The 2019 NATO London Charter

“We, as an Alliance, are facing distinct threats and challenges emanating from all strategic directions…We are adapting our military capabilities, strategy, and plans across the Alliance in line with our 360 degree approach to security”.

London Declaration, December 4, 2019


Arsenal of democracy?

Funny old week, as NATO Heads of State and Government were meeting in Watford at the high-end of the Alliance, I was briefing NATO (and other) senior commanders on power, strategy and future war at the sharp-end.

With commendable brevity NATO’s London Declaration (perhaps the Watford Declaration?) is a masterpiece of British diplomatic drafting. Seventy years of Alliance, European defence expenditure, Russia, China, terrorism, Open Door policy, future war technology, cyber et al were all despatched in succinct brevity.  Still, the question I am left pondering is thus: given the task-list implicit in the Declaration how does the Alliance get from here to ‘there’, and is Watford a good place to start.

Much has been written about NATO adaptation, and much of it by me. However, the tour d’horizon des menaces implicit in the Declaration suggests that for NATO defence and deterrence to be credible the Alliance needs to be less adapted more transformed if it is to balance the goals established at Wales in 2014, Warsaw in 2016 and Brussels in 2018 with the hard strategic realities of profound and rapid dangerous change faced by the Alliance. Much of that effort must necessarily fall to the European allies. In other words, what the London Declaration is missing is a London Charter.

The 2019 NATO London Charter

Seventy years on from the founding of the Alliance, and in recognition of the service to Europe provided by both Canada and the United States, the European allies propose the 2019 NATO London Charter.  The European allies agree that NATO is first and foremost an institution for the defence of Europe. They also agree that, given the scale of scope of dangerous change, and for the US to maintain its security guarantee to Europe, Europeans will need to do far more to assure and ensure their own defence.  Therefore, Europeans will establish a new defence-strategic level of ambition that re-energises the NATO Washington Treaty with particular emphasis placed on the modernisation of Article 5 collective defence and Article 3 self-defence.

Therefore, the Charter agrees the following actions:

  1. The future defence of the Alliance: The European allies will systematically and collectively engage in the revolution in military affairs underway and properly consider the defence applications of artificial intelligence (AI), machine-learning, big data, et al.


  1. Assessing China: Proper consideration will be given by the European allies to the security implications of the military-strategic rise of China for European defence, with a specific focus on the ability of the Americans to maintain its security guarantee to Europe, as well as the further implications for the Alliance of China’s use of debt to influence NATO members.


  1. Countering Russian coercion: European allies will collectively seek to better understand Russia’s use of complex strategic coercion together with the application by Moscow of 5D warfare against Europeans through disinformation, deception, destabilisation, disruption and destruction.


  1. Reinstating worst-case analysis: European allies will again consider the possibility that the worst-case could one day happen and judge Russia, China, Iran (and others) by the military and other coercive capability capabilities they could use against the Alliance if they so choose.


  1. An ACO European Heavy Mobile Force: European allies will actively construct a high-end, fast, first-responder heavy mobile force able to engage across multi-domain warfare by air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. The Allied Command Operations Heavy Mobile Force will be ready by 2024. It will support front-line Alliance nations in Strategic Direction East and Strategic Direction South, under both Article 3 and Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, thus making the 360 degree Alliance a credible reality


  1. High-end development exercises: European allies will design a series of high-end ‘development exercises’ to properly test multi-scenario emergencies that could possibly take place simultaneously in several theatres ranging from the Arctic to the Mediterranean and beyond. Such exercises would be designed to test NATO to the point of failure and also involve senior politicians, including heads of state and government.


  1. A Strengthened EU-NATO Strategic Partnership: European allies and partners will strengthen the EU-NATO Strategic Partnership recognising the importance of the EU to credible European societal and critical infrastructure resiliency, effective consequence management, and the enhanced mobility of Allied and EU forces in and around Europe.


  1. Greece and Turkey: Turkey is an honoured and important member of the Alliance, as is Greece. However, the European allies cannot accept either Turkish absolutism or Greek exclusionism. The allies will thus make it clear to all concerned that if the essential modernisation of NATO is blocked by regional strategic disputes over oil drilling rights etc, the Allies will seek alternative solutions.


