Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff joins TAG


I am pleased to announce that Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, a renowned German analyst, author and strategic thinker, is the latest member of the TAG expert network.

Thomas is vice president at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Berlin, and in charge of its activities in Germany. From 2013 to 2017 Thomas served as as an advisor to President Joachim Gauck, with responsibility for policy planning and speechwriting.

Thomas spent twelve years in Washington, including a time leading a GMF team focused on the strategic implications of the European financial crisis. He has been a member of GMF’s senior management for well over a decade and has led a host of strategic projects, policy programmes and globalisation projects. In a wide-ranging, successful career Thomas has also served as Washington bureau chief for DIE ZEIT.

In September 2019, Thomas launched his latest book, “The World Needs the West – A Fresh Start for a Liberal Order”.

Thomas, welcome to the TAG!

Julian Lindley-French


Why Britain’s new Aircraft Carriers are not ‘National Delusions’


This Annual Essay considers the implications of the attack by Sir Max Hastings on Britain’s two new heavy carriers, and the planned review of defence procurement by Boris Johnson ally Dominic Cummings for Britain’s ability to fulfil its commitments to NATO given the growing pressures worldwide on the United States and its armed forces.

“HMS Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth represent a colossal embarrassment to the Royal Navy and the armed forces, and should be likewise to a government that spends a moment thinking straight about national security. They reflect Britain’s besetting sin – an exaggerated sense of self-importance – together with an unwillingness to cut our cloth to match our purse and to recognise the revolution overtaking warfare”  

Sir Max Hastings, Giant Carriers are Symbols of our National Delusions. The Times, December 14, 2019

Fact: The United Kingdom spent $56.1 billion on defence according to the 2019 edition of The IISS Military Balance. Britain is the sixth biggest defence spender in the world.

Folie de grandeur?

Alphen, Netherlands. December 17. It is September 2020. Following a brief report by Dominic Cummings on ‘waste’ at the Ministry of Defence, by the ‘Minister’ with Portfolio for Everything, it is announced that HMS Prince of Wales, the second of the two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, is to be scrapped. She was only commissioned in December 2019. Following the 2010 decision to break up brand new MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft this is the second time in a decade a British government has decided to scrap a brand new, expensive, strategic military asset. The result is another extended and major capability gap in the maritime strength, not just of Britain, but also of NATO, and imposing yet more burdens on an already over-stretched United States Navy. For a government that claims to have re-discovered patriotism the political symbolism would be dreadful. The damage to Britain’s strategic brand inestimable. The frustration in Washington unfathomable.

Last Saturday. Sir Max Hastings, who I hold in high regard, wrote a ‘Weekend Essay’ for The Times entitled, Giant Carriers are Symbols of our National Delusions? He did not pull his punches calling the two ships “giants” and “behemoths”. In fact, at 70,000 tons neither HMS Queen Elizabeth nor HMS Prince of Wales are ‘giant’ by any contemporary standard. The 110,000 ton USS Gerard R. Ford is ‘giant, built to meet US strategic power-projection requirements. The two British platforms, and carrier-enabled power projection (CEPP) they support, have been designed to meet British and European requirements. As such they are ‘heavy’ carriers of sufficient size and capacity to undertake the suite of operations relevant to British strategic need – carrier strike, helicopter operations from anti-submarine to humanitarian relief, as well as delivery of the Royal Marines to what I call ‘Littoral-plus’ operations. 

However, peer through the unusually flowery language, which tends to get in the way of much of Sir Max’s argument, and he makes some valid points. His most important is to warn against what I call ‘big ship syndrome’.  Just because a ship is big does not mean it is either powerful or invulnerable. In the long and storied history of the Royal Navy there have been two ships named HMS Invincible that have been sunk, rather proving the point. The worst such example of ‘big ship syndrome’ was the ageing battlecruiser HMS Hood – ‘The Mighty Hood’ – sunk in the Denmark Strait in May 1941 by the then brand new and doomed German fast battleship, KM Bismarck.  The 1919 completed, and only partially modernised Hood, was no match for the Bismarck. Technology and capability had moved on and Britain’s flagship blew up with the loss of 1415 of her crew.  Hood was there because the Royal Navy was over-extended, but also because she had developed a myth of power based on the simple fact she was big and looked good. In terms of over-stretch and its consequences Britain could well be sailing into similarly rough strategic seas.

Sir Max also warns about the vulnerability of the two new ships to new anti-ship hypersonic missile technologies, such as the Russian Zircon system, new nuclear-tipped high-speed torpedoes, and the Chinese DF 26 system.  What is evident from emerging Chinese and Russian systems is that they have both undertaken a systematic audit of allied vulnerabilities, particularly forward deployed US carrier task groups. In the worst-case (the bulk of US forces are in the Pacific), the two British carriers would have to act as the credible command core of deployed NATO European maritime task groups, and provide a credible warfighting deterrent in an emergency with Russia. In such dire circumstances, they would also need to be as heavily-protected as the American carriers. Here is the nub of the problem – how? Absent the Americans and the ships lack anything like the protective shields they would need, there being too few ships armed with too few systems such as Royal Navy’s new Sea Ceptor hypersonic anti-missile, missile.

