Mark Francois: Why, following the crisis in Afghanistan, Johnson must avoid a Love Actually moment with Biden

25 Aug

Mark Francois is the MP for Rayleigh and Wickford, a former Armed Forces Minister and a Member of the House of Commons Defence Committee.

There is an old saying that hindsight makes geniuses of all of us. However, the events of the last fortnight in Afghanistan have certainly demonstrated a lack of foresight, especially in the Biden White House.

When Parliament was recalled to discuss what went gone wrong, I was one of those who was highly critical of the Biden Administration for withdrawing so hastily, which has led to a strategic defeat for NATO, for the first time in its 72-year history.

Whole libraries have been written about the so-called “special relationship” between the United Kingdom and the United States. The term itself was first coined by Winston Churchill, whose very close relationship with US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was fundamental to the allied victory in World War Two.

Similarly, the very strong partnership between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan was undoubtedly essential to winning the Cold War. Although it is often overlooked, a young Senator Joe Biden even supported the UK’s position during the Falklands Crisis in 1982.

Nevertheless, 39 years on, Biden’s address to the American people on August 16 2021 was inherently isolationist. It put US domestic political interests way above foreign policy considerations and America’s relations with its allies, including us.

So, what should we do now? Does our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, need to create a “Love Actually moment” of his own and start making Johnsonian wisecracks about Americans invoking the 25th Amendment? Probably not. But some are now asking can we credibly create a European defence, sufficient to deter a revanchist Russia, without the active involvement of the United States?

NATO now has 30 member nations, a third of which now meet the recommended alliance minimum of spending at least two per cent of their GDP on Defence. According to NATO’s own latest figures, (which helpfully compare apples with apples), Greece is now the highest spender in proportional terms, at an estimated 3.82 per cent in 2021, compared to 3.52 per cent for the United States.

The UK is now fourth at 2.29 per cent; with all three Baltic States a bit over 2.0 per cent. France sits almost exactly on 2.0 per cent, with Italy on 1.41 per cent and Spain, at barely one per cent at all. Still, in most cases this actually represents an increase, since Russia invaded Crimea and Eastern Ukraine in 2014.

France, which maintains Armed Forces broadly comparable to Britain’s, including its own strategic nuclear deterrent, has increased its defence spending over the last seven years, has bilateral Defence ties with the UK under the auspices of the Lancaster House Agreement and is involved in a number of Anglo-French equipment programmes.

However, the calls by President Macron of France for the creation of a “European Army” have not been met by a sizeable increase in the French Defence budget to help facilitate such a concept which, for a number of NATO nations, including the U.K. is politically unrealistic anyway. Still, the French do maintain professional and operationally credible armed forces, which exercise regularly with our own.

But the great drag anchor in terms of any increased European defence capability is Germany. Although Germany recently signed a low-key bilateral defence declaration with the UK (described by one colleague of mine as, “a poor man’s Lancaster House”) even now the German defence budget has been only creeping upwards, to 1.53 per cent of GDP this year and is not due to achieve the two per cent target for several years yet – much to the repeated annoyance of former President Trump.

Moreover, the German Armed Forces are now a shadow of their former, highly operationally focused, Cold War selves. Much of Germany’s military equipment is in poor repair, with depressingly low levels of operational availability in everything from submarines to fighter aircraft. They are also a risky industrial partner, because of increasingly hostile attitudes to defence exports within the Bundestag.

Similarly, Germany’s close relationship with Russia, for instance in advocating the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, may suit Germany’s peacetime energy needs but does not help bolster NATO security, especially among its Eastern European members.

Much now hinges on the forthcoming German Federal Elections, with the era of the Merkel ascendency coming to an end and the race for her successor seemingly wide open.

Whether the largest party emerging from the elections is the CDP/CSU or the SPD, any subsequent coalition Government which meaningfully involves either Der Linke or the Greens is unlikely to be keen on the sort of very significant increase in German defence spending – and hardening of the line on Russia – that would likely be required to give a meaningful edge to a European Defence identity. Pious declarations are all very well but, as Stalin brutally put it: “How many divisions has the Pope?”

