Chairman’s Annual Essay
“War is young men dying and old men talking”. – Franklin D. Roosevelt
It has been almost a year since Russia invaded Ukraine. The mission of this Annual Essay is to assess the situation on the ground in Ukraine and consider wider political and geopolitical implications both for Ukraine, Russia and the West (defined here as the Euro-Atlantic Community) in 2023.
The only thing that Americans, Canadians, Europeans (the West), Russians and Ukrainians agree on is the desire for a short war. Russians, or to be precise the Kremlin, want a short victorious war to shore up the political position of the Putin clique who run Russia because there is no peaceful succession mechanism for the peaceful transfer of power. Americans, Canadians and Europeans want a short war because of the appalling suffering of the Ukrainian people and because of the dislocation caused by displaced people and the energy crisis. However, no-one in the West, including the Americans, are willing to provide Ukraine the kind of military support that could enable the Ukrainians to expel Russian forces from their country. Ukrainians would love to continue their recent offensives which have seen Russian forces pushed back but lack the military weight to expel all Russian forces from Eastern Ukraine.
Consequently, the tragic likelihood is a long war. Russians are committed to a long war because that is what the Kremlin has traditionally resorted to at times of military incompetence including the use of terror against the Ukrainian people. The Ukrainians will keep fighting for however long it takes reinforced by anger at the sheer brutality of occupying Russian forces. The only real uncertainty is the West and the depth of its support for Ukraine. 2023 will thus be the year when the war is either ended because there are clearly limits to the support Americans, Canadians or Europeans are willing to offer Ukraine. Or, the conflict becomes a ‘frozen’ war (i.e. not really frozen at all) with much of the front-line between Kharkiv in north-eastern Ukraine and Kherson in south-eastern Ukraine looking increasingly like the Western Front between 1915 and 1918. Much of Western statecraft will thus be devoted to convincing China and India to put pressure on Moscow to resist escalating the war, holding the coalition in support of Ukraine together, and in finding some formula to end it. What could that formula be? Any cease-fire in the short-term would probably merely be a pause-war for two exhausted combatants to attempt to rebuild their respective fighting power but at some point ‘peace’ will need to be fashioned and the likelihood is that any such peace will be a very European fudge.
The battle on the ground is a test of endurance between the Ukrainian people and its armed forces and the armed forces of the Russian Federation. The geopolitical battle is a clash of wills between the Kremlin and the Western (Euro-Atlantic) coalition backing Ukraine. 2023 will not only see a new phase in the war on the ground in Ukraine but also a new phase in the coalition as tensions grow between so-called hawks and doves in the West. Moscow will seek to exploit such divisions. Much, as ever, will depend on the position taken by the US Administration.
The overall aim must remain the military collapse of Russian forces in Ukraine thus enabling Kyiv and its Partners to negotiate from a position of strength with Western partners effectively acting as Ukraine’s strategic depth. Therefore, it is critical Western partners of Ukraine must now decide the additional support Ukraine will need to maintain the offensive, both over the winter months (as much as it is possible) and into 2023, to maintain such pressure.
Any strategy to end the war must be based on four principles. First, Russian aggression must not be rewarded in any way. Second, Russia must pay reparations for the appalling death and damage it has inflicted on Ukraine. Third, there can be no de facto Russian veto over NATO and no secret deals with Moscow of the sort President Kennedy offered Khrushchev during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Fourth, the lifting of sanctions on Russia will only come as a consequence of Russian action and only over time. The alternative is a frozen war with an unstable and increasingly weak and Quixotic Russia left holding a significant part of Ukraine.
By calling on the West to recognise the occupied territories as Russian as a pre-condition for talks the Kremlin has effectively signalled that it is not interested in peace and is engaged in a long war with the West with Ukraine the primary, but not sole battlefield. Moscow’s position is unlikely to change in the short-term. Putin is being supported by an increasingly hard-line group both in the Kremlin and the State Duma who want him to destroy Ukrainian industrial capacity, break Ukraine’s banking system, and cripple Ukraine’s railway system.
Equally, the West will not go to war with Russia to save Ukraine from Moscow’s aggression. Rather, the West is seeking to coerce Russia into concessions through its direct and indirect support of Kyiv short of war with the ultimate aim the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Russian defeat in Kherson, the discovery of yet more torture victims, and the launch of missile strikes against Ukrainian infrastructure likely marks the end of one phase of the war marked by Ukrainian tactical advances and the beginning of a more static phase over the coming winter months.
Churchill and Roosevelt also adopted a policy of “metal before flesh” which emphasised technology to enable relatively limited numbers of Allied combatants. Such an approach should now be pursued in Ukraine by Western Partners. The Western weapon systems that have tipped the balance in Ukraine include Next Generation Light Anti-Tanks Weapons (NLAW), Multiple-Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS), and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). However, Kyiv wants more force and population air defence systems, as well as 155mm howitzers, more MLRS, main battle tanks, armoured vehicles and many more drones of various sorts.