At this point I part company with Sir Max, who also rather mischievously quotes me in his piece, implying that I am also a critic of the new British carriers. For the record, I am not. Whilst I would have preferred the ships to have been conventional carriers, operating the ‘C’ rather than the ‘B’ variant of the F-35, the return of Royal navy carrier strike is essential. And, whilst I am not questioning the quotes, nor even their selective use, Sir Max failed to add my rejoinder; that Britain could solve the ends, ways and means to which the Armed Forces are subject if its political leaders so chose.  It is politicians that created this crisis with the 2010 and 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Reviews, and it is politicians who can solve it if they believe security and defence as important to the well-being of the nation as health and education. Both reviews were incoherent political metaphors for drastic cost-cutting with little strategic regard or strategic thought. By placing hard defence austerity before sound defence strategy the link between ends and means was broken, and has yet to recover. Andrew Manley, a former senior defence civil servant, said this week that the reviews “…outlined too many objectives”, and led to available funds being spread too thinly across too many priorities. A better definition of a political culture that recognises only as much threat as one can ‘afford’ has yet to be defined.  

One of London’s many strategic delusions is to undertake reviews which set objectives based on an analysis of the strategic environment, and then simply refuse to fund the consequent strategy. However many ‘efficiency savings’ are made 2% GDP spent on defence is an historic low, given the possible causes and effect government itself has identified. It is a travesty of both policy and strategy made worse by the way that defence moneys are now calculated and spent. Worse, the consequent ends, ways and means crisis that has been foisted on the Services has also forced them into a kind of defence cannibalism, the very antithesis of the ‘joint’ force, as they fight to survive by consuming each other.  


At the core of Dominic Cummings’s arguments, which appears to be a softening-up process for some potentially shocking defence ‘choices’ by the new Johnson government, is a sense that the Ministry of Defence is inherently wasteful, with Britain’s ‘broken’ procurement system and the carriers it procured particular targets for his ire. Procurement is certainly a mess. Indeed, in matters procurement the words ‘British’, ‘smart’ and ‘defence’ can appear oxymoronic. However, that begs further questions. Why does British defence equipment cost so much, why does it take so long to field, and why does the British taxpayer seem to get so little bang for each public buck invested?  Yes, the ‘MoD’ must carry some of the blame. Equipment specification and requirement is too often vague and too ill-defined, platforms are ordered that too often end up looking like technology Christmas trees, designed to do far too much, resulting in equipment that does nothing particularly well. Contract drafting and management is often mediocre with oversight insufficiently rigorous, with inadequate ‘firewalls’ between gamekeepers (civil servants) and poachers (defence contractors) that give the latter too much influence. 

However, much of the blame lies elsewhere, with much of it the fault of politicians. For example, it does not help that Britain has only one prime defence contractor of note (Bae Systems) with a sort of half-share in Thales. It does not help when ministers repeatedly seek cost-savings during the build-phase that reduce capability and push up cost, or delay Main Gate decisions again boosting costs. It does not help that ministers can never make up their minds what type of equipment they wish to procure, or regularly change their minds about what they want any given asset to do. It does not help that defence procurement is often treated by ministers as industrial policy with jobs in sensitive places and constituencies, albeit understandably, more important than defence efficiency. It does not help that ministers repeatedly change their mind about the number of assets to be procured thus pushing up development and construction costs per unit.  Sadly, the aircraft carrier programme suffered from all of the above.

In fact, given all the costs, constraints and uncertainties British ministers imposed on the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, it is not only a miracle they were ever built, there is also an entirely different way to look at how they were built. In short, Britain managed to build two, large and complex naval ships even though successive British governments had done all they could to destroy Britain big-ship, shipbuilding industry. Indeed, there is a story of profound innovation to be told about how much of the British defence and non-defence supply chain rose to the challenge and afforded thousands of workers jobs and apprenticeships in prime, secondary and tertiary contractors across the entire country, but most notably in Scotland and the North of England.  

It is a story that also raises further politically-sensitive questions. Are many of these constituencies not the ones which Prime Minister Boris Johnson says put him in power? Are they not the blue collar northern constituencies, one of which is from where I hail, who are patriotically proud of the two British aircraft carriers as symbols of a still relevant Britain, not delusional Britain? Are they not the same constituencies who faced with the humiliating and embarrassing sight of HMS Prince of Wales being mothballed (at great cost), sold off, or scrapped, would not begin to wonder why they loaned Johnson their vote?

Little Britain?

Britain is not the power she was, but nor is she the ‘has been’ Little Britain that Sir Max seems to think. She is an important regional Europeans power in a world rapidly changing for the worse with the economy, technology and armed forces to match.  A country that is too powerful to hide from power, and yet too weak to engage it alone.  A country led by an elite establishment that too often seems resistant to the idea that Britain still has an important regional leadership role to play in defence.  

It is these people, and their lack of political leadership and resolve, who are the real cause of Britain’s defence ‘failure’. For too long Britain’s elite have been strategically illiterate content to view defence as little more than a contingency reserve for politically more convenient causes, rather than the first duty of the state. For too long they have seen the defence of the realm as a cost rather than the most important of values to be afforded. For too long they have talked the talk of Britain as a Tier One military power, but funded at best a Tier Three military power. 