  1. Brexit and NATO: It is vital the UK remains engaged in the future defence of Europe beyond the maritime piece. However, the European allies also recognise that NATO cannot be isolated from a bad Brexit. Britain is a nuclear power with Europe’s most advanced intelligence services, as well as an effective advanced expeditionary military capability. A close post-Brexit strategic defence and intelligence partnership with the UK will be in jeopardy is the EU and its member-states sought to punish the UK over trade policy for departing the EU.


  1. Harmonised threat assessments: The European allies will seek to harmonise their respective threat assessments and set defence budgets at a level commensurate with the nature and scale of actual threat. To that end, and given the deteriorating strategic environment, European allies will consider the impact of both austerity policies and Eurozone monetary convergence criteria on defence investment and the ability of nations that are both EU and NATO members to meet their obligations under the Defence Investment Pledge.


  1. NDARPA: European allies will create a NATO Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (NDARPA) to inform their collective research and development and inform their future war defence procurement choices.


  1. Better use and place of Alliance forces: European allies agree that NATO headquarters should be placed where they are needed, not where they are desired, or where it is cheapest. Such headquarters will be re-married with the forces they are designed to command and exercised as such. Command structure and defence planning reform will continue. European allies recognise that the NATO Defence Planning Process needs to be far more rigorous, with possible sanctions for those allies who repeatedly fail their annual reviews. European allies also agree NATO Centres of Excellence must be excellent, not simply consolation prizes for those who did not get headquarters. Such centres must form a NATO Network of Excellence that informs NATO HQ, SHAPE and deployed forces.


  1. Modernising education and training: European allies will seek to modernise NATO’s professional military education with the NATO Defence College in the lead. Particular emphasis will be placed on the development of best practice education and training ‘products’ that can be offered to nations. There will be a focus on the use of new technology in education and training.


  1. EDTIB: European allies will seek to create an effective and efficient European defence technological industrial base to meet the requirement of the European Future Force. Particular attention will be paid to ensuring fielding times for new European defence equipment is vastly improved. .

In conclusion, the European allies fully recognise the debt of gratitude owed to the United States and Canada for their respective contributions to over seventy years of relative European peace.  They also recognise that the sharing of burdens, risks and costs is central to the very ethos of Alliance. Therefore, the European allies formally agree to build European forces of sufficient strength and quality that US forces are never again enfeebled by trying to offset European military weakness.

The strategic rise of China, the continued aggression of Russia, and the threat posed by terrorism demand of all the allies a fundamental recommitment to the unity of effort and purpose without which there can be no sound defence of Europe. They also recognise that if they fail NATO to could fail and be replaced by coalitions. Such an outcome would critically undermine the efficiency and effectiveness of the Transatlantic Relationship upon which the peace of the world relies.  For Europeans NATO is the arsenal of democracy and is recognised as such.

(It was a nice dream)

Julian Lindley-French

The Future of Airborne?

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 November. It is a dark night. No moon. Some twenty western hostages lie dispersed around a terrorist camp. British Special Forces have been mapping the site for some time, slowly building a biometric map.  They have successfully identified where the hostages are being held, as well as the routines, habits, strengths and weaknesses of their captors.  Radio and cyber communications have also been hacked. 

Some miles off shore a wave of landing craft and CB90 assault craft depart HMS Prince of Wales and stealthily make their way to the shore.  Half of the force continues to the beach undetected, but halfway in part of the force stops. From the decks of the landing craft ghostly figures ascend to the heavens.  3 Commando Brigade, Royal Marines is going into action.  

At the spear-tip of the force is 45 Commando, the new AI-enabled Joint Commando Air-Maritime Assault Force.  Equipped with the latest Mark 5 Gravity Jet assault suits the battalion represents the future of airborne assault. As each commando rises into the night sky s/he carries an assault rifle and a series of small ground attack missiles. Heavier personal equipment is carried alongside by a personally-assigned ‘intelligent’ lift drone.  After the initial air-assault mission the Commando will hit the ground running and join forces on the ground, with their kit ready for action.  

As the Commandos begin their part of the rescue a further phalanx of ‘intelligent’ fast strike drones lift off the decks of the British aircraft carrier and make their way towards the littoral. Royal Air Force and Royal Navy F-35 Lightning 2’s are also warming up on the deck to reinforce the shock the Royal Marines, SAS and SBS are about to inflict.  

