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China’s victory in Ukraine

By Edward Lucas

(First published by CEPA)

A secret US-brokered deal gave the Chinese Communist Party a European foothold. Be cross, not grateful

Did you see our decision-makers quail as the Chinese tanks crunched through the streets of Berlin, Brussels, London and Paris, establishing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as the arbiter of Europe’s security? Me neither. But according to Owen Matthews, a veteran Russia-watcher (and — full disclosure — an old friend of mine), that is in effect what has happened. 

Most of his new book “Overreach” is an insightful account of Russia’s war in Ukraine. Unlike some other accounts, Matthews’s research includes in-depth reporting from inside the Russian power structures. He ably depicts the Kremlin’s paranoid, nihilist worldview, the suffering it has unleashed, and the still bleaker prospects that await us. 

But half-buried in the book is a scoop, now gaining increasing attention, about a backstairs US-China deal not to “escalate” the conflict. The US administration apparently blocked Poland’s attempt to send elderly MiG-29 warplanes to Ukraine. In return China agreed not to supply Russia with the equipment it desperately needed. It has also, apparently, sternly warned the Kremlin against nuclear escalation. 

This fits the facts. The American flipflop over the MiGs was mystifying. Chinese displeasure at the Kremlin’s recklessness is palpable, belieing the supposed “no limits” Sino-Russian partnership. Vladimir Putin’s war machine has struggled to find the chips, drones, trucks and shells it needs. China could have supplied them in profusion. 

But other factors are in play too. As Matthews notes, China matters far more to Russia than vice versa. Chinese trade with the European Union and United States is $1.5 trillion annually; with Russia it is just one-fifteenth of that. By far the biggest factor weighing on Chinese calculations was the need to prevent even greater strain on its economic ties with the West — and particularly to avoid sanctions. The CCP leadership prizes stability. A breach in the nuclear taboo, or a collapse in the credibility of the US nuclear deterrent shield, could prompt a free-for-all in which countries such as Japan go nuclear. That would not, put mildly, suit China. 

It certainly suits the CCP to be seen as a responsible actor in global security: in the words of Matthews’s source, positioning itself as “our last hope for peace in this world”. Such a posture contrasts sharply with its saber-rattling over Taiwan, its fortification of the South China Sea’s rocks and reefs, and its thin-skinned response to outside criticism. 

Some aspects of this are welcome. No matter the motives, it is better to constrain Putin than to incite him to more violence. But the real story is not of China’s guile or clout. It is about the United States nervously making a deal with a hostile superpower over the heads of its European friends. This has involved stopping one ally, Poland, providing military aid that might have saved Ukrainians from death and destruction. That is part of a bigger story: nine months into the war, it is quite clear that Western efforts are agonisingly slow and stingy; the price has been paid in Ukrainian blood and tears. 

The long-term result is to make China for the first time look like a contributor to European security rather than a threat to it. The message, put crudely, is that if you want to stop the Ukraine war boiling over, be nice to Beijing. Having been given this American-made leverage, the CCP will assuredly use it. 

The West’s China policy should focus on unity, not concessions. This misbegotten exercise in Realpolitik leaves us no safer. The US, for all its military might, prioritized avoiding escalation in a conflict rather than values or victory. That is excellent news for autocrats, less so for allies. 

Blowing Hot and Cold

(First Published in The Times of London)

By Edward Lucas

Russia’s military collapse is accelerating. Now what? 

Heat speeds up decomposition. But in the military, it is cold that corrodes. As the temperature drops, it takes more effort to move about and you get hungrier more quickly. If supplies fail to match need, morale sinks. Desertion, surrender, looting and mutiny all start looking more attractive. Actual fighting, less so. 

In the past, General Winter was Russia’s great ally. But now the cold months are helping Ukraine. Its soldiers are better equipped, better trained, better led, better treated and therefore more highly motivated. Russians, by contrast, are paying the price for their system’s endemic incompetence and corruption. When you are wearing the wrong clothes, the cold bites hard. Just ask the Germans and the French, who invaded Russia wearing their summer uniforms. Modern technology makes things worse: the thermal signature of vehicles, and even human warmth, is more conspicuous to infra-red cameras. Russians suffered from that at the tail-end of last winter, nine months ago. Now it will hurt them again.

Russia badly needs a pause, to regroup and refit, but has little chance of enjoying one: Ukraine is on the front foot now and will press home its advantage. Long-range strikes are having a devastating effect on Russia’s already-flimsy logistics. The longer this goes on, the higher the chance of a Russian military collapse. That will raise the stakes in the power-struggle that is already going on in the Kremlin. It is bad to lose a fight in Ukraine. It is even worse to lose one in Moscow. 

Putin’s options are narrowing. On the battlefield, Russia is redeploying the forces it withdrew from Kherson to reinforce its defensive positions and continue its costly attack on Bakhmut. Newly mobilised forces are arriving. But that is not the real frontline. Modern urban societies cannot survive without water, sewerage and electricity. The Kremlin hopes that their systematic destruction will force Ukraine’s leaders into retreat. I hope our generosity when it comes to supporting Ukraine now, and rebuilding it in the future, matches the easy words of praise uttered for the country’s astonishing resilience.

The Kremlin’s other big hope is that Ukraine’s friends lose interest and cut their supplies of money and equipment. It is true that public support has shifted a little. But Rishi Sunak, Britain’s new prime minister, made a trip to Kyiv his top priority. The supposed isolationist tide in the Republican Party failed to rip through Congress. Left-wing Democrats who turned briefly squishy in their support for Ukraine quickly fell silent. The White House slapped down talk that it was trying to arm-twist Ukraine into talks with Russia. 

This is a dismal outcome for Russia’s vaunted arsenal of “hybrid warfare” tactics. Over the past nine months it has used energy cut-offs, propaganda, cyber-attacks and nuclear sabre-rattling to cow the West. Nothing has worked. Overall, Western countries are stepping up their military and other support for Ukraine. It is much easier to back a winner than a loser.

Yet this is no cause for congratulation. The real question for the West is why it did not support Ukraine more, and earlier. It is also worth remembering how many warnings about Russia’s repressive, aggressive trajectory were ignored, over how many years.

We can see that Russian politics is nearing boiling temperature. A further mobilisation, now being mulled by the Kremlin, may prove the tipping point. Putin, in my view, will not see another winter. The task for the West is to get ready for what comes next, whether it is a junta, a superficially friendly regime, or chaos leading to partial or even full disintegration of the Russian state.

Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash

TAG PREMIUM BLOG: Russia’s War in Ukraine: A Strategy for Old Timers

By Georges Henri Soutou

Ukraine is defending itself against Russia’s aggression by a fascinating combination of old techniques and equipment and the deft use of new technology and intelligence. It is being watched closely by NATO and adversaries.

The next war would be high tech, high intensity warfare, we were told. Up to now the war in Ukraine has been high tech, but also low tech, and certainly high intensity, but instead of a quick spasm we are experiencing a more and more drawn out conflict with phases of varying activity, which reminds us of both World Wars. Historians begin to feel more at ease with this war than was believed possible initially.

Railways are back! The historians have followed their strategic significance since the American Civil War through the great European Wars, but they became neglected (some types of Western tanks cannot be transported by rail). Now they are back, with both their advantages (capacity) and drawbacks (a rigid grid). We note that the Wehrmacht in Russia was able to fight 450 kilometres ahead of its rail-heads, for the Russians now it is more like 100 kilometres.

“General Winter” and “Rasputitsa” are also back as strategic factors. Procuring departments will have to take that into account for the next generations of combat vehicles.

In 1914, ordnance for the new French 75mm gun was exhausted after less than two months. But the Army had kept in storage the former “de Bange” system, with tens of millions of shells. It was less advanced than the 75mm, but it did the job. The Russians are doing the same, going back to T 62 tanks and unguided missiles. Lesson: never throw away anything, which was a widely held view in the impoverished Europe of the 1950s – a view with which we oldies are familiar but which became forgotten.

Bombardments of civilians are very much back, either indiscriminate or focused on utilities, with the same alternating rationale between achieving tangible results for degrading the enemy’s war making capacity or just trying to demoralise civilians. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey is once again a useful reading.

The Ukrainian reaction to those bombings, which seems to be effective, will need to be assessed, like the quite effective work of the German Technische Nothilfe organization in World War Two.  Of course, bombardments never ceased since 1945 elsewhere on the planet, but they are now back in the “Western” part of the world, a fact which will be closely monitored by many malevolent States.

Another throwback to past discussions is the uncertain value of economic sanctions, or “blockade”, as they said in 1914. Did they play a decisive role in the victory against Germany during both World Wars, or could they be largely circumvented, and did they rather help the German authorities to mobilize public opinion? The very same discussion applies to Russia today. It is any case sure that the quick collapse of Russian economy which many expected did not take place.

But the adverse consequences for the blockading countries are a new factor, because the world economy has become much more complex than in 1914 or 1939. The only thing which Great Britain really missed in 1914 were German optics for the Royal Navy. They were acquired through Switzerland…  

Now France (I shall stick to her case) is experiencing growing problems and uncertainties, not uniquely but largely linked to sanctions, with possible political reverberations in the near future. A much more refined analysis of the pros and contras of sanctions will be needed in the future.

But we have also learned other new lessons. As for the fading value of Crimea-like “hybridity”, although I rather admired the 2014 Crimean operation. It was swift and sufficiently ambiguous to deter outside interference. But this time, that strategy failed at the beginning of the war, in the suburbs of Kiev because Moscow misjudged the Ukrainian government, army and people. 

Another new lesson: the combination of Info-centric warfare as well as rockets and drones of all kinds, from low tech to high tech, seems to be more efficient than we imagined, with at times a merging of secret services “active measures” and outright war-fighting which gives food for thought.

But that combination can be generalised – even for non-State organizations, which could easily acquire the simpler kinds of drones. I note that Germany has taken the lead in organizing an air defence system for Central Europe, drawing on the Israeli experience, which seems to become suddenly very relevant for Europe. All that is new, or rather had been forgotten since 1945 because putative adversaries were far away or technically impotent, and because, of course, of nuclear deterrence.

Which leads us to further questions: what is the meaning of nuclear deterrence today? And, to make myself yet more friends, what do those new developments mean for forces projection and particularly for aircraft carriers? That is all quite rejuvenating! And for another TAG blog.

Georges-Henri Soutou is an Emeritus Professor at Sorbonne University and member of the Institut de France.

“This Means War” Podcast: Future War in 2035 and Deterrence

Chairman of The Alphen Group, Julian Lindley-French, recently appeared on “This Means War”, a podcast on contemporary warfare and the future of fighting. You can find the episode linked below or on any major podcast streaming service.

Episode Description: According to the report of a conference of great strategic brains during October 2022, the world will look pretty ugly in 2035 – in national security terms, let alone across societal evolution. Between Chinese exceptionalism, what-remains-of-Russia’s military and Moscow’s unbridled imperialist ambition, a North Korea with strategic reach, a meddling and strategically important Iran, and the extraordinary climate change effects across Africa and South Asia, military forces are likely to broken by the sheer scale of commitments they face – certainly in their predicted forms. Between now and then, there might be just enough time to make some critical corrections and place democracies in a state where they can at least face the tasks yet – as Professor Julian Lindley French explains – an absence of political leadership, ambition, strategy and vision will be our undoing. In having to decide between health security, economic security, and national security far too few political leaders across Europe, America and like-minded democracies seem to ready to make the difficult decisions.

You can also listen to the podcast on Apple iTunes:

Is Britain Failing the Riga Test? 

By Julian Lindley-French, Chair of The Alphen Group

“You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks”.

Winston Churchill

Britain and the Riga Test

November 2nd, 2022.  Is Britain about to fail the Riga Test?  Come the Autumn Statement (budget) on November 17th the financial reckoning of the pandemic lockdown will become apparent. There are also worrying signs that Britain’s new Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, might be about to renege on the commitments London made to NATO as recently as the June Madrid Summit. 

For many years I have had the honour of attending the superb annual Riga Conference. Each year I set the Riga Test: can the good citizens of Riga sleep easier in their beds than last year?  On the one hand, there is a major war in Ukraine raging south of Latvia involving its grizzly neighbour Russia, whilst on the other, Russia’s brutal incompetence, allied to NATO’s strategic re-awakening, should give Rigans grounds for confidence.  It was also Britain, not the EU, Germany or France, which took the lead in supporting Ukraine when Russia invaded, but that was then and this is now. Since then what passes for the British Government has been mired in the kind of political self-indulgence one normally finds at the Oxford Union.

Is Britain declining?

Let me make a bold assertion: Britain is not declining, it is simply very badly led.  Sadly, the ‘all things being equal’, geopolitically-illiterate economists who control matters and money in London like to trot out relative growth figures of countries such as China, India and Brazil as proof of Britain’s ‘terminal’ decline. However, they conveniently fail to point out the enormous internal challenges such countries face turning size, macro-wealth and macro-poverty into power. They also like to pretend that whatever the geopolitical backdrop the solution is always the same – focus on the electoral cycle, cut the things the public might not notice, and hope for the best.  It is hardly surprising defence is first in the firing line for cuts.

In fact, Britain has done its declining and there is a lot an advanced country of 70 or so million souls can do.  Britain sits off the north-west coast of a relatively stable Europe, is blessed with a world language and had the luxury of inventing time (Greenwich) to suit its interests.  Britain is also the world’s fifth or sixth largest economy, and in 2022 the world’s third largest defence spender. It also has a world-leading intelligence capability. And yet, it is precisely Britain’s big defence spending that reveals the depth of the British disease: London’s appallingly poor application of resources in the failed pursuit of much needed forces. Britain gets nothing like the pound for the Pound it invests in defence.   

Government is always about hard choices, but it is precisely because successive British governments have either failed to make such choices, or on the few occasions when they have it has invariably been the wrong choice driven by short-term politics rather than national strategy. The High Establishment even have a metaphor for kicking the British can down the global road – managing decline. They are not particularly good at even doing that.  

The core problem is the culture war is being fought out between much of government and the British people.  Much of the London elite is post-patriotic and refuses to recognise that to survive and prosper Britain must have interests and be prepared to defend them. Indeed, patriotism is a dirty word in many corridors of British power. Rather, what passes for government both in Westminster and Whitehall these days seems more akin to false flagging virtue, or simply appeasing reality, and is thus bereft of any strategic ambition. If there is no strategic ambition in government how can there be strategy?  If there is no strategy there can be no clear sense of ends, ways or means.

Blood, sweat and fears?

Could that change? 2022 is not 2010.  During the financial crisis NATO still saw Russia as a potential security partner and China as vital to economic security. In 2015, Cameron came close to selling the Crown Jewels to China less than a year after Putin had seized Crimea. Now that Russia has invaded Ukraine there is little evidence Europe will be at peace any time soon.

There is no question Britain finds itself facing a raft of hard economic choices, like many of its European peers.  That said, it was somewhat galling to read the current (this week at least) Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) Jeremy Hunt quote Churchill at war in 1940 to justify once again putting economic stability BEFORE national security. First, because Churchill actually did the opposite. Second, because during the recent contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party Hunt called for 4% GDP to be spent on defence. The Chancellor also said economic stability is the first duty of government.  Such stability is, of course, very important, but the first duty of government is national security and sometimes in history, as Churchill knew only too well, security and defence HAVE to be afforded whatever the financial situation. Such as when there is a major war in Europe underway involving a nuclear-tipped and unstable adversary of both Britain and NATO.

Britain now looks likely to return to Planet Cameron and its one-eyed mantra of, “We only afford as much threat as the bond markets say we can”. At a meeting of the European Research Group, Sunak refused to commit to spending 3% GDP on defence by 2030.  If past experience is anything to go by when a defence commitment is no longer a commitment it becomes an aspiration, and in politics ‘aspirations’ normally herald a government raid on the defence budget. In Britain this is usually so that ever more money can be poured into that apparently unreformable and unimpeachable Holy Relic called ‘our’ National Health Service.

Britain’s Potemkin power

Britain’s Potemkin power creates uncertainty just at the moment when NATO deterrence and defence needs Britain, France and Germany to step up to the challenge of anchoring European defence.  This is because the Americans are over-stretched and will become more so dealing with Russia and China.  For Britain to send a signal now that London wants to increase the pressure on the US and its forces by making America relatively weaker through a free-riding dereliction of NATO duty would be unforgivable. Sadly, it would not be the first time.

Therefore, let me put British defence expenditure in perspective. Between 1945 and 1960 Britain’s debt to GDP ratio was between 200% and 250%, today it is 96.6%. In 1950, British defence spending stood at 9.6% GDP, 5.9% in 1960 and remained high throughout the cash-strapped 1970s.  It remained as high as 5% GDP as late as 1989. Post-war Britain was far more cash-strapped than Britain today.  

For the sake of political politesse Sunak will probably claim he is committed to increasing the defence budget to 3% GDP by 2030, but not just yet.  After all, if a week is a long time in British politics, seven years is another geological age. He will also probably ‘back-load’ any increase to the back-end of the 2020s, albeit with a promise to maintain expenditure at 2% until at least 2026-27.  Defence will thus be someone else’s problem. 

The critical issue, given rampant inflation, and thus proof of Sunak’s defence-seriousness, will be whether London maintains its existing commitment to increase the defence budget 0.5% above inflation each year. If not, London will further hollow out an already hollowed out force and thus further undermine NATO deterrence and defence just at the moment Putin has announced decade of danger (in fact, I had called it that last week – I wonder).

Disintegrated review?

Britain likes to pretend it is building a strategic raider force. In fact, Britain’s forces are already far too small to be a quality force even if the force retains a certain quality. Quantity does have a certain quality especially when it is quality and one of the many lessons of the Ukraine War is that credible deterrence and defence demand a balance between quality and quantity that Britain has abandoned. It is also for this reason that institutions like NATO are the core of Britain’s strategic method precisely because they are mechanisms for balancing strategy, capability and affordability.  To make NATO 2030 work, and given Britain’s relative political and economic weight, London needs significantly more military capability at far higher capacity.

One had hoped Britain learnt its lesson following the disastrous 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review which sacrificed national security for financial ‘stability’.  Yet, the same old accountants (or ‘grown-ups’ as they like to style themselves) seem to be back in office determined as ever to aid Britain’s adversaries and NATO’s enemies by slashing one of the few influence tools allies and adversaries still respect. I hope I am wrong. 

One of the many findings of my Future War and Deterrence Conference, was not only the need for countries like Britain to resolve profound tensions in the life-cycles of platforms and systems but also the need to get ahead of the planning challenge posed by emerging and disruptive technologies. Britain has a chance to do that but not if Treasury and political short-termism once again put a hole in defence below the waterline.

Plan and deliver

What to do?  First, make the 3% commitment by 2030 law. Second, carry out a thorough audit of British defence procurement. There has been an almost criminal waste of money over the past 25 years on failed projects. The Ajax armoured infantry fighting Christmas Tree, sorry fighting vehicle, being but the latest such disaster. Third, treat the defence and technological industrial base as a national asset and involve business directly in an overhaul of defence planning and procurement. Fourth, and above all, develop a new strategy to re-capitalise the British armed forces by 2030 based on a threat-based assessment of ends, ways, and means.

Why? Britain and the world have been hit by repeated crises since 2001 – 911, the banking and Eurozone crisis, Brexit, COVID, and now Putin’s war.  It is precisely at such times of stress and shock that danger rears its ugly head in the form of military adventurism as autocrats and totalitarians fear both a threat to their own power and opportunity in equal measure.

Band of brothers?

Last week I had the distinct honour of giving the ‘band of brothers’ speech to some of Britain’s military leaders in the very room in the Tower of London to which the real Henry V returned after his victory at the Battle of Agincourt in October 1415.  We few, we happy few…and all that.  First, I looked more like Sir John Falstaff than the Boy King. Second, the words simply no longer resonate beyond a few in London these days. If there are further cuts, or whatever euphemism London chooses to employ as ‘spin’ (lies), it will kill any post-Brexit influence Britain has re-generated by its leadership in Ukraine. It will also destroy the defence momentum generated by Integrated Review 2021, and help hand the future multi-domain battlespace to Britain’s enemies. Washington will just shake a sorry head and move on. 

The whole point of defence investment is to prevent war through strengthened deterrence when others seem hell bent on fighting it. For Sunak that means answering several bloody big strategic questions. Are the bond markets really a greater threat to Britain than Putin or China’s just crowned and increasingly totalitarian President-for-Life Xi Jinping?  Must market speculators also be appeased, like Hitler in the 1930s? Or, do speculators also have an interest in defending the free world and free markets? Can Britain really again get off the world whilst London once again messes around with its endlessly shambolic economy?

The British armed forces must be rebuilt after a disastrous decade of strategic and defence pretence. 3% GDP would simply be a down-payment on such a responsibility during the coming decade of danger in a world that is no longer forgiving of such one-eyed weakness.  If not, and given the world in which we live, further cuts to Britain’s armed forces will doubtless mean some poor ill-equipped British soldier, sailor or airman could well find himself or herself unable to work with the more advanced Americans whilst at the same time facing a superior enemy with a reduced chance of survival. London would, of course, make its usual excuses. London always does.

If Britain fails the defence test it will not only be failing Latvians, Americans and its other allies and partners, it will be failing itself. For once, I hope I am wrong. Rigans? They might well be advised to heed another of Churchill’s warnings when dealing with London: “I no longer listen to what people say, just what they do. Behaviour never lies’.  Sorry Riga.

Julian Lindley-French is Chair of The Alphen Group and author of Future War and The Defence of Europe.

This article is part of the Chair’s Blog.

Putin’s next escalation is coming. How should the West respond?

(First published by the New Atlanticist in Washington)

By Hans Binnendijk, Alexander Vershbow, and Julian Lindley-French

Escalation is a cornerstone of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy in his war against Ukraine, especially as Ukrainian counter-offensives have steadily rolled back Russian gains. As his setbacks mount, it’s important to address some key questions: How can Ukraine and its partners prevent further escalation to the nuclear level while denying Russia a chance to seize victory from the jaws of defeat. And if such escalation occurs, how should the West respond?

After the initial attack on Kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities, Russian escalation has occurred in several phases in response to its losses on the battlefield. These include the artillery assault in the Donbas, Russia’s mobilization, illegal annexations and martial law in four oblasts, probable sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, and massive recent attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

In each case, Russian escalation was aimed at gaining battlefield advantage and breaking Ukraine’s will. It has not succeeded in either purpose. Nevertheless, Putin will undoubtedly escalate again in the face of failure to achieve his shrinking war aims and to stave off strategic defeat. Ignoring his threats to escalate further, including through the use of nuclear weapons, is not sound policy. Instead, measures need to be in place to deter and, if necessary, respond to this threat in ways that impose heavy costs for Russian misbehavior but do not further escalate the conflict.

Further escalation will depend on the battlefield situation

Ukraine has used the arms the United States and its NATO allies have provided to launch successful counter-offensives in the Kharkiv region and in parts of the Kherson region, and it has clawed back some of Russia’s mid-summer gains in Donbas. The jury is out as to whether these events will lead to a collapse of the Russian military effort in Ukraine or to a prolonged stalemate. While there are many signs of potential Russian military collapse, Russian forces are now digging in with the natural advantages of defensive positions. With more competent leadership under General Sergei Surovikin and additional manpower through mobilization, Moscow may be able to break the Ukrainian momentum and sustain a stalemate for some time.

Putin is unlikely to escalate to the tactical nuclear level if his forces manage to stabilize the battle lines. In that case, he would probably pursue his objectives through a war of attrition, continued efforts to impose a ceasefire, and attempts to divide NATO with calls for negotiations that would prevent Ukraine from recovering any more lost territory.

Under these circumstances, the United States and NATO should continue their successful policy of arms transfers to Kyiv, focusing on increased numbers of high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS), long-range artillery, offensive drones, modern tanks, and armored fighting vehicles to retake lost territory. In addition, they should supply air-defense and counter-drone systems to deal with Russia’s attack on Ukrainian cities. They should continue to do their utmost to achieve a Ukrainian victory—at least the recovery of most territory occupied since February 24 while avoiding escalating to a NATO-Russian war. Despite Russian rhetoric about a “proxy war” with the United States and NATO, Putin is keen to avoid direct NATO involvement, especially given the decimation of Russian equipment and manpower.

Can negotiations prevent further escalation?

The battlefield situation is not ripe for negotiations at this time. Russia has the largest incentive to establish a ceasefire that would allow it to retain Ukrainian territory it now occupies and that it risks losing to the Ukrainian counter-offensive.

Since the Kharkiv offensive, Ukraine has been on a roll militarily and has little reason to negotiate given Russian brutality against civilians, rampant war crimes, and efforts to eradicate Ukrainian national identity. Ukraine has also shifted its declared war aims from recovering all territory occupied since February 24 to recapturing all territory lost since 2014, including Crimea. There is zero interest in Kyiv in giving Putin any concessions when Russia is still demanding Ukraine’s political subjugation and demilitarization. Washington has stated that it will leave it to Ukraine to decide if and when to negotiate, effectively letting Ukraine strengthen its negotiating leverage on the battlefield before sitting down at the negotiating table.

If Ukraine can recapture more territory quickly, without further Russian escalation, then negotiations may not be needed. However, the need for a negotiated solution might increase if Russia can create a stalemate on the battlefield. If Ukraine continues with its successful counter-offensives, Putin might seek to force negotiations on Kyiv by further escalating the conflict.

The history of the Cuban Missile Crisis teaches us that US President John F. Kennedy was able to negotiate the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba by showing strength with a military quarantine but also by providing Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev with a fig leaf, the removal of obsolete Jupiter missiles from Turkey. Should negotiations be required to end the Ukraine war, a similar formula may be needed.

For any negotiations to work, better channels of communication to the Kremlin will also be needed. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has just taken one important step in that direction with his recent phone conversations with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. More direct communications are needed to reduce the danger of unintended escalation.

Possible options for Russian nuclear escalation

Putin has threatened further escalation, implying that he might use nuclear weapons and stating that he is “not bluffing.” But Moscow has not indicated what the threshold for such escalation might be—it may not know itself—and it may be a calculated bluff. Potential triggers for further escalation might include a Ukrainian victory in Kherson, additional successful Ukrainian military strikes or sabotage attacks in Crimea, the collapse or mass desertions of whole Russian military units in Ukraine, attacks on Russian cities by Ukrainian forces, the provision of long-range precision strike weapons to Ukraine by NATO, or the near-collapse of the Putin regime in Moscow.

Many analysts expect that if Putin actually escalated to nuclear use, it would be either a demonstration shot over the Black Sea or a limited tactical strike against Ukrainian forces. That tactical strike (using a very low-yield device) might include one or several targets, depending on what Putin believes is required to force Kyiv’s capitulation. Few believe that Putin would strike a NATO country, since that would mean an instant, losing war with NATO. However, a strike against a city in Western Ukraine cannot be ruled out. His purpose would be to turn European and especially German opinion against further support for Ukraine and to convince Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that he has no option but to accept a settlement on Russia’s terms.

More creative non-nuclear attacks should also not be ruled out: for example a dirty bomb (which Russia recently accused Ukraine of preparing to use in a false flag operation), a massive cyber strike, a limited poison gas attack against Ukrainian troops (as happened in Syria), the destruction of a major dam, or more severe attacks on a Ukrainian nuclear power plant.

Is Putin bluffing?

Many Western analysts believe that Putin is indeed bluffing with regard to nuclear use. They argue:

  • A small tactical battlefield strike would have little military value since Ukrainian troops are generally dispersed and Ukraine would fight on.
  • The radiation would affect Russian as well as Ukrainian troops.
  • Putin’s chain of command would stop him.
  • Putin would back down because nuclear use is probably a red line for China and India, countries that Putin needs as friends for diplomatic and economic purposes.

Others take the nuclear threat more seriously. They argue:

  • “Escalate to deescalate” (a strategy of limited nuclear strikes to force NATO to end a conventional conflict on Russian terms)—has been the Russian doctrine for years.
  • Putin’s purpose would be not to win on the battlefield but to freeze the battle and force a ceasefire or armistice on Russian terms.
  • Putin has demonstrated his brutality in Chechnya, Syria, and Ukraine.
  • If Putin believes his regime or the viability of the Russian Federation is at stake, he will not hesitate to use any weapons available to him.
  • Putin might believe that the Western coalition would crumble over a response.

Assuming that Putin is bluffing is not sound policy. The West has consistently miscalculated that Putin does not mean what he says. Douglas London, a former Central Intelligence Agency operations officer for Russia, argues that as a former Cold War KGB operative, Putin will probably “use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons if he believes doing so is the only means to preserve his power.” Assuming that regime change in Moscow will solve the escalation problem is also not sound policy, since Putin’s successor is likely to have a similar KGB background and anti-Western world view.

Taking the nuclear threat seriously does not mean withdrawing support for a Ukrainian victory or holding back on arms transfers. It does mean continuing to calculate the escalation risk of future NATO arms transfer decisions and to continue prudent planning about ways to deter and respond to such an attack.

Options for deterring and responding to nuclear use

A prudent planner must hedge against and seek to deter the threat of nuclear use. Getting the deterrence balance right is critical. The response needs to be painful enough to deter but not certain enough to lock in the responder to any one course of action should deterrence fail.

The Biden administration has sought to do this by publicly stating that there would be “catastrophic consequences” for Russia if it crossed the nuclear threshold. And it has privately provided some details about the nature of the US and Western response to leave Putin in no doubt that the costs of nuclear use, even a “demonstration” strike, would outweigh any benefits.

An array of responses to a nuclear strike (or use of any other weapons of mass destruction) would be available to NATO should deterrence fail. The mix would depend upon the nature of the Russian strike. The tools in ascending order of severity and risk might include the following.

Measures that would seek to punish Russia with limited risk of further nuclear escalation:

  • Seeking unanimous diplomatic condemnation for nuclear use at the United Nations.
  • Removing Russia from international organizations.
  • Removing Russia completely from the SWIFT financial messaging system.
  • Imposing a full trade and financial embargo on Russia (with the support of China and India).
  • Using seized Russian financial assets for Ukrainian reconstruction.
  • Agreeing on a date for Ukrainian membership in the European Union.

Measures that would punish Russia with some risk of further escalation:

  • Lifting the tacit limits on the provision to Ukraine of longer-range or more offensive weapons such as Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), F-16 fighter jets, and modern main battle tanks.
  • Allowing Ukraine to use NATO long-range weapons to target areas in Russia.
  • Sending some NATO military advisors to Ukraine for non-combat missions.
  • Agreeing on a date for Ukrainian membership in NATO.

Measures that would punish Russia with a higher risk of further escalation:

  • Attacking Russian forces in Ukraine with NATO troops, for example destroying the site from which the Russian nuclear strike was launched.
  • Attacking Russia’s Black Sea fleet with NATO aircraft.
  • Responding with an in-kind NATO nuclear strike on a Russian military target in Ukraine.

A prudent national security team would move carefully down this list, seeking ways to significantly punish Russia while maintaining escalation control. Allies may be reluctant to support an in-kind nuclear response, but for the sake of deterrence, NATO should preserve a measure of ambiguity about its readiness to use tactical nuclear weapons in some scenarios.

Hans Binnendijk is a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council. He previously served as special assistant to the president for defense policy on the US National Security Council and as director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies.

Alexander Vershbow is a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council. He served previously as NATO deputy secretary general, assistant US secretary of defense, and US ambassador to Russia and to NATO.

Julian Lindley-French is chairman of The Alphen Group and author of Future War and the Defense of Europe.

The Future War and Deterrence Conference Report

October 3rd – 5th, 2022

In partnership with The Alphen Group and with major funding support from NATO, sponsorship from Improbable Defence, Helsing, UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office with additional support from Airbus Defence and Space, BAE Systems, NATO Defence College and Premise Data

“If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change”

Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

Wilton Park and The Alphen Group jointly organised this three day, invitation only conference on future war and deterrence, bringing together over 60 leaders, experts, analysts and commentators from public policy and politics, the armed forces, the private sector, and from technology and innovation. Participants came from the democratic world across North America, Europe and Asia.

The conference methodology centred around six working groups – affordability and resilience, future force, policy, industry and innovation, strategy and technology. These groups met for the entire second day of the event (the conference programme can be viewed below). They constituted the key mechanism for delivering the conference outcomes, focused primarily on how to achieve enhanced deterrence of state on state conflict projected out to a horizon of 2035.

Following the main findings and recommendations below, the report takes up the conference proceedings, beginning with the opening plenary sessions that set the context for the working group deliberations, including lessons from the war in Ukraine. The report then summarises the outcomes of the six working groups. Appendices contain the full working group reports.

You can download the remainder of the report below

Britain’s image is taking a pounding

(First Published in The Times of London)

By Edward Lucas

International engagement can overwrite the dispiriting narrative of a chaotic and declining country

It is not just the credit-rating agencies. Our closest foreign friends are reassessing our political stability and the strength of our institutions. The verdict is biting. A country that used to be a byword for pragmatism is run by fantasists. Germany’s Der Spiegel calls us “Banana Island”, explaining how we became the “laughingstock of Europe”. The French daily Libération chronicles the latest instalment “in a high-powered exercise of self-destruction” that began with Brexit.

Only recently the world was gawping admiringly at the Queen’s funeral ceremonies. Those days in September now look like the end of an impressive era, not its continuation. “The Queen is gone, you might get Johnson back, we can’t believe it” laments Annette Dittert, a long-serving German television correspondent in London. Russia and China gloat at our discomfort: proof that democracy is a sham. Anglophobes snigger. But for most outsiders, Britain’s meltdown prompts pity, mixed with concern. Our self-deprecating humour is no longer funny.

Yet doom and gloom are only part of the story. I recently chaired a panel of international bigwigs at a conference in Washington, DC. These sprawling discussions can test even a seasoned moderator’s skill and when I learned of a last-minute addition, in the form of Boris Johnson, I groaned. But as we mulled the origins and possible outcomes of the war in Ukraine, the British guest visibly dazzled the politicians and pundits present. I had to pinch myself. They were taking my country, and my former prime minister, seriously.

It was partly personal: none of the other decision-makers on the panel had been to Kyiv so early or so often, or spoken to President Volodymyr Zelensky so much. Johnson’s quips raised laughs, too. But this was no comic turn. What really sticks in foreigners’ minds is not the well-thumbed charge sheet surrounding his departure from office, but that faced with the greatest crisis in European security in living memory, Johnson masterminded what in retrospect may be seen as Britain’s most successful defence intervention since the Falklands.

As Russia’s onslaught loomed, British and American intelligence worked together, with unprecedentedly speedy declassification of secret material, to expose Putin’s plans. When the offensive started, no other country in Europe provided such speedy and effective help, notably £2.3 billion worth of weapons and other equipment, plus financial aid, humanitarian assistance, intelligence, and a highly effective crash training programme for thousands of Ukrainian troops Admittedly, our efforts pale beside the US contribution, roughly seven times as much. Small European countries such as the Baltics have done proportionately more. But Britain’s efforts contrast sharply with German shilly-shallying and France’s empty grandstanding. Ukrainians are hugely grateful. Bate Toms of the British-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce likens Johnson to Winston Churchill and the Dukes of Marlborough and Wellington in standing up to continental tyrants.

The response to the Ukraine crisis has also underlined Britain’s role as the one big country in Europe that the Americans can really trust. Radek Sikorski, the former Polish foreign minister and member of the European Parliament, says post-Brexit Britain has found an “honourable role”, which is “to do the right thing before the EU has a chance to come to a consensus.”

Some continental friends, like Johnson’s domestic critics, overlook this or doubt his sincerity. The Ukraine policy was just grandstanding. Britain acts as America’s poodle in order not to descend into complete irrelevance. Johnson’s past record on standing up to Russia, especially to dodgy rich Russians, is lamentable. The refugee programme was badly administered. It is also true that Britain’s armed forces are grievously overstretched: deploying even one brigade to Europe for six months would test us to the utmost.

But however skinny the underlying capabilities, and however questionable the motives, in practice Britain has made and is making a profound difference. It is worth reflecting how different things might have been had the peacenik Jeremy Corbyn won the 2019 election. That would truly have had our friends worried.

The lesson from this is that the underlying strengths in Britain’s international capabilities and reputation provide the next prime minister with the means to overwrite the decline-and-fall narrative now filling the headlines. It will require cherishing our clout in global security and wielding it decisively, from boosting cyber-defences to curbing illicit finance and countering disinformation, as well as the decisive exercise of hard military power.

This comes at a price. Part of this is financial. It will be tempting, but mistaken, for example, to cut the overseas aid budget: this spending is justified not only on humanitarian but on pragmatic, influence-boosting grounds. I am less convinced about the headline-grabbing pledge to raise defence spending to 3% of GDP, especially when we find it so hard to spend the existing budget wisely. More effective than splurging money would be to curb our more far-flung aspirations, such as creating a marginal presence in the Indo-Pacific region, and to focus on doing fewer things better. The chief task should be maintaining the security of Europe. This is now in flux, immediately because of a belated awakening to the threat from Russia, and soon because of Germany’s potentially destabilising, but welcome, rearmament. The cost here is political: trimming our ambitions and accepting the realities of geography.

The reputational damage of the past weeks, months and years will be lasting, just as hard slog of recovering our economic strength and political stability is unavoidable. But it need not be fatal.

Edward Lucas writes a column for The Times of London.

Crunch time in the Kremlin

By Edward Lucas

(First Published in The Times of London)

As defeat for Putin looms it’s time to think the unthinkable. The next Russian ruler may be worse! And we are pitifully ill-prepared

Like an ageing mafia boss, Vladimir Putin exudes menace even as his power frays around him.

Make no mistake, the man who has ruled this vast country so ruthlessly for the past 22 years now has his back to the wall. Russians like their Tsars to be wise and all-powerful. Putin is neither. His botched war in Ukraine has shrivelled his reputation. He is out of time and out of options: “increasingly relegated to the past” in the words of Andrey Pertsev, of the opposition media outlet Meduza. 

As the analyst Tatyana Stanovaya notes, “belief that victory is inevitable is fading” among Russian elites. They do not share Putin’s obsession with Ukraine. They do not want nuclear escalation. They worry about their luxurious lifestyles. For years they have tolerated Putin’s bombast and corruption. But they do not want him to take the country over a precipice. 

Ordinary Russians are fed up too. They may share the Russian leader’s nationalist views. But the botched mobilisation has turned the war from a show on television to something that threatens their husbands, brothers and sons with hardship, crippling injuries and death. 

The Russian leader may hang on for days, weeks or months. But this is increasingly looking like his last winter in power. 

For years Putin has seemed irreplaceable. Grateful for order and prosperity after the chaos and humiliation of the 1990s, Russians gave him adoring support.

Even fierce critics like me must concede that no point in history has Russia enjoyed such a long period of relative personal freedom and stability. Russians can travel freely, invest and save as they wish, choose their place of work and where they live — all freedoms that were scarce or unknown under Communism or the brutal autocracy of the Tsarist era. 

For all the corruption, incompetence and brutality of the Putin years, many Russians felt Putin was the only man for the job. 

He was also an effective arbiter in disputes between Russia’s feuding clans. Industries, regions, government agencies and organised crime gangs are in ceaseless competition with each other for power and money. 

With the legal and administrative system plagued by bribery, it is by direct appeal to the top that powerful Russians have the best chance of protecting and enforcing their interests. 

Aloof, seemingly disinterested, and with all the ultimate levers of power in his hands, Putin decides who gets what, who pays what — and, for those who challenge his rule, who ends up in jail or exile. 

But for how much longer? Putin’s current term ends in 2024. Another six-year term is there for the taking — but he needs to look credible.

In Russia’s rigged election system, the winner must triumph over public apathy and cynicism, not political rivals. A botched election campaign risks sparking public protest. 

To put on a good show Putin must start politicking next year — and a failed war is hardly a springboard for a successful launch. 

So what comes next? Succession in Russia can be a messy business — Tsar Nicholas II was removed from power and murdered. Hardliners removed the reformist Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1964. A coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 led to the disintegration of the country. 

Until recently, control of the system was as solid as the secrecy at the top. 

The Russian leader accepts no outside advice, and shares his thoughts only with the tightest inner circle. 

If you think that the British government is made up of third-rate chancers, they seem like paragons of public-spirited virtue compared to the rogues’ gallery that rules Russia. 

We know that those who are even rumoured to pose a threat to the Russian leader — such as secret-police chief Alexander Bortnikov — fall quickly out of favour. But we can only speculate which of these insiders— grey-haired, grey-suited, men steeped in the greed and brutality of Kremlin politics — may wonder if they should wield the knife, and inherit the crown. 

For as Putin’s popularity and authority fray, the unthinkable becomes thinkable. 

How might a change of power play out? One option is that with disaster looming in Ukraine, an ageing and frail Putin decides that a managed departure from office is better than the alternative. The model for this would be how Boris Yeltsin in 1999 abruptly handed over power to Putin, at the time his prime minister for only four months. 