My hope is that the intelligent Mr Cummings will realise that it is impossible to measure the ‘cost’ or ‘value’ of defence unless one also understands the ends, ways and means for which it exists. What is needed now, above all other considerations, is a proper analysis of Britain’s future security policy, of which defence policy is a part. Thereafter, a proper sizing and structuring of the British defence effort, with a sound defence strategy properly and consistently funded to ensure ends, ways and means are again aligned, not with how much London wishes to arbitrarily afford, but in response to the extant and emerging threats Britain must confront.  

Ultimately, Sir Max is contesting not just the force concept implicit in the two carriers, he is also questioning whether Britain can ever afford all the other capabilities Britain needs to exploit the full potential of the two ships, as well as fund the Army and Royal Air Force so they too can fulfil their allotted roles and tasks. Whilst his warning is apposite, the solution to the problem of Britain’s hollowed out forces must be a political one. Yes, Cummings can help squeeze more value out of Britain’s public investment in defence, and it is high time. Yes, Britain can rename commands and forces until the cows come home. However, until politicians start to properly address the ends, ways and means crisis in Britain’s defence the entire British security and defence architecture, from the National Security Council down, will continue to try to fulfil their ‘parochial’ missions by fighting each other to the point that the architecture itself is consumed.   

Britain’s defence imperative

The single most pressing imperative for British defence policy is thus: given the growing pressure on US forces world-wide, driven primarily by the rise of China as a military power, without the full commitment of Britain, France and Germany to properly lead NATO Europe across the multi-domains of contemporary and future warfare, the US will be simply unable to guarantee the defence of free Europe which she has since 1949 and the formal creation of NATO.

The appropriate military force that should emerge from such an exercise, given who, where and what Britain is, and given pressures on other allies, most notably the United States, should be a deeply joint, multi-domain force, plugged in to a tight government security and defence apparatus, able to lead coalitions by acting as command hubs. Surely, that is why Joint Force Command has been renamed UK Strategic Command? What Europeans need, with Britain to the fore, is a fast, first responder, high-end force that can uphold effective deterrence in and around Europe, even if the Americans are busy elsewhere. In the maritime domain only the British could lead such an effort. In that context, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales are precisely what Britain needs: two British national strategic assets that communicate British strategic seriousness to American and European allies alike, act as national, Alliance or coalition command hubs, and offer potent carrier and amphibious strike. If used, equipped and protected properly they will prove their adaptable worth and value over many years of service in a domain where Britain is truly expert – above, on, below the sea, as well as deep into the Littoral. 

There is one final point – if aircraft carriers, such as HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, are merely ‘convenient targets’, as one Russian admiral so inelegantly observed, then why are the Americans, Chinese, Indians, Russians, and a host of other countries either building or planning to build them?  Blue water carrier-strike is in vogue, not out of it, because so many countries realise it affords them a discretionary, declaratory and flexibly potent capability that few other platforms can match – still. A capability, by the way, that Britain not only created, but pretty much pioneered and perfected.

The case for Britain’s heavy aircraft carriers

So, let me conclude by making the case for Britain two ‘heavy’ (by no means ‘giant’) aircraft carriers.

Keeping close to the US: Post-Suez (post-Brexit?) British defence policy has been predicated on London maintaining a close strategic relationship with the US and its armed forces. As there is no European alternative, and unlikely ever to be, the rationale is sound. What assumptions must now be made for the maintenance of such a policy? This week published a piece by H.I. Sutton entitled “The Chinese Navy is Building an Incredible Number of Warships”  Rather like the Kaiser’s Imperial German Navy prior to World War One, the nature and capability of many of these ships clearly indicates the People’s Liberation Navy is determined to contest the high seas with the Americans.  The China challenge faced by the US Navy is realising such proportions it is now possible to envisage a major emergency during which the Americans may not be able to provide credible maritime-amphibious power in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean and the Pacific, at one and the same time. Royal Navy 1935?

Easing US strategic burdens: It is no coincidence that one of the most enthusiastic champions of the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers is the US Ambassador to the Court of St James. Whilst in the recent past the Royal Navy could function as an anti-submarine adjunct to the US Navy of small aircraft carriers, frigates and submarines, in the worst-case, which must again be considered, Britain could well be called upon by the Americans to act as alternative maritime Alliance or coalition command hub for the European theatre of operations.  That means providing the Naval Service with the assets and armaments to undertake such a role, including carrier strike. My concern is not so much with the platforms themselves, but with the refusal of successive governments to properly arm and equip them, and the escorts they need. Moreover, conventional thinking would suggest that with the current number of hulls in service (or more accurately available) the Royal Navy cannot both be some latter day ‘Corbett Navy’ and a ‘Mahan Navy’. And yet, with the creative use of technology, capability, capacity and alliance the core command force the ‘RN’ is creating could well fulfil its role and missions if London backs it. Moreover, for lesser contingencies than high-end deterrence/warfare the two carriers afford London great utility, as demonstrated by the French carrier Charles de Gaulle off Libya in 2011.  

Influencing Washington: There is still far too much sentimental nonsense spoken in London about the so-called Special Relationship. If Britain can assist the United States meaningfully in easing the strategic and force dilemma in which the Americans are now trapped, then Britain will have significant influence in Washington. If Britain does not, or worse, chooses not to, then Britain will have little influence. It was interesting to watch the US reception of HMS Queen Elizabeth during her recent visit to New York. On the surface at least, here was an American ally delivering high-end capability within the framework of the transatlantic relationship. With the new Johnson government in place, and the two new carriers both commissioned, Britain has an opportunity it has not had for some time to again be taken seriously by the Americans. London must now follow-through on that promise and, to coin a phrase, help the US Navy be great again, where it needs to be great, for all our sakes.

