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

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

Dresden 75: Is Europe Making America Weak?

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


Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five


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

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

Munich 2020

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

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

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

Europe Defender 20

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

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

European weakness makes America weaker

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

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

Julian Lindley-French  

Chair’s Note, 11 September 2019

Chair’s Note

11 September 2019

On this day each year my mind is cast back to 2001, and the shock at seeing the comfort blanket in which much of Europe (not all) had wrapped itself in the wake of the Cold War torn away. The attacks of 911 ended one world and began another, a world which is still not fully clear. It also led all of us to question almost everything about our security and defence. Nothing was certain then; little is certain today.

This month we will post two films by TAGGERS Ben Hodges and Jamie Shea that both ask a necessary question that would have been unthinkable some years ago, whither NATO? In these two short and brilliant movies the clear answer they both give as to why we still need the Alliance is the essence of the leadership for which the TAG was established. But for what?

TAGGER Paul Cornish offers us a lead with not only an outstanding vision of the nature of future war in his piece “War Clouds on the Horizon”, but also the need for new thinking in high place if we are to cyber-defend ourselves in one of the new battlespaces of the digital war age.  

TAGGER Rob de Wijk will next week offer us his vision of how Europe can strike a new defence balance between cost and capability in his forthcoming TAG blog “A New Defense Posture for Europe: Minimum defense, Maximum deterrence”. Having been a friend and admirer of Rob’s for many years what he offers is typically grounded vision allied to a plan of action. Something of which Europeans are in desperately short supply.

Me? I am finishing off my new book for Oxford University, “Future War and the Defence of Europe”, which I have co-written with my friend John R. Allen and friend and fellow TAGGER Ben Hodges. It will, of course, be brilliant and very reasonably-priced. Watch this space!

Julian Lindley-French

Chair’s Note, It’s Time for Turkey-USA 2.0, 6 August 2019

Chair’s Note

It’s Time for Turkey-USA 2.0

6 August 2019

Fellow Tagger Ben Hodges has just published a fascinating piece for the Centre for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) which the TAG has permission to republish. It is entitled, “It’s Time for USA-Turkey 2.0” and was prompted by the rush to marginalise Ankara for purchasing the Russia S-400 air defence system the US has excluded the Turks from the F-35 programme. The only likely outcome of this action is to further push Turkey, a powerful NATO ally occupies ‘terrain’ critical to the defence of Europe. As a former commander of the US Army in Europe Ben knows only too well the strategic importance of having Turkey in the West’s camp. Read and enjoy but, above all, be informed. I was. JLF

It’s Time for Turkey-USA 2.0


Ben Hodges

Our current relationship with our essential Ally, Turkey…“Turkey-USA Version 1.0”…will die this summer as a result of the F35-S400 issue, ensuing sanctions required by CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), and possible Turkish responses such as further purchases of Russian systems or closure of US access to Incirlik Air Base. But that doesn’t mean that this essential strategic relationship is permanently ruptured…rather, it’s time to get busy on Turkey-USA 2.0…immediately.

A viable Turkey-USA 2.0 requires that we hold each other accountable while respecting each nation’s sovereignty and prerogatives. To do otherwise…to allow our relationship to suffer irreparable damage…by either side…would be a gift to the Kremlin.

I believe there is potential for a new emerging Turkey…the beginning of which we are already starting to see…and which we should seriously consider as we work through the current, on-going issues affecting our relationship. The recent Mayoral election in Istanbul, the strong criticism within the Turkish business community of the sacking of the independent Governor of Turkey’s Central Bank, and the defection of former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan from the AK Party all point towards changing political dynamics in Turkey. If is, of course, possible to overstate this potential…and a lot can happen between now and the next elections in Turkey in 2023. But regardless of the outcome of those elections, we need to be working to preserve Turkey as an essential Ally and bulwark against Russian aggression and Islamic extremism in the greater Black Sea region and to help stem further massive refugee flows from the region.

I was recently in Ankara, the capital city of Turkey, and had the chance to meet with senior retired Turkish diplomats, academics, and think-tank members as well as naval attaches and senior diplomats from multiple countries including the USA, the United Kingdom, France, Ukraine, Georgia, Switzerland and some others in a variety of settings. I was also able to attend the US National Day reception which was widely attended…more than 500 guests were there. Most notable for their disappointing absence, however, were any senior Members of the Turkish General Staff or Turkish Military in general.

I was there to do research for a project that my organization, CEPA, is undertaking to see how NATO can improve its coherence along its Eastern Flank, from the Baltic region down thru the greater Black Sea region. My specific purpose for being in Turkey was to get a perspective on how our Ally, Turkey, sees the greater Black Sea region, how Turkey sees its own role there, and to get a better understanding of the specifics of the Montreux Convention which governs naval presence in the Black Sea for littoral and non-littoral nations.

