in 2017 with General John R. Allen, General Philip Breedlove and Admiral George Zambellas ).  

However, the Sedwill Review is only masquerading as strategy. As the former National Security Advisor Lord Peter Ricketts warned last week it is a mistake to separate defence out from the review because for such a review to work it must adopt an holistic approach across security of which defence is a part, albeit an important part. Rather, by delaying the defence component of the review my suspicions have been confirmed: the NSCR is little more than yet another political ruse to enable this hapless, reality-appeasing London government to renege on yet another soundly-considered, and yet minimum defence spending commitment. Little Britain writ large.

To be fair, part of the problem has been caused by the fall in the value of the pound against both the dollar and the euro since the June 2016 Brexit referendum.  However, at root the problem is one of political culture and goes far beyond the sliding value of the pound.  It is what happen when an accountant is put in charge of defence strategy.  The world is not a spreadsheet, as Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond and his merry band of creative economists at the Treasury would like it. Nor is it a fairground attraction that one can hop on and off when financial convenience serves. It is a real place which is increasingly red in teeth and claw and which Britain’s wilful decline from defence seriousness makes far more so than need be.

Now, I have something of a reputation of a Cassandra because I will not buy into the blind ‘can-do’, ‘it will be alright on the night’, ‘we will muddle through’ approach traditional in senior echelons of the British armed forces.  As Dr Julian Lewis, the influential chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee rightly points out, if Britain is to meet its minimum defence commitments the country must spend at least 2.5% GDP on defence.  That is not me being Cassandra, rather it is plain, bloody, Yorkshire common sense.  Strangely, the British Government agrees with me.  London regularly warns of growing threats…and then promptly cuts the resources available to deal adequately with them. 

Sadly, it is hard to see anything that this failing rudderless government gets right these days.  This leaves me the British citizen facing a dreadful choice between incompetents for whom ‘strategy’ extends no further than getting to next Friday, and a Marxist who believes Britain and its armed forces are responsible for most of the world’s ills.

Britain’s defence is not a luxury to be cut at a political whim to meet the damning dictates of serial short-termism. London had better understand that defence strategic truism before it is too late!  Again, what would be the ‘affordability gap’ if deterrence fails?

Julian Lindley-French