On paper, in the absence of the president the top job must pass to the prime minister. This rule is filled by the discreet and loyal bureaucrat, Mikhail Mishustin. But Putin would want real power to lie elsewhere — probably with his closest friend and ally, Kremlin insider Nikolai Patrushev. 

Hard though it may be to believe, Putin is by Russian standards not the most hardline leader. Lurking on the sidelines of Russian politics is a junta-in-waiting, comprising the thuggish Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and Evgeny Prigozhin, the sinister mastermind of the mercenary Wagner Group. 

The latest addition to their ranks is “General Armageddon” — Sergei Surovikin, newly appointed by Putin as commander of the Ukraine war. Accused of war crimes in Syria and elsewhere, he could be a potent threat to Putin, especially if he joins forces with other military rebels.As with the Roman empire two thousand years ago, legions returning from ill-conceived far-flung wars can wreak havoc in the imperial capital.

Also in this hardline camp are nationalist ideologues such as the wispy-bearded eccentric Alexander Dugin, and polemicists such as Igor Girkin, who pens blistering critiques of the Russian military’s corruption and incompetence. 

These people do not think the war was a mistake. They just think it has not been properly fought. Kadyrov explicitly advocates the use of nuclear weapons to crush Ukraine and to deter the West. General Surovikin was associated with the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. 

Under their rule, Russia would become a nuclear-armed rogue state like North Korea, bristling with weapons and determined to make trouble. It would also become a full-blown dictatorship at home. 

That could work for a while — but Russia is no longer in the mood to tolerate totalitarian rule. Millions of people would seek to leave for freedom and safety abroad, far more than have fled already. Maintaining effective repression across this vast country with its eleven time zones would be beyond the resources of the Russian state, with its feeble institutions rotted by corruption. 

A hardline dictatorship might last for weeks and months, but it would contain the seeds of its own destruction. This would not be the longed-for democratic revolution, in which jailed opposition figures like Alexei Navalny would receive their much-deserved vindication. 

More likely is that a post-Putin Russia would plunge into chaos as long-festering disputes boil over into armed violence. Regional chiefs who have long chafed at Moscow’s intrusive rule could all too easily try to assert their independence. 

The nightmare is a new Russian civil war — a breakup on the lines experienced by Yugoslavia in the 1990s. In those wars, around 130,000 people were killed and four million displaced. 

But a similar disintegration in Russia would be far worse, not least because the country is also home to the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. 

My prediction is that Russia will not break up — at least not yet. 

It is far more likely that the regime will hold on to power, even with Putin himself gone or sidelined. Even loyal Kremlin insiders would chuck Putin overboard to save their own skins. 

In that case the regime might scramble to find someone a presentable frontman. The popular mayor of Moscow, Sergei Sobyanin, for example, could help defuse public anger with promises of ending the war in Ukraine and reform at home. 

Any truce, let alone a peace deal, will be painful — but at least Putin, out of office, will be a convenient scapegoat. 

The new guard will also seek to trade on western gullibility and good will. It is all too easy to imagine a new Russian leader telling the West that now is the time for a “reset” — the disastrous gambit pursued by the Obama administration in 2009.

Just drop the sanctions on Russia, arm-twist Ukraine into accepting the loss of territory, and the gas will start flowing again and life can get back to normal. Many pusillanimous European leaders would clutch at straws in the hope of returning to the comfortable world they once knew. 

That would be a terrible mistake. The truth is that our problems with Russia predated Putin. And they will outlast him. While imperialist delusions remain etched into the Russian public mind, the country will never be able to have normal relationships with its neighbours. Nor will it be able to treat its non-Russian linguistic and ethnic minorities with respect.

One thing in all this is certain — change will catch us flatfooted. Over the past 30 years I have watched in dismay and anger as our governments have systematically eviscerated this country’s once-great expertise in understanding Russia. 

Spies, diplomats and analysts with a lifetime’s experience in Kremlinology and other skills, honed by the terrifyingly high stakes of the cold war, were cast onto the scrap heap. Russia was now a friend, our pinstriped masters insisted. Focus on trade, investment and cultural ties if you like, but any attention to the dark side of Russia was a waste of taxpayers’ money.

How foolish that seems now. I can count on the fingers of one hand the experts in our government with serious, deep-rooted knowledge of Russia. I lecture to rooms in Whitehall where I am the oldest by 20 years or more. These bright youngsters with their rainbow lanyards do not lack enthusiasm. But without deep knowledge of Russia’s language, culture and history — and of the Soviet decades before 1991 – it is hard to makes sense of the twists and turns of politics in Moscow. 

And when it comes to dealing with the future of Russia post-Putin, the knowledge is even more threadbare. Who in our government understands the complex regional power dynamics outside Moscow? Who has taken the time and trouble to meet the upcoming generation of regional leaders? 

We need, but lack, a long-term strategy for dealing with a resentful Russia, traumatised by the loss of its empire and facing existential threats from China and domestic separatism.

I tremble when I think of Russia’s future. I tremble even more when I think of how badly we may mismanage it.

Alexander Bastrykin (69) — headstheState Investigative Committee, a blandly named supercharged law-enforcement body notorious for its corruption. A university classmate of Putin’s — and author of a plagiarised doctoral thesis. Hardline Russian nationalist, viscerally anti-Western. Spearheaded the illegal prosecution of Ukrainian prisoners of war. Survived a bomb attack in 2009. 

Alexander Bortnikov (70) — director of the Federal Security Service, the main heir to the Soviet-era KGB.. This sprawling agency has tentacles in every big business in Russia, with huge potential for corruption. Its main task is crushing dissent, and was responsible for the attempted murder of opposition leader Alexei Navalny and probably authorised the murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko. Colleague of Putin’s since the 1970s. Named as a potential assassin of the Russian leader in a Ukrainian intelligence agency analysis in March. Not seen in public since. Key partner for former Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich in a prisoner swap negotiated last month.

Arkady Dvorkovich — A token Western-educated liberal. Could be useful to give a new regime a veneer of reform

Alexei Dyumin Former bodyguard of Putin’s who claims to have saved the Russian leader from a bear attack, rewarded with plum post as regional governor.

Ramzan Kadyrov The thuggish Chechen warlord known for his grotesque cruelty and extravagance. Able propagandist for his crude nationalist views. Thought to have ordered assassinations of Kremlin critics such as journalist Anna Politkovskaya and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. His fearsome militias are among the few dependable fighting forces at Putin’s command. But the hirsute tribal chieftain with a hair-trigger temper has expressed public criticism of the war’s conduct, especially long-serving defence minister Sergei Shoigu.

Dmitry Medvedev Once seen as a reformer when he stood in for Putin as president from 2008-2012. Now a splenetic anti-Westerner who calls Ukrainians “bastards and degenerates”. Says he will do everything to make them “disappear. Widely ridiculed for his lightweight appearance. 

Mikhail Mishustin — low-key prime minister, former tax official.  Highly competent by dire standards of Russian public administration, constitution says he takes over if President is “incapable”, could help stabilise Russia after Putin’s downfall. Could be used to “reset” relations with the West. 

Sergey Naryshkin — Russia’s foreign intelligence service chief. Publicly humiliated by Putin at the start of the latest Ukraine invasion 

Nikolai Patrushev. Security chief, and most likely to succeed Putin if he steps down voluntarily. Known as the “hawk’s hawk” for his ultra hardline views. Ex-KGB colleague of Putin’s (originally rather more senior), steeped in the xenophobic nationalism of the old Soviet secret police. One of the few people the Russian leader listens to — chiefly because his views chime with the boss. Like him mourns the Soviet collapse, ferociously anti-Western, and believes in outlandish conspiracy theories — for example that the West is plotting to break up Russia and steal its natural resources. Long-standing power-broker, now edging into the public eye with lengthy interviews outlining his views. Closed down investigation into the 1999 apartment-block bombings that fuelled Putin’s rise to power. 

Evgeny Prigozhin – Putin’s personal chef and boss of the paramilitary mercenary Wagner Group, a major part of the Kremlin war machine, responsible for atrocities in Syria and African countries. Now allied with Kadyrov, feuding with Shoigu.  Recently posted carefully staged videos highlighting his decisive, capable approach. 

Sergey Sobyanin — popular and competent Moscow mayor, has distanced himself from the war. Could channel anti-Kremlin discontent in the Russian capital.

Edward Lucas writes a column for The Times of London

Troubled bridge over stolen waters

By Edward Lucas

(First Published in The Times of London)

The attack on the Kerch straits crossing is a gamechanger

Once a trophy, now a trap. The attack on the Kerch Straits Bridge this week makes every Russian living on the occupied Crimean peninsula feel uneasy. The pesky Ukrainian yokels are not so ridiculous. They have proved guileful, potent adversaries, able to strike at a distance and seemingly at will. With the half-ruined bridge an unattractive route, thousands of Russians are already leaving by land through occupied Melitopol, according to its displaced Ukrainian mayor, Ivan Fedorov. That vital transport hub is also under threat. With the Kremlin’s war machine already suffering from poor logistics, holding the city now becomes even more important. Russian forces deployed there cannot be used to prop up defences (or counter-attack) elsewhere.

Ukraine’s greatest success is hitting transport systems and depots that supply the invaders’ armies. Soldiers without food, spare parts and ammunition face a choice between surrender, mutiny, desertion or death. Further blows include new attacks on the Antonivsky bridge across the Dnipro — a vital supply line for the Russian forces on the north-west bank of that giant river — and on the railway hub of Ilovaisk in the occupied Donetsk region. Tokmak, the last east-west rail link in the Russian-occupied south, is in range of Ukrainian missiles. Russia’s woes (morale, logistics, numbers, leadership) compound. So do Ukraine’s advantages.

As the military squeeze tightens, watching Russian television has rarely been more enjoyable. The regime’s talking heads were already struggling to explain the loss of territory in recent weeks, the botched mobilisation and previously unheard-of, outspoken dissent. The strike on the Kerch crossing delivers another blow to the bloviators. Built for $7.5 billion (bribes and tax extra) in 2017 the bridge was not just a vital sinew of economic, political and military power. It epitomized Russia’s seizure of Crimea three years earlier, and the personal triumph of Vladimir Putin in restoring Russian greatness.

Not anymore. Putin’s flat-footed announcement of a commission to investigate the attack underlines the Kremlin chief’s impotence: a dangerous impression to give in the ruthless world of Russian politics. Frothing denunciations of “vandals” by the Russian stooge leader in Crimea and claims that a Ukrainian attack on “civilian infrastructure” is a human rights violation (unlike Russian attacks on Ukraine) only underline the Moscow authorities’ shaky grip on narratives around the war. So too does the extraordinary rumour that the attack on the bridge was carried out by elements inside the Russian power structures, perhaps seeking to create an excuse for upcoming defeat.

The mood on television has changed. (Follow Julia Davis on Twitter for English-language translations of these clips). Andrei Kartapolov, a member of Russia’s sham parliament, the Duma, and a retired general, said bluntly, “the lying has to stop”. He compared official reporting of the war to the delusional Stalin-era coverage of 1941.  The bombastic TV host Sergey Mardan conceded that the “amusing, satirical picture” of idiot Ukrainians and bumbling Biden was a mistake. Only true wartime mobilisation will help Russia escape humiliation at the hands of a powerful adversary. A guest on his show, Evgeny Norin, painted the specter of defeat: “Yugoslavia on steroids”, with the breakup of the Russian Federation into ten parts and forced deindustrialisation.

For now, the solution is clear: more strikes on infrastructure. The deputy speaker of the Duma, Piotr Tolstoy, suggests bombing Ukraine back into the 18th century. The promotion of Sergey Surovikin, mastermind of Russia’s massacres and chemical weapons attacks in Syria, to run the Ukraine campaign spells more horror in the coming days and weeks.

But defeat in Ukraine and regime change in Moscow look increasingly likely. The big question is which will come first.

Edward Lucas writes a column for the Times of London

Our response to Russian cyber-attacks is feeble

By Edward Lucas

(First published in The Times of London)

We overreact to terrorism but overlook online threats that can inflict fundamental harm

Few readers will be familiar with Titan Rain, Moonlight Maze, SolarWinds and WannaCry, but they are the online counterparts of Dunkirk, Pearl Harbor and D-Day — battles that write history. These cyber-attacks have in recent years  hit our economy, political system, infrastructure and peace of mind. The most damaging, NotPetya, a Russian cyber-sabotage operation aimed at Ukraine in 2017, inflicted $10 billion in damage on other countries. Not only do most people in the comfortable “Old West” scarcely recall these episodes. We have no memory of the devastating counter-strikes launched in retaliation. But here the fault lies not with us, but with the guardians of our security. As Lucas Kello, an Oxford University academic, outlines in a new book, Striking Back, our response over decades has been too feeble to deter these attacks. The result: we face more of them.

One reason is that we do not fully understand the threat. We have woken up belatedly to the fact we live in an era of geopolitical competition, in which revisionist, illiberal powers, chiefly Russia and China, are trying to break the western-led world order (Iran and North Korea are disrupters too). This struggle is somewhere between outright war and real peace. Kello calls it “unpeace”, meaning “interstate conflict waged below the level of armed force”. Military conquest, as Russia has  found with its bridge to Crimea, is messy and risky. Much better is to attack the enemy’s political and economic system. This disrupts decision-making, degrades the functioning of the state and demoralises public opinion. Why fight a war when you can win the peace?

The approach has deep roots, in works by the Renaissance philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli and, 1,000 years earlier, the Chinese general Sun Tzu. Lenin and Stalin would recognise the Soviet dirty-tricks toolkit known as “active measures”: these include assassination, blackmail, bribery, explosions, forgery, kidnapping and subversion. All are still in use. But modern technology adds anonymity, ubiquity and speed, making these tactics, and the strategy behind them, far more effective.  The battlefield nowadays is the internet; the targets are our computers, and the confidentiality, integrity and availability of the information we store on them.

The Chinese speciality is espionage. One element is the wholesale theft of commercial secrets, fuelling the rise of China’s high-tech industries. Another is stealing swathes of personal information, such as health records, hotel bookings and credit ratings. Artificial intelligence trawls and sifts this data for patterns and anomalies, seeking threats and weaknesses of relevance to Chinese interests.

Russia’s forte is meddling, chiefly sabotage and lies. Its most recent public stunt in this country was a simple swamping attack on the MI5 website last month. (A more serious, secret effort a few years ago targeted the MI6 recruitment portal.) The Kremlin’s headline success is still its influence operation on the US political system in 2016, when its hackers stole emails from Hillary Clinton and senior Democrats and leaked them. American journalists should have queried the source of the material. Instead they focused on what it revealed: backbiting, policy wobbles, and attempts by party chiefs to derail Clinton’s rival for the nomination, Bernie Sanders. Her presidential bid never recovered from the unsurprising revelation that politics involves machinations, and that public and private behaviour differ. Russia tried a similar hacking-and-leaking tactic to derail Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in 2017. French journalists were savvier and largely shunned the material.

We wildly overreact to terrorism, imposing huge inconvenience on daily life and shredding civil liberties, but naivety, legalism and timidity mean we overlook attacks from countries that seek to inflict more fundamental harm on us. If violent extremists targeted a British election, for example, officialdom and the public would be outraged. But as a report by the Intelligence and Security Committee of the British Parliament lamented in 2020, MI5 appeared to miss completely the Russian interference with the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

Such attackers risk little. Sanctions are ineffective. Asset freezes and visa bans hold few terrors for Russian rumour-mongers, North Korean generals or Chinese military hackers. Legal remedies are too flimsy: it is hard to prosecute people who live in lawless countries. At the same time, the law strictly constrains any response involving the use of force.

We need an urgent rethink. One element is better defence, involving close co-operation between private and public realms. We should pay particular attention to the security of information. Authentic public debate is at the heart of our political system. But unscrupulous attackers can exploit our reverence for free speech.

Making attacks less effective is a form of deterrence: countries such as Finland that work hard on resilience become unattractive targets. Yet we also need punishment. Kello suggests that collective responses, ideally through Nato or coalitions of the capable, will be more effective than a single country acting alone. His main notion is “punctuated deterrence”,  in which the accretion of mischief prompts abrupt, punitive responses. He gives few specifics, but one could imagine options ranging from drone strikes to asset seizures — and of course cyber-attacks. The vital point is to worry less about escalation  and more about the cost of not responding. If Putin chooses to lash out against the infrastructure or financial systems of Ukraine’s western backers, he will do so with  a well-founded sense of impunity.

Edward Lucas writes a column for The Times of London

Is Ukraine about to Win?

By Julian Lindley-French, Chair of The Alphen Group

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Sekonda war

All wars begin because of elite self-deception and wishful thinking. Putin’s self-deception and European wishful thinking created the conditions for the tragedy now being inflicted on Ukraine. Self-deception and wishful thinking continues on both sides.  If someone once joked that Belgium was created for the British and Germans to resolve their differences, Ukraine has become the battlefield for a not-so-implicit proxy war between the ultra-conservative nationalists who control Russia and the liberal West, specifically western Europe. What is ultimately at stake is the nature of both power and order in Europe, as it has been so many times in Europe’s painful past.  There is nothing the West can offer ultra-conservative Putin that could accept short of the abject abandonment of Ukraine, and nothing Putin will do that is acceptable to either himself or the West. There is no anti-war camp in Russia anywhere near to power.  One might develop but Russia’s political culture makes such opposition extremely dangerous.  Rather, there are two pro-war camps both of which claim to seek some ill-defined return to Russia ‘gloire’. One seeks to conduct a long war that plays to what they believe are Russia’s strengths and another camp wants a quick war and are willing to resort to any means, including the use of nuclear weapons, if need be. Putin oscillates between the two.

Last week I was driven across the hauntingly beautiful Latvian and Lithuanian landscape with its vestiges of vengeful war and the occasional woeful ruin of Soviet collectivism. It is simply amazing how far the Baltic States have come since 1991 and the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Compared with Russia it is also damning. One can almost hear the tock-tick of a large Sekonda clock just over the border as it sounds the turning back of time that this war marks. In many ways this is a war between progress and paralysis and not just in Ukraine.  The merest glimpse of Russian history reveals a Pasternakian tendency in Russia to see war legitimised not by self-defence or even a political idea, those twins are merely the font of Kremlin falsehood. Rather, for Russians the more suffering a war inflicts the more ‘legitimate’ it is.  After all, is not Russia surrounded by enemies and is not the only way Mother Russia can survive through perpetual struggle against imaginary fascists?     

Is Ukraine about to win?

No. Putin and his wretched army have lost many battles, but they have not lost the war. Putin’s war has been presented in the West as a war of choice but in his mind this is no such war.  It is an existential war which casts martial Russia as Sparta in the face of a far wealthier, intrinsically more powerful, but decadent ‘Athens’. Ukraine is simply the Peloponnesian battlefields on which the struggle for ‘hegemony’ over Europe’s north, east and south-east must be conducted, and where it will eventually be decided. This is thus the beginning of another ‘classical’ Russian war recognisable to any Tsar of that past, as it is to the Tsar of today, the last resort of a politically and morally bankrupt Kremlin.  They had nowhere else to go but Ukraine.

Having undertaken such a cack-handed invasion back in February there are three options facing Putin and his generals (so long as they last). First, the Russian Army could collapse and Ukraine’s advances of late turn into a military rout.  Wishful thinkers in the West are glued to this idea but it is highly unlikely. This is not least because the vital junior leadership elements of Ukraine’s forces, the captains, majors and lieutenant-colonels, have been decimated, even if Kyiv is doing a superb job at masking such losses.  It is now almost October when the mud and then snow returns across much of the Steppe on both sides of the border (look at a map!).  Ask the Wehrmacht what mud does to fighting power, fighting machines and fighting mobility. Second, the Russians could mount a counter-attack, but with what? Their elite combined arms armies have either been decimated, simply did not work, or both. For example, the elite 1st Guards Tank Army is believed to have lost up to 60% of its fighting power and will take years to rebuild as a fighting strike force.  Third, the Russians could simply retrench to buy time by using an ill-trained mass to block a highly-motivated, but increasingly exhausted, Ukrainian force. 

Retrenched Russia

Retrenchment is also decidedly Russian with the war itself an exercise in retrenchment.  It is retrenchment that is behind Putin’s decision to partially mobilise the Russian population.  Forget Dmitry Peskov’s fake news about the mobilisation only involving 300,000 people with prior military experience.  The manner by which ‘military experience’ is being defined will ensure some 1 million Russians will be trawled by the Kremlin’s long-line conscription and most of them will be used in exactly the same ways the Soviets used their conscripts at the gates of Moscow in late 1941 or during the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942 and 1943.  They will be cannon fodder and missile bait for Ukraine’s advanced Western supplied munitions, supported by hybrid, cyber, information and electronic warfare. 

The Kremlin’s strategy now is twofold: first to exhaust Ukrainian forces; and second to buy the necessary time to study the lessons from first campaign season, which is now coming to an end, begin the rebuilding of Russia’s fighting power, identify critical weaknesses in both Ukraine’s political and military systems far more systematically than prior to February 24th, and put the Russian economy on a war-footing.  Such a strategic and tactical pause could take up to five campaign seasons maybe more (March to October) but as long as Tsar Vladimir Vladimirovitch is in power the war will continue.  Even if he is removed from power there is every likelihood his successor would be even more dangerous. That is precisely what has happened in almost all of Russia’s past wars and for one simple reason – the Russian armed forces have always been the central pillar of the Russian state and whatever the incompetence of their leaders if they fall so does Mother Russia.

It is that latter point Western, particularly European leaders, need to understand. Ultimately it is liberal Europe that is the real enemy and the margins of liberal Europe the real target.  European leaders point to Putin’s desperation in ordering the mobilisation without seeming to realise that the entire war is an exercise in desperation caused simply by the Kremlin’s failure to prepare Russian society and people for the modern world. Simply by existing European liberal democracies are a threat to Russia in the same way the free world was a threat to the Soviet Union.  It was the mirror in which Russians over time saw the failure of their own corrupt political system.  Moreover, whilst the armed forces might be the backbone of the Russian state but Putin is the indispensable father of the state. Therefore, the Russian state only exists to serve Putin and the Russian state, not the Russian people.  Given the pace and scale of change taking place in the world the only way Putin and his cronies can survive, and only for a time, is to create a Fortress Russia with Ukraine as a moat, albeit built on the lies about the threat posed by the EU, NATO and the West. 

The awakening?

Europe does at least seem to be awakening to the extent of Russia’s war aims.  In spite of Russia’s waging of economic and information warfare against the rest of Europe, organised resistance is finally being mobilised. Last week’s Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz told the Bundeswehr that, “As the most populous nation with the greatest economic power and a country in the centre of the continent, our army must become the cornerstone of conventional defence in Europe, the best-equipped force”. 

The British, already the world’s third largest defence spender in 2022, also announced last week a further review of the 2021 Integrated Review. Ben Wallace, Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence, also said that by 2030 Britain would have increased defence expenditure from the current £48 billion per annum to £100 billion per annum.  How that hike will be afforded is another matter together with just where the money will be invested, but then what value does security have, and what cost must therefore be afforded? Similar commitments are being made across the rest of Europe much to the relief of an increasingly over-stretched America.

Sparta and Athens?

Ukrainians have no choice but to fight for their lives and existence. The rest of Europe? Now they must be delivered if peace through strength is to be more than just the latest flight of European political fantasy.   As Edward Gibbon once famously wrote, “In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security.  They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom.  When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again.”

Whilst much of contemporary Europe is unlikely to suffer the fate of Pericles, Athens and the Delian League the terrible damage Russia could inflict going forward must not be under-estimated.  Therefore, Europeans, together with their North American allies, must not only increase their respective defence budgets they must also decide what their aims are beyond keeping Ukraine in the fight and how best can they support Ukraine going forward in the war. In short, the aim must be to end the war on terms acceptable to the Ukrainians and deter Russia from its wider strategic aims in Europe.

Therefore, as a matter of urgency Europeans and their allies must end any wishful thinking about an imminent war’s end and accept that once again Europe is facing a long war.  Europeans must also have the mind-set needed to conduct such a war across the information, technological, economic, diplomatic and military battle spaces and battlefields in which it will be fought.

Leo Tolstoy once wrote in War and Peace, that, “The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience.”  Some firepower also comes in handy.

Julian Lindley-French

The Defining Moment of Ukraine—Values versus Interests, Democracy versus Autocracy

By Colin Robertson

The Russian invasion of Ukraine marks the end of the post-Cold War period. Coming on the heels of the pandemic and the pressing urgency for action on climate change, inequalities within and between nations are exacerbated and key multilateral institutions like the UN Security Council and World Health Organization have proved inadequate to the challenges.

In setting the stage for this week’s 77th General  Assembly, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke of a “world blighted by war, battered by climate chaos, scarred by hate, and shamed by poverty, hunger, and inequality”. With “geostrategic divides …the widest they have been since at least the Cold War” he warned that the “solidarity envisioned in the United Nations Charter is being devoured by the acids of nationalism and self-interest.”.

As the war in Ukraine moves into its seventh month, with no prospect of a cease-fire, we can draw some tentative observations:

First, the war demonstrates that Washington remains the ultimate guarantor of European security providing the bulk of both boots on the ground and the necessary armaments to deter and defend. By a wide margin, the US is the biggest supplier of arms and money to Ukraine.

The European Union for all its ambitions, has failed to achieve its own strategic autonomy. The post-modern period in European security, when economic and soft power provided it with political leverage, proved inadequate. European leaders had at least 16 years, starting from the first complete cut-off in Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine in winter 2006, to diversify gas supplies. They ignored the risks and increased their energy dependence on Russia. Despite their efforts, they are still transferring huge amounts of money for Russian energy. According to CNN, the European Union accounted for around 70 percent of Russia’s fossil fuel export revenues globally, which amounted to US$66.3 billion in March and April of this year.

Despite best efforts, notably by the French, Germans and others, including Canada, during the Trump administration, an Alliance for Multilateralism does not work without the US. Ivo Daalder and Jim Lindsay got it right in titling their book The Empty Throne about the US abdication of global leadership under Donald Trump. They argued, persuasively, that the three US-championed pillars of the postwar order – strong alliances, open markets, with commitments to democracy and human rights  – were undermined under a once, and perhaps future, President Trump.

From now on, hard security, both military and economic, needs to be the priority. NATO, once derided by French President Emmanuel Macron as “” is now the most important organization on the European continent. With its new Strategic Concept designating Russia as the most ‘direct threat’ to the Alliance and labeling China as ‘systemic challenge’ to its ‘interests, security and values’, NATO will also coordinate more closely with Asian partners. If Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s August trip to the Canadian North is indicative, in Arctic security as well. China calls itself a “near  Arctic state” and wants to expand its access.

For Canadians and Europeans – especially the Germans – it means relearning the language of hard power. It is the language China and Russia understand best and they complement it with cyber-intrusions, misinformation and disinformation, and interventions in the democratic process.

The aggregate military expenditure of EU members is $225 billion, twice that of Russia’s $100 billion military budget and roughly three-quarters of China’s $290 billion. Europe has the capacity with a GDP 30 times that of Russia and three times their population. Italy’s (and Canada’s) economy alone eclipses that of Russia. But do they have the will?

Second, long-term stability in Europe and Asia will depend on Washington’s ability to build local balances of power and promote regional orders. But make no mistake: most of the world is not aligning with the West.

The United States’ main strategic focus remains the pivot to Asia and “the growing multi-domain threat posed by the PRC.”

Prospects for a US-Chinese confrontation are growing in Asia. Any Asian sense of US reluctance to resist Chinese hegemony will inevitably push more countries in the region to bandwagon with Beijing. The Biden administration is restoring existing pacts and creating new ones. In seeking to constrain Russia and China simultaneously, the United States looks to its partner nations:  29 and soon to be 31 with Sweden and Finland through the NATO alliance; four bilateral pacts with Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand; the reinvigorated Quadrilateral Security Dialogue that includes India; the AUKUS partnership. The G7 should invite its close Pacific partners – India, Australia, Korea – n to be regular participants in the group’s strategic dialogues, whether on sanctions policy, technology investment, or critical supply chains.

While 141 nations at the UN General Assembly condemned the Russian invasion and Russia was tossed out of the Human Rights Council when it comes to the imposition of sanctions in the face of territorial aggression, most of the world chose not to. Sanctions are imposed by only about 40 nations – the EU and G7 nations along with Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and Switzerland. Together they represent about 16 percent of the global population.

Russia and China are actively seeking to increase their influence. China’s Belt and Road initiative already includes 139 nations. As we witnessed at last week’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Iran was elevated to full membership, alongside China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and Egypt. Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan now wants to join the club. Together the SCO, a rough counterpart to the G7 for dictators, represent one-third of global GDP, about 40 per cent of the world’s population, and nearly two-thirds of the Eurasian landmass. and include four nuclear powers. Xi Jinping is continuing to strengthen Chinese relationships in Central Asia, once described by a Chinese general as “a rich piece of cake given to today’s Chinese people by Heaven”.

Third, Putin and Russia are weakened by the Ukraine war and even more dependent on a China within whose ruling circles there is likely some buyer’s remorse about their partnership with ‘no limits’.

Putin’s war aim, detailed in his long essay (July, 2021) on the “Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” was to topple the Zelensky government and incorporate Ukraine into its sphere of influence. Russia’s reliance on its energy resources are a reminder of the late John McCain’s caustic description of Putin’s Russia: “a gas station run by the Mafia masquerading as a country.”  Putin shows no sign of changing his approach confident that in the coming months the West will divide over the hardships inflicted on them by the war.. The Russian public is still behind him having been fed a steady diet portraying NATO and the USA as the aggressor and the Zelensky regime as run by Nazis. The recent military setbacks have stimulated the nationalists who are demanding national mobilization

Xi and Putin continue to share the same objective which is to challenge the Western designed rules-based order. Six months on, Xi is likely embarrassed by the failure of the Putin invasion. If nothing else he will wonder about the efficacy of the Russian weapons they have bought for over 30 years. The Ukrainian response will also likely make them think twice about military intervention in Taiwan.

The Xi-Putin February “no limits” pact has also shown it does have limits. There was no promise from Xi of weapons or armaments or endorsement of Putin’s “special military operation” although the Chinese narrative claims a more inclusive model of international relations through SCO and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) and other multilateral groupings where China plays a central role. It also reflects Beijing’s criticism of the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, for unilaterally targeting states that fail to follow the “universal values” of liberal democracies. NATO is regularly vilified as a “gangster,” a “war machine,” and a “butcher”. China promotes its networks of multilateral and bilateral strategic partnerships as positive-sum correctives to US-led formal alliances, which Beijing consistently asserts drive world politics toward zero-sum competition.  The secondary and tertiary consequences of the conflict are affecting supplies of fuel and food, while increasing famine and forced migration.

The International Energy Agency warns of continuing shortages of energy for coming years.  “The world has never witnessed such a major energy crisis in terms of its depth and its complexity,” IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said in July. Until renewables come into their own, it puts a premium on getting energy to Europe. For reasons of collective security Canada needs to get gas and oil to both our coasts. Of course, this is not the context hoped for at November’s Sharm el-Sheikh COP27.

The World Food Program warns of famine for many millions in Africa and the Middle East. As many as 828 million people go to bed hungry every night, the number of those facing acute food insecurity has soared since 2019 from 135 million to 345 million. A total of 50 million people in 45 countries are teetering on the edge of famine.

Food and fuel shortages will spur more outward migration from Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean and through Eurasia. Putin and Erdogan have demonstrated that migrants can be weaponized. And as we see in the Swedish and Italian elections with the rise of the populist right there are political consequences.

There was a sense after the Biden and Macron victories that the nativism and populism personified by BREXIT, Trump, Modi and Bolsonaro had run its course. It now appears that the force of populism and its underlying drivers that go back to the 2008 financial crisis, the inequalities created by globalization and the power of social media are very durable and have stimulated parties both the far right and far left.

Is a post-dollar world coming? The effect of sanctions combined with decoupling, Chinese “self-sufficiency” and dual circulation may well spell the end of the dollar as the global currency with more regional blocks doing business in their own currencies.

Canada has responded to Ukraine’s plight with armsmoney and resettlement of 87,000 refugees. With a deeply rooted Ukrainian diaspora, the Mulroney government was the first western government to recognize Ukrainian independence in 1991. Successive governments have supported Ukraine with aid, military training and technical assistance to support good governance. Canada will be involved in Ukraine’s eventual, massive reconstruction.

The war has also refocused attention on the importance of collective security through NATO and the importance of deterrence, defence and intelligence. The Trudeau government has increased its defence budget and NATO deployments, although we are still well short of spending two percent of GDP on defence – the NATO commitment for 2024.

Looking forward, the US Institute for Peace argues for three levels of negotiations: a contact group for Russia and Ukraine; Multilateral Talks in Europe involving EU, OSCE, NATO; Strategic Stability Dialogue using Track 1.5 and Track 2 involving US, Russia, China, and others.

There are also good ideas in a recent German Marshall Fund report on reconstruction in Ukraine. It answers core questions including When to start? Who should lead? Who should pay? What about corruption?

The Ukraine war has refocused debate on values versus interests. But it is an ultimately sterile debate as our values underline our interests and our interests reflect our values. Abandoning or soft-peddling the values dimension towards Russia and China in favour the Realpolitik of market access is a mistake. We cannot depend on Russia for energy, nor on China for critical minerals and strategic goods.

The West reacted to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 with words and very limited sanctions. In the case of Chinese-made islands in the South China Sea we made “protests” – words not deeds. We did the same with the international tribunal’s ruling in favour of the Philippines. Democrats in Russia and China lost faith in the West. The net result was to leave the Kremlin and Beijing with the impression that the West can be either intimidated or bought. It did not serve our interests and diminished faith in our values.

The Ukraine conflict reminds us that leadership, intelligence, arms and allies all matter. But so does morale and the belief you are fighting for something you believe in. Narratives are important and the closed nature of autocracies gives them the advantage. They control the media. One of the early actions of the Putin regime was to ban independent and social media. By controlling the media they control that what people hear and see. Western governments have adapted through, for example, the release of intelligence previously kept secret as to when the war would begin to discredit Putin’s denials.

Going forward the narrative needs to hammer home that Russia has violated territorial sovereignty in violation of international commitments. In doing so it is also breaking the rules of war in its treatment of civilians and that those responsible will be held accountable.

The defining divide of our time is not that of right versus left but democracy versus autocracy. We can never take liberty for granted. And let’s not delude ourselves, we are not doing very well, either at home or abroad.

TAG PREMIUM BLOG: Putin’s Second War

By Ambassador Stefano Stefanini

Putin’s calculation is that Europe will blink first because it might be unable or unwilling to go through the winter without Russian gas. That’s not going to happen.

“How did you go bankrupt?” “At first gradually. Then suddenly.”

Ernest Hemingway

For nearly seven months Vladimir Putin has been fighting against Ukraine a war that he cannot win. He might even lose it. In the last week Russia has lost ground – and credibility – to the Ukrainian counter-offensive. But he cannot backtrack. Too much is at stake.

Russia’s security and Russian territory are nowhere threatened by his war of choice. But his power is.

For two decades Vladimir Putin has built it, domestically and externally, on a track record of rapid success, ruthlessness, and bullying. He cannot let it go. What can he do?

Putin’s default response is likely to escalate the conflict. He is running short of options, of troops, of conventional assets. But he still has an array of non-conventional tools.

Leaving aside how far Putin — with Russia’s cyber, chemical and nuclear arsenals — might be willing to go to prevent Ukraine’s further advances, let alone victory, he is trying his chance at a second war by weaponizing energy and, specifically, gas.

On this second front, the European Union is the primary target. Gazprom is Putin’s faithful army. In a two-pronged offensive it is aiming at crippling European economies with a combination of shortages and skyrocketing prices and at sapping European resolve and unity in supporting Ukraine.

As a collateral benefit, the entire West, even if it does not directly dependent on Russian energy exports, feels the pain of unbearable energy bills for households and industries, gas prices at the pump, rising inflation, and potential social unrest.  

In duly executing Kremlin’s orders, Gazprom reduced this year’s overall gas supplies to Europe by 40% compared to 2021, selectively targeting, countries and companies.  As of September Nord Stream 1 was shut down completely. Even the pretense of maintenance was abandoned. Moscow announced that regular gas flows would only resume if EU sanctions were lifted.

That request is key to understanding the rationale of Putin’s gas war. The sanctions are beginning to bite Russian economy especially because of the loss of essential Western technology. Threatening to leave Europe without gas, while turning off and off the taps, is the best weapon to put pressure on energy starved Europeans. It also punishes them for supporting and militarily assisting Kyiv. In short: two birds with a stone.

But like any war, the gas war is not risk-free. The squeeze also amounts to a self-imposed embargo. Europe is left short of gas. In return, Russia will be short of money. It is that very money that keeps the Russian economy afloat and Putin’s war machine running.

Isn’t it counter-intuitive? Or not?

The energy/gas weapon will not last forever, and Putin knows it. He must use it now. The EU is on a one-way ticket to no-dependence on Russian oil and gas. It will not go back to Russian supplies.

Yes, Europe faces a critical energy crunch in 2022-2023 with severe risk of shortages. Yet don’t forget that storage facilities are filling up and Europeans have rapidly diversified their energy sources, however costly.

So in a couple of years Europe will have stabilized supply from non-Russia sources to meet demand. 

Thus, Putin must maximize his leverage now with multiple purposes: removal of sanctions; sowing divisions within the EU and splitting the West; decreasing the intensity of political support and of military assistance to Ukraine – those hurt; scoring a political victory over Brussels and European capitals.

Again, as he did on 24 February, Vladimir Putin has entered an all-or-nothing game.

Either, the EU bends and he wins, or the EU does not remove the sanctions and he remains high and dry with unsellable gas. There are the existing pipelines that go to Europe – and what happens to them – and the new pipelines to China and India that have to be built from scratch. Call it victory and bankruptcy: there is not very much in between.

Putin’s calculation is that Europe will blink first because it might be unable or unwilling to go through the winter without Russian gas. And that the EU and/or individual countries will cave in before Russia’s war machine runs out of money (and/or he runs out of power). Putin bets on the EU being forced to lift the sanctions and/or at least fracturing. He is counting on unhappy public opinions pressuring governments to relent on sanctions and stop sending weapons to Ukraine.

Again, Vladimir Putin might have miscalculated. The EU will not remove sanctions. Even if some EU countries might lean in that direction, removal of sanctions requires unanimity. There’s not a chance for them to lift sanctions. Sanctions will stay.  

Moreover, the EU has responded quickly. It has adopted a new regulation (2022/1369) on reducing gas demand reduction by 15% target. And it is working on new measures to contain prices, such as cap prices, windfall taxes etc.). Meanwhile, gas storage is up, already over the 80% target set for the end of September. 

The EU, as well as the UK, is gearing up to a winter of a “war economy” that is needed to make sure that Putin also loses his second war.

Ambassador Stefano Stefanini is the former Italian High Representative to the North Atlantic Council

TAG Virtual Conference: Zeitenwende – An Era of Change?

September 13th, 2022

By Julian Lindley-French, Chair of The Alphen Group

“We (Germans) have to pay for solidarity”.

The February 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine led the German political class, people and armed forces to begin a change of mind-set over the role of Germany in European defence and the utility and purpose of force, but it will be a long process. Change is by no means assured due to a profound lack of understanding about deterrence in Germany, the tendency to equate more institutions with increased fighting power, and the huge cost of improving the readiness of the Bundeswehr. However, Germany has abandoned its belief that reliance on Russian energy would lead to convergence between German and Russian values and policies with the mantra of ‘wandel durch handel’ (change through trade) and the belief that mercantilism is grand strategy little more than self-serving strategic fraudulence. Berlin’s belief that energy could be securely sourced from Russia, production out-sourced to China, and debt ‘out-sourced’ to other Eurozone states lies in tatters.

The immediate consequences are the decisions to abandon Nordstream 2, the provision of weapons to Ukraine, and the rebuilding of the Bundeswehr. The latter decision has three main elements: the establishment of a ‘Special Budget’ ostensibly to help invest in a future force, an increase the defence budget to 2% GDP, which if realised would afford Germans an increase in the defence budget from the current $47bn to $75bn, and the decision to procure F-35s and a range of advanced drones.  

Smoke and mirrors? Much of the increase to the defence budget comes from the national contingency fund and is thus temporary and could fall going forward, whilst in the absence of a clear military strategy much of the ‘Special Budget’ has been consumed by short-term fixes to “fill all the holes in the yard”. It is also far too small to correct the decades-long hollowing out of the Bundeswehr, particularly under Chancellor Merkel. There are also profound splits in both the governing coalition and opposition over the extent to which Germany should re-invest in its armed forces, with the biggest block seemingly Chancellor Schölz.