Timed to match the moment of the enemy’s least readiness and thus create maximum shock and confusion, the SAS and SBS force move into the camp having dispatched some of the guards.  As they advance flying commandos and strike drones appear from several directions at once and target each individually identified ‘mark’. The Special Forces, now supported by the ground force, seize the hostages and extract them. 

Merlin helicopters, with advanced noise suppression blades, move in behind the aerial human and intelligent machine attack ‘swarm’ so that the Royal Marines can escort the hostages to the ‘choppers’ and safety.  The SAS and SBS simply retreat, job done, unknown, unobserved, and back into the darkness from whence they came. 

As the Merlin’s land four of HMS Prince of Wales’s F-35s from 809 Squadron Fleet Air Arm obliterate the camp. Ten minutes in and it is all over. 

All a bit James Bondish?  Maybe. Just watch Royal Marine Richard Browning and his Gravity Jet suit!

Some years ago I led a significant project for the head of an important Allied navy into the future of so-called ‘brown water operations’. Entitled Effect in the All Water Battlespace: Riverine Operations, and without breaking confidence, the essence of the report was how best to reduce the cost per naval platform per operation.  However, to meet its goals the study also combined strategy, innovation and technology to form new partnerships and ideas. The ultimate aim was to understand how a force could better fulfil its mission as quickly, effectively, affordably, and as successfully as possible, as part of what is known in the jargon as ‘ship to objective manoeuvre’. Some of you may think Richard Browning’s Gravity Jet suit may have little military application. Let me assure you it has. Let me also assure you that right now defence agencies in China, Russia and elsewhere are also assessing it.  

Julian Lindley-French

Maginot NATO? How to Fight a War when the Roof Caves in?

“An incessant change of means to attain unalterable ends is always going on; we must take care not to let these sundry means undo eminence in the perspective of our minds; for, since the beginning, there has been an unending cycle of them, and for each its advocates have claimed adoption as the sole solution of successful war.”

General George S. Patton

Network NATO

Alphen, Netherlands. November 21. At the NATO Foreign Minister’s Meeting in Brussels yesterday, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called on the nations to recognise space as a domain of Allied defence and deterrence, alongside air, land, sea, and cyber.  To those five ‘domains’ I would add critical information and knowledge.  Stoltenberg was clear: “Space is essential to the Alliance’s defence and deterrence, for early warning, communication and navigation”. So, what happens when such ‘networks collapse? If the military net was ‘killed’ could Western militaries still take a coherent and cohesive fight to the enemy? Shorn of the direct command relationship between supreme commander and ‘strategic lieutenants’ implicit in networked warfare could NATO mount any sort of defence, beyond a series of local uncoordinated actions? As space-based communications, robotics and networked architectures become THE essential components of NATO doctrine, are potentially catastrophic vulnerabilities also being built into Allied defence and deterrence?  

In the eighteenth, and for much of the nineteenth century, Royal Navy squadrons and individual frigates were despatched to claim far-flung corners of the world for His/Her Imperial Britannic Majesty.  They were armed by Their Lordships of the Admiralty with little more than the broad strategic intent of the government of the day. Thereafter, remote from London, they went ‘dark’, and possibly for years. How their Lordships ‘intent’ was interpreted was entrusted to individual commanding officers.  So long as they were successful in their mission, or died trying, honour was said to have been served. In 1757, Admiral John Byng was executed by firing squad in His Majesty’s Naval Base, Portsmouth on the quarterdeck of HMS Monarch precisely for failing that trust, although King George II also played a dark political hand in this tragic affair. 

Some of my best conversations take place in the unlikeliest of places. Last Wednesday night I was having a ‘mind my own business’ pizza in a Roman trattoria as I prepared to brief NATO admirals and generals on the future of NATO at the excellent NATO Defence College, two old friends walked in, Professors Stefano Silvestri and Holger Mey.  Some fifteen years ago Stefano and I collaborated on a series of reports into the future of European defence for the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Venusberg Group. Brilliant, and very reasonably-priced (free), they are still worth a read Holger is a fellow member of The Alphen Group strategy network, or TAG,, which I have the honour to chair. Thereafter, a very convivial evening was had by all. 

