TAG V-Conference: NATO 2030, June 23rd, 2020

Purpose and core message: The purpose of the meeting was to prepare a TAG position paper for the NATO Reflection Group (NRG). By 2030 NATO must develop a strong European pillar with a European first responder, high-end future force (EFF) at its core able to deter and defend against threats, support Allies, and convince the US to remain engaged in the defence of Europe. 

Three challenges: The state of NATO’s defences are more difficult than many realise; greater trust between the Allies will be needed before a new NATO Strategic Concept can be drafted; the focus should be on the full implementation of decisions taken at Warsaw 2016, Brussels 2018 and London 2019.  The meeting focused on the balance to be struck between maintaining Alliance political cohesion and ensuring a credible NATO defence and deterrence posture in a post-COVID 19 world in which Europe’s security environment deteriorates rapidly. Refusal of Allies to face “acknowledged threats” would be dangerous, particularly the growing clash of values with authoritarian states and the strategic consequences of the Sino-Russian strategic alignment. 

The meeting: The NRG must answer three specific questions. How can NATO and EU complementarity be improved? What is NATO’s role in dealing with China? How can Europeans play a stronger role in their own defence and thus shift burdens within the Alliance? It will also need to make a strong statement about who are NATO’s friends and adversaries. Transatlantic burdens must be “shifted”, but the wider value of the transatlantic relationship must also be re-stated, particularly in the US, including the geo-economic. 

Making the political case for a stronger NATO is vital.  European leaders and peoples need to be ‘educated’ about the vital and continuing role of military power.  Leadership from NATO’s “big capitals” is crucial. Without a new strategic ‘contract’ between the US and Germany any progress will be difficult. No significant action can be taken prior to the November 2020 US presidential elections.  

Critically, NATO must deter the full range of threats based on a realistic and “coherent concept of defence and deterrence”.  There have been “huge achievements” in modernising NATO’s conventional deterrent, particularly IAMD. “Huge gaps” are now also understood. Greater progress is needed towards better military mobility, although that will require agreement over civil capability targets which has proven elusive. The furore over US plans to withdraw 28% of its force from Europe has “hammered the final nail into the coffin” of the Defence Investment Pledge of 2%/20% by 2024. A new approach to defence investment is needed.  

Given the stakes the NRG must aspire to be a worthy successor to the December 1967 Harmel Report which established a ‘dual track’ approach: peace through strength, and effective conflict management through dialogue. Time is pressing. The COVID-19 crisis reveals an Alliance at a strategic tipping point. If Allies are unable to act together then NATO could well cease to be a defence alliance and become little more than an agency for military standardisation.

Next Steps: The TAG NATO 2030 Food for Thought paper will be adapted in light of the meeting and form the basis for a TAG submission to the NRG. The draft final paper will be submitted to the TAG for final approval.

Julian Lindley-French

TAG V-Conference: What to do with China? May 27, 2020

“We have to do China together”.


Headline: The discussion ranged between those who believe the West should seek managed reciprocity via robust engagement with China and those committed to active containment and competition.  Both Americans and Europeans must now demonstrate a shared willingness to confront the hard security choices implicit in China’s rise. If the West is to compete with China Allied cohesion must adopt concerted multilateralism that balances a threat of decoupling with reciprocity. Western institutions and critical values, such as freedom of speech are not negotiable.

The threat: The next five years will be critical to managing China’s rise. China’s ambition is to be the world’s most powerful state and Beijing is systematically investing to that end. The ‘battleground’ is people the world over and the nature of the ‘new friendships’ China is using to tilt globalisation in its favour. The main theatre remains economic and China’s determination to enshrine dependency. However, fail and the struggle between the Free World and Totalitarianism could fast become military. The challenge posed by China is ultimately about the ‘us’ in ‘West, and whether Europeans in particular have the stomach for the ‘fight’. Particular concern was expressed over the inability of the US to effectively respond should China suddenly launch a military assault on Taiwan.

What to do? The West must respond with a determined long-term strategy. There would be several elements: discreet but robust engagement with Beijing over critical issues such as Information Warfare, cyber-attacks and the theft of intellectual property, the establishment of a common strategic understanding and approach, and an honest analysis of the downstream threat China could pose. Building alliances will be critical to which revitalising the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership might be one option. Ultimately, managing China concerns the application of Western power via a Harmel-style dual track of comprehensive dialogue and defence that avoids ‘self-fulfilling war’. Such a ‘precautionist’ approach would avoid isolating China. Equally, the EU and its members must now treat China as a strategic challenger which demands a change in European political culture. A Chinese-Russian strategic alliance would pose a specific danger to Europe and Europeans must take responsibility for turning Russia away from any such alliance.