The role of allies will be vital in compelling Germany to really “break an era”, particularly the US. Germany is already well “behind the curve” in its efforts to reach 2%. Germany is also beginning to face hard political choices over cost and consequences. Scholz’s August 2022 Prague Speech highlighted strains in the defence-strategic relationship with France is under strain, particularly over the Future Combat Air System and air defence. The NATO Strategic Concept and the Madrid Summit again seem more important to Berlin than the EU Strategic Compass and its promise to afford the Union a “full spectrum force”. The relationship with Poland is not at all easy given Warsaw’s claim for €1.3 trillion of war reparations and the Poles may well claim some of the proposed expenditure as reparations-in-kind. The design of the German future force will also need to be driven by high-end interoperability with US forces. The re-orientation of the Bundeswehr back from expeditionary crisis management to bulwark of land deterrence in NATO’s expanding north and north-eastern Europe will inevitably push Berlin closer to Washington and London. The minimum military test of Zeitenwende will be the creation by 2030 of at least three fully-equipped and agile combat-ready Bundeswehr divisions.

A new National Security Strategy will probably be launched at the 2023 Munich Security Conference which will suggest the depth and extent of the Zeitenwende, including its relationship with China. Germany can no longer hide in the plain sight of history if it fails to follow through with Zeitenwende and Berlin can no longer imply an equivalency between China, Russia and the United States. Perhaps the greatest paradox of the Zeitenwende is defence expenditure. For much of the last twenty to thirty years the Bundeswehr has been a ‘Potemkin force’, more appearance than strength as the political class has transferred the responsibility for, and the risk of, making Germany military missions work onto their young men and women in uniform. As such, German defence policy has been a monumental waste of German taxpayer’s money as well a form of free-riding on the tax-payers of allies, most notably the United States. 

The more impeccably democratic, Atlanticist, European Germany spends on defence the greater the value for money that will be afforded to its taxpayers and the more equitable the sharing of burdens with its over-stretched allies and partners. For that reason, and because for the first time since the end of the Cold War Germans feel threatened, Zeitenwende’s three principal drivers are likely to endure. First, the settled German political settlement on defence has been profoundly disrupted by Russia. Second, the renewed and consequent focus on what Germany must do to defend itself is sharp. Third, self-criticism over why and how Germany failed/refused to understand Russia’s drift towards war is deep. It is hard to see how Berlin can turn the clock back as A.E. Houseman once wrote, “The past is another country. They do things differently there”.

Julian Lindley-French is the Chair of The Alphen Group

Steadfast, Strong and Wise: Queen Elizabeth II and the world stage

By Julian Lindley-French, Chair of The Alphen Group

“When life seems hard, the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future.”

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Think on this! In my now long life of over six decades until last night I had known only one head of state, Her Gracious Britannic Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. No state, let alone a democracy, can say that. At 1935 hours on September 8th, 2022 that changed and King Charles III immediately ascended to the throne of the United Kingdom and thirteen other states around the world. Apart from the interregnum between 1649 and 1660 there has been an unbroken chain of succession to the English throne since the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Elder died in AD 924. In over seventy years on the throne Her Majesty oversaw fifteen British prime ministers and thirteen US presidents, but what was her influence on the international stage?

Influence is the word. As a constitutional monarch Elizabeth II had no formal role in the conduct of British foreign and security policy. However, as Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth, and Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces (and many others), she had an unrivalled network of influence the world-over which she used for the betterment of all. Her first prime minister and early tutor was none other than Winston Churchill in 1952.  His power years were the war years, they were also her formative years during which she trained as a mechanic as 230873 Second Subaltern Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor of the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service. She remained an under-stated ‘mechanic’ of world affairs thereafter, quietly and patiently fixing things as part of her unrivalled devotion to duty.

She was also the rock upon which the British people leaned during seventy years of the most profound transition from imperial power to a modern European democracy. As prime ministers struggled too often inconsistently with the politics of post-imperial decline she was the constant that ensured stability in a state and nation undergoing perhaps the greatest change since the 1066 Norman Conquest.

It was that continuity that not only enabled her to exert influence but helped preserve British influence. She both charmed world leaders at the height of their respective powers and offered her increasingly deep understanding of world affairs in equal measure, with her under-stated but powerful insights. Her weekly meetings with her prime ministers were not simply formal events for the them to inform Her Majesty of their policies and decisions, but a unique moment in Britain’s constitution when she would offer steadfast and wise advice born of her experience.

At times of war, such as during the Falklands Conflict in 1982, she was the embodiment of the nation. Her armed forces fought for each other, the country, but above all in Her Majesty’s name. This ensured not only a sense of historic continuity but also the vital separation between force, church and state. Indeed, as Head of the Church of England she had profound influence over the Anglican and Episcopalian community the world over. However, perhaps her most direct influence on world affairs was as the Head of the Commonwealth. Born of Empire by the 1990s the Commonwealth had morphed into an influence network of now 56 nations of which Britain is but one. That the Commonwealth has endured owes much to Her Majesty and it is that legacy which is perhaps the one of which she was most proud, and rightly so.

Her commitment to duty was matched by a sense of humour that could be both wry and sharp.  Her “Good evening, Mr Bond”, ‘parachute jump’ into the 2012 Olympic stadium with James Bond (actor Daniel Craig) and her Platinum Jubilee tea with Paddington Bear revealed a capacity for fun she retained throughout her life.  It is something she took from her late and revered father, King George VI.

To conclude this tribute to my former Queen and Head of State let me recount the tale of my first meeting with Her Majesty. In the early 1960s my parents were watching a polo match at Smith’s Lawn in Windsor Great Park. As befitted the five year old me I had wandered off to talk to the horses whilst my parents talked to grown-ups. As equally befitted the five year old me I decided to push the odd boundary by putting my hand inside a horse’s mouth. One of my earliest memories is of this very nice lady telling me that it was perhaps not a particularly good idea…and my parents rushing over and then standing erect in Her Majesty’s presence. I have been putting my hand in the horse’s mouth pretty much ever since?

Steadfast, strong and wise. Thank you, your Majesty. Rest in Peace.

God Save the King!

Julian Lindley-French

Review: ‘Victory at Sea’: How Naval Power Helped Win WWII

By Paul Kennedy
Yale University Press, May 2022

Reviewed by Colin Robertson

Historian Paul Kennedy’s Victory at Sea: Naval Power and the Transformation of the Global Order in World War II is the story of how the navies of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Japan prepared from the mid-1930s and then fought in the waters of three main theaters: the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific. As Kennedy relates, the European war began with U-boats sinking British warships while the Pacific war would begin with a surprise Japanese assault by air – “The age of modern asymmetric weaponry had arrived.”

Victory at Sea is divided into five parts: Setting the Stage; Narrative of the Great Naval War, 1939–42; The Critical Year of 1943; Narrative of the Great Naval War, 1944–45; Aftermath and Reflections.

The British-born, Oxford-trained Kennedy is currently the J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History, and Director of International Security Studies at Yale, where he also taught the Grand Strategy seminar with the late diplomat Charles Hill and Gaddis Smith. A prolific author and columnist, he is perhaps best known for his The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (1987). It was required reading in foreign ministries. It argued that the challenge for the great powers is to balance their economic capacity with their military power and strategic commitments. Success or failure hinged on decisions around investment, defense and consumption.

Like Rise and Fall (677 pages), Victory at Sea is equally magisterial (544 pages) even if the scope is a decade and a half rather than half a millennium. It tells the story of convoys, amphibious landings and naval battles involving the six great powers and their allies. By war’s end four of them were vanquished.

Victory at Sea is an analysis of power shifts in the international system and a study in the causes of historical change. Kennedy argues that “at no other time in history did the naval balance of power change as much” as during the crucial period covered by the book. It was “the greatest naval war the world had ever seen,” a “deadly struggle between revisionist and status quo Great Powers.” Winston Churchill — notably First Lord of the Admiralty both during the First World War and, more fatefully, again before becoming prime minister in 1940 — was proved right when he opined that if Britain could just withstand the early Axis blows then the entry of America, “that giant boiler”, would be decisive.

Kennedy makes a convincing case that the “transformation of the global order” hinged on the crucial role of naval warfare and America’s superior industrial capacity. The dynamic growth of the United States and its rapid attainment of naval mastery left it the number one world power — the ‘superpower’ — by 1945.

Kennedy’s fluent storytelling is accompanied by statistical charts and detailed maps. The elegiac watercolour paintings of the late Ian Marshall are a visual treat. Look at the 53 plates, beginning with HMS Hood and HMS Barham at harbour (1936) in the Royal Navy’s Malta base (both were later sunk in the Battle of Malta) and including the Allied fleet led by USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay (1945).

Kennedy acknowledges his debt to French scholar Fernand Braudel (who spent time in a German prisoner of war camp) and Braudel’s equally magisterial The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II (1949). Braudel describes the shift from a Europe centered on the Mediterranean to a continent looking to the Atlantic and beyond. For Kennedy, World War II marks the decisive shift of the Eurocentric world order to one dominated by the United States. Kennedy argues it could not have happened without the navy.

To illustrate the Battle of the Atlantic, the war’s longest campaign. Kennedy tells the story of ONS-5, an Allied merchant convoy returning from British ports in May, 1943 to New York City to receive the vital stocks of food, fuel and manufactured inputs such as steel that kept Britain fed and industry sustained. German U-boat wolf packs were sinking ships faster than they could be replaced. Churchill would write that it was the “only thing that ever really frightened me during the war.” He told the War Cabinet (March, 1943) that the country’s naval resources were “stretched to the uttermost”, and “inadequate to meet the enemy’s concentration of U-boats”.

In a compelling vindication of Churchill’s championing of radar technology, that confrontation off the coast of Newfoundland ended with seven U-boats sunk and another seven damaged because of technological innovation that combined lengthening the radius of aircraft escorts and improved equipment for the detection of submarines: the centimetric radar dish invented at Bell Laboratories that allowed the convoys to ‘see’ the wolf pack. Kennedy writes that “In the entire naval war, it is hard to find a better example of a novel technology immediately making a difference to the fight.” So, of course, did Bletchley Park’s ability to read German naval codes.

The numbers tell the story: convoys sank 87 U-boats in 1942. With better air support and radar, 244 submarines were sunk in 1943 and 249 in 1944. The tide had turned in the Battle of the Atlantic.

For Kennedy, 1943 was the pivot year. The Allies turned the tide in the Atlantic. With the arrival of the aircraft carrier USS Essex, the first of its class, and the new Grumman Hellcat fighter and fighter-bomber, there were victories in the Pacific. In the Mediterranean, the Allies made landings in Sicily after retaking North Africa.

The Hellcat, writes Kennedy, tells another story of the war: the extraordinary supply chain that stretched from the mining of bauxite — the ore needed to produce aluminum — in the then-Dutch colony of Suriname, to the production of aluminum in Alcoa refineries in Tennessee, to the manufacturing of parts in East Hartford, Connecticut, to the construction of the planes at the massive Grumman factory at Bethpage, Long Island. They were then flown to naval bases in San Diego and Long Beach, California where they found their new home on newly-built Essex-class carriers. Hellcats eventually shot down 5200 enemy aircraft, far more than any Allied fighter.

The Essex carriers and Hellcats symbolized Franklin Roosevelt’s declaration that the USA had become the ‘arsenal of democracy’ in its global dominance. One chart, measuring warship tonnages from 1939 to 1945, essentially tells the story of World War II. While the lines of all the five other powers go up or down slightly as the war progresses, the line for the United States climbs steeply, starting in 1941, in an almost vertical direction. By war’s end, the American shipbuilding program was “almost choking on its own productivity.” American warship tonnage outstripped all the other belligerents put together. The US Navy ruled the waves with almost 100 carriers and hundreds more battleships, destroyers, corvettes and auxiliary ships.

Kennedy cites fellow historian Correlli Barnett, who argues that a nation’s capacity — national direction, strategic decision-making, productive resources, scientific and technological capacity, the armed services and their weapons systems — is determined by conflict because it tests the strengths and weaknesses of their society. A fundamental figure in that audit is naval expenditures, because warships are usually the biggest ticket item in war-making as compared with jets or tanks.

Kennedy gives Canada scant attention even though we played a critical role in the Battle of the Atlantic. Our warships were part of Britain’s lifeline, helping to escort more than 25,000 merchantmen across the Atlantic. Employing more than 125,000 workers, our shipyards built more than 4,000 vessels, each ship in an average of 307 days.

At the end of the Second World War, Canada had the fourth- largest navy in the world with 95,000 sailors and 434 commissioned vessels.

Today, Canada has around 12,000 sailors with twelve frigates and four submarines originally built in the 1980s, a dozen coastal vessels built in the 1990s, and a reconditioned commercial supply ship. The first of our six new offshore patrol ships, HMCS Harry DeWolf, sailed through the North West Passage last fall.

While the Trudeau government has committed more money to defence, at 1.36 percent of GDP our defence expenditures are far below the NATO target of two percent. As we revisit our current defence strategy, we need to ask ourselves: Is this sufficient to secure our sovereignty and ensure collective security?

Fronting on three oceans — the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific — Canada’s coastline is the world’s longest. We live in an era of increasing threats, higher collective security obligations and, with climate change, the waters we must defend expand daily. We hope to see our 15 new surface combatants in the early 2030s and our two new supply ships in the late 2020s. We also need new submarines.

For Kennedy, the application of sea power, fundamental to projecting geopolitical power, reached its culmination in World War II. It decided the outcome of the transformative struggle between the Grand Alliance and the Axis Powers. Today,  we look to the Indo-Pacific, through which 60 percent of world commerce passes. Sea power is vital to preserving freedom of navigation for our trade.

“War was coming,” Kennedy writes about the 1930s, “because two revisionist and authoritarian regimes were no longer willing to tolerate existing borders.” History does not repeat itself, but as Mark Twain observed, it often rhymes.

Red Hands, Red Faces

(First Published in The Times of London)

By Edward Lucas

Russia’s spies squirm in the spotlight

A new Bellingcat investigation tells the story of a woman known to her many friends as Maria Adela Kuhfeldt Rivera. After moving between Rome, Malta and Paris, she settled in Naples where she ran a jewellery business and socialised energetically, chiefly among expats connected with the big US Navy base there.

Her supposedly original designs were fake: cheap Chinese imports. So too was her life story. She was not born in Peru and raised by adoptive parents in Moscow. She was in fact Olga Kolobova, part of a prized cohort of deep-cover “illegals” working abroad for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.

Bellingcat establishes this chiefly by cross-referencing open-source information and leaked databases. Crucially, the Russian passport used by “Rivera” differed by only one digit from that used by a GRU officer involved in the attempted poisoning of the ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Britain in March 2018. A Bellingcat investigation into that episode a few months later deduced that the Russian spy agency — in an astonishing piece of carelessness — was using sequentially numbered passports for its undercover officers. Hours after that news broke, Kolobova was told to hurry home (Bellingcat has even traced the phone call from her spymaster boss).

The investigators’ success places a question-mark over the sweeping powers and bloated budgets of some Western counter-intelligence services. Particularly troubling is that in the four years since Kolobova fled to Moscow, Bellingcat seems to have been the first to quiz her associates. It would have been good housekeeping, at least, for Italian spy-catchers to look for any loose ends. I had the same experience investigating an American spy bust in 2010 for my book, Deception. I tracked down several ex-colleagues of the ten Russian illegals caught and deported from the United States. They included a professor, an intern and a co-author. All were eager to talk: they had been waiting, rather puzzledly, for the professionals to get in touch.

Without further investigation, Kolobova’s mission remains unclear. Her trips to Bahrain (home to another US Navy base) suggest one area of interest. She may have been a “spotter”: a spy who looks out for financial, psychological and other weaknesses among potential targets. Such spotters rarely get involved in the risky business of agent-running or recruitment. That makes them inconspicuous: hard to catch and thus particularly valuable.

Kremlin mouthpieces habitually decry Bellingcat as an MI6 front. How else can it achieve such stunning successes against Russia’s sprawling and powerful security agencies? Previous coups include tracking down the FSB hit-squad who poisoned Alexei Navalny. The climax of that investigation was a prank call in which the Russian opposition leader fooled one of the assassins into giving details of the attempted murder.

Bellingcat’s success may be infuriating but it is no secret. It exploits incompetent tradecraft by Russia’s spy agencies, coupled with the country’s endemic corruption, the huge amount of public information available on social media, and simple techniques such as reverse-image searches. The GRU could have issued its operatives with randomly numbered passports. It chose not to because of laziness and complacency, not the machinations of Western intelligence. Vast databases of Russians’ addresses, phones, passports and other personal data are for sale on the internet. That results from greedy behavior by employees of public agencies and private businesses, and poorly designed systems that let them steal and sell data with impunity.

Russian spymasters can close down operations with similar flaws. But all of the intelligence officers involved, plus their sources and methods, remain vulnerable to exposure. Russia’s spymasters can only sit and wait for the next bombshell to burst on the Bellingcat website.

Edward Lucas is a member of The Alphen Group.

How to Win in Ukraine

By R.D. Hooker, Jr.

a shorter version of this article first appeared in The Atlantic Council’s Ukraine Alert on August 22nd, 2022

So far in the conflict in Ukraine, the Ukrainian armed forces have conducted a stout and stirring defense, inflicting heavy casualties on Russian units and contesting every foot of ground.  Against long odds, Ukraine managed to defend the capital, Kyiv, as well as its second largest city, Kharkiv, forcing Russia to abandon its goal of a quick takeover of the national territory. Staving off defeat is not, however, the same thing as victory.[1]  Russian forces today control about 20% of Ukrainian territory, including large tracts in the east and south.  What can Ukraine do to “win”?

A first step must be to address the disparity in airpower.  Success in modern, high-intensity warfare is almost impossible without at least parity in the air, and Ukraine began the contest woefully behind the curve, with perhaps flyable 100 jets compared to Russia’s more than 1,500.  Where Russia has been able to generate 100-200 sorties per day, the much smaller Ukrainian air force can manage perhaps 10-20.  Accordingly, Ukraine has been generally unable to provide air support to its ground forces for fear of losing its small inventory of high-performance aircraft (mostly MIG-29 and SU-27 fighters and Su-24 and SU-25 ground attack aircraft). Instead, its approach has been to carefully husband its assets to maintain a “force-in-being,” to be used only selectively.

On the other hand, Ukraine has been outstandingly successful in denying Russia air supremacy with extremely effective air defense and a strategy of “air denial.” Though lacking the most advanced air defense systems, such as the US Patriot or the Russian S-400, its use of older S-300 (high altitude), SA-11 (medium altitude) and SA-8 (short range) systems has been lethal to Russian airpower.  (The US has also provided small numbers of its NASAM short to medium-range air defense system, while Germany has promised to send decommissioned Gepard air defense vehicles, though ammunition shortages have delayed actual use)[2]  Employed in concert with large numbers of US-supplied Stinger shoulder-fired missiles and using “shoot and scoot” tactics for survivability, Ukrainian air defense has downed dozens of Russian fixed and rotary-wing aircraft and largely sidelined Russian airpower. An adequate supply of air defense missiles for Ukrainian systems is essential here, and they must come from outside sources in quantity for  Ukraine  to prevail.

Ukraine has also used drones with devastating effect.  The principal military platforms have been the Turkish “Bayraktar” TB2, which can deliver laser-guided bombs, and the US-supplied “Phoenix Ghost” drone, as well as the “Switchblade,” a “kamikaze” drone with onboard explosives that can be flown into the target.  These are supplemented with thousands of cheaper commercial drones used for artillery spotting and intelligence collection. Russian forces have adapted and the loss rate of Ukrainian drones is high, but low cost and ready availability mean that drones will continue to play an important role.  When linked to nearby artillery units, drones enable quick target acquisition and precise fires, making the most of Ukraine’s limited artillery resources.

Ukrainian innovation and tactical agility have blunted much of Russia’s dominance in the air, but the ability to generate offensive airpower in the form of close air support and air interdiction will go far towards helping Ukraine prevail.  Earlier in the conflict, Poland and other former-Warsaw Pact nations suggested a transfer of Soviet-era jets to Ukraine, an offer blocked by US officials.[3]  If NATO is determined not to provide air cover, it is imperative that this block be removed and that partners be permitted to support the Ukrainian air force with platforms it can employ quickly to support air operations.  Backfilling these transfers with US 4th generation aircraft like the F-16 would also hasten the transition from Soviet-era jets to more interoperable western aircraft in these countries.  Even 50 additional jets, with associated munitions and spare parts, could make a major difference.[4] Without a boost in air support, a Ukrainian victory may still be possible if the strategy of air denial holds up, but it will come at higher costs to the ground forces.

Just as important is artillery, which comes in three forms – tubed, rocket and missile.  Ukraine began the war with substantial but outdated tubed artillery from the Soviet era, complicated by a dearth of ammunition.[5]  With some 2000 artillery pieces to Ukraine’s 500, Russian artillery is far more numerous, modern and powerful, with a daily consumption of artillery rounds some 10 times greater than Ukraine’s.[6] As with air defense, Ukraine has used its limited artillery intelligently, quickly relocating after fire missions to avoid counter-battery fire and relying on drones for precision targeting.  The addition of towed 155mm howitzers from the US and smaller numbers of 155mm self-propelled  systems from Germany, France and other countries has strengthened Ukraine’s tubed artillery holdings considerably, but Russia’s advantage is still strong.[7] 

Here, the US can help with M109A6 155mm self-propelled howitzers, recently replaced by the newer M109A7 model and now in storage in quantity.[8]  The M109A6 is an armored, tracked vehicle, more survivable against counter-battery fire, quicker to displace and with smaller crews.  It is accurate, lethal and rugged – well suited to Ukraine’s terrain and operational environment.  Approximately 320 of these systems would give Ukraine 4 additional artillery brigades (one for each of its 4 regional headquarters), plus an additional battalion in general support for each of Ukraine’s 12 or so division – equivalents, leaving some 10% for training and spares.

U.S. Army Paladin M109A6 155mm self-propelled howitzer (Photo U.S. DoD)

The real artillery game changer is the multiple launch rocket system, in both the wheeled (M142 HIMARS) and tracked (M270 MLRS) variants.  Both are long ranged, precise, mobile and very destructive. Small numbers have been provided to date and they have rendered excellent service.[9]  While Ukraine does field older rocket artillery systems like the  BM-21 Grad and BM-30 Smerch, HIMARS and MLRS are far superior in range and precision.  As a matter of policy, the Biden administration has withheld longer ranged ATACMS ammunition that can strike targets up to 300 miles away.[10]  To level the playing field and transition to the offense with some hope of success, Ukraine probably needs some 50 or so HIMARS or MLRS systems, and it needs the ATACMS round.[11]  These capabilities will enable Ukrainian forces to strike high value, deep targets like command posts, airfields, logistics hubs, air defense complexes, and ballistic missile launchers.  Given the mismatch in airpower, long range rocket artillery has the potential to turn the tide and put Ukraine on a path towards ultimate success. Without it, victory will be elusive.

M142 HIMARS Department of Defense
M270 MLRS Military Today

Stronger airpower and more modern rocket artillery will greatly improve the odds, but Ukraine’s tank forces must also be strengthened.  When the war began Ukraine’s standard tank was the T-64B, an older Soviet-era design, underpowered and lacking the most modern explosive reactive armor, thermal sights and modern ammunition.[12] While Ukraine has inflicted heavy losses on Russian armor (often using hand-held antitank weapons), its own tank force has been depleted and offensive breakthroughs with tank-heavy forces have not been possible. Poland has committed to providing 240 PT-91 main battle tanks, along with small numbers of Czech T-72s.[13] To equip the Ukrainian army for offensive operations in 2023, the US should consider providing a similar number of M1A1 tanks from its large reserve stocks.  Though not the very latest model, the M1A1 is more than a match for most Russian tanks and available in large numbers.[14]

M1A1 Abrams main battle tank  Photo US Army

More modern weapon systems for Ukraine are badly needed, but reorganizing Ukrainian ground forces is just as important.  Ukraine began the war with some 38 maneuver (infantry and tank) brigades and 9 artillery brigades, organized on the Russian model.[15]  Unlike western armies, Ukraine does not use the division and corps structures common to NATO, relying instead on regional commands.[16]  These lack true battle staffs that can provide enablers, resource lower level commands and integrate airspace, deep fires, logistics, intelligence and operational level command and control.  This organization suffers from span-of-control problems and prevents Ukraine from conducting large-scale operational maneuver, especially for offensive operations.  A better approach is to convert the operational commands into true corps headquarters with trained battlestaffs, and to introduce the division as an intermediate echelon of command.  Both should include “enablers” or support formations (artillery, air defense, aviation, engineer, signal, logistics, intelligence, medical, and reconnaissance units) that are crucial to success in combined arms warfare.[17]  Standing up these structures in wartime will be challenging and will take time, but could be possible by the latter part of 2023 with the right support.

This move would result in the creation of 4 regionally-oriented corps, each with anywhere from 2-3 division-equivalents (including territorial defense forces) based on the terrain and threat.  To transition to the offense and counter-attack, Ukraine also requires a 5th corps composed of at least three tank and mechanized divisions – an “armored fist” led by its most accomplished and successful commanders to conduct decisive operations to drive the Russian army from Ukrainian territory.  To coordinate these corps, Ukraine should establish a field army headquarters, to be led by the Commander, Ukrainian Ground Forces.  Many of the building blocks of these formations already exist in current force structure and standing headquarters, which need only to be converted or augmented for battlefield use.

All of this requires institutional support and infrastructure to recruit, train, equip, field and sustain forces in the field as well as defense industry to manufacture, repair and replace combat systems and to produce the ammunition, spare parts and other classes of supply that are essential.  Foreign assistance has been critical in this regard, but it has come incrementally and on an ad hoc basis, challenging Ukraine to integrate many different types of combat systems, on the fly, in combat.  To assist Ukraine, NATO should provide a “NATO Training Mission-Ukraine,” based in Poland, on a scale similar to the robust training support organizations seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.[18] Led by a US 3 star, with senior-level representation and staffing from the UK, France, Poland and Germany, NTM-U can provide the expertise, technical assistance and “connective tissue” that is badly needed as Ukraine fights for its national existence.[19]

Why should the US and its European allies and partners risk a confrontation with a nuclear-armed Russia in this way?  The clear answer is that a negotiated “peace” in Ukraine will mean nothing of the sort.  Any settlement that leaves Russia in control of occupied territory in exchange for a cessation of hostilities will reward Russian aggression and encourage more.[20] Western leaders can be sure that success in Ukraine, even at high cost, will put NATO Allies like the Baltic States squarely in Putin’s crosshairs.  If anything, US and European reluctance to take the steps outlined above can only reassure Putin that the West fears confrontation and will take pains to avoid it. This is not a recipe for deterring future aggression.

Nor should the West fear Russian rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons.  Distilled to its  essence, this amounts to the threat of a nuclear exchange if Russia is not allowed to invade and occupy its neighbors. The nuclear deterrence regime that has been in place since the 1950s is surely strong enough to deter such wild adventurism. Here, constant statements from western leaders that “we cannot risk WWIII” only encourage Putin that reckless threats to use nuclear weapons are working.

The outcome of the conflict in Ukraine will have other consequences beyond Europe.  China is watching carefully and will weigh the West’s commitment to its friends and partners carefully as it considers the military conquest of Taiwan – especially after the US and NATO’s precipitate and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. So will Iran and North Korea.  For the most part, Russian aggression in Georgia, Crimea, the Donbas and more broadly in Ukraine has been met with sanctions, rhetoric and a pronounced unwillingness to risk confrontation –  not confidence and firm resolve. We should not fool ourselves here.  Much is at stake.

To enable Ukraine to succeed and win, the US and Europe do not need to introduce ground troops.  Magnificent Ukrainian resistance has badly hurt the Russian military, which is almost totally committed in Ukraine.  An opportunity exists to end further Russian aggression in the European security space for a generation, and perhaps forever.  But victory depends on western and international support that goes well beyond the current level.  We cannot ignore that Ukraine, too, has suffered painful losses in troops and materiel. Ukraine has been consistent and clear about its needs.  Peace in Europe, and perhaps the world, depends on meeting them.

[1]“Victory” can be defined as recovery of the national territory and a decisive defeat of Russian forces such that further Russian aggression is deterred. See the author’s “Ukraine Can Win,” The Atlantic Council, July 20, 2022.

[2] For “National/Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile System,” a short- to medium-rangeair defense system developed by Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace (KDA) and Raytheon.

[3] In February 2022 Ukraine fielded 21 MiG-29 fighters, 28 SU-27 multi-role fighters,  12 SU-24 strike fighters and  13 SU-25 ground attack jets.  Poland has 27 MiG-29 fighters and 32 SU-22 fighter/bombers in its inventory.  Bulgaria has 6 SU-25 ground attack and 14 MiG-29 fighter aircraft.  Slovakia has 11 MiG-29s.  See World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft at  See also Humeyra Pamuk, “US rejects Poland’s offer to give it Russian-made fighter jets for Ukraine,” Reuters, March 9, 2022.

[4] Another option is to provide US A-10 ground attack and F-16 fighter aircraft to Ukraine, a move that would require longer lead times to train pilots and develop a logistical and training infrastructure.  At present, the US government  does not support this move. See Everett Pyatt, “Transfer three A-10 aircraft squadrons to Ukraine now,” DefenseOne, March 3, 2022 and Amy MacKinnon, “Ukraine Wants NATO Jets. Biden Says Not Yet,” Foreign Policy, March 22, 2022.

[5] Between 2015 and 2019, some 210,000 tons of artillery ammunition was destroyed by Russian sabotage. Thomas Gibbons Neff et al, “Shortage of Artillery Ammunition Saps Ukrainian Frontline Morale,” New York Times, June 10, 2022.

[6] Ilia Ponomarenko, “Why Ukraine struggles to combat Russia’s artillery superiority,” Kyiv Independent, August 12, 2022. 

[7] To date the US has supplied 126 M777 155mm towed howitzers and 260,000 artillery rounds, along with 12 HIMARS wheeled multiple launch rocket systems. Another 4 are promised.  Germany and the Netherlands have contributed 12 155mm self-propelled Panzerhaubitzen 2000 howitzers.  France has provided 12 155mm self-propelled Caesar howitzers and promised an additional 6.  The UK supplied Ukraine with “several” M270 tracked multiple launch rocket systems (open sources state that Ukraine has up to 12 at present) and has committed to send 20 M109 155mm self-propelled howitzers, 36 105mm towed howitzers and 50,000 rounds of ammunition. Canada has provided 4 M777 howitzers.

[8] “Taiwan to acquire 40 US M109A6 155mm self-propelled howitzers,” Defense News, August 2021 .

[9] As of this writing Ukraine is thought to have 16 HIMARS and 9 MLRS systems.  Joost Oliemans and Stijn Mitzer, “ Answering The Call: Heavy Weaponry Supplied To Ukraine,” Oryx , April 11, 2022. 

[10] ATACMS stands for “Army Tactical Missile System.”

[11] The ATACMS munition has been denied to Ukraine for fear it may be used to strike targets inside Russia, although the Ukrainian government has pledged to observe US restrictions.  Paul McLeary, “Biden resists Ukrainian demands for long-range rocket launchers,” Politico, May 18, 2022.

[12] Ukraine began the war with some 720 T-64 variants, including 100 T-64BM models which do have modern upgrades, including thermal sights, along with 100 T-72 models.  About 600 dated T-64s are in storage. Military Watch, April 18, 2021.  In contrast, Russia began the invasion with some 2800 frontline tanks, virtually all superior to Ukrainian models.

[13] Drew Hinshaw and Natalia Ojewska, “Poland Has Sent More Than 200 Tanks to Ukraine,”  Wall Street Journal, April 29, 2022.  The PT-91 is a locally produced T-72 variant, superior to the T-64 and roughly comparable to Russian T-72B3s now in service.  The US has agreed to sell 250 M1A2SEPv3 tanks, the most modern version, to replace them along with another 130 M1A1 models.  Rojoef Manuel, “Poland Buys 116 Used M1A1 Abrams Tanks From US,” The Defense Post, July 18, 2022. 

[14] The M1A1 is equipped with thermal sights, depleted uranium armor, a powerful 1500hp gas turbine engine, and a lethal, stabilized 120mm main gun that can hit targets accurately on the move out to 4000m.

[15] 1st, 3d, 5th, 14th, and 17th tank brigades, 14th, 15th, 24th , 28th, 30th, 33d, 72d, 53d, 54th, 60th, 62d, 63d, 92d, 93d and 115th mechanized infantry brigades, 10th and 128th mountain assault brigades, 56th, 57th, 58th,  and 59th motorized infantry brigades, 60th infantry brigade, 61st, 68th and 71st jaeger infantry brigades, 36th naval infantry brigade, 25th airborne brigade, 46th, 79th, 80th and 95th air assault brigades, 81st airmobile brigade,  and 4th Rapid Reaction Brigade, 26th, 38th, 40th, 44th, 45th and 55th artillery brigades, 43d heavy artillery brigade, 27th rocket artillery brigade,  and 19th missile brigade.  Not  included are 9 “territorial defense” brigades.  Ukrainian maneuver brigades, like Russian brigades, include not one but 3 artillery battalions (2 tubed and 1 rocket). By comparison, the entire US Army fields 31 active maneuver brigades. See Franklin Holcomb, “The Ukrainian Order of Battle,” Institute for the Study of War, December 2016, “The Military Balance 2022,” International Institute for Strategic Studies, and the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense at

[16] Styled as “Operational Commands West, North, East and South.”

[17] These are typically battalion-sized at division level and brigade-sized at corps level.

[18] Multinational Support and Training Command-Iraq (“MNSTC-I”) and the Coalition Support and Training Command-Afghanistan (“CSTC-A”) were both large organizations, US-led and staffed by allies and partners, that featured tens of billions in funding.  NTM-Ukraine would be a comparable organization.

[19] It is possible that Russian forces might attempt to target a NATO Training Mission based in Poland, but such a move would surely bring the Alliance into the war in the air and on the ground, as opposed to merely providing equipment and training support. 

[20] “If Putin is not decisively defeated in Ukraine, he will surely go further in his mission to ‘return’ lost Russian lands … Russia’s imperial identity is still very much intact and has become a central pillar of the Putin regime.”  Peter Dickinson, “Putin admits Ukraine is an imperial war to ‘return’ Russian land.”  The Atlantic Council, June 10, 2022.

Dogs of War

(First published in the Times of London)

By Edward Lucas

Unleashing havoc is easier than controlling it

Since its seizure in 2014, Crimea has been a geopolitical trophy and a tourist hotspot. No longer. Ukrainian forces are repeatedly striking military bases on the Russian-occupied peninsula. Some attacks succeed. Others, seemingly, are foiled by intense anti-aircraft fire. Either way, terrifying explosions dent the perception of Russian invincibility, and the holiday mood. Tourists are heading home in their droves.

Life is also heating up in uncontested parts of Russia. Last week a fire engulfed a huge arms depot in Belgorod, near the Ukrainian border. Nearby villagers fled to safety: their first whiff of war since Nazi forces retreated in 1943. More murkily, a car bomb in Moscow, seemingly aimed at the fringe nationalist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin, killed his propagandist daughter Darya instead. This could be score-settling among Russia’s far-right. It could be a false-flag operation, carried out by the authorities, or their proxies, to stoke panic. Many Ukrainians will rejoice, seeing the racist conspiracy theorist as one of the intellectual authors of their torment. But I find Ukrainian involvement unlikely. If the authorities in Kyiv are sending hit-squads to Moscow, dozens of other targets would look more tempting and legitimate than the weirdo ex-professor.  

Whoever is behind it, the attack will give every senior member of the Kremlin’s ideological and propaganda operations (and their immediate families) a Crimean twinge of nerves. Life was already cheap in Putin’s Russia. The latest killing just made it cheaper. The political fallout is immediate, too. Russian officials, and their defenders abroad, are frothing. Targeting non-combatants and civilians is a war crime. Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory are (irony is dead): illegal, senseless, provocative, outrageous and will prompt merciless retribution.

For all the intricate arguments around the legality of targeted assassinations, Russia’s record on such killings is spectacular and undisputed. Numerous Kremlin critics, at home and abroad, have perished in the years since Vladimir Putin took power. Some plots have gone awry: the nerve-agent poisoning of the ex-spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury in 2018 failed to kill its target, but led instead to the death of Dawn Sturgess, who had no connection to Russia at all. In the Czech Republic in 2014, a sabotage attack in 2014 on the Vrbětice ammunition depot by the GRU military intelligence service killed two locals. The latest news, of the arrest in Albania of three apparent Russian spies at a weapons plant — and the use of a paralysing spray against security guards — underline the Kremlin’s willingness to resort to murder and mayhem.

Worst-hit, of course, is Ukraine. Since February 24, Russia has attacked 17,300 civilian buildings, against just 300 military installations, according to Ukrainian official figures. The war has killed thousands of people ­— at least 5,514, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights — with many more maimed, traumatized or made homeless. That, not Ukrainian strikes on Crimea, or anywhere else, is the real outrage.

But the real lesson of recent days is that events are spiraling out of the Kremlin’s control. Not one element of the original plan to attack Ukraine has survived contact with reality. Morale has not fractured. Neither has Western support. Attrition and bad leadership steadily weaken the Russian forces while Ukraine’s military is becoming stronger, with better training and more modern equipment. Whether by sabotage, or through drone and missile strikes, Ukraine is hitting targets that the Kremlin did not think it would need to defend. Retribution indeed: these attacks undermine a crucial Kremlin narrative about the conflict’s limited geographic and military scale. Russia thought it could limit the fighting to Ukraine. But nobody asked the Ukrainians about that.

Civil War Redux

(This article originally appeared in The National Interest)

By Hans Binnendijk and David C. Gompert

Where will the deep divisions in American society lead? Violent acts of insurrection have already taken place, the most serious of which was the Janu­ary 6, 2021, attack on the national capitol. Could violent civil war happen again in America? If so, what form might it take? Several recent publications have assessed the general causes of civil wars and seek to use these assessments to analyze the risk of large-scale armed civil conflict in the United States today.

A look back at the specific causes of the 1861–1865 American Civil War may shed additional light on these questions. Histo­rians have long debated the causes of the American Civil War, focusing primarily on slavery and secession. The war clearly began in response to decisions by Southern states to secede from the Union and Abraham Lincoln’s decision to resist. Slavery was the key underlying issue, coupled with the South’s fear that in November 1860 aboli­tionists had irrevocably turned the political tide against their slavery-based economic system by electing Lincoln, whose Repub­lican Party was committed to stopping its spread to new states. Underlying this is a more complex set of interrelated factors that might help to assess whether another American civil war is possible. The road to the American Civil War might be ana­lyzed as developing in three distinct stages. Those stages then can be used to contrast nineteenth-century events with unfolding events in America today.

In Stage 1 (from 1776 through 1850), systemic cultural divisions emerged be­tween the North and South that can be traced in part back to early immigration patterns during the colonial years. For ex­ample, religious British Puritans populat­ed the Yankee North and royalist Cavaliers populated the Tidewater region. While the 1787 Northwest Ordinance banned slavery in territories north of the Ohio River, the U.S. Constitution ducked most of the is­sues that eventually led to the Civil War, with many founding fathers believing that slavery would soon naturally fade away. But the invention of the cotton gin in 1793 and new textile manufacturing techniques in Europe created the potential for great wealth for plantation owners using slave labor to pick cotton. At the same time, the industrial revolution was centered in the North and created wealth for manufacturers.

These divergent methods of wealth cre­ation thus emerged between North and South, prompting differing lifestyles, cul­tures, views on free trade and tariff policies, and perspectives on the right of states to secede. Slavery was justified by Southerners as benign and benevolent while the aboli­tionist movement was still relatively nascent in the North. The states that shared similar views were within the same geographic re­gion and were contiguous, creating poten­tial for geographic division.

The Constitution was relatively silent on the right of states to secede from the Union. The prospect was raised frequently during the country’s early history in various places: in the 1791–94 Whiskey Rebellion, in the 1798–99 Virginia and Kentucky Resolu­tions, in Aaron Burr’s 1804-07 Western con­spiracy, in New England before and during the War of 1812, and in the 1832–33 Nullification crisis. The nominal right to se­cede was thus not solely a Southern concept.

Yet secession was kept in check during this stage by a combination of strong federal leadership and statesmen willing to com­promise. During the Whiskey Rebellion and the Nullification Crisis, George Wash­ington and Andrew Jackson respectively either used or threatened the use of force to maintain the Union. This was supple­mented by a series of national compromises, designed by statesmen like Henry Clay and later Daniel Webster. These include the Missouri Compromise of 1820, the nul­lification compromise of 1833, and the Compromise of 1850 (which diffused seces­sionist fervor created by the 1846 Wilmot Proviso). In addition, the U.S. military dur­ing this stage was still fairly unified, fighting together in the War of 1812, the early In­dian Wars, and the Mexican-American War.