What if NATO crashes?

Napoleon said one should “never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake”. Holger raised a vital point, as he so often does, that has been of concern to me for some time. What if all the digital, networked, increasingly ‘AI’ and space-based architectures upon which the future Western way of warfare is being predicated were to collapse? Too often Western defence planners seem to think that the West adversaries are stupid, will do exactly what they expect them to do, and will only attack Western forces, and indeed society, where it is intrinsically strong.   It is a message Holger hammers home to great effect in his brilliant briefings on the changing relationship between strategy, technology, mindset and effects.

What some call ‘hybrid warfare’ I prefer to call 5D warfare; the considered and relentless application of complex strategic coercion across disinformation, deception, disruption, destabilisation, and destruction. It is a form of perpetual warfare at the seams and margins of open societies, soft critical infrastructures, and insufficiently-hardened military command chains that is purposefully designed to keep the armed forces of democracies permanently off-balance.  

In May 1940, the numerically superior French and British armies collapsed in the face of the far smaller Wehrmacht. This was primarily because the Wehrmacht’s offensive doctrine (the military way of doing business), which combined strategy, tactics and technology to great effect in the form of Blitzkrieg, critically and catastrophically overcame Allied defensive doctrine. The success of the Wehrmacht was almost symbiotic with the nature of the force-on-force conflict. Allied armies were either too static, the French Maginot Line, or suffering from the false assumptions of France’s General Gamelin and Britain’s Lord Gort about how the Wehrmacht would employ manoeuvre warfare.  The result was that in the six weeks following May 10 the Allied armies became rapidly separated, whilst their respective command chains became increasingly incoherent as individual formations were either isolated and by-passed (Maginot Line), or became ever more separated from their own command chains. Patton was surely right when he said, “fixed fortifications are monument’s to man’s stupidity”.  The over-extended, and far too small, British Expeditionary Force had been sent to deter, not to fight.  

London and the Audit of Alliance Vulnerabilities

Patton also said something else, NATO leaders might wish to consider at the forthcoming ‘Leader’s Meeting’ in London: “If everybody is thinking alike, someone is not thinking”.  The gathering is nominally to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of the April 1949 (???) founding of the Alliance.  London could well be dominated by a major Macron-inspired spat over whether, seventy years on, NATO even has a future.  Anything to deny the British a political and diplomatic success, eh Paris? As an aside, I do ‘admire’ the French ability to turn an essentially good idea – Europeans should do more for their own defence – into an unmitigated political disaster – but not so much with the Americans, and possibly without NATO.  If the leaders can get over that particular querelle most of a brief discussion will be devoted to the modernisation of Alliance collective deterrence and defence.  

If NATO’s leaders really want to go beyond simply ‘fact-checking’ progress on the 2014 NATO Defence Investment Pledge, the leaders could instigate an Audit of Alliance Vulnerabilities, and order NATO to imagine how it would fight a war in the worst-case. The Russian General Staff believe they have a great advantage in any future ‘kinetic’ war, which day-after-day they are planning, even if, hopefully, it is never activated. This potentially critical advantage lies not in any belief about the relative superiority of the Russian Armed Forces. Rather, it is the belief that with the clever application of 5D warfare the entire NATO command and control edifice could collapse like a pack of cards, or be by-passed like some latter day virtual Maginot Line. Therefore, if ‘London’ is to reaffirm Allied deterrence and defence NATO must demonstrate that Maginot NATO is but a Gerasimov wet-dream. 

As for Admiral Byng, he was deemed by Their Lordships to have failed under the Articles of War to take the fight to the French with sufficient vigour, courage and imagination. As Voltaire observed in Candide, his wonderful satire about the folly of exuberant optimism, Byng was executed “pour encourager les autres” – to encourage the other British admirals. Now, there’s an idea.

Julian Lindley-French

Europe Puissance or Macro-Gaullisme?

