Anand Menon: Europe and the war. Will the unity engendered by Russia’s invasion last?

18 Apr

Anand Menon is Director of the UK in a Changing Europe.

‘Europe will be forged in crisis and will be the sum of the solutions adopted for those crises.’ If ever there were a moment to ponder the import of Jean Monnet’s words, it is now. The war in Ukraine has come as a shock to the system of a union that, for years, has failed to deliver when it comes to its security ambitions.

Unlike, say, the Eurozone or migration crises, events in Ukraine have not proven intrinsically divisive. In the face of the armed invasion of a neighbouring sovereign state by a country already recognised as a potential threat, and acting in lockstep with the United States, unity amongst member states has been (relatively) easy to maintain. If the Donald Trump presidency (and accompanying threats – at least according to John Bolton – to leave NATO) had illustrated the fragility of the NATO shield, Ukraine has rammed home its continued importance by underlining the reality of the Russian sword.

The shock delivered to the collective EU system seems to have spawned a realisation, going beyond the usual cheap talk, that its ‘geopolitical holiday’ is over. And not simply because of the conflict itself. More broadly, many of the other challenges the Union faces in its neighbourhood – in the Middle East, Africa, the Sahel, and the Balkans – will be exacerbated by the war. As the EU’s newly minted ‘Strategic Compass’ puts it, the EU is ‘surrounded by instability and conflicts’.

How has the EU responded?

At Versailles in March, EU leaders declared their intention to ensure the EU could ‘take more responsibility for its own security’. The Strategic Compass published ten days later declared that the ‘EU and its Member States must invest more in their security and defence to be a stronger political and security actor.’

And, crucially, member states seem intent on rising to the challenge. In a dramatic half hour on 27 February, Olaf Scholtz reversed decades of German strategic thinking. German defence spending will rise from 1.5 per cent in 2021 to two per cent; a 100-billion-euro fund will be created for the armed forces. Germany will become the world’s third biggest military spender.

Nor is Germany alone. Denmark and Poland have also announced increases in defence spending. The former has announced a referendum on its opt-out from EU security policies. Finland and Sweden are reconsidering the issue of NATO membership. And, in a stark break with past reticence, the EU itself pledged to provide Ukraine with €1 billion in military assistance.

There is of course a long way to go before rousing words are translated into meaningful action. Yet it does seem that one consequence of the current crisis will be significantly enhanced European military capabilities.

So far, so overdue. Europeans have been free riders on American power for far too long. However, capabilities are one thing. Deploying them is quite another. Taking greater responsibility for European security implies working collectively. Working collectively, in turn, requires consensus (because a genuine ‘European Army’ is not on the cards). Perhaps the biggest question emerging from the present crisis is whether the unity engendered by the Russian invasion will last.

While the EU has imposed five separate sanctions packages on Russia, the longer the conflict lasts, or the nastier it gets, the greater the pressure will be to extend these to cover oil and gas. Germany, Hungary, Italy and Bulgaria, however, are highly dependent on Russian gas exports, raising the prospect of bitter arguments to come.

Which raises the thornier question as to how member states might respond to Russian attempts to negotiate a settlement. Emmanuel Macron has maintained a dialogue with Vladimir Putin, despite the obvious irritation this caused among some of the former’s partners (‘nobody negotiated with Hitler’, as the Polish Prime Minister put it). A firm offer of de-escalation in return for concessions on sanctions might well exacerbate such tensions.

Then there is Ukraine itself. While many of the Central European and Baltic states favour a rapid path to EU membership, the French and Dutch have expressed reservations. The Versailles declaration was typically vague, promising support for Ukraine in ‘pursuing its European path’ whilst affirming (meaninglessly) that ‘Ukraine belongs to our European family’. Again, it is not hard to imagine the debate about the appropriate relationship with a post-war Ukraine becoming a running sore within the EU.

And of course such sores existed well before the current conflict. Internal disputes over the rule of law are now being viewed through the lens of events in Ukraine. The European Commission is preparing to release billions in recovery funds for Poland, which has been in the frontline of the refugee crisis. In contrast, two days after the re-election of Viktor Orbán (with his clear sympathies for Putin), the Commission announced plans to trigger a rule of law mechanism allowing it to deprive Hungary of millions of euros in scheduled payments.

It is too early to predict the possible medium-term consequences of all this. On the one hand, the crisis might prompt Poland to reconcile with the European Union. Or, it might encourage political leaders in Warsaw to believe they can act as they like at home as long as they keep in step with EU external policy. As for Hungary, with Orbán’s refusal to countenance weapons deliveries or sanctions on Russian gas exports already straining relations with other member states, it seems reasonable to assume that tensions between Budapest and Brussels will continue to bedevil the Union.

However endless the conflict in Ukraine may be coming to feel, we are still in its early phase. And this might be the easy phase as far as the EU is concerned. How long the war lasts, and the circumstances in which it ends will obviously help shape its longer-term consequences for the Union. It seems likely, though, that member states will emerge with enhanced military capabilities. Whether or not they agree on the foreign policy objectives to which these capabilities will contribute, however, is far from certain.