It was during this first stage that the demand for cotton began to soar. With cotton-picking being a labor-intensive proposition, the Deep South’s use of slaves enabled it to become the world’s leading producer, and capital flowed into the sector to exploit phenomenal returns on invest­ment. Trade in human beings from North to South swelled. Expectations that slavery would fade were shattered, and Southern states’ economies, with some exceptions, became vitally dependent on slavery. At the same time, societal alienation remained subdued. Generally speaking, Southerners did not feel that the rest of the country se­riously threatened their right to own slaves.

Stage 2 (1850 to 1860) began with the growing importance of cotton in the South and growing abhorrence of slavery in the North. It was an unstable period of growing distrust, but Southern elites still widely believed that their culture could survive within the Union. By 1850, the U.S. cotton trade accounted for 60 per­cent of all American exports and nearly all Southern exports. The slave trade became even more pronounced and atrocious, with families readily broken in order to single out the best potential to pick cotton. In ad­dition, masters resorted to whipping field workers who failed to meet targets, which were as high as 200 pounds per slave per day. And newly acquired territories became more important to the South—not only to keep political balance in Washington, but also because Southern soil was faltering due to excessive use. The flagrantly inhumane treat­ment of slaves in the South stimulated the abolitionist movement in the North. Previ­ous compromises on the territories that had kept the peace for decades were reversed with the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Dred Scott de­cision. Regional alienation grew and spread.

Notwithstanding these trends, events in the 1850s strengthened the South’s politi­cal position within the Union. Four weak or pro-Southern U.S. presidents, brutal enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the 1857 Dred Scott decision all gave Southerners the sense that the status quo could endure despite tensions. Jefferson Davis served as the American secretary of war under Frank­lin Pierce. Stephen Douglas tried another compromise with the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but repealing the Missouri Compromise and allowing popular sovereignty to decide whether slavery would be allowed in those territories ignited conflict there. At least initially, Southerners saw it as a victory. The Dred Scott decision favored the South: it de­nied Scott his freedom and also allowed for slavery in all American territories. South­erners did not see slavery as doomed, and interest in secession was inchoate.

These same events created outrage in much of the North. The abolitionist movement, which started around 1830, became a major regional force in the 1850s. Add to this the wide circulation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and effective abolitionist leaders like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and William Lloyd Garrison, and slavery became a domi­nant moral issue in the North. But even as the North became more indignant and intol­erant of slavery, the South grew more reliant on its extraordinary profitability.

Other factors led to the growing sectoral divisions during this stage. An extremist press on both sides exacerbated sentiments. Intra-regional cultural affinity increased as railroads stitched like-minded regions to­gether. The Northern population grew rapid­ly due to immigration from Europe, creating demographic pressures disadvantageous to the South. The two-party system collapsed, causing wild political swings and a resulting shift in existing political orientations.

Limited violence was not uncommon be­tween the sides during this stage. Bleeding Kansas saw atrocities on both sides. The 1856 caning of Senator Charles Sumner by Congressman Preston Brooks brought violence into the U.S. Senate Chamber. And John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry stimulated admiration in the North and fear of slave revolts in the South.

Despite these hardening political posi­tions, the lack of willingness to compro­mise, and growing contempt and political violence, most principal actors on each side in Stage 2 still saw a path for survival within the Union. Extreme leaders emerged, but moderates stayed in control. In essence, alienation had grown sharply, but Northern and Southern goals were not yet necessarily irreconcilable.

Stage 3 (November 1860 to April 1861) consisted of a rapid and de­cisive existential crisis for the South and North. Events reached a tipping point and quickly spiraled out of control. The fragmentation of the Democratic Party in particular led to the subsequent election in November 1860 of Abraham Lincoln by less than a 40 percent plurality, which was considered illegitimate in the South despite a clear electoral college victory. Several last-minute compromise attempts failed. For example, a complex set of pro­posals designed by Senator John Critten­den failed because it permanently legalized slavery south of the Missouri Compromise line, reinforced the Fugitive Slave Law, and allowed the slave trade in the District of Colombia. The South’s winning political position from the 1850s shifted overnight, with no apparent prospect of a sustainable compromise. This created both panic and resolve in those Southern state economies most reliant on slavery. Lincoln’s position on the future of slavery in the territories (and thus subsequent states) appeared to threaten the long-term viability of the rela­tively secure national political position that the South had enjoyed up to that point. Suddenly, Southerners felt that they could no longer manage their future or pre­serve their way of life within the existing federal structure. Southerners, especially

The United States is beyond Stage 1 today. During the past several decades, the United States has already passed through a period with similarities to Stage 1. The nation during this period was increasingly divided on an array of issues but compro­mise was still possible as it was in the pre- 1850 period. Compared with Stage 1 of the buildup to the Civil War, there is today no one overwhelming catalytic question like slavery that divides the nation. But issues like abortion rights, immigration, police reform, covid-19 mandates, voting rights, gay rights, gun control, federal versus states’ rights, and teaching critical race theory in schools are differentiated primarily by po­litical party, by education, and geographic plus urban/rural divisions. These issues, taken together, do indicate sharp differences based on economic status and political phi­losophy. A telling example of this is that with the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the expectation is that most Red states will ban or severely limit abortion while Blue states will con­tinue to permit it. Although Red vs. Blue states are not as tightly aligned geographi­cally as the South and North were in the nineteenth century, there are deep forces that point increasingly to a division.

As with Stage 1 in the first half of the nineteenth century, much of the division today rests on differing economic predi­cates. Beginning around 1980, the digital revolution led to two transformations with profound repercussions. The first was the acceleration of corporate operations and in­vestments abroad, mainly to take advantage of cheaper labor. This gave impetus to the negotiation of a more open global trading system. The effect for the U.S. economy as a whole was positive in the medium term: curbing inflation, maintaining low interest rates, and giving consumers more choice and value. However, as with any demolition of market barriers, this one would dislocate large segments of the Ameri­can labor force, especially in high-cost, low-skilled sec­tors, like manufacturing. The second effect of digitization was automation, which cor­porations targeted especially on the high-cost, low-skilled work—the same socioeco­nomic group that was already hit hard by global trade. Again, this was good for most Americans, but very bad for some.

Then the 2008 recession hit the entire country hard, with the white male mid­dle-lower class being hit particularly hard. The U.S. manufacturing sector lost some 5 million jobs since 2000, more than two-thirds of whom were men. About a third of Ameri­can men were out of the labor force. The combined effects of these phenomena were increased unemployment, underemploy­ment, digital divide, disaffection, opioid use, suicides, and the placement of blame on foreign workers (e.g., Chinese) and im­migrants (e.g., Central Americans). Several administrations of both parties failed to rec­ognize the problem and provide necessary economic adjustment programs.

While many white working-class voters cast ballots for Barack Obama in 2008, because of the lingering recession their eco­nomic situation did not improve enough during his two terms in office. This opened the door for Donald Trump to make ex­treme claims in 2016 that attracted many in this neglected population away from the Democratic Party. But Trump’s campaign also stoked an increased degree of racism in the nation.

Since at least the year 2000, electoral re­sults have revealed a growing chasm be­tween Blue states and Red states, leaving only about a dozen swing states to be political (as well as socioeconomic) battle­grounds. Red states exist primarily in the old cotton belt of the Confederacy plus much of the old Louisiana Purchase area, and some of the Midwest. Blue states are primarily in the old Union area, the West Coast, some of the Southwest, and increas­ingly some southern states with shifting demographics like Virginia, North Caro­lina, and Georgia. Unlike Blue states, Red states are geographically more contigu­ous. What is different from 1860 is a corresponding divergence in views within these states between rural and urban Americans, leaving the suburbs also as bat­tlegrounds. Still, disputes were addressed— if often left unsettled—within the estab­lished political order.

The nation was able to pass through this contemporary Stage 1 without much violence because several unifying factors mitigated against national disunion. While political divisions mounted, legislators were still willing to compromise on at least some issues. The bloody history of the Civil War remained a sobering reminder to most Americans of the cost of insurrection and secession. The sixteen decades that have passed since the Civil War have gen­erally strengthened national bonds, with various civic and recreational associations acting as unifying factors—look no further than national sports organizations as an example. Geographic mobility across states over the decades has also tended to modify extreme concentrations of radical belief and to homogenize American culture. Al­legiances to states rather than the nation as a whole are certainly less today than in 1860. The U.S. military and other nation­al security institutions remain completely loyal to the federal government and have demonstrated willingness to act lawfully against insurgencies.

The United States is in Stage 2 today. In fact, the United States has arguably been in Stage 2 for the past half-decade. As was the case in the decade before the Civil War, this period includes continued deepening political, economic, and cultural division: a greater willingness to use violence; greater vitriol against those with opposing views; less willingness to compromise on hot but­ton issues; more loose talk about secession; and a media that fans these flames. But there is still continued adherence to the Union because those on the Right have seen that their interests could be protected by the federal government under Trump, a conservative Supreme Court, and under the power of state governments. Even with Trump’s defeat, the Supreme Court and Red state governments tend to protect their interests. This period also includes a dra­matic reaction on the Left to both Trump’s policies and to recent Supreme Court rul­ings, much as the abolitionists reacted with indignation to Southern political victories in the 1850s.

Both political parties have found com­promise very difficult for fear that such will help their opponents and find fault with their core constituencies. This trend began during Newt Gingrich’s tenure as House speaker in the 1990s but has accelerated during the most recent decade. As a result, Democrats with very slim Congressional majorities have relied on the reconciliation process to pass legislation without Republi­cans. Republicans, in turn, have used their power to block Democrats when possible, and in the process have substantially shifted the balance of the Supreme Court in their favor. Presidents from both parties have made liberal use of executive orders to implement policy changes, with Trump notably doing so at twice the rate of his predecessors.

As was the case in the 1850s, extreme media views have further polarized the na­tion. Each side has its own cable news and talk radio out­lets and follows its own so­cial media leaders. There are two national echo chambers. These media leaders hold their audiences by taking increas­ingly more extreme positions, which many of their follow­ers adopt as gospel. Conspiracy theories abound.

Lack of trust in government and a willing­ness to support state secession are increas­ingly worrisome signals. Even prior to the election of Trump, only 19 percent of Amer­icans said they trust government “always or most of the time.” Some 64 percent said their side loses more than it wins. The feel­ing of defeat was strongest among conserva­tives (81 percent). Recent polls also indicate that nearly 40 percent of Americans would support state secession should their candi­date lose. The highest support for secession is among Republicans in the South, with some 66 percent saying they would support their home state seceding from the United States. To underline this sentiment, the re­cent Texas Republican Convention in June declared that a state referendum should be held on whether voters favored Texas inde­pendence. Yet at the same time, some 41 percent of Joe Biden supporters were also at least in some agreement with the idea that “it’s time to split the country.”

The 2016 election of reality television personality Donald Trump over several establishment Republicans and a divided Democratic Party deeply split the nation. Trump’s campaign against elite/minority rule, open bor­ders, pro-China trade, and Washington corruption reso­nated well. Promises that mines and mills would be re­opened, though implausible, were accepted by voters who were glad their economic grievances were at last being recognized. Revelations and credible rumors of sexual misconduct, shady business practices, and racist tenden­cies glanced off the candidate when it came to his “core” followers—especially when the accusations came from media outlets per­ceived to be (rightly or wrongly) out to get him. A sizable fraction of the public disbe­lieved any information its leader denied. The election of 2016 not only robbed the Democrats of some voters belonging to the Bernie Sanders wing of their party but also validated the political weight of the “Trump core,” and gave anti-elite, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-trade elements on both sides of the political spectrum hope. Popular media outlets and voices peddled the view that opposition to the president was unpatriotic, while simultaneously some Democrats called Trump’s 2016 election il­legitimate due to Russian interference.

Within the core of Trump voters is a growing belief that the coalition of elites and minorities that determine national pol­icies represents an existential threat to a basic creed that undergirds positions on gun rights, abortion prohibitions, immigration constrictions, and voting restrictions. Sim­ply stated, important Red state elements see themselves and their values on the defensive against an encroaching federal/Blue political order. As we know from the American Civil War and other episodes, a segment on the defensive may turn increasingly militant.

In this regard, a worrisome reflection of the 1850s is the willingness and ability to use violence for political gain. One in three Americans now say violence against the gov­ernment can be justified. Some 30 percent of Trump voters agree with the statement, “true patriots may have to resort to violence to save the USA.” A report by the covid States Project found that almost 25 percent of respondents indicated that violence was either “definitely” or “probably” justifiable against the government, and that a similar percentage of both conservatives and liber­als agreed on this. Such political violence or threat of violence has already been used by both sides, for example in Charlottesville, in Lafayette Square, in Wisconsin, and against the national Capitol. This tendency is am­plified when candidates pose with weapons and threaten members of their own party who are insufficiently radical.

Americans have the means and some are organizing to follow through on these be­liefs. In 2021, about 42 percent of Ameri­can households had at least one gun. U.S. civilians own nearly 400 million firearms. The greatest density of firearms ownership is in the deep South and Midwest. About 58 percent of conservative Republican fami­lies own at least one weapon while 29 per­cent of liberal Democrats own one.

And militant groups on both sides—like the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and 3 Percenters on the Right, and Antifa on the Left—rally supporters around the poten­tial for violence. In 2020, the Intelligence Project identified some 566 “extreme an­tigovernment or anti-New World Order” groups in the United States, of which 169 were militias.

An ominous development is the militancy surrounding the “replacement theory,” the adherents of which are convinced that the elite-minority coalition intends to shrink the relative size and electoral importance of white Americans. This is a consequence of changing demographics and unaddressed socio-economic conditions. It is stoked by certain media voices. The fear is that the elites of the Democratic Party will use lax immigration controls, unregulated voting access, and fiscal policies to support and grow non-white America to the point that they, the elites, will have perpetual control. Replacement theory targets Blacks, Hispan­ics, and Asian Americans, Muslims, and Jews. This mindset of defensive desperation has contributed directly to mass shootings of “non-whites.”

These accelerating national divisions in Stage 2 were exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic. President Trump’s pronounce­ments making light of the dangers found resonance among his followers and others. Many grew tired of lockdowns and mandates and opted to put personal freedom above the health of their family and neighbors. Presi­dent Biden’s masks and vaccine mandates were denounced by many Trump’s followers as totalitarian and have been modified since the vaccines have had a positive impact.

Despite these growing divisions in today’s Stage 2, Trump’s election did provide politi­cal comfort for his core supporters, much as the presidencies of Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Bu­chanan provided a sense of security within the Union for Southerners during the 1850s.

Political victories have extended beyond Trump’s tenure for many in the Red states because the Supreme Court’s conservative 6-3 majority has ruled recently in multiple cases which support their positions. This includes the dramatic reversal of abortion rights, restrictions on gun control, state fi­nancial support for religious schools, and federal enforcement of environmental pol­icy. In the process, the Supreme Court has also strengthened states’ rights within the federal system. Some have drawn an anal­ogy to the divisive impact that the 1857 Dred Scott decision had on the nation. These recent decisions have, in effect, extended Stage 2 beyond Trump’s tenure.

Stage 3 is pending today. In 1860, Stage 3 was the tip­ping point when the South­ern states felt that due to a national election, their secure position in the Union was suddenly and irrevocably re­versed. Events then tumbled out of control in 1861.

In November 2020, Amer­ica looked out over the preci­pice of Stage 3. Members of the Trump core felt that their secure position of the past four years had been reversed, just as Southerners in 1860 felt that they had lost their political advan­tage. Had Trump conceded, Biden might have had the opportunity to heal some of the national divisions as he had pledged during his campaign. By contesting the election results not only in the courts (as was legitimate), but also with threats to of­ficials in the swing states and in the streets, Trump further divided the nation.

The election of Joe Biden had a trau­matic effect on the Trump core which nearly tipped the country into Stage 3. The period between the 2020 election and inaugura­tion seethed with disbelief, denial, and de­fiance. Conclusive evidence that no fraud existed was summarily dismissed. Claims by Trump’s political allies that the election was stolen produced a strong belief among many of his voters that the results were fraudulent.

The House January 6 Committee dem­onstrated that Trump used this strong belief among his core to orchestrate an effort by various armed groups to invade the Capitol and disrupt the official counting of elec­toral votes. As Jason Van Tatenhove, former spokesman of the Oath Keepers, stated be­fore the Committee, “it was going to be an armed revolution.”

Some Trump supporters still celebrate the insurrection of January 6, 2021, as just the beginning of armed resistance to the federal state. Their psy­chology has turned defensive: like knights defending the cas­tle of their freedoms and com­munities. The ex-president’s pledge to pardon the January 6 insurrectionists if he was re­elected sent a dangerous sig­nal that violent insurrection is acceptable. As Van Toten­hove told the House January 6 committee, “I do fear for the next election cycle because who knows what that might bring.”

In this context, the Republican Nation­al Committee’s pronouncement that the January 6 attack on the capitol was simply “legitimate political discourse” is particu­larly worrisome. The Right responded by referencing post-2016 election protests, including many Democrats insisting that Trump was an illegitimate president, and pulling up a now-infamous picture of a CNN correspondent in front of a burning building—a result of Black Lives Matter protests—with the chyron reading “Fiery But Mostly Peaceful Protests After Police Shooting.”

The January 6 event could have been a Fort Sumter moment. The United States pulled back from the abyss because the courts, Republican state officials, and the vice president did their constitutional duty. The Capitol Police did their best to restore order and protect elected officials on Janu­ary 6. And there were other national safe­guards. The U.S. military and other federal security agencies remained calm, united, and devoted to the Constitution.

While some Americans may toy with se­cession, few really want the massive vio­lence associated with civil war. There is still no sense of a single existential crisis at the state level. Few responsible senior political leaders have called for secession, and most condemned the violence. Republican mi­nority leader Mitch McConnell eventually condemned the events of January 6 as an insurrection. Several of those who perpe­trated violence on Capitol Hill are being charged by the Justice Department with “seditious conspiracy”—a notch beneath treason. Several of Trump’s senior officials are testifying against him at the January 6 Committee Hearings. And Trump himself is under threat of possible indictment for his role in the January 6 insurrection.

Trump’s rejection of the 2020 election results could have been an opening event of some version of Stage 3. The nation was spared that by a few state, federal, and judi­cial leaders that put nation before party and by a military loyal to the Constitution. But the fact that several elements of Stage 1 & 2 of the pre-Civil War period are roughly analogous to today’s America indicates that a major disruptive event could still hurl the United States towards some limited version of Stage 3.

Particularly worrisome, another failed and allegedly stolen Trump presidential attempt in 2024 could still have a loosely comparable effect as Lincoln’s 1860 elec­tion. Whether denied his party’s nomi­nation or, if nominated, denied electoral victory, Trump could issue a call to arms. A large segment of his base has a cult-like quality and will accept his word even if contradicted by factual reality.

By analyzing these three-stage nar­ratives of the run-up to the Civil War of 1861–1865 and today’s up­heaval, one can find both some important similarities and differences. First the simi­larities.

Our nation has already passed through uncomfortable similarities with Stage 1 of the buildup to the Civil War. These have been evident for several decades. Systemic conditions based on economic and cultural differences have divided the nation into roughly two camps. While there is no one divisive issue like slavery, there are multiple issues that generally relate to different ap­proaches to moral values, personal freedom, and the common good. Divisions often fall along class, educational, geographic, and racial lines. The Red states are loosely contiguous. The history of the Civil War teaches us that systemic differences such as these can be managed for extended periods of time in this first stage if leaders of good faith on both sides seek compromise and urge reconciliation.

During the past decade, these divisions have magnified and there are now grow­ing similarities to Stage 2 of the buildup to the Civil War. The election of Don­ald Trump did give conservatives a feeling that their interests could be protected, or at least their problems addressed, by the federal government. Yet underneath this sense of confidence in Trump, other trou­bling trends accelerated. Public willing­ness to support state secession is on the rise, especially among Republicans in for­mer Confederate states. The willingness to compromise or seek reconciliation either in Congress or among the broader population is in marked decline. The willingness and ability to use violence is also on the rise. Armed groups, though relatively small, are becoming more active. Both cable news and social media have amplified these dif­fering views and give extremists a bully pulpit. Ironically, the covid-19 pandemic has further divided rather than united the nation based on differing attitudes towards mask and vaccine mandates and personal freedoms. Civil War history also teaches that during this stage the weaker, more aggrieved, and more vulnerable party can become acutely defensive, politically and psychologically. Members may see them­selves as heroic champions of a mortally threatened way of life. We see these phe­nomena today as well.

Most troubling in this assessment of simi­larities is the rejection by former President Trump of the 2020 election results. It was the election of Lincoln and its subsequent rejection by the South that led to a tragic tipping point in 1860, what we have called Stage 3. The reaction of many Trump sup­porters was a similar rejection of a sudden turn of fortune, with the most extreme reac­tions on display on January 6, 2021. At this tipping point in the case of the Civil War, moderates were silenced, violent events trig­ger more violent ones, miscalculations were made, red lines were created and crossed, and bluffs were called. Today, moderates in both parties are also too often silent. And yet luckily today the United States has looked out over this Stage 3 precipice and thus far recoiled. Why?

Despite several similarities in all three stages, there are important safeguards and mitigating factors that are likely to spare the nation a second violent civil war among organized states.

Most importantly, while there are deep differences on specific issues today, even taken together, for most Americans they do not rise to near the existential level that they did for the South in 1861.

Despite regional differences, the de­gree of national assimilation and social cohesion is also much greater today than sixteen decades ago. While there are still pronounced regional differences, they were mitigated by social and geographic mobili­ty and by national patriotism. Those advo­cating violent insurrection exist primarily in small geographic pockets. Urban-rural divisions are as great as divisions among states.

Related to this, despite some of the pub­lic’s flirtation with secession, no serious po­litical leader today has called for state seces­sion. The lessons of the bloody Civil War have been absorbed by most. In 1869, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. White that states could not unilaterally secede from the Union. While some advocate secession as a fantasy, very few would welcome anoth­er violent struggle akin to the Civil War to attain it. Should large-scale civil insurrection arise, state secession is unlikely to be a major part of that insurrection.

America’s national institutions, both offi­cial and unofficial, have been weakened but still remain relatively strong compared to 1860. Many political differences are settled at the state level. The courts still remain a validated arbitrator on critical differenc­es between states and the federal govern­ment. And the vast majority of those who command the armed forces, law enforce­ment, and intelligence capabilities today are squarely behind the established order.

Next, while many political leaders on the Right are afraid to oppose Trump outright, very few of them have endorsed political violence or directly advocate state secession. Recall that in 1860, most Southern political leaders favored secession in Stage 3.

Lastly, though bristling with weapons, today’s Far Right militants are not well-organized or led, in contrast to the large numbers of experienced military officers who supported secession and could organize and lead rebel armies. Nonetheless, they could gain access to dangerous technologies and could start difficult to control insurgencies.

So, while a review of these three stages indicates that greater sectoral violence is quite possible today, secession by states and open civil war similar to 1861–1865 re­mains remote. Despite several similarities in conditions in the pre-Civil War period, there are now mitigating factors and safe­guards that are likely to prevent a national split. Nonetheless, militant groups require careful and continuous monitoring.

If—still, a big “if ”—large-scale anti-government violence breaks out as a result of a triggering event, it would more plau­sibly be in loosely coordinated pockets of, say, hundreds of heavily armed and angry individuals led by one or another militant group. It would be most dangerous if sup­ported by some extremist national leaders. This hard core is extremely well armed with combat-standard weaponry, and could read­ily accumulate high explosives or worse. The capacity for widespread significant vio­lence is undeniable. January 6, 2020, could prove to be a rehearsal for coordinated at­tacks on federal symbols and properties, Blue state capitals, and minority assemblag­es. Should such violence break out, these groups would need to be disarmed. Quite possibly, assuming these circumstances, reg­ular U.S. military forces might have to in­tervene, which could either squelch or stoke further insurrection.”

In conclusion, while civil war between two halves of the United States is highly improbable today, geographically scattered, loosely coordinated paramilitary violence by the Far Right and “replacement” militants cannot be deemed improbable.

This prognosis of loosely organized though dangerous civil strife and its possible escalation beyond that can be avoided if American leaders of both parties clearly rec­ognize the dangers exposed here, put nation above partisan politics, control their constit­uents, speak out against violence, and seize the opportunity to compromise on as many national issues as possible. Strong and bal­anced leadership is essential. The pre-Civil War period had its statesmen like Henry Clay who sought to preserve the union and peace through compromise. Such leaders are needed again today.

Hans Binnendijk is a Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council. He was previously NSC Senior Director for Defense Policy, Acting Director of the State Department Policy Planning Staff, and Director of National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies.

Putin’s Brain II

By Dr Harlan K. Ullman

Two of America’s greatest failings, certainly regarding post World War II foreign policy, have been profound shortcomings in knowledge and understanding of events and circumstances in which the US  has engaged, particularly with force. The great Chinese philosopher of war, Sun Tzu, rightly observed that knowing the enemy was vital to success. From Vietnam to Afghanistan and later Iraq, that was not the case. And these are only a few examples.

Despite the adulation given to President John F. Kennedy over successfully ending the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1964 forcing the Soviet Union to remove its nuclear missiles from that island ninety miles off the Florida Coast, the consequence was to provoke an arms race probably extending the Cold War. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had sought to reduce defense spending and divert those rubles to the civilian sector. After the crisis he was forced to ramp up defense spending.

Kennedy entered office in January 1961 promising to strengthen American defenses and reverse the “huge missile gap” allegedly in Moscow’s favor. In fact, America then possessed overwhelming nuclear superiority and the missile gap was Russia’s. That failure of knowledge and understanding would persist.

Four years later, no second North Vietnamese PT boat attack against two US Navy destroyers took place to provoke the Tonkin Gulf Resolution and American entry into that war. Forty-two year later there were no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The question today is whether the US is repeating its lack of knowledge and understanding of Russia and its President Vladimir Putin.

An earlier column explained how and why Putin’s thinking evolved to where he saw the US as untrustworthy and dangerous. It explained the factors leading to Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Now, is Putin really uninformed about the state of the war in Ukraine and why he believes he is prevailing?

First, leaders find admitting fault distasteful. In part that demonstrates why the US remained so long in Vietnam, Afghanistan for twenty years and still has forces in Iraq. Donald Trump’s refusal to accept losing the 2020 election is another stunning example of that failure to recognize fact.

Then how might Putin be analyzing events and what are his broader strategy and goals? One of the reasons America has too often failed in seeking knowledge and understanding is more than mirror imaging. It is the hubris to believe that most sensible people think and behave as we do or should. This sometimes messianic aim of exporting democracy and values does not always work. President Joe Biden’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia captures this contradiction and lays it bare.

As Henry Kissinger who has met with Putin at least fifteen times observed, the Russian president is very “analytical.” From that perspective and measured by the UN Resolution condemning Russia aggression, states representing a majority of the global population either voted no or abstained, China, Brazil, India and South Africa among them. Thus, Putin is playing to a larger audience to counterbalance the US, Europe and the West who are the “enemies,” opposed to Russian interests and containing its ambitions, prosperity and autonomy.

Hence, the energy deals with China will keep the coffers filled. Putin’s meeting in Iran with its President Ebrahim Raisi and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a further means to outflank and divide the West by cultivating both leaders. And joining OPEC and seeking a closer relationship with Saudi Arabia, in essence, to replace the US is a smart ploy by Putin.

In Ukraine, Putin believes he can win much as other leaders have persisted in that belief. Here, size is on his side. While Ukrainian forces have fought with courage, brains and skill, while the Russians have not certainly in terms of competence, at some stage, all the “dumb Russians” will be dead and a few good generals will ultimately become replacements.  The questions are whether Ukraine can replace its losses in ground forces and equipment and if Western support will flow in sufficient quantities and quality of weaponry to keep pace with Russian numerical superiority.

One conclusion is that the US needs a global strategy to deal with Russia and for that matter China.  The new, soon to be released National Security Strategy is likely to be a continuation of past ones with the aims of containing, deterring and if war comes defeating a range of potential adversaries topped by China and Russia. But containing and deterring have not worked. Does anyone understand that?

Dr. Harlan Ullman is Senior Advisor at Washington, DC’s Atlantic Council and the prime author of “shock and awe.” His latest book, The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large, provides a number of recommendations to deal with these many crises, dangers and threats. The book is available on Amazon. He can be reached on Twitter @harlankullman.

The War in Ukraine, the Strategic Compass,
and the Debate Over EU Strategic Autonomy

By Robert Bell


An African-American proverb warns that; “if you don’t know where you want to go, any road will take you there.” The new EU Strategic Compass for Security and Defence, endorsed by the European Council on 25 March, is intended to avoid such ambivalence. As stated by the EU’s High Representative/Vice President (HR/VP) Josep Borrell in his foreword to this document, “the purpose of the Strategic Compass is to guide the necessary development of the EU security and defence agenda for the next ten years.”

When the Strategic Compass initiative was launched in mid-2020, Europe was engaged in an often- fractious debate over the definition of what France originally termed “strategic autonomy.” Central to this debate were fundamental questions as to the degree of geostrategic independence Europe should seek vis-à-vis the United States (and by extension NATO) and the practicality that level of ambition would entail in terms of needing to substantially augment its own defence capabilities. Provoked by President Donald Trump’s divisive decisions and pronouncements related to the strength, or lack thereof, of the U.S.’ commitment to NATO, some in Europe called for an EU capable of independently defending Europe against the full range of possible threats. This included envisioning the deployment of forces capable of “operations across the whole spectrum of crises (low and high intensity) ”, and not just peacekeeping interventions and training missions.

Reflecting on “developments of the past year”, Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2018 advised the European Parliament that “only a stronger Europe is going to defend Europe.” What was required, she argued, was “that we have to work on a vision of one day creating a real, true European army.” A year later, in a much-noted interview with the Economist, President Emmanuel Macron pronounced NATO “brain dead” and warned that “we need to re-evaluate the reality of NATO in terms of the commitment of the United States of America.” Macron called for “the Europe of Defense – a Europe which must acquire strategic autonomy and a military capability. The French President also called for a strategic dialogue on “the role played by France’s nuclear deterrent in [Europe’s] collective security” and later invited interested European partners to join in exercises of France’s nuclear-armed force de frappe.

Others were openly skeptical. Trump’s ambassador to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchinson emphasized in a 2018 press briefing that, “We want to assure … that any EU effort would be complementary to NATO and for a NATO purpose, because we are the common defense umbrella for Europe and the United States and Canada.” In 2020, the Defence Minister of Germany Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer warned that “illusions of European strategic autonomy must come to an end.” In her view, “Europeans will not be able to replace America’s crucial role as a security provider.” Calling that a “misinterpretation” of historical dimensions, Macron publicly declared his “profound” disagreement.

Reinterpreting “Strategic Autonomy”

Others tried to bridge these disagreements by re-defining the term, preferring the formulation “strategic sovereignty.” For his part, Borrell argued in 2020 that “autonomy should not imply total independence” and insisted that it could co-exist within the NATO framework. His definition divorced “strategic autonomy” from any capability-based end state, describing it as the ”ability to think for oneself and to act according to one’s own values and interests.” Pundits noted, though, that during the Peloponnesian War, the Melians had chosen to respond to a dire threat by Athens by thinking for themselves and acting consistent with their values, but still saw their island state invaded and totally subjugated.

Many academics also stepped forward to try to finesse the issue. Sven Biscop argued for a division of labour, with NATO still in the lead for collective defence and Europe in a much-expanded supporting role but still executing other valuable expeditionary missions. He maintained that EU strategic autonomy “in other words will not extend to planning for territorial defense.” Nathalie Tocci argued that multilateralism was fundamental to the EU’s conception of security and defence and insisted that “an autonomous EU is able to live by its laws and norms, both by protecting these internally and by partnering multilaterally in an international order based upon the rules it has contributed to shaping.” Bruno Dupré agreed, maintaining that “strategic autonomy is not synonymous with independence or autarky but rather with interdependence that is chosen rather than suffered.” Daniel Fiott insisted that the fact that the EU had been successful over the past twenty years in carrying out over 30 civilian and military missions in areas including the Horn of Africa, the Western Balkans, Iraq, Georgia and Ukraine “has proven it can act alone if necessary” in certain cases, which can itself be construed as a measure of strategic autonomy.

Implications of Putin’s War Against Ukraine

Vladimir Putin’s initiation on 24 February of his unprovoked and brutal war against Ukraine was taken just as the drafting of the Strategic Compass was in its final phases. This necessitated a flurry of last-minute additions and revisions, adding by one count at least fifteen references to Russia. In Borrell’s estimation, the invasion “made it even clearer that we live in a world shaped by raw power politics.” Borrell emphasized that the Strategic Compass must, therefore, ensure that the EU’s “geopolitical awakening” on this score must be translated into “a more permanent strategic posture.”

Where, then, does this important blueprint come out with regards to “strategic autonomy”? The answer is that it seems to borrow something from all points of view noted above. In its conclusion, the Strategic Compass boldly asserts that the new roadmap will “enhance the EU’s strategic autonomy.” This could be read as suggesting that the EU has already achieved such a status, but that more is required. In his preface, though, Borrell makes clear that in addition to highlighting the “important role” the EU plays in security and defence, Russia’s war of aggression underscores “how essential NATO is for the collective defence of its members.” Indeed, the Strategic Compass specifically acknowledges in more than one passage the “specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.” This phrasing constitutes an indirect reference to Art. 42.7 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which states that while all EU Member States have an “obligation of aid and assistance” in the event another Member State should be attacked, ”Commitments and cooperation in this area shall be consistent with commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which, for those States which are members of it, remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation.”

As both a practical and a treaty-based legal reality, this means that the Strategic Compass formally reconfirms that for the vast majority of the EU’s Member States (21 of 27), NATO still has primacy in providing for the territorial defence of Europe. If the current crisis in Ukraine should result, as is increasingly looking likely, in Finland and Sweden joining NATO, that ratio will increase to 23 of 27, leaving only the four much smaller and less militarily-capable EU nations of Austria, Cyprus, Ireland, and Malta outside the guaranteed protection of NATO’s Article 5.

The Strategic Compass presents a variety of terms to describe where it wants the EU to go next. In different passages, it calls, respectively but without elaboration, for a “step change,” a “sea change,” and a “quantum leap” in self-sufficiency. In terms of concrete actions, though, its main recommendation is the creation of the “capacity” to generate a 5,000- man “intervention force” that could be useful in certain contingencies in North Africa, the Middle East or other regions beyond the boundaries of EU territory. Here, the emphasis is on non-combatant evacuation scenarios, such as occurred at Kabul in 2021, or a force interposition mission in a non-permissive environment.

With regard to defence industry policy, the Strategic Compass emphasizes that all EU defence initiatives and capability planning and development tools will “remain coherent with those of the respective NATO processes.” Put differently, the EU’s capability development goals should be complementary to those of NATO, rather than duplicative. This, the document argues, “will enhance the readiness, robustness and interoperability of our single set of forces.” Finally, rather than espousing full self-sufficiency with regard to the EU’s resilience and security of supply, the Strategic Compass calls for “co-operating with like-minded partners around the world, on a reciprocal basis” to reduce strategic dependencies and increase mutual benefits. This presumably includes cooperating with the United States, UK, Canada, and other non-EU states.

Several other passages, though, point to trying to achieve a more protected and hence exclusionary defence industrial base in Europe. The Strategic Compass vows to “further boost cooperation and capabilities so that defence industrial cooperation within the EU becomes the norm.” According to European Defence Agency statistics, only 11% of defence equipment procurements among EU Member States in 2020 reflected collaboration with other Member States. The roadmap also sets out as a critical goal “achieving technological sovereignty in some critical technology areas, mitigating strategic dependencies in others, and reducing the vulnerability of our value chains,” including by preserving intellectual property within the EU.” Finally, it commits to making “better use of collaborative capability development and pooling endeavours, including by exploring task specialisation between Member States.

Towards this end, particular emphasis is placed on several promising flagship initiatives within the EU’s programme of security and defence enhancements. This includes “more binding commitments” among Member States participating in Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), “significantly enhancing and harnessing” such EU funding mechanisms as the European Defence Fund (EDF), and full implementation of the recommendations in the 2020 Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) report related to enhanced defence cooperation among Member States in six agreed capability-focussed areas.


The war in Ukraine has mixed implications for these endeavours. On the one hand, European nations have responded with pledges to significantly increase defence spending, with Germany alone promising a doubling of its defence budget. A rising tide lifts all ships and PESCO and the EDF can only profit from these enhanced resources. The war has also concentrated the European publics’ attention on the necessity for defence capabilities of high-intensity conventional warfare, and not just peacekeeping or maritime patrol missions. This kind of “geopolitical awakening” should help EU leaders deflect what had been a building crisis for European defence firms: the possibility that they would be “blacklisted” from bank loans or private equity investments as a result of the ever-more powerful Environment, Social and Governance sustainable finance movement.

That said, the new level of concern about Russia’s aggressive actions and threats of a broader regional nature has also led states throughout the EU and NATO to take procurement decisions in favour of immediately available U.S. high-end weapons systems that seemed unimaginable only two months ago. Finland and Canada have each now chosen the fifth-generation F-35 as their principal fighter aircraft for the coming decades, and Germany has chosen this fighter to replace its aging Tornado fighter bombers in NATO’s Dual Capable Aircraft nuclear-delivery role. These three allies now join the UK, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Turkey, Greece, Poland and even Switzerland in buying, or proposing to buy, this stealthy American fighter for deterrence and defence operations in Europe.

In addition, the urgent need by Ukraine to obtain Soviet legacy weapons which its military can quickly press into service has resulted in a two-step process by which eastern European allies transfer armoured systems, missile defence batteries, aircraft, etc., to Ukraine and are in turn “backfilled” by the United States with equivalent (or in many cases superior) American capabilities. These backfills are in the form either of U.S.-manned deployments or bilateral sales to the host nation at bargain prices through the Pentagon’s $300M+ European Recapitalisation Incentive Program (ERIP). As Daniel Fiott noted before the current crisis erupted, “ERIP is designed to ween Europeans off Soviet legacy systems but it is also a subsidy to US industry.” The result of all these trends makes it hard to believe that Europe will significantly alter the current ratios within, what it has long hoped would be, a genuine two-way street in transatlantic defence procurement, an imbalance that overwhelmingly favours the United States.

Last, but certainly not least, the war in Ukraine, together with the leadership President Biden has demonstrated in responding to it, has dramatically unified and reinvigorated NATO. To the extent that “strategic autonomy” in its more ambitious conception was embraced in many quarters in Europe, a major explanation was dismay over Trump’s statements and decision-making on fundamental matters related to European security. There is no guarantee Trump will not again become the US President. But neither is there any guarantee that Putin will for the foreseeable future exit the scene. With its attention now focused like a laser beam on its core task of collective defence, strengthening NATO becomes Europe’s foremost priority. The EU’s strategic interest in “doing more” on security and defence is both valid and overdue. With the re-election in France of President Macron to a second five-year term, this can be expected to remain a top priority of the EU – a theme he re-emphasized in his May 7th Inaugural Address. It will, however, likely continue to be couched in terms of its complementarity with NATO, rather than as an alternative paradigm.

Robert G. Bell is a Distinguished Fellow at CSDS, Brussels School of Governance. He is also a Distinguished Professor of the Practice at Georgia Tech. His 45-year US Government career included 7 years as the U.S. Defense Advisor at NATO (2010-2017), 3 years as NATO Assistant Secretary General for Defense Investment (1999- 2003), 7 years at the White House as President Clinton’s NSC Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control (1993-1999), 18 years on the staffs of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees and the Congressional Research Service (1975-1992), and 6 years as an Air Force officer (1969-1975).

New British Prime Minister needs deeds not words to foil China

(this article was first published in The Times of London)

By Edward Lucas

UK has ditched the enthusiasm of the Cameron-Osborne years but failed to find a replacement

To attract the ire of a totalitarian superpower at the age of 23 is impressive. Drew Pavlou, an Australian student activist, has managed it. Chinese media lambast him as a racist “rioter”. Anonymous foes impersonate him online in the hope of discrediting him.

One such effort has just fooled the Metropolitan Police, which wildly overreacted to a “bomb threat” emailed to the Chinese embassy on July 21 in Pavlou’s name, conveniently timed to coincide with his planned protest there. Pavlou, bearing Uighur, Taiwanese and Tibetan flags, merely glued his hand to the embassy gate. But officers treated him like a terrorist. He was handcuffed painfully, held incommunicado without access to consular or legal representation and coerced into providing his phone passcode. 

They scoffed when he explained his mission and background, though a cursory internet search would show that he has a record of peaceful protest, including running for election and suing his university. After a gruelling 23 hours at Charing Cross police station he was freed, pending a bail hearing on August 14. All this took place in the central London constituency where I am a parliamentary candidate. I have made a formal complaint on Pavlou’s behalf and sought comment from the Met.

