Operation Infektion 2020

“But again and again there comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death. The schoolteacher is well aware of this. And the question is not one of knowing what punishment or reward attends the making of this calculation. The question is one of knowing whether two and two do make four”

Albert Camus, The Plague

 

Operation Infektion

Alphen, Netherlands. 27 March. How are China and Russia using ‘desinformatsiya’ to exploit the COVID-19 crisis in Europe? Today (0930 hrs EST/1530 hrs CET), the impressive Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington will hold a virtual panel discussion entitled Infektion Points: Russian and Chinese Disinformation on the Pandemic (https://www.cepa.org/infektion-points-russian-and-chines)  The panel will include an old friend, Ed Lucas, Senior Vice-President at CEPA, as well as Jakub Janda, Executive Director at European Values, who has just written a fascinating paper entitled Chinese and Russian Disinfo Ops Compared and Contrasted (https://www.cepa.org/going-viral). The panel blurb refers to a little known Soviet disinformation campaign, Operation Infektion, and for good reason.

Operation Infektion, Operation Vorwaerts II or Operation Denver, as it was variously known, was a joint ‘information operation’ between the KGB and the East German Stasi.  It began in 1983 with the aim of fostering anti-Americanism in those European states hosting US forces at the height of the Euromissiles crisis, during which Moscow came close to decoupling the defence of Europe from the US strategic nuclear umbrella.  The narrative (all offensive KGB operations were built around some form of narrative) was that the Americans had ‘invented’ HIV/AIDS at Fort Derrick in Maryland and had intentionally-spread the disease across Europe.

 

Operation Infektion 2020

A variant of Operation Infektion seems to have been launched by Moscow, with much of it focussed on social media, to undermine the ability of European states to effectively manage the crisis. As such, Operation Infektion 2020 is simply the latest variant of applied disinformation in Russian statecraft.  The so-called ‘Bronze soldier’ campaign in Estonia in 2007, the run-up to the 2014 seizure of Crimea and the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, as well as a sustained campaign to deflect responsibility for the July 2014 shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 by a Russian Army BUK missile, all conform to a pattern of Russian information operations.

The March 2018 poisoning of Sergei and Iulia Skripal in Salisbury, UK, was another such case when two members of the GRU’s Unit 29155 bungled an attempted assassination of a former Russian intelligence officer. Of late, Moscow has also tried to blame Warsaw for the outbreak of World War Two and mask Russia’s role in the ‘secret protocol’ to the August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which carved Poland up between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Perhaps most cynically of all, Moscow has tried to shift responsibility for the 1940 Soviet massacre of 22,000 Polish officers, even though former President Mikhail Gorbachev formally apologised for the war crime.

 

COVID-19 disinformation

This month the EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS) identified some eighty Russian COVID-19 disinformation injects over two months. The Guardian newspaper in London stated that “Coronavirus was claimed [by Russian disinformation] to be a biological weapon deployed by China, the US or the UK. Other conspiracy theories contended the outbreak was caused by migrants or was a pure hoax”. According to the EEAS, the specific aim of Russian disinformation is to undermine popular trust in European health-care systems, whilst European Commission has also confirmed a marked increase in Russian disinformation efforts to that end since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Some of the claims are absurd. For example, in February Sputnik radio claimed that Britain and certain international organisations were seeking to force China to open its markets through force, in much the same way the British Empire did at the 1842 Treaty of Nanking and thereafter in what the Chinese call the ‘unequal treaties’.  Russian disinformation is also amplifying claims made elsewhere to avoid Moscow’s ‘fingerprints’ being found on any one specific campaign.

China?  On Wednesday, the G7 meeting failed to issue an official communique because Beijing took exception to US Secretary-of-State Mike Pompeo’s repeated assertion that China is the source of COVID-19 and that Beijing’s initial bungled efforts to suppress news of the outbreak helped facilitate its global spread.  Worse, like Operation Infektion in the 1980s, the Chinese have also stated on the record that it was the American military that imported the virus into China. Why?

The effectiveness of disinformation does not depend on whether or not the information being peddled is believable by all, but believable where it matters in constituencies critical to the realisation of the broader national interest. Russian disinformation is as much a strategic reflex as a cohesive strategy, itself reflective of the strategic spoiler role Moscow has adopted, particularly in and around Europe.  For Beijing two huge audiences are critical: the domestic audience, and the audience across much of the developing world. At home, the Communist Party of China is like the Pope, infallible, and must not be seen to fail.  China is also in strategic competition with the US across much of the world. Absurd though Chinese disinformation may seem to most Western ears, it will have traction in Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Asia.

 

Why is disinformation dangerous?

Disinformation is also how future war would start.  Operation Infektion was part of so-called Russian ‘active measures’ (aktivinyye meroproatia). Active measures were part of a broad strategy of offensive influence operations conducted by both the KGB and Soviet military intelligence (GRU) as part of what today I call 5D warfare: the considered and co-ordinated application of disinformation, destabilisation, deception, disruption and coercion through implied destruction. The strategic aim was, and is, to keep European states permanently politically and socially off-balance, and to exploit all and any divisions between the US and its European allies to thus undermine the cohesion of the Atlantic Alliance.

As I write nine Russian warships are testing Britain’s defences. The Royal Navy has responded with at least seven surface ships. The Russian objective is to test the ability of the British state to respond militarily when some 10,000 British military personnel are engaged in supporting the civil authorities at a time when all other instruments of state are under intense pressure.

In fact, the Russians are doing the British a favour by reminding London of the strategic implications of the current crisis.  Given all the money the British Government is pumping into crisis response the first instinct of HM Treasury will be to further limit investment elsewhere, most notably defence. With the Integrated Review of Britain’s foreign, security, defence and development policies underway, and the search for a new balance between defence effectiveness and efficiency, the current Russian incursions are a timely reminder of how Russia would seek to exploit disinformation for military ends in a future crisis.