Garvan Walshe: To turn the tide in Ukraine, it’s time for Putin – not the West – to fear escalation

17 Mar

 Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative party

“Don’t you now there’s a war on?!” would be the best paraphrase of Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s incredulity at Poland and the United States not being able to organise a way of supplying MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine’s embattled air force.

Ukraine fights on – alone – now beginning a fourth week against the invading Russian army and air force. They’re giving it everything they’ve got, paying a huge price for Vladimir Putin’s aggression, and our failure to take the Russian threat seriously since 2014.  Despite Ukrainians’ heroic resistance, we still haven’t fully made the shift in mindset that, even more than actual fighting, characterises the move from peace to war.

The Home Office hasn’t understood that a bureaucracy built up over years to deter refugees needs to be taken apart. Germany says it will reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas, but not yet.  Israel sits on the fence while a country with a Jewish president is targeted for destruction.  Defence ministries everywhere cavil about supplying Ukraine “defensive”, as opposed to “offensive” weapons. 

But there’s another even more serious mistake that is still being committed: to think avoiding escalation is more important than achieving victory.

“Escalation dominance” is the mind game by which Putin has, in Zelenskiy’s words, “hypnotised” the West. Don’t do anything that will make it harder for me to beat Ukraine, he says – or else.

Fear of provoking Putin is a major reason why Ukraine has not been equipped with modern air defences, overt Western training missions have left the country, and there are no Western forces there. Would Putin have invaded had there been an American, or even a Franco-British, garrison in, say, Kharkiv? The answer doesn’t start with ‘y’.

In line with Soviet doctrine, Putin has turned his sabre-rattling nuclear. Avoiding “World War Three” is the reason given for ruling out NATO troops in Ukraine; discarding a no-fly zone, and even failing to send over those MiGs.

“We can’t fight Russia” said the Prime Minister. But if we can’t fight Russia in Ukraine, why could we fight them in Poland, the Baltic States or even Germany? Would that not also be World War Three, with the same, or possibly greater, risks of nuclear escalation?

The logical conclusion of this line of thinking is that NATO’s security guarantees can’t work, and that a nuclear-armed Russia cannot be stopped. Yet during the Cold War we learned how to make the USSR stop and think, because we understood how to make sure that the threat of escalation wouldn’t pay.

The most important word in the last sentence is ‘pay’. How can Putin be convinced, as a succession of Soviet leaders, including Stalin, were, that escalation isn’t worth it?

We need to start with Putin’s notion of worth, which is not irrational, but is a little different from the kind of rationality that dominates Western thinking. We think of worth as an absolute quantity. If we’re going for a run, what matters to us is the time in which we complete it. He thinks of it as a relative quantity. It doesn’t matter how long he takes, as long as he takes less time than anyone else.  Another way of putting it is that he doesn’t care so much about being rich as about being first. 

This means we need to threaten to do more to him than he has to threaten to do to us to force a change in behaviour. We would abandon a course of action if it left us worse off than we are at the moment. He would still choose to take the hit, as long as the hit we suffered was heavier. This creates a well known paradox: to prevent his escalation we not only need to be able to match his escalation, but need to convince him there’s a realistic possibility that we could escalate further.

Because we have projected our own psychology onto him, our apparently responsible statements – that we won’t send troops in or establish a no-fly zone, and so on – embolden Putin rather than reassuring him of our intentions.

We need instead to re-establish our credibility.  A first step is a return to some rhetorical ambiguity: we need to signal that measures which would amount to war, such as a no-fly zone or the deployment of combat forces in Ukraine should now be under consideration.  He, not we, needs then to consider whether that war would be worth fighting.  

Second, we should take steps to show that even if a no-fly-zone or ground troops are only possibilities, we will strengthen our support for Ukraine. Yesterday’s announcement that Soviet-design anti-aircraft missiles, which Ukraine can operate immediately, will be sent in is an important first step.

But the main danger to Ukrainian cities and civilians is from artillery, not aircraft.  Ground attack drones, “loitering munitions” (very small drones) and radars to detect where artillery is fired from will be of greatest use.  But if Russia is to be deterred from escalating, it needs to understand that we, too, are willing to take some risk.

When the Soviet Union cut off Berlin, the United States, Britain and France responded with the Berlin airlift. These days it is Mariupol that is besieged, and its civilian population the subject of Aleppo-style shelling. As well as providing Ukraine the weapons to destroy that artillery, could we not consider an escorted airlift of air-dropped humanitarian supplies into the city? Russia could try and engage the planes escorting the aid, but would they really shoot at British, French or American aircraft?

A Mariupol airlift would not be without risk, but it’s less risky than a Russian victory.

Mark Francois: Now the Government must tear up the Integrated Review, start again – and boost the army

28 Feb

Mark Francois is the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, a member of the Defence Select Committee and a former Armed Forces Minister.