Next steps: A practical policy review is needed to identify what the US and Europeans can do together. A strong US-European declaration is also needed on both Hong Kong and Taiwan, and solidarity shown with any democratic partner subject to Chinese bullying. Europeans need to make stringent efforts to improve resiliency across the bio, digital and espionage spectrum.  China’s vulnerabilities must also be exploited. Europeans could promote constructive inter-dependency by easing China’s acute food security concerns, conditional on Chinese behaviour. US and European tech-companies should be given the means to compete with state-subsidised Chinese companies such as Huawei. Critically, supply chain vulnerabilities must be identified and reduced, and strategic metals and technologies ring-fenced and protected.

Conclusion: In the wake of COVID-19 the successful management of China’s rise will depend more on application than innovation, allied to shared policy and solidarity across the emerging community of global democracies of which the transatlantic relationship is a central pillar. Respect should be afforded China, but only if Beijing warrants it.


Julian Lindley-French

China: Power, Payback and Statecraft

“We are not dealing with the China of the 1990s or even the 2000s, but a completely different animal that represents a clear challenge to our democratic values”.

Francis Fukuyama


One China, One System

One China, Two Systems? No, One China, One system. For President Xi Jingping the 1947-29 Chinese Communist Revolution will not be complete until Hong Kong and Taiwan are brought fully under Beijing’s writ. Xi’s senses the moment might be fast approaching when the ‘correlation of forces’ are sufficiently in his favour for him to forcefully unify China. The imposition of National Security Legislation over Hong Kong by Beijing could well be but the beginning of the forced unification of China. Indeed, Chinese military exercises near the Taipei controlled Paratas/Dongsha islands could also signal stage two of the Plan is coming soon. This would involve the forced unification of Taiwan with Mainland China far earlier than the stated date of 2049, the centennial of the Communist Party’s seizure of power.

Critically, President Xi’s power exploitation of the COVID-19 crisis has shone a light on how Beijing really sees power and its determination to extend its writ across China, East Asia, and much of the rest of the world. There was something tragically quaint about Chris Patten bleating this week about a new dictatorship in Hong Kong.  Britain’s last governor of Hong Kong would have suspected even in 1997 at the time of the Handover that Beijing would at some point move to impose Chinese sovereignty over the Special Administrative Region long before the fifty years agreed. Like so much of British foreign and security policy these days the Handover was merely a device for a Britain in retreat to save face.

Xi’s rise to power

Fukuyama is right; Xi’s China is not the China of his predecessor Hu Jintao. The process of projecting power abroad is changing the very nature of the Communist Party, which now relies for its power base more on Han Chinese nationalism than ideology.

Whilst Hu was never more than primus inter pares, Xi is distinctly primus. In the wake of the Communist Party’s brutal 1989 suppression of the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square Beijing opted to re-build social cohesion by focussing on economic growth.  The policy was overseen by a cautious oligarchy which was focused on China’s domestic stability. Whilst it proved spectacularly successful it also led to a period of relative calm in China’s foreign policy.

All that changed in November 2012 when Xi Jingping became General Secretary of the Party. For eight years Xi has focussed on three policy goals. First, consolidation of his own power and that of the Party through anti-corruption drives and the establishment of greater censorship.  Second, a more aggressive policy of forced unification and military expansionism, particularly in and around the South China Sea. Third, the development of the People’s Liberation Army into a power projection force. The latter policy was accelerated in March 2018 when this Princeling of the Party became the de facto President-for-Life.

As President-for-Life Xi has far more in common with the Chinese emperors of old or Mao Zedong in his later years, than either Marx or Lenin. Indeed, under Xi the Chinese Communist Party is fast becoming a Chinese Nationalist Party, which is historically ironic given that it was the Communists that in 1949 defeated Chiang Kai Shek and the Chinese Nationalists (Kuomintang) at the end of (Part One?) the Chinese Communist Revolution. Chiang Kai Shek and the Nationalists retreated onto the island of Taiwan and have been there ever since.