The human cost of the war has been appalling. As of November 27th, 2022 the Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) estimates 6655 civilian have been killed and 10,368 injured during the war, although in early November General Mark Milley, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs, estimated that as many as 40,000 civilians have been killed. Milley also suggested 100,000 Russian military personnel have been killed or wounded and some 60,000 Ukrainians. OHCHR has also recorded 7,891,977 Ukrainian refugees across Europe, of which 4,776, 066 have been registered for Temporary Protection. According to a Reuters report of November 13th President Zelensky said Ukraine had uncovered more than 400 war crimes, whilst Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, has now called for the establishment of a Special Court backed by the UN to investigate such crimes. She also said 20,000 Ukrainian civilians and more than 100,000 Ukrainian personnel have been killed since last February.
The economic cost is no less grim. According to the World Bank Ukraine’s economy will fall by 45% by the end of 2022, with Ukraine haemorrhaging €5 billion a month according to some reliable sources, whilst the Russian economy is projected to fall by some 11.2%. The impact on the global economy has also been profound. Oil prices are likely to remain over $100 per barrel and gas prices at least 50% more expensive for an extended period if the conflict continues. Russia and Ukraine export 25% of the world’s wheat and 28.9 percent of sunflower oil the loss of which has led to profound shortages and food scarcity in the wider world. In March 2022, President Biden, the EU and Britain announced severe sanctions on the Central Bank of Russia (CBR), which blocked the transfer of $643 billion to Russia. This impacted global currencies as the dollar surged but more fragile currencies fell markedly.
There has also been severe disruption of supply chains. China has been particularly affected by the impact on land trade routes between Europe and Asia, whilst Turkey has supposedly closed the Bosporus for transit, although Moscow still seems able to deploy warships into the Black Sea which would appear to contravene the 1936 Montreux Convention. Ukraine has shut down commercial sea freight movements, whilst the suspension of air routes over Russia has greatly hindered air travel. The World Trade Organisation’s Trade Forecast 2022-2023 suggests a decline in economic growth from 4 percent to 3 percent at a time when the global economy is struggling to recover from the COVID pandemic.
PART 1: THE WAR IN AND AROUND UKRAINE
Moscow’s greatest concern is for the loss of the ‘land bridge’ between western Russia and Crimea, which has taken on increased importance in the wake of the successful attack against the Kerch Strait Bridge. Consequently, the war in Ukraine has taken on a similar hue to the campaigns in North Africa during 1941 to 1943 during which neither the British Eighth Army nor the Afrika Korps and their Italian allies were able to inflict a decisive blow. As lines of supply and re-supply have been lengthened for advancing forces they have been shortened for those on the defence.
General Mark Milley has cautioned that Russia still has significant reserves of fighting power and will thus continue the war for no other reason than the invasion was an all-or-nothing gamble by Putin. However, the Russian Armed Forces have clearly been knocked off-balance by the Ukrainian offensives against the Kherson, Kharkiv and Luhansk Oblasts and there is little evidence that the winter months will enable Russian commanders to regain lost fighting power. Russian forces are now trapped between their long-gone culminating point when they could no longer advance and complete military collapse.
A mark of the loss of Russian fighting power is evident in the number of sorties being carried out by the Russian Federation Air Force. In May 2022, there were over 300 sorties every day. In early December 2022 there are far less than 100 sorties every day. It is known the Russians have lost 60 fixed wing aircraft and only last week an SU-24M fighter-bomber and a SU -25 ground attack aircraft were shot down. It is also striking how low-tech much of the Russian air capability is and the extent to which it relies on line-of-sight targeting and good weather. It is also striking that the number of active fixed and rotary wing aircraft of all types available to the Russian Federation Air Force is believed to be in excess of 3800. Either the readiness of the force is appallingly low or much of it has been rendered incapable by Ukrainian air defences.
Both US and UK defence intelligence have said the operational tempo is slowing and General Milley is probably correct when he asserts that Ukrainian forces in and of themselves lack the necessary weight of arms to overcome the increasingly defensive posture being adopted by a Russian Army which is effectively digging in for the winter along several defensive lines. In spite of Kyiv’s by and large successful efforts to mask its own losses they have been considerable.
In the wake of the Kherson defeat Moscow has established Henichesk, on the Sea of Azov, as a “temporary regional capital” and command hub for Russian forces from both the Southern and Eastern Military Districts. Close to Crimea, and beyond the range of Ukrainian artillery, the choice of Henichesk reveals the extent to which the Russian Army has been denuded by the Western supported Ukrainian advance and their inability to mount any sustained counter-attack. Henichesk also covers a possible Ukrainian attack towards Crimea or towards Melitopol. Russian forces are also constructing a trench system covering the Crimean border as well as close to the Siversky-Donets River some 60 km/40 miles behind the front line. Russian forces have also launched a series of relatively limited attacks close to Bakhmut in the Luhansk region of little military-strategic value by moving troops from Kherson north towards the Donbas thus weakening their southern flank. Artillery exchanges have been focused on the Svatove sector in the Luhansk Oblast with poorly-trained Russian conscripts constructing more defensive positions, particularly around the town of Svatove itself (population 2021 16100).