As the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine only began five days ago, it may be too early to draw long-term conclusions, not least as we do not yet know how this war – for that is what is now palpably is – will play out. Nevertheless, there are at least four things which are already very clear.

First, this is a gigantic wake-up call for NATO, and indeed the free world more generally. I have written on this site before about how the reluctance of European NATO nations to meet the NATO target to spend at least 2 per cent of their GDP on defence was making the world a more dangerous place. Moreover, NATO’s bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer can only have encouraged adventurism in Russia.

We must also appreciate who we are dealing with. Vladimir Putin and most of his closest associates were senior officers in the Soviet KGB. These are utterly ruthless men, who are unlikely to be deterred by economic measures alone.

Their ultimate benchmark will be hard power, both nuclear and conventional, rather than sanctions, which they will have already priced in. The Russian psyche despises weakness, and so we need to react accordingly.

It is encouraging to note that NATO is beginning to close ranks and agree on sanctions and military aid to Ukraine. But we need to enhance our efforts and quickly, if we are to persuade Putin to abandon any idea, however fanciful, of attacking the Baltic States or Poland. Our response must includes not just deploying more troops on NATO’s borders. but also increasing our operational readiness to rapidly respond to any incursion.

Second, within the U.K itself, we need to “Review the Review.” The conventional war on the Central European landmass unfolding before us, is a massive international event – comparable in security terms to a 9/11.

It is likely to be a game-changer, which means that the much-vaunted Integrated Review of Foreign, Defence and Security Policy published only last year, has already been overtaken by events.

The Review, which was intellectually incoherent from the outset, self-evidently failed to anticipate the near-term likelihood of massive Russian aggression.

Its defence aspects were particularly flawed, since it envisaged further deep cuts in U.K. conventional forces, including reducing the British Army by a further 10,000 regular soldiers down to just over 73,000, its smallest size since the post-Napoleonic age.

Worse still, it purported to bolster our Armed Forces in five to ten years time by taking excessive risks in the next few years to finance the later improvements. Under the Review, critical capabilities – such as our already inadequate force of frigates, airborne early warning aircraft and armoured fighting vehicles – were to be retired or sold off, years before their replacements were due to come into service.

In particular, the British Army’s armoured and infantry forces were to be pared back, so that we could field a fully-fledged “war fighting division” – around a decade from now. What good is all that to us this spring?

The intellectual fig-leaf for this self-imposed disarmament, which mercifully has not yet been fully implemented, is called the “Integrated Operating Concept” (IOC). When you strip away all the Whitehall techno-babble, the essence of the IOC is that we can get away with fewer tanks, armoured vehicles etc, because the remainder will be better able to communicate and interact, thus producing a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

The fundamental problem with this approach, as Captain Blackadder famously said to Private Baldrick about a previous military plan in the last ever episode of Blackadder, “is that it’s Bollocks.”

To begin with, the IOC largely relies on equipment which either doesn’t work (such as “Ajax”, the £4 billion light-tank, which has been delayed for years because it injures its own crew) or kit that doesn’t even exist yet, like “LeTacsis/Morpheus” (an all-singing all-dancing communications system, which hasn’t even been designed yet, is years away from service and is presently bogged down in endless disputes with contractors).

Moreover, the emphasis on high-tech solutions to everything ignores the brutal truth that, for all it’s technology, NATO was eventually run out of Afghanistan by what some commentators have described as “a bunch of country boys”, with light weapons and not an aircraft, satellite or submarine between them.

For the Russians, such theorising is unlikely to deter the 8th St. Petersburg Girl Guide Troop (Motorised), let alone the First Guards Tank Army. As Stalin famously said: “quantity has a quality all of its own.” The whole IOC, which is at the heart of the Review, and which provides the rationale for reducing our Army even further, is fatally flawed. We will likely need to go back to the drawing board and think again.

Third, it seems likely that U.K. defence spending will have to increase from its current level of around 2.3 per cent of GDP. The House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC), on which I have now served for five years, has consistently called for U.K. defence spending to reach at least three per cent of GDP, even before Russia invaded the Crimea and deployed a chemical weapon on U.K. soil in Salisbury in 2014.

Indeed, during the Cold War, it stood at around five per cent but was then slashed, by Government’s of both colours, as they extracted a “peace dividend” after the Wall came down. Well, following a major break-in, it looks as if our “insurance premium” is about to go up again, lest we allow the highly aggressive burglar to run riot.

However, as Conservatives, we instinctively believe that public spending is not just about how much you spend but, crucially, how effectively you spend it. The all-party Public Accounts Committee declared just a few months ago that MoD’s defence procurement system is “broken.”

Of the Department’s 36 largest procurement programmes, which were independently audited by the Government’s Infrastructure Projects Authority, not a single one -was on track to enter service both on time and on cost.

The Blob (which in this case takes the form of Defence Equipment and Support, or DE&S) is hopelessly inefficient. The Russian invasion of Ukraine should have finally persuaded us that we need radical reform in this procurement area, which employs over 10,000 people to do what the Israelis do better with barely 2,500.

