Welcome to the Alphen Group

Creating solutions for a secure Europe

What must be done?

What must be done to make Europe secure in the twenty-first century? A resurgent, nationalist Russia, systemic terrorism, mass barely-regulated immigration, strained transatlantic relations, the revolution in military technology, the threat of pandemics, warfare that stretches across the social bandwidth from fake news to new nukes, transnational crime and a host of other challenges, hazards and threats with which a divided Europe must contend.   

Paul Cornish, Judy Dempsey, Ben Hodges, Julian Lindley-French, Holger Mey, Andrew Michta, Alexandra Schwarzkopf, Jamie Shea, Anna Wieslander and Rob de Wijk are the Alphen Group, or TAG to its friends.  Representing decades of advanced thinking and doing at the highest levels we share a profound concern about European security and defence. Therefore, we have come together to seek solutions for a more secure Europe. Our aim is to move beyond the discussion culture in Europe that so rarely sees words become action and offer leaders a grounded vision for our future security and defence.

Why now?

The need for action has never been greater. The dangers Europeans and their allies face span the new threat-scape from aggression by hostile Great Powers waging ‘war’ on our politics and our media systems to global reach terrorists seeding hatred and instability at the seams of our increasingly complex and diverse societies and far beyond. Disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, deception and implied destruction are be the ‘stuff’ of a new/old war as information is weaponised to become the agent of fear, challenging our confidence in conventional politics. 

The Internet is revolutionising society in every conceivable way, and on every level. It is also revolutionising the way we must defend society, undermining the very concept of loyalty, identity and agency upon which any state must depend if it is to mount an effective defence. The Internet of Things (or Everything), artificial intelligence (AI) and new 5G technology will make security more immediate, more automatic and far more brittle. It will also become increasingly difficult for Europeans, acting in concert, to ensure the active defence of their values and interests. Active defence will require the projection of power, but this will not be feasible if Europe is seen by its people to be weak, uncertain and incoherent.

A new Pearl Harbor?

The prospect of a ‘new Pearl Harbor’ – a surprise attack launched from cyberspace and beyond – is controversial. Some see it as ill-informed scare-mongering, others as a cynical device to secure investment in key sectors of the technology industry. It remains, nevertheless, a very useful metaphor. The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 was a strategic surprise not only militarily but also diplomatically, politically and technologically. The attack ‘broke the rules’, contravening the prevailing (and arguably, in retrospect, rather complacent) norms and expectations of conflict and competition between states. It is not far-fetched or alarmist to imagine something similar happening in Europe today – and happening at such pace and with such scope that there would be little or no chance of defending or fighting back.

Technology is fast changing the battlespace in which any future European war would be fought The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is revolutionising warfare to such an extent and at such pace that future war will be conducted simultaneously from the low end of the conflict spectrum to the high end.  War will also come in many forms and be defined by the distance from which an attack is launched, the difficulty of openly attributing an attack and the need for hyper-speed decision-making in the face of AI-informed hostile operations. The very idea of conflict, of what constitutes an ‘attack’ will be questioned. Political and military leadership will demand far swifter decision-making often in the midst of engineered uncertainty and insecurity.

Self-reinforcing new technologies led by AI, machine-learning, hypersonic systems, drones and quantum computing will further blur the already vague distinction between the civilian and military worlds.  These innovations will demand new armed forces able to operate effectively across seven enormous domains – air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. Such forces will require different types of combatant (or ‘operator’) than hitherto, with new technologies applied across new capabilities and capacities, and led by new ideas of strategy.   

In the face of such pan-dimensional threats the US security guarantee to Europe also faces a growing crisis of credibility.  American forces are now stretched thin across a multi-dimensional strata-scape of space, time, technology, cost and people.  Most European forces are at best museum pieces; increasingly analogue in a hyper-digital world. And yet, in the worst-case they would be Europe’s valiant first responders, even though the ‘worst-case’ has been banished from the European post-modern strategic lexicon. Such concerns are all too politically and economically inconvenient for Europe’s current leaders.

Creative solutions for a secure Europe

The Alphen Group will begin by contributing a series of informed, high-level blogs on the major strategic issues confronting Europe and its security and defence, of which this is just the first. Guest contributors will reinforce the work of the Group and at the end of the year the first of a series of annual Alphen Group reports will point the way to the future.  There will be one unifying theme throughout the work of the Group: What is to be done…and now?

The security and defence of Europe is in danger of failing. Europe’s political leaders fail to understand either the changing or the enduring character of conflict and the big, strategic choices they must make, and soon, if Europeans and their allies are to be secured and defended in the twenty-first century. Business as usual is not an option.

Welcome to the Alphen Group. Welcome to an informed and provocative discussion of Europe’s security and defence future.

The Alphen Group, April 2019