 

Jekyll and Hyde China?

China?  Beijing is a Jekyll and Hyde power.  China’s Dr Jekyll offers support to Europe’s crisis response, whilst China’s Mr Hyde seeks to exploit it.  As for collusion between Russia’s Mr Hydes and their Chinese counterparts, they are clearly sharing ‘best practice’ about the utility and application of disinformation, and both are clearly engaged in advanced information operations.  Indeed, the very Jekyll and Hyde nature of China’s operation is fostering uncertainty, which is a strategic end in itself.  However, the extent to which Beijing and Moscow have adopted a joint approach is as yet unclear.

However, Europeans should be under no illusion; there is a broad strategic information operation to exert Chinese and Russian influence to divide European states and/or undermine their ability to govern effectively during the crisis. Russia cannot help itself, but I had hoped (still do) that China, in particular, would adopt a more Mr Jekyll approach to dealing with the pandemic.  Sadly, over the past week it is Beijing’s Mr Hydes who have the whip hand over policy preferring concealment and confrontation to collaboration and co-operation.

In time, disinformation campaigns do reveal an inelegant truth, à la Camus, about those who commission them.  The problem is that by the time two and two has been added up to four the damage done can be grievous. As for Europe’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, it should finally remind its leaders about a fundamental truism of geopolitics – s**t happens!

 

Julian Lindley-French

COVID-19: The Silk Road Pandemic

By Julian Lindley-French

“Civilised life, you know, is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly. The trouble is we forget after a while that they are illusions and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us”.

J.G. Ballard, “High Rise”

Headline: COVID-19 is a human tragedy, not the prelude to war. The enemy is a pathogen, not a state and policy and strategy should be shaped accordingly. Expert assessments suggests that as many as one in fifty under the age of seventy of those infected could die, and up to one in six of those over 70 with underlying health conditions. Protection of vulnerable groups is the marked of a civilised society. However, historians of the future will wonder how a relatively mild virus could bring the global economy to its knees so quickly. They will possibly conclude that the twenty-first century world, far from being a globalised economy was, in fact, a hybrid interdependent anarchy to which shock was endemic and routinely magnified. Consequently, some have predicted the end of globalisation.  China is the epicentre of the pandemic and will need to change. It is particularly inappropriate that Beijing has, instead, begun hectoring others, most notably the US. An effective strategy will require collective action across the epidemiology, politics and communications. Whilst there are doubtless lessons to be learnt about how to build more resiliency and redundancy into the globalised system, it is only through a global effort that the threat will be contained and then reduced. The blame game should stop and the action game begin.  

The Silk Road Pandemic

It is a bolt from the blue! The early spread of COVID 19 seems eerily to follow the old Silk Road that from China to Europe via Iran.  COVID 19 has some similarities to the Black Death of the fourteenth century in that is a trade route pandemic, albeit a very twenty-first century variant and as such a disease of globalisation. Like trade, the pandemic is now spreading far beyond that corridor and rapidly, replacing much of the trade that sustains the globalised economic system. In such circumstances, humanity, or rather those that govern it, have a choice to make: act irresponsibly by blaming others or find a way to work together to confront and deal with a threat common to all. 

Contemporary Globalism is part of the problem.  Far from being the community its more ideological adherents claim it is more a form of interdependent anarchy. Consequently, a relatively small event or group can create enormous shock. Such shock is not confined to the spreading of disease. 911 and Al Qaeda spawned the Global War on Terror, a small group of bankers triggered the 2008 financial crash and the precipitant decline of Europe and the accelerated rise of China as power shifted from West to East. All the serious evidence suggests COVID 19 began in Wuhan in November as a pathogen leapt from one species to another and within four months much of the world economy is shutting down. 

At the time of the 2003 SARS outbreak China represented 3% of the world economy, whereas today it represents 17%.  In the past, most such contagions tended to be localised. Travel was far more restricted, lockdowns at times of plague were far more common, and people died far more quickly limiting the ability of any contagion to spread. There were, of course, exceptions. The Black Death which swept through Asia, Africa and Europe in the fourteenth century also spread along the old Silk Road and sea-borne trade routes. 

Why China and why now? 

The demand for fresh meat slaughtered in the traditional Chinese manner now poses a clear and present danger to the well-being of humanity. Why? For all the growth in China’s power and wealth since 1989, the Middle Kingdom is a huge populous country full of very poor people.  There is a profound friction between the twenty-first century state Beijing likes to project to the world, and the reality of rural poverty and the rapid growth of an urban poor still wedded to traditional practices such as ‘wet [blood] markets’.  The average GDP per capita in China is still only around $10,000 per annum (with millions living on incomes far below that) compared with US GDP per capita at $65,000 per annum.  Living conditions are often appalling with huge numbers of Chinese families crammed together in high-rise poverty.  Chinese cities have become natural breeding ground for pathogens able to leap from one species to another.  

Beijing has tried to limit such practices. However, state action has simply pushed the business into the unregulated back alleys of Chinese cities. Given the reputational and actual damage to China that will be caused by COVID-19 Beijing is now taking stringent action to deal with the threat.  Equally, containment of COVID-19 is also likely to see a lurch towards an even more control-obsessed, autocratic Chinese state.  