Fourth, we need to materially increase our operational readiness. During the Cold War, our Armed Forces were held at high states of readiness, ready to respond to any incursion across the then inner-German border within a matter of hours.

Today, with a few exceptions (such as the RAF’s Quick Reaction Alert aircraft to intercept Russian bombers) our forces are held at much longer notice, especially with regard to a general conflagration.

As just one example, of our six, £1 billion each, Type 45 destroyers, only one was operationally available last July, due to a persistent problem with their propulsion systems, which the MoD is not scheduled to fully rectify until 2028.

Given what has just happened in Ukraine, we should now look critically at our readiness states across the board, and encourage our allies to do likewise. We should fix the kit that doesn’t work as a matter of urgency. As such, we should be prepared to issue a number of Urgent Operational Requirements ( MoD speak for drop all the bureaucracy and get the job done as soon as possible) to bring our kit up to scratch, of which the Type 45s could be but the first example.

In summary, we are now living in a different world from a week ago. Russia has invaded a peaceful, democratic, sovereign state. All those yards of newsprint and tweets from commentators who said this could never happen have been shown to be utterly wrong.

If you believe, as I do, that the first job of our Armed Forces is actually to deter war, by showing any potential aggressor that we are both morally willing and technically ready to defend ourselves and defeat them, then we need to change our whole mindset in Whitehall and indeed in Parliament too – and we had best do it quickly. The Romans had a powerful saying: “Si vis pacem parra bellum” – he who desires peace should prepare for war.

So should we. Not next year – or in ten years time – but now.

Ben Roback: Biden’s response to Russia shows a president desperate to repair his reputation at home and abroad

26 Jan

Ben Roback is Vice President of Public Affairs at Sard Verbinnen & Co.

If a week is a long time in politics, then eight years is an even longer time in President Putin’s pursuit of “Novorossiya”. As the Prime Minister reminded the House yesterday, Russia’s incursion into the Donbas region led to the illegal annexation of 10,000 square miles of Ukrainian territory. Ukraine has lived in fear and without peace ever since.

The White House entered the New Year with an alarmingly long list of domestic priorities. Putin’s latest flirtation with international lawbreaking has upended that list and put international relations at the top of the political agenda. Over 100,000 Russian military personnel and assets have been deployed in Crimea and in the Voronezh, Kursk and Bryansk regions of Western Russia. Russian naval assets from the Baltic and Northern fleets have also been reported heading south.

Russia, of course, denies it has any plans to invade. Putin is seeking guarantees that Ukraine will not be admitted as a Member State.

The five statements posted on the White House Briefing Room website since the turn of the year have grown gradually more severe in language and tone.

On January 2, President Biden and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine “expressed support for diplomatic efforts, starting next week with the bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue”. On January 19, the President and Senators, who had recently returned from a Congressional delegation to Ukraine, “exchanged views on the best ways the United States can continue to work closely with our allies and partners in support of Ukraine, including both ongoing diplomacy to try to resolve the current crisis and deterrence measures.”

Later that day, the President warned that any Russian forces moved across the Ukrainian border “will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our Allies”. Yesterday’s call with allied leaders across Europe warned of “reparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank.”

So, what next?

The President is scarred by his disastrous mishandling of the Taliban’s summer takeover of Afghanistan. “Biden warns Russia that if they invade Ukraine, America will evacuate and leave $86bn in weapons behind”, joked one parody Twitter account. The administration cannot afford to make such vast mishaps again.

The Biden administration, desperate to repair its reputation at home and abroad, held two classified briefings yesterday for congressional leadership aides and committee staff on the deteriorating situation in Ukraine. The remaining Members of the House and Senate will have to wait until Congress returns from recess next week. There have reportedly been nine inter-agency briefings for the national security committees and eight briefings for leadership, committee and personal office staff.

Washington is spearheading a pro-Ukraine defence alongside its NATO allies in the face of Putin’s parading. The Pentagon has put 8,500 troops on standby for possible deployment to Eastern European allies and Baltic nations. Denmark is sending a frigate and deploying F-16s to the region. France has expressed readiness to send troops to Romania under NATO command. If Russia invades Ukraine, Boris Johnson warned the UK “would look to contribute to any new NATO deployments to protect our allies in Europe”.

The diplomatic toolkit has not yet been fully deployed. Calls to eject Russia from the SWIFT global banking system are growing louder, whilst MPs on both sides of the House of Commons urged the Government to do more to limit the flow of Russian money in the City of London in a Ministerial statement yesterday.

Global Britain at work

This column is hardly the place to determine whether the bubbling crisis in Ukraine is a welcome or irrelevant distraction from the Prime Minister’s travails spearheaded by the Metropolitan Police and Sue Gray. But what is undoubtedly clear is that a muscular UK presence so far in efforts to deter Putin alongside our closest allies is a visible display of what “Global Britain” at its best could be capable of.

