Alphen, Netherlands. 25 September. When I am at the later stage of writing a big book the only thing that I can think about is the bloody book. That is precisely where I am now with my latest book for Oxford University Press, “Future War and the Defence of Europe”. The blog has to go on the back-burner. Thankfully, my friend Anna Wieslander, Director of the Atlantic Council in Stockholm and fellow TAGGER, last week invited me to attend a closed session with the leadership of Sweden’s armed forces. Thankfully, the subject was also close to that of the book, and whilst I cannot disclose what was discussed, I can share my own intellectual property.
My presentation considered a seminal question: What Europeans would need to do in order to act as effective first responders in a worst-case scenario? If one deconstructs that question there are four keywords therein all of which Europeans find challenging: European; act; first responders; and worst-case.
Given the implicit challenge of the question my core message was thus: European first responders during a major military crisis in and around Europe will need also to be fast responders at the high end of military capability. Moreover, given the changing character of warfare a first response would only be possible and credible if enabled by an array of sensitive sensors, indicators, allied to fast analysis. Critically, such a first response would also be dependent on robust critical infrastructure and civil defence. Society would undoubtedly be subject to all forms of coercion across the hybrid-cyber-hyper war spectrum.
Why? Europeans are moving into an age of automated future war and complex strategic coercion in which warfare will be conducted both simultaneously and/or sequentially across the 5 ‘D’s of disinformation, deception, destabilisation, disruption, and implied and actual destruction. As AI, machine-learning, big data and other ‘synthetic’ forms of weaponry enter the battlespace speed of response, and proven speed, will be a critical element of both deterrence and defence.
What military capabilities would be needed? To be honest, I prefer to focus on the military effects that need to be generated, rather than capabilities per se. Too much of a focus on the latter tends to foster an input approach to defence investment, rather than vital defence outputs and outcomes. To effect credible deterrence and defence armed forces will need to be able to demonstrably operate to effect across the hybrid-cyber-hyper war spectrum and deep into the domains of air, sea, land, space, cyber, information and knowledge.
What are the implications for readiness and reinforcements? Europeans (and their American allies) need to re-conceive ideas of readiness and reinforcement, and even of defence. Given the aim of an adversary would be to force European states off-balance – strategically, politically, militarily, and societally much of the first response will be about doing what an adversary least expects or wants. This will involve the generation of counter-shock by exploiting the analysed weaknesses of an adversary systematically. Much of that response will be digital. At the force end of the response spectrum it is also critical that the future European defence force is deeply embedded in, and maintains interoperability with, US forces enabled by the revolution in military technology underway, most notably artificial intelligence and robotics.
Could hybrid warfare and new technology be increasingly used by smaller nations in order to deter and de-escalate? The advantages of a state such as Sweden, with its legacy of Total Defence, is that its pan-community concept of society and defence builds innovation into its strategic DNA. In such a state radical new thinking tends not to be seen as a threat to the established order if such thinking is seeking to make a constructive contribution to the Public Good. This contrasts markedly with some other European countries, not least my own, Britain, which excludes such thinkers, or prefers ‘safe’ guidance from ‘safe’ thinkers – the ‘good chap’ of old. In future such thinking, and the people who generate it, will be vital for the credible future deterrence and defence of all Europeans.
The solution? Well, there are many (read the book when it comes out). However, one solution could be to transform the ailing European Defence Agency into a European equivalent of the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), with a specific remit to trawl for defence-applicable new technologies.
My concern is a deep one. Europeans are in denial about the possibility of another major war in Europe. European leaders are ignorant about the nature of coming future war. One cannot respond to that about which one knows little or nothing! Indeed, Europe’s defence establishments face a profound challenge: just how open are they to real ‘red team’ new thinking and pain in the posterior people (like me) who dare challenge politically and bureaucratically-convenient assumptions?
To conclude, Europe needs a new concept of fusion defence which forges government, new people, new industries beyond the defence sector, and new thinking into a new strategic public private partnership to generate defence and deterrence across the civ-mil bandwidth.
First response and fusion defence are thus two sides of the same Euro-strategic coin. Europe’s future defence will depend on both!
The book? It will be brilliant and very-reasonably priced.