Strategic consequences and implications

The COVID-19 pandemic will also have profound strategic consequences, of which the health crisis is simply the first. Over time the crisis will spread to all other areas of statecraft from the economic to the military. The world’s two power autocracies, China and Russia, are particularly vulnerable. The signs are already ominous with Russia already suffering. The price of benchmark Brent crude oil has collapsed from $55 per barrel in December to $29 today. Russia needs to export its oil at around $70 per barrel for the Russian economy to be sustained. In the first quarter of 2020 Chinese manufacturing production dropped by 13%, the fastest and largest fall for fifty years. 

Autocracies tend to share certain characteristics when under pressure.  First, the primacy of the state over the individual is reinforced, with elites seeing themselves as the very embodiment of the nation and indispensable to it.  Both Beijing and Moscow are already moving to exert even more control.  President Xi is already the president-for-life of China. If, as seems likely, President Putin succeeds in his efforts to remain president at least until 2036, Russia too will become more autocratic. Second, such elites also fear their own people. In the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre the Chinese Communist Party offered a new ‘deal’ to its burgeoning middle classes: sustained growth in their prosperity in return for their continued unquestioning of power of the Party. That deal could fail.

History also plays an important role. Both Xi and Putin were shaped by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and fear the consequences of a sustained period of economic decline on their ability to hold onto power. President Putin is already suffering from falling popularity.  In such circumstances, Russia could retreat even more into a reflexive nationalistic and militaristic posture with the West, the source of most of Russia’s foreign-generated income, routinely cited as a threat.  In such circumstances, China too would likely become far more aggressive, with Taiwan particularly vulnerable.  Therefore, the possibility of both power autocracies embarking on more military adventurism must not be discounted as a downstream consequence of COVID-19. 

As China cracks down on internal dissent the legal frameworks that enable Western multinational corporations to operate therein will also likely become even more onerous. Many Western companies could well seek to ‘re-shore’ their operations back to the US and Europe, exacerbating the economic crisis in China. At the very least, many such corporations will (and should) move to end their over-reliance on Chinese supply chains vulnerable to catastrophic failure or political disruption.  

Europeans and the EU are once again major victims of crises made elsewhere, with Europe now the epicentre of the pandemic according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).  There is also a profound danger is that over the coming months the COVID-19 crisis will merge with a renewed refugee/migration crisis. Such a complex crisis will not only test European solidarity but also place all systems of government in Europe under the utmost strain, with economic consequences for at least a decade.  Indeed, the whole idea of ‘Europe’, with its focus on free movement of goods, services and people will likely need to be reconsidered. Europe, and indeed the wider West, could well suffer from another profound political shock. The scale and complexity of the crisis will doubtless reinforce the attractiveness of extremist political parties.  

Strategic choices

Faced with the strategic and political choices inherent in the COVID-19 crisis there are essentially two options for all the states involved: cohesion or fragmentation.  It is the latter option that should be adopted.  Any other approach would simply guarantee a lose-lose outcome for all.  However, any such strategy will require all the responsible powers to craft a complex new strategic agenda that pre-supposes a level of mutual trust that is in short supply.  Any such agenda would require (at the very least) the following elements over the short and medium terms, across a range of sustained actions from the epidemiological strategy to the grand strategic with effective strategic communications vital. It will also require a marked change in both the tone and nature of state behaviour. 

China is already seeking to shift the blame for COVID-19. Moreover, not for the first time Beijing’s obsession with secrecy has helped turn an outbreak into global contagion. The re-emergence of Zhao Lijian, a particularly feisty Chinese nationalist as Foreign Ministry Spokesman is also not a good sign that China is willing to act collectively. His claim this past week that the virus had been brought to Wuhan by the US military is simply preposterous and US Secretary-of-State Mike Pompeo has rightly complained. If Beijing adopts such a posture and refuses to acknowledge that two months of Chinese mismanagement during the early stages exacerbated the crisis, then it will be hard to treat China as a responsible strategic actor. 

Equally, states must avoid appearing to condone conspiracy theories. There is an apochryphal story that in 2003 the SARS epidemic began when it escaped from the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory.  Given the proximity of the laboratory to the contemporary outbreak concerns continue to be expressed about the safety of the facility. However, the US, in particular, must be careful not to begin a tit-for-tat blame game that would draw it into an equivalency trap. At present, there is no evidence the Chinese designed the pathogen and then lost control of it.  In any case, COVID-19 would be a strange offensive weapon as it only really affects people beyond the productive/warfighter age and only, normally, very mildly. One might argue that because the virus places Western healthcare systems under intense strain it could be a form of attack. However, China has so many other means to attack Western critical infrastructure if it so chose. The pandemic will have a serious impact on China’s foreign income, with profound implications for its future economic performance and Beijing’s emergence as a military superpower. 

The COVID-19 strategic agenda

Shorter-term epidemiological strategy can draw lessons from the response to the 2003 SARS contagion. Brian Doberstyn, who in 2003 was director of the WHO Western Pacific Region’s Division for Combatting Communicable Disease, identified three main lessons: transparency and a willingness of states to admit the scale and pace of early infection; the utility of proven past practices in harness with twenty-first century science; and the rapid and effective global scientific collaboration to enable the early mapping of the genome of the virus. He also identified a critical causal faction, “animal husbandry and marketing practices seriously affect human health. 

Rebuild strategic public private partnerships: One consequence of globalisation has been the progressive decoupling of Western states from Western corporations.  The very idea of the multinational corporation is the antithesis of the nation-state.  A strong partnership between the public and private sectors IN states will now be crucial, and not just to limit the economic damage.  In the immediate future, vaccines must be developed and ventilators made to treat the severely ill.  

Begin a forensic audit: WHO is a flawed institution, primarily because it reflects the tensions between the states that pay for it.  However, as part of confidence-building the WHO should be charged with conducting a proper strategic audit into the crisis with the enquiry ring-fenced against any external political interference.  This will not be easy. Many years ago I was seconded to the UN in both Geneva and New York and saw the gap between reality and UN reality. If such an audit is not possible, then the US and its European allies should conduct such an audit independently to ensure lessons are identified, best practice disseminated, and new structures identified.