NATO Europe’s strategic maritime command hub: Sir Max complains that for high-end operations the British carriers will depend on the support of European allies, and that many of them are woefully deficient in both offensive and defensive capabilities. He is right. Indeed, I wrote a scenario that demonstrated the dangers of such weakness in a piece entitled Future War NATO that I co-wrote with former SACEUR General (Ret.) Phil Breedlove, US Marine Corps (Ret.) General John Allen, and the former First Sea Lord, Admiral (Ret.) George Zambellas. At the end of the article there is another scenario in which HMS Queen Elizabeth, and the NATO task group she leads, prevails precisely because the force is armed with the right ‘kit’ both to protect itself and exert deterrence. If European allies are not prepared to engage in the vital maritime aspects of collective defence then, given US over-stretch and the evolving character of warfare, it might be cheaper to end the pretence and scrap NATO now, MC400 and all!  My view is more positive. The Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, and the European maritime task groups they will lead, now provide a focal point for a European maritime warfare technology cluster. For example, neither the Royal Netherlands Navy, nor the Royal Netherlands Marines Corps, have little utility without the Royal Navy and the carrier strike and power projection explicit in Britain’s carrier-enabled power protection (CEPP). Britain needs to make the case.

Where can Britain best add strategic value now: The inference by Sir Max is that the two carriers (one carrier makes no operational sense, two only just) are not just destabilising the ‘RN’ with their cost and voracious appetite for crew, they also prevent the British Army from acting as an effective deterrent on the Continent, and undermine the RAF and air power.  Look at a map, and then consider changed and changing strategic circumstances. Britain is an island with centuries of experience in the use and application of sea power. Continental land strategies are relatively new to the UK. It would be strategic folly of the first order to ask contemporary Germany to take the European lead in providing the maritime aspects of collective defence, so why should Britain. The European land defence of Europe must be led by Germany, with that other continental power France. It is entirely proper and appropriate that Britain takes the lead in the maritime domain. Indeed, with the development of the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force Royal Navy power projection is vital for the support of military power during grey zone operations, particularly in the increasingly contested North Atlantic, Nordic, and possibly Arctic regions, especially if the US Navy is again busy elsewhere.  In other words, Britain is already pioneering the concept of the future joint force, now is the time to actively build one that can operate with allies and partners to effect across air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge and the comparative advantages which Britain enjoys. 

Platforms for new technologies: In a recent blog Dominic Cummings emphasises the need for new technologies to be applied to the British military space, such as space-based sensors, artificial intelligence (AI), as well as cyber and drone swarms.  He also echoes my calls for a NATO Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or NDARPA. He is right. However, the devil is in the detail. Space-based architectures will require allied collaboration with much of the heavy-lifting done by the Americans. Britain is to the fore in Europe in the considered development of AI in defence, but far more needs to be done. Britain’s offensive and defensive cyber capabilities need to be much enhanced, even if much of that effort will be civilian, not military. Cummings also places great emphasis on the use of ‘intelligent’ drone swarms in the battlespace. In the maritime domain it will be platforms such carriers that will provide the bases from which they are launched, and the mass needed to swamp the defences of adversaries. In any case, for the foreseeable future British maritime strike will likely be a combination of manned air (F-35 Lightning 2), developing drone technology, helicopter-based (Merlin) anti-submarine capabilities, in addition to sub-surface defence provided by the Astute-class nuclear attack submarines, with air defence provided by Type 45 destroyers, as well as Type 26 and Type 31 frigates. That is, so long as they all work, and are all built as planned.

Overcoming British defence inertia

The real crisis in Britain’s defence effort is not caused by the aircraft carriers or by defence procurement. The real crisis is caused by the conservatism, inertia, and lack of innovation at the heart of the British defence establishment, allied to the strategic illiteracy of the British political elite. For too long Britain’s leaders have come to believe that the only operations that are important are so-called ‘hybrid operations’ at the lower to mid-range of conflict. They have become used to the idea of land-centric ‘discretionary warfare’ being the norm, possibly because it smells like the imperial policing of Britain’s past. What is needed is a fundamental re-think in both Westminster and Whitehall about what it will take to ‘defend’ Britain and its allies in the twenty-first century, and the ‘strength’ and ‘power’ maintaining peace through deterrence will require of Britain and its armed forces.  For even writing this I will again be cast by the Establishment as a heretic unable to offer a ‘balanced’ perspective.  Sadly, the word ‘balance’ in British establishment speak is merely a metaphor for the placing of short-term politics above sound longer-term defence strategy. 

Sorry, Sir Max, but I respectfully disagree with your thesis: Britain’s new aircraft carriers are not national delusions. The delusion is to fail to realise the centre of gravity of Britain’s defence effort is, and must, shift quickly and profoundly.  The delusion is to believe a power such as Britain has any alternative but to face the world as it is, not as its political leaders would like it to be. The delusion is to fail to consider where Britain can now add defence value, and where its particular genius can be best applied to ensure the democratic peace is collectively maintained. The true test of the forthcoming ‘Britain’s place in the world’ review, and the ‘all in’ (and hopefully-linked) integrated security, defence and foreign policy review, will be whether it has the necessary strategic ambition to set a still powerful Britain on the course for a twenty-first century defence, or it is yet more strategic pretence which imposes on the British people a higher level of risk than responsible government should ever allow. 