The episode has sinister echoes of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit here in 2015. On that occasion the police arrested Shao Jiang, a Tiananmen Square survivor, for a protest involving two sheets of A4 paper, and charged him with conspiracy, enabling them to raid his home and seize computers. An inquiry found political interference and police misconduct. Disciplinary proceedings, mystifyingly, stalled.

Given the supposed sea-change in Britain’s relations with China since then, the continued mix of heavy-handed policing and supine supervision is shocking. Far from foiling criminal conspiracies, our law-enforcement officers are aiding and abetting them. The Chinese authorities and their allies are abusing our legal system to intimidate their critics.

None of this seems to penetrate the tub-thumping discussion of China in our national politics. Rishi Sunak, belatedly, calls China “the largest threat to Britain and the world’s security and prosperity this century” and says that if he wins the Conservative leadership contest he will close the 30 Confucius Institutes active in British universities, part of Beijing’s campus influence operations. The front-runner Liz Truss talks up the Commonwealth as the arena for a push-back and appears ready to go to war to defend Taiwan.

None of this yet amounts to a serious approach to the Beijing regime. Britain has ditched the headlong enthusiasm of the Cameron-Osborne years but has failed to find a replacement, despite repeated urging from our China-watchers. A parliamentary report last year decried our approach as a “strategic void”.

Unscrambling decades of greed and complacency is a mammoth task on which we have barely started. The CBI highlights the inflationary costs of rejigging our supply chains in a world where the West is “decoupling” from China. Our all-electric green future, for example, depends on rare earths and other critical raw materials: China takes a strategic approach to their mining and processing. We rely on market forces.

The Chinese leadership readily uses economic coercion to punish countries such as Lithuania and Australia that stand up to it: we need an economic version of Nato to blunt such tactics. The best response to Chinese efforts is to compete better. We far too readily dismiss countries in Africa, Latin America, eastern Europe and the Indo-Pacific region as too small, poor or corrupt to merit our attention. China does not. It reaps the harvest of their votes in international meetings, and builds physical and human networks of influence across the world.

China is also forging ahead in century-shaping disciplines such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, materials science and nano-technology. It lavishes long-term cash on science and engineering. We scrimp and chase short-term profits. Britain has blocked Huawei, a regime-friendly technology giant, from the next-generation 5G mobile network. But  a forthcoming report co-authored by Charles Parton, formerly a leading government expert on China, highlights looming threats from the Internet of Things, the central nervous system of our economy in coming decades.

Remote-controlled, Chinese-made hardware modules in this vast device-to-device network potentially enable limitless sabotage and surveillance. The Beijing regime already hoovers up vast quantities of information about its own people in order to snoop and bully; it aims to do the same here.

Already, the tentacles of influence range wide and deep, while our response is fragmented, inexpert and naive. University administrators have too easily prized student fees and research income over principles: a new code, belatedly, lays out the need to preserve academic freedom. The new Conservative leadership might like to look at a new dossier compiled by the Centre for Foreign Interference Research into the activities of Lord Wei, a peer since 2010, and his links with Chinese Communist Party front organisations. (Lord Wei calls the allegations “fascist” and “paranoid”).

The people trying to disrupt Pavlou’s activities in London seem spookily capable; since his arrest they have sent numerous other emails, including one impersonating the Crown Prosecution Service. It would be nice if the guardians of our liberties showed similar savvy.

Edward Lucas is a writer and consultant specialising in European and transatlantic security. His expertise also includes energy, cyber-security, espionage, information warfare and Russian foreign and security policy. Read more about him here.

Now for the hard part: A guide to implementing NATO’s new Strategic Concept

By Hans Binnendijk and Timo S. Koster

Last month’s NATO Summit, which featured the release of the Alliance’s new Strategic Concept, was a remarkable success. Thanks to strong leadership by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US President Joe Biden, the Alliance remains united despite an array of new strategic challenges.

The concept’s three core tasks—collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security—essentially remain intact from the 2010 version, but with new emphasis on the first. The new update reaffirms NATO’s intention to protect the rules-based international order currently under threat by autocratic powers, and further recognizes challenges in cyberspace, space, and maritime trade routes, among other areas. Russia is singled out as the biggest direct threat, while China is characterized for the first time as a “systemic challenge.”

As for the second and third core tasks, crisis management now includes prevention while cooperative security will focus more on high-value partners.

But now the concept—which marked a sea change from 2010 by shifting from a focus on fighting terrorism to great-power competition—actually needs to be implemented. And some of the sidelined issues, such as deciding when to engage in crisis-management operations, managing security in the Arctic, maximizing common cyber defenses, defining NATO’s role in dealing with climate change, building societal resilience, and stabilizing the Western Balkans, all require greater attention.

Securing the front lines

Start with the first core task: deterrence and defense. Russia’s wanton destruction of Ukraine underlines the fact that NATO’s existing tripwire deterrence strategy is no longer viable. That strategy envisions placing minimal forces forward, thus effectively allowing an adversary to occupy allied territory which would subsequently be retaken once NATO’s reserves are fully mobilized. But NATO front-line states are understandably unwilling to risk the kind of destruction Russia has imposed on Ukraine.

Additionally, Russia’s strengthened force posture in Ukraine, the Black Sea, Moldova, and Kaliningrad reduces some of the Alliance’s strategic depth and makes front-line allies more vulnerable.

For both of these reasons, the new strategic concept moves in the direction of deterrence by denial, which means deploying adequate forces forward to stop an attack in its tracks. To begin implementing this approach, NATO has doubled the number of front-line nations in which enhanced forward presence battle groups are deployed, bringing the total to eight. But these battalion-sized battle groups are far from adequate to blunt a possible Russian attack. Brigade-sized (and in some cases, division-sized) NATO forces will need to be stationed along the front line.

Behind these strengthened front-line forces, NATO dramatically increased the size of its Response Force from forty thousand to three hundred thousand highly ready forces and has renamed it the Allied Force. But this new readiness goal is far from being met. In fact, the previously agreed and more modest “4X30 Readiness Initiative”—which envisions thirty army battalions, thirty air squadrons, and thirty major naval combatants ready to fight in thirty days—has not yet been fully implemented. Meeting these new, more ambitious readiness goals will be critical before building up the full Allied Force. Readiness-reporting mechanisms, including the ability of ready forces to sustain their capability over time, will need to be re-instituted to assure these goals are completed.

The new force will also require several additional elements. NATO needs an action plan for the stalled Mobility Initiative, which is designed to overcome bureaucratic and logistical hurdles, to move ready forces forward. This ability needs to be increased, cross-border procedures simplified, infrastructure upgraded, and command-and-control strengthened. The Alliance needs to pre-position forward significant amounts of military equipment to overcome the remaining mobility limitations, and it needs to create a new command structure to coordinate the new force.

NATO will also need to institute a new round of military planning to organize these forces and assign them to the new defense plans, while determining the “Who-does-what?” question among the soon-to-be thirty-two allies. Nations need to start repositioning troops and increasing readiness through intense training and exercises.

Defense budgets need to keep rising to implement the new deterrence strategy even as difficult economic times approach. Old debates about European strategic autonomy and burden sharing now need to be set aside—with a new focus on establishing specific goals for European strategic responsibility.

For its part, the United States plans to increase the size of its deployments in Europe, including a new corps headquarters in Poland, an additional army brigade in Romania, extra ships in the Mediterranean, and two additional squadrons of F-35 fighter jets in the United Kingdom. Importantly, it will need to deploy additional forces to the Baltic states, where deterrence is least reliable and incentives for Russian intervention are greatest.

When it comes to nuclear deterrence, the new concept primarily echoed the banal language from the 2010 iteration; this is inadequate to deal with an adversary who constantly rattles the nuclear saber. The new concept does indicate the need to reconnect the nuclear domain with NATO’s conventional domains, cyber, and space as part of a so-called multi-domain approach to deterrence. But to do this, NATO will need to revive its nuclear culture, restructure its doctrine, and integrate nuclear exercises and capability planning into its overall effort.

All this while the Alliance will need to focus on the war at hand. Currently, individual allies provide military aid to Ukraine while NATO only considers offering non-lethal and cyber assistance. This has worked reasonably well so far, since most nations have contributed weapons, but Ukraine is losing the battle for the Donbas (what might be called “phase two” of this war). If Russia is able to continue with an offensive through Odesa, a “phase three” will require a bolder NATO approach to defeat it.

Dealing with friends and rivals

In terms of other major powers challenging NATO, the concept highlights China’s moves to subvert the rules-based international order and Beijing’s deepening strategic partnership with Moscow. It notes that allies will work together to meet these systemic challenges—but stops there. NATO must now develop a China plan to specifically address these challenges while maintaining constructive engagement with Beijing. It could take a first step by creating a much deeper partnership with like-minded Asian countries, and of a new NATO-China Commission to coordinate engagement.

Next, the implementation of summit decisions should focus on the European Union (EU). Despite the EU adopting its own Strategic Compass recently—and the clear need for greater coordination amid a major security crisis in Europe—the summit documents contained no separate NATO-EU declaration on the “how and what” as they did in recent years. Recognizing the need for consensus in both organizations, leaders of those institutions now need to use the Strategic Compass and the Strategic Concept to design a detailed work plan for future cooperation. They need to develop a sense of buy-in from all members and overcome institutional difficulties created by a few dissenting states.

NATO’s new concept reiterates that its door will remain open to new members—but more work needs to be done here too. The immediate task is completing the membership process for Finland and Sweden. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lifted his objections at the summit, he has reserved the right to hold the process up again during the required ratification process if he feels his deal with the Nordic countries isn’t being implemented. If he continues to insist on extradition of Kurds living in Sweden, the allies will have to manage a new membership crisis. Meanwhile, despite the concept reiterating the fact that Ukraine and Georgia could eventually become members, that prospect appears distant. Engaging those two prospective members will require creative alternative approaches, such as commitments of significant long-term arms supplies and stronger diplomatic support.

Finally, NATO leaders also explicitly stated their intention to keep the door open to dialogue, including on disarmament and arms control, with both Russia and China. Although deeper political engagement with Russia is unlikely so long as it wages war in Ukraine, plans should quietly be made on issues such as arms control and incident management for eventual implementation once the climate is right. The combination of deterrence and defense on the one hand and dialogue on the other is a combination that has served the Alliance well in the past.

In addition to implementing summit decisions, NATO needs to concentrate more on several areas that received inadequate attention in Madrid. For example, the concept did not address how and under what circumstances the Alliance should intervene in Ukraine-like crisis management operations in its own neighborhood. This key issue was papered over at the summit.

While the concept focuses allied attention on the global commons like maritime trade routes, cyberspace, and space, it hardly mentioned the Arctic. Nor did it create a NATO cyber force, thus leaving cyber defense primarily to individual nations. The Western Balkans also need NATO’s urgent attention. Finally, climate change was cited as a defining challenge of our time, but no specific action was suggested.

NATO can rightly be proud of its accomplishments at the summit—but now is the time for it to accelerate implementation of its decisions and attend to matters that it left behind. Otherwise, its achievements will simply fade away.

Hans Binnendijk is a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council and a member of The Alphen Group. He previously served as special assistant to the US president for defense policy and as director of the Institute for National Strategic Studies.

Timo S. Koster is an independent strategic advisor. He previously was director of defense policy at NATO and ambassador for security policy and cyber for the Netherlands. He is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. Follow him on Twitter @TSKOS.

Ukraine Can Win

By Richard D. Hooker, Jr.

In many circles it has become de rigueur to assert that Ukraine cannot hope to prevail against the Russian military in the war now underway. If this assessment is correct, the obvious outcome of the conflict would be a negotiated settlement leaving Russia in possession of the occupied territories in exchange for “peace.” With much of its eastern agricultural and industrial areas lost along with most of its Black Sea coastline, Ukraine would then become a vassal state, unviable economically and dependent on outside support for its existence.

In all likelihood, the appetite for international aid and support for Ukraine would wane over time, abetted by declining interest in sanctions against Russia. In this circumstance, the prospects for eventual EU and NATO membership for what remained of Ukraine would fade. Instead, Ukraine would fall inexorably into the Russian orbit. Nor will “peace” follow.  As Putin has stated many times, Russia has larger ambitions that extend beyond Ukraine.

It is certainly true that as matters now stand, Ukraine probably cannot “win,” if victory is defined as recovering all internationally recognized Ukrainian territory and dealing a decisive defeat to Russia in the field. Western financial and military assistance has helped Ukraine to inflict heavy losses on the Russian military in the air, at sea, and on land. However, conscious Western policy decisions to withhold airpower, self-propelled artillery, long range precision fires and main battle tanks from Ukraine are having the intended effect. Without them, Ukraine cannot transition to offensive operations and drive the invaders out. Almost certainly, the West has collectively determined not to “humiliate” Putin. When Latvia is providing more military equipment to Ukraine than France, Italy, and Germany, the true intentions of major European states emerge powerfully.

The logic of this approach, however, collapses when confronted with the strong probability of further Russian aggression on NATO territory. When that happens, there will be much hand-wringing about “missed opportunities” and “miscalculations.” It is far better to confront the threat now while Russia is reeling from high casualties, depleted stocks of high tech munitions, low morale, severe losses among senior leaders and inferior generalship.

A careful assessment suggests that given essential capabilities, Ukraine can win. In terms of manpower, President Zelenskyy can eventually put up to a million trained soldiers in the field, despite heavy losses to date. This is far more than Russia can likely generate. Virtually the entire Russian army has been committed inside Ukraine, including units stripped from the Far East and the Kaliningrad exclave. Though often touted as  “850,000 strong,” the Russian military on the ground is actually significantly under 300,000, with the rest belonging to internal security troops (the Russian National Guard), border police and other organizations unsuited for combat in Ukraine. This force has suffered painful losses that cannot be offset with poorly trained conscripts and recalled reservists. Nor can Putin resort to full mobilization without putting his regime at great risk.  As time goes on, Ukraine’s manpower advantage will only grow.

In terms of equipment, Ukraine is well supplied with small arms, body armor and drones along with anti-tank and air defense missiles. It has a substantial tank and artillery force, good intelligence, and a well-run rail system that allows it to shift forces and supplies along interior lines. Most Ukrainian tanks, however, lack thermal sights, GPS navigation, modern ammunition and up-to-date armor, while most Ukrainian artillery is towed (and therefore vulnerable to Russian counterfire) and unprotected against small arms fire and shrapnel.

Ukraine’s tanks and artillery are outnumbered and outranged by more modern and lethal Russian systems. Meanwhile, the US retains large numbers of M1A1 main battle tanks and M109A6 155mm self-propelled howitzers in storage, following replacement by upgraded variants. These are excess to current requirements and can be returned to operational status and shipped to Ukraine relatively quickly. Though not the very latest technology, they are more than a match for Russian counterpart systems. So far, Ukrainian grit, courage and resilience have enabled a stout resistance. But hard capability like this is needed to win.

Nowhere is Ukraine’s capability deficit greater than in airpower and long range fire, where Russia enjoys a clear superiority. Without a viable air force and sufficient numbers of rocket artillery platforms, Ukraine can’t target Russian long range systems that are leveling whole cities in the east and enabling incremental advances. The small numbers of HIMARS provided to date have helped, but more are needed, along with the tracked Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) version.

The Ukrainian air force has fought heroically but can generate no more than 10-20 sorties per day, only 10% of the Russian total. NATO allies and coalition partners provided strong air support in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan and could do so again without the need to put troops on the ground. At the very least, permitting Poland and other former Warsaw Pact states to transfer former Soviet aircraft such as the MIG-29 and SU-25 to Ukraine would make a real difference.

Absorbing new equipment and training soldiers in their use will take time, making any counteroffensive in 2022 problematic. However, the Ukrainian military has shown great adaptability and versatility in fielding the wide variety of different equipment types now being provided. We can expect a resolute defense through the end of the year. If retrained and reequipped, the Ukrainian armed forces will be ready to transition to the offense in 2023. Its high morale, innovation, effective leadership and will to win far exceed that of the Russian military.

Giving Ukraine an offensive capability will require Western leaders to answer existential questions. Do we really want Putin to fail? Or will we be deterred by a constant barrage of shrill threats, above all regarding the use of nuclear weapons? Condensed to its essentials, Russia’s “escalate to deescalate” doctrine amounts to this: “if you don’t allow us to invade and occupy our neighbors, we’ll nuke you.” By that logic we cannot confront Russian aggression anywhere.

The US and its British and French allies have successfully relied on nuclear deterrence for many decades. That deterrent remains intact and operative. Here we must not give in to our fears. American and European leaders talk much about “preparing for a long war.” With skyrocketing energy prices and a looming global food crisis, the world does not need that. What it needs is a speedy end to the conflict.

Since 1945, the West’s record in preventing genocide and massive loss of innocent life has unfortunately been a poor one. For reasons that seemed both politic and sensible, we stood aside while hundreds of thousands perished in the killing fields of Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda, the Sudan, the Balkans and Syria. It is now happening again as Russia attempts to snuff out Ukrainian democracy, independence, and culture. There will be consequences if the Atlantic community chooses once again to stand aside. This time, the conflict will not be in our backyard. It will be at our front door.

In short, if the West takes active measures to ensure Ukraine can’t win, it won’t.  But if it commits to supplying the range of capabilities required for modern, high intensity warfare, Ukraine can win, and it will. That victory will forestall Russian aggression in the European security space for a generation, and perhaps forever.  For our leaders and our peoples, that will be a worthy legacy.

R.D. Hooker Jr. is a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council. He previously served as Dean of the NATO Defense College and as Special Assistant to the US President and Senior Director for Europe and Russia with the National Security Council.

NATO’s Clint Eastwood Doctrine

By Julian Lindley-French, Chair of The Alphen Group

“I know what you’re thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?”

Clint Eastwood explains deterrence by denial


The new NATO Strategic Concept is clear, concise, and considered and does exactly what it sets out to do: communicate Allied seriousness about deterrence and defence. It has been published against the backdrop of a major war in Europe and like all such documents is a trade-off between what needs to be done and what can be afforded with transatlantic burden-sharing and European strategic responsibility central to its ethos. The Strategic Concept is one half of a two part strategic realignment of NATO and should ideally be read in conjunction with the NATO Military Strategy. Unfortunately, the Military Strategy is classified.  It adds much of the detail implicit in the Strategic Concept and the NATO 2030 Agenda. There are two critical future NATO deterrence and defence components; lessons for the near term from the Ukraine War and future force interoperability going forward and the balance between technology and manpower. What matters now is that the strategic momentum generated is maintained and the goals and missions both implicit and explicit in the Strategic Concept and the Military Strategy are realised by the European allies, for whom the Madrid Summit was a call to legitimate arms. If so, the NATO Madrid Summit will pass the Riga Test and the good citizens therein can sleep easy in their beds. Time will tell.

The Riga Test

July 5th. That was the week that was! For many years I have had the distinct honour of attending the wonderful Riga Conference. Each year I set the Riga Test: can the good citizens of Riga sleep easier in their beds than last year.  In 2021, I had my concerns having predicted the war in Ukraine but worried by the continued ‘we only recognise as much threat’ as we can afford defence policies of many NATO European allies and the wilful ignoring of the Russian threat.  In the wake of last week’s NATO Madrid Summit I am somewhat more reassured, but there can be no complacency.

The NATO Deterrence Summit in Madrid was a much needed dose of Allied strategic realism because it committed the Alliance to re-generate a credible and relevant threat to use force against a strategic peer competitor if necessary, implied the will and future capability to do so, together with an understanding of the need for the demonstrable speed to act allied to a clear capacity to inflict punishment. Consequently, NATO’s traditional posture of deterrence by punishment is once again to be reinforced by ‘Go ahead. Make my day’ deterrence. The tragic and criminal slaughter of Ukrainian citizens by Russian forces means it is no longer acceptable to aspire merely to ‘rescue’ the citizens of Allied countries after some possibly 180 days of occupation. Now, the fight will be taken forward against any aggressor from the moment they set a foot on NATO soil. This is important because one of the many lessons of the Ukraine War is that if Russia ever did attack NATO territory it would be on a narrow front and designed to exploit a lack of strategic depth.

However, the devil is in the detail and the detail is quite devilish. NATO’s New Force Model is an act of deterrence in its own right but needs to be delivered and quickly.  The plan is that some 300,000 mainly European troops across the continent soon be placed on high alert (not high readiness) but it needs to be delivered. Finland and Sweden’s accession to the Alliance will extend NATO presence on both the northern and eastern flanks requiring a new concept of victory across a much expanded area of responsibility (AOR). Existing NATO forward deployed defences on the alliance’s eastern flank will be increased to the size of a brigade, which is about 3,000 to 5,000 troops in addition to local forces.

The 2022 NATO Strategic Concept

The centre-piece of the summit was the publication of the first NATO Strategic Concept since 2010. The 2022 Strategic Concept is deterrence and defence heavy and thus has the feel of strategic guidance which is what it is for. It also instructs the Alliance to realign core tasks with capabilities post-Afghanistan in a new age of geopolitical competition to which Europeans are finally awakening. To that end, Strategic Concept 2022 re-confirms NATO’s commitment to collective defence and a 360 degree approach built on three core tasks of deterrence and defence, crisis prevention and management, and co-operative security.  It also affirms the importance of resilience of the ‘home’ base.

The basis for future development is the NATO 2030 Agenda agreed at last year’s Brussels summit. The Agenda can be thus summarised; enough forces to deter, engage crises and build partnerships and enough European forces able to respond quickly to any crisis in and around the Euro-Atlantic Area. That is the sum of an agenda that includes deeper and faster political consultation, strengthened defence and deterrence, improved resilience, preservation of NATO’s technical edge, the upholding of the rules-based order, increased training and capacity-building, and the need to combat and adapt to climate change.  

The Strategic Concept also strikes all the right political chords.  NATO’s purpose and common values are all stressed, particularly on women and security. Reference is also made to further command and control reform and the need for digital transformation, with strong passages on cyber, and emerging and disruptive technologies.  The friction over increasing common funding and defence capacity building also seem to have been resolved, whilst it reaffirms the NATO remains a nuclear alliance that also remains committed to a nuclear-free world.

It is also not the first NATO Strategic Concept to be published against the backdrop of a war. In April 1999, the NATO Washington Summit also published a Strategic Concept against the backdrop of the Kosovo War. However, Strategic Concept 2022 bears some resemblance to MC3/5 “The Strategic Concept for the Defence of the North Atlantic Area” of December 1952, which took place against the backdrop of the Korean War. The 1952 Strategic Concept tried to square the same circle as Strategic Concept 2022 – the need to ease US military overstretch with increased European capabilities and capacities in the face of an economic crisis, a Russian aggressor in Europe, and a Chinese regional-strategic competitor. Both in 1952 and 2022 the elephant in the room concerned Germany and the role it would play in Allied defence.

Russia and its invasion of Ukraine pervades all sixteen pages of the Strategic Concept with a marked change of tone compared to the 2010 Strategic Concept which described Russia as a ‘strategic partner’, even though Russia had invaded Georgia two years prior in 2008.  The 2022 Strategic Concept is far less equivocal. “The Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine has shattered peace and gravely altered our security environment. Its brutal and unlawful invasion, repeated violations of international humanitarian law and heinous attacks and atrocities have caused unspeakable suffering and destruction.” China is now a “systemic challenge” and terrorism the “most direct asymmetric threat”. 

Will the rubber hit the road?

Can ambition and reality be aligned? The Military Strategy is centred on SACEUR’s Area of Responsibility (AOR) wide Strategic Plan (SASP) and the Concept for the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA).  There are two main pillars, the NATO warfighting cornerstone concept (NWCC) and the Deterrence Concept.  The New Force Model at the heart of the Strategic Concept is the consequence of the Military Strategy and it is there one finds the necessary detail. Specifically the call for the enhanced NATO Response Force of some 40,000 troops to be transformed into a future force of some 300,000 troops maintained at high alert, with 44,000 kept at high readiness. For the first time all rapid reaction forces under NATO command will be committed to a deterrence and defence role and all such forces will be consolidated within one command framework.  Whilst the new force will be held at 24 hours ‘Notice to Act’ the bulk of the NATO Force Structure will held at 15 days ‘Notice to Move’, which will be a marked improvement over the current structure in which some forces are 180 days’ notice to move. 

At American behest the new force will be mainly European with Allies on NATO’s Eastern and South-Eastern Flanks agreeing to expanded deployed battalions to brigades of between 3,000-5000 troops. For example, the British have two battlegroups deployed to Estonia and they have now committed to adding an additional battlegroup. Indeed, the UK will commit an extra 1000 troops and a carrier-strike group (???) to the defence of Estonia, the US will send an additional 3000 troops to the Baltic Sea Region, 2 more squadrons of F-35s will be stationed in the UK and two US Navy destroyers sent to Spain. The new Forward Defence strategy will also see heavy equipment pre-positioned near NATO borders. 

A force of that size and with the necessary level of fighting power would normally mean that with rotation there would always be a force of some 100,000 kept at high readiness, which will be extremely expensive for NATO European allies grappling with high inflation and post-COVID economies. A NATO standard brigade is normally between 3200 and 5500 strong. Given that both air and naval forces will also need to be included a land force of, say, 200,000 would need at least 50 to 60 European rapid reaction brigades together with all their supporting elements. At best, there are only 20 to 30 today. There are already concerns being expressed by some Allies.

That is precisely why Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that the NATO Defence Investment Pledge of 2% GDP to be spent by each Ally on defence is now “more of a floor than a ceiling”. Several NATO European allies have now committed to increasing their respective defence budgets accordingly. Germany is leading the way (at last) with its commitment to markedly increase its defence budget which is vital given that the Bundeswehr will in future become the central pillar of NATO land deterrence on the eastern flank. The UK has also committed to spend at least 2.5% GDP on defence “this decade”, whilst the Netherlands has committed to a 5.4% real terms increase in defence expenditure over last year’s defence budget allied to spending 2% GDP on defence by 2024.

The sharing of NATO burdens

Whilst the Strategic Concept is mainly a consequence of Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine, the forthcoming US National Defense Strategy (NDS) is no less important.  For the first time the NDS places a premium on the support of allies and partners, particularly NATO. NDS 2022 also implies a greater role for allies going forward in assisting the US meet its strategic goals and challenges, particularly in and around the European theatre.  This is because China and the Indo-Pacific are afforded a higher priority than Russia and Europe in NDS 2022, even though Russia is described as an “acute threat”. There are also profound implications for the new NATO future force, in particular the challenge of maintaining interoperability in high-end conflicts with the US future force. The US future force will be built on three principles: “integrated deterrence” and credible combat power (including nuclear forces); effective campaigning in the grey zone; and “building enduring advantage” by exploiting new, emerging and disruptive technologies. NATO European forces?

For NATO the message from the Americans is clear: if the US security guarantee for Europe is to be credibly maintained going forward Europeans are going to have to share the defence burdens far more equitably, with 50% of NATO’s minimum capability requirements by 2030 probably the least the Americans will expect of their allies.   That will mean Europeans taking on far more strategic responsibility than hitherto within the framework of the Alliance and all Allies will need to develop an expeditionary mind-set, even the Finns.  In time, greater European strategic responsibility will inevitably lead to capacity for European tactical and eventually strategic autonomy.   

NATO’s Big 2030 Plan

The Strategic Concept and the Military Strategy together are NATO’s Big 2030 Plan. The plan involves two phases much of which will need to run concurrently. Phase one involves identifying and learning the lessons of the Ukraine War to bolster deterrence, defence and resilience in the short-term. War is a giant black hole into which people and materiel vanish at an alarming rate far beyond that envisaged by peacetime establishments. NATO European forces will need for more robust logistics forward deployed, with enhanced and far more secure military supply chains particularly important. Far more materiel is also needed, most notably ammunition. If NATO deterrence and defence are to be credible Allies will also need to rebuild and build infrastructure to assist military mobility and remove all legal impediments to rapid cross border movements in a pre-war emergency. Deployed NATO forces will also need much improved force protection with the need to reduce the detectability and thus digital footprint of force concentrations (‘bright butterflies’). 

The war in Ukraine has also revealed the vulnerability of armour unsupported by infantry and helicopters in the battlespace, as well as the need for NATO forces to be able to dominate both fires and counter-fires.  Much of the vulnerability of Russian forces is due to the effectiveness of expendable drones, strike drones and loitering systems allied to precision-guided munitions. NATO forces need an awful lot more of all such systems across the tactical and the strategic. Enhanced land-based, protected battlefield mobility will also be needed together with increased force command resilience given how often the Ukrainians have been able to detect and ‘kill’ Russian forward (and less forward) deployed headquarters.

Thankfully, given that NATO is a defensive alliance, the war in Ukraine has also revealed the extent to which the defence has dominated the offence if forces are reasonably matched.  Whilst no-one envisages a return to some kind of twenty-first century equivalent of the Maginot Line secure pre-positioned capabilities and access to individual ready reserves will be vital.  There is one other lesson NATO leaders and commanders need to learn given the attritional nature of the war: do not sacrifice significant mass to afford a little manoeuvre. Britain, are you listening?

Beyond NATO’s horizon

NATO must also look beyond 2030 and develop a hard core future war concept if deterrence by denial now enshrined in NATO doctrine is to remain credible. In addition to the Military Strategy the new SACEUR, General Chris Cavioli and his team must also set the future force agenda with something akin to the 1952 Long-Term Defence Plan with the aim of forging a markedly transformed military instrument of power by 2030.  Such a plan will need to include strengthened forces postures, news structures & forces, a much expanded NATO Readiness Initiative with supporting plans & concepts, transformed training & exercises not dissimilar to the famous Battle Schools set up by General Harold Alexander during World War Two, and a proper understanding where capability, capacity, manpower and interoperability meet, especially when it involves new emerging and destructive technologies.

In other words, the true test of Madrid’s legacy will be the standing up of a high-end, collective, US-interoperable, strategically autonomous (if needs be) European-led Allied Mobile Heavy Force able to operate as a powerful first responder in a pre-war emergency in and around Europe and across the domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge from sea-bed to space at the highest levels of conflict complete with its own combat support and enablers.  Nothing less will suffice to meet the ambition implicit in the NATO Strategic Concept.  Are Europeans up to the challenge? Some leaders are already looking to slide out of their respective commitments partly because they never really understand what they have signed up to until their finance ministers present the bill/check. So, here’s a novel idea. Turn the NATO defence planning process on its head. Let the experts identify the defence architecture NATO will need by 2030 and beyond, together with the capabilities, capacities, structures and organisation to support it. Then sit down again and agree how it can be afforded and fielded.

Critics suggest that the Strategic Concept’s conciseness is a weakness, that it is light on facts. What did they expect? NATO’s strategic and political goals are now far more closely aligned with NATO’s Military Strategy, the first such demarche since 1962, implying a new relationship between effectiveness, efficiency and affordability.  Critics also fail to understand the purpose of a Strategic Concept or its relationship with the NATO Military Strategy. A NATO Strategic Concept is essentially a contract between leader and practitioner in which the former instructs the latter what the Alliance must minimally ensure and assure over the coming decade or so and publicly commit to those goals. It is not a public relations document per se, even if it does play such a role. 

In time, the 2022 NATO Strategic Concept could well come to be seen as a landmark document that set the direction of travel for the Alliance in a new “age of strategic competition”, in much the same way as the December 1967 MC14/3. However, that will only happen if the Alliance adopts the “Clint Doctrine”. For that reason Secretary-General Stoltenberg and his team are to be congratulated for being bold. ‘I know what you’re thinking. Did they fire all they have? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being as this is NATO, the most powerful military alliance in the world and could blow you clean away, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well, do ya, punk?’  Fact or fiction?  The real work starts now!

Sleep well, Riga.

Professor Dr. Julian Lindley-French

How This Ends

By R.D. Hooker, Jr.

The magnificent resistance of the Ukrainian people has drawn the admiration of the whole world, but we must have no illusions.  Without a clear shift in policy by the US, NATO and the EU, Ukraine will not win, and the consequences will be severe, not only for Ukraine but for the West – and the world – as a whole.

All strategy begins with a simple question: what is the political aim?  The answer here is straightforward. Ukraine seeks to recover its national territory and deal a decisive defeat to the Russian military that will end Russia’s predatory aggression and secure Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Ukraine does not need foreign troops to win.  What it does need, and must have, is economic, political and military help from NATO and the EU.  So far, what has been provided is not enough.

On the economic front, Ukraine is effectively landlocked due to Russian control of the Black Sea, unable to export the wheat and other commodities upon which its economy depends.  US and European sanctions on Russia have been imposed, but continued dependence on Russian energy means that Europe sends billions to Russia every month.  As former Deputy National Security Adviser Rick Waddell has pointed out, “a Russian economy that is self-sufficient in agriculture and energy takes a lot of killing.” As long as Europe continues to finance Russian aggression, the war will continue.

Politically, Ukraine urgently wants to integrate with the West to avoid absorption into the Russian Federation or an effective neutering that amounts to the same thing.  EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has publicly championed Ukraine’s bid for EU membership, but France and Germany are delaying “fast track” membership for fear of angering Putin.  For its part, the US has published a long list of measures it will not take in the conflict, reassuring Putin and simplifying Russian planning.  From the beginning, NATO membership has been off the table.  Political leaders have made much of the “unity” shown by the transatlantic community in opposing Putin since the war began, but the reality must look very different in Kyiv.

Militarily, the West has done much to bolster Ukraine’s defense, providing anti-tank and air defence missiles in quantity as well as artillery howitzers and ammunition.  Substantial financial assistance, drones and (reportedly) intelligence sharing have bolstered Ukraine’s stout defense of Kyiv and Kharkiv.  The Biden administration and key European leaders have drawn a firm line, however, by denying combat aircraft and long-range rocket artillery, except in nominal amounts. The net effect has been to deny Ukraine the ability to conduct true offensive operations.

Despite a clear qualitative superiority, Ukraine cannot win without these capabilities.  Modern, high-intensity, major theater war requires airpower and long-range fires.  Without them, Ukraine is doomed to a frozen conflict and the probable loss of Luhansk and Donetsk, along with occupied territory in the south that connects to Crimea.  The war to date has revealed surprising Russian deficiencies in combined arms warfare, logistics, intelligence and air operations.  As in the past, however, Russia will learn and adapt.  Western hopes that Putin will fall or quit are illusory; as recently as this week he reaffirmed Russia’s ambition to recover former territories once belonging to the Russian empire.  At least since his famous 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference, Putin has been clear and consistent in his hostility to the West and his ambition to restore Russian “greatness.”  After Georgia, Crimea, the Donbas, Syria and now the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he should be taken at his word.

In his public discourse, President Zelensky has repeatedly affirmed that Ukraine will not allow other powers to force a negotiated settlement ceding control of occupied territories to Russia and leaving Ukraine, economically and militarily, a rump state.  Even so, the reality is that under present circumstances Ukraine cannot survive without strong external support.  That support is clearly conditional.  By denying Ukraine what it needs to win, the West will force Zelensky to the table, giving Putin the territorial gains he needs to claim victory.  That is how this ends.

What then?  Many argue that fear of NATO will dissuade Putin from further aggression.  The  historical record and Putin’s own actions and rhetoric belie that assumption.  After pausing to rebuild his economy and military and to effect sanctions relief, Putin will reignite the conflict once again.  Above all, the war in Ukraine has taught Putin that NATO and the EU will go to great lengths to avoid confronting him.  Therein lies the true danger.

R.D. Hooker, Jr. is a former Dean of the NATO Defense College and served as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Europe and Russia  at the NSC from 2017-2018.

Putin the Great’s NATO

By Julian Lindley-French, Chair of The Alphen Group

“I have conquered an empire but I have not been able to conquer myself.”

Peter the Great’s Russian Empire, 1721

Putin the Great’s NATO

The war in Ukraine is at a crucial moment. A bloody race is underway in Luhansk between a severely damaged Russian Army and its separatist supporters, and a tired Ukrainian Army that is slowly being reinforced by Western weapons.  It will likely be early July before the schwerpunkt really meets a culminating point in the current phase of the war, but where is NATO? In the one hundred or so days since President Putin launched his brutal invasion of the Alliance has learnt about the capabilities of the Russian armed forces. At the end of June, the 2022 NATO Strategic Concept will be agreed at the Madrid Summit. Finland and Sweden are on the cusp of joining the Alliance, Turkey permitting, and even countries like the Netherlands have now decided to meet the 2% benchmark of the Defence Investment Pledge (albeit briefly) after years of reality-defying resistance.

This week President Putin made a remark that revealed his anachronistic Realpolitik world-view.  Russia, he said, was merely “reclaiming” the lands of Peter the Great. Perhaps the most crucial decision taken by Alliance Heads of State and Government will be the commitment to a new forward defence force posture. There is a kind of paradoxical perverse symbiosis at play in that Putin will finally get the very NATO he has warned against precisely because of his own calamitous and criminal actions. Putin’s world-view can be thus summarised; “I consent to the West’s sphere of influence which includes all existing EU and NATO members, but only on the condition the West consents to Russia’s sphere of influence which includes Ukraine. If the West contests Russia’s sphere of influence I will contest the margins of the West’s sphere’.

NATO and the US National Defense Strategy 2022

Whither NATO? The NATO Strategic Concept is meant to be the driving force of NATO strategy for the next decade or so. However, given the centrality of US forces to the all-important Alliance deterrence and defence policy the new US National Defense Strategy is perhaps a more useful indicator, and more importantly, a better test of the extent to which NATO will need to adapt by 2030 if the Alliance is to remain credible in its core tasks.

The primary mission of National Defence Strategy (NDS) 2022 is to shape and size the US future force and the budget that pays for it. NDS 2022 thus links resources to strategy to force. For the first time NDS 2022 places a particular premium on the support of allies and partners, and thus implicitly NATO. In short, NDS 2022 implies a far greater role for allies going forward in assisting the US meet its strategic goals and challenges, particularly in and around the European theatre. As such, the language in the NDS would certainly be recognisable to those charged with drafting the 2022 NATO Strategic Concept, although NDS 2022 affords China and the Indo-Pacific a higher priority than Russia and Europe, even though it describes Russia as an “acute threat”.

NATO 2030 and NDS 2022

It will be interesting to see if both NATO Agenda 2030 and the NATO Strategic Concept rise to that challenge. If not, there could well be a large funding and capability hole somewhere mid-Atlantic.  Like the NATO Strategic Concept NDS 2022 is quite a smorgasbord. NDS 2022 follows on from NDS 2018 which switched the US strategic emphasis away from strategic counter-terrorism back to great power competition. Consequently, both the Nuclear Posture Review and the Missile Defense Review have also been incorporated into NDS 2022. The four defence priorities reinforce that shift: (1) the pacing, sizing and shaping of the US future force to meet the challenge of China; (2) the importance of credible deterrence against “strategic attacks” and “aggression”; (3) the need to “prevail (not win) in conflict when necessary”; and (4) the creation of a resilient Joint Force and what is called the “defence eco-system”, a complex network of civilian and military stakeholders and partners. Interestingly, increased resilience is not simply limited to deployed force protection, but also applied to the US home base. NDS 2022 emphasises the vital need of the US to be able to recover from mass disruption caused by both “kinetic and non-kinetic threats”. Sub-strategic threats, such as North Korea, Iran and violent extremism are now to be “managed”, whilst “trans-boundary” threats, such as climate change and pandemics, must be “adapted”.

The US future force also affords the NATO future force a clear direction of travel. The force will be built on three principles, “integrated deterrence” and the generation of credible combat power (including nuclear forces), the capacity to undertake effective campaigning in the grey zone; and the need to build “enduring advantage” by exploiting new, emerging and disruptive technologies.

As ever, the utility of NDS 2022 will depend on the public money invested in it by Congress. There are already some indicators. Whilst the agreed budget for the European Deterrence Initiative for FY2023 will be $4.2bn, the ‘Pacific Deterrence Initiative’ will receive $6bn.  For those NATO allies reading the runes of NDS 2022 the message is clear: if the US security guarantee for Europe is to be credibly maintained going forward Europeans are going to have to share the defence burdens far more equitably, with 50% of NATO’s minimum capability requirements by 2030 probably the least the Americans will expect of their allies. 

Military Implications of NDS 2022 for NATO

In 2019, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR) General Tod Wolters, produced the first NATO Military Strategy since 1962, with Russia and terrorism identified as the main threats.  The Military Strategy considers the best use of Allied force in the competition phase, crisis phase and conflict phase. Another document, the Defence and Deterrence of the Euro-Atlantic Area or DDA operationalises the Military Strategy by governing actions inside SACEUR’s area or responsibility (AOR) and relations with partners beyond. The DDA also drives a series of military plans that provide direction for the critical work of the three Joint Force Commands (JFCs) in Brunssum, Naples and Norfolk, Virginia.  With Finland and Sweden soon to join the Alliance a fourth JFC could be established covering the soon-to-be enlarged Northern Flank of the Alliance.  Such a new command would certainly help NATO better align plans with Allies in regions, albeit through yet more bureaucratisation of the NATO Command Structure. Whilst the Joint Force Commands are vital there are still simply too many commands in NATO and not enough force.