Treat pandemics as a threat to the state order: Better intelligence and early warning indicators will need to be established, first response needs to be faster, more assured and better co-ordinated, healthcare systems (both public and private) need to be better prepared, critical infrastructures need to be made more resilient, with redundancy built into information networks and redundancy built into state structures. Critically, better early understanding about the scope of any threat will need to be established. Over-reaction is as dangerous and under-reaction. Ultimately, it is the robust state that must be at the centre of any crisis response.   

The death of globalisation?

COVID-19 happened because of a failure of policy in China and an absence of structure elsewhere, particularly in Europe.  It was made worse by ideological globalism and the abandonment of common sense by leaders.  Critically, Western democracies have become over-reliant on one autocratic source for many of the supply chains which sustain their respective societies. However, those who believe time can be rolled back and globalisation abandoned have to ask themselves with what?  Contending, hermetically-sealed and confrontational blocs?  Yes, Western states need to better protect themselves from crises made elsewhere, but what has been missing for far too long is the considered practice of statecraft in globalisation.  Indeed, globalism has been seen by the naively ideological as an antidote to statecraft.  The dark side of globalisation, of which COVID 19 is a consequence, must therefore be gripped and structure built to mitigate its dangers. However, it is not a time to abandon globalisation for to do so would be to cut the very connectedness that mitigates the nationalism and militarism that would doubtless come to dominate both Beijing and Moscow if they were completely denied access to Western markets. 

At home, Western democracies must again reconsider the balance to be struck between liberty and security, between secrecy and trust. In short, the state will need to better know where people are and shape how they behave. Critically, European democracies must stop treating their citizens like children and recognise (as some now seem to be doing) that true security can only come from a genuine partnership between responsible citizens and an effective state. Above all, governments must act. Too often in the past promises of necessary corrective action have been eroded by special interests groups with access to power once a crisis no longer grips the news cycle.

COVID-19: the echo of history

The test of any system is how it copes with shock. COVID-19 has shown that globalisation, as a structure of power is profoundly fragile. The globalised international system is, at best, a virtual interdependent anarchy in which state sovereignty has very little influence, particularly European state sovereignty. Contemporary globalisation is also dependent on two competing poles of power for stability – the US and China. As such, the globalised world looks ever more like the contentious dependencies in Europe prior to World War One, as the in-between states were forced to choose one side or another. 

In that light COVID-19 is as much a warning as a crisis. Indeed, unless collective action is taken a truly mass extinction humanity-culling pandemic could one day come down the same old Silk Road as COVID-19.  Conversely, collective action against a common enemy might just help promote a more stable world order.  If not, then the 2020 COVID-19 crisis will do much to shape international relations in the twenty-first century, and not for the better.

Julian Lindley-French

Interests, Ethics and Rules: Renewing UK Intervention Policy

By Paul Cornish, Nigel Biggar, Robert Johnson and Gareth Stansfield

Following events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and elsewhere, the post-Cold War inclination to foreign intervention came to a grinding halt. In a speech to the US Republican Party conference on 26 January 2017 former Prime Minister Theresa May voiced what had become the new received wisdom when she argued ‘The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.’ Yet intervention is regaining its place in the national strategic debate in the UK and elsewhere. Sophisticated and urgent questions are once again being asked of governments, international organisations, political and military strategists and civil society; questions which deserve a considered and intelligent response. If intervention is ‘bad’ then could non-intervention be even worse? If we are entering the era of ‘westlessness’ in international politics then who will fill the space left by western interests and values?

Co-authored with Nigel Biggar, Rob Johnson and Gareth Stansfield my new report Interests, Ethics and Rules: Renewing UK Intervention Policy was published by Cityforum on 11th February 2020. Commissioned by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre of the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, the report is an invitation to think closely and constructively about the circumstances in which the UK national interest might become engaged in some natural or man-made crisis around the world, and what that engagement would imply in organisational, decision-making and practical terms.

The report acknowledges that intervention has been, and remains, a deeply contested concept, on political, diplomatic, moral, legal and strategic grounds. The authors argue, nevertheless, that there are two sets of principles in which in which UK national interests are directly engaged and on the basis of which intervention, in one form or another, might properly be contemplated. The first of these, humanitarian intervention is the most familiar (and contested) and concerns the response to death, injury, hardship and disease caused by natural disasters, or the prevention/mitigation of man-made disasters such as violent atrocities against unarmed people, the forced relocation of populations or the abuse of internationally accepted human rights standards. In the worst imaginable case, if another genocide took place, on the scale perhaps of that in Rwanda in 1994, it seems unlikely, if not inconceivable that militarily capable, internationally minded governments around the world would turn their backs on the atrocity even as they knew it was taking place. What would be said of these countries’ diplomatic, cultural and moral standing if they were seen to be shrinking back into their so-called comfort zone and to be tacitly condoning some gross and highly visible violation of human rights? In the digital age these governments could scarcely claim not to be unaware of the crisis and its consequences. We argue that the case for humanitarian intervention has not been consigned to history and that the UK and other, like-minded countries have an unquestionably principle-based, national interest in the human condition around the globe.