Russia is in a bad place but there is no reason to believe Moscow will seek any peace agreement worthy of the name in the short-term and any calls for a cease-fire would merely consolidate Russian gains. Rather, Russia will attempt to coerce both Ukraine into submission and out-last Western Partners Moscow believes lack the strategic patience and political cohesion for a long war.
The adoption of a ‘missile strategy’ using adapted Cold War era Kh-22 missiles, ancient AS-15 ‘Kent’ missiles, together with S-300 air defence missiles to strike Ukraine civilian infrastructure is evidence of changing Russian strategy. Russia’s deployment of a warship carrying Iskandr Kalibr cruise missiles to the Black Sea also suggest the onslaught on Ukraine’s power grid is set to continue. Ukraine retaliated on December 4th, possibly by adapting a UK Storm Shadow missile air-launched from an SU-24M, to strike the Engels Air Base and Dyagilyaevo Air Base some 700 km east of the Russia-Ukraine border. The Engels Air Base is home to Russia’s Long-Range Aviation (LRA) with 30 Tu-95 and Tu-60 aircraft stationed there, are part of Russia’s Strategic Rocket Forces, and thus marks a further escalation of the war.
Moscow’s sabre-rattling is likely to continue, both nuclear and non-nuclear, with a marked escalation in the use of hybrid war plausible. On Wednesday, November 30th Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that, “When preparing the list of major construction facilities for 2023, special attention will be paid to construction in the interests of the strategic nuclear forces.” Since October 2022 Russia has employed its doctrine of Strategic Operations for the Destruction of Critically Important Targets (SODCIT) by attacking Ukrainian critical infrastructure.
There is little evidence Putin is facing co-ordinated, wide-spread public discontent. Research by the ANO Levada Center, a reasonably-reliable source, suggests that support for the war remains relatively high with some 73% of Russians surveyed in October supporting the actions of the Russian Armed Forces in Ukraine. However, there is concern about the war amongst those aged 55 and above (75%) even though that is precisely the cohort, together with those aged 40-54, that most strongly supports Putin and the war. Some 56% of those surveyed also supported partial mobilisation, either in full or rather. However, concerns about a general mobilisation have increased from 28% in February 2022 to 65% in October. Counter-intuitively, given the data above, of those Russians surveyed in October only 36% wished to continue military actions whilst 57% wanted to begin negotiations. A November survey carried out by the Russian Federal Protective Service, and which was for internal use, also suggested 55% of Russians favour peace talks whilst only 25% supported continuing the war.
PART II: THE UKRAINE WAR AND NUCLEAR ESCALATION
Putin has clearly considered escalating the war by using biological, chemical, radiological and even nuclear weapons and there has been much speculation about the nuclear options available to him. A tactical nuclear strike using a very low-yield weapon might include one or several targets, depending on what Putin believes is required to force Kyiv’s capitulation. A strike against a city in Western Ukraine cannot be entirely ruled out and would be aimed at scaring European, and especially German opinion, so that public pressure is placed on leaders end their support for Ukraine and thus convince Zelensky to settle on Russian terms. However, it is unlikely. Other options include use of a dirty bomb, a massive cyber strike, a limited poison gas attack against Ukrainian troops, the destruction of a major dam, or more severe attacks on a Ukrainian nuclear power plant.
There are three sets of possible Western responses which can be thus summarised: measures that would seek to punish Russia with limited risk of further nuclear escalation; measures that would punish Russia with some risk of further escalation; and, measures that would punish Russia with a higher risk of further escalation.
Measures that would punish Russia with limited risk of further nuclear escalation could include 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; and agreeing on a date for Ukrainian membership in the European Union. Such a response might also include an increase in the supply of advanced conventional weapons to Ukraine.
Measures that would punish Russia with some risk of further escalation, and are therefore probably unlikely in the short-term, could include: lifting the tacit limits on the provision to Ukraine of longer-range or more offensive weapons such as US Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), F-16 fighter jets, and modern main battle tanks (Leopards?); allowing Ukraine to use NATO long-range weapons to target some areas in Western Russia from which attacks on Ukraine are being launched; sending some NATO military advisors to Ukraine for non-combat missions; agreeing a date for Ukrainian membership in NATO.
Measures that would punish Russia with a higher risk of further escalation, and are thus highly unlikely, would include: NATO attacking Russian forces in Ukraine, for example destroying the site from which any Russian nuclear strike had been launched; attacking Russia’s Black Sea Fleet with NATO aircraft; and responding with an in-kind NATO nuclear strike on a Russian military target in Ukraine.