One final word: the Royal Navy is not seeking to rebuild Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet, Sir Max. However, if Britain does not lead other Europeans in the increasingly contested strategic maritime domain around Europe, who on Earth will? It is my firm belief that Britain is still up to the challenge of a modest, but important military-strategic leadership role. Sir Max?  

Julian Lindley-French

The Boris Factor

“…we need to remember the ways in which this British Prime Minister (Churchill) helped to make the world we still live in. Across the globe – from Europe to Russia to Africa and the Middle East – we see traces of his shaping mind”.

The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, Boris Johnson

Boris uber alles

Alphen, Netherlands, December 13. It has been a long night, and I am pretty knackered. It has also been a stunning night. Conservative British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has inflicted the worst defeat on the Labour Party since 1935. Johnson is justifiably triumphant this morning. Indeed, he is now the most dominant figure in British politics since Tony Blair or Margaret Thatcher. What does Boris’s victory mean for Britain, and what are its strategic implications?

In his 2014 book, The Churchill Factor, Johnson used the Great Man as a metaphor for his own political and strategic ambitions. Two themes emerged from the pages. First, Churchill’s profound belief in Britain, the British people, and the role Britain could and must play in the world. Second, and equally, Churchill’s awareness that whilst Britain remained a very significant power its days as a truly global power were numbered, that Britain itself was undergoing profound change, and that if Britain was to continue to exert influence a new realism was needed. ‘Boris’ now faces pretty much the same set of issues, turbo-charged by the relative decline in British power and influence since the height of Churchill’s relatively brief but decisive moments in power.

Boris’s domestic challenge

Brexit will now go ahead on 31st January, 2020 in the form of the Withdrawal Agreement. The defining word of 2020 will be ‘complex’. Indeed, I can already see Michel Barnier talking of ‘complexity’ as a metaphor for the very hard trade deal the European Commission will seek to impose on Britain, with particular flash-points over Northern Ireland, Britain’s ongoing commitment to EU funding, and the access of EU-flagged trawlers to British waters.  Johnson will also have to maintain ‘sound money’ and strike a balance between the many expensive promises he made during the election campaign whilst keeping Britain’s deficit and national debt under some form of control.

Johnson’s biggest challenge could well be Scotland. To paraphrase Churchill, whilst the decisive battle for Brexit may be over, another battle for Britain is about to begin. Last night, Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Nationalist Party made important gains and have been quick to suggest this morning that they have a mandate for indyref2, another Scottish independence referendum. Boris now has the majority to resist such calls, but Sturgeon also has the mandate to pursue them, even if the SNP failed to gain a majority for independence if one analyses last night’s vote.  And, both Boris and Sturgeon will be acutely aware that with Brussels no longer able to act as an alternative power in the UK, and given the dire state of Scotland’s economy, the road to Scottish independence also became harder last night.

Boris’s strategic challenge

There was a telling moment this week when the second of the Royal Navy’s new 75,000 ton aircraft-carriers, HMS Prince of Wales, was commissioned into the fleet. It was certainly canny politics by the Royal Navy to push through the commissioning of the ship before the election. In many respects, HMS Prince of Wales will be the litmus test of Johnson’s strategic literacy and his ambition for Britain’s place in the world.

In early 2020 Johnson will commission an integrated strategic defence review which will consider the security and defence effects and influence Britain needs to generate. If the review is another exercise in how much threat Britain can ‘afford’ then it will be strategic pretence, that would profoundly damage Britain’s most important strategic relationship, that with the United States, and the NATO Alliance in which that relationship is enshrined.  If, on the other hand, the review marks a genuine effort to consider in the roundest of rounds the still immense resources Britain commits to security and defence then Johnson may, just may, ease the ends, ways and means crisis from which Britain’s armed forces have suffered.

The Boris factor?

To properly understand the victory Boris gained last night one must understand the Yorkshire from which I hail, the heartland of that victory. It may be a generalisation but Yorkshire folk tend to be tolerant and respectful of diversity, whilst deeply proud of their own identity and culture. They only ever loan their support, never grant it.  They are broadly social democratic and proud of the adaptive welfare state sensible Labour once pioneered, and yet understand it must be paid for. They are moderately monarchist, but also deeply suspicious of class and entitlement, and hate any hint of deference. They are grounded and pragmatic, and utterly suspicious of the ‘isms’ to which too much of the unpatriotic British political class are in thrall. They are also deeply patriotic without being nationalistic, and yet contemptuous of those in the London elite who seem to believe Britain is little more than Belgium with nukes.  They understand Britain’s need for close alliances with fellow democracies across both the Atlantic and the Channel. And yet, they are firm in the belief that the politicians who act in their name remain subject to their sanction via the ballot box and that such sanction is reflective of a real relationship between voting and power. In other words, good old fashioned Yorkshire stubbornness and political common sense. Wherever one stood on Brexit, the chaos had to be ended.

If Boris is to succeed he must once again sell the idea of ‘Britain’ to its own people and the wider world. For too long the London elite have abandoned the idea of ‘Britain’ in an effort to accommodate globalism, regionalism, parochial nationalism, and multiculturalism. If there is be any meaning to Boris Johnson’s self-appointed One Nation Toryism it will be the championing of a Britain that is proud of itself as a country, equally comfortable with its diverse self, and sensibly ambitious about a power and its role in the world.

