The Alphen Group Geopolitics, Strategy and Innovation

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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

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

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

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

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.

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