Just as it makes no sense, in our analysis, to claim that the UK has no moral national interest in the human condition around the world, so we argue that the UK has a concrete national interest in the operation of the international system. The second set of principles are therefore more practical in character and concern the stability, security, functionality and predictability of what has become known as the ‘rules-based international system’ (RBIS)); a system in which the UK not only exists, but upon which it is fundamentally dependent. That system appears increasingly vulnerable, however. The RBIS is being challenged on many levels – intellectual, political, economic and strategic – and for various reasons; whether to debunk it as a political idea born some decades ago, disable its authority for narrow reasons of national interest or in specific circumstances, or discredit it altogether as a normative account of international politics. US President Donald Trump has surprised many by becoming the denigrator-in-chief of the RBIS – a system which the US might fairly be said to have invented. As one critic of the Trump Administration’s position has noted, ‘The leader of the free world doesn’t believe in the free world.’ Neither do some others: President Putin of Russia has insisted that ‘The liberal idea has become obsolete. It has come into conflict with the interest of the overwhelming majority of the population’; and President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China has shown himself to be less than enamoured with the RBIS.

For a wide range of diplomatic, financial, economic, cultural and security reasons, therefore, we argue that UK national interest cannot be anything other than directly engaged in furthering these moral and practical principles, even to the point of intervening in their name. Our report is not some vainglorious call to arms, however. Instead, we argue that the intervention debate is changing its terms and that in this evolving and uncertain mood, politicians and strategic leaders in the UK and elsewhere, including in international alliances and organisations, will increasingly be expected to explain both their decisions to act and their decisions not to act. Intervention is back, whether governments like it or not.

The report is available at https://www.cityforum.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Intervention-Report.pdf

PREMIUM TAG BLOG: Making Security a “Kitchen Table Topic” in Germany

Its about engaging the public which has been excluded from foreign and security issues too long dominated by the elites.

By Dr Alexandra Schwarzkopf

Seventy-five years after the end of World War Two, Germany is a major economic and democratic power. I think  it’s time for us to assume more responsibility worldwide.

And especially given our past, we should vigorously contribute to the defense of our allies and the democratic world order to which post-War Germany owes so much.

To do this we need a societal debate – a kind of citizens forums – about German foreign and security policy as part of a broader debate about its strategic role in the world of the 21st century. The most populous and biggest economic power in the EU cannot be a bigger version of Switzerland. Germany’s “strategic beauty sleep” must end.

Until now, both foreign policy, and even more so defense policy, have not been of particular interest to a large part of the German population. This is even true when German soldiers are deployed to a conflict zone. One can say this has never really been different. And besides, the average citizen has enough to do with family and work. 

Nevertheless, just because it has never really been different, it does not mean that it must always remain that way.  Take the enormous growth of the global climate change movement. Whatever one may think about it, it demonstrates that large parts of the population, and not only young people, do have time to deal with a complex topic which goes beyond their day-to-day challenges because they believe it affects their life.

So how can foreign-and-security policy become a “kitchen table topic” like the climate change topic has become?

In a number of ways. The first is communicating to citizens 

the importance of foreign policy and security matters to their personal situation. Once they really think about it, most citizens would probably not question that protecting one’s borders, trade routes and communication systems is crucial for their continuous prosperity and political stability.

That is why politicians of all parties, as well as experts and members of the Bundeswehr (armed forces), should go on the public offensive and make the population aware about foreign policy and security issues and their effects on the individual citizen. 

This could be done by meeting in town halls and other public places and not just confining them foundations and think-tank premises. And don’t forget about going to schools, colleges and universities. 

Also, larger numbers of professors and students should be included in security and foreign policy conferences such as the MSC. In other words, don’t have security and foreign issues dominated by the elites. The media has a super important role to play as well.

Secondly, to be become a real “kitchen table” the topic has to be framed in a more positive way. Its not only about focusing on threats. Its about trying to explain how foreign and security policy actually can resolve conflicts. If peace and security as an outcome of a successful foreign and security policy is more emphasized, maybe more Germans will be willing – despite our past – to accept military strength as one necessary pillar of security policy.

So once the debate on foreign policy and security issues is associated with safeguarding people’s physical and economic security, defending allied states and preventing genocides, security policy just might have the real potential to become a topic average citizens want to talk about at their “kitchen table”.

Finally, and this cannot be stressed enough, citizens must be confident that once they get involved in these debates, their voice will be heard. If that is the case then unsettling and upsetting developments in foreign policy, higher defense expenditures or soldiers’ casualties might not cause them to turn their back on the topic and say “I don’t want to hear about it”.

Instead, there could be the realistic chance that citizens will “want to hear more about it”, and become active participants in the debate on foreign-and-security policy. It might even lead to a broader debate on Germany’s strategic role in the 21st century.

Dresden 75: Is Europe Making America Weak?

“There were sounds like giant footsteps above. Those were sticks of high-explosive bombs. The giants walked and walked…There was a fire-storm out there. Dresden was one big flame.”

 

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five

Dresden

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 February. Seventy-five years ago, on the night of 13-14th February, 1945, seven hundred and sixty-nine Royal Air Force (RAF) Lancaster bombers of 5 Group, Bomber Command attacked the ancient German city of Dresden, escorted by some three hundred and fifty P-51 Mustang fighters. Codenamed ‘Plate Rack’ the main bomber force was led into the attack by nine Mosquito ‘Pathfinder’ aircraft who ‘painted’ the historic centre of the city with marker flares. The next day, five hundred and twenty-seven B-17 bombers of the United States Army Air Force (USAAF)continued the attack, escorted by some four hundred P-51s.  Dresden was devastated with estimates of those killed ranging from between 22,700 to 25,000, the massive majority of whom were civilians.  The RAF lost six Lancaster bombers, whilst one US B-17 was destroyed. Dresden was the culmination of the Allied strategic bombing campaign and was controversial even in 1945.  The origins of ‘Dresden’ were manifold, not least the need to send a message to the Soviets about the firepower of Allied air power as war’s end approached.  However, Dresden was also the culmination of a descent into calamity that began with the rise to power of Hitler in the early 1930s, and the irresolute response of Allied democracies to the threat Nazism posed to European peace.

