The Alphen Group Geopolitics, Strategy and Innovation

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TAGGER Paul Cornish has written a powerful piece on the failings of the recent UK Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.  Entitled   Incoherent, Under Strength, Over Stretched: The UK National Strategy and Defence Review 2021 it is forthright report that does not pull its punches.



The Alphen Group V-Conference: “How to Engage Russia?”

March 8th, 2021

“Russia will be the issue of the decade”. 

The West should be prudent without becoming obsessed with Russia or exaggerate any threat it might pose whilst working towards a new balance between dialogue with Russia and deterring it.  The prevailing view was that all and any dialogue must be from a position of pragmatic and flexible strength and that the modernisation of NATO’s deterrence and defence posture will work, although it is still a work-in-progress. Equally, many of the West’s contemporary leaders still do not grasp the “Russian mind-set” and it is highly unlikely that Russia will become a reliable neighbour anytime soon, even if it would be wrong to see Russians as implacable enemies. Where interests align dialogue should be sought on single issues, such as Afghanistan, arms control, cyber-security and climate change, as well as the Middle East and North Africa. It may be possible to co-operate with Russia over the Arctic, but such co-operation is likely to remain limited to issues such as search and rescue and fishing.  Engaging Russia is in ‘our’ interest, although in the current circumstances it should be both limited and tough-minded.  

Putin has successfully reinvented Russia in the image of heroic victim and victor of the Great Patriotic War which is informing a nationalist ideology particularly amongst the young Siloviki.  The narrative also informs assertive policy that seeks to exploit the many vulnerabilities of open Western societies through attacks at the ‘sub-threshold’ level of threat. Unfortunately, the West lacks both dynamism and imagination in challenging the revisionist Putin narrative and his stance as a bulwark for Holy Russia against Western secularism. Many leaders “got Russia wrong in the 1990s” and some more inflection points may be in the offing, such as the completion of NORDSTREAM 2 and the removal of Lukashenko in Belarus, after which Moscow could again become more assertive.  The Biden administration has learnt the lessons of failed resets and will not ‘trade away’ relations with allies (Ukraine) for a better relationship with Moscow.  The Administration has also set the threshold for the return to normalcy in its relations with Russia: the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Donbass.  Washington will also seek NATO and EU support for raising the costs to Moscow of further aggression, while reaching out to the restive younger generation of Russians who may choose more constructive relations with the West after Putin departs the scene. 

Much will depend on the future of the Sino-Russian relationship which is likely to endure, driven by the Machiavellian imperative that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”.   The West is unlikely to tempt Russia away from China because Beijing is likely to be able to offer Moscow far more.  The relationship is also informed and reinforced by nationalist revisionism as both China and Russia are seeking to create a post-Western world.  The closeness of the respective Chinese and Russian general staffs attests to the strength and closeness of the relationship. The Western response is lost between partnership and punishment. At the very least, a new conceptual and policy framework might help Western leaders better understand and in time engage Russia.  Western leaders must also accept their own culpability in helping to create the “Russia problem” through ill-advised policies such as NORDSTREAM 2 and irresponsibly low levels of defence investment.  German policy and attitudes will be key to future Western policy. NORDSTREAM 2 has damaged trust in Berlin and is already seeing allies distance themselves. 

Engagement with Russia must be undertaken collectively as Moscow does not accept dialogue on equal terms with Europe’s smaller powers, particularly the Baltic States. A new NATO assessment of Russia is also needed to re-align Allied thinking as a basis for applying greater pressure on the Putin regime. Above all, the West should start thinking about who it is, how it can adjust to global power transitions and what it will need to do to avoid, or best mitigate, a post-Western World.

Julian Lindley-French

Military Mobility: Moving Mountains for Europe’s Defense

March 3rd, 2021

The Imperative 

In the wake of the 2014 Russian invasion of Ukraine NATO has placed renewed emphasis on credible deterrence and defense, strengthening its posture, enhancing its responsiveness and speed of reinforcement. However, military mobility is not simply vital for deterrence. EU civil-military crisis management also pre-supposes the rapid movement of forces across Europe and to crisis regions adjacent to the bloc’s borders. Therefore, given these strategic imperatives, both NATO and the EU must together act to improve the military mobility of military forces and resources across Europe prior to and during emergencies.  To that end, the CEPA Military Mobility Report was launched yesterday, the aim of which is essentially simple: to ensure Allied forces and resources can be moved quickly and securely during a crisis to where they are needed. Credible deterrence requires demonstrated capability and the will to use it. The prime component is speed: speed of recognition that an attack might be imminent; speed of decision to begin necessary movements and preparations; and speed of assembly to ensure sufficient combat power is in place to deter.  In the contemporary and future defense of Europe, credible deterrence will depend on military mobility that is fast enough to at least match Russian forces. 

