hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Future Navy! A Fighting Admiral Speaks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 14 September 2017

SHAPE-ing Irma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Lies, Damn Lies & Brexit!

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

Brexit: Power, Pomposity & Policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lies, Damn Lies & Brexit!

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

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

Assessment? Fat chance!

Lies, damn lies & Brexit!

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

NATO, Silicon Trench & the Rambusters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

NATO, Canada, and the U.S. Bank of Mom and Dad

Republished in my blog by kind permission of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, which published this piece on 25 August, 2017 as part of the NATO Series. 

“Is your [Canadian] plan as cunning as a fox who’s just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University?” Blackadder, Blackadder Goes Forth

The news that by 2024 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Canada will increase its defence spending from a self-proclaimed brilliantly spent one per cent of GDP to a no doubt equally brilliantly spent two per cent of GDP, and meet the 2014 Wales Summit defence investment pledge (DIP!) is very good – at least on the face of it. Canada is in many ways the country that makes the Alliance an alliance, rather than America’s somewhat unconvincing European protectorate. But what should Canada spend its new money on?

Earlier in the year, I attended the NATO Resource Conference 2017 in Reykjavik, Iceland. Three issues were central to the debate. First, the habit NATO Europeans have acquired of relying on the U.S. Bank of Mom and Dad when they cannot be bothered to spend enough on their own security and defence. Second, a profound question was raised as to whether aforesaid NATO Europeans will ever really honour the DIP, the now Holy Grail of contemporary alliance. Finally, upon what should NATO and the Allies spend any additional monies? Canada?

The goodish news first. Apparently, the decline in NATO defence spending stopped in 2015, and even increased a bit (3.8 per cent or some $10 billion) in 2016. And if NATO Europeans ever do honour the DIP – the biggest “if” since “if” was introduced into the English language by King Ethelred the Literately Uncertain – NATO would suddenly have an additional $100 billion to spend.

And yet, read between European lines and the message was (as ever) clear as mud: hurry up and wait! Yes, it was repeated ad nauseam that all NATO Europeans are “fully” committed to spending two per cent of GDP on defence. However, the “but” in the room was positively thermonuclear. In fact, most Europeans are still driven by the assumption that sooner or later the U.S. Bank of Mom and Dad will come out late on a dark, stormy night to pick up their wayward relatives, who not only forgot to save the bus fare home, but also got hammered on a toxic brew called “Welfare”, ended up in a heap in the middle of strategic nowhere, and missed the last bus.

The trouble is that Mom and Dad might not always be there. First, there is growing irritation in some parts of the U.S. administration about Euro-Junior’s refusal to get off its fat ass and get a job. Second, Mom and Dad are not as flush as they used to be. Third, Mom and Dad now have to deal with a noisy and bolshie Chinese neighbour at the other end of the street. Fourth, Mom and Dad are simply too tired and too busy.

NATO itself is also deeply divided. One group – for sake of argument, the easterners – wants the additional monies others are going to spend to be spent on high-end, expensive, big-bang stuff that defends them. The hope is that such increased expenditure will render the NATO defence and deterrence posture credible not just in the eyes of the brigade of budgeteers who control everything, but also Russia. Another group – for sake of argument, the southerners – thinks this is nonsense, and wants the bulk of the additional monies others will spend on defending them to be spent on counter-terrorism and counter-criminal activities, most notably human trafficking. Very few want NATO to have the money and most would prefer to spend it on themselves.

Here’s the problem: if NATO is to remain the West’s ultimate security and defence insurance, then henceforth NATO must be able both to deter and defend at the high end of conflict. It must prepare to fight and if needs be win a war, playing a full role in protecting its home base from penetration and attack by terrorists and globally-capable criminals. In other words, all of us are going to have to buy into all of the above if the Alliance is to be credible in the face of threats.