Kow-towing to history

How the Han Chinese see the world and China’s place in it is thus central to any understanding of Beijing’s contemporary foreign and security policy. The Han Chinese represent some 92% of the Chinese population and a shared culture and historical narrative that dates back some four thousand years.  They tend to be deeply patriotic, bordering on the nationalistic, with a particular view of Chinese history and the role of foreigners in it. Central to the Han Chinese world view is the idea of the Middle Kingdom or Central Kingdom that goes back to their origins as a series of communities clustered around the Yellow and Yangtse rivers.  For many Han Chinese it is the emergence of Imperial China and the Xia dynasty in the third century BC which fires the imagination.  Thereafter, China was at the forefront of technology, economy and philosophy for centuries.

This glorious (and often glorified) epoch of Chinese history sits in stark contrast to the humiliation the Chinese suffered at the hands of foreigners, mainly the West, from the mid-eighteenth century to the recent past. Indeed, there is a profound shared and collective sense of China having been mistreated and disrespected by European imperialists, Japan and US. Several tragic events stand out for the Chinese. The so-called ‘unequal treaties’ when Imperial Britain forced the Chinese to cede control of Hong Kong in 1842. The 1901 crushing of the anti-imperialist, anti-Christian and anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion which also saw the defeat of the Imperial Army by an eight nation alliance of Austro-Hungary, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States was deeply humiliating. The rise of Imperial Japan, the 1931 invasion of Manchuria, and the 1937 Japanese Rape of Nanking, in which up to 300,000 Chinese may have been murdered, are further compounded by a continuing sense of outrage over further Japanese atrocities committed during the occupation prior to 1945.  US backing for Chinese nationalists during the Revolution, the 1949 Amethyst Incident and China’s decisive October 1950 intervention in the Korean War against US-led United Nations forces all help to shape the world-view of many millions of Han Chinese.



That same history also informs Xi Jingping and much of China’s contemporary civil, and in particular, powerful military leadership, which is also Xi’s power-base within the Party.  Consequently, a toxic mix of historical nationalism and power hubris is taking hold, reinforcing the sense in Beijing that the twenty-first century will be China’s century and pay-back time for all the many indignations and humiliations China has suffered at the hands of foreign powers. Critically, behind the Grand Overseas Propaganda Campaign, aggressive espionage and massive and routine cyber-attacks China is offering an implicit choice to the democratic world: embrace China’s rise or be crushed by it.

The paradox is that Xi is fast turning China into a very nineteenth century, twenty-first century imperial power in which balances of power and spheres of influence dominate policy choices and nationalism is routinely instrumentalised as insurance against economic decline and any domestic challenge to the Party’s untrammelled power. There is also little reason to believe Beijing will change course for the simple reason Xi thinks he is winning.  For that reason alone China is likely to remain inherently autocratic, periodically confrontational and routinely coercive when it believes such action will be to its advantage.


Statecraft and the Chinese Dual Track

What to do about Xi’s China? Statecraft is essentially the art of making others believe one’s own interests are their interests whilst avoiding shooting oneself in either the foot or worse the head in the process.  As such, statecraft concerns the constant adaptation of state postures and behaviours. Given Chinese assertiveness both before and during the COVID-19 crisis the relationship between China and many of the world’s democracies is in need of rebalancing, with European states to the fore.  Too many Europeans are too dependent on China for too many vital things and Beijing will not hesitate to use such dependence as leverage as and when it suits. However, talk of hard decoupling is also misguided because it might well precipitate the very outcome everyone should be seeking to avoid: war.  Like Imperial Japan in the face of the ruinous pre-war US oil embargo if Beijing believes there will be no better moment to act than now then military action might seem the only option for fear of Xi’s historic mission being denied.

Therefore, given the stakes and the scale of the challenge a China strategy worthy of the name would need to involve all the world’s major democracies (the Global West?) and balance realism, reason and resolve.  Any such strategy would also need at least ten basic tenets that equally balance defence and dialogue:



  1. Unless hard proof emerges of malfeasance agreement that China will not be blamed for COVID-19 and recognition of all and any efforts by the Chinese to assist in combatting the pandemic.
  2. Renewed efforts by European and other US allies to convince China to use the UN to resolve all grievances and conflicts through international law, with arbitration to deal with specific disputes in the South China Sea. .
  3. Acknowledgement that China is a Tier One power and will be accorded the respect that such power commands.
  4. Acceptance that globalisation will continue and that whilst some reshoring will be needed to ensure supply chains are not reliant on one source no purposeful effort will be undertaken to damage the Chinese economy.
  5. Agreement to work with China on the creation of a new arms control architecture relevant to twenty-first century technology.