I learned a lot about Montreux and Turkey’s perceptions…and the perceptions of other nations about Turkey.

But most importantly what I found were three core problems that need to be addressed if “Turkey-USA 2.0” is to be a trusting, reliable relationship between two long-time Allies and between NATO and one of its most important Members.

First, the current strategic framework is obsolete. Turkey’s membership in NATO started in 1952 and there’s been a NATO headquarters in Izmir since then, longer than any other NATO headquarters in the Alliance, except for Naples. This strategic framework was based on containment of the Soviet Union. While Turkey still plays a key role in deterring Russian aggression in the greater Black Sea region, this is only part of its challenge. The former Chief of Plans and Policy of the Turkish General Staff once told me, “Ben, I wake up in the morning and I have Russia to the North, the Caucuses to the East, the Balkans to the West and Iran, Iraq and Syria to the South…it’s a helluva neighbourhood.” Our strategic framework needs to recognize this unique Turkish perspective and the role that our Ally plays in the broader region, including to its south.

Second, we must figure out “ownership” of the relationship inside the US Government. For the most part it’s been based mainly on military to military relationships which has worked pretty well for many years…but the focus on providing weapons to Kurds and doing whatever it took to defeat ISIS, has perhaps distorted the relationship.

The boundary between US European Command (EUCOM) and US Central Command (CENTCOM) runs along the Turkish-Syrian border which necessitates extensive efforts between the two Commands to coordinate efforts against ISIS in Syria. Clearly this boundary does not facilitate the most effective military operations or coalition building or diplomatic and economic pressure. And because CENTCOM has become primus inter pares
among the Combatant Commands over the last 15 years…due to the priority of deployments and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, this boundary has also contributed, in my opinion, to a tendency to underestimate the significance of Turkish sensitivities about our arming of any faction of the Kurds in order to achieve greater effect against ISIS. Add to that the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey created by the Syrian Civil War and one can begin to understand the Turkish unhappiness about what’s happening south of their border with Syria.

Third, both sides of this relationship have got to find a way to remove mutual suspicions that frustrate serious discussions and hinder efforts to resolve conflicts. There are several: “Turkey may leave NATO”; “Turkey has a hidden Islamic foreign policy”; “Turkey is in Putin’s pocket”; “The US has a long-term plan to establish a Kurdish state on Turkey’s border”; “the US was behind the Gulenist-led attempted Coup and still has a plan to oust him”, “The US can remotely inactivate Patriot Missiles in order to prevent them from shooting down Turkish Air Force F16’s in a future coup attempt”, etc. It will take a lot of strong, consistent diplomatic effort as well as other candid conversations by both sides to address and remove these suspicions if we are to build a viable Turkey-USA 2.0 for the future.


This is not a defense of Turkey’s bad behaviour with regard to buying the S400 from Russia or other actions which frustrate the Congress, the Department of Defense, and other Allies. Turkey is a difficult Ally…they often seem “spring-loaded” to be offended. And the current situation with the purchase of S400 defies logic…nothing good for Turkey will come of it.

It’s also interesting to note that, as we consider sanctions required under CAATSA, as one Turkish academic told me, the “purchase of the S400 was an Erdogan purchase, not an institutional purchase.” In other words, the Ministry of Defense did not carry out this purchase…it was done by another agency which reports directly to the President. Perhaps part of our effort to build a strong “Turkey-USA 2.0” should take this into account.

NATO is so much stronger with Turkey as a Member than without it, because of its geographic location, its strong and professional military forces, and its influence in the greater Black Sea region. They’ve also been a strong Ally for the last 67 years, despite our inattention and the perceived lack of welcome and respect in Europe.

Turkey is an essential Ally and Member of NATO in this era of Great Power Competition. To keep our Alliance strong and cohesive and an effective deterrent against Russian aggression in the greater Black Sea region we need to think long-term about our relationship with Turkey and ensure we protect it. We need a Turkey-USA 2.0 relationship that holds our Turkish Ally accountable for decisions it makes but which also demonstrates understanding and respect for Turkey’s own sovereign concerns and geography.