As the commemoration of this truly epic European tragedy were being solemnly enacted I was also in Germany at a side-event of the Munich Security Conference.  The Loisach Group is a high-level US-German team, co-organised by the George C. Marshall Center and the Munich Security Conference.  The aim of the Group is to promote something in which I believedeeply; a close, twenty-first century US-German strategic partnership itself deeply embedded in an adapted and modernised NATO. An Alliance which remains the central, credible pillar of legitimate Allied defence and deterrence.

Munich 2020

To be honest, I thought twice about attending the meeting as I am in the last throes of completing a book, which consumes most of my energy and attention.  There were other reasons.  First, I am tired of attending meetings at which Europeans brilliantly and eloquently describe the challenges of European security, then do very little about them.  Britons and Germans have become particularly effective at this particular skein of defence pretence.  For example, news that the Royal Navy’s new class of frigates will be delayed simply compounds the farce that Britain remains a Tier One military power.  Just look at what the Americans and Chinese are building. Second, it is hard for me to see any real progress in the US-German strategic relationship until the political relationship improves.  With the US facing presidential elections in November, and Berlin engaged in a seemingly endless bout of political navel-gazing, the best that can be said is that the relationship is on hold. Third, I am also tired of listening to pious speeches about shared transatlantic values and Europe’s strategic ambitions from people who have little or no willingness to defend the former and do even less to realise the latter. Finally, I see little evidence that elite Germany is making any effort to understand the American strategic challenge or its implications for the future security and defence of Europe.

Indeed, Germans seem unable or unwilling to recognise America’s changing and deteriorating strategic reality.  It is as though President Trump has become an alibi for the refusal of Germans to face up to their strategic responsibilities as Europe’s leading democratic power.  Even if they agree in private about the nature of emerging threats German leaderstoo often talk as though German power must remain a secret from the German people for fear the reality of the strategic responsibility such power would bring might prove too brutal an awakening. Worse, every opportunity is taken to criticise the US even though the evidence clearly shows a Washingtonstill willing to commit huge resources to the defence of Europe. Take the European Deterrence Initiative.  There was some mildly hysterical coverage in the German press last week that ‘EDI’ was being cut. As one very senior American pointed out at the meeting as each EDI project reaches fruition the investment naturally reduces.

Time is pressing. This week, IISS published their latest Military Balance report in which they noted global defence expenditure had risen by 4% in 2019. Much of that hike is driven by increases of almost 7% in both the US and Chinese defence budgets, with a particular focus on the development of new technologies for the twenty-first century battlespace.  The US increased its defence budget by $53.4 billion, which is about the same amount as the entire British defence budget.  Part of the US rationale is to offset China’s better military purchasing power by which Beijing gets more firepower per yuan invested than the US per dollar.  It is also an attempt to solve America’s critical strategic dilemma: whilst China can focus its military effort the US has to cover threats the world over. It is a dilemma that is only going to become more acute.  IISS described China’s military modernisation as, “…striking for its scale, speed and ambition”.  Europe?  Europeans did increase defence expenditure by 4.2% in 2019, but that only brought defence investment back to 2008 levels. That begs a further question. Is Europe burden-sharing, or is it just a plain burden on the Americans?

Europe Defender 20

Words and actions? As the Munich meeting got underway the Americans were bringing in an entire armoured division from the US as part of Exercise Europe Defender 20.  Whilst not on the scale of REFORGER (Return of Forces to Germany) exercises of the Cold War, Defender 20 is the largest such exercise since its end. Designed to bolster high-end Allied defence and deterrence Defender 20 will see some twenty thousand US troops arrive via five ports in Northwest Europe, as well as thirteen thousand pieces of heavy equipment, to engage across eight separate locations alongside eighteen allies. As an aside, a British battlegroup was also disembarking in Antwerp in support of their allies.

The fact that the Americans are having to make such an effort is indicative of the malaise deep in the German heart of European defence. Impressive though the American force is in an emergency it could well be needed elsewhere, most likelyin what Washington now calls the Indo-Pacific.  If NATO Europe was truly capable such a force would not be American at all, but European, with a powerful German armoured division at its core.  A German armoured division? One can almost hear history weeping at such a thought.  And yet, that is precisely the kind of high-end, heavy, fast, twenty-first century first responder European/German force that NATO needs if DETERRENCE, the business the Alliance is really collectively in, is to be credibly maintained. And yet, modern, free, democratic Germany seems to be lost in denial about its responsibilities as leader.  What could the Bundeswehr really deliver in the event of another European emergency? Minor additions to the German defence effort do little to solve the essential dysfunctionality of the Bundeswehr which will not be resolved until there is a profound change in Berlin’s strategic posture and mindset.  

European weakness makes America weaker

Forcing over-stretched America to send forces to offset the choice European democracies have made to decouple their own defence efforts from threat and changing reality is not a sign of Allied strength. It is a mark of the dangerous complacency and tendency towards comforting self-delusion to which Germans are particularly prone. There seems to be astrange belief that if threats are talked about long enough by people high enough in the political pecking order thatsomehow such danger will evaporate. It is nonsense; a wilful European act of weakness that threatens to make America weaker where it matters.

Dresden was the tragic culmination of failed deterrence and the tragic cost of such failure. It was a product of irresolution and the consequent disproportionate proportionality caused by democracies preferring to see the world as they wanted it to be, not as it was.  For the sake of all those who lost their lives in the Dresden firebombing, on all sides of the conflict, let’s not go there again.