PART III: THE RUSSIAN THREAT TO THE REST OF EUROPE
Europe, as ever, is a cacophony of conflicting calls and demands. On November 16th, 2022, Ken McCallum, Director-General of Britain’s MI5, gave his Annual Threat Update in which he identified state threats and terrorism as the main external threats to the UK. Whilst the threat of terrorism was not downplayed McCullum’s focus was on state threats. “The UK must be ready’”, he said, “for Russian aggression for years to come. Some of that will be covert aggression, for MI5 to detect and tackle. But much of it, as currently with energy levers, will be overt. Our national resilience, brought into sharp focus by COVID, is a vital asset in which we must invest”.
What threat does Russia pose to the rest of Europe? A direct Russian military threat to the Euro-Atlantic Area has probably been set back a decade or so by its failure in Ukraine. However, as long as Putin is in power Moscow will maintain efforts to rebuild that threat, and there is no reason to believe Putin’s successor would be any more tractable. A humiliated Russia is a particularly dangerous Russia not least because the now humiliated Russian Armed Forces are the very ‘spiritual’ core of the Russian state and its supporting myth.
Therefore, it is reasonable for Europeans to assume that Moscow will step up its efforts to destabilise European democracies through hybrid, information and cyber war. Specific threats are already being made against Europe’s energy and communications infrastructures and Russia’s assault on energy supplies is clearly set to continue. Moreover, Putin and many of the people around him firmly believe that Russia is already engaged in a form of slow-fuse existential war with democratic Europe and the wider West due to Moscow’s failure to properly prepare the Russian people, society and economy for the twenty-first century.
Europe is also divided. France and Germany are preparing for a possible diplomatic demarche that could well break the fragile Western consensus on Ukraine. During his November 2022 state visit to the US President Macron remarked that, “…one of the essential points we must address, as President Putin has always said, is the fear that NATO comes right up to its doors and the deployment off weapons that could threaten Russia”. There was no mention of the weapons Russia has developed that threaten Europe, including cruise missiles, submarine drones and space-based systems, many of which were developed illegally during the now abrogated Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Macron and Scholz place a premium on future arms control arrangements at the heart of some future European “peace order” also implies risk. First, Macron’s statement comes perilously close to rewarding Russia for its aggression. Second, Russia must be sufficiently trustworthy for arms control to be credible.
PART IV: THE UKRAINE WAR, EUROPE AND THE US
The most important country for European security and defence is not Beijing or Moscow, it is Washington. The Ukraine War has revealed profound structural faults in the Euro-Atlantic relationship that is caused by a growing need of Americans for more capable allies, but a refusal on many European allies, particularly Britain, France and Germany, to properly invest in the requisite military capabilities.
National Defense Strategy 2022 (NDS 2022) is revealing about American priorities, particularly when put in the context of the war in Ukraine. Whilst Russia is still deemed to be an “acute threat” to the United States, for the first time since 1949 a state other than Russia is deemed to be the main challenger: China. China has the potential to systemically challenge the US on all fronts: militarily, economically, technologically, and diplomatically. Consequently, both the Nuclear Posture Review and the Missile Defense Review have also been incorporated into NDS 2022 to ensure America’s fitness for future strategic competition with China.
The four defence priorities reinforce that shift: the pacing, sizing and shaping of the US future force to meet the challenge of China; the importance of credible deterrence against “strategic attacks” and “aggression”; the need to “prevail (not win) in conflict when necessary”; and 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. This implies not only a recognition of domestic vulnerabilities but also that credible deterrence and defence starts at home.
NDS 2022 emphasises the vital need for 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”.
As ever, the focus of US defence strategy will depend on where the public money is invested 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 NATO the message of NDS 2022 is clear: whilst the importance of Allies and Partners to the US is greater than ever if the American security guarantee to Europe is to be credibly maintained going forward Europeans are going to have to share the burdens of their own defence far more equitably with the US. It is reasonable to assume Europeans will have to generate at least 50% of NATO’s minimum capability requirements by 2030. If not, why not?
The US future force envisioned in NDS 2022 affords NATO the clearest direction of travel given the vital need for European Allies to maintain interoperability with their American counterparts in war. The US future 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.
NDS 2022 is set against the backdrop of the Ukraine War with a further message that too many European governments refuse to heed. Namely, that Russia’s military failure in Ukraine must not be used as an excuse by hard-pressed European governments to continue to woefully under-funded their respective armed forces.
PART V: THE UKRAINE WAR AND NATO
NATO’s missions and tasks were stated clearly in the 2019 Military Strategy, the 2021 NATO Agenda and NATO Strategic Concept 2022 all of which have been endorsed by the North Atlantic Council. If NATO’s ‘family of plans’ turns out to be little more than a wish-list the Ukraine war would accelerate the end of Alliance to be replaced over time by iterative coalitions as the Western war of war. This is something both China and Russia would welcome.
Therefore, it is particularly important the NATO Military Strategy 2019 is realised because it contains everything the Alliance needs to be credible in this new era. That will also demand courage, commitment and consistency on the part of European leaders with the Atlantic-wide gulf between words and deeds closed.