Indeed, the seriousness of the situation in Ukraine is such that there has been no room for domestic political point-scoring so far. But it must be recognised that the UK’s freedom from the shackles of the European Union means that it is free to tie itself as close to the United States’ position as possible. EU Member States, meanwhile, must balance their position delicately given Germany’s refusal to upset its main domestic gas supplier – Russia.

White House and NATO allies are not wasting time in preparing to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty, initially via diplomatic routes (including sanctions) and then providing defensive weapons systems and readying troops. President Biden might have misspoken earlier this week when he said the expected the Russians would “move in” given White House spokespeople has spoken carefully to try and clarify those remarks.

Inflation is already causing policymakers headaches in the United States and the United Kingdom. Any ground conflict in Ukraine will only add to those pressures given the inevitable rise in gas prices or reduction is Russian-sourced supply. Democratic leaders must decide if that is a price they are willing to pay.

Robin Millar: History teaches us that appeasing aggression only fuels more aggression. It’s a lesson we must apply to Ukraine.

26 Jan

Robin Millar is the MP for Aberconwy.

Earlier this month Russian troops were deployed to suppress a civilian uprising and to protect Russian nationals, economic and military assets. Russian supplied weapons were used by the Russian-trained security services who were ordered to “shoot to kill” protesters who had revolted against the Russian-backed dictator of their country.

This situation played out in Kazhakstan, a former Soviet republic – but it serves as a reminder that Russia is determined to maintain its influence throughout the former Soviet Union. It also serves as a stark warning of the seriousness of the situation on Ukraine’s border and the small but real prospect of Russian invasion.

There are clear incentives for western involvement to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

First, the West has a moral obligation to take an interest and to act. Ukraine is a Western-looking country with aspirations to join NATO, a defensive alliance. Russia’s response to such aspirations held by other former Soviet republics has been to try and install a puppet regime – historically with a scant regard for democracy or human rights. Further afield, Russia’s actions in Syria under Assad and Belarus under Lukashenko must raise concerns for the fate that awaits the people of Ukraine, should their country fall.

Second, practically, a Russian invasion would drive up our cost of living, energy prices, inflation and threaten our post pandemic economic recovery. While the UK imports minimal quantities of Russian gas – depending instead on imports of LPG imports from the Middle East and of gas through pipelines from Norway – we are as exposed as any other economy to wholesale gas price increases. Should Russia restrict, by which I really mean weaponise, gas supplies in the event of conflict, prices would be pushed even higher than present record levels.

Third, unchecked, an invasion would have huge geopolitical implications for Europe and the West. Plenty of other states around the world will be watching to see if Western words are followed by action. China – and Taiwan – will have noted the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, led by an increasingly introvert US.

History teaches us that appeasing aggression only fuels more aggression. Even after 30 years, Russia has never fully accepted the independence of these former Soviet republics and has yearned to bring them back within its sphere of influence. Should Ukraine fall, Russia’s focus will shift to the Baltic States – each with their own significant Russian minorities.

However, the UK, along with our NATO allies, has been deterring them by overtly defending NATO member states.

Military deployments have included RAF Typhoon fighter jets to Lithuania in support of Baltic Air Policing in June 2021 – resulting in multiple interceptions of Russian military aircraft. In May last year an RAF-led military Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) was sent to the Baltic region as a component of Operation Cabrit – the British operational deployment to Estonia where UK troops are leading a multinational battlegroup.

This battle group forms part of the NATO-enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) mission, designed to improve Euro-Atlantic security, reassure NATO allies and deter NATO adversaries. Additional NATO reinforcements to the Baltic Sea include Denmark deploying a frigate and F-16 fighter jets, and the US reportedly deploying additional warships and aircraft to the region, along with thousands of additional troops.

As NATO members, the Baltic States fall under the umbrella of NATO’s collective defence – the unique and enduring principle that binds all NATO members together: an attack, be it armed, cyber or CBRN, against one member is an attack against them all. Russian aggression against the Baltic States is therefore a scenario that must be deterred. NATO can provide this deterrence.

However, NATO must stand united – which is easier said than done.

Last week the US President cast doubt on that unity, mutual commitment and determination. He undermined weeks of diplomacy and careful positioning when he stated: “what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades and it depends on what it does… It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having to fight about what to do and not do etc”. He continued to say, “there are differences in NATO as to what countries are willing to do, depending on what happens.”

Closer to home, Germany, a key alliance member, is one of the world’s major arms manufactures and exporters and supplies weapons to nations such as Egypt, Israel and Pakistan. However, it is actively blocking the transfer to Ukraine from other alliance members urgently needed weapons including long range artillery shells and their delivery systems.

And this is exactly why the role of the UK is vital.

Shortly after being elected as the Member of Parliament for Aberconwy in 2019 I was privileged to be selected to participate in the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be briefed on our military preparedness in Eastern Europe and on the threat that Russia represents on several fronts. I am also grateful to have observed, first-hand, the professionalism and dedication of our Armed Forces personnel, along with the high standard of training that they receive.