Which brings me back to the DIP and Canada. Yes, I am the first to say that two per cent of GDP spent on defence is better than one per cent, however brilliantly that one per cent is spent. What concerns me is the growing obsession among all the non-American NATO members with measuring inputs as a way to avoid looking seriously at desired and necessarily expensive outcomes, which at the end of the day is what security and defence must be about. Worse, I am not at all sure any NATO nation knows what it is really spending its defence budget on these days, let alone how it can get from, say, one per cent of GDP to two per cent of GDP. Other, that is, than by fiddling the books. Britain, are you listening?

The two per cent target forces Ottawa to face a profound set of strategic choices it has long been fudging. This is not least over that most fundamental of Canadian defence posers: should Ottawa invest the planned new funds in NATO or the Americans, and what mix of the two? It is a question that can no longer be dodged. For the first time in decades Canada lives in strategically relevant neighbourhoods in which others have a profound interest – and not always friendly “others”.

The Russian Northern Fleet is again contesting the North Atlantic. The Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force will have critical roles to play therein. However, given the United States Navy’s focus on Asia-Pacific, much of that effort might have to be with the Royal Navy, albeit embedded in the NATO Command Structure. History beckons, eh? The High North and the Arctic Circle are also fast becoming contested. The Arctic is in the Euro-Atlantic area and thus formally a NATO responsibility. However, in addition to the Americans, it is likely that Canada will not only find itself more engaged with NATO ally Norway, and to some extent the U.K., but also non-NATO partners such as Finland and Sweden.

Canada is also a Pacific power. Given the emerging threat posed by the likes of North Korea to continental North America, as well as the coming advent of new war technologies, the defence of Canada and its neighbour is likely to call for a much reinforced, more agile and more advanced NORAD. And, the need for Canadian influence over its American neighbour to the south is, of course, a central plank of Ottawa’s grand strategy (do you Canadians do “grand strategy”, or is that too American?). One has only to look at the size and location of the Canadian embassy in D.C. to understand that.

So, where should the focus be of Ottawa’s balance of defence investments? Given evolving Canadian security and defence interests, it is again vital that Ottawa exerts influence over the Americans and the Alliance. Ottawa needs to understand this truism of Canadian strategy. There is some evidence that Ottawa does indeed get this, which is why Canada sent a battle group to Latvia as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence to deter an aggressive Russia. Equally, Canada’s skills in stabilization and reconstruction are also recognized the world over, as is Canada’s mastery of soft power, and all that goes with it. These skills must not be lost.

However, if Canada really wants to influence the Americans – Donald Trump or no – Ottawa must avoid falling into the European trap by claiming to spend two per cent of GDP on defence, when it is not. The use of soft power dressed up as hard power is a trick some Germans and other Europeans are trying to pull at the moment. The aim is to achieve the two per cent DIP target, but only by political sleight-of-hand. Nor should Canada follow the British down the road of creative defence accounting by which everything that might have even the most tenuous link to defence is included in the defence estimate. Britain is fast abandoning sound defence in pursuit of sound money and losing a lot of influence over both – large, empty aircraft carriers or no.

You see, at the end of the day, the two per cent DIP is meant to be spent on hard defence, of which 20 per cent each year must be spent on new hard defence kit, because that is what sound strategy demands right now. And what is really cunning about the increase in defence expenditure implied by the DIP is that it is not only about enhanced or strengthened defence. It is about the use of cutting edge military capabilities to strengthen the role an ally might play in the coalitions that will be the strategic method of the 21st century, in order also to strengthen the strategic and political influence a state has over the structure and conduct of such coalitions. Given Canada’s new strategic reality, Ottawa has no choice but to ensure it can indeed exert such influence over the Americans and the Europeans. Well, no, I am wrong. Ottawa could instead choose to retreat into defence pretence, like so many of its allies, and see what happens.

Until political leaders in NATO capitals, including Canada, stop sacrificing sound long-term strategy for the sake of facile short-term politics and continue to hide hard defence truths, then I fear the artifice of input will continue to exercise tyranny over the strategy of outcomes.