Realism and Resolve:

  1. A shared understanding of the minimum deterrence needed to challenge the assumptions of hard-liners around President Xi keen to seize a perceived opportunity.
  2. Systematic and aggressive countering of Chinese digital warfare, espionage and cognitive warfare through expanded deterrence across the conventional, digital and nuclear spectrum.
  3. Active and collective support for the US in its efforts to ensure the UN Convention on the Law at Sea (UNCLOS) is upheld, specifically when it concerns freedom of navigation in international waters.
  4. Determination by the US and its allies to respond to Chinese military activity and ambitions in the air, sea, land, cyber and space domains and actively respond to Chinese efforts to exploit new technologies in warfare from hypersonic weaponry to artificially-intelligent tactical and intercontinental systems.
  5. Identification of all strategic technologies from semi-conductors to systems architectures such as 5G and its future developments that must be fully sourced from within the community of global democracies.

The price of failure

Statecraft at times also involves the deliberate combining of obfuscation with consequence. The right of Taiwan and Hong Kong to self-determination will be the most challenging issue for the democracies.  For the moment, the safest course of action for both must be support for the status quo; autonomy short of independence.  Support for any other outcome when it is highly unlikely democratic powers would fight for either would be dangerous.  At the same time, Beijing must also be clear that aggressive action against either would see China be designated an aggressor and trigger a determined reaction from the democratic powers across the political, economic and, indeed, military spectrum. However, clarity is also needed with regard to consequence. Unfortunately, with hard-liners seemingly in control in Beijing it is hard to see how a war to force Taiwan under Beijing’s yoke can be avoided unless Xi’s China dramatically changes course.  The alternative is that Taipei accepts One China, One System, which is extremely unlikely given that the Chinese civil war never really ended. That stark reality begs two further enormous questions. Would the US go to war to defend Taiwan?  What would be the implications for US power and influence across the Indo-Pacific and, indeed, the wider world if it did not?

However, demonization of China would also be self-defeating and thus poor statecraft. The West must neither under-estimate the scope of China’s challenge, nor the extent to which Xi and much of the China he leads sees itself locked in a power or perish struggle. This is particularly the case now that COVID-19 has stripped bare the false politesse of power.

The great twenty-first century power ‘game’ is afoot. How we play it, and how well we play it, could well decide peace and war. The first rule of the ‘game’? Respect.

Julian Lindley-French

PREMIUM TAG BLOG: Multilateralism Buckles Under Corona

The post-1945 order was in bad shape before the Coronavirus swept across the globe. In the midst of the pandemic, it is barely surviving with few prospects of being revived.

By Judy Dempsey

The West’s leading countries should have risen to the challenge as soon as it became clear that the coronavirus was going to be a pandemic. But they didn’t.

One by one, the leaders and members of the multilateral institutions established after 1945 failed to think and act strategically and globally.

Whether or not globalization will return to the status quo ante once the virus is conquered – and it’s not going to be very soon according to experts – is an open question. What is not in question is the inability of multilateral institutions to perform during globalisation’s first pandemic.

Consider the United Nations and its World Health Organization arm.

The former’s role during the virus has been abysmal. The United Nations Security Council couldn’t manage to agree to discuss the pandemic. China, a permanent member of the council blocked it. The other members should have taken a tough stand by speaking up, rallying support and demanding that the UNSC adopt some policy. They didn’t. It might have helped had the United States been more supportive of the UN. But the Trump administration has had only disdain for it. Since January, the UNSC has been toothless.

So has the WHO. Its leadership was irresponsibly cautious. Chinese pressure played a big role. The longer the WHO prevaricated, the more countries delayed in making preparations to deal with the infected. So much for that multilateral institution.

President Donald Trump has had few kind words to say about the WHO’s performance. His administration decided to withhold funding for it. Other western countries were mealy-mouthed about the WHO’s handling of the pandemic. But because several European countries are now so critical of Trump’s policies, they chose not to openly criticize the WHO. This is a pity. The organization – indeed the entire United Nations – is in desperate need of reform. The Europeans and other countries should have spoken out.