So, where does all this leave us? First, it means that we should look to strengthen defence ties with our European allies – but with a clear-eyed realism about the limits of what this is likely to achieve. For the foreseeable future, the idea that NATO’s European partners could credibly deter Russia entirely on their own is completely fanciful; they just aren’t prepared to pay for it – and even the most junior analyst in Moscow knows it.

That means that we need to try and repair the damage caused to NATO by the disastrous events of the past fortnight. In that context, the Anglo-American link is absolutely crucial. Historically, whoever has been in the White House or Downing Street, Anglo-American links at the diplomatic, military and intelligence (Five Eyes) have remained strong, and we now need to bolster them again. As one example, the previous US Ambassador, Woody Johnson, was a high-profile and popular Anglophile and we need to see someone equally charismatic appointed without delay.

Hard left opponents in Britain have sometimes railed about the “Anglo-American deep State”; well, if such a thing exists, now is surely the time to use all of these contacts to best advantage to bolster Western security.

To those in the American security establishment who have become obsessed with China, we need to remind them that Russia possesses thousands of nuclear weapons too, has invaded neighbouring countries on the European landmass within the last decade.

Russian spokesmen have even boasted about new nuclear torpedoes, which could cause an irradiated tsunami against cities on the eastern seaboard of the United States (and NATO believes these weapons actually exist). Finally, Taiwan, while an important Western ally, is not a member of NATO – but Estonia most certainly is.

The Atlantic Charter, which led, in turn, to the creation of the United Nations, was originally an Anglo-American construct. The American Eagle and the British Lion have stood side by side in defence of the free world for many decades now and we cannot allow any one individual, no matter how senior, to get in the way of that.

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.

Dom Morris: The focus on physical contest is compromising national security. An upcoming review must change that.

2 Aug

Dom Morris is a Conservative campaigner, writer, farmer and foreign affairs advisor.

It has been reported that Dominic Cummings has been visiting defence and security establishments in the last few weeks. This is of course in the run-up to the UK’s Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review. Cummings is fighting the security establishment “blob”; one that is obsessed with troop numbers and antiquated battlefield charges. Recently the Defence Secretary allegedly banned senior officers from talking about their respective services because of tribal one-upmanship.

I have never understood why organisations wishing to advance are sent on a “retreat”. I am beginning to feel the same way about this Integrated Review. An essential effort bringing together our defence, development and diplomatic capabilities into a single set of ends, way and means; the Integrated Review is starting to feel more like a (tribal) retreat than an integrated “advance”. Staring through the rear-view mirror at yesterday’s wars, we must look out over the dashboard and onto a new horizon that is more complex and more contested.

The same old lobbying messages are being churned out from the national security blob in advance of the Integrated Review. There are no innovative messages about transformation, just the same old: can the Queen Elizabeth Carrier take on China? How many soldiers makes an army, one division or two? Do we even need the Royal Marines and in what rig (*uniform)? Why do we need an airborne brigade?

Spoiler alert. It’s not how big it is, it’s how you use it. And I suspect that Cummings knows this.

We are suffering from a Clausewitzian delusion that has indoctrinated our national security community. Clausewitz focused upon fighting adversary’s military forces in the physical domain (*battlefield) – his doctrine has led us to a groupthink focusing on a physical contest while our adversaries have moved on.

It is no longer just about soldier vs soldier, plane vs plane and ship vs ship. Our lightweight understanding of Clausewitz has seen an institutional subjugation to his work. The different arms of government and the military largely analyse, plan and deliver separately. From planning to measurement of effect (*results), we apply a 19th Century philosopher living in fiefdom and fealty, to complex 21st Century constant competition.