The Ukraine war reinforces the need for the NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) to be re-gripped as the most effective and efficient path to credible NATO deterrence and defence. 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 of strategic threat and risk.
The war also confirms much of the thinking behind the Defence and Deterrence of the Euro-Atlantic Area or DDA, which effectively operationalises the Military Strategy by governing actions inside SACEUR’s area or responsibility (AOR) and relations with partners beyond, must be exploited to the full. This is because the DDA drives the “family of 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/Eastern Flank of the Alliance. Such a new command would certainly help NATO better align plans with Allies in regions, albeit at the risk of 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 and one step should be to merge the NATO Force and Command Structures going forward.
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 current SACEUR, US Army General Chris Cavioli. The critical challenge, and thus true test of the Alliance, given the backdrop of NDS 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.
Appropriate lessons from the Ukraine War must also now be applied to the mix. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has clearly accelerated and focused NATO defence planning. 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. Deterrence has been further bolstered by 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).
NATO’s longer-term military posture, hopefully in the wake of the war must also be actively considered with Forward Defence, Flexible Response and Deterrence by Denial the driving mantras. Back to the Future? Since 2019 Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) have done a lot to harmonise US and NATO military strategies for the simple and vital reason that the Americans remain the hard backbone of Allied forces. The NATO Military Posture that was adopted at the June 2022 Madrid Summit for the first time established coherent military command at a level above the forces committed to the Enhanced Forward Presence on NATO’s eastern flank. If fulfilled (a big if) 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 must also look beyond the war and 2030 by investing in a host of advanced military capabilities in order to meet new and enduring challenges across all the operational domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and cognitive knowledge. 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 and in sufficient capacity to be rotated effectively for the duration of any crisis. The Alliance must 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 must thus support the full and timely generation of such capabilities, in line with the NATO Defence Planning Process.
Critically, the DDA establishes clear deterrence and defence mapped to activity to enable the Alliance to better impose tactical, operational and strategic costs on adversaries and let them know what that cost will be beforehand, which is the stuff of deterrence, be it by denial or punishment. The increasing importance of advanced civilian-generated technology (e.g. AI, big data, quantum computing, machine-learning, Nano and bio technologies) is also a characteristic in the new NATO strategic culture implicit in the DDA. However, it is equally apparent that many in charge of policy have little real idea of what role such technologies might play or threat they may pose.
“Measures to Implement the Strategic Concept” will be the true test of NATO’s determination as an Alliance to adapt to the future, particularly the new NATO Force Model. At present, SACEUR 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). The New Force Model calls 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 also be held at 24 hours ‘Notice to Act’ with the bulk of the NATO Force Structure held at 15 days ‘Notice to Move’. This would 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 forces on NATO’s Eastern and South-Eastern Flanks to be expanded from deployed battalions to brigades. A standard NATO 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 with far more held at a higher state of expensive readiness than hitherto. At best, there are only 20 to 30 today. 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, post-COVID economies and Russian-generated energy insecurity.
That is precisely why Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg now says that the NATO Defence Investment Pledge of 2% GDP to be spent by each Ally on defence is “more of a floor than a ceiling”. Any such increases are merely down-payments on the NATO European Future Force that will be needed due to global pressures on US forces world-wide. By 2030, at the very latest NATO needs a European force that would be a credible first-responder at the high-end of conflict in and around Europe built on the assumption that the Americans will not always be able to be present in Europe in sufficient strength. In other words, a multi-domain European force capable of operating across air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge and interoperable with the US future force. Progress thus far? At the October Defence Ministerial it was agreed to further strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence, by increasing stockpiles of munitions and equipment, providing industry the long-term demand they need to boost production through the NATO defence planning process, and increasing resilience and the protection of critical infrastructure. It’s a start…
PART VI: THE UKRAINE WAR AND CHINA
No analysis of the Ukraine war can take place without considering the role of China both in the Ukraine war and the wider threat Beijing poses to Europe. In his update MI5 Director McCallum said, “In the summer, speaking alongside Director Wray of the FBI, I said that the activities of the Chinese Communist Party pose the most game-changing strategic challenge to the UK. We set out the coordinated campaign we are seeing to re-design the international system. We outlined the scale and breadth of their information acquisition, using not only intelligence officers and cyber hackers but businesspeople and researchers to steal government and commercial information alike. We talked about how organisations can actively protect themselves – while still engaging with the world, including with China… [whilst] Russia thinks nothing of throwing an elbow in the face, and routinely cheats to get its way. We’ve had success in getting some of their players sent off, and for now they’re a bit distracted by the blame game in their own dressing-room, but they will keep attacking us. The Chinese authorities present a different order of challenge. They’re trying to re-write the rulebook, to buy the league, to recruit our coaching staff to work for them”.
China is undoubtedly a ‘strategic competitor’ world-wide with the very existence of democracies a challenge to President Xi Jingping’s increasingly totalitarian and idiosyncratic rule. Xi’s consolidation of total power at the recent 70th People’s Congress, together with his public humiliation of former President Hu Jintao, implies a China with growing tendency towards geopolitical control freakery, typified by the threat Beijing poses to Taiwan. However, China lacks the economic weight its gargantuan strategic ambitions imply.