Whilst some 90% of SACEUR’s military plans are now complete, it will be the last 10% (as ever) that will prove the most challenging. The task of realising them will fall to the new SACEUR, US Army General Chris Cavioli.  The critical challenge and thus true test of the Alliance given HDS 2022 will be finalising the minimum European military requirements vital to ensuring Allied deterrence and defence remain credible in ALL circumstances, most notably if the Americans are busy elsewhere.

Putin the Great? Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has clearly accelerated and focused NATO defence planning, not least because after some debate the DDA has now been adopted by the North Atlantic Council (NAC). Crucially, more devolved command authority has been given to SACEUR by the NAC which means Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons can now conduct more operations in the competition phase of conflict, thus better preparing the Alliance for both crisis management and war early in the conflict cycle. Further bolstering deterrence is the decision to activate all the graduated response plans (GRPs) and appropriate crisis response operations (CROs) as a direct response to Putin’s aggression. For example, SACEUR now has operational command authority over some 42,000 combat troops, 60 plus warships and 100s of combat aircraft now in Eastern Europe as part of the enhanced NATO Response Force (eNRF).

Forward, Flexible NATO

NATO’s longer-term military posture in the wake of the Russo-Ukraine War is now also being actively considered with Forward Defence and Flexible Response likely to be the mantras. Back to the Future? Since 2019 General Wolters and his Allied team have done a lot to harmonise US and NATO military strategies for the simple vital reason that the Americans remain the hard backbone of Allied forces. NATO authorities also have become markedly bolder than hitherto. A new NATO Military Posture will be adopted at the Madrid Summit that for the first time establishes coherent military command at a level above the forces committed to the Enhanced Forward Presence on NATO’s eastern flank. The new posture will not only help close a command gap between headquarters and deployed forces, but also enable more integrated land, sea, and air operations.

The Alliance and the allies will also further invest in a host of advanced military capabilities in order to meet new and enduring challenges across all operational domains. The aim is for NATO to be able to deliver an array of robust and sophisticated capabilities across all such domains. This will include heavier, more high-end, technologically advanced, and better-supported forces and capabilities at the required state of readiness in sufficient capacity to be rotated effectively for the duration of any crisis. The Alliance will also continue to improve and adapt the sustainability, deployability, and interoperability of its forces at the higher end of the conflict spectrum in a demanding strategic environment, particularly the conduct of high-end operations. National capability development plans will support the full and timely generation of such capabilities, in line with the NATO Defence Planning Process.

Job Done?

However, far more needs to be done by the Alliance.  The NATO Command and Force Structure remains untested. The NATO Readiness Initiative needs to be markedly expanded. The release mechanisms by which national forces are placed under SACEUR’s command need to be harmonised, streamlined and much accelerated. There is also a command and force ‘hole’ to NATO’s south-east in the Black Sea Region.  In short, those inside the NATO bubble need to stop believing their own rhetoric and stop trying to convince the rest of us to follow suit. A good start would be to properly learn the lessons of the Ukraine War, not least the vital need for sufficient stocks of munitions given how quickly modern war eats them up.  War stocks are a vital indicator of credible deterrence.

Above all, NATO really needs to begin thinking far more cogently about future war, the new battlespace beyond 2030 and the very concept of deterrence and defence in the twenty-first century. The automisation and digitisation of warfare across the mosaic of hybrid, cyber and hyperwar will accelerate and possibly exponentially. Above all, the NATO European Allies need to deliver on what they promise. If not, Putin the Great could one day seek to fill the hole between NDS 2022 and the NATO Strategic Concept.

So, good start NATO but much, much more needs to be done. Still none of the above would have been possible without the incompetent ‘statecraft’ of the distinctly un-great President Putin who desperately wants an empire because he is unable to conquer himself.

By Julian Lindley-French, Chair of The Alphen Group

The Retreat from Grand Strategy

By David Richards, TAG Member

Premium Blog Post, May 2022

“Strategy without Tactics is the slowest route to victory, Tactics without Strategy is merely the noise before defeat.”

Sun Tzu

Grand strategy is the stuff of great power. It is the generation, organisation and application of immense means in pursuit of high strategic aims. There was a time when the conduct of grand strategy was such a second nature for Britain’s elite that it did not even have a name. As Britain’s relative means have retreated – power is always relative – so has a culture of grand strategy at the heart of government.  Worse, the relationship between strategy and tactics has become hopelessly broken undermining the all-important mechanism for application through ends, ways and means. Post Brexit Britain is trying to rekindle such a culture through the mantra of ‘Global Britain’. From my own command experience re-establishing grand strategy as a ‘doctrine’ of power at the heart of government will be hard. Catchy slogans are a useful indicator of intent but devising and then coherently executing the strategy to achieve it is quite a different issue.


In 2003, at the time of the Second Gulf War, as the Assistant Chief of the General Staff and an occasional member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, I observed Western political leaders at fairly close quarters. Both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair had a relatively clear strategy for Iraq in 2003, but their tactics were (not for the first time) hopelessly flawed. There were also marked limits to Britain’s influence.  For example, I visited Ambassador Paul Bremer, US head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. My instructions from London were to try and reverse US decisions over the status of the Baath party and the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and police. Sadly, Sun Tzu’s point about the effect of rotten tactics was borne out. The situation is only now improving but the failure back in 2003 properly to understand sensible ends and the best ways and means to seek them led to a very long and tragically drawn-out process. It was the slowest possible route to what arguably now looks something like a strategically successful outcome.


As Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (COMISAF), like my US successors, I was forced to repeatedly question both NATO and UK strategy and tactics in Afghanistan, but with little effect. Despite accepting the logic of my arguments, politicians back in Washington, London and elsewhere never took ‘ownership’ of the campaign with the profound consequence that ends, ways and means were never in synch. Last summer the campaign reached its strategic denouement and a chaotic withdrawal. Even then political leaders focused on, and at times seemed to revel in, a tactical withdrawal ignoring the hard truth – complete strategic failure. The withdrawal was only possible with the co-operation of an ‘enemy’ who had killed and maimed thousands of Allied soldiers and tens of thousands of innocent civilians.


In 2011, as Chief of the UK Defence Staff, I disagreed with Prime Minister Cameron on the Libya strategy. It is on the public record that I was implacably opposed to regime change because of the long term strategic consequences for a country that was inherently unstable. Like many politicians both Cameron and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, helped by a strategically-detached President Obama, confused politics, strategy and tactics. They were entirely focused on the short–term and the tactical, and their respective political needs to be seen as the heroic victors of a war. 


Good strategy is about hard choices. As Chief of Defence Staff, I and my outstanding team devised a coherent Syria strategy which independent experts agreed had a good chance of leading to a successful strategic outcome. Once again, political leaders were not prepared to align ends ways and means with Washington going as far as to say that ‘the General’s plan is more than the market can bear’. What ‘market’? Consequently, my advice was to let Assad win and quickly and to stop encouraging and supplying opposition groups with insufficient support to ensure success. The price in deaths, ruined lives and destroyed cities would be too huge and a massive strategic setback for the West. Russia was already sensing an opportunity and so it proved. 


A similar lack of a coherent strategy is now apparent in Ukraine. There is, at best, what might be termed incremental strategy with again no early and decisive synchronisation of ends ways and means.  It is a ‘let’s see how it goes’ ‘strategy’, in other words not really strategy at all. There is still little idea in London, Washington or elsewhere how ‘we’ want the war to pan out, or what sort of Russia we are seeking to shape, especially on the vital long term issue of relations with China. Is there an opportunity, using carrots and sticks, to persuade a weakened Russia to align with the West rather than having it pushed ineluctably into China’s orbit? No-one is thinking grand strategically because no-one is brave enough to think beyond the political convention of the moment.

The retreat from grand strategy

London should be capable of grand strategic thinking and acting. Britain remains one of the world’s leading economies and military powers even if it is a decidedly regional strategic power these days. Strategy is about choices and the more choices one needs to make to balance the ends, ways and means when pursuing the national interest the more informed they need to be. That means big clear thinking about big issues and a much better understanding of how plausibly to achieve our goals.

David Richards                                                                       

General Lord Richards is a member of The Alphen Group

Open letter to His Excellency, Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation

By Ambassador (Ret.) Stefano Stefanini

Rome, May 14th, 2022

Dear Sergey,

You are surprised by Italy’s stance over Ukraine? The surprise is mutual. Yours for Italy’s position on the war in Ukraine. Mine for your choice to lend credibility to the Russian Federation’s narrative about the war itself. I admire your professionalism. But the conversations we have had over the years clash with the official defense of a war of aggression and its tragic humanitarian and political consequences.

No, I’m not going to recount what we said. Those were private conversations, with the help of a glass of vodka, between two friends and colleagues whose paths crossed – in New York, Moscow, Oslo, Corfu. Private they must remain.

I make one exception, for a sentence which was not spoken in private in Oslo in 2007 at the NATO-Russia Council. I had just been appointed ambassador to NATO. I accompanied Minister Massimo D’Alema. In shaking his hand you said to him, pointing to me: “You have a true multilateralist”. From you, a great compliment. Professional, intellectual and, above all, human. It was the legacy of our experience as young first secretaries at our respective UN representations in New York, in the early 1980s, in endless meetings of the Second Commission – and friendly matches of North vs South football.

If I was a multilateralist, what about you? You had returned to the United Nations as Permanent Representative of Russia, becoming one of the most authoritative and most listened to voices – even by those who did not agree with the positions you took. At the UN headquarters you swam like a fish in water.

If we had another face-to-face conversation today, I wouldn’t ask you if you really think that Hitler was Jewish – your Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid is taking care of that – or if the Azov battalion was nestled in the maternity ward of Mariupol hospital. But I would ask you how you reconcile the multilateralism of your DNA with the invasion of Ukraine. The war was initiated on February 24 by the Russian Federation, with no semblance of provocation or accident.

You know the United Nations Charter better than I do. By invading Ukraine, Russia is doing exactly what Article 1 categorically prohibits: “The threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. Article 51 establishes “the inherent right to individual or collective self-defense in the event of an armed attack against a member state”: exactly what Ukrainians do by defending themselves and what others, like Italy, do by helping them defend themselves.

In this war there is an aggressor and an attacked. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, “There are Russian troops in Ukraine, there are no Ukrainian troops in Russia”. You were beside him. It must have been a difficult meeting. Not so much for the defense of your country’s actions: you are used to it and you are good at it. But because you had to stand up for them in the face of an interlocutor who did not come to Moscow as an adversary or an enemy. The UN Secretary General does not represent a regional organization, such as NATO or the EU. He is not biased, and you know it very well. He represents a universal organization to which you have dedicated energy and passion. How did you feel when your country gave him a farewell with two missiles that hit Kyiv during his visit – and killed civilians? Where did the multilateralism we were proud of when we met, even in opposite fields of the Cold War, end up?

So, let me conclude this letter by responding directly to your stated ‘surprise’. It is not difficult. You say you are surprised that Italy is “in the front line among those who promote anti-Russian sanctions”. Russia has forgotten the Charter, we have not. We have put it in our Constitution. We have repudiated “war as an instrument of offending the freedom of other peoples and as a means of resolving international disputes” – which is what Russia is doing. This is why we sanction Russia and will continue to do so as long as the aggression against Ukraine continues.

Obviously you don’t know us.


Stefano Stefanini
Ambassador (Ret.) of the Republic of Italy, former Permanent Representative of Italy to the North Atlantic Council and Member of The Alphen Group. This letter was first published by

Putin’s Ground Truth?

By Julian Lindley-French, Chair of The Alphen Group

Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach

Joseph Stalin

Ground Truth?

May 10th, 2022. What is Putin’s Weltanschaaung? What is his ground truth? To understand that one needs to reach back into Russia’s tragic past and understand the Russian elite’s obsession with the West, primarily Germany, and their tawdry belief that the lands in-between are little more than pawns in their never-ending addiction to incompetent Realpolitik.

Victory Day, or Den Pobedy as the Russians would have it, did not see Putin declare all-out war on Ukraine, although his speech was a catalogue of lies about NATO, Nazis, nukes and the existential threat from no-one Russia apparently faces. Putin needs an existential threat to Russia precisely because he offers precious little else to the Russian people. Victory Day is not just about the Great Patriotic War. It is also a metaphor for the creation of the Soviet empire that subjugated much of Central and Eastern Europe between 1945 and 1989 in the guise of ‘liberating’ Europeans from Nazism.  That latter reflection is perhaps the most important takeaway from this year’s underwhelming parade given the tragedy Putin is inflicting on Ukraine.  The fact that General Valery Gerasimov was unable to attend because he is in hospital recovering from his wounds is almost another metaphor for Putin’s hopeless and desperate gamble.

Victory Day had been meant to commemorate Putin’s strategic victory in the Ukraine War and the imposition of his nationalistic Soviet-style, anti-Nazi ideology on the Ukrainian people. Instead, it was an essentially defensive exercise in political expectation management.  This is because Putin’s ground truth is driven by his own survival in a country that has no mechanism for peaceful political change or the ability to adapt. Take Britain. A century ago the British ruled the largest empire the world had ever seen but soon lost it.  Britain adapted and became a modern European liberal democracy. The problem for Putin and Russia is an inability to adapt to a changing world.

War and peace

What are the lessons from history? Firstly, it is not Muscovite liberals who worry Putin, much though the West wishes it. It is the ultra-nationalists to Putin’s (hard-to-believe) political right who really do believe in Stalin’s maxim that all that matters is how far the Russian Army can reach.  Thankfully for much of Europe, and only for the moment, it is not very far, but it will not always be so. A study of Russian military history suggests that whilst the Kremlin finds it hard to adapt, given time the Russian General Staff does not.

Implicit in Putin’s Victory Day speech was an inferiority complex with the ‘West’ from which Russian leaders have suffered at least as far as Peter the Great and the seventeenth century. This is evident in Putin’s repeated references to past Russian heroes, such as Alexander Nevsky and the struggle against the Teutonic Knights, and even if Prince Grigori Potemkin would have been more appropriate.

However, it is Russia’s tortured twentieth century history which is most relevant to Putin’s Weltanschaaung, particularly Moscow’s complicated, duplicitous, Realpolitik relations with Germany. Indeed, Putin’s Realpolitik can be traced back to one event: the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. Lenin’s Bolshevik regime felt as much aggrieved by the Treaty of Versailles as Weimar Germany.  Both Moscow and Berlin believed the terms imposed on them by the victorious World War One allies, several of whom supported the anti-Bolshevik Russian White Army in the 1919 civil war, were unduly harsh.  The tipping point was the failed 1922 Treaty of Genoa.  British Prime Minister Lloyd George was all-too aware that Versailles far from ending the war to end all wars would simply delay another blood reckoning in Europe and endeavoured to bring all the European powers together at the Conference of Genoa to give the League of Nations some teeth.  However, with the absence of the United States and France’s reluctance Lloyd George’s demarche was always going to be a long shot.

Even as Lloyd George was prematurely celebrating the success of his new European security order at Genoa Russia and Germany were meeting secretly at Rapallo where they established ‘friendly relations’ based on Germany’s need for raw materials and Russia’s supply of it. Nothing new there then. Rapallo also had secret clauses, which were meant to have been outlawed by Versailles that led to the Germans being offered facilities in Russia to test both tanks and aircraft illegal under Versailles.  The tank testing centre was led by one Heinz Guderian who twenty years later would come back with his panzer armies to devastate the Soviet Union.

In spite of the 1925 Treaty of Locarno at which Britain and France sought to normalise relations with Weimar Germany and in return for the confirmations of post-Versailles borders the Russo-German accord doomed Europe to catastrophe. Taken together with the 1929 Wall Street Crash, the failed World Disarmament Conference between 1932 and 1934, US isolationism and British and French impoverishment Genoa, Rapallo and Locarno set a fragile pattern for European security relations in the interbellum and beyond.  In the self-willed absence of the United States from Europe, Britain and France simply lacked the power and the will to engage in European Realpolitik, not least because of their focus on vulnerable global empires.  In the vacuum Germany, the Soviet Union and Mussolini’s equally aggrieved fascist Italy set about revising the European order in their favour. For much of the interbellum the British and French political establishments saw Bolshevism and the Soviet Union as the major threat to the established European order.

And then came Hitler. It became increasingly obvious in the wake of the remilitarisation of the Rhineland in 1936 and the Anschluss in 1938 that the fragile European order would soon collapse. Fearing a repeat of 1914-1918 only British prime ministers Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain continued to harbour naïve hopes that Hitler could be convinced of the merits of disarmament. France, meanwhile, had politically imploded during the Popular Front governments. As it became ever clearer that Nazi Germany intended to destroy Versailles by force if need be a race developed between Britain and France and Stalin’s Soviet Union to ensure that Hitler would attack the other first.

The land in between

The victims of this European Great Game were the lands in between and its icon was Munich.  First, in September 1938 Czechoslovakia was dismembered by the ‘peace in our time’ Munich agreement by which Chamberlain believed he had bought off Hitler with the Sudetenland. Second, when it became clear that Hitler also wanted ‘lebensraum’ in Poland and Ukraine Stalin began to see the threat. Third, firm in their belief that Bolshevism and Nazism were such mortal enemies London and Paris naively believed they might form some form of pact with the Soviet Union to contain Hitler. They thought Stalin would be amenable to such a pact because he had just decimated the senior command of the Red Army through purges.  In 1939 the Russians were also humiliated by the Finns on the Mannerheim Line in circumstances of incompetence eerily similar to today’s Ukraine War.

However, Hitler and Stalin were also the ultimate practitioners of Realpolitik in spite of their fundamental ideological struggle.  In August 1939, much to the shock of Britain and France, they signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (named after their respective foreign ministers of the time) even as a British military mission was in Moscow. The Pact not only ensured that Hitler would first seek to drive Britain and France out of the war, it also sealed the brutal fate of the lands in between Germany and Russia. At Brest in September 1939 Poland was divided up between Germany and the Soviet Union, under the terms of yet another secret protocol, whilst in June 1940 Stalin invaded the Baltic States.

Perhaps the most telling echo of the past, albeit the reverse of Germany’s thinking in 2022, was Stalin’s belief that Hitler’s economic dependence on the Soviet Union was the best security guarantee. After all, in early 1941 the Soviet Union supplied 74% of Germany’s phosphate, 67% of its asbestos, and 65% of its chrome, 55% of its manganese, 40% of its nickel and 35% of its oil, all of which were vital for the conduct of Hitler’s war in the West.  In January 1941, Germany and the Soviet Union even signed a new trade agreement that made Berlin reliant upon Moscow for 70% of its trade. And yet, in June 1941 Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union.  For three days Stalin was paralyzed by shock.

Just in case or Just in time?

What of today? Those in the West calling for a cease-fire should be careful not to again confuse diplomacy with appeasement and simply confirm Russia in its ill-gotten gains. Those same people must also be careful not to see Ukraine as a large country faraway about which we know little, a la Chamberlain. The 2022 Ukraine War, for that is what it is, is resetting the strategic and geopolitical context of NATO, Europe and the wider world. As I told NATO ambassadors Putin is forcing the world of globalised just-in-time back to the hard Realpolitik of just-in-case. He is reminding European leaders who have for too long abandoned sound defence of the dangers of being seduced by economists who do not understand that power and coercion can exist independently of supply and demand.

Today, the Western allies must thus again confront two potentially existential questions that are red in tooth and claw. How can peace be preserved? How can NATO deterrence and defence really deter and defend into the future? European history is again entering a darkened room and it is vital that all the democracies go forward together with a mind-set robust enough, collective enough and ambitious enough to stop the corrupt, cynical and corrosive regime in Moscow that was on show on May 9th. Facing down Putin’s Weltanschaaung (and China if it so chooses to be an enemy) will take a unity of effort and purpose not seen since NATO’s formation.

Given that the West now faces a choice. Force Ukraine to accept Putin’s ground truth on Ukraine’s ground and thus enable Moscow to impose its system as far as Putin’s army can reach, or commit to a clear set of strategic aims that culminate with the return eventually to the restoration of Ukraine’s borders. If Ukraine is forced to face a frozen stalemate on Russian terms those in Western Europe who imposed it on Kyiv will be the natural heirs of Chamberlain and any such ‘accord’, far from being a success of diplomacy merely the latest ‘peace in our time’ appeasers.  Why not sign it in Munich?

However, before any longer term strategy can be established it is vital Ukraine is given the means to resist the latest Russian offensive. Specifically, that means denying the Russians success in the first phase of their current operation, the seizure of an axis that links Slovyansk, Kramatorsk, Druzhina, Kostyantyniska, and Donetsk, which if successful would turn a salient into a pocket enabling Russian air power to destroy Ukrainian regular army formations, much like the destruction of the Wehrmacht’s Army Group B in the Falaise Gap in August 1944. Without securing that objective the Russians will be unable to conduct phase 2 of the offensive and the clear-out of Ukrainian forces up to the Donetsk Oblast border. Only when this offensive has succeeded/failed can ‘we’ (whomsoever that is going forward) properly tailor Western support over campaign time and space. What matters now is maintaining the coherence, manoeuvre and counter-attack fighting power of engaged Ukrainian forces.

The simple and tragic truth about Putin’s ground truth is that once again it is the lands in between who are paying the ultimate price for Russia’s geopolitical folly, malpractice, paranoia and sheer incompetence. Putin’s ‘ground truth’ is in fact no truth and his Weltanschaaung is the corrupt view of a corrupt history by a corrupt elite.   NATO’s job is to ensure that the Russian Army can only impose the Russian system within Russia’s legitimate borders now and into the future.

PREMIUM BLOG: A NATO Secure Neighborhood Initiative for Ukraine and Russia’s Other Vulnerable Neighbors

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow

Two months after Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine, and eight years after the illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilization of eastern Ukraine, Russia continues to hold Ukraine’s security hostage. If Russia succeeds in subjugating Ukraine, then Georgia, Moldova and other vulnerable neighbors – potentially including even the Baltic States – may be next in the Kremlin’s revisionist crosshairs.

The best solution for Ukraine, fast-tracking its membership in NATO and giving it the protection of an Article 5 guarantee, is now off the table, with Ukraine reportedly prepared to accept neutral status to end the war in return for international security guarantees.

The NATO allies – and Ukraine – are paying the price for the incoherent decision by NATO leaders at their 2008 Summit in Bucharest.  That is when they first declared that Ukraine (and Georgia) “will become members” of NATO one day, but kept the door shut in practice in subsequent years.  This not only raised false hopes in Kyiv and Tbilisi that ultimately demoralized the Ukrainians and Georgians; it also signaled weakness to Moscow that may have contributed to Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine in February 2022.  That invasion seeks to deprive Ukraine of its legitimate right to defend itself and to ensure its sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity – a direct challenge to the rules-based international order and a recipe for long-term instability in the heart of Europe. 

Given the stakes, allies should use NATO’s new Strategic Concept to adopt a Secure Neighborhood Initiative (SNI) that would extend the Alliance’s security protection to non-members along Russia’s borders.  Under this approach, allies would make it a strategic objective to do everything possible, short of extending an Article 5 guarantee, to help Ukraine and other vulnerable neighbors of Russia to defend themselves and resist political and economic destabilization by Moscow.

In the case of Ukraine, the partner already under attack, by maximizing that country’s capacity to impose significant costs on Russia for future aggression, NATO would bolster Ukraine’s deterrence and increase its leverage for establishing peaceful relations when Moscow is ready to end its aggression. NATO’s commitment to robust security assistance to Kyiv could be the foundation of any new security guarantees provided to Ukraine by Allied nations and other possible guarantors of a negotiated peace settlement. Armed neutrality under the SNI, with the emphasis on “armed,” may be the best way for Ukraine to deter Russia going forward.

If, as is likely, a comprehensive political settlement cannot be rapidly achieved, assistance under the SNI would increase the pressure on Moscow to comply with a ceasefire as the first step toward a settlement, and it would increase Ukraine’s leverage for inducing Moscow to accept a long-term settlement that preserves Ukraine as a sovereign state with internationally recognized borders. It would be a more systematic and sustained version of what the United States and its allies have been doing to support Ukraine on an ad hoc, improvised basis over the last few months.

The SNI would encompass NATO HQ coordination not only of supplies of military equipment and training to Ukraine’s armed forces, but measures to increase Ukraine’s resilience against cyber-attacks, financial and energy disruption, disinformation, economic warfare and political subversion. The NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC) could be a focal point for Ukraine and the Alliance to align their perspectives on Ukrainian needs.  The NUC could also be convened for urgent consultations whenever Ukraine believes it faces a renewed security threat from Russia.

Under the SNI, Ukraine would gain more access to the Alliance’s Centers of Excellence and benefit from NATO Trust Funds that provide resources for practical projects in the areas of defense transformation and capacity building. A new Trust Fund could be added dedicated to promoting capability development, including financial support for new weapons acquisitions from Allied nations and incentives for joint production by Ukrainian and Allied defense industries. The SNI could provide the mechanism through which NATO could participate in a broader international effort to help Ukraine recover and rebuild following the war.

Under the SNI, a similar package of deterrence and resilience measures could be offered to Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose NATO membership prospects are also in limbo.  It could also be extended to Moldova and other former Soviet states (such as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) that have never pursued NATO membership but may be fearful of Russian aggression and destabilization aimed at altering post-1991 borders by force.  If Finland and Sweden decide to postpone their bid for NATO membership, similar deterrence and resilience support could be provided to them under the Enhanced Opportunity Partner program, although full NATO membership for both countries would do even more to enhance security across Northern and Northeastern Europe 

To have a real impact on the partners’ and Allies’ own security, the SNI would depart from the traditional NATO formula that partnerships are demand-driven and funded largely by voluntary national contributions.  Allies would need to agree to use partnerships more strategically, rigorously prioritizing the use of NATO’s limited Civil and Military budgets and steering partners toward the highest-value activities rather than allowing them to choose activities à la carte.  The targeted deterrence and resilience support under the SNI would be of far greater benefit than a hollow promise of future NATO membership.


Alexander Vershbow is a Distinguished Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security in Washington DC. In his 40-year diplomatic career, he served as NATO Deputy Secretary General (2012-2016), US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (2009-2012), and US Ambassador to NATO (1997-2001) Russia (2001-2005), and the Republic of Korea (2005-2008).

The War in Ukraine, and the next NATO Strategic Concept

Remarks to the American European Community Association, 26 April 2022

By Former NATO DASG, MG Retired Gordon B. “Skip” Davis Jr

The Russia-Ukraine war has changed where NATO thought it was and certainly where it will go from here.  Many within NATO thought that with the political and military adaptation carried out within the Alliance since 2014, NATO had reset deterrence, reestablished defense, and was now beginning to look beyond the Euro-Atlantic setting to address global challenges. 

The new reality (arguably clear years earlier), which has driven so much NATO effort over the past few months and will shape the European security environment for the foreseeable future, is an aggressive Russia, led by an autocratic president willing to employ violence, intimidation, and malign influence to achieve its foreign policy and defense aims.  Russia aims to undermine what it deems are constraining security and economic structures and create defensive space to the West and South to protect what Russia considers as critical national interests.  Over the past few years, the well-established Euro-Atlantic security order has fractured and been partially dismantled, mostly by Putin but also with help from the last U.S. administration.  That said, when eventually put back together, a revised Euro-Atlantic security order may well be even more constraining for an isolated and politically weakened Russia.

While Russia’s barbaric war is not yet over, it has failed on multiple levels (strategic, operational, tactical) due to major miscalculations and a courageous and effective Ukrainian resistance. 

Ukraine has won round one of this war.  Ukraine foiled Russia’s desire for a lightning fast and low-cost military operation to occupy large swaths of territory, force regime change and establish a Russian-friendly administration in support of Russia’s strategic aims.  Those strategic aims include a Ukraine outside of NATO, Crimea controlled by Russia allowing its Black Sea fleet a secure base of operations, and Russia secure against external and internal threats (read a color revolution inspired by a successful alternative Ukrainian model of governance on Russia’s doorstep). 

Most analysts believe Putin would like to expand his sphere of influence to include as many non-allied countries in Russia’s near abroad as possible (read Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia).  NATO expects Putin to continue his war until he has achieved a revised and more modest operational objective of a Russian occupied Donbas and territory connecting the Donbas to Crimea, thus ensuring multiple lines of communication from Russia to Crimea, a Sea of Azov totally under Russian control, and a punished Ukraine – i.e. the loss of more territory and considerable national resources, destroyed cities and infrastructure, and reduced access to the Black Sea.

NATO has responded pre-conflict and after the initiation of Russian aggression with increasing resolve and effectiveness.  The crisis and conflict have exercised and validated NATO’s political and military adaption since 2014.  But overall, the events of the last nine weeks tell us NATO still has some work to do on deterrence and defense in the Euro-Atlantic Area.

NATO’s primary focus for a year now (when Russia began its first buildup east of Ukraine) has been to assure Allies, deter Russia from aggression against the Alliance, support Ukraine, warn of costs to Russia should it attack Ukraine, then impose increasing costs, and coordinate its responses with EU and other International Organizations (G7, UN, Council of Europe, OSCE).

Over the past year Allies have effectively shared intelligence, consulted, and conducted collective decision-making which benefited from improvements in JISR, Strategic Intelligence and Warning and the NATO intelligence enterprise writ large.  NATO maintained political cohesion with senior leaders meeting since December virtually and in person at a dizzying rate.  NATO dialogued with Putin and Russia, holding a NATO-Russia Council pre-conflict, and communicating with Russian senior political leaders before and since hostilities began (NB:  Russian senor military leaders have reportedly refused to talk to NATO Military Authorities since the start of the war).  NATO reassured its Allies and strengthened its deterrence and defense by raising command and force readiness, activating its Graduated Readiness Plans, deploying the Very High Joint Task Force (VJTF) in record time, generating and deploying forces to the East (40K troops, 140 aircraft, 130 ships including for a time a U.S. Carrier Strike Group and two Allied Aircraft Carriers), communicating coherently with internal and external audiences, and coordinating closely with the EU and G7 on sanctions and with the OSCE and UN on the growing crisis.  With respect to Ukraine, NATO has ensured continued consultation and dialogue at multiple levels and notably increased its military, financial and humanitarian assistance.  Arguably late, Allied military assistance to Ukraine is now at unprecedented levels and with the exception of aircraft and a No Fly Zone is meeting many of Ukraine’s declared needs.  The U.S. sponsored conference at Ramstein today including Allied and partner Ministers of Defense and Chiefs of Defense is meant to gain even greater commitments for military assistance for the current fight and eventual reconstruction of Ukrainian forces post conflict. It may also be meant to gain Allied support for a revised U.S. aim to weaken Russia’s military to prevent it from future aggression.

While the crisis and war has increased NATO cohesion, resolve, and response, the war has also found NATO deterrence wanting.  Many Allies believe that Russian military modernization efforts, its multiple military deployments in recent years, aggressive political behavior and rhetoric, and above all its repeated military operations against Georgia and Ukraine, make aggression against NATO a credible possibility that must be countered with increased efforts in deterrence and defense.  All Allies realize that NATO efforts in cooperative security have not deterred Russian aggression against NATO partners.  The war has forced NATO partners to review their own situation vis-à-vis Russia and the Alliance.  Finland and Sweden are likely to overturn decades of neutrality and request NATO membership.  Switzerland is increasing its defense and military cooperation with the Alliance.  Georgia is quietly working on its recently upgraded NATO assistance package to continue reform and strengthen its defenses.  Moldova which fears aggression and hopes to remain neutral, has very recently applied to join the EU in hopes to solidify its pro-Western trajectory. 

What does this all mean for NATO’s Strategic Concept 2022?  Given recent events and NATO discussions and decisions what can we expect, and perhaps, what should we expect from a new Strategic Concept at such a key point in Euro-Atlantic history? 

First, what can we expect?  The next Strategic Concept will reflect implications of the recent conflict and benefit from related efforts as well as a long period of work characterized by a well-timed Reflection Process, a Secretary General initiative called NATO 2030 to prepare the Alliance for the rest of the current decade, and another crisis, still ongoing – COVID.  The 2019-2020 Reflection Process led to many recommendations affecting current policy work, but also improvements in the quality of consultation and policy development writ large.  The ongoing NATO 2030 initiative has built on the 2020 Report of Experts in several areas and been the subject of significant internal consultation and external engagement.  The COVID pandemic forced NATO to exercise its crisis management procedures and led to improvements in connectivity, virtual collaboration, NATO-EU cooperation, and development of a NATO toolbox for countering Hybrid Information Activities. 

Consultation and policy work over the past two years has solidified consensus on NATO threats and challenges.  Besides Russia, NATO recognizes international terrorism, Iranian ballistic missiles, cyber and hybrid attacks as threats.  NATO has identified several global challenges, two that will continue to grow in scale and breadth of impact, namely climate change and the rise of China.  Others include pandemics and strategic shocks yet unknown.  Regional challenges include instability, illegal migration, trafficking, and arms proliferation.

Second, the next Strategic Concept will be written by the Secretary General and his Private Office, not by a group of experts.  This is a fortunate development.  Secretary General Stoltenberg has consistently demonstrated a bold streak and has shown he is willing to challenge conventional thought and raise political aspirations.  Allies made a good decision to extend his tour by another year.

Third, Allies have provided quite a bit of guidance to date concerning what they want to keep from the 2010 Strategic Concept, such as:  the three Core Tasks (collective defense, crisis management, cooperative security), NATO’s fundamental values and purpose, the importance of consultation and consensus decision making, and political control over the Military Instrument of Power.  They have agreed on the threats and challenges previously laid out.  And they have agreed to incorporate several lines of effort associated with the Secretary General’s NATO 2030 initiative, such as strengthening NATO political power and other non-Military instruments of Power, strengthening deterrence and defense, expanding partnership efforts, reinforcing national resilience, improving cyber defense, addressing climate security, China, innovation, and advanced technology, and increasing common funding. 

NATO has publicly commented on two of these priorities since the outbreak of the Russian war against Ukraine, namely deterrence and defense against Russia and how to account for China’s growing global influence.  For the first NATO has stated it will be taking decisions this year to adapt longer term to the Russian threat and one of those decisions is likely to be a more robust forward defense posture.  This likely means Allies are considering how to deter Russia by denying it the ability to seize terrain before the Alliance could adequately respond.  Secondly, NATO has said it must address Chinese influence and efforts which are counter to Allied interests and values.  These priorities and other associated with the NATO 2030 initiative are likely to be referenced in the next Strategic Concept and detailed in associated NATO 2030 policies endorsed at the June Summit in Madrid.

With this premise on what will likely be in the 2022 Strategic Concept, what should we expect or hope to be in the NATO’s next version of its most important guiding document.  As Winston Churchill said, “never let a good crisis go to waste.”  Not that the Russia-Ukraine War is a “good” crisis, but it is both a catalyst and inflection point that should incite serious reflection and concerted effort to prevent future conflict and aggression in the Euro-Atlantic Area.

There are three elements I would commend for inclusion in the next NATO Strategic Concept.  Allies should agree to redouble efforts:  to strengthen deterrence and defense, project stability and promote security to protect the Alliance and reduce the likelihood of conflict in the Euro-Atlantic Area

In NATO terms to strengthen deterrence and defense means strengthening NATO political and military power.  These are both key aspects of NATO 2030.  Much thinking has been done on political power, but less effort has been focused on military power.  

NATO political power has improved. Political cohesion and solidarity over the last few years has benefited from increased means, frequency, depth, and breadth of consultation, and concerted political action.  Increased means of consultation is evident in in terms of the number of venues exploited and modest improvements made in classified communications enabling substantive dialogue between HQs, the capitals, and NATO bodies.  Frequency of high-level consultation has reached new heights (in both physical and virtual meetings of Foreign and Defense Ministers, Heads of State and Government).  There is an untold story of improved depth of consultation on threats and challenges, including intelligence sharing, strategic-level exercises, and scenario-based discussions.  Breadth of consultation with partners close and far has improved as well. 

However, more work should be done in terms of the means and breadth of consultation.  NATO should commit to expanding connectivity and improving the speed and quality of consultation in order to enable timely and quality decision-making and concerted action (i.e. expand secure NATO communications Points of Presence to Ministries of Foreign Affairs and all NATO bodies; improve common virtual tools and cyber security measures; and connect directors in charge of national resilience, climate security and energy security).  EU cooperation deserves deepening in terms of classification and detail to achieve greater speed, synergy and effect in decision-making and concerted action.  With respect to NATO communications, a recognized strength, the Information Environment Assessment tool should be fully resourced and deployed following years in development.

While NATO military power has strengthened significantly since 2014, it is not yet enough to achieve deterrence by denial of an adversary like Russia.  Based on Putin’s behavior to date, the cost of a war with NATO may have deterred him from direct aggression against the Alliance, but not necessarily the employment of hybrid or cyber-attacks or use of intimidation and malign influence against Allies.  The Alliance has been surprised on multiple occasions by Putin’s willingness to use violence and take risks.  Given that Putin could very well remain in power for more than a decade, and even if replaced, could be replaced by an equally aggressive hardliner, the Alliance should plan accordingly.  NATO Military Authorities were tasked in late March to provide recommendations on longer term military adaptation, which will be reviewed by Defense Ministers in time for decisions by Heads of State and Government at Madrid.

            The most important deduction is that the next Strategic Concept should include adjustments in NATO military power to achieve deterrence by denial to have the greatest likelihood of success in changing Russian strategic calculus.   This means being able to defend early and successfully.  It requires action and reaction at speed and the necessary defensive capabilities to deny Russian local and temporal military advantage in heavy conventional forces, long range fires, electronic warfare, and above all missiles.  A more robust forward military presence to the East is very likely and would help deter a lightning land campaign.  However, it would not be sufficient to deny devastating, Russian air, maritime, or missile strikes.

            To achieve such speed and defensive effect, NATO should commit to further adjusting policies and investment in the fundamentals of NATO Military Power:  Posture, Structure & Forces, Readiness, Plans & Concepts, Training & Exercises, Capabilities, and Interoperability.  The 2014 Defense Investment Pledge (DIP), its 2% and 20% goals, need to be met or exceeded by all Allies.  Recent commitments by Germany, Romania, Latvia, and Italy are in the right direction.

            In terms of posture, NATO should commit to improving its Integrated Air and Missile Defense, improving its integrated command and force structure, in addition to a greater forward presence.  NATO air and missile defense capabilities should be formalized into force structure, truly integrated, and established at graduated readiness in locations that defend critical assets.  Forward deployed forces should be augmented in size – regional land brigades in sustainable locations, including dedicated enablers and air and missile defense – and be better integrated in NATO Force Structure.  Joint Force Commands (JFCs) should have regional and rotational NATO force structure headquarters associated for planning, training, and exercises.  For example, NATO Rapid Deployment Corps could rotate through annual cycles of forward deployed elements subordinate to the JFCs and in command of regional multinational force headquarters and national elements as transferred to SACEUR by national authorities.  National Joint Force Maritime Component Commands could be constituted on an annual or semi-annual basis to command NATO Standing Naval Forces.  National Joint Force Air Component Commands could rotate a portion of their personnel to reinforce AIRCOM on a semi-annual basis for training and exercises.  An improved posture would require investments in capabilities, readiness, training infrastructure, and exercise resourcing, and would significantly improve operational interoperability as well as collective defense.

            In terms of readiness, a new scale of response forces is needed as well as clarity of allocated forces and transparency of their training, equipment, and manning readiness levels.  The scale of the NATO Response Force (NRF) and VJTF needs upscaling to respond to simultaneous contingencies in multiple regions of the Alliance.  And SACEUR needs unit level visibility of forces committed to an upscaled NRF and the NATO Readiness Initiative.  He needs an automated and frequently updated Readiness Reporting System.

            In terms of plans, NATO should complete, implement, and regularly refine SACEUR’s AOR-wide Strategic Plan and other associated plans as well as integrate national deployable and territorial forces into these plans.  SACEUR should be provided delegated authority to propose changes in posture and readiness in accordance with existing plans and changing conditions. 

            In terms of concepts, the Deterrence and Defense of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA) and NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept require follow through, refinement, and resourcing.  Allies need unclassified versions of both concepts to align national efforts across defense ministries and armed forces.  Additionally, NATO Military Authorities (NMAs) should develop a concept of NATO Military Innovation to guide how NMAs contribute to maintaining NATO’s technological edge.

            In terms of training and exercises, much has been done to improve focus, scale, quality, and effect – in other words, alignment with DDA.  Work should continue and greater emphasis should be placed in incorporating realistic Russian capabilities, doctrine and Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures at the operational and tactical level to put NATO concepts and capabilities to the test.