“What we are currently experiencing is the brain-death of NATO. You have no co-ordination whatsoever of strategic decision-making between the United States and its NATO allies. None.”
President Emmanuel Macron
Alphen, Netherlands. November 15. Is NATO suffering “brain death”? President Macron of France certainly thinks so. In an interview for The Economist last week, the transcript of which I read carefully on two planes to and from Rome, Macron suggested the US can no longer be trusted to defend Europe, and effectively called on Europeans to defend themselves. Clearly, Macron’s one-time ‘bromance’ with President Trump is now mired firmly in ‘la merde’. So, what is motivating Macron? Is it another French attempt to generate Europe puissance, or just more Macro-Gaullisme, the applied and sustained hubristic application of a weak French hand in pursuit of French interests through more ‘Europe’ and less America?
The Economist interview reveals three strands of Jupiter-sized frustration. He is clearly frustrated that President Trump signalled his intention to withdraw US forces from Northeast Syria without informing his close allies.  This is understandable angst given the exposure of both British and French Special Forces to the White House decision.  His second frustration is that Europeans (for that read Germans) remain lukewarm to his idea of a high-end, projectable, robust European military capability – the European Intervention Force. This is even though nine European states have signed up, including the still-vital British, there is profound disagreement about the level of strategic autonomy from the Americans implicit in French ambitions. St Malo redux? However, it is the third strand of Macronian frustration that is at the heart of his concerns and pose the most fundamental of questions. Are the tensions in the transatlantic relationship simply due to one US president, or is there a deeper structural change taking place that will inevitably lead to the allies drifting apart? More of that later, but what of Macron’s prescriptions?
The six paradoxes of Macro-Gaullisme
The Macronian solution is for ‘Europe’, however Paris defines it, to generate far greater “strategic military sovereignty”.  There are six paradoxes the European defence of Europe would need to overcome:
1.   The Franco-British strategic defence partnership: Any such sovereignty could only be generated, to the extent it could, by Paris re-committing to a close military-strategic partnership with nuclear-armed London.  That would mean building on the 2010 Franco-British Security and Defence Treaty. And yet, President Macron also wants to make Britain pay for Brexit by insisting on the hardest of trade ‘deals’ in any future ‘strategic partnership’ between Britain and the EU. For Macron to think he can attack Britain at one level and forge a close strategic partnership at another is less Macro-Gaullisme, more Macro-fantasie.
2.  Less America, more Russia: As Macron wants to distance himself from the US, he also wants to move closer to Russia.  There is a strangely ‘zero sum’ quality to strategic Macronianism. The paradox here is that only though the strong presence of the US in Europe would any rapprochement with an inherently unstable and aggressive Russia be at all safe. Moreover, if less America, more Russia is really the basis for Macon’s future ‘strategic sovereignty’ very few other Europeans would ‘buy’ into it, and absolutely no-one east of the Oder-Neisse line.
3. The sheer cost of European military sovereignty: To replace the US-funded military-strategic architecture under which Europe’s deterrence and defence shelters would be immense.  It would also likely require the complete restructuring of the European defence technological and industrial base (EDTIB).  The recent experience of Galileo, Europe’s hugely expensive and alternative ‘GPS’ system, is a chilling example of the likely outcome of strategic Macronianism. Any such ambition would, and necessarily so according to Macron’s own time imperative, demand a rapid and massive taxpayer-funded investment in a raft of high-end European strategic defence enablers from satellites to air and fast sea lift. During a disastrous July software upgrade Galileo crashed. It is still not working properly. If one listens hard enough one can hear the European establishment trying to keep this quiet. Galileo, like the absurdly high-maintenance A400M military transport aircraft, is but another example of high-cost, low return European defence-industrial projects that have more political benefit than military. Plus ça change?
4. Common or collective? The only way for the architecture implicit in Macron’s vision to be afforded would be a much more integrated European defence effort, along the lines of the European Defence Union that Commission President Ursula von der Leyen favours. In fact, neither Paris nor, more importantly, Berlin are willing to countenance the loss of the national defence sovereignty Macron’s European military sovereignty would demand. And yet, deep military sovereignty is the essence of Macron’s vision, and the only way to balance the strategy, capability, technology and cost required.