Using the most favourable economic statistics for the combined Chinese and Russian economies – power purchasing parity – their combined economies are worth some $27 trillion in 2022. Using the same data for the G7 countries, the core of an emerging Global Community of Democracies, the total is $39 trillion. Add Australia and South Korea to the aggregate and the figure is $42 trillion. If nominal GPD is compared the contrast is even more striking with the combined GDPs of China and Russia in 2022 totalling $20.2 trillion, whilst the combined GDPs of the G7 countries amount to $45.2 trillion, which when Australia and South Korea are added increases to $48.8 trillion. Critically, China’s trade with the democracies is over ten times greater than that with Russia, whilst in 2020, China’s merchandise trade surplus with the rest of the world totalled $535 billion, with much of that figure due to trade deficits with both the US and Europe.
The paradox of Chinese power is that it relies on the democracies to pay for it through exports. China’s internal market is neither big enough nor stable enough to sustain the year-on-year growth Beijing needs to realise its ambitions. Xi’s policy of zero COVID has further undermined his geopolitical ambitions by dislocating economic activity. Xi’s geopolitical ambitions also pre-suppose that the ‘just-in-time’ globalized trade that has made China rich will not be replaced by a ‘just-in-case’ culture in the West that leads to a marked acceleration of reshoring if China is deemed to be a hostile power.
By 2035, China may well have a larger nominal GDP than the US, spend more on research and development, possess a possibly, but as yet untested, world class military and may also have established a rival global currency to the dollar. However, the policy assumes that all things being equal the US and its allies will not react in the interim. For that reason alone it remains highly unlikely China will ever decisively eclipse the United States as the world’s pre-eminent power.
Xi’s geopolitics also raises the question whether alignment with Russia is worth China paying the geopolitical price it imposes on Beijing? Russia might offer China an energy source and a useful conduit for the trans-shipment of goods to Europe, if and when Europe opens its doors to Moscow in the wake of the Ukraine War, but it offers little else to China in terms of the future development of the Chinese economy and society. Rather, Putin’s Russia is far more likely to drag China into conflicts which are not in China’s interest. This recognition seems to be implicit in Xi’s joint statement with President Macron at the G20 Summit in which they both called for Ukraine’s sovereignty to be respected.
Beijing may be reconsidering its options. Since the invasion China has clearly placed its own interests before sustaining its ‘friendship without limits’ relationship with Russia. Whilst Beijing was aware beforehand of the ‘special military operation’ Putin was going to launch in Ukraine, Moscow kept the extent of its ambitions secret from the Chinese. At the Winter Olympics Putin had told Xi that the campaign would only seek to recover a lost Russian province, which suggests the Sino-Russian friendship has very clear limits. Equally, although a secret mutual security guarantee had been agreed at the “friendship without limits” meeting in February, China inserted certain provisions that Beijing would only aid Russia militarily if there was a foreign invasion of Russian territory. Moscow’s claim that both Crimea and the Donbas are now part of the Russian Federation has been effectively ignored by Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has also held talks with the US and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to promote dialogue between the Alliance and China. Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons has caused just as much alarm in Beijing as elsewhere and is profoundly concerned about the danger of escalation. There is some indication that China spoke with the US early in the war about the danger of escalation and convinced Washington to veto the suggested transfer of Polish MiG 29 strike aircraft to Ukraine. China also appears to have used its military-to-military influence to convince the Russian General Staff to adhere to Russia’s traditional policy of only using nuclear weapons if Russia itself is attacked.
China’s military aid to Russia has been notable by its absence. The lack of significant Chinese military aid to Russia has forced the Kremlin to buy cheap Iranian drones, and seek to re-purchase helicopters, missiles and missile defence weapons already sold to clients around the world. Moscow has even been forced to remove computer chips from domestic appliances to offset the impact of Western sanctions on such technologies. Finally, the threat of Western sanctions on Chinese state enterprises and banks operating in Russia has seen several of them withdraw lines of credit to the Russians, suspend joint ventures, and even withdraw from Russia.
PART VII: AN END TO THE UKRAINE WAR?
Post-war strategy is very hard to design in the middle of a conflict but it is worth considering the principles and parameters of a ‘peace’ and support for Ukraine over the mid-to-longer term. Moscow’s failure in Ukraine has changed the dynamic of the war and created a small window of opportunity which is why President Biden has called for the possible “end-games” to now be considered. However, if Moscow sees such language as weakness then the danger persists that Russian aggression will be rewarded by any ‘peace’ deal that does not see the complete withdrawal of Russia’s forces from all Ukrainian territory. If not, then any such agreement would be little more than a pause war in Ukraine and a temporary cease-fire in the proxy war Russia is fighting against democratic Europe and a future fighting war in Eastern Europe. There is also a danger that Moscow could use any peace negotiations that left Russian forces in situ to re-organise its forces and resources. The Kremlin would also spin any de facto confirmation of Crimea as Russian as having been its main war aim all along and that the rest of the destruction was merely a pre-negotiations ploy.