The UK is showing leadership in supporting Ukraine and in deterring Russian aggression. In August last year Jeremy Quin, the Defence Minister, told Parliament that “since 2015, the UK has trained over 21,000 Ukrainian military personnel in medical skills, logistics, counter improvised explosive devices, leadership and infantry tactics as part of Operation Orbital.”

More recently, recognising that a Russian invasion would be led by armoured columns crossing the border, the UK has provided targeted support to the Ukrainian military by airlifting 2,000 Next Generation Light Anti-Tank (NLAW) missiles. Given the scale of Russian armour this contribution is hugely significant in deterring Russian aggression, although it will not have gone unnoticed that public flight data shows the transport flights of this vital cargo are deviating around German airspace.

The price of this support is indeed high, but the cost of failure will be undoubtedly worse.

Our military support of Ukraine’s freedom is a symbol of the UK as a force for good in the world – every bit as much as our leadership in support for COVAX, the programme to provide Covid-19 vaccines to developing nations. As I write, “God Save the Queen” is trending on social media in Ukraine.

Every effort must be made to secure a diplomatic solution. But we must not repeat the mistake of Chamberlain, to confuse peace with an absence of conflict, until it is too late. Russia must know that any invasion of Ukraine will be resisted, militarily if necessary, by a united and determined NATO.

AUKUS and the Indo-Pacific. A tilt to it, yes. A lunge, no.

20 Sep

In a chapter of their book on Britain’s defence capability, White Flag, our proprietor and Isabel Oakeshott describe “Operation Tethered Goat”.  It sets how in the event of a Russian incursion a small NATO force would attempt to defend a 65-mile stretch of the Polish-Lithuanian border “straddled ominously by Kaliningrad to the west and the Russian satrapy of Belarus on the east.”

“If Russia were to attempt to close the gap, NATO’s only option would be to punch north with the US-led brigade based here. Until then, it would be up to the Baltic states to hold their ground, supported by small detachments of NATO forces stationed inside their borders.

“One of those forces would be headed by a small but fierce battalion of UK troops stationed in Tapa, Estonia. Some 800 troops from the 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh are here, supported by smaller deployments from other member states”.  The isolation and vulnerability of our troops gives rise to the operation’s grim nickname.

This is the background against which to see the Americo-British-Australian deal over nuclear-powered submarines, the wounded reaction of France, and the new security pact between the two countries: AUKUS.

Further war in eastern Europe is relatively unlikely, for all the recent tangle between Russia and Ukraine.  But were it to happen, it would directly affect Britain and the alliance on which our security has depended for the best part of three-quarters of a century: NATO.  It would be war in our back yard.

Conflict in the South China is perhaps more likely, but would affect the UK less directly.  We wouldn’t be bound by our NATO obligations to participate.  And whatever may be said of the South China Sea, it is not in our neighbourhood.

None of which is to say that either the new deal or the pact is a bad thing.  Their core for us is the transfer of material – including in “cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and undersea capabilities”, as Boris Johnson put it last week – not that of troops, for all the recent journey of the Carrier Strike Group to the South China Sea.

As he went on to say, “this project will create hundreds of highly skilled jobs across the UK, including in Scotland, the north of England and the midlands,” including perhaps the Red Wall-ish areas of Barrow and Derby.

The deal also shows how fast time moves and frail attention spans can be.  Only a month ago, Joe Biden’s sudden withdrawal from Afghanistan raised the prospect of an isolationist America withdrawing into itself.  Any prudent British government should be alert to the possibility and what it could mean for the future of Europe.

AUKUS is a sign that, whatever else might happen elsewhere, the United States is commited to the Indo-Pacific and that, as in Afghanistan, there is continuity between what Donald Trump did and what Biden is doing.

There has been a startling shift there in attitudes to America within the last five years or so – just as there has been one here since David Cameron declared a new “golden age” in Anglo-Sino relations.  That was before Brexit.  Of which there is a point to be made about the pact and the deal.

In the wake of Biden’s Afghanistan decision, Remain obsessives raised our exit from the EU, suggesting that it was responsible for Johnson failing to persuade Biden to delay the withdrawal, because Washington no longer listens to us.

Never mind that Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel took much the same position.  The boot is now on the other foot.  Some of our fellow Leavers argue that were it not for Brexit, Britain would never have abandoned France for America and Australia – just as, were it not for our exit from the EU, the Government wouldn’t have summoned up the nerve to get on with our own Covid vaccine programme.

Like other counter-factuals, this one is unprovable.  And the lure of new jobs, plus the tug of Anglo-American and Anglo-Australian relations, might have been enough to lure some other Prime Minister in an EU member Britain to make the same decision.

What can safely be said is that our relationship with America carries on as before, regardless of Brexit, and that Britain remains a member of the UN Security Council, the G7, NATO, the Commonwealth, and is one of Europe’s two armed powers, a top five aid donor, and in the top ten influential nations list on any reckoning.  All of which Leavers spelt out during the referendum campaign.