Chair’s Note, 10 June 2019

Professor Paul Cornish

Heartfelt congratulations to fellow TAGGER Professor Paul Cornish! Paul has just been appointed as Visiting Professor at LSE IDEAS, the foreign policy think-tank of the prestigious London School of Economics. Given Paul’s proven leadership on a range of issues covering defence strategy to cyberwar and beyond, this appointment is richly-deserved. We wish Paul every success in his new role. You can learn more about the work of Paul and LSE IDEAS at http://www.lse.ac.uk/ideas

Julian Lindley-French, 10 June 2019

Chair’s Note and European Defence Blog


This is going to be one of those weeks in transatlantic relations where history and future collide in reality. Seventy-five years ago next week (6 June) British, American and Canadian forces (in that order of magnitude), supported by the forces of Allies from a host of other countries, stormed the five landing beaches of Normandy – Gold, Juno, Sword, Omaha and Utah.  The liberation of Western Europe from Nazism entered its final stage. With Soviet forces occupying much of Central and Eastern Europe at the time the scene was also being set for the Cold War.

Seventy-five years on and Europe faces another tepid peace as relations with Russia deteriorate and the US finds itself increasingly under pressure the world over.  The new and fast changing reality of transatlantic relations begs a further question – whither Europe in its own defence and in support of the United States? These are questions I will be discussing this coming week at the George C Marshall Center – Munich Security Conference sponsored US-German Loisach Group in Garmisch Partenkirchen with fellow TAGGER Andrew Michta. It is also the implicit theme in my blog of this week (Not) Figuring out the Future of Europe’s Defence.  As part of my regular Chair’s Notes I will also include my weekly blog on the TAG Website. This week I discuss the danger of choosing the wrong stats and thus arriving at the wrong conclusions about the state of Europe’s defences.

(Not) Figuring out the Future of Europe’s Defence

On the up?

Alphen, Netherlands. 31 May. Europeans will not start really fearing what they should fear in the wider world, until they stop secretly fearing each other.  Consequently, deep down they cannot decide if they want to empower other Europeans or enfeeble them. That is why real European defence remains still-born, why Europeans have become cheap defence junkies, and why Europeans continue to ask Americans to defend them from the world and each other.

The trigger for that opening statement was a piece I read on a plane to Rome this week to address the Conference of Commandants of Alliance defence academies hosted by the NATO Defence College and the Italian Centre for High Defence Studies (CASD). Entitled “On the up: Western defence spending in 2018”, published by IISS, and written by Canadian academic Lucie Beraud-Sudreau, the piece endeavoured to apply some ‘science’ to the problem of defence expenditure by Europeans. However, there was also a political message; that Europeans do spend a lot on defence and that American claims to bear too high a burden for the defence of Europe are misplaced.

The theme of the piece is established early. “After years of reduced spending after the end of the Cold War and in the wake of the financial crisis, NATO’s European members increased their defence budgets by 4.2% in real terms in 2018”. It goes on: “Their [NATO Europeans] total spending would – if the aggregated figure of US$264bn were considered on its own – amount to the second largest defence budget in the world”. The crunch sentence is thus: “…given Washington’s other global commitments, attributing to European defence the entirety of the US commitment would…seem to overstate the US commitment [to European defence JLF]”. So, Europeans DO spend a lot on their own defence, possibly enough, and the Americans overstate their commitment to the defence of Europe. According to the piece all that is needed now is for Europeans to spend what they spend a bit more efficiently (common defence?) and more co-operatively.

Europe’s no pies in the sky defence

Now, I have been reading this stuff for decades. Of its kind this is not one of the bigger ‘pie in the sky’ pieces on European defence that I have read. It is well-written, well-researched, well-argued, and just plain wrong. It makes the mistake many such ‘Europeans ARE spending enough but not well enough’ pieces make by failing to address WHY Europeans still refuse to spend better, what defence outcomes Europeans should collectively aspire to, and just how much defending themselves without the Americans would cost. With regard to the latter, forget NATO’s 2% GDP Defence Investment Pledge, a truly autonomous European defence investment pledge would require at least each state to spend 4% GDP per annum on defence, probably more, with much of that funding ‘sunk’ into a central European defence fund. Only then could Europeans hope to replace the high-end forces and resources which the Americans bring to bear and which are the true granite of Europe’s defence, and the rock upon which deterrence stands.

So, why do Europeans refuse to pool their resources after decades of empty European defence rhetoric? There is at least one equation that must be understood if one is to grasp the ghastly politics of European defence: the more money promised the smaller the force becomes whilst conversely the smaller the force the more tasks assigned to whilst the number of acronyms (‘new’ forces) created to carry out such tasks expand exponentially.  In other words, European defence remains an essentially political project rather than a serious defence.

The hard truth is that Europeans still do not trust each other enough to pool sufficient forces and resources to become “more efficient and cooperative”. For many of European countries their armed forces are intrinsically tied-up with their sense of national identity. They also act as sources of labour represented by vested political interests that have real clout in many European countries. Europeans also suffer from their own version of ‘pork barrel politics’ with defence industries not only strongly-represented in the political class, but also a vital source of employment often in swing parliamentary constituencies. That latter imperative is why Britain’s two enormous and hugely-expensive new aircraft carriers really got built. It is also the reason why the fielding times and project costs of so much new European defence equipment is so often lamentable, bordering on the criminal.