5.   Public or private? Given the pace that new civilian technologies, such as artificial intelligence, are entering the battlespace, much of it American, transatlantic defence-strategic public private partnerships will become more not less vital to European defence. And yet, what Macron is proposing reeks of yet another of those French statist, protectionist European ‘solutions’.  Given the sorry state of Europe’s collaborative defence research and development and the uncomfortable relationship between defence policy and industrial policy in Europe, the likely result will be a Europe more not less vulnerable to twenty-first century warfare.  The European Defence Agency and the European Defence Fund? Amateur hour.
6.  Anglosphere versus Eurosphere: Perhaps the most hubristic of Macron’s ideas, and the greatest paradox therein, is Macron’s implicit suggestion that Europe could defend itself in the complete absence of ‘les anglosaxons’. Such an idea is utter and complete nonsense, and the reason why Berlin immediately dismissed Macron’s demarche.
Right analysis, wrong solutions
For all of these paradoxes President Macron is essentially correct to demand Europeans do more for their own defence. It is time. However, he is dangerously wrong to believe that by doing more for their own defence Europeans should, or could, distance themselves from the Americans. No, the reason Europeans should do more for their own defence is because that is the only way NATO can and will survive as a meaningful deterrent and defender.  It is also the only way the Americans will, over time, be able to maintain their security and defence guarantee to Europeans.  The US is facing a growing challenge to its military power across the globe, most notably from an emergent, autocratic China. Like all the democracies it is also facing a growing threat across the 5Ds of twenty-first century warfare – disinformation, deception, destabilisation, disruption and implied or actual destruction.
Macron’s problem is that he confuses his strategic mission with his political mission. Gaullism sought to forge French political unity at home by talking France up abroad.  Macron is doing exactly the same by demanding other Europeans commit to an overtly French need for the Elysée to be seen to standing up to America in the name of Europe puissance. This, whilst privately French diplomats reassure the Americans about the vital importance of the Franco-American strategic partnership.  What is the French word for ‘hubris’ again?
The real strategic paradox is that the Americans will need capable European allies almost as much as Europeans needs Americans. The ‘West’ is now a global idea, not just a Euro-Atlantic place which Europeans need to help secure and defend.  A truly capable high-end, fast, first responder European Intervention Force that could operate to effect across twenty-first century multi-domain warfare would represent a real sharing of transatlantic strategic burdens. It is how best to realise more equitable burden-sharing between Americans and Europeans which Macron should address, rather than offering Macro-Gaullist European defence fantasies.  Indeed, more equitable burden-sharing is the surest route to strategic autonomy.
Here’s the cruncher, the real reason for greater European military ‘sovereignty’ is the precise opposite to the prescriptions of Macro-Gaullisme. Europeans need to become militarily stronger to the US to remain close to the Americans, increase their importance to DC, and thus exert the very influence over Washington’s strategic choices, the lack of which clearly frustrates President Macron.
Europe puissance or Macro-Gaullisme?
President Macron is right to try and shift Europe out of the defence no-man’s-land in which it has been mired for too long. However, whilst his analysis is essentially correct, the solutions he offers are doomed to fail. If France really wants to lead the way towards a more strategically autonomous Europe France must, at the very least, put its ‘argent’ where its ‘bouche’ is, and increase French defence expenditure to, say, 3% GDP. Don’t hold your breath! Perhaps the ultimate Macronian paradox is that the only way to begin realise his vision will be to make the 2019 NATO Military Strategy work. That means Europeans fulfilling the defence planning Christmas wish-list the Pentagon has suggested. Do that and the NATO Defence Planning Process might finally cease to be the greatest work of European fiction since Dickens, or do I mean Flaubert and his masterpiece about unfulfilled bourgeois aspiration, Madame Bovary.
Is NATO suffering “brain death”? No, but it does (again) have a French headache. Does Macron’s vision promise Europe puissance? Non! It is Macro-Gaullisme on the road to Europe faiblesse!  Is Macron right to push Europeans to become strategically serious, militarily-capable and to better understand their place and role in a dangerous world? As the Americans would say, ‘hell yes’!
Julian Lindley-French