Over to you, Boris.

Julian Lindley-French

Six Reasons Why NATO’s London Declaration Matters

Recommend reading: Article by Ben Hodges and Bradley Bowman, published in RealClearDefense on December 5. Original article available here
Vladimir Putin wishes he had an alliance like NATO. The alliance provides a remarkably resilient framework in which nations and leaders who share common values can pursue collective security interests yet still engage in contentious arguments and disagreements about important issues, without seriously eroding the cohesion that is NATO’s center of gravity.

Leaders of NATO’s 29 member countries met this week in London to commemorate the 70thanniversary of the Alliance and to discuss ways to strengthen it. Before departing, they issued a unanimous declaration that highlights the continued importance of the transatlantic alliance, the progress it has achieved, and the challenges it confronts.

Here are six key excerpts from the London Declaration and why they matter.

1. For What Purpose?

“NATO guarantees the security of our territory and our one billion citizens, our freedom, and the values we share, including democracy, individual liberty, human rights, and the rule of law.”

These are not just nice words; they are a reminder that NATO is fundamentally an Alliance of free nations willing to defend democratic principles against authoritarian adversaries.

Indeed, these words echo the preamble of the North Atlantic Treaty signed in Washington, D.C., on April 4, 1949. With memories of World War II’s totalitarian aggressors and bloody battlefields fresh in their minds, NATO’s original members asserted that the Alliance was “founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.”

As democracies today confront an authoritarian resurgence from China and Russia, it is worth remembering that NATO is not a realpolitik alliance bent on the acquisition of power or territory; it is a defensive alliance of democracies that invites its neighbors to join. There is a reason that so many former members of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact sought NATO membership at the earliest opportunity.

2. By What Means?

“We reaffirm…and our solemn commitment as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that an attack against one Ally shall be considered an attack against us all.”

The heart of NATO is its Article 5 collective defense commitment that an armed attack against any member “shall be considered an attack against them all.”

NATO has invoked Article 5 only once in 70 years—after the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States. Indeed, more than 1000 troops from our NATO allies have given their lives fighting beside Americans in Afghanistan.

For seven decades, NATO has deterred Russian military aggression against member states. It has accomplished this remarkable feat by maintaining sufficient military capability and political credibility to convince Russian leaders that the costs associated with an attack on NATO would outweigh any potential benefits.

Due to Article 5, Moscow understood that an invasion of the smallest NATO member was akin to attacking the United States and all other NATO powers. That realization deterred an attack in the first place—earning NATO the title as the most successful alliance in history.

For these reasons, in both word and deed, NATO leaders and countries must focus single-mindedly on increasing the military capability and political credibility that has made Article 5 so effective in deterring aggression.

3. American Abandonment?

“We reaffirm the enduring transatlantic bond between Europe and North America…and our solemn commitment as enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty.”

Some worry whether the United States remains committed to European security, yet the facts demonstrate that the American commitment to NATO runs much deeper than the latest headline about allied squabbling.

The U.S. government (i.e., the Trump administration) formally endorsed the London Declaration in whole, including the quote above. European skeptics of the U.S. commitment to NATO should not dismiss this fact lightly.

Plus, support for NATO in the U.S. is deep and bipartisan.

Last year, senators voted 97-2 to affirm their support for NATO and Article 5.  In January, the House voted 357-22 to prohibit a withdrawal from the Alliance.

These politicians would not have voted overwhelmingly for NATO if they believed a majority of their constituents felt differently.

The recently released 2019 Reagan National Defense Survey provides confirmation of popular support for NATO.  It found that 62% of Americans expressed a favorable view of NATO, with only 22% expressing an unfavorable one.

The number of U.S. troops in Europe represents an even more tangible demonstration of American support for NATO.  There are currently 64,000 U.S. troops in Europe, more than any time since 2015.  In Germany alone, there are 35,000 American troops.

Next year, the U.S. and several NATO member countries will conduct the Defender-Europe 20exercise, which will include the largest deployment of U.S.-based forces to Europe for an exercise in the last 25 years.

These are hardly the actions of a country abandoning NATO.

4. Positive but Insufficient Progress on Defense Spending

“Through our Defence Investment Pledge, we are increasing our defence investment in line with its 2% and 20% guidelines, investing in new capabilities, and contributing more forces to missions and operations.”

NATO member defense spending has clearly improved in recent years. As the declarationnotes, “Non-US defence expenditure has grown for five consecutive years; over 130 billion US dollars more is being invested in defence.”

From 2017 to 2019, 5 additional NATO allies met the 2% threshold for national defense spending. Nonetheless, a majority of NATO members have still have not met the threshold.  Clearly, there is more work to do.

However, it is important to not let the transatlantic dialogue regarding the defense spending to devolve into a toxic yelling match that damages alliance unity and feeds ill-informed populist sentiment on both sides of the Atlantic.

The most important question is whether individual NATO member countries and NATO as a whole have the military capability, capacity, and readiness necessary to secure their citizens, protect their interests, and deter aggression.

5. Unfinished Business

“We must and will do more.”

