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Chair’s Blog, ACE 2: America, NATO and the Future Defence of Europe

ARRC Poland follow-up

As a follow-up to my previous blog, below is my considered response to a senior and much-respected British colleague and friend who contacted me about the wider strategic utility/challenge of deploying the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (ARRC) to Poland.

Dear…

Many thanks for the comment and good, as ever, to hear from you. Of course, you are right about HQ ARRC, it is only an HQ. Therefore, key to my thinking would be the new ACE Heavy Mobile-style force (recognising the limitations on the old one) I recommend, which the ARRC would develop and command. My colleague and friend Paul Cornish suggests the emphasis should be on ‘heavy’ as we have far too many light mobile (i.e. cheap) forces in Europe.  He is correct, even if I would take twenty-first century ‘heavy’ to mean any force big enough, agile enough and lethal enough to seriously complicate the thinking and planning of General Gerasimov and his Staff, or any group or force that threatens Europe. In that light, ‘heavy’ today means the capability and capacity to generate intended effects and outcomes across the seven domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge/awareness.

Let me deal with the issues implicit in such an idea over two periods – the short-term and the medium to longer-term. Over the short-term, which is pretty much between now and 2024, what I am suggesting is a make-fix with a focus on boosting the deterrent value, and thus messaging, of the new NATO Military Strategy. As you know, all such planning requires a series of balances and trade-offs. The primary aim must be to maintain the forces, resources and infrastructure of US forces in Germany central to any meaningful Allied defence, whilst enabling Multinational Corps Northeast (MNC NE) to maintain its vital strategic focus and to enhance its capability and credibility in that role. Having examined the issue at some length a ‘Fort Trump’ in Poland, that some are calling for, would be little more than a short-term political gesture at the expense of longer-term deterrent and defence.  This is because it would simply create another trip-wire, albeit at the expense and capability of the very US force central to the defence of the Eastern Flank.

ACE 2

There can be no perfect defence given the correlation of forces in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea Regions, but boosting deterrent values therein would be a useful first step. Moving the ARRC to Poland would also help plug NATO’s two deterrent gaps: between Allied conventional and nuclear forces, and between the forward deployed forces and the bulk of all-too-slow-to-move NATO European forces.  Critically, the deployment of the ARRC would also need to be linked to the creation and development of a new ACE-style Heavy Mobile Force (ACE2?).

Project ACE 2 would also inject impetus to the now politically-becalmed enhanced NATO Response Force (eNRF), give some meaning to the concept of an agile 360 degree Alliance that can support all of its flank states in an emergency, and firm up the Eastern and South-Eastern Flanks by creating a much firmer, interlocking command and force hub between US forces in Germany and EFP/TFP forces. In the first instance, the US and UK would have to support such a deployment with both forces and resources, over time the nature of the force and its very capability and capacity would act as a real framework for the development of more deployable, more agile, and more lethal European forces.  Having lived through too many false dawns of European defence such a framework would be far more useful than yet more meaningless EU defence ‘aspirations’, or more empty, hollowed-out force acronyms.

Europeans must wake up and smell the American coffee

Let me now turn to the medium to longer terms, and my wider vision implicit herein. At the heart of my thinking is the need for Europeans to generate sufficiency of strategic ambition that would in turn generate a force/forces that could act as a credible first responder in the event of an emergency with Russia or elsewhere, or even simultaneously, the ‘worst-case’ which Europe’s leaders have for too long dangerously refused to countenance.

NATO’s adapted strategic concept should be a future Alliance that enables US forces to act as the global West’s GRAND STRATEGIC GLOBAL HEAVY MOBILE FORCE (deliberate caps) designed to add support to front line allies, be they in Asia-Pacific or Europe. To that end, the work the Alliance has done on establishing NATO Standards from force generation to coalition command and control (C2) and beyond should be shared, and further developed, with the likes of Australia, Japan and South Korea. This would enable the word’s democracies, centred upon the United States, to form a matrix of capable first responders to which the US could add critical weight when and where necessary.

Indeed, I am increasingly of the view that if Allied ‘deterrence’ is to work it must be seen in the context of the global challenge from strategic autocracies, and the strategically intolerant, to the US-centric global ‘West’, which is more idea than place. Such ‘deterrence’ will not be established or assured by diluting the cross domain fighting power of US forces by forcing them to offset Allied weaknesses in disparate theatres. All that does is afford the adversary the timing, nature and opportunity to do their worst in the way they would wish. Rather, any adversary must be fully aware that the future US strategic global heavy mobile force could and would act swiftly and decisively across the seven domains of contemporary and future warfare.

Less balance sheet, more power

Let me now conclude with some thoughts about the role of the UK, our own country. My hope is that we will soon see the end of the elite managerial/balance sheet/defeatist London with the injection of at least some strategic ambition. Your central point about the UK is entirely right:  “For our size, and wealth, if not destroyed by bad policies, we should be able to field two good and deployable divisions, and two carriers, with proper escort and logistic support”. What concerns me is that if London’s current strategic illiteracy is maintained you other point will be equally valid, “At a pinch I see one just about deployable division and one thinly protected carrier as the most that we shall achieve”.

Britain today punches far beneath its weight so this moment of transition offers at least a chance for the UK to demonstrate a return to strategic seriousness and commitment, but only if London is equally willing to commit fully to the defence of Europe. My sense is that will only happen if the Americans tell the Brits to do it, as Whitehall has become far too defeatist, the very essence of Little Britain.

There is another key role for Britain to play. ACE 2 would also need a maritime/amphibious component. Another line of British strategy would be for the Royal Navy, in partnership with the French Navy, to act as THE maritime/amphibious command hub for European navies in the North Atlantic and, if needs be, the Mediterranean. After all, the Royal Navy is developing into an important coalition hub force.  Such an ambition/force if realised would certainly ease the pressure on US forces in and around Europe, thus boosting the deterrent effect of those same forces world-wide.  However, for such a new European force concept to be realised Paris will need to stop trying to punish Britain for Brexit. France can punish Britain, or have a strategic partnership with Britain that would add defence value, it cannot have or do both! It could even be called a European Intervention Initiative if that made the French happy.

The new global transatlantic relationship

In a sense, formal alliances are becoming less formal with the command centre of gravity of Western deterrence/defence moving towards Five Eyes-type structures, organised around and with global reach US forces at their core. Fleet of mind, eye and foot they must be capable of striking anywhere and anytime across many domains. If Europeans stopped conspiring to weaken US forces, and began instead to enable them, the Americans would be able to reverse the current, adverse strategic situation in which it is all too easy for our adversaries to keep us off-balance – politically, socially and militarily. If such a new transatlantic relationship would be realised adversaries would be unsure where, how, when and with what the US would strike in support of their allies the world-over, all of whom would, in effect, become trip-wires, albeit powerful ones.  Britain can help lead such thinking and doing.

The simple, hard, and immutable big truth is that Britain’s national defence, and that of the rest of Europe, is utterly dependent on the US, and will be so for the foreseeable future. And, given that the over-stretch of US forces will intensify if the current European ‘strategies’ and ‘capabilities’ are adhered to, Britain’s security and defence policy across the civil-military spectrum will need to established on a simple premise: how to help maintain the power of the US, and the value of its conventional and nuclear deterrent in and around Europe.  By the way, what else does NATO actually exist for?

All best,

Julian

Julian Lindley-French

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