As for the World Trade Organization, that’s been on the death bed for some time. Again, the Trump administration has been far from helpful in trying to reform it while China has blocked all efforts at reform. The Europeans and Japan have repeatedly come up with proposals. But because all these multilateral organizations work by consensus, the WTO has become almost paralyzed. When it comes to trade issues – and this is such a major casualty of the coronavirus – it might as well have not existed.

The Group of 7 industrialised countries, when they recently virtually met, it lead to naught. Yes, Trump doesn’t have much time for G7 or the bigger G20 – but that doesn’t mean major, rich countries cannot be much more vocal about what is happening to the dismantling of the post-1945 world order.

The list goes on.

Just consider NATO. It pats itself on the back when member states air lift medical supplies to allies. But what has NATO been doing in terms of resilience, which was until recently the buzz-word of the Alliance and the European Union?

The alliance is not only highly vulnerable in terms of the functioning of its energy grids, transportation networks, the protection of health facilities and airports. The Alliance’s ability to fend off any attack from either Russia and China can almost be written off.

NATO still cannot move seamlessly across Europe to defend its eastern borders. The bridges and airports and railways are not equipped to allow this. In addition, this multilateral institution that is supposed to cooperate with the EU in terms of having a “NATO Schengen” that would allow troops and equipment to pass unhindered across Europe has not yet materialised.

As for China’s increasing presence in Europe, in ports, in establishing logistics centers, in using several countries for investment which is never far away from intelligence gathering, NATO is sleepwalking through these developments. Airlifts of medical supplies are no substitute for strategy and foresight.

Now to the EU. It has learned so little from previous crises. Yes, belatedly, the EU Commission is doling out billions of Euros for the health infrastructures. Don’t even think about how these funds will be monitored and used. But politically and strategically, the EU leadership has been disappointing while the member states have gone their own way. Health is the prerogative of the member states, not the Commission. But the EU could have – and still can – make a difference if there is the minimum of political will and leadership.

Briefly, here’s how. The EU cannot go it alone, even if it wanted to.

The first thing it should to is to get its friends on board – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, individual states of the United States. Several African countries have to be included as well. And reach out to Latin America. Hold a virtual summit with a tight agenda and a moderator that knows how to moderate. The agenda is about rebuilding multilateralism.

Second, blabbering elites are not needed. What is needed are experts: scientists, philanthropists, musicians, pedagogues, humanists, environmentalists.

Third, this is about the future of a world order that will either descend into a free for all or emerge with a set of values that will promote trust. China, Russia and other authoritarian countries have to made choices as well. That’s another blog. What’s important now is redefining the West. And soonest

Reflecting on NATO 2030

May 13th, 2020

This Analysis is the guidance I am about to give to the Secretary-General’s NATO Reflection Group concerning my vision of NATO 2030.

“Power is as power does”.

J.K. Galbraith

Ladies and Gentlemen, good afternoon. Let me begin by quoting J.K. Galbraith, “power is as power does”.

This briefing has five elements germane to your mission: 1. a strategic appreciation; 2. the worst defence-strategic consequence of COVID-19 for NATO; 3. NATO’s strategic paradoxes and dilemma; 4, NATO’s critical needs; and 5. (and finally) my vision for NATO 2030. Given the importance of your mission I will choose my words carefully. You have the text of my remarks to assist you and all the arguments herein are much more deeply-developed in my forthcoming Oxford book Future War and the Defence of Europe, co-written with Generals Allen and Hodges.

Core messages

  1. Far from adding more tasks to NATO’s already wide but shallow capabilities and capacities, the Alliance should be ditching tasks that do not conform to its core mission of the defence and deterrence of the Euro-Atlantic area. Indeed, adding new tasks shorn of significantly increased resources would profoundly undermine the credibility of the Alliance.
  1. Even as NATO re-focuses on its core mission it must also properly consider the changing nature of that mission in the face of the revolution in military technology underway and how the future hybrid, cyber, hyper war mosaic will affect the Alliance’s ability to defend and deter.
  1. If the Alliance adapts together NATO could continue to be organised around a North American and a European political pillar. If not, function and capability will become the new organising Alliance principle, with NATO divided between a high-end, hi-tech, digital future pillar, and a low-tech, analogue, legacy force ‘pillar’.
  1. Or, in an emergency, NATO’s stronger members will simply step outside of the Alliance framework and function as a coalition of the willing and able.