Cunning, eh? Canada, you had better spend on a hard two per cent, and mean it!

Julian Lindley-French,

Canadian Global Affairs Institute

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Donald Trump’s Great Game?

"If the British Government would only play the grand game — help Russia cordially to all that she has a right to expect — shake hands with Persia — get her all possible amends from Oosbegs — force the Bokhara Amir to be just to us, the Afghans, and other Oosbeg states, and his own kingdom…The expediency, nay the necessity of them will be seen, and we shall play the noble part that the first Christian nation of the world ought to fill."
Arthur Conolly, 1840

Alphen, Netherlands. 24 August. The Great Game was the nineteenth century struggle between Britain and Russia for India, with much of the conflict over all-important control of Afghanistan. It was British diplomat Arthur Conolly who in 1840 coined the phrase Great Game. This week President Trump committed the US to the latest iteration of it, the latest twist in America’s now sixteen year Afghan War, its longest. The President also said, “We are going to win”. He would be the first. No outside power has ever won the Great Game in Afghanistan. And, the US will have little chance of ‘winning’ it without a counter-terrorism, governance and regional strategy reinforced by strategic patience. What can President Trump hope to achieve?

In his address to the American nation on Monday the President clearly indicated the continuing need for multifaceted strategy which came out of last week’s meeting with his senior generals at Camp David. The main effort at present is to reinforce the Kabul government of President Ashraf Ghani by focusing on the capacity-building of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).  An extra 3,800 troops will be sent back to Afghanistan to reinforce the 8,400 troops already in theatre to bolster counter-terrorism operations and reinforce ANSF training.  This ‘new approach’ has the fingerprints of Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster all over it.

The Administration is correct to be concerned.  Since the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan at the end of 2015 the Taliban have extended their traditional reach beyond the Pashtun heartlands on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, into Uzbek and Tadjik areas. Worse, according to London Al Qaeda (AQ) are also showing signs of once again exploiting a lack of governance to re-establish safe havens, and ISIS is also now present on the ground.

Critically, the Administration seems to want to establish a proper joined-up regional strategy, without which there can be no stability in Afghanistan, and may just work this time. The threat posed by Al Qaeda and ISIS is one of those strange conjunctions in geopolitics that could unite all the contending Great Powers and regional-strategic powers that surround Afghanistan. Shia Iran hates ISIS, and it is in the interests of China, Russia, and India, all three of which are very active in Afghanistan – both overtly and covertly – to block the return of AQ to Afghanistan, and most certainly ISIS.

The challenge, and the key to the strategy having any success, is Pakistan. Or, to be more precise, the need to separate the Indian-Pakistan regional-strategic conflict from the path to something like stability in Afghanistan. Some years ago the late, great Ron Asmus and I were briefed by Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Naturally, we were given the Pakistani regional view. It was a view all about the strategic threat posed to Islamabad by Indian activities in southern Afghanistan, Pakistan’s fear of being caught in a strategic sandwich between Afghanistan and India, and the consequent need for Pakistan to maintain ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan.

Of course, if the strategy is to have any chance of succeeding the ‘Talib’ will need to brought to some form of accommodation with Kabul government. To that end, the US is also offering ‘unconditional’ peace talks with the Taliban in an effort to get them to abandon AQ and ISIS. However, the Taliban will not feel at all obliged to talk until their two main shuras (councils), based in Pakistan’s Peshawar and Quetta respectively, are forced to treat terms.  In other words, Islamabad will need to be either convinced or coerced to help exert such pressure.
The American plan, as it stands, represents a limited US reengagement in Afghanistan.  Washington is certainly right to reinject political energy and capital into a struggle that is central to the World-wider challenge posed by Islamism.  Sending 4000 or so extra troops that boost the counter-terror and ANSF training missions will indeed be useful. However, the most that can be said for the strategy is that it is a blocking/holding/reinforcing move. As the British, Russians, and indeed the US and its NATO allies have discovered, what matters in Afghanistan and the surrounding region is not force levels, important though they can be, but sustained good strategy over time and distance.