However, reliable sources say that there are those close to Zelensky who might consider some kind of deal involving the Donbas, but most probably Crimea, not least because Kyiv is concerned about the softness of Western support, particularly France and Germany. What would such a deal involve? First, any eventual peace agreement would need to be linked to Russia’s future behaviour, and not just in Ukraine. Second, there would need to be guaranteed language and other ‘rights’ for Russian speakers overseen by the OSCE with monitors permanently stationed in Eastern and South-Eastern Ukraine. Third, and only after at least 10 years of sustained peace, stabilisation and reconstruction there would be a commitment to hold an internationally-sanctioned and observed referendum in Crimea where at present Russian-speakers make up 64% of the population of Crimea and Ukrainians 24%. Fourth, any such demarche would only lead to joint sovereignty again overseen by the Organisation of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) for a further period of fifty years. Fifth, Ukraine would again agree a lease-back deal for the Black Seas Fleet in Sevastopol so that Russia at least retains one ice-free fleet base. Sixth, the Russians would have to pay reparations to Ukraine possibly with a ratio of 10:1 or so compared with Western investment in the rebuilding of Ukraine and the EU would take the lead of much of that effort. Seventh, Ukraine should also be offered an immediate and expanded Association Agreement with the EU and membership of the EU within the next decade via an accelerated programme to fulfil the requirements of the acquis communautaire.
There is a precedent for such agreement, albeit not a particularly successful precedent, in the July 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreed by the P5+1 (UNSC Permanent Members plus Germany) that was agreed with Iran. Any lifting of sanctions would be entirely dependent on Russia agreeing and maintaining its support for the agreement over a period of a decade.
PART VIII: REBUILDING UKRAINE
The German Marshall Fund undertook a major project entitled: “Designing Ukraine’s Recovery in the Spirit of the Marshall Plan”, even if any Ukrainian National Recovery Plan would need to be markedly different from the Marshall Plan. The European Recovery Program of 1947 had one donor and multiple recipients, whilst any Ukrainian National Recovery Plan would have one recipient and multiple donors. Reconstructing Ukraine also faces a series of contemporary challenges. Which institutions to use? What is urgent and non-urgent? Who should pay? Who should lead? When to start? How to prevent corruption? These are some of the urgent questions that would need to be addressed.
The GMF Plan would require five primary and sequenced elements/phases: architecture; sequencing; financing; accountability and the rule of law; and, of course, immediate needs.
Architecture: The GMF Plan envisages using existing frameworks rather than new institutions with a “G7 plus Partners” construct fostering an equitable sharing of burdens. The G7 could certainly perform such a role given it is a platform for the most powerful global democracies, although it is questionable the extent to which, say, Japan, would wish to take ownership of a programme that should on paper be led by Europeans. Why not the EU? Unfortunately, the European Commission’s May 2022 Ukrainian Assistance Platform remains little more than an unfunded aspiration.
Sequencing and financing: The GMF Plan envisages the US paying for 75% of the security assistance, whilst the rest of the G7 would pay for 25%. The G7, with European members (France, Germany, Italy and the UK) to the fore would then be required to pay for 75% of the recovery assistance and the US 25%. The EU plus One would thus be at the core of a “back-loaded” recovery effort spanning four phases: relief; reconstruction; modernisation (“build back better”), and finally Ukraine’s eventual accession to the EU. Much of the financing in the early phases would need to come from public funding, but over time foreign direct investment from the private sector would also be sought. Such funding is unlikely to be realised until a political settlement has been reached and a period of stability established. To assist with the transfer of funding from public to private investment some form of “war insurance” is also envisaged at the interface between security, stabilisation and reconstruction.
Accountability and rule of law: Long-term funding in support of Ukraine would also need to be linked to structural law reform. To that end, the Plan insists on transparency and proposes the publishing of all recovery-related documents, the appointment of an Inspector-General for Oversight, establishment of an EU Special Prosecutor’s Office to address concerns over the influence of oligarchs and corruption, as well as the recruitment of ‘civil society’ as watchdogs.
Many barriers exist to realising any such plan. There is not just a lack of leadership in Europe but also in Washington. The White House seems to be co-ordinating rather than leading the various US Government agencies, whilst the Pentagon, which has both the funding and the expertise, is keeping its distance. Frictions also exist between the White House and the international community. For example, whilst the World Bank is focused on war relief over a significant period followed by post-war reconstruction, the White House still takes the view that the war will be short and that any such mechanism should simply be designed to mitigate the impact. Estimates of the cost of recovery also vary widely with the US estimating $120 billion, Ukraine itself $349 billion, although that estimate was prior to the Russian assault on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, and the World Bank suggesting the cost will be in the region of $700 billion.