Strategic Appreciation

Europeans are in denial about the nature, scope and speed of strategic change. COVID-19 could be the tipping point towards conflict for an increasingly precarious global balance of military power. However, whilst COVID-19 will doubtless accelerate change, it is unlikely to radically transform the nature of change itself. Indeed, if the strategic consequences of COVID-19 conform to past pandemics far from ending the threat of war, it could well accelerate it.

2030? Europeans are locked in a virtual Ten Year Rule. They do not believe a major war could happen in the next decade. COVID-19 could further detach Europe’s virtual world from strategic reality by creating a profound tension between human (health security) and national defence.

Critically, few Europeans understand the revolution in warfare underway, nor the implications of the growing over-stretch of US forces for the Alliance and European defence. Europeans, I fear, have also lost the political capacity to consider the geopolitical worst case. Specifically, the danger that the Alliance could face a simultaneous multi-theatre crisis in the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and North Africa, as well as on the Alliance’s Eastern and Northern flanks across the conventional and nuclear, and the analogue and digital spectrum.

At the very least, Europeans must begin to grip the implications of fast-shifting military power purchasing parity. First, by 2030, on current trajectories, the relative military power of China and Russia could have surpassed the Western democracies unless Europeans drastically improve their future war, future defence effort. Second, China and Russia will be able to exert pressure on the US and its allies at the weakest seams of the Alliance. Third, such power could well do what it can. Beijing and Moscow are not European liberal democrats.

Worst defence-strategic consequence of COVID-19 for NATO

If Europeans effectively abandon the modernisation of national defence for health security in the face of a changing military balance of power they will force the Americans into a dangerous choice: defend Europe by offsetting European military weaknesses, and thus make their own armed forces relatively weaker, or effectively abandon Europe for the Indo-Pacific. As COVID-19 has demonstrated: shock happens!

NATO’s Strategic Paradoxes and dilemma

NATO suffers from a series of strategic paradoxes and a strategic dilemma that the NATO Reflection Group should consider:

NATO’s strategic paradoxes:

–   – European defence under-investment will likely deepen post-COVID-19, but the scope of NATO missions will likely expand;

–      –  China’s military rise will exacerbate US military over-stretch, but European military capability and capacity will be unable to meet the challenge of a European worst-case military emergency;

–         -Deterring Future War should be the centre of gravity of Alliance Adaptation, with a specific mandate to consider the impact of new technologies in the battlespace, such as artificial intelligence, machine-learning, super-computing etc and et al. However, too many Europeans either want to fight past campaigns better, or adapt NATO to managing crises for which it is ill-suited (such as terrorism and assistance to civil authorities);

–      – Future war will demand an Alliance deterrence and defence posture that stretches across complex strategic coercion and 5D warfare from deception to disinformation, from disruption to destabilisation, and destruction. That, in turn, will require a deep strategic partnership with the EU and the nations. Such synergy simply does not exist;

–       –  Real Adaptation would see a new and critical balance struck between the digitalised military power projection upon which all credible 2030 Allied defence and deterrence will depend, and far more assured people protection via a more secure home base. There is no such ambition apparent.

NATO’s Strategic Dilemma:

Crises will not come in single packages. The specific dilemma is thus: how to ensure NATO has the tailored mass and high-end manoeuvre to simultaneously defend and deter on its Eastern and Northern Flanks and support Allies on its Southern Flank in the event of chaos across the Middle East and North Africa?

NATO’s Critical Needs

Given the defence and deterrence challenge NATO’s critical needs now are thus:

–          Drastically improved European force interoperability with their US counterparts;

–          Far faster political consultations over what constitutes an attack;

–          Far faster and more nuanced indicators, better shared analysis, much faster responsiveness, with forces and resources constantly at a higher state of readiness and able to seamlessly rotate during a crisis; and

–          Above all, much greater devolved command authority to SACEUR and SHAPE from the earliest stages of a crisis and throughout the conflict cycle.

My vision for NATO 2030?