In November 1841 Conolly was captured in Afghanistan on a rescue mission to free a fellow British officer. The two were executed by the Emir of Bukhara on 24 June 1842 on charges of spying for the British Empire. That same year some 16,500 British soldiers and civilians were massacred at a mountain pass, the Khurd Kabul. As Rudyard Kipling once wrote, “And the end of the fight is a tombstone white with the name of the late deceased, and the epitaph drear: A Fool lies here who tried to hustle the East”.

A word of warning from history?

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Zapad 2017

“Fear not, my lord, we will not stand to prate; Talkers are no good doers: be assured, we come to use our hands and not our tongues.”
Richard III, William Shakespeare

Alphen, Netherlands. August 22. On this day in 1485 King Richard III was defeated by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field and lost his crown and his life.  It seems somewhat fitting to write this as President Trump announces a re-commitment to Afghanistan (more on that later in the week) and in London soon-to-emerge Cabinet Office “review of capability” report will confirm a hole in the UK defence budget of anything between £10 billion and £30 billion. The British government will then demand the hole is filled from within the existing defence budget, which will in turn mean the abandonment of Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015, more cuts to an already lamentably small British force for a top five or six world economic power), and no doubt back to the ‘more with less’ nonsense which came close to breaking the British military.  Things are a little different at the other end of Europe. Contrast Britain’s retreat from sound defence with Russia’s forthcoming Zapad (West) 2017 exercise in Belarus.

The official theme of Zapad 2017 is the “use of forces in the interests of ensuring the military security of the Union State”. Between 14 and 20 September, 2017 Russia, and its junior partner Belarus, (the so-called ‘Union State’) will conduct the largest military exercise in Europe since the Cold War. The exercise will take place close to the Belarussian border with Poland at Brest, as well as some 60 kilometres across NATO territory in Kaliningrad, the small Russian enclave and former German Konigsberg and Old Prussia.  For Russians the location of the exercise is, indeed, dripping with historical significance.  The heroic June 1941 defence of Brest fortress by Soviet forces against Hitler’s Wehrmacht has become a symbol of Russian resistance against ‘fascist’ Western aggression.  

Russia and Belarus have formally said that Zapad 2017 will only involve the exercising of some 19,000 troops in the Western Military District, one of the Russian Federation’s four strategic operational commands. This is below the force level that requires formal notification of the exercise under the so-called Vienna Document to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). However, NATO and other analysts believe that Zapad 2017 will instead incorporate a massive series of wargames involving between 60,000 and 100,000 military and civilian personnel. Crucially, the exercise will also test Russian military and civilian readiness and effectiveness across a conflict spectrum that stretches from hybrid warfare to hyper warfare via cyber warfare, backed up by the threat of nuclear force and strengthening anti-air, area defence (A2/AD) capabilities – the new linear/non-linear order of twenty-first century strategic battle pioneered by the Russian Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, General Valery Vasileyvich Gerasimov.

To be fair Minsk, and belatedly Moscow, are showing signs of some willingness to be transparent.  Interestingly, it is Belarus that took the lead in this effort, suggesting the Union State is not quite the union Moscow would like to portray. In July, Minsk unilaterally invited arms inspectors and the defence attachés of NATO and non-NATO countries to attend as observers.  Last week, on August 15, Moscow issued its own separate set of invitations.

Evidence would also suggest that all is not well with Russia’s military reforms, and in particular the state of morale amongst Russia’s elite formations in the Oblast.  Several strike formations which were designed to be twenty-first century ‘shock armies’ manned by professional soldiers have been forced to undertake a form of muscular insurgency role in Ukraine.  Pay has not been what was promised, and conditions for the troops are reported to be worse in some instances to those traditionally suffered by Russian conscripts. The training of key formations, such as the 1st Guards Tank Army, has also been stalled by the Ukraine imbroglio.