What to do?

The piece is at its weakest when it implies that a direct comparison of the annual cost to the Americans for the defence of the Alliance with European defence outlays is the true test of burden-sharing. Yes, the Americans may have forces spread the world-over but those forces also have the strategic enablers across air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge which Europeans, by and large, lack. Strategic enablers without which most forward deployed European forces would simply be sausage-meat in the making in any war. Strategic enablers that the Americans routinely make available to Europeans through the Alliance and which many Europeans too often now take for granted.

Here’s the twist: only in the extreme event of a new high-end world war could one envisage the Americans being forced to deny Europeans such support. Yes, as the piece states, European defence expenditure is “…equivalent of 1.5 times China’s official [note ‘official’ JLF]budget (US$168bn), and almost four times Russia’s estimated total military expenditure (US$63bn)…” And yet, there is no serious comparison to be made between Europe’s generated defence outcomes and those of contemporary China and Russia.

Given that stark reality the piece would have been immeasurably stronger if the essentially defence economic argument had been balanced and reinforced with the sage words of General Mark Milley in his May 2018 testimony to the US Congress.  Milley stated, “I’ve seen comparative numbers of US defense budget versus China, US defense budget versus Russia. What is not often commented on is the cost of labor. We’re the best paid military in the world by a long shot. The cost of Russian soldiers or Chinese soldiers is a tiny fraction”.  Milley then went on to suggest that if one strips out the relative high cost of US labour the defence outcomes China and Russia generate are dangerously close to those generated by the US.

Critically, Chinese and Russia defence outcomes in the scope and mass of forces they generate are way beyond any forces Europeans can aspire to simply because there is no, and there can be no comparison between the bang for the buck America, China and Russia generate, and the squeak for the buck Europeans generate. And, for all the rhetoric to the contrary, there is little sign that Europe’s defence squeak is going to get any louder any time soon.

Beraud-Sudreau is essentially correct when she suggests Europeans SHOULD spend more effectively and co-operatively. Sadly, there is little chance they will. What she can expect are yet more ‘big’ announcements, and even ‘bigger’ European claims about not an awful lot. European defence is the mouse that squeaked and it was ever thus.

Julian Lindley-French


Chair’s Note, 20 May 2019

Chair’s Note, 20 May 2019

Let me first offer congratulations to TAGGER Anna Wieslander on her richly-deserved election this past week to the Royal Swedish Academy of War Sciences, which dates back to 1796. My thanks also to Paul Cornish for his excellent piece, and our first substantive blog, “The truth behind the JEDI War Cloud contract battle may now be coming out”.  Paul’s analysis of the changing nature of the US military-industrial complex and the even more complex relationship between strategic innovation, defence investment and corporate competition is timely and sobering. It is well worth a read. Next week Holger Mey will consider the future of nuclear policy. Knowing Holger, as I do, his piece will no doubt go off with a bang.

Interesting week this week. As I write this I am sitting in a hotel room overlooking beautiful Tallinn. My presence here is in support of the excellent Lennart Meri conference. An hour ago I chaired an excellent panel entitled “The Word is Very Powerful. Is the US now Smaller or Bigger on the Map?  My leadership of the session was supported by Ian Brzezinski and Rachel Ellehuus from, respectively, the Atlantic Council and CSIS in Washington, David Kramer from the University of Florida, and Christian Molling, Research Director from the German Council on Foreign Relations. In other words, a stellar team with years of experience that spans the divide between academia and policy, pretty much like the TAG itself. My takeaway is thus: Americans and Europeans must not under-estimate the changes that are taking place on both sides of the Atlantic and in the relationship that exists across it. Nevertheless, North Americans and Europeans need, and will need each other more not less. Without transatlantic solidarity rooted in strategic realism there is little chance the people here in Estonia will be able to sleep easy in their beds.

The issue of strategic realism was also at the centre of my address to NATO generals and admirals at the wonderful NATO Defence College on Thursday in Rome.   Entitled, “The Future of NATO”, I pulled no punches in my assessment that the purpose of the Alliance is to master the future of warfare in all its many forms in order to preserve peace. The longer Europeans appease a dangerous reality that stretches across policy, society, security and defence capability, and increasingly futuristic technology, the more likely that Europe’s future could involve a very nasty shock.

So, on that cheery note…until next week.

Julian Lindley-French,


The Alphen Group