The Digital Fog of Future War and Allied Command Education

“That which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts;

Made weak by time and fate; 

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.

Ulysses, Alfred, Lord Tennyson 


Alphen, Netherlands. 31 October, 2019. In my forthcoming book, Future War and the Defence of Europe, which will be brilliant and very reasonably-priced, I suggest that multi-domain warfare reaches across air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. Last week, I had the honour of addressing senior Allied and Partner officers at the excellent NATO Defence College in Rome. Founded by the then Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the mission of the College is to provide to NATO officers two of the most important strategic enablers – knowledge and understanding.

Writing my latest book I have been struck by the vital importance knowledge and understanding at all levels of command will have in the maintenance of deterrence, the conduct of defence and, if needs be, the fighting of future war. Knowledge and understanding will be vital to block and mitigate adversaries’ planned exploitation the digital fog of future war. Indeed, isolating command from its force and effects, and leaders from led, will be a primary aim of the future enemy warfighter. 

This challenge got me thinking. If, as many at the higher echelons of NATO believe, the Alliance is moving fast into multi-domain future war, surely the place and role of all strategic enablers should be afforded equal importance in NATO’s changing, informal, and real, strategic concept, and more particularly in its military strategy.  After all, Allied Command Operations (ACO) covers the ‘doing’ stuff, and Allied Command Transformation (ACT) drives force transformation and development. And, whilst I accept that transformation also includes a role in command mindset-change, I am not sure ACT should, or could, affect the kind of knowledge-change mindset-change NATO forces will need to deal with a future war emergency.  Such change will be critical if the Alliance is to successfully and really adapt to credible future deterrence and defence against what the US Strategic Technology Office calls ‘mosaic warfare’.

The essential ‘thing’ about the NATO Defence College is that it is not a stand-alone institution. It supports and enables security and defence colleges across the Alliance by promoting best-practice models of education and research – how to know and what to know given the mission.  If the College is to further adapt it must also build on its efforts to exploit the digital domain through distance and e-learning, and by promoting a life-long professional military education culture that will be critical to future success at every level of mission command. More is needed. NDC should be given far more tools so that it can partner ACT and ‘transform’ education and training to drive forward ‘the cohesion, effectiveness, and readiness of multinational formations’.

The College adds real value to the Alliance mission, which is why, each year, I go there with enthusiasm. I believe in the mission. It is certainly not for the money.  What they offer, to my mind, is already at the cutting edge of professional military education. Still, as a former member of the NDC Academic Advisory Board I am also convinced they could offer so much.  If critical cohesion is to be afforded Alliance forces in an age of pan-spectrum digital fires what is needed is a range of best-practice education and knowledge ‘products’ from junior to senior levels of command, including simulation and table-top exercising, and which can be offered to all NATO nations.  The NATO Defence College is the place to develop and provide such ‘products’ precisely because it has the legitimacy and, with the support of the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, because it can. 

Is there a problem? No. However, there is a possible confusion of roles in adaptation between transformation and education. The danger is that Allied Command Transformation might see education and knowledge as a sub-set of military transformation. They are not. They are, at the very least, the equals of transformation for without knowledge transformation military transformation can neither be generated, nor enacted. 

Therefore, I have a simple suggestion: turn the NATO Defence College into Allied Command Education, arm it with a strategic education and knowledge mission, and promote the commandant of the NATO Defence College to Supreme Allied Commander, Education. Such a step would be both transformative, adaptive and exploit a critical Allied comparative advantage – its people. 

To paraphrase Tennyson: that which we are can be improved; to equal understanding in heroic hearts; made strong by knowing and commanding our fate; to strive, to seek, to find, to know, so that we never have to yield.

Julian Lindley-French

The Riga Test 2019

We are all inclined to judge ourselves by our ideals; others by their acts”.

Sir Harold Nicholson

Alphen, Netherlands. October 16. For many years I have had the honour of attending the annual Riga Conference. It is quite simply superb. And, every year I pose the Riga Test: can the good citizens of Riga sleep more safely in their beds than last year.  Naturally, given the location of Latvia the big issue is Russia, the now constant coercion against the Baltic States, and the threat posed by Moscow’s powerful armed forces just over the border.  This year the test also concerns Russia, but not directly. Rather, it concerns the implications of the latest Kurdish-Turkish war for the people of Riga.

Two conversations struck home to me at this conference. The first was my interview with an old friend and colleague, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, the former US Ambassador to Moscow and Deputy Secretary-General of NATO. You can see the interview on YouTube at  Sandy’s message was clear; Russia must be managed. However, managing Russia must be seen against the backdrop of a rapidly changing geopolitical environment driven by the rise of China, not least in Europe. 