The Global Britain slogan has been ridiculed but, whatever one’s view of leaving the EU, it touches on a fundamental reality which AUKUS, that G7 membership, that Security Council presence and all the rest of it helps to illustrate.

Liz Truss is straight out the traps banging that drum, but it is worth pondering Global Britain, as suits that spherical image, in the round.  Europe is part of the globe.  It is a lot closer to us than Australia, if not in kinship than at least in distance.  And, as we have seen, a conflict in our continental hinterland would disturb us more immediately than one in an Asian sea.

Which takes us to France, and an entente that at present isn’t all that cordiale.  It’s scarcely unknown for Macron to withdraw its ambassadors when piqued: in recent years, they were brought home from Italy and Turkey.

But he will be very bruised, not least because the deal and the pact seem to have been firmed up in private between the three powers during the recent G7, while he was talking up France’s relationship with America (plus its interests in the Indo-Pacific), and taking potshots at Britain over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The real-life cast of The Bureau – i.e: the French intelligence services – may have been asleep on the job, and there is certain to be an inquest.  British crowing at the Gallic cockerel’s embarrassment is inevitable.

But while your own neighbour next door may eventually move out, France won’t be going anywhere, and it isn’t in our interest for this complex relationship to cool further.  France is our only major military partner in Europe (and elsewhere: see Mali), a top five trading one, home to up to 400,000 Brits, the source of most of those channel boats, and tortously intertwined with our culture and history.

Nord 2 has brought Germany closer to Putin’s orbit.  The former’s election takes place soon.  Whatever the result, France will feel the tug from Germany, as will the whole EU.  We don’t want to see the latter plump itself up as a potential rival to NATO.  But it would help us, America, and Europe itself for our neighbours – bearing that Russian presence in mind – to spend more on defence.

Their unwillingness to do so (Mark Francois recently set out the figures on this site), Germany’s passivity and a certain strain in French thinking suggests a drift into the Russian orbit.

De Gaulle’s ambivalence about the old Soviet Union, on which he blew cool post-war and warmer later on, had its roots in a French cultural antagonism to America and periods of alliance with Russia.  The ghost of the General will believe that AUKUS proves him right: that when push comes to shove, Britain will always throw its lot in with its American cousins.

We should turn a new page with France, or at least try to  – and remember that while a tilt to the Indo-Pacific is a one thing, a lunge there would be quite another.  Putin hasn’t “gone away, you know”. And Islamist extremism hasn’t, either.

Garvan Walshe: Russia’s building up troops on Ukraine’s border. Here’s what we can do to stymie Putin.

15 Apr

Garvan Walshe is a former national and international security policy adviser to the Conservative Party.

Tanks rolling towards the Ukrainian border. Paratroopers in Crimea. Mechanised troops to the Kaliningrad enclave on the Baltic sea between Poland and Lithuania. A “rotational” but in effect permanent presence on Ukraine’s frontier with Belarus.

These are just the most obviously military steps in Russia’s campaign to divide and confuse the West, and test the mettle of the Biden Administration.

They come as tensions increase in East Asia, with China increasing pressure on Taiwan, and the US trying to enlist Japan into backing up the island. The question on Russia’s mind is who are the Japans – the large, democratic American allies – of Europe?

Moscow could be forgiven for thinking there aren’t any. France was suckered into attempting a “reset” in relations in exchange for cooperation in the North Africa that never materialised. How seriously can Germany be taken until it cancels Nordstream 2? And the UK has just released a review of strategy promising a military tilt towards the Indo-Pacific.

Russia’s big disadvantage is that its economy is still relatively small (its GDP is the same as that of Spain and Portugal, or the Nordic countries), and its autocratic regime needs an expensive repressive apparatus to hold onto power.

Its advantage, however, is that such wealth as it has comes from natural resources, and these are easy for the ruling elite to capture. It’s much easier for the “Collective Putin”, as the ruling elite is sometimes known, to spend them on internal security, military hardware and foreign subversion than it is for a democracy constrained by law, voters unhappy about tax rises, and expensive welfase states.

Putin’s central belief is that the world is a transactional place where raw power is decisive. He finds it difficult to understand the Western talk of values, and dismisses it as cant, just has he knows that Russian lines about non-interference in the affairs of other nations or respect for international frontiers are empty propaganda – to be used, or discarded, as convenient.

But if he cannot quite fathom the levels of trust that Western countries still have for one another, he knows how to erode it by supporting nationalists from Marine Le Pen (whose party received loans from a Russian bank) to Alex Salmond (still a presenter on Russia Today), and of course, Donald Trump.

But 2021 has worsened the strategic environment. Biden has bluntly called him a “killer”. The autumn’s elections in Germany could deliver the Greens (who are not only anti-Putin, but anti-the oil and gas from which he makes his money).