            In terms of capabilities NATO must continue to invest in and improve NATO and national C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance), Integrated Air and Missile Defense, national Deep Precision Strike capabilities, electronic warfare, and high-end land enablers currently missing from NATO and national Corps and Division structures.  This is where the 20% DIP will play a role as well as additional common funded resources.  Space-based capabilities should be acquired by NATO to provide persistent ISR, including detection and tracking of hypersonic weapons, as well as operational communications (to improve resilience and redundancy in a contested environment).  NATO’s efforts in innovation and advanced technology must keep the warfighter at its centre, be driven by military requirements, and include robust experimentation and testing by NATO and national commanders and operators to ensure new capabilities are fit-for-purpose and rapidly integrated. 

            In terms of interoperability, material standards deserve the attention operational standards have received over the last decade.  Many issues at the tactical level must be addressed, including enabling real time sharing of data and information, establishing secure mobile communications, enabling integration of air and missile defense, ISR, and joint fires, and enabling cross-leveling of what should be common logistics.  Existing obstacles are due to a lack of material standards, outdated material standards, or a lack of national enforcement of established material standards.  All aspects deserve increased attention, resourcing, and validation mechanisms. 

            The added value of NATO Military Power is its ability to organize and integrate forces and resources for greater affect.  All aspects of posture, structure, plans, training, capabilities, and standards directly contribute to NATO Military Power achieving synergy and the imperative of decisive military advantage. 

            Next, let us address what NATO should prioritize to project stability and promote security, the combined purpose of which is to reduce the likelihood and severity of conflict and shape positive future conditions for peace and stability.

            While the outcome of the ongoing war is anything but certain, in terms of priorities for projecting stability, Ukraine and partner European nations should be the focus of capacity building, defense sector reform, and interoperability efforts to make those partners most threatened difficult to intimidate and costly to invade.

            It is more and more likely, there will be an independent Ukraine at the end of this conflict.  Even if neutral and partially occupied, NATO should be part of the condition-setting to help Ukraine recover, rebuild, and reconstitute its defense capability.  Other partner nations at risk of Russian aggression should receive priority assistance in improving their defense and resilience (i.e. Georgia, Moldova, Bosnia Herzegovina).  Substantive and material military assistance to vulnerable partners would contribute to deterrence of Russian aggression.  If Sweden and Finland apply for membership, a defense and security plan are needed to respond to intimidation and potential aggression while ratification proceeds.  NATO should deepen and broaden defense coordination and integration as if these two Enhanced Operational Partners were de facto Allies.  

            Beyond Europe to the Middle East and North Africa projecting stability should be tailored based on established principles of the partnership adding value to NATO security, responding to partner nation demand, and conducted in cooperation with the EU and regional organizations.  Defense technical and military assistance in terms of training, education, and, where appropriate, trade in defense equipment should result in stronger national defense, regional stability, civilian control, and interoperability with NATO forces. 

            A more structured mission and more resources for NATO Military Authorities to achieve NATO’s political level of ambition in projecting stability are also necessary.

            In terms of promoting security reestablishing dialogue with Russia and reconstituting dismantled elements of a viable Euro-Atlantic security order must be a priority.  While NATO cannot countenance establishing spheres of influence that impinge on the sovereignty of independent nations, it can follow through on proposals to commit to confidence-building measures and greater transparency in arms control, conventional force levels, missile defense capabilities, and training and exercises.  NATO will always pose an alternative model of governance which embraces democratic values and threatens autocratic regimes.  But, it can do more to counter the deeply rooted Russian narrative that NATO Allies pose an existential territorial threat.  This may be difficult depending on the outcome of the war, but remains essential for the long term.

            Other key priorities should be civil resilience, climate, and China.  The former is a critical enabler for deterrence and defense, the latter two are challenges that could develop over the long term into threats to Alliance security.  National commitments to civil resilience should include regularly assessed national targets and increased cooperation and collaboration among Allies and appropriate regional and international organizations.  NATO’s climate related goals are already solid – that is, becoming a global leader in climate security implications and mitigating and reducing the Alliance’s collective carbon footprint from infrastructure and defense capabilities.  Both goals will require policy and capability development, and implementation plans.  With respect to China, the Alliance has taken great strides forward in understanding the security implications of China’s growing political, military, and economic power, including through enhanced dialogue with Asia-Pacific partners.  However, NATO should continue to deepen areas of internal and external cooperation to protect Allied C3 (consultation, command, and control), improve civil resilience, maintain its freedom of action in the Euro-Atlantic region, and preserve a technological edge.  A more formal dialogue with China is in order.  

            Finally, to set the conditions for future security, NATO should continue to contingency plan for strategic shocks such as global pandemics, large CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High-Explosive) incidents, and regional conflicts outside the Euro-Atlantic area.

            The list of “shoulds” just covered is likely to be far beyond what will make the political cut-off for inclusion in NATO’s next Strategic Concept.  Not the least because such a document should be relatively short and high-level to remain strategic.  Many of these recommendations, however, could be included in policy decisions related to NATO 2030.   Additionally, NATO won’t reach lofty goals without aiming high.  The more key improvements are made to strengthen deterrence and defense, project stability and promote security the more likely the Alliance will protect and secure Alliance territory, populations, and forces as successfully as it has the past 73 years as well as reduce conflict writ large across the Euro-Atlantic area.

Author:  Gordon B. “Skip” Davis Jr is currently a non-resident Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis and a member of The Alphen Group.  He recently served as NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Defense Investment.  Prior to NATO, Skip served 37 years in the U.S. Army retiring as a Major General.  Skip’s last military positions were as Director of Operations, U.S. European Command, Commander of Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan, and Director of Operations and Intelligence for Allied Command Operations.  Skip’s professional life included operational and institutional assignments interspersed with study and practice of international affairs and defense issues, primarily in Europe.  Skip participated in operations with U.S., NATO, and UN forces in Europe, Africa, Middle East and Central Asia.  Skip brings practical experience and conceptual understanding of contemporary and emerging defense issues as well as executive-level experience in operations, intelligence, leader development, capability development, and policy development.  Skip holds an undergraduate degree in nuclear physics and graduate degrees in international business, defense and military history, and strategic studies.

The Impact of the Ukraine Crisis on NATO 2030.

(Yesterday, I had the singular honour of addressing NATO ambassadors, senior officials and high-ranking officers at the famous Manfred Woerner Circle lunch. This is my speech. JLF)

Ambassador, thank you! Excellencies, distinguished officers and colleagues, great honour to address this famous circle named after a great man and servant of our great Alliance. As I get old there are few things in which I trust. Our Alliance is one of them but we cannot take it for granted.  To quote the American economist J.K. Galbraith “power is as power does”. Even dumb power. To quote Lindley-French, “until someone bloody stops them”. Normally, I would begin such remarks with a joke, and normally a bad one at that. The situation is too serious, too dangerous for that. 2000 km from here a fellow European country is being mutilated by a great power and a nuclear one at that. Given that, and what is to come, I want to focus on four core themes: strategic concept, deterrence, burden-sharing and future war.

New Cold War

This is the start of a long war leading, I fear, to a new Cold War.  It will reach across our societies through deception, disinformation, disruption, destabilisation and coercion through implied or actual destruction.

The war will continue as long as President Putin is in power. Possibly longer. What does he want? Well, just look at a map. Make no mistake, this is also one of those geopolitical moments for which our alliance was created. This is also what NATO was created for back in 1949.

A Europe Whole and Free?

Let me paraphrase another great man: from the Black Sea in the south to Kirkenes in the north a rust-encased iron curtain is again falling across parts of Europe. Unless stopped by our Alliance in its full majesty behind that curtain of oppression could one day again lie the capitals of ancient states, famous cities and peoples, and all subject in one form or another, not only to Russian influence, but to a very high and ever increasing measure of control, from Moscow. The 2022 Ukraine War, for that is what it is, has reset the strategic and geopolitical context of NATO, Europe and the wider world. We are moving from the fantasy globalised world of just–in-time back to the hard reality of just-in-case. For too long European leaders abandoned sound defence seduced by economists who failed to understand power and coercion can exist independently of supply and demand. We, our Alliance, must thus again confront two potentially existential questions. How can we preserve the peace? How can we ensure NATO deterrence and defence deters and defends into the future? European history is again entering a darkened room. We must go forward together with a mind-set robust enough, collective enough and ambitious enough to stop the corrupt, cynical and corrosive regime in Moscow from prevailing. In other words, facing down Russia (and China if it so chooses to be an enemy) will take a unity of effort and purpose not seen since our alliance faced 360 Soviet divisions across the once inner-German border… and do it whilst we also engage with our partners to the south in their struggle with maniacal anti-state.

NATO 2030 Agenda

Remember when the NATO 2030 agenda was adopted by leaders last June. It highlighted the need for deeper political consultation, strengthened defence and deterrence, improved resilience, preserving NATO’s technical edge, upholding the rules-based order, boosting training and capacity-building, combating and adapting to climate change, and investing in NATO. But, above all, it called for drafting a strategic concept that is truly strategic.

The thing is, that was June. Now is now. Then we were in the last days of tentative peace, now we are on the threshold of future war. Tear it up?  No. But understand this (and some among us are finding it hard to understand this) whilst the words might sound the same they mean very different things today than they did last June – timing and context are everything in geopolitics. Our collective (and it must be collective) level of ambition must now be far higher than it was last year because if nothing else deterring great power is no longer a theoretical exercise. It has suddenly become the new normal.

Strategic Concept

Therefore, the real challenge for the forthcoming Strategic Concept will be to capture that change and the change to come by 2030 and beyond and get in front of it. Will it? You see Strategic Concepts are not some PR brochure. They are a public contract between our elected leaders and you, the people who make NATO work. A contract that demonstrates our leaders understand the strategic goals and missions they are setting you and the relationship between the ends, ways and means you will need to succeed. Change or renewal? The US? Europe? Future war.

The Americans are as committed to NATO as ever. Partly because they need allies, albeit capable allies, and more not less every day, but also because NATO remains central to American statecraft. However, as China stretches US forces and resources the world over we, the European allies, will have to share more of the burdens of Alliance, even at the high-end of conflict.

Some might call it greater European strategic autonomy, some might call it greater European strategic responsibility, either way for all the many pressures we Europeans face, financial and societal, it is simply time Europe grew up strategically. Frankly, the alliance is the only vehicle of weight that can carry such ambition.

Do not get me wrong: the EU-NATO privileged relationship, or whatever it is called these days, will be vital for enhancing resilience. If we cannot protect our home base I find it hard to believe we will have the political hardness and resolve to project the power contemporary and future deterrence and defence will demand.   We could simply end up deterring ourselves.

I have the honour to chair the Alphen Group. Some of you will have read our Shadow NATO Strategic Concept which we had the honour to present in this house in February. We are clear: we call for the maintenance of the three core tasks – collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security. However, they must be turbo-charged with ambition, capabilities and capacities. We also call for a new priority of enhanced resilience in the face of the hybrid, cyber and hyperwar that our Alliance will need to grip by 2030, both directly and in partnership.

Future war

Here’s the crunch.Our Alliance not only needs to grip emerging security challenges, but also emerging defence challenges. They are a continuum. And, do not be lulled into complacency by the incompetence of Russian planning and performance in Ukraine. The direction of travel of warfare is clear, and thus deterrence and defence.  The next ten years could well see the equivalent of the past 70 years of technology crammed into the future battlespace. By 2030, certainly 2040, war could even be faster than human responsiveness driven by machine-learning, quantum computing, and a whole host of artificially intelligent hypersonic weapons and swarms of drones that will begin to see, decide, act and destroy autonomously, if not independently. Let me quote directly from my latest book Future War and the Defence of Europe written with my great friends Generals John Allen and Ben Hodges: “…the danger persists that Europeans are moving inexorably towards a lowest common denominator European force, an analogue ‘European Army’ in a digital age which simply bolts together a lot of European legacy forces”.  Yes, we Europeans have modestly increased our defence budgets since 2014 – both real and imagined. But defence and deterrence is relative and is it enough in the face of the pressures building on the US, the advances of enemies and surging inflation?

Strategic Concept 2022 must also offer an affordable vision of credible NATO deterrence and defence in 2030 and beyond. In both the book and the Shadow Strategic Concept we call for a hard core NATO centred on a high-end European future force, the Allied Mobile Heavy Force (AMHF), that would merge all of NATO’s high readiness forces,that is sufficiently capable to act as a credible first responder in the event of a major European emergency should US forces also be engaged in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere. A force that has sufficient mass that it can act as a high-end first responder for any contingency and reinforce support front-line states to Europe’s south as they grapple with the potentially catastrophic collapse of order across the Middle East and North Africa. A force that is sufficiently manoeuvrable to act effectively across the multiple domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge.  A force able to operate from sea-bed to space.

Hard Core NATO

Ambassador, Excellencies, distinguished officers and colleagues, if NATO 2030 is to be realised beyond the comfortingly rhetorical it will need far more ways and means to realise the ends of preserving peace. The bottom-line is this: without a hard military warfighting European-led core NATO could fail. If President Putin is still around he will not stop. It all comes back to deterrence. You see the thing about deterrence is ‘the other’ needs to believe we believe in our own policy and position. Only capability, capacity reinforced by demonstrable can assure that. Equally, we also need to re-think how, who and what it is we are deterring across the interactive and interoperable hybrid, cyber and super-fast hyper war that is coming capable yet?

NATO’s bottom-line is SACEUR’s Area of Responsibility (AOR) Wide Strategic Plan (SASP). It is the concept for the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA) which upholds the defensive nature of the alliance and sets out how NATO armed forces plan to deal with the Alliance’s two main threats, Russia and terrorism.  It is the NATO Warfighting Cornerstone Concept and the Deterrence Concept. Give them the tools and they will do the job! That means an Allied Command Transformation that can really reach out and transform, it means Allied Command Operations reinforced by a much more ambitious NATO Readiness Initiative. It needs fielding times of advanced equipment in Europe sufficiently fast and in sufficient quantity that me, the taxpayer, is not paying premium euro for museum pieces. We simply can no longer simply recognise as much threat as we can afford.


The Impact of the Ukraine Crisis on NATO 2030.

NATO is not a glorified summit organising agency. It is a defensive warfighting alliance that seeks to prevent wars by demonstrating to anyone or anything threatening our citizens that it can. That means all of our citizens from Stavanger to San Francisco, from Tallinn to Lampedusa, from Riga to Svalbard. By 2030 we will need a truly transformed NATO if we are to preserve a rules-based global order. If not a global NATO, a NATO that is certainly in the world. That means a real NATO China policy. Any power that weakens US forces also weakens NATO and the American security guarantee to Europe. Indeed, anyone who suggests China has nothing to do with NATO is, to coin a phrase, brain dead. We will also need at some point to rehabilitate arms control in Europe. 

A transformed NATO by 2030? The NATO Innovation Fund and the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic are good starts, but we will need to go far further, far faster.  Are we up to the challenge?

In other words, what is decided by you and your bosses in these coming months is not just about the here and now. It is about 2030 and thereafter. It is about the tipping point in geopolitics we are at. Ambassador, Excellencies, distinguished officers and colleagues, as another famous leader once famously said at another infamously dangerous moment: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Our comparative advantage? Our people. Let’s give them the tools so they can do the job.

Let us stand together to defend freedom and democracy because it needs it. Give me a Strategic Concept I can believe in and which President Putin can believe in. Give me a Strategic Concept that delivers deterrence and defence 2030. Let us be NATO!

Ambassador, thank you.

Julian Lindley-French, NATO HQ, April 25th, 2022

What if Russia Attacked NATO?


Julian Lindley-French

“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”

Article 5, North Atlantic Treaty, April 1949

The tipping point

April 22nd, 2022. Last weekend I was watching a clip of “60 Minutes’, Russia’s flagship ‘news/propaganda’ programme on Rossiya 1. It was quite shocking even by the low standards of Putin’s main propaganda programme. The anchor, Olga Skabeyeva, had several guests, but the show was dominated by a bombastic, nationalist motor-mouth. His child-like self-pitying thesis was that the sinking of the Moskva was a tipping point in the Russo-Ukraine War because the Ukrainians had had the temerity to attack the ‘Motherland’.  He conveniently forgot that it was the ‘Motherland’ that had just invaded a neighbouring democratic country that borders both the EU and NATO.  He also suggested that Russia was already fighting World War Three because “NATO’s infrastructure” was being used to arm Ukraine’s defence. Russia, he suggested, would be perfectly within its rights to attack targets such as railway junctions in Poland through which Western arms and supplies were travelling en route to Ukraine. Russia he said, should decisively escalate to de-escalate.

What if Russia did attack NATO Poland? First, NATO would respond. The North Atlantic Council would meet in emergency session to decide what specific action would be needed to restore deterrence. No response would pretty much mark the end of NATO. Second, the NATO response would need to be decisive, tailored and proportionate. Third, NATO would need to embark on an extensive ‘strategic communications’ campaign to explain its actions to citizens and the Kremlin alike.

Options and contingencies

NATO would also need to confront several internal issues which go to the very heart of Allied deterrence now and into the future. Would there be sufficient political cohesion within the Alliance to overcome the escalation aversion that not unreasonably exists, particularly in parts of Western Europe? Take Germany as THE example of this profound question. Faced by a hard left faction within the SPD, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ‘defence revolution’ is already stalling and his commitment to Ukraine’s defence is wobbly at best. What would be the exact nature and scope of a NATO response? There would be several options all of which would be both proportionate and risky. If Russia attacked critical railway junctions in Poland, American and British nuclear submarines could launch cruise missile strikes on Russian railway infrastructure vital to the supply and re-supply of Russian forces or the ‘reconstitution centres’ at which they are massing for the offensive in Eastern Ukraine. The Suwalki Corridor between Belarus and Kaliningrad could be closed and an attack of similar scale mounted on the enclave’s air defence systems.  NATO could also blockade the Black Sea and conduct a missile strike against a Russian warship. The degree of warning, if any, of the above courses of action would depend on what level of warning the Russians gave prior to their initial attack on NATO soil and the strength of message NATO leaders felt compelled to send to Putin.  However, given the fevered atmosphere inside the Kremlin and President Putin’s head any NATO military strike on Russian soil or a Russian ship would almost certainly lead to escalation of the war, possibly beyond Ukraine.

Are there any alternatives? The answer to that question goes to the very heart of NATO’s core purpose and the very meaning of deterrence. Mention the words NATO deterrence to most thinking people and immediately nuclear deterrence comes to mind.  Here, Russia has NATO over a barrel. By repeatedly breaching the now defunct 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty Moscow has been able to illegally develop a whole family of tactical and intermediate-range nuclear missile systems.  These weapons sit somewhere between conventional military power and the world-destroying strategic nuclear systems typified by this week’s propaganda test of the new Sarmat (Satan 2) intercontinental ballistic-plus nuclear missile. On the face of it they afford Moscow more rungs on the escalation ladder than are available NATO. NATO deterrence is built on a slowly recapitalising conventional defence and the strategic nuclear systems of the US, UK and France. 

Restoring deterrence

In other words, there would appear to a hole in NATO deterrence that even the Russians could exploit. Or is there?  The concept of deterrence has become too focused on weapons and not enough on effects. Whatever happens in Ukraine there will be a revolution in warfare over the coming decade or so driven by American and Chinese technology. Whilst the headline-grabbers will be artificially-intelligent weapons and the swarms in which they will operate, the daily perma-war NATO is now fighting will be dominated by information and cyber warfare, both offensive and defensive, and their interaction with military future force.

Future NATO deterrence will thus be built on an effects-based ‘triad’ of deep, machine-led intelligence, offensive defence and defensive resilience, and advanced, hyper speed strike. Critical people and infrastructure protection/destruction will thus be as important as force-on-force engagement in what is already a form of total war.  THAT, is why the Kremlin and its cronies say they are already fighting World War Three. They are. Paradoxically, much of Russia’s self-evident operational incompetence in Ukraine has been caused by diverting limited resources to fund the spectacular at the expense of the militarily capable. It will not always be thus.

Therefore, rather than attack Russia using direct military action NATO could respond to any such attack on, say, Poland by causing the mass disruption of Russian infrastructures and Russian military communications which would clearly be vulnerable to such an attack. In other words, the Allies should respond by demonstrating to the Russian NATO is developing a new concept of deterrence and escalation as part of an effects continuum that stretches across the mosaic of hybrid, cyber and hyperwar.

People power

There is a caveat that is all too often ignored. NATO deterrence will only work if all of us are prepared to accept that no NATO act in our name can come without risk. As the Kremlin becomes more desperate in the face of its own appalling strategic folly the more likely it is to escalate the war to de-escalate the crisis in line with current Russian political and military doctrine. It is nonsense, but then again the entire past seven weeks has seen nothing if not an exercise in Russian nonsense. Even the use of a ‘demonstration’ nuclear strike by Moscow in Ukraine can no longer be completely ruled out.  The more desperate Moscow becomes for some kind of victory the greater the likelihood of an attack on NATO territory, particularly if the current offensive in the Donbas grounds to a bloody halt.

Historically severe crises of this sort tend to move inexorably to a tipping point between escalation and de-escalation. That is precisely what happened during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the war in Ukraine seems to be on a similar trajectory. At such points the aggressor needs to be convinced to de-escalate.  Therefore, President Putin must fully understand that any and all attacks on NATO territory will be met with a graduated and proportionate response.  

NATO deterrence also needs two other realities to be gripped. First, NATO leaders need to be clear that there is indeed a clear link between arming Ukraine and defending the Alliance and establish policy and strategy to that end. Second, and perhaps most important of all, for NATO deterrence to be credible we, the NATO citizens, also need to be strong and suppress the understandable temptation to seek ‘peace in our time’.  We must all now take a stand.  Yes, it is a scary prospect and I am sorry I feel compelled to write this, but that is precisely the situation that Putin has created for Russians, Ukrainians, the Allies, and the whole world. NATO must not and cannot back down.

Peace through strength!

Julian Lindley-French

Ukraine: What next?

“So long as Russian forces are illegally occupying Ukrainian territory any weapons the West provides to assist in our legitimate defence are by definition defensive”

Dmitro Kuleba, Foreign Minister of Ukraine

April 3rd, 2022

Sitrep April 5th

Russia will soon launch a renewed spring land offensive in Ukraine. Russia’s military aims would now appear to be threefold.  First, to destroy or wear down the main body of Ukrainian regular forces in the Joint Force Operating Area and expand their control over the whole of the Donbas, including the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. Second, to secure the land bridge between Russian controlled Ukraine in the east and Crimea, Moldova and Transnistria. Third, to deny Ukraine all and any access to the Black Sea by taking the port of Odesa. If Russia succeeds the implications for both Ukraine and the Black Sea Region will be profound.  

Russian forces are re-positioning, re-organising and re-suppling in their Western, Central and Southern Military Districts during an enforced operational pause following the failure of phase one and the conquest of Kyiv.  Russian forces have been forced to make such a choice because given the force ratios they generated initially they were highly unlikely to have seized Kyiv and much of the rest of Ukraine east of the Dnepr River, and successfully occupy it thereafter, unless Ukrainian forces had collapsed. They did not, putting up stout, clever and carefully-tailored resistance reinforced by advanced light Western weapons systems.

What specific ends does Russia now seek? In my LINDLEY-FRENCH ANALYSIS of December 20th, 2021, I stated that given the forces deployed and the balance Russia will still need to strike between risks, costs and benefits seizure of Ukraine’s entire coastline from Donetsk to Moldova would seem the likely objective. If successful, the campaign would leave a rump Ukraine dependent on the rest of Europe and thus Europe’s problem, minimize risk of direct operational contact during with NATO forces, and be close enough to Russia to ensure its much degraded echelons can prevail.  If achieved, Russia would establish another buffer zone between Russia and NATO forces, increase the implied threat to the Baltic States, and further extend Russia’s sphere of influence into the wider Black Sea Region. With the continuing attacks on Mariupol and the opening of an offensive against Odesa that plan is now beginning to unfold.

Cease-fire or more fire?

It would also appear Russia has abandoned any pretence to seek an early political settlement. The discovery of tortured and murdered civilians in Bucha, Irpin and Hostomel makes it hard to imagine that any ceasefire, let alone an interim political settlement, can now be agreed between Russia and Ukraine. Thus, if the Russian political aim is to establish a negotiating position on the ground then such war crimes are not only disgusting, they are self-defeating.  Naturally, Moscow denies any involvement in the murder of civilians, but satellite imagery provided by Maxar, together with video footage obtained by the New York Times, clearly shows that 11 of the bodies in Bucha were of people killed in situ between March 9th and 11th when the town was under Russian control.

The gap between Russian campaign objectives and campaign performance continues to remain wide meaning the war could increasingly become a bloody stalemate unless there is a decisive external intervention. Russian targeting has been appalling, as has the organisation, replenishment and thus the utility and agility of much of the Russian force.  What reinforcements Moscow has brought, such a 1500 strong force from Georgia, is unlikely to make much difference to their fighting power. They have also merged and re-organised Battalion Tactical Groups to offset losses, albeit at the expense of both the experience and combat power of their once feared ‘BTGs’. Russia’s elite airborne and armoured formations have suffered particularly heavy losses, whilst Russian infantry has shown that it is not at all well-trained, particularly for operations in urban environments, which is why they have resorted to indiscriminate missile and artillery attacks. Russian forces had clearly not planned for such significant losses of armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) and air assets, which has thrown them on the defensive.

The Russians also failed to plan for carefully targeted and well-executed Ukrainian attacks on their rear echelons, or the ability of Ukrainians to use drones to gain some semblance of local air superiority. The Ukrainians have also critically and cleverly exploited the weaknesses of Russian infantry, their poor training and low morale. However, the Ukrainians have also suffered losses and urgently need to reinforce their own forces and replenish their arsenals with advanced Western equipment, both light and heavy.  If not, they could be slowly worn down, however well they fight.  What are the options open to Ukraine’s Western partners?

Options, pros and cons

Options depend on aims and aims depend on ambition, capability and capacity. Prior to the discovery of war crimes the West seemed content to simply keep the Ukrainians in the fight so that they could negotiate a ceasefire from at least some position of strength. Now, it will be extremely hard for the Ukrainians to negotiate with the Russians. What other options are there?

Sanctions: On Wednesday, EU ambassadors will meet to discuss imposing tougher sanctions on Russia.  These are likely to include tougher sanctions against targeted individuals, as well as more restrictions on exports to Russia, together with a ban on Russian ships using EU ports. Interestingly, the EU also now seems willing to discuss sanctions on importing Russian coal, oil and gas. Berlin has even indicated it could stop importing Russian oil and gas in the wake of the atrocities. Enrico Letta, the former Italian prime minister and a key player in supporting Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the national unity government, even called for a complete oil and gas embargo. However, there are also signs of divisions within the EU and remains to be seen if the tough rhetoric is more than that. Russia is also successfully circumventing many of the existing sanctions, with the help of China and others. Sanctions also take time and given that the living standards of the Russian people has already declined some 30% since 2013, with no signs of the regime crumbling, sanctions alone are unlikely to force Russia to change direction. 

Lethal Aid: The provision of Western lethal aid to Ukraine, is being co-ordinated to a significant degree by the British who on March 31st hosted the Second International Donor Conference in London. Britain’s own efforts are a case in point of what is needed if the strategic aim is to move from keeping Ukraine in the fight to some form of Ukrainian ‘victory’. Since 2014, Britain has trained over 20,000 Ukrainian personnel and has provided extensive lethal aid to Ukraine, including over 4,000 NLAWs and Javelin anti-tank systems, and is in the process of sending its latest Starstreak air defence systems, as well as 6,000 more anti-tank high explosive missiles, as well as body armour, helmets, boots, ration packs, rangefinders and communications equipment. Vital though such aid has been it is not enough to help Ukraine prevail given the nature of the current and coming fight. That is why Britain, along with its 35 partners, are actively considering sending tanks, artillery and anti-ship missile systems to counter the threat posed by Russian forces in the east and south, including the Russian Black Seas Fleet and additional amphibious units which are now threatening Odesa. More lethal aid in conjunction with tougher sanctions would increase the pressure on the Kremlin without putting Western forces in direct conflict with Russian forces. Could sanctions and the level of lethal aid envisaged tip the balance in the coming fight? Unlikely. 

No Fly Zone: Some are proposing a Western or NATO No Fly Zone which would afford Ukrainian forces a much higher level of force protection against Russian air and missile power. However, to be effective an ‘NFZ’ must be imposed both over the fight and the lines of supply and re-supply. Much of the next phase of the Russian campaign will take place close to the Russian border and air defence hubs. Therefore, if NATO, for example, were to try and enforce such a Zone, it would be less a No Fly Zone and more a major air campaign that would inevitably lead to direct contact and conflict between NATO air forces and the Russian Air Force, with all the dangerous capacity for rapid escalation such a conflict would entail. Most European air forces also simply lack the capability to undertake such a deployed forward air campaign over hostile air space, and the one or two that do, such as Britain’s Royal Air Force, lack the capacity to sustain it. Therefore, any such campaign would need to be overwhelmingly American.  It would also offer Putin the opportunity to claim that he was right all along: NATO is not a defensive alliance and poses an existential threat to Russia. Therefore, whilst a No Fly Zone would undoubtedly improve the tactical position of Ukrainian forces it would come with a host of strategic risks.

Direct Allied action: The most unlikely scenario is that NATO would move to act directly in support of Ukrainian forces across the full bandwidth of the conflict. It is very hard to see any such proposal making it to the North Atlantic Council, let alone being approved. If such a decision were ever to be approved what options would be open to SACEUR. One such option could be to use American and British nuclear submarines to launch distant cruise missile strikes from the Eastern Mediterranean against Russian naval and amphibious forces threatening Odesa.  Possible, but highly unlikely given current circumstances and Alliance politics. 

What other options exists? As I proposed in a previous Analysis NATO, or more precisely the Americans and the British, could increase further their intelligence support for the Ukrainians. Another option could be to impose a blockade of the Black Sea by enforcing the Montreux Convention, either by closing the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, or via a distant Alliance blockade in the Mediterranean. Bottling up Russian naval forces in the Black Sea would have significant consequences for Russian naval operations elsewhere, not least in the Baltic Sea, North Atlantic, Arctic and the Pacific.  Other options include increasing cyber and more electronic warfare support for the Ukrainians, both offensive and counter-measures.

What it likely to be agreed to by Western nations are a mix of increased stand-off short-of-direct engagement measures to support the Ukrainians, including marginally tougher sanctions, some more lethal aid, and greater covert combat support, but no direct confrontation with Russian forces in or near Ukraine unless they step over onto Alliance territory.  Paradoxically, such a confrontation might only be triggered if Russia were to use chemical, biological or even tactical nuclear weapons if, for example, its efforts to seize Odesa failed and thus to cut Ukraine off completely from the sea. Denying Odesa to Ukraine rather than taking the port could be just as attractive to Russia.

Or, it might have the opposite effect. Any such action would certainly split the Alliance. Why not more? There is the obvious fear in Europe of another major European war and with it the threat of potential nuclear annihilation. There is also another reason. In the event of some form of political settlement Ukraine wants security guarantees from its Western partners that most are simply not willing to give.  The Ukrainians are also only likely to want to work with the Americans, British, Poles and a few others. The French and the Germans are seen by Kyiv as appeasers of Putin at best, collaborators at worst.

The Russian Order of Battle, April 4th

The current Order of Battle of Russian Forces in Ukraine reveals not only the state of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but also its sheer scale of the campaign, and the strain it is imposing on Russian forces and their commanders are under, with so many killed, sacked or arrested (with thanks to Dr R.D. Hooker Jr. and the Institute for the Study of War). It also shows how far and wide the Russian General Staff have had to trawl to maintain any scale of force and its increasingly disparate and, therefore, potentially ill-disciplined nature. What it also reveals is that the coming Russian ‘offensive’ will be as much defensive as offensive, designed to consolidate existing limited gains in the east and south of Ukraine. This is because not only has the Russian Army lost much of its manoeuvre capability, it has lost almost all of its capacity to conduct intelligent manoeuvre en masse. Just look carefully from where the forces are drawn. Perhaps the most telling sign of force stress is the presence in Ukraine of 11 Corps, the Kaliningrad garrison. The next two months will also see Ukraine at its muddiest.

It is precisely for these reasons Russia has switched from conquest to confrontation and even terrorism. They have the forces for it. In addition to the mercenaries of The Wagner Group and the Chechen fighters of the Kadyrovtsy force, there are also believed to be African, Arab, Azeri, South Ossetian and Libyan mercenaries fighting alongside Russian forces.

Russia (Commander-in-Chief: President Vladimir Putin)

o       Ministry of Defence (General of the Army Sergey Shoygu)

§     Russian General Staff

§     Russian Armed Forces (General of the Army Valery Gerasimov)

§     Russian Ground Forces (General of the Army Oleg Salyukov)

§     1st Guards Tank Army (Lieutenant General Sergey Aleksandrovich Kisel [dismissed]; unnamed deputy commander [dismissed])

§     2nd Guards Motor Rifle Division (Colonel (Guards) Sergey Viktorovich Medvedev)

§     4th Guards Tank Division (Colonel Yevgeny Nikolayevich Zhuravlyov)

§     47th Guards Tank Division

§     27th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Colonel Sergey Igorevich Safonov)

§     96th Reconnaissance Brigade (Colonel Valery Vdovichenko)

§     2nd Guards Combined Arms Army (Major General Vyacheslav Nikolaevich Gurov)

§     15th Motor Rifle Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Sergeevich Marushkin)

§     21st Guards Motor Rifle Brigade

§     30th Motor Rifle Brigade

§     5th Combined Arms Army (Major General Aleksey Podivilov)

§     57th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade

§     127th Motor Rifle Division

§     6th Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Vladislav Nikolayevich Yershov [dismissed & arrested])

§     25th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Colonel Andrei Nikolaevich Arkhipov)

§     138th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Colonel Sergei Maksimov)

§     8th Guards Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Andrey Nikolayevich Mordvichev)

§     20th Guards Motor Rifle Division (Colonel Aleksei Gorobets)

§     150th Motor Rifle Division (Major General Oleg Mityaev †)

§     20th Guards Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Andrey Sergeevich Ivanaev)

§     3rd Motor Rifle Division

§     144th Guards Motor Rifle Division

§     448th Rocket Brigade

§     29th Combined Arms Army (Major General Andrei Borisovich Kolesnikov †)

§     36th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel (Guards) Andrei Vladimirovich Voronkov)

§     200th Artillery Brigade

§     35th Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Aleksandr Semyonovich Sanchik, Deputy Commander Major General Sergei Nyrkov [wounded, not returning to active duty])

§     38th Motor Rifle Brigade

§     64th Motor Rifle Brigade

§     69th Covering Brigade

§     107th Rocket Brigade

§     165th Artillery Brigade 

§     36th Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Valery Solodchuk, Deputy Commander Major General Andrei Anatolyevich Seritskiy, seriously wounded)

§     5th Guards Tank Brigade (Colonel (Guards) Andrei Viktorovich Kondrov)

§     37th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Colonel Yuri Medvedev †)

§     103rd Rocket Brigade

§     41st Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Sergey Ryzhkov, Deputy Commander Major General Andrey Sukhovetsky †)

§     35th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Major General Vitaly Gerasimov †)

§     55th Mountain Motorized Rifle Brigade

§     74th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Alekseyevich Yershov)

§     120th Artillery Brigade

§     119th Missile Brigade

§     90th Guards Tank Division (Colonel Ramil Rakhmatulovich Ibatullin)

§     49th Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Yakov Vladimirovich Rezantsev †)

§     34th Motor Rifle Brigade (Mountain)

§     205th Motor Rifle Brigade (Lt. Colonel Eduard Yuryevich Shandura)

§     227th Artillery Brigade (Colonel Aleksei Viktorovich Repin)

§     90th Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade

§     66th Headquarters Brigade

§     32nd Engineer-Sapper Regiment

§     58th Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Mikhail Stepanovich Zusko [dismissed and arrested])

§     19th Motor Rifle Division (Colonel Dmitri Ivanovich Uskov)

§     42nd Guards Motor Rifle Division

§     136th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Colonel Roman Geradotovich Demurchiev)

§     291th Artillery Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel Aleksandr Mikhailovich Tikhonov)

§     11th Army Corps (Major General Andrey Ruzinsky)

§     18th Guards Motor Rifle Division

§     14th Army Corps (Lieutenant General Dmitry Vladimirovich Krayev)

§     200th Motor Rifle Brigade (Colonel Denis Yuryevich Kurilo †)

§     22nd Army Corps (Major General Denis Lyamin)

§     126th Guards Coastal Defense Brigade (Colonel Sergey Storozhenko)

§     127th Reconnaissance Brigade

§     12th Guards Engineering Brigade (Central Military District, Colonel Sergei Porokhnya †)

§     45th Guards Engineering Brigade (Western Military District, Colonel Nikolai Ovcharenko †)

§     439th Guards Reactive Artillery Brigade (Southern Military District)

§     Special Operation Forces (SSO) (Major General Valery Flyustikov)

§     Russian Navy (Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov)

§     Black Sea Fleet (Admiral Igor Osipov, Deputy Commander First Rank Captain Andrei Paliy †)

§     Moskva

§     Vasily Bykov

§     Northern Fleet (Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev)

§     Russian Coastal Troops

§     Russian Naval Infantry (Lieutenant General Alexander Kolpachenko)

§     40th Naval Infantry Brigade (Pacific Fleet, Colonel Dmitri Ivanovich Petukh)

§     61st Naval Infantry Brigade (Northern Fleet, Colonel Kirill Nikolaevich Nikulin)

§     155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade (Pacific Fleet)

§     336th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade (Baltic Fleet, Colonel (Guards) Igor N. Kalmykov)

§     810th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade (Black Sea Fleet, Colonel Aleksei Nikolaevich Sharov †, Deputy Commander Colonel Aleksei Berngard)

§     177th Naval Infantry Regiment (Caspian Flotilla)

§     Russian Aerospace Forces (General of the Army Sergey Surovikin)

§     Russian Air Force (Lieutenant General Sergey Dronov)

§     4th Air and Air Defence Forces Army (Lieutenant General Nikolai Vasilyevich Gostev)

§     1st Guards Composite Aviation Division

§     6th Air and Air Defence Forces Army (Major General Oleg Makovetskiy)

§     105th Guards Mixed Aviation Division (Colonel Sergei Prokofyev)

§     11th Air and Air Defence Forces Army (Lieutenant General Vladimir Kravchenko)

§     303rd Composite Aviation Division

§     14th Air and Air Defence Forces Army (Major General Vladimir Sergeyevich Melnikov)

§     41st Air Defence Division

§     Russian Airborne Forces (Colonel General Andrey Serdyukov)

§     7th Guards Mountain Air Assault Division

§     76th Guards Air Assault Division (Major General Alexey Naumets)

§     98th Guards Airborne Division (Guards Colonel Viktor Igoryevich Gunaza [dismissed] by end of March)

§     106th Guards Airborne Division (Guards Colonel Vladimir Vyacheslavovich Selivyorstov)

§     45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade (Colonel Vadim Pankov)

§     11th Guards Air Assault Brigade (Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Denis Viktorovich Glebov †)

§     31st Guards Air Assault Brigade

§     83rd Guards Air Assault Brigade (Guards Colonel Aleksandr Kornev, Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Vitaliy Nikolaevich Slabtsov †)

§     GRU (Admiral Igor Kostyukov)

§     2nd Spetsnaz Brigade (Colonel Konstantin Bushuev)

§     3rd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade (Colonel Albert Ibragimovich Omarov)

§     10th Spetsnaz Brigade

§     22nd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade

§     24th Spetsnaz Brigade

o       Security Council

§     Russian National Guard (General of the Army Viktor Zolotov; Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Roman Gavrilov [dismissed and arrested])

§     604th Special Purpose Center (Colonel Alexey Stromakov)

§     Kadyrovtsy (Head: Ramzan Kadyrov)

§     OMON

§     SOBR

o       Ministry of Internal Affairs (Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev)

§     Police of Russia[15]

o       Federal Security Service (General of the Army Alexander Bortnikov)

§     Border Service of the Federal Security Service

o       Foreign Intelligence Service (Director: Sergey Naryshkin)

o       Russian Irregular forces

§     Union of Donbas Volunteers

o       Mercenaries

§     Wagner Group (Leader: Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Utkin)

§     Arab and African mercenaries

§     South Ossetian and Abkhazian mercenaries

§     Serb, Azeri and Libyan mercenaries

o       Donetsk People’s Militia (Major General Denis Sinenkov)

§     Sparta Battalion (Colonel Vladimir Zhoga †)

§     100th Brigade

§     Mariupol-Khingan Naval Infantry

o       Luhansk People’s Militia (Colonel Yan Leshchenko)


There is another factor that should be considered looking at the Russian Order of Battle: just how long can Russia maintain this level of operations? Two weeks ago, Lieutenant-General (Ret.) Ben Hodges and I wrote a piece entitled Kulminatsionny Moment? We argued that the Russian Army was at the limit of its offensive potential. Whilst the Russian General Staff is trying to re-organise to maintain some level of offensive momentum, the conventional combat power available to it is clearly diminishing. In our book, Future War and the Defence of Europe, we also suggest that Russia could cause mayhem near its borders for thirty days and then begin to run out of steam. To be honest, we did not realise it would be so close to Russia’s borders, that much of the mayhem would be self-inflicted and that it would run out of steam and much else so quickly.

