Reflecting on NATO 2030

May 13th, 2020

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

“Power is as power does”.

J.K. Galbraith

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

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

Core messages

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

Strategic Appreciation

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

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

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

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

Worst defence-strategic consequence of COVID-19 for NATO

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

NATO’s Strategic Paradoxes and dilemma

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

NATO’s strategic paradoxes:

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

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

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

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

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

NATO’s Strategic Dilemma:

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

NATO’s Critical Needs

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

–          Drastically improved European force interoperability with their US counterparts;

–          Far faster political consultations over what constitutes an attack;

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

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

My vision for NATO 2030?

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


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

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

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

Julian Lindley-French

Operation Infektion 2020

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

Albert Camus, The Plague


Operation Infektion

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

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


Operation Infektion 2020

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

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


COVID-19 disinformation

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

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

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

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


Why is disinformation dangerous?

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

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

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


Jekyll and Hyde China?

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

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

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


Julian Lindley-French

COVID-19: The Silk Road Pandemic

By Julian Lindley-French

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

J.G. Ballard, “High Rise”

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

The Silk Road Pandemic

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

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

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

Why China and why now? 

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

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

Strategic consequences and implications

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

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

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

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

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

Strategic choices

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

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

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

The COVID-19 strategic agenda

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

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

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

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

The death of globalisation?

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

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

COVID-19: the echo of history

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

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

Julian Lindley-French

Permanent Putin Power

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

Nikolai Tolstoy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Lindley-French

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