We are obsessed by troop numbers and a myopic campaigning approach predicated on change only happening on the battlefield – there is no accepted methodology for integrating politics, information campaigns and behaviour change capabilities into the blob’s campaigning machine. No rheostat to turn up our posture against Russia or China across the physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space in an orchestrated fashion – we need a graphic equaliser!

The world has changed and so too has conflict. There is no longer “home” and “away”, no longer peace and war. Our adversaries fight us every day across multiple domains, able to accept multiple failures but quickly reinforcing success. Russia Today, Salisbury, Huawei, vaccine disinformation campaigns. It you are shaking your head, read the Gerasimov doctrine. The Russians have been overt about the new covert. Piling resources, capabilities, and expertise into new, subtle ways of disrupting the rules-based system in order to escape its wrath on Crimea and Syria.

Our adversaries wish to contest, and, where necessary, defeat us on the airwaves and in people’s minds to avoid meeting us on the battlefield. And the Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating these trends. Rather than finding and fighting our adversary’s military and security apparatus on the battlefield, we must contest and, where necessary, defeat their nation state to offer their populations something better restore global stability.

This endeavour is multi-domain and must take us far beyond traditional battlefields. What people see on social media has as much chance of changing behaviours as security forces on the ground (*war in 140 characters). Our immature doctrine has begun to recognise these domains; physical, information, cognitive, cyber and space. But we must be more radical.

Every commander in the military fears the Question Four (*has the situation changed?) moment. In the middle of an Integrated Review, has something fundamental to our success changed? In national security terms the answer is a profound “yes” and the Integrated Advance should recognise this immediately.

Nothing less than a transformative national security programme will prepare us for this new Covid world. An Integrated Transformation must bring together all her Majesty’s Government’s levers of power, orchestrated in an [AI]evidence-led fashion. For constant competition (*rather than liberal tides raising all boats) is here to stay and we are losing the peace, let alone winning the war.

Here are some quick wins to kick start an Integrated Advance:

1. Conduct a “Project Solarium” to inform the Integrated Review – Just like President Eisenhower did when things changed with Russia, lock Britain’s best from academia, practitioners, senior officers and techies in Downing Street until they come up with a punchy, transformative National Security Directive to create a new security architecture.

2. Build a National Operations centre to bring together the disparate departments into a 24/7 capability owned by the National Security Adviser – Presently departmental Sir Humphreys pull the strings aloft the National Security Council.

3. Embrace data and bring in the techies – Our analysis capabilities are third world. AI, information domain and cognitive capabilities must be prioritised.

4. Triple the Military Strategic Effects budget – We spend nowhere near enough on information and cognitive campaigning.

5. Sack some seniors – There is a risk aversion and a refusal to transform amongst some seniors. On a combat fitness test, those that lag behind get chopped. The stakes are higher here.

6. Promote techies – Send a signal to thrusters (*commanders tipped for the top) that it’s no longer teeth arm (*a military’s fighting troops) that get to the top. Show the chiefs of tomorrow that it is no longer just about heavy metal, they need to strap into a laptop.

7. Reward innovation and risk taking – Presently they are punished.

8. Open leadership positions across the national security community to Britain’s best in the private sector, academia and tech companies. The senior leadership are neither incentivised, nor rewarded for changing fast enough. Competition will change that.

9. Establish a National Security College – Cross-domain contest is not taught, there is no unifying doctrine. We don’t expect our soldiers to go to war without training, neither should our leaders.

10. Develop a single planning process across government to orchestrate multi-domain contest. Presently National Security Council decisions are enacted by departments planning in isolation, is it any wonder that cross-government plans don’t join up?

11. Transform the structures of Procurement through rapid cross functional teams – Adopt the American procurement/’worx’ (e.g. SOFWorx) programmes leading rapid innovation and pull through – connect the clever people, industry and the user (the soldier) to rapidly develop kit and capability according to user need.

Unless the Integrated Review turns into a Transformative Advance I fear that Sergeant Major Cummings will give Project Blob a reshow (*failure of standards on parade – do it again!)