Julian Lindley-French  

PREMIUM TAG BLOG: (Some Worrying) Future Transatlantic Security Options*

The current collision between history and disruptive forces of change poses a huge challenge to the United States, Canada and the European democracies. Those of us who believe in liberal democracy and the transatlantic alliance must take the steps necessary to ensure their future.

By Stanley R. Sloan

As 2020 hits the ground with many bangs, those of us working on transatlantic relations face questions about near-term US-European security futures.

There is little mystery about the threats and challenges facing NATO and EU members. They include Russian intrusions, radical Islamist terrorism, and creeping Chinese intervention, adding to the internal challengeof illiberal politics undermining liberal democracy. So against this backdrop, let’s consider first some future scenarios.

I suggest three broad possibilities for the future of the transatlantic alliance: substantial continuity, radical positive change and radical negative change

First, substantial continuity. In this potential future, very little changes the trend lines that have been laid down by history.  

The United States remains committed to participate in the defense of Europe, to deploy substantial numbers of troops in Europe, and to retain military leadership of NATO with a senior American general serving as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander.  

Also in this scenario, a post-Trump administration triesto repair damage done to US leadership of the alliance, without abandoning US burdensharing concerns.  

All current allies remain in the alliance, despite some wavering (Turkey) and others experimenting with forms of democracy that do not conform to liberal democratic values.

With the United Kingdom having abandoned EU membership, the EU continues, with some modest successes, its attempts to give the Union a more substantial integrated military capacity.  

The UK makes cooperative military arrangements with former EU partners while seeking a continued “special relationship,” including intelligence sharing, with the United States.  

In this potential future, several allies spend around 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024 as agreed at the 2014 Wales summit, while others fall short.  

Second: radical positive change.

In this future, the goal of a more balanced transatlantic relationship comes more clearly into view.  The United States remains committed to the alliance while supporting European efforts to take on more burdens and responsibilities in the alliance.  

The members of the EU make substantial advances in coordinating and even selectively integrating their defense establishments.  

A true European army controlled by a politically united Europe remains out of reach. But all EU members increasingly sacrifice bits of their national control in a variety of pragmatic cooperative arrangements.  

The UK, despite its departure from the EU, commits to thorough defense cooperation with EU members, while remaining fully committed to NATO.  

Increased European defense spending is accompanied by the revitalization of the European defense industry, with multinational firms and co-production arrangements setting up a healthy competition across the Atlantic. At the same time, the US-European competition for sales is moderated by better transatlantic defense industrial cooperation.  

The stronger European contribution to defense is acknowledged with alternating European and American Supreme Allied Commanders of NATO as a transition to a possible future in which Europeans routinely hold this post.  

The role of Secretary General also alternates between prominent European and North American political leaders.

Third: radical negative change

This scenario presents a much darker future.  

The United States essentially abandons its transatlantic commitments and leadership roles.  The European allies fall into disputes about how to maintain their security and provide new leadership.  

Such a scenario could begin with the reelection of Donald Trump.  

In this hypothetical scenario, the United Statescontinues the process of abandoning its international leadership and decides to remove all US forces from Europe. Trump tweets that he and Vladimir Putin have agreed that such a move would promote peace and security in Europe.  

In response, European allies discuss creating strong, integrated European defense structures to replace the transatlantic NATO one.  But they find it too challenging politically and financially.  

Even the overwhelming cost estimate projected in 2019 by the IISS for the EU members to create a defense system as capable as that of NATO turns out to be overly optimistic.  

Several member countries suggest that the EU should follow the US lead and sign a peaceful relations/nonaggression accord with Russia.

While some commentators immediately label this “the 21st century Munich,” most European governments decide they have little choice.  

In addition, this accommodation with Russia strengthens illiberal pro-Moscow parties throughout Europe.  That leads to the election of several national administrations that lean toward fascist forms of governance and away from liberal democracy.  Adieu NATO. Adieu the West as we know it. Russia will have achieved its long-term goal of destroying the transatlantic alliance, with connivance and weakness by European governments.

The future

With all its imperfections, the current transatlantic security system, with its twin institutional pillars of NATO and the EU, makes a strong case for preservation, even if it requires reform.  

Those who argue for abandoning this arrangement bear the burden of proving that they have a better idea.

The current collision between history and disruptive forces of change poses a huge challenge to the United States, Canada and the European democracies. Those of us who believe in liberal democracy and the transatlantic alliance must take the steps necessary to ensure their future. Choices at transatlantic ballot boxes will influence which future we choose.  They had better be informed choices…

*This brief is based on the draft text the author prepared for a presentation in Copenhagen in December 2019 whose presentation was vetoed by the US Embassy, which was a cosponsor of the conference.

Permanent Putin Power

“Autocracy is a superannuated form of government that may suit the needs of a Central African tribe, but not those of the Russian people, who are increasingly assimilating the culture of the rest of the world. That is why it is impossible to maintain this form of government except by violence”. 

Nikolai Tolstoy

Alphen, Netherlands. 22 January.  Russia is a relatively small, relatively corrupt state that governs the world’s single biggest political land mass, governed by President Putin who has been in power for twenty years and who, under the existing constitution must finally step down in 2024. However, President Putin also believes he is indispensable to Russia. Therefore, Russia is about to witness what passes for political reform. As so often in Russia history it is the wrong reform by the wrong people for the wrong reasons. Central to Putin’s ambitions is a desire to ensure the health and wealth of him and his family during any future succession. In his annual State of Russia address President Vladimir Putin proposed a series of constitutional changes that would effectively make him Russia ‘power for life’, even if he is not actually the President of the Russian Federation. Why does Permanent Putin matter? What are the proposed changes? Who will benefit? What are the strategic implications, what to expect now and, finally, what to do?