Still, Russia continues to play a now familiar game of strategic maskirovka (deception) over Zapad 2017.  Moscow suggests that any criticism from the West of such a gargantuan exercise is in fact an attempt to return Europe back to the Cold War. Simply holding Zapad 2017 so close to the borders of EU members and NATO allies is an intemperate and irresponsible act of intimidation. NATO holds no exercises on anything like such a scale, and with nothing like the potential for offensive action. Sadly, Zapad 2017 fits into a well-established Russian penchant for sudden ‘snap’ exercises, big exercises, and snap, big exercises all of which are designed the keep the European democracies strategically, politically, and militarily off-balance.

NATO is worried by Zapad 2017. The problem for NATO and the West is that in the past Russia has used large-scale exercises as a prelude to war.  Now, I am not suggesting for a moment that Russia is about to start another war in Europe, beyond the war it has already started in Ukraine. However, it is the nature of defence planning, or at least it should be (clearly not in London), that the worst-case must be assumed if there is no dialogue to the contrary, and that such scenarios must form the basis for sound defence planning.

Therefore, if Russia really wants to avoid creating the impression of a Europe sliding back towards a new cold war then all Russia has to do is desist with very large, expensive and dangerous exercises such as Zapad 2017.  Oh, and stop no-notice snap exercises and other forms of intimidation, such as buzzing Allied ships in international waters, violating the well-established borders of Allied states, and seeking to destabilise said states with fake news and cyber-attacks. As the Russian meerkats say in a well-known British TV commercial for insurance products, “Simples!”

Still, I am not going to hold my breath any longer in the hope that the Putin regime does the common sense thing and seeks mutually-enriching friendship with its fellow Europeans. At the end of Shakespeare’s Richard III the defeated king cries out, “Slave, I have set my life upon a cast, And I will stand the hazard of the die: I think there will be six Richmonds in the field, Five I have slain to-day instead of him. A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse”.

As Russia postures and intimidates I wonder how many ‘horses’ Britain is about to cut? Not so ‘simples’.

Julian Lindley-French

Friday, 18 August 2017

Britain’s Armed Forces must not become a Strategic Snatch Land Rover

"The government must and will ensure that our Armed Forces are always properly equipped and resourced."
August 2017 letter of Sir Michael Fallon, UK Secretary of State for Defence, to Mrs Sue Smith, expressing regret for the July 2005 death of her son Private Philip Hewett in Iraq.

Alphen, Netherlands. 18 August.  This morning the British news contained a story that reminds me of the importance of responsible, independent analysis in a democracy.  The job of the analyst is to analyse. In my case I do this as a well-informed citizen in an effort to make political elites, and the bureaucracies that serve them better at what they are supposed to do in my name. Call that hubris if you will, but I see it as my duty. Unlike some I am not trying to destroy elites, or make them fail, and I fully recognise how difficult the task of government is in this fractured age.
The letter Sir Michael wrote to Mrs Smith is one for which I applaud him, even though it comes only after a Supreme Court decision, the Human Rights Act, and the Sir John Chilcot report into Britain’s role in the Iraq War. The letter rightfully states: "The government entirely accepts the findings of Sir John Chilcot in the Iraq Inquiry in relation to Snatch Land Rover….I would like to express directly to you my deepest sympathies and apologise for the delay, resulting in decisions taken at the time in bringing into service alternative protected vehicles which could have saved lives."  At the time of Private Hewett’s July 2005 death the soldiers called the Snatch Land Rover ‘mobile coffins’, so vulnerable were they to roadside bombs.

However, another statement in that letter suggests the Government have really not learned the lessons which are the implicit purpose of the letter. It goes onto state, "The government must and will ensure that our Armed Forces are always properly equipped and resourced." So, why is London failing its own test?  Why is London still fixated with the appearance of defence at the expense of its substance? The reality is that in spite of the mantra that Britain is one of few NATO members that meet the 2% GDP defence investment pledge, a dangerous gap is opening up between Britain’s stated defence-strategic ambitions and its military-strategy reality.