My second conversation took place over breakfast with the former British Foreign and Defence Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind. Malcolm reminded me of a 1939 book entitled “Diplomacy”, which had been written on the eve of war by British diplomat Sir Harold Nicholson. Nicholson warned there are three types of people that are anathema to good diplomacy – fanatics, lawyers and missionaries. 

Russia’s success in the Middle East has been driven precisely by the combination of Trumpian fanaticism, European legalism and irrelevant evangelism.  It might sound strange to accuse President Trump of fanaticism, but a fanatic is someone so committed to his/her own cause that they will act at whatever cost to themselves and their cause. This latest Middle Eastern war was triggered by President Trump’s arbitrary decision to pull US forces out of North-West Syria thus ending their role as a buffer between Turks and Kurds. The consequent strategic vacuum is now being filled by the forces of Erdogan and Putin. 

Now, I am not one of the European Chicken Little Brigade when it comes to President Trump. My first instinct is to respect the US Commander-in-Chief. However, it is increasingly hard to respect an increasingly capricious US president the actions of whom seem overwhelmingly driven by his need to assuage his domestic political base, and at any geopolitical cost to America’s standing.  

However, my main concern for Rigans rests not with Americans, but fellow Europeans. America’s withdrawal from Syria has revealed once and for all the complete absence of European strategic responsibility and any meaningful capability even in a region the fate of which has dire implications for all Europeans. Why? One need look no look no further than an expensive roll of toilet paper called the EU Global Strategy. Listen to the warbling of EU-funded European think-tanks one would think that the EU is about to become some proto-superpower.  In reality, the ‘Strategy’ was written by lawyers and missionaries and has just about enough reach to influence the Brussels Beltway, but little beyond.  It also says everything about the essential malaise of European external action – the gulf between values, interests, and power. 

Contrast that with President Putin. For Putin the only ‘law’ is power, and whilst Europeans talk and Americans politic, Russia acts. As for President Erdogan, why are Europeans so surprised he is attacking the Kurds? Indeed, I even predicted this moment in my 2017 book The New Geopolitics of Terror. Even a cursory glance of Turkish history confirms Erdogan could never tolerate a Kurdish ‘state’ along Turkey’s southern border out of fear for Ankara’s eastern provinces. The absurdity of the Trump position is to sacrifice the Kurds (not for the first time in history) for domestic politics, but also sacrifice the US relationship with a critical Turkey. This is not US Realpolitik, this is just plain geopolitical incompetence. Nicholson, who was born in Tehran at the height of British imperial power, must be spinning in his grave, not least because Russia is now the referee of ‘rules’ in the region that it creates, and by which others will now abide. 

Europe? It is hard to describe complete inaction and irrelevance as incompetence. Beyond the usual wittering the EU has said and done virtually nothing to influence a major crisis on its doorstep.  A few European powers have now moved to stop arms sales to Turkey – a NATO ally – which could well be met by Ankara re-opening the route for refugees to enter Europe en masse.  However, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, sanctions are simply the last resort of the strategically-incompetent and politically-inept.

Nicholson’s warning was a call for power and pragmatism in equal measure. Skilled diplomacy is the art of balancing the two to ensure the best outcome is not the enemy of the good outcome.  Turkey is a pivotal power for the defence of Europe, the Kurds, and the Kurdish-led Syrian Defence Force, have been loyal allies in the struggle against Daesh. Now, more than ever, Europeans as ‘Europe’ should stand up to demonstrate precisely the strategic culture and responsibility they keep banging on about by trying to broker a peace. Such a peace would ease America’s burdens, keep the Russians in check, help keep Turkey on board, and afford some level of protection to Kurds now forced into the clutches of Assad. If ever there is to be a point to ‘Europe’ and its place in the world, it is right now and in that place. As ever, Europeans will neither agree nor act, beyond the now traditionally desultory. 

Can Rigans trust America, or will they too wake up one day to suffer they have also been sacrificed on the hard anvil of geopolitics? My sense is they can trust the Americans, but I am less and less sure.  Can Rigans trust their fellow Europeans? What is there to trust beyond words and a few under-equipped soldiers? Indeed, what worries me most is not a capricious President Trump, but a Europe that seems incapable of ever growing up to meet the challenges and threats its peoples face. For, as Thomas Hobbes once said, “Covenants without the sword are but words, and of use to no man”. Europe?

Julian Lindley-French