His only solid European ally is Hungary, whose government has bought Russia’s vaccine, hired Rosatom to renovate its nuclear power plant, agreed to host and give diplomatic immunity from regulatory oversight,to the Russian state International Investment Bank, and provided a permissive environment for Russian spies. Viktor Orban’s collaboration with Putin, is however, enough to neutralise the EU’s Russia policy and limit the effectiveness of NATO.

The latest military build up is another attempt to increase pressure on the alliance now that Trump is no longer in a position to destroy it. Ukraine, which was formally offered a path to NATO membership in 2008, has repeated its request to join, splitting its friends from those who profess to be afraid to “poke the bear.”

But if immediate NATO membership for Ukraine is currently off the table, there is an opportunity here for the UK to be a “North European” Japan, and anchor North European security against Russia in support of the US-led alliance. This role should naturally fall to the UK, since France is heavily committed in North Africa, and Germany cannot be expected to be decisive, especially during a year where the election coincides with Russia’s annual Zapad military exercises.

Britain is in a position to convene a coalition of European countries worried about Russia, including Poland, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and the Baltic states, possibly with Ukraine in association. A semi-formal initiative and northern analogue of France’s European Intervention Initiative, but obviously more defensive in nature, could focus on reinforcing the territorial integrity of its members, as well as security of the Baltic sea, and develop programmes of mutual assistance in civil resilience for circumstances below those that would warrant the invocation of NATO’s Article Five.

Such an initiative would, I believe, be well received in Washington, where a reinforcement of Britain’s role in the Euro-Atlantic, and not just the distant Indo-Pacific, theatre would bring significant relief.

Johnson – “Our new, full-spectrum approach to cyber will transform our ability to protect our people”

13 Mar

The Integrated Review will be published on Tuesday.  That’s to say, the Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, to give the document its full title.  Boris Johnson will make a Commons statement.

And he steps up the pre-publicity today by saying that the review will commit to a new, full spectrum approach to the UK’s cyber capability – announcing the establishment of a ‘cyber corridor’ across the North of England and, he claims, thousands of jobs. The Prime Minister said:

“Cyber power is revolutionising the way we live our lives and fight our wars, just as air power did 100 years ago. We need to build up our cyber capability so we can grasp the opportunities it presents while ensuring those who seek to use its powers to attack us and our way of life are thwarted at every turn.

“Our new, full-spectrum approach to cyber will transform our ability to protect our people, promote our interests around the world and make the lives of British people better every day.”

The Government says that opening a new headquarters for the National Cyber Force (NCF) in the North of England will drive growth in the tech, digital and defence sectors outside of London, and help create new partnerships between government, the sector and universities in the region.

The NCF was created last year to transform the UK’s capacity to conduct targeted offensive cyber operations against terrorists, hostile states and criminal gangs – drawing together personnel from both defence and the intelligence agencies under one unified command.

Opening the HQ of the NCF in the North of England will drive growth in the tech, digital and defence sectors outside of London and help create new partnerships between government, the sector and universities in the region, Government sources claim.

They add that “the review will set out the importance of cyber technology to Britain’s way of life – whether by defeating enemies on the battlefield, making the internet a safer place or developing cutting-edge tech to improve people’s lives”.

Defence currently sustains more than 35,000 jobs in the North West of England alone. Ten thousand people are employed in maritime design in Barrow and 12,000 people work in advanced aerospace engineering and manufacturing at Samlesbury Aerospace Enterprise Zone, where the UK is producing the fifth generation F-35 stealth aircraft.

In addition to the NCF,  last year saw the creation of the 13th Signals Regiment, the first dedicated cyber regiment, and expanded the Defence Cyber School. These capabilities will play a part in operations, including HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first global deployment this year.

We now wait to see what mix of cyber and conventional capabilities the review proposes; what it says about the major foreign policy and security challenges, and where development fits in – as the Government prepares to abandon the 0.7 per cent GNI aid target, at least temporarily.

The challenges should shape the capabilities – on paper, anyway, though that is more often than not the case in the breach than the observance.  If the review stresses, say, naval and cyber capability at the expense of the army, what does that imply for the potential defence of the Baltic states from Russia?

What is Boris Johnson’s position on China, where the UK’s trade and security interests are at odds, Conservative backbenchers are in revolt over China’s abominable treatment of the Uighars, and Dominic Raab, this very day, has accused China of breaching the joint declaration on Hong Kong?

Finally, does the Government now believe that there is no major third threat to Britain’s security – from Islamist extremism, which dominated the security conversation from 9/11 through 7.7 to the murder of Lee Rigby and beyond? It didn’t get so much as a mention in the Prime Minister’s recent speech to the Munich Security Conference.

The review’s launch this week will be followed by a Defence White Paper next: that’s the document in which cuts and scalebacks will be announced.  A procurement review will come in its wake.

Meanwhile, there’s at least one select committee report in the immediate pipeline – the Defence Select Committee report on procurement itself.  Busy times for the Ministry of Defence in the immediate future then,.