Which leads to me to yet another paradox of the Russian campaign in Ukraine. Moscow is clearly now preparing its people for a longer war with an army clearly unable and not particularly willing to fight it.   Some reports suggest that President Putin wants to declare victory by the May 9th Victory Day commemorations. However, given the changing nature of the conflict if he is ever to declare ‘victory’ it will probably need to be closer to the 80th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Stalingrad on August 2nd  and only after many more conscripts have been killed and wounded. What happened in Stalingrad was not conquest by either side, but annihilation of a people and a city and on the Soviet side it was carried out in the name of de-Nazification.

Therefore, if the West wants to make a real difference it will at the very least need to demonstrate a determination to prevent Russia from claiming victory, and if possible help Ukraine win. The question then is what would victory look like for Ukraine and how could the West best help achieve it? Short of all-out NATO intervention it is very unlikely that Russian forces can be forced out of their pre-February 24th positions, let alone back to the pre-2014 position. The closer Russian forces are to their own border the more difficult they will be to dislodge from a battlespace they have had eight years to prepare.

The most that can be reasonably expected given the correlation of forces is a return to pre-February 24th positions, the blocking of a secure land bridge between Russia, Crimea and Moldova and Transnistria, the holding of Mariupol and the denial of Odesa, as well as the preservation of the bulk of Ukraine’s regular forces. To be blunt, it is hard to see this war ending in any peace agreement anytime soon. It is going to be a long haul. Much more likely is some form of frozen conflict akin to the 1953 Korean Armistice Agreement after which the preservation of Ukraine’s fighting power will be crucial. 

Putin is conducting an incompetent, cack-handed and brutal war in Ukraine, but then again history would suggest that is precisely the Russian way of war, now made worse by the forever stench of terrible war crimes.

Julian Lindley-French  

Where is the Russian Army?


Ben Hodges, R. D. Hooker Jr., Julian Lindley-French

“Russian forces have almost certainly suffered thousands of casualties during their invasion of Ukraine. Russia is likely now looking to mobilise its reservists and conscript manpower, as well as private military companies and foreign mercenaries, to replace those considerable losses. It is unclear how these groups will integrate into the Russian ground forces in Ukraine and the impact it will have on combat effectiveness”.

British Defence Intelligence Update, March 24th

March 24th, 2022

Russia’s Grouchy conundrum

The deployed Russian Army in Ukraine is some 190,000 strong, so where are the remaining 800,000 or so active and reserve personnel?

In June 1815, on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo, and shortly after the holding Battle of Les Quatres Bras, Marshal Emmanuel Grouchy was ordered by Napoleon to take a third of the French Army and prevent the Prussians from joining up with their British allies.  Even though he could hear the guns of Waterloo, and in spite of fierce protestations from General Gérard, Grouchy refused to march to join forces with Napoleon who at one point during the battle was heard to shout, “Où est Grouchy?” There is little doubt that had the lost army intervened between Wellington and Blucher the result of the Battle of Waterloo would have been very different. As the NATO Emergency Summit gets underway in Brussels and his military campaign in Ukraine falters Putin might well be asking: where is the Russian Army?

Estimates vary as to the size of the Russian Army but Global Firepower suggests there are 850,000 regular soldiers and some 250,000 reservists. However, these figures are a bit misleading because they suggest there is much that has not been committed.  The Russian Army is just under 200,000 active soldiers, along with 15,000 naval infantry.  Although it is far leaner than western armies, there being roughly one support soldier for every combat soldier, the actual fighting force is around 100,000 at most. Other force components, such as the 340,000 strong National Guard is not really intended for front-line combat service.  Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that available Russian ground forces as close to being totally committed.


The culminating point of the force Putin sent into Ukraine a month ago has almost certainly been reached with its capacity for offensive operations en masse much reduced. Almost the entire force of 190,000 personnel that was ordered into Ukraine is now engaged in the campaign.  The Ukrainians claim to have killed 12,814 Russian soldiers as of March 22nd, with over 40,000 wounded, whilst NATO estimates that 8,000 to 15,000 have been killed.  Ukraine also claims 5,000 mercenaries have been killed. Russia has also lost 1,400 armored vehicles, 1,470 tanks, 96 aircraft and 118 helicopters. Whilst these figures must be treated with caution they give some indication as to Russian losses. Even though US intelligence estimates the force still retains some 90% of its fighting power, the force has clearly been badly mauled.  This failure partly explains the switch to the use of long range fires against civilian populations in places like Mariupol, as well as the recruitment of Chechens and Syrians to bolster Russian ranks.     

What is left? Critically, almost every Russian Army unit, together with the Vozdushno-Desantnye Voyska (VDV) Division (elite airborne force), have been deployed to Ukraine. There is little information about the specific divisions and regiments that remain in Russia, and what force numbers still remain available for forward deployment. Any such analysis is complicated by the Russian practice of deploying forward Battalion Tactical Groups or BTGs. When Ukrainian sources report that a Russian division is active on a given axis, it is almost always simply one or two BTGs from that division, and not the entire formation.

This is important. A Battalion Tactical Group [batalonnaya takticheskaya gruppa] is a highly deployable, albeit temporary, formation designed to undertake specific operational tasks. A BTG tends to be a reinforced battalion reinforced by the required support needed to complete its tasks. As such BTGs are drawn from an array of larger formations and tend to be the best trained and equipped, with each having a complement of between 700 to 800 personnel, with some as large as 900 strong. As of August 2021, the Russian Army had 168 BTGs of which 83 are believed to be engaged on operations in Ukraine. On March 21st, the US Department of Defense estimated that the Russians have already committed some 75% of their BTGs together with 60% of their air power. 

The missing army?

The Russian General Staff is also drawing in forces from across Russia, including the Far East and Georgia. This suggests that almost all of Russia’s available active duty combat power is now committed to the fight in Ukraine.  Moreover, only a portion of any army is real combat power. The rest is made up of combat support and combat support services.  One reason for Russia’s apparent chronic logistical problems could be that rear echelon forces are being hastily inserted into the fight in a desperate attempt to maintain momentum.

One answer to the conundrum is force rotation. As the campaign switches from fast offensive maneuver to force attrition the regular Russian Army will need to be rotated over time and through a very large operational area. Normally, that would require a third of the force to be engaged, a third resting, and a third working up, roughly 600,000 personnel. However, with the overwhelming bulk of the fighting army in Ukraine there are simply not enough other full strength units to rotate in and replace depleted or tired units.  In such circumstances, the Russians must pause, reorganize, refit and retrain with reservists and conscripts but ‘growing’ the army by any appreciable amount will take time.

Another problem seems to be the stalled professionalization and modernization of the Russian Army.  An analysis of recent operations, such as those in Syria, together with recent exercises such as Zapad 21 and Vostok 18, indicate the same repeated use of the same high-quality but relatively small spearhead units.  Thus, whilst the Russian Army might seem impressive on paper, its performance in the field is far less impressive.   This is exactly the same problem that was faced by the British Army during World War Two which relied heavily on a few elite formations to spearhead offensives, such as the British Eighth Army.  As those formations tired or were worn down by losses the entire offensive slowed with them.

Lost in Ukraine

The extent of the conundrum General Gerasimov and the Russian General Staff now faces is all too apparent when the extent of the force already deployed to Ukraine is analyzed.  All 12 army headquarters have been committed (1 Guards Tank Army, 2nd Combined Arms Army (2CAA), 5CAA, 6CAA, 8CAA, 20CAA, 29CAA, 35CAA,36CAA, 41CAA, 49CAA, 58CAA).  Moreover, virtually all the subordinate maneuver divisions and brigades are also in Ukraine, except that is for the curious case of the main force of the 5th Combined Arms Army (without its headquarters) in the Eastern Military District.  There is no evidence either that its 4 maneuver brigades (70th Motor Rifles, 60MR, 59MR, 57MR) have been engaged.

All 4 divisions and 3 brigades of the Russian airborne/air assault forces are also in Ukraine, together with all 5 naval infantry brigades and the 14th and 22nd Army Corps, together with 5 of the 7 Spetsnaz (Special Operating Forces or SOF) brigades are in Ukraine. The 14th Spetsnaz is based in Russia’s Far East, whilst the 16th Spetsnaz, which is based some 220 miles/320 kms south-east of Moscow, have either not been committed, or at least not yet identified in Ukraine. One reason could be the need to protect Putin and the seat of government in Moscow in the event of any coup attempt.  The 11th Army Corps in Kaliningrad (18th Motor Rifles Division, 7th Motor Rifle Regiment) remains in garrison, as does the 68th Army Corps on Sakhalin Island (18th Machine Gun Division, 39th Motor Rifle Brigade). 

Therefore, Russia does not have many more regular formations Moscow can insert into to the Order of Battle.  There are small formations in Transnistria, Armenia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but they are not big enough to make a great deal of difference should they be switched to Ukraine.

Conundrum solved?

Having reached their culminating point Russian ground forces have two options. First, go over to the defense and try and retain the ground they hold, whilst at the same time reorganizing, refitting and absorbing replacements and new conscripts. Second, use the time to build up for another human-grinding Russian offensive.

It is the latter option which the UK Defence Intelligence Agency thinks likely. April 1st marks the start of the new recruiting season for conscripts and it is clear from the narrative Moscow is peddling that the Russian people are being prepared for a longer war than anticipated.  However, given Russia’s grievous losses and the poor training and equipment of the conscripts any reconstituted units will be far less capable than those that began the campaign.  That is why the strategy is likely to rely increasingly on indiscriminate air attacks and long range artillery and missile strikes to hammer cities and wear the will of the Ukrainian people to resist. It is also why the Ukrainians are seeking anti-air and counter-fires systems from NATO and other partners. Tragically, this next phase could become even uglier if recent tragedies in Grozny and Aleppo are any indication.  Apart from pondering the mobilization of reserves, and an even greater use of conscripts, Moscow is also considering the possible use of weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical, biological, and even tactical nuclear systems.

In other words, President Putin may well be facing his Waterloo in Ukraine, but at what appalling cost to Russians and Ukrainians alike? There is no Grouchy, no lost army that can join the fight quickly only far more ground grinding death to mark Putin’s folly!  To give some idea of the scale of the force committed by Russia to the war in Ukraine this article concludes by simply laying out the estimated Order of Battle of Russian forces in Ukraine (again with thanks to the Institute for the Study of War).

Russian Army

1st Guards Tank Army (Lieutenant General Sergei Kisel)

2nd Guards Motor Rifle Division (Colonel (Guards) Sergey Viktorovich Medvedev)

1st Guards Tank Regiment

1st Guards Motor Rifle Regiment

4th Guards Tank Division (Colonel Yevgeny Nikolayevich Zhuravlyov)

423rd Guards Motor Rifle Regiment

47th Guards Tank Division

26th Tank Regiment

27th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Colonel Sergey Igorevich Safonov)

96th Reconnaissance Brigade (Colonel Valery Vdovichenko)

45th Separate Engineering Brigade (Colonel Nikolai Ovcharenko †)

2nd Guards Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Andrey Vladimirovich Kolotovkin)

15th Motor Rifle Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel Andrei Sergeevich Marushkin)

21st Guards Motor Rifle Brigade

30th Motor Rifle Brigade

5th Combined Arms Army (Major General Aleksey Podivilov

6th Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Vladislav Nikolayevich Yershov)

25th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Colonel Andrei Nikolaevich Arkhipov)

138th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Colonel Sergei Maksimov)

8th Guards Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Andrey Nikolayevich Mordvichev †)

20th Guards Motor Rifle Division (Colonel Aleksei Gorobets)

33rd Motor Rifle Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Yuri Agarkov †)

150th Motor Rifle Division (Major General Oleg Mityaev †)

102nd Motorized Rifle Regiment

20th Guards Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Andrey Sergeevich Ivanaev)

3rd Motor Rifle Division (Major General Aleksei Vyacheslavovich Avdeyev)

252nd Motor Rifle Regiment (Colonel Igor Nikolaev †)

144th Guards Motor Rifle Division (Major General Vitaly Sleptsov)

29th Combined Arms Army (Major General Andrei Borisovich Kolesnikov †)

36th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel (Guards) Andrei Vladimirovich Voronkov)

200th Artillery Brigade

35th Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Aleksandr Semyonovich Sanchik)

38th Motor Rifle Brigade

64th Motor Rifle Brigade

69th Fortress Brigade

107th Rocket Brigade

165th Artillery Brigade

36th Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Valery Solodchuk)

5th Guards Tank Brigade (Colonel (Guards) Andrei Viktorovich Kondrov)

37th Motor Rifle Brigade

103rd Rocket Brigade

41st Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Sergey Ryzhkov [ru], Deputy Commander Major General Andrey Sukhovetsky †)

35th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Major General Vitaly Gerasimov †)

55th Mountain Motorized Rifle Brigade

74th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Alekseyevich Yershov)

120th Artillery Brigade

119th Missile Brigade

90th Guards Tank Division (Colonel Ramil Rakhmatulovich Ibatullin)

6th Tank Regiment (Colonel Andrei Zakharov †)

49th Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Jakov Vladimirovich Rezantsev)

205th Motor Rifle Brigade

58th Combined Arms Army (Lieutenant General Mikhail Stepanovich Zusko)

19th Motor Rifle Division (Colonel Dmitri Ivanovich Uskov)

42nd Guards Motor Rifle Division

14th Army Corps (Lieutenant General Dmitry Vladimirovich Krayev)

200th Motor Rifle Brigade (Colonel Denis Yuryevich Kurilo)

22nd Army Corps (Major General Denis Lyamin)

126th Coastal Defense Brigade (Colonel Sergey Storozhenko)

127th Reconnaissance Brigade

12th Guards Engineer Brigade (Colonel Sergei Porokhnya †)

Special Operation Forces (SSO) (Major General Valery Flyustikov)

Russian Navy (Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov)

Black Sea Fleet (Admiral Igor Osipov, Deputy Commander First Rank Captain Andrei Paliy †)

Northern Fleet (Admiral Aleksandr Moiseyev)

Russian Coastal Troops

Russian Naval Infantry (Lieutenant General Alexander Kolpachenko)

40th Naval Infantry Brigade (Pacific Fleet, Colonel Dmitri Ivanovich Petukh)

61st Naval Infantry Brigade (Northern Fleet, Colonel Kirill Nikolaevich Nikulin)

155th Naval Infantry Brigade (Pacific Fleet)

336th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade (Baltic Fleet, Colonel (Guards) Igor N. Kalmykov)

810th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade (Black Sea Fleet, Colonel (Guards) Aleksei Berngard)

Russian Aerospace Forces (General of the Army Sergey Surovikin)

Russian Air Force (Lieutenant General Sergey Dronov)

4th Air and Air Defence Forces Army (Lieutenant General Nikolai Vasilyevich Gostev)

3rd Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment[37]

31st Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment (Lieutenant Colonel Alexey Khasanov †)

11th Air and Air Defence Forces Army (Lieutenant General Vladimir Kravchenko)

23rd Fighter Aviation Regiment

14th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment

18th Guards Assault Aviation Regiment

120th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment (Colonel Ruslan Rudnev †) 

Russian Airborne Forces (Colonel General Andrey Serdyukov)

7th Guards Mountain Air Assault Division (Colonel Aleksandr Vladimirovich Kornev)

108th Guards Kuban Cossack Air Assault Regiment

247th Guards Air Assault Regiment (Colonel Konstantin Zizevski †)

76th Guards Air Assault Division (Major General Alexey Naumets)

124th Tank Battalion

104th Guards Air Assault Regiment

234th Guards Air Assault Regiment

237th Guards Air Assault Regiment

98th Guards Airborne Division (Colonel Sergey Volyk)

217th Guards Airborne Regiment

331st Guards Airborne Regiment (Colonel Sergei Sukharev †)

106th Guards Airborne Division (Guards Colonel Vladimir Vyacheslavovich Selivyorstov)

51st Guards Airborne Regiment

137th Guards Airborne Regiment

1182nd Guards Artillery Regiment

45th Guards Spetsnaz Brigade (Colonel Vadim Pankov)

11th Guards Air Assault Brigade (Colonel Denis Nikolayevich Shishov, Deputy Commander Lieutenant Colonel Denis Glebov †)

31st Guards Air Assault Brigade (Colonel Sergei Karasev †)

5th Air Assault Company (Captain Eduard Gelmiyarov †)

83rd Guards Air Assault Brigade

GU (formerly GRU) (Admiral Igor Kostyukov)

2nd Spetsnaz Brigade (Colonel Konstantin Bushuev)

3rd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade (Colonel Albert Ibragimovich Omarov)

10th Spetsnaz Brigade

22nd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade (Lieutenant Colonel Aleksei Nikolayevich Savchenko)

24th Spetsnaz Brigade

Ben Hodges, R. D. Hooker Jr., Julian Lindley-French

LTG (Ret.) Ben Hodges is the former Commander, US Army Europe, Dr R. D. Hooker Jr. was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Europe and Russia with the National Security Council. Julian Lindley-French was Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy. They are all members of The Alphen Group.

Kulminatsionny Moment?

Ben Hodges and Julian Lindley-French

“Everything…depends on discovering the culminating point by the fine tact of judgement. Here we come upon a seeming contradiction. The defence is stronger than the attack; therefore we should think that the latter should never lead us too far, for as long as the weaker form remains strong enough for what is required the stronger form ought to be still more so”.

Karl von Clausewitz

March 15th, 2022. Idus Martiae! The race to the culminating point of Ukraine’s tragedy is on! Possible Chinese support notwithstanding the next ten days or so will prove critical. The Russian war of conquest in Ukraine is now entering a critical phase; a race to reach the culminating point of Russia’s offensive capacity and Ukraine’s defensive capacity.  That is why it is vital the West reinforces Ukraine’s capacity to resist and why Russia has started attacking supply bases through which Western lethal aid is passing. The next week or so could prove critical.  

The culminating point is reached when a force can no longer conduct operations. For a force engaged on offensive expeditionary operations that point is reached when a force simply can no longer advance. In the wake of the second Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, several constraints on the capacity to conduct a Blitzkrieg became immediately apparent. The moment Russian forces crossed the Ukrainian border a large gap appeared between the scale and quality of the Russian forces needed to maintain offensive Russian military momentum and the force available given the capacity of Ukraine’s capacity to resist and the space in which to conduct defensive operations on their own terrain. 

It also became rapidly clear that the basic operational and tactical planning of the Russian General Staff was inadequate. Much of the intelligence underpinning the campaign was either faulty, out-of-date, or just plain wrong; mission goals and areas of responsibility between Battalion Tactical Groups had not been clearly established or delineated; secure communications between headquarters and forward deployed forces failed often; force protection was virtually non-existent; joint operations between air and ground elements were rendered extremely difficult by a lack of co-ordination and communications, and the Russian practice of ‘seeding’ regular army formations with conscripts led to rapid deterioration in the morale of the force in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance. Above all, the lack of sufficient Special Operating Forces and Specialised Forces, allied to a lack of precision-guided munitions in sufficient quantity, rendered the original strategy of decapitating Ukraine politically and militarily impossible to realise. 

The result is becoming increasingly self-evident for a poorly-planned and executed Russian military campaign in which incompetence marches side-by-side with costly but stalled momentum with Russian forces forced to adopt a campaign of attrition against Ukrainian civilians for which they are not designed.  Attrition warfare requires time, manpower, ammunition and resources.  The Russians are rapidly running out of all three which is why they are recruiting Syrians.  One lesson they should have drawn from their major VOSTOK and ZAPAD exercises is that the consumption of combat ammunition always exceeds ready stocks, particularly in urban warfare.  Sanctions have accelerated this by blocking the delivery of munitions to Russia from places such as Finland and Slovenia. This is why Russia has turned to China. 

The Ukrainians have excelled as a defensive force and as the morale of Russia’s forces has plummeted the defenders have seized the moral high ground.  Lessons-learned from Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea are apparent in the way the Ukrainians have successfully conducted information operations and managed to get inside of the Russian command loop.  Reinforced by Western real-time intelligence and advanced anti-air and anti-tank munitions the Ukrainians have been able to maintain a mobile defence hitting Russian formations when and where it hurts.  However, this heroic defence has come a great cost to Ukraine’s embattled regular forces and the many irregulars who have joined the fight.

For Clausewitz the successful application of military force requires both the moral and the physical to be superior to that of an enemy.  Russia began this war firm in the belief that the physical superiority of its forces over their Ukrainian enemy would prevail. As the war shifts from one of movement to one of attrition it is vital the West reinforces the capacity of the Ukrainians to resist. In practice, that means supplying them with sufficient lethal aid to fight the Russians to a standstill and pose the Kremlin with an acute dilemma: order general mobilisation to fight a long war and risk the wrath of the Mothers of St Petersburg and beyond or come to terms with the Ukrainians.  Either way the political price for Putin will be high given the human cost of his strategic folly.

In two months in 1982 Britain successfully re-took the Falkland Islands from the Argentinian occupiers.  To do so the British had to undertake the longest seaborne invasion in military history.  Whilst Argentina was only 400 miles from the Falklands the British were over 8000 miles distant.  The sheer distance meant the size of the Task Force sent was limited in scale. However, it prevailed because the force was of such a higher level of technological and force quality compared with the bulk of its Argentinian opponents that it was able to exert both physical and moral superiority over a larger defensive force. Russian forces lack both the quality and the quantity over their Ukrainian counterparts to establish physical or moral superiority. The war in Ukraine is thus testament to the abject failure of the Russian General Staff to modernise the Russian Army in particular.  Consequently, Putin’s entire political strategy of using coercion and implied threat of force to extract concessions from his neighbours already lies in tatters. Does that mean the end of Putin and bully Russia is over?  No, far from it.

What must the West now do?  First, accelerate and expand the delivery of capabilities and weapons specifically intended to help Ukraine destroy the land and sea-based artillery, rockets and cruise-missile launchers that are land-based and sea-based platforms.  This means more intelligence, more counter-fire radar, more long-range systems, more ammunition, and more anti-ship, and naval mines. Second, look to the future. Both China and Russia will already be deconstructing this war to identify and implement lessons for the future. So must we!

Putin? Beware the Ides of March, Caesar!

Ben Hodges and Julian Lindley-French

LTG (Ret.) Ben Hodges is the former Commander, US Army Europe. Julian Lindley-French was Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy. They are co-authors with Gen. (Ret.) John R. Allen of the book Future War and the Defence of Europe and both are members of The Alphen Group.

EU policy towards Russia? What options after 2022?


Žaneta Ozoliņa

Facing military tension

The situation at the EU and NATO’s eastern border proves that defence and protection cannot be taken for granted. The concentration of Russian troops at the Ukrainian border, weaponisation of migrants on Belarus’ borders with Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, and the intensified coercive political discourse show that the popular theses – ‘we are living in a borderless world’ and ‘borders do not matter in the XXIst century” – have turned irrelevant today and for the years to come.

The attempt to undermine existing borders targets not just the physical borders of countries; it aims to redraft the security order in the transatlantic area. Russia’s proposal for new security guarantees sent to the US administration and NATO is a clear signal that it demands a say on the further enlargement of the alliance. This, however, undermines the sovereign right of other countries to define their own foreign policy choices. At this point, proposals for ‘new security architectures’ have become routine business for Russia. The Baltic Sea Region countries can recall regional security proposals offered by Russia in 1997 as an alternative to NATO membership and the several attempts to create a new security landscape under the OSCE umbrella. The revisionist and opportunistic character of Russia’s foreign and security policy still matters and foreshadows what to expect in the future.

Where is the European Union? 

What role has Europe played in the recent months of growing tension on the eastern border? What is the EU response to Russia’s international performance? While the US, NATO and Russia have ‘negotiated’, ‘argued’, ‘searched for de-escalation efforts’, the EU has ‘discussed’, ‘worked on’, ‘harmonized with’, ‘collaborated with’…

Following a meeting with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Geneva, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in assessing the state of affairs and tension between the West and Russia was characteristically blunt. The West, Lavrov said, is unable to provide any arguments except that they are ‘concerned, concerned, concerned….and now the EU also does not want to lag behind the US and wants to set up a training camp in Ukraine. It will be quite an interesting turn in the EU’s ambitions. Maybe this is an attempt by the EU to remind everyone of its existence because so far it doesn’t figure in serious conversations.’

If measured exclusively and solely by the number of visits European politicians have made to Kyiv, the EU should be a global player in managing Russo-Ukrainian tensions. The security situation in Europe is once again demonstrating the wasted time, resources and institutional capacity. Indeed, the EU has once again failed to display leadership, expertise or even relevance of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The €1.2 billion emergency aid package offered to Ukraine by European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis is a significant signal to Ukraine and the international community, but ‘signal diplomacy’ also leaves many questions unanswered. What is the EU policy towards Russia? How will it respond to Russia’s threats? 

The EU’s weakness is essentially concerns the application of power. The Union is not short of power, but rather the necessary global ambition, political will and consistency needed to fully implement EU decisions. Such weakness is less obvious during years of ‘normality’ but resurfaces during episodes of international tension and confrontation, such as now. 

Rethinking EU policy options

An effective and credible CFSP requires unity. It is fairly obvious that today unity is more rhetorical than real. As an association of democratic countries the EU must respect the results of the elections, allow politicians to follow the demands of their constituencies, and constantly recognise the diversity of national preferences. That being said, several policy actions could reinforce the EU’s international presence.

First, strong EU-NATO co-operation is needed more than ever. EU member states are not all committed to the defence initiatives adopted by the Council. It takes time. Therefore, whilst the EU enhances its capabilities the EU should coordinate with and participate in existing NATO mechanisms. Second, close partnership with the US is vital as there are critical shared interests, such as defence and deterrence, relations with China and Russia, multilateralism. Third, the EU should reconsider the Eastern Partnership initiative.  There is a clear divide between Europeanizing, such as Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, and others with varying views on relations with the EU and Russia, such as Armenia, Azerbaijan and Belarus. Finally, the international environment is becoming increasingly confrontational reinforcing geopolitical rivalry. Therefore, the EU needs to become far more adept at rapid reaction rather than lose time drafting lengthy communiqués. Rather than simply expressing ‘concern’ even ‘great concern’, the EU needs the capacity to act.

Professor Zaneta Ozolina is Professor of International Relations at the University of Latvia and a member of The Alphen Group.

The TAG Shadow NATO Strategic Concept

February 3rd, 2022

The TAG NATO Shadow Strategic Concept 2022

2022 is an inflection point for NATO. It would be easy to think that the future of NATO is all about what is happening today in Ukraine. The current crisis is hugely important but the future of the Alliance is not simply about the future of NATO-Russia relations.  There are other vital questions that must be addressed. What will be NATO’s role in Europe and the wider world? What kind of NATO will needed by 2030 if the Alliance is to continue to credibly preserve peace and protect people? What must NATO and its nations be collectively thinking about going beyond 2030? These are the questions that The Alphen Group (TAG), which I have the honor to chair, set out to answer with the publication today of the TAG Shadow NATO Strategic Concept 2022 (link above) by the German Marshall Fund, the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Norwegian Atlantic Committee. 

Strategic Concept 2022 is no ordinary piece of think-tankery. It is also very much a team effort involving all the members of The Alphen Group.  Whilst I acted as lead writer it is really the product of some very serious thinking by some very serious people.  These include Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, a former NATO Deputy Secretary General and US Ambassador to both NATO and Russia; Lieutenant-General (Ret.) Heinrich Brauss, the former NATO Assistant Secretary-General for Policy and Planning; General (Ret.) Sir James Everard, the former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Lieutenant-General (Ret.) Ben Hodges, former Commander of the US Army in Europe; Admiral (Ret.) Giampaolo di Paola, the former Italian Defence Minister, Chief of Defence Staff and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee; General the Lord Richards, the former Chief of the British Defence Staff; Ambassador Stefano Stefanini, and the former Italian Permanent Representative to NATO; and Jim Townsend, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Eurasian Affairs at the Pentagon.

NATO tomorrow

Preserving peace and protecting people will demand of the Alliance the credible ability to both deter aggression at the high-end of the conflict spectrum and deal with the continued threat posed by terrorism and the instability it spawns.  Collective defense, crisis management, co-operative security will thus remain the three core missions of the Alliance but in a markedly-changed and changing strategic environment compared with 2010 when the last such strategy was drafted. However, NATO will be unable to project stabilizing influence and deterrence power if its home-base is critically vulnerable to attack and corrosive manipulation.  Therefore, Strategic Concept 2022 establishes the improved resilience of Allied societies as an urgent NATO priority.

Furthermore, Strategic Concept 2022 also envisions NATO is a very different geopolitical context than 2010. The unrelenting rise of China as an economic and putative military superpower is changing the fundamental assumptions Washington must make to realize US security and defense interests. In the past more capable European Allies would have been nice for the US to have, it is now an imperative, if not the greatest single strategic imperative in Strategic Concept 2022. The only way the Americans will be able to maintain their security guarantee to Europe will be if Europeans take on far more strategic responsibility for their own defense.  That is one of the many geopolitical lessons arising from the current Ukraine crisis. The Americans are not only facing the prospect of Russian aggression in Europe, but also a China that is systematically searching for ways and means to weaken America, not least by exploiting the growing over-stretch from to which US forces are increasingly subject the world over. 

Implicit in Strategic Concept 2022 is a new transatlantic security ‘contract’ that reflects the realities of the 2020s, not the 1950s, built on a far more equitable sharing of the burdens of both risk and cost of alliance between the US and its Allies. Specifically, Strategic Concept 2022 calls on Canada and the European Allies to invest sufficient forces and resources by 2030 to collectively meet at least 50 percent of NATO’s Minimum Military Requirements identified by the strategic commanders. These will include fully usable forces required to cover the whole spectrum of operations and missions, as well as the strategic enablers required to conduct multiple demanding large and smaller-scale operations. Such operations will be conducted both alongside US forces in a variety of regions inside and outside SACEUR’s area of responsibility, as well as autonomously when agreed.

NATO the day after tomorrow

2030 is the day after tomorrow in defense planning but what will be change agent to match NATO’s new ends, ways and means? Strategic Concept 2022 calls on the Canadian and European Allies to by 2030 at the latest stand up a new NATO Allied Command Operations Mobile Heavy Force (AMHF). The AMHF will consolidate all Allied rapid response forces into a single pool of forces supported by the requisite force and command structures. Critically, the AMHF will act as a high-end, first responder Allied Future Force designed to act from seabed to space and across the multi-domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information, and knowledge. The AMHF will be sufficiently robust and responsive, and held at a sufficiently high level of readiness, to meet any and all threats to the territory of the Euro-Atlantic area in the first instance, and have sufficient capacity to also support those frontline nations facing transnational threats such as terrorism. The AMHF will thus build on the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force and the enhanced NATO Response Force, as well as those very high readiness forces that will emerge from the vital NATO Readiness Initiative.

The AMHF will enable the Allies maintain a high degree of affordable interoperability with fast-evolving US forces. As such, the AMHF will act as the single most important force integrator as well as the guardian of high-end force interoperability vital to NATO’s deterrence and defense posture. It will also be the synergizing change agent for the introduction into the Allied Order of Battle of artificial intelligence, super/quantum computing, big data, machine learning, drone swarming, and autonomous capabilities (for example, manned-unmanned teaming, decoys, relays, and networked autonomous systems), hypersonic weapon systems to enable an allied capability to engage in hyper-fast warfare.

The AMHF will be flexible and deployable in several guises and under more than one flag, including as a NATO-enabled European coalition (both EU allies and partners) or as a framework for coalitions of the willing and able. Above all, the AMHF will be proof of a transformed NATO by giving shape, purpose and meaning to greater European strategic responsibility. Such responsibility, and the autonomy it eventually fosters will be a function of power not words and reflect the relative military capability and capacity of America’s Allies inside NATO. It must be seen clearly as such. Reinforced by new ‘enablers’, such as combat support and combat service support, and transformative and integrative professional military education the AMHF will be designed to exploit NATO’s richest resource – its free citizens.

NATO the day after 2030

Joe Robinson, CEO of Defence Improbable and National Security, in an excellent opinion piece entitled China is stealing a march in the metaverse arms race, offered a sobering vision of the future: “The metaverse for war is not science fiction. These capabilities exist to today. I know this because my company builds some of the foundational technologies”.  Strategic Concept 2022 looks out to 2030 because strategy in democracies is the art of the politically possible.  However, Joe’s message is compelling. NATO MUST look now beyond 2030 to a world in which warfare will take place across a new spectrum of hybrid war, cyber war and super-fast hyper war and be conducted at speeds beyond human command imagination. A world in which adversaries will seek to systematically exploit every vulnerability of open, democratic societies by inflicting perma-war across 5Ds of disinformation, deception, disruption, destabilization, and applied complex strategic coercion through the implied threat of destruction. Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, data harvesting, machine learning and Big Data applications will (and are) be the harbingers of such warfare, as well as its multipliers.  

Therefore, NATO must begin thinking now outside of its very well-established boxes. The Alliance will need to enter a new world, a virtual, immersive, secure world in which NATO can test planning and policy, craft responses, identify vulnerabilities and reinforce them, and systematically explore the vulnerabilities of adversaries.    Such a response will stretch NATO’s leaders conceptually and demand a new vision of defense education and information that stretches from leader to defender to create an entirely new concept of deterrence that also stretches across the meta-sphere from information warfare to cyber warfare to the most exotic reaches of seabed to space hyper warfare.

Fast information and knowledge will not only be vital it must be at the cutting edge of Allied preparedness and readiness, it will be at the very heart of credible deterrence and defense. To do that the Alliance will also need new defenders and create for a place for them, people who are creative, constructive disruptors who do not necessarily fit the traditional policy or military mold.  In short, to prevail NATO must become a new strategic nexus where political leaders and military commanders meet academia and the games industry on an equal innovative footing if the Alliance is to match the speed of relevance in any future war and thus maintain credible deterrence. Such civil-military fusion will be as vital as Allied military-military fusion and will need to be driven by entirely new ideas of standardization, innovation and interoperability. Much of NATO’s future technology and expertise will come from the commercial sector and be driven by it. For Europe and its analogue defense and technological base that will mean nothing less than a digital and digitizing revolution and a complete rethink about just who or what is in the defense sector of the future. Less metal bashers, more systems integrators. 

In our latest Oxford University book, Future War and the Defence of Europe, General (Ret.) John R. Allen, Lieutenant-General (Ret.) Ben Hodges and I write “Critically, much stronger strategic public private partnerships need to be forged both to prepare for shock across the spectrum of adverse events and to recover from them. One consequence of globalization has been the progressive decoupling of Western states from Western corporations with the very idea of the multinational corporation as the antithesis of the Western nation-state.  A far stronger partnership between the public and private sectors IN states and across states will now be crucial, and not just to limit the effects of systemic shock”. Amen to that!

NATO now

Finally, what of Ukraine and Afghanistan now? Sadly, there is not much NATO can any longer do for the brave people of Afghanistan other than learn the lessons of a failed campaign and the need for more robust political cohesion, more intelligent use of military force, greater civil-military integration and strategic patience. Ukraine is another matter. Strategic Concept 2022 is clear: the Alliance must launch a Ukrainian Deterrence Initiative (UDI) as an extension of the Alliance’s Enhanced Opportunity Partner program. Under the UDI, the allies must do all they can to assist Ukraine to defend itself, dissuade Russia from launching further aggression, and thus increase Kyiv’s leverage in pursuit of a political settlement to the conflict in Donbas. The UDI must include the provision of military equipment and training, as well as efforts to enhance Ukraine’s resilience against cyberattacks, disinformation, economic warfare, and political subversion. The UDI will also establish a function-driven form of partnership, making it a formal Alliance responsibility to help train Ukrainian armed forces and to facilitate their acquisition of modern defensive weapons backed by common funding. Similar support should be offered to Georgia.

Ukraine is a test of collective resolve. For several Allies who are not on the outer boundaries of either NATO or the EU, and who face debt-ridden post COVID economies, the conceit of many Europeans over Ukraine is very similar to that of Neville Chamberlain about another ‘artificial’ (as he saw post-Versailles Czechoslovakia) country: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing”. Like Chamberlain many Allies fail to realize the price they could pay in the longer run by holding on to cherished delusions over the shorter-term. At least Baldwin and Chamberlain rearmed from 1934 onwards as an insurance policy. NATO?

The TAG NATO Shadow Strategic Concept 2022. The Alphen Group commends our report to you.

Julian Lindley-French

TAG PREMIUM BLOG: Strategic Autonomy or Strategic Solitude?

German foreign and security policy is in such bad shape that it is damaging the political and strategic relationship with Berlin and Paris which in the past was so crucial for pushing Europe forward. As Europe refuses to adapt to the changing geostrategic environment, France may be forced to choose an operational bilateral cooperation with the United States and an assumed posture of strategic “solitude”.

By Yves Boyer

The harsh light of history

At the end of the 19th century, when asked about the state of the world by Princess Mathilde, niece of Napoléon I, a famous French historian, Ernest Lavisse, replied, “My experience as a historian has taught me that everything has always been very bad“.

 Lavisse’s ‘bon mot’ could be used to characterise the European situation at a time when France holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Without dwelling on major structural problems, such as the global crisis linked to Covid 19, climate change or the situation in Eastern Europe in the face of Russia’s threatening attitude, there are several other issues on the European agenda that need to be addressed. 

A fundamental question about the very nature of the European Union remains unanswered. Will it ‘leave history’ by being merged into a wider Western community under the tutelage, by and large benevolent, of the United States, to which many European states have pledged allegiance? 

Or, will it choose, as some European leaders advocate, become a union capable of defending its own interests, a distinct model of society and culture while still remaining a core member of the Western camp?  Is Europe even willing to admit that the geopolitics of the 21st century belongs to other ‘big beasts’ who will not hesitate to use force as much as they seek cooperation in international relations?

Some Europeans turn a blind eye to these issues even as they deplore the fact they are being marginalised. For example, President Biden did not even consult his European allies when he decided to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. During the negotiations between Washington and Moscow on European security the EU was relegated to the side-lines of the talks. What these events reveal is that Washington simply does not consider Europeans as equals, which has given further impetus to those arguing for greater European strategic autonomy.

Franco-German Driver?

Europeans remain disunited on many issues. Brexit has deprived the EU of a key player, whilst there is no shared vision between Member States of the EU’s future, be it for common financing, energy mix, etc. 

Central and Eastern Europeans remain obsessed with what they see as the Russian threat and place a higher priority on American protection than European solidarity. Divergence is also apparent over the very values the Union is meant to uphold.  This leads to at best unfortunate choice of words such as those used by the head of Poland’s ruling party, Jarosław Kaczyński. Last December he declared that Germany is trying to turn the EU into a federal “German Fourth Reich“.

Given the depth of this European imbroglio prolonged tensions in Franco-German relations would undoubtedly have the most serious of consequences for Europe, which one almost dare not envisage.

Several European leaders have expressed their wish to give the European Union its own military intervention capability, which would be complementary to the Atlantic Alliance, and enable it to act independently if the need so arose. Regrettably, the somewhat unkind statements by the then German Defence Minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, shooting down French aspirations for strategic autonomy, had the effect of a cold shower. Instead, she made a vibrant plea for a strong NATO and for a European rapprochement with the United States. In her view, the desire to conduct autonomous European military operations without US support was definitely “the wrong direction to take“. Rather, Europeans should give up their military ambitions, which she described as a “phantasm”. Consequently, uncertainties in Paris about the strategic orientation of German defence were thus reinforced. 

Paris is also particularly concerned about numerous German delays and reversals in major bilateral defence-industrial programmes, including the provision of new maritime patrol aircraft, modernisation of the Tigre helicopter, as well as the future battle tank and fighter combat aircraft projects (SCAF/FCAS). Indeed, a host of issues related to the defence industrial and technological base (DTIB) are now central to the wider Franco-German relationship.

Hard Choices

Faced with all these challenges, Paris finds itself alone and to simply caricature its position as “Gaullist” is an intellectual fallacy that does not help matters and which certainly does not correspond to the state of the French debate in 2021. The very future of the French DTIB depends, in part, on increased European cooperation whilst at the same time preserving national know-how in nuclear, space, electronic and aeronautical sectors, which are also closely linked to the so-called ‘deep state’ and to preservation of France’s independent nuclear deterrent. 

If Germany was to continue on its current trajectory, and if European partners were to persist in their cautious attitude towards greater European strategic autonomy, which certainly is in need of better definition, the only way forward for Paris would be to return to a position on defence which France has adhered to fairly consistently since the 1950s: operational bilateral cooperation with the United States and an assumed posture of strategic “solitude”.

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