Take the new heavy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth which entered Her Majesty’s Naval Base Portsmouth for the first time this week, amidst much public fanfare.  Regular readers of this blog and my books will know I am a firm fan of the two new British carriers. Properly equipped they will not only afford Britain national strategic assets, exert influence ‘weight’ far beyond their 70,000 tons, they will also enable London to provide coalition maritime-amphibious command hubs for NATO, European, and the wider Allied military groupings which will be the military-strategic method for much of first half of the twenty-first century.

And yet London is screwing up the strategic opportunity the carriers represent because as ever appearance comes before substance.  Yes, HMS Queen Elizabeth provided an excellent photo op for Prime Minister May this week.  And yes, my analysis suggests that if the British properly funded their stated ambitions Britain’s armed forces would, again, be amongst the world’s best – which is precisely where they should be. And yet, London is stalling on the investment of offensive and defensive systems the ships need to do the jobs they are designed to do.  Worse, a mixture of inadequate spending and poor spending is forcing the Service Chiefs to make hard decisions that are rendering Britain’s armed forces as unbalanced as at any time possibly in a couple of centuries. And yet the defence pretence continues, a recipe for military disaster in this most unforgiving of ages.

Britain’s armed forces are fast becoming a Potemkin Village Force (PVF), which looks good, but peer behind the façade and one finds an overstretched little bit of everything, but not much of anything force.  London invests in bits of a powerful force, whilst at the same time cutting the defence budget needed to invest in the other bits vital to ensure its proper functioning, even in the possible high-intensity conflict Prime Minister May warned about this week. The problem with such a political strategy is that whilst it might fool ‘Joe Public’ for a time, and thus serve some short-term political utility, it does not fool Britain’s allies, and certainly does not fool Britain’s adversaries.
Sir Michael Fallon is one of Britain’s better defence secretaries and has fought hard to protect Britain’s armed forces from the obsession of HM Treasury with sound money at the expense of sound defence. If Sir Michael really means what he writes, and that he is committed to ensuring Britain’s armed forces are properly equipped and resourced, then this moment is the crunch time! The next few years could mark the last time Britain has to prepare its military for a dangerous future that London itself acknowledges, and which given Britain’s relative power in the world, it will be unable to avoid.  The operations Britain’s armed forces are likely be called upon to conduct are growing daily bigger, more intense, and more dangerous.
What to do? First, properly fund the commitments made in the 2010 and 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Reviews (SDSR), and end the current game of political charades with Britain’s defence. Second, use SDSR 2020 to re-establish a link between reality, strategy and British defence policy. Third, stop funding counter-terrorism and the nuclear deterrent at the expense of Britain’s conventional force.

At the end of the day the consequences of defence pretence and aspiring to play a strategic military leadership role with a military of insufficient capability or capacity are profound.  Somewhere, sometime, some poor British sailor, soldier and/or airman/woman will be sent into action inadequately equipped and poorly protected. They will be effectively asked to fill a gap, at an elevated risk to their own lives, between the empty utterances of politicians and the deadly reality they face on the ground.

My recent hard-hitting blogs Lizzie Goes Forth… and …as Britain’s Military Sinks, took a lot of criticism from some high bureaucrats, and not a few senior military officers. The hard truth for London is that my concerns about Britain’s unbalanced defence policy are correct, and those responsible know that to be the case.  The reason I am an analyst, why I do what I do, and why I will not be co-opted to support nonsense, is because of my citizen’s support for the men and women who defend me.  And, if politicians, senior bureaucrats or career-sensitive senior military officers find that politically inconvenient – tough!

London, stop turning Britain’s armed forces into a kind of strategic Snatch Land Rover!

Julian Lindley-French