Why does Permanent Putin matter? Last week, at a high-level meeting in Switzerland, I was asked by a senior figure why Russia posed a threat. It is to do with the nature of autocracies, their fear of political reform, and a tendency towards military adventurism when their own contradictions catch up with them, I responded. Moscow is unable to carry out the vital social, economic and political reforms that would benefit the Russian people for fear that those very reforms would topple the regime from power.  Unwilling to carry out such reforms autocracies historically have turned to oppression at home and aggression abroad and constructed a security state to that end.  Putin’s Russia is no different. Incapable of reform Moscow is locked in its own eventual demise and because of that more military adventurism is likely as the regime lurches from one engineered crisis to another.   

What are the proposed changes? Putin called for a referendum on constitutional amendments that would nominally increase the power of both the parliament (Duma) and the State Council, hitherto an advisory tool for the Kremlin.  As President Putin announced the proposed reforms former Russian president, and erstwhile Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, immediately stepped down. To maintain his complete authority President Putin will either return to the post prime minister or become the chair of a strengthened State Council. Indeed, it is not entirely inconceivable that Putin could change the Russian constitution from a presidential to a parliamentary system so as to ensure the prime minister’s office becomes the real power in the land. 

Who will benefit? Apart from Putin himself there are several close allies who would seem to benefit from such changes, mainly because their very mediocrity means they pose no threat to Vladimir Vladimirovich, to whom they all owe their power and allegiance.  The ‘stars’ of Duma Speaker Vyacyheslav Volodin and Kremlin Chief-of-Staff Anton Vaino both seem to be in the ascendant, and either could be named at some point as a puppet successor to Putin.  The new Prime Minister, Mikhail Mishustin, who will ensure the changes Putin proposes are carried out, is also a possible candidate, although he has been given the poisoned chalice that is constitutional reform.  For obvious reasons, the so-called Siloviki, Putin’s apparatchik base in the ‘power ministries’ that deal with foreign affairs, security, defence and intelligence will be untouched by the proposed reforms. Critically, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, remain in office, although the former is closer to Putin than the latter. 

What are the strategic implications? Unable or unwilling to risk the thoroughgoing reforms Russia needs it is likely Moscow will redouble its efforts to convince the Russian people they are under threat from an insidious West to justify the regime’s hold on power.  The central paradox of Putin’s foreign policy has always that it bites the European hand that by and large feeds it. Whilst Russia relies for much of its income of the export of hydrocarbons to its European neighbours, it also routinely paints those same neighbours as part of a ‘fascist’ western conspiracy to force Russia into strategic tutelage. Expect such fabrications and provocations to continue. 

Permanent Putin will also make much of his ‘friendship’ with that other President-for-Life, China’s Xi Jingping. Both China and Russia are likely to make common grand strategic cause against an increasingly global West, more idea than place, as and when it suits them.  One of many paradoxes in Putin’s position is that not only is Russia’s relationship with China today a bit like contemporary Britain’s relationship with the United States, or ancient Athens to ancient Rome, the greatest threat to the Russian Far East is posed not by Washington, but Beijing. What binds them is that both Putin and Xi are latter day ‘tsars’ who see themselves in strategic competition with the world’s democracies. 

It is also hard to deny that the intensity of that competition, the economic pressure being exercised by Beijing on many states, as well as pace and scale of the arms race underway between the US and China (about which Europeans are in denial).  Some form of Second Cold War is now clearly underway, although Frigid Peace may be a better description.  A war that is already taking place across the ‘grey zones’ of hybrid and cyber war, and which could, heaven forfend, one day break out into a true hyperwar in which a whole host of exotically devastating technologies are unleashed. 

What to expect now? Expect more Russian defections from the norms of international relations. This is because many of Russia’s paradoxes and contradictions are policy intractable. Whilst Permanent Putin will make some efforts to improve the lives of Russian citizens at the margins, nothing will be done that could threaten the regime’s grip on power.  Russian foreign policy towards Europe will thus be a distraction strategy designed to give the impression Moscow is out-foxing Western powers. This will involve a series of defections from international instruments, such as the INF Treaty and international norms, such as the seizure of Crimea by force. Increased interference can be expected in a host of European states from the North Cape to the Arctic, as well as the Middle East and North Africa, all of which will be designed to give the impression of a clever, nimble Moscow that hints at Soviet power of the past, routinely confounding a lumpen West. In fact, over time the strategy cost Russia and its people dearly.  

What to do? To preserve peace and limit Russia’s strategic opportunism the United States must first remember it is the leader of the West, global or otherwise. Second, Washington must also realise it no longer has the power alone to prevail across the conflict spectrum against the Chinese-Russian partnership from jawfare to warfare. Third, Europeans, and other allies and partners of the US, need to realise that only by the sharing of America’s growing strategic burdens can they assure their own peace.  For Europeans that means, first and foremost, becoming united enough diplomatically, and strong enough militarily, to ensure peace in and around Europe. And, in so doing, help keep America strong where she needs to be strong. 

Sooner or later Russia will have to stop biting the European hand that feeds it and realign its strategic and economic interests.  In what could be a lengthy interim that means the sustained application of sound defence and credible deterrence in the face of Russian opportunism, allied to a willingness to consistently and constantly talk to Russia. Such a dual-track approach offers the best hope of giving Russia the soft landing both Russians and Europeans need as Moscow inevitably falls from the heady heights of its own manifold contradictions.

In other words, Europeans speak with Russia, both softly and firmly, but also carry a sufficiently big stick to ensure Moscow strategic opportunism does not become grand delinquency.  For, as Vladimir Vladimirovich will one day discover, time waits for no man, not even him.

Julian Lindley-French