  1. A new strategic concept that prioritises future-proofed Allied defence focused on a new system of deterrence across the hybrid-cyber-hyper war mosaic which intelligently adapts existing conventional and nuclear counterforce deterrence with digital counterforce.
  2. A Euro-centric twenty-first century Allied Command Operations heavy mobile force that closes the posture gap from which Alliance forces suffer and which could assure defence and deterrence in an emergency and when US forces are engaged across multiple theatres and multiple domains.
  3. Allied Command Transformation is charged with properly developing such a European high-end, first response digital-centric future force that can also act as a development platform for a future AI, big data, and increasingly robotic-enabled defence, via such programmes as the NATO Unmanned Systems Initiative.
  4. That such a force can also meet the interoperability challenge with the US future force.The European future force must, therefore, also be able to operate with US forces or autonomously across air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge, and critically able to gain comparative advantage in contact.
  5. A NATO-EU strategic partnership worthy of the name that can project power and protect people by moving forces and resources quickly in and around Europe in an emergency to underpin deterrence, mount a defence, and respond to consequence.


The tendency since the end of the Cold War, and indeed for much of it, has been to place political compromise before defence and deterrent effect. The 2019 NATO Military Strategy was reflective of such a tradition. However, NATO and its nations will soon face hard choices and it is those choices the NATO Reflection Group should address.

NATO is ultimately strategic insurance against war in an unstable world in which strategy, technology, capability and affordability are combining for allies and adversaries alike.  NATO must thus be a high-end, warfighting military deterrent.  It is NOT a military EU.

Above all, Europeans must realise that in the coming decade a hard-pressed US will only be able to ‘guarantee’ Europe’s future defence if Europeans do far more for their own defence. COVID-19 or no! For once, the future of NATO really is at stake. If we fail to modernise our Alliance one day power really could do to some of us, what malicious and malevolent power can, indeed, do if not deterred.

Julian Lindley-French

My VE day

“We kept our faith with ourselves and with one another: we kept faith and unity with our great allies. That faith and unity have carried us to victory…”

His Majesty, King George VI, May 8th, 1945

May 8th, 2020. Britain’s two minutes silence has just Fallen. My VE Day is a very personal affair. My extended family served in a variety of capacities during World War Two, but let me focus on two of them, my paternal grandfather Clifford, who survived the war, just, and my great-uncle Walter, who did not. My thanks also to my father who helped me prepare this piece.

My grandfather finished his long and original service in either 1937 or 1938 serving aboard the destroyer HMS Mallard.  However, as he was on the Naval Reserve he was recalled, probably in May 1939 as hostilities became likely after the Nazi occupation of Prague. He served mainly on destroyers doing escort duties in the Channel and during the war he was sunk twice, each time by mines. He was invalided off active service in 1943 due to health problems caused by swallowing fuel oil whilst fighting for his life in the sea. For the rest of the war he was confined to shore duties where he did spells at the Signal Station on Plymouth Sound Breakwater, then at Mount Wise Signal Station overlooking the entrance to the Dockyard.

Interestingly, during a visit to the Royal Marines a couple of years ago I was just below where he ended his many years of RN service. He left the ‘RN’ just before the end of the war in 1944 and we went to live in Dulverton, Somerset, from where my great grand-parents hailed.  My father thinks he may have been at Dunkirk. The only occasion my father was taken to see him depart was at Millbay dock in Plymouth and at the time he was seconded to a merchant ship that was transporting Canadian troops to France to relieve the troops there. When he got back my grandfather looked absolutely shattered, after having picked up as many survivors as he could.

My great-uncle Walter was killed on HMS Quail, which he had joined when she was newly commissioned in Glasgow in January 1943. He had previously served on HMS Kandahar, a K class destroyer that was part of a squadron commanded by Lord Louis Mountbatten aboard HMS Kelly, which was sunk in the Channel. HMS Kandahar was mined in December 1941 escorting a convoy to Malta and eventually scuttled. HMS Quail was mined outside Bari Harbour (my family seemed to attract mines), and may have been involved in a clandestine operation. Nineteen were killed, including Walter, who is buried in a in a military cemetery near Bari.

There is a twist to this tale. During a visit to Dulverton a few years ago an old gentleman kept looking at my father and me because it seemed he saw the family resemblance. We eventually got talking and he told us he had been one of Walter’s closest friends and had spent the night before my great-uncle’s return to Devonport Dockyard in a Dulverton pub. Walter never returned. Today, his name is on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, which I have had the honour to visit on many occasions.

Faith and unity in Great Allies is as important today as it was then.


In Memoriam


Julian Lindley-French

PREMIUM TAG BLOG: Germany should lead the way towards NATO’s New European Pillar

The Alliance should use the reflection process to develop a new European pillar in NATO, in order to re-calibrate the relative weight of European and American commitments to the Alliance, both in terms of resources and decision making.