Due to complex privacy protection laws on both sides of the Atlantic, and the state immunity of Russian public assets under international law, it is unlikely the $300 billion of frozen Russian state assets could be invested in Ukraine’s recovery, at least in the short-term. It is more likely frozen Russian assets in Western banks will become part of a settlement negotiating package.
There is also a dispute within the EU over how to fund such a programme. Should it part of an adjusted Multi-Annual Financing Framework (MAFF)? Should something like the COVID Fund be established? Should EU Common Bonds be issued? These are not simply technical questions relating to financial instruments, but barriers that need to be overcome with some urgency, not least because there is growing political pressure in the United States to reduce American involvement. Some 30% of Republicans in the House now say they believe US support for Ukraine is too high with the new Speaker, Mike McCarthy, also of that opinion.
Finally, any such Plan needs the kind of detailed elaboration that was carried out by the State Department and the Brookings Institution between 1943 and 1947 prior to the European Recovery Program. However, the scale of the challenge of rebuilding Ukraine in the 2020s for all its many challenges would be small compared with the challenge the US faced rebuilding post-war Europe and Japan. And, if that challenge is not met by Americans and Europeans there is every chance Beijing would. Such a failure would not only once again suggest not only a lack of Euro-Atlantic cohesion, but a West no longer willing to engage in the very strategic competition the NATO Strategic Concept highlights.
CONCLUSIONS: POWER MATTERS
The war in Ukraine has followed on in quick order from the 2008-10 banking and financial crash, the 2010-11Eurozone debt crisis, the 2015 immigration crisis, Brexit in 2016 and the COVID crisis which began in 2020. The war has thus acted as an accelerant of geopolitical change already underway which long elites in Europe in particular have refused to confront whilst for too long European elites have talked down European power to promote European integration. As the power map of the contemporary world above demonstrates, Europeans are still powerful and the thing about power is that it is as unforgiving of power as it is of weakness. Taken together the succession of crises has shattered what passed for European strategic self-confidence. It has also destroyed the comforting geo-economic assumptions behind the West’s consumer gluttony upon which China-supplied and Russia-fueled globalisation was established and which has exaggerated the influence of both dictatorships.
Strategic competition comes in many forms and the legacy of this war will not only last a long time but likely intensify Great Power tensions. The GMF Plan is clearly part of that competition because it calls for funding exclusively from the democracies and thus tacitly accepts it is part of wider Western efforts to preserve the rules-based order against the Realpolitik incursions into Europe by China and thus does not envisage Chinese involvement. There are two dangers. First, should the US and indeed Europeans succumb to donor fatigue China would likely fill any funding vacuum. Such funding would have the added danger that Beijing would effectively achieve Moscow’s war aims without firing a single shot. Chinese funding is always linked to Chinese strategic interests. Second, by excluding China the retreat of the rules-based order into Realpolitik power blocs would likely be accelerated. How Ukraine is repaired will thus be pivotal to the nature of twenty-first century geopolitics and geo-economics.
Too many Europeans have for too long embraced strategic pretence and failure to deter Russia from invading Ukraine was testament to that. Yes, NATO Allies have helped prevent Russia winning the war, but are they really prepared to help Ukraine win the war? Yes, NATO now has a plan with its shiny new Strategic Concept but are the Allies really prepared to fund it? Yes, the Euro-Atlantic relationship is becoming more conditional and transactional, but at what point does conditionality mean an end to Alliance? The great paradox of NATO is that the European Allies are still addicted to American largesse for their own security and defence even as America needs ever-more capable Allies. Is it really not too much for the American taxpayer in 2023 to expect the European taxpayer to pay more for her/his own defence?
Western European politicians complain that Putin is locked in the past with his ridiculous dream of rebuilding the old Novorossiya. Are Western European leaders any less ridiculous when they continue to utter pious words about security even as they transfer the real cost of their defence onto the Americans just so that they can keep their welfarised citizens in the child-like belief that freedom comes with no cost? As for a Europe that is strategically autonomous from the Americans: hard power generates hard autonomy not empty Euro-speak. Where’s the beef? That begs a further question: will Europeans ever look up from the bureaucratic and legalistic ant-hill that is the European Union and recognise there really is a world out there and dangerous one at that? Surely, the Ukraine War is the moment for such an awakening. If not, what?
If the Ukraine war demonstrates nothing else it is time European leaders wean themselves off the false belief that soft power is somehow a replacement for hard power and that ‘grand strategy’ is more than a wish-list. The most important component of any such strategy is not the establishment of legitimate ends, the provision of sufficient means, or the crafting of efficient and effective ways. The most important component is the political courage to craft such a strategy with a robust understanding of the here and now, of strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats.
Over-used the phrase may be but the world really is at a tipping point and as yet Western leaders show little sign that they have a clue what to do next, with whom or what, or to what end. Sadly, the likelihood is that old men will keep talking and young men and women will keep dying. It is time old men (and women) took action. Freedom depends on it!