While NATO has achieved significant progress in recent years, it has plenty of unfinished business that requires attention.  This list includes, for example, a strategy for the Black Sea region, strengthened military capability on NATO’s eastern flank, integrated air and missile defense, and reinforcement of important existing missions.

First, NATO should develop a comprehensive strategy for the greater Black Sea region, which is important to Russia, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Europe. This would improve the coherence of NATO’s deterrence efforts, provide a bulwark against Iran, and deter Russian aggression in the region. One should not expect action on a Black Sea strategy alone to transform Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s often troubling disposition toward the Alliance.  However, it could begin to address perceptions in Ankara among security professionals that the Alliance does not respect or appreciate Turkey’s challenges and threats to its security.

More broadly, NATO must build coherence along NATO’s entire eastern flank, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.  Having “enhanced Forward Presence” in the Baltic region while having a less-effective “tailored Forward Presence” in the Black Sea region creates gaps in capability that the Kremlin has exploited already and will continue to do so if left unchecked.  Improving coherence will strengthen efforts in several areas, including military mobility, cyber defense, intelligence-sharing, and interoperability. It could also facilitate innovative ways to improve the naval capabilities of allies and partners that lack the resources to build and modernize larger traditional vessels, or to develop integrated air and missile defense.

NATO must focus on integrated air and missile defense to protect European citizens and critical infrastructure while addressing increasing Russian and Iranian ballistic and cruise missile threats.  While NATO members may disagree on the path forward regarding the Iranian nuclear program, there should be no disagreement on the need to defend against Tehran’s increasingly capable missile arsenal, which represents a growing threat to Europe. That means modernizing systems, so they are interoperable and fully integrated across the Alliance.  But the first step must be a theater-wide air and missile defense exercise that will test the sensors and mission command capabilities, identify the inevitable gaps, and lead to solutions.

Another item of unfinished business is the ongoing NATO Mission in Kosovo (KFOR). NATO should take every opportunity to affirm the continuation of this critical mission, the principal anchor of stability in the Western Balkans.  With less than 4,000 troops, KFOR is helping to maintain peace in a traditionally very troubled part of Europe.

Finally, consistent with NATO policy and the principles it defends, the alliance needs to develop a membership action plan for Georgian membership in NATO.

6. The Elephant—or Dragon—in the Room

NATO is “committed to ensuring the security of our communications, including 5G, recognizing the need to rely on secure and resilient systems…”

One of the most important discussions right now among NATO leaders is how to deal with China.

On a positive note, the London Declaration included a formal recognition that China represents a challenge the Alliance must confront.

Encouragingly, the declaration observed, “We recognize that China’s growing influence and international policies present both opportunities and challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance.”

One of these challenges includes how to deal with the giant telecommunications firm Huawei.  Too many on both sides of the Atlantic entertain the fiction that there are such things as private Chinese companies.

Rather, every Chinese company is either already under the direct control of the Chinese Communist Party or would be after one call from Beijing.

Consistent with Beijing’s policy of “military-civil fusion”, the Chinese Communist Party and People’s Liberation Army will almost certainly have access to any data that transits Huawei’s networks, for example.

For that reason, if countries like Germany move forward with plans to let Huawei provide parts of their 5G networks, the U.S. will likely be forced to downgrade intelligence cooperation with Berlin.  That would be tragic, making both Americans and Germans less safe.

A leading task for NATO must be the development of a unified policy toward China.  Understanding how Beijing views the ongoing conflict and the means it is employing represents an essential first step.


Much of the reporting on the meeting in London focused on personal squabbles between three of the 29 leaders attending.

Unfortunately, such focus risks missing some of the significant positive developments in London.

These include, for example, a clear reaffirmation of the Alliance’s democratic values and commitment to Article 5 collective defense, pledge to continue increases in spending and investment, new initiatives in Space and Cyber, as well as formal initial recognition of the threat that China represents an affirmation of continued efforts to fight against terrorism.

While NATO is not perfect, everything that it stands for is.

No wonder Putin dislikes NATO so much.

No More Excuses, Berlin!

Recommend reading: Article by Ben Hodges, published in Die Zeit on December 5. Original article available in English and in German.

This current state of affairs is the result of political decisions that were made a decade ago. It will take time, and an infusion of significant financial resources, to fix it. Fortunately, the senior leadership of the Bundeswehr is working hard to make improvements as resources become available. They deserve more support from the German public and the political leadership in Berlin.

Berlin must end its strategic inertia and fulfil the leadership expectations that the rest of the alliance has of Germany. Instead, though, I hear so many excuses for why Germany doesn’t lead or cannot lead: “Our history,” “Our neighbors would be concerned,” and many more.

None of these excuses are worthy of a nation that has for 70 years demonstrated it is a liberal democracy with high moral standards while building Europe’s largest economy. Germans need to regain trust in themselves. I’ve actually never heard anybody from Poland or France say that they were concerned about a stronger, more effective Bundeswehr. If anything, Poles and Lithuanians, in addition to Americans, are looking for an unambiguous German commitment to deterrence and defense.

If Germany owes anything because of its history, it is that it should live up to the responsibilities it has as a strong state within the community of democratic nations.

Germany has benefited very much from the security provided by NATO – and, especially, by the United States. It’s time for Germany to step forward and accept a more visible, meaningful role within NATO, time to lead by example and fulfil its defense-spending obligation. If Germany fails to do this, and if the U.S. minimizes its role in Europe, what would the consequences be for Germany? Is Germany prepared for them?