By Anna Wieslander

The new NATO European Defense Pillar

On March 31, in the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, NATO appointed an expert group to support Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the “reflection process” which was decided upon at the London summit in December. The initiative, aimed at strengthening NATO’s political role, came after French president Emmanuel Macron’s November 2019 declaration that the Alliance was “brain dead” due to a lack of consultations ahead of the American troop withdrawal from Syria. 

Although the “reflection process” is a limited response to the overall transatlantic drift of the past years, it could nevertheless be used to push for greater Alliance unity and better burden sharing, and improved power sharing. Specifically, the Alliance should use the reflection process to develop a European pillar in NATO, in order to re-calibrate the relative weight of European and American commitments to the Alliance, both in terms of resources and decision making. 

Coined by the Kennedy administration in 1961, a “European pillar in NATO” is an old idea whose time finally has come. Rather than pursuing impossibly complex and divisive debates on “strategic autonomy”, a “European Army”, and a “European Defense Union”, concepts that makes little sense to many, the twenty-one EU and NATO states should focus on defining and developing such a pillar. 

Matching Ambition to Resources

Since Brexit was announced in June 2016, France and Germany have prioritized deeper European defense cooperation as an essential European integration project. A deteriorating transatlantic relationship during the Trump presidency has further spurred a European belief that Europe needs to “take its destiny in its own hands”, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it. A third driving force is the growing global great power competition and the need for the EU to play a role in a world of growing geo-political threats in which at present it lacks both the means and the influence.

In the face of the European demarche the Americans have adopted a traditional and yet somewhat schizophrenic stance, calling on one hand for increased burden-sharing and European defense spending, while on the other questioning European intentions. “Show me the money!” a Pentagon official commented after French President Emmanuel Macron´s speech on the need for more “European independence” at February’s Munich Security Conference. 

Given the latest news that the EU´s long term budget for security and defense will face a drastic reduction compared with the initial suggestions, the Americans have a valid point. The flagship project of military mobility, is illustrative in this regard. As vital as it is for the reinforcement of the Eastern flank, the budget has disintegrated from €6.5 bn in the initial Commission proposal, to €0 in the current EU technical proposal.

With brutal reality replacing dreamy rhetoric on EU defense ambitions, focus needs to shift from enhancing EU autonomy and independence, toward a European pillar of real strategic substance in NATO. Such realism would provide a practical and much-needed way forward and leverage efficiently the political will to strengthen Europe´s security contributions within a preserved and adapted transatlantic community.

Power, History and Germany

Throughout NATO’s history, there have been times when Europeans have come together to carve out a distinct identity within the Alliance and better combine and co-ordinate their defense effortd. Some landmarks have been achieved in the NATO-EU relationship, such as the Harmel Report of 1967, the birth of a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP); the so called Berlin plus arrangements between NATO and the EU, that enables the EU to request NATO to make available assets and capabilities for EU-led crisis management operations.  Of late, the NATO-EU Strategic Partnership has developed practical co-operation in strengthening resiliency and countering hybrid threats. 

Recently, both German´s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and French President Emmanuel Macron have referred to a “European pillar in NATO”, without making specific proposals.  Therefore, it is high time for clarity. Specifically, a formal process should be initiated and led by a major European state.  With Brexit, UK has lost the necessary link to ESDP to take on such a role. France is by tradition the reluctant NATO ally, with its long-established quest for greater European independence from the Alliance, and as such is unlikely to foster the necessary consensus. 

Leadership and Partnership

The responsibility must fall to Germany.  As the traditional unifier in the EU and with its defense deeply integrated within NATO, Berlin is the natural leader, even if it has hitherto lacked the requisite political energy and tradition to lead on defense issues. Consequently, Germany will need some help from its friends. Several European states, including the Nordics, the Baltics and the Central and Eastern states, are ready to support Germany in articulating a clear vision and way forward for the new European pillar of NATO. 

The shift of emphasis, from autonomy in the EU context, to strengthened European capabilities in the NATO context, would critically fit with what a majority of European states view as realistic and desirable security arrangements. Finally, the new NATO European pillar would also afford the Alliance a far more constructive platform for Europe to work with the U.S., and better enable NATO to meet the challenges of the Twenty-First Century. 

Anna Wieslander is Director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council and Secretary General of the Swedish Defense Association. 

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