Fortunately, I sense a growing recognition in Germany of the need for vigorous public debate about its strategic role in the world.  More and more parliamentarians are speaking out about the need for German leadership, and in private conversations, I hear Germans express embarrassment over the state of the Bundeswehr and the lack of strategic leadership. The recent announcement by Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer that Germany would in fact reach the agreed-upon benchmark of a defense budget equal to 2 percent of GDP by 2031 was good news – though it is embarrassing that it will take seven years longer than what was agreed to at the 2014 NATO summit in Wales.

I remain confident in the vital relationship between Germany and the United States. On both sides of the Atlantic, there are so many serious-minded leaders and people who care deeply about the shared values that have bound us together for all these years – those same values that have inspired other nations to want to join NATO and to join the European Union.

On the occasion of German reunification in 1990, U.S. President George H. W. Bush spoke of a “common love of freedom.” In that same speech, he said: ” Even as Germany celebrates this new beginning, there is no doubt that the future holds new challenges, new responsibilities,” and he expressed hope that the U.S. and Germany would be “partners in leadership.

Thirty years later, we are still waiting for that wish to be fulfilled. But we must keep on trying.

A more nuanced approach to the NATO 2% target

Recommended reading: Article by Ben Hodges, published in FAZ on November 29. Original article in German available here

It is time for a more nuanced approach to the NATO 2% target. Only in this way there is a chance that Germany’s defense spending will noticeably move towards 2% of gross domestic product in the coming years. If that does not happen, the relationship between the US and Germany will continue to deteriorate.

What do I mean by a more nuanced approach to the 2% target?

NATO should create acceptable incentives for the Bundestag and the German population that would allow Germany to comply with its agreement with the NATO alliance to increase defense spending. In contrast to most NATO members, Germany will probably not reach the 2% target by 2024.

“The needle must move towards 2%, not just 1.5%,” in order to increase Germany’s defense capability sufficiently and to remove one of the main causes of the current tensions between the US and its most important ally, Germany. Especially the worldwide respected democracy and economic power Germany should not only partially contribute to the defense alliance. An increase of the national defense budget to 2% would not have to result in a much larger Bundeswehr.

Rather, improving the Bundeswehr’s operational readiness in the defense budget must continue to be a top priority. The unsatisfactory state of aircraft, vehicles and submarines is well known. It is not based on carelessness of the leadership of the Bundeswehr, but is the result of political decisions that were made a decade ago. Today, the Bundeswehr leadership is working hard to resolve weaknesses in terms of operational readiness.

In addition, I believe that in the ministry, in the Bundestag and in German civil society, too, a “culture of operational readiness” is needed, ideally embedded in a strategic debate on Germany’s role in the world. For there are still further significant investments required to put the Bundeswehr in a state that is worthy to Germany’s role as one of the world’s largest democratic economic power with high moral standards. Aren’t it also German interests and values that require military protection?

How can one understand as a military ally that this Germany does not seem willing to invest properly in its defense capability and thereby be a strong partner to its allies?

The direct investments in the Bundeswehr are the most important and largest part of the defense budget. Of course, this also has to stay that way. However, I think that in addition to direct investments in the troupe, other expenses should be included in the 2%.


  1. Cyber attacks pose a major threat to collective security. Therefore, for example, higher investments in cyber protection of NATO’s very important German ports or airports and the rail network should be credited for the 2%. In a military crisis, it is precisely the functionality of major transport hubs that is crucial. Some countries, such as Lithuania and Latvia, already estimate cyber protection for critical transport and government infrastructures into their 2% today.


  1. Germany should be able to count research investments in “dual-use projects” into the 2%, provided that these researches have next to its civilian and military benefits, as well. I am thinking of, for example, the development of lightweight materials, the treatment of traumatic wounds, artificial intelligence and digitization. Dual-use projects also provide incentives for start-ups and businesses.

Unfortunately, many German universities prohibit research that has military benefits. That is – at least for a foreigner – difficult to understand, since this research also serves the protection of German female and male soldiers.


  1. Investments in civil transport infrastructure, which at the same time has military benefits, should be included in the 2%. A militarily suitable transport infrastructure is essential to NATO’s defense concept. Military mobility is essential for effective deterrence and can thus help prevent military conflicts. It is one of the 17 PESCO projects of the EU and includes i.a. the strengthening of roads and bridges.

The German rail system is also in need of improvement in military terms. At present, Deutsche Bahn would not be in a position to transport equipment for NATO forces to a necessary extent in the event of a crisis. Of course, investment in rail capacity would benefit not only NATO, but also Germany as a business location and the civil society.


Germany is the most important ally of the US. In addition, both countries have a long-standing, close friendship based on common values. The US needs Germany as a strong ally and friend – Germany needs the US. It is therefore so important that this relationship improves again as Germany makes its agreed contribution.

The 2019 NATO London Charter

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

London Declaration, December 4, 2019


Arsenal of democracy?

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

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

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

The 2019 NATO London Charter

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

Therefore, the Charter agrees the following actions:

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

(It was a nice dream)

Julian Lindley-French

The Future of Airborne?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Lindley-French

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

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

General George S. Patton

Network NATO

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

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

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

What if NATO crashes?

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

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

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

London and the Audit of Alliance Vulnerabilities

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

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

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

Julian Lindley-French