The Report

Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) designed the Military Mobility Project to identify the conditions needed to markedly and affordably improve military mobility in Europe.  The report is built around five different scenarios which reached across Europe and beyond and which were considered at length by civilian and military practitioners and experts from the EU, NATO, industry, governments and the media. The report is also the result of a year-long, comprehensive examination of all the facets needed to accelerate military mobility.  Facets that span across the four core pillars of the report:  adapted rules, regulations and procedures for the movement of forces, resources and dangerous goods across borders; improved and strengthened transportation infrastructures; effective command, control and co-ordination; funding; bespoke special capabilities; resilience and security of movement; and robust testing through constant exercises.  The report also calls for the establishment of a 24/7 network of national points of contact, and the standing up of territorial commands by transit and host nations to facilitate smooth movements along multimodal movement corridors, all of which must be properly supported by logistic hubs. Realization of the vision at the core of the report will require a new level of NATO-EU cooperation and of personal engagement between their respective senior leaderships. The report is also just the beginning.  A first step down the road to improved military mobility.  An expert network has now been established that will help steer a campaign to convince leaders that investment in military mobility is a post-pandemic value-for-money investment in Europe’s future peace and security. It is an investment that will not only benefit Europe’s security and defense, but physically strengthen the solidarity between its peoples, and the wider Euro-Atlantic community.  Indeed, enabling Europeans to better share burdens with their North American allies is hard-wired into the DNA of this project. 

Military Mobility: Moving Mountains for Europe’s Defense 

Admiral Rob Bauer, the Chief of the Netherlands Defense Staff, and Lieutenant-General Scott Kindsvater, Deputy Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, in their support for the Military Mobility Project acknowledge the vital importance of fast and secure military mobility to credible defense and deterrence and effective crisis management. They also recognize far more needs to be done.  Unfortunately, Europe is still a long way from satisfying all the requirements accelerated military mobility will demand. European Allies have insufficient capacity and capability, there are few if any clear lines of authority, and determining clear chains of command remains a major weakness. Perhaps the biggest question that remains outstanding is why military mobility?  The answer is strikingly simple. Enhancing military mobility is not about preparing to fight a war, but to prevent one.  NATO is ultimately in the business of deterrence, and deterrence is the business of convincing Europe’s adversaries that any threat will be met quickly and decisively. 

It is time to act. It is time to move. 

Ben Hodges, Heinrich Brauss, Julian Lindley-French

The Alphen Group: V-Conference on Strategic France. 15 February 2021

The starting point was the latest, 2021, Strategic Update, by the French Armed Forces Ministry, extending out to 2030. Its analytical preamble was generally welcomed as lucid, provocative, and properly aware of the scale of overlapping and accelerating geopolitical and geo-economic challenges (“Proven Degradation of the Strategic Environment”). While nuclear deterrence would continue to render Great Power War unlikely, the threatening overall picture would require major change in transatlantic security responsibilities and the scale of defence efforts. In addition to terrorism, growing Great Power rivalries, and mutating hybrid strategies, the document usefully highlighted new competitive domains like hybrid submarine warfare, involving seabed sabotage of cables. These interlocking predictions deserved serious consideration within NATO, and in bilateral dialogues. 

But the balance and labelling of recommendations signalled potential problems. The document envisaged a leading French role in both managing a complex cooperative transatlantic strengthening of hard military capabilities-and in simultaneously “disentangling” economic and monetary, competences and technical standards and infrastructures, to increase European sovereignty and “Strategic Autonomy”. This acrobatic double role could well be contradictory. Its designated end goal was imprecise and would stimulate suspicions of inflammatory neo-Gaullism in Washington. Less toxic and more accurate terms might be “Strategic Identity” or “Strategic Responsibility”. Certainly, European NATO states needed to do more, and more coherently, but, ideally, as a stronger, more integrated pillar, with identifiable military utility, within the Alliance, rather than as an opposing pole to the US. Experience with the Anglo-French Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF) provided one promising model. For scenarios on or beyond Europe’s periphery, true autonomy was anyway impossible given dependence upon US enabling capabilities. More determination and resources across the whole span of Alliance capabilities might avoid acrimony between Washington and European capitals over disparities and labels. But it was far from clear that European allies would even develop the indispensable collective determination to generate sufficient forces for a convincing first response to crises on their own continent, and so allow the US only to provide strategic reassurance, and to divert resources elsewhere. 

With Germany distracted by prospective leadership transitions, elections, and coalitions, facing a still military-phobic electorate, and after disappointing decisions over Nordstream 2 and EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on China (CAI), Macron might indeed replace Merkel as Biden’s most important European partner. But frictions could already be predicted for this relationship. While the US would not tolerate abandoning Georgia or expecting Ukraine to give up any possibility of regaining Crimea, for France these might be worthwhile compromises to revive and maintain an ultimately indispensable European relationship with Russia. In general, electorates across the Alliance took NATO benefits for granted and noticed only bilateral disputes among allies. Geo-economics, economic statecraft, and coercion (e.g. secondary sanctions) were becoming both more globally important and more disputatious. Biden might be trusted to guarantee Europe’s security, but this was no longer viewed as an automatically bankable American response. Facing future crises, France would insist upon being able to foresee, decide and act, in conjunction with the US, if possible, and with European allies if they were willing. If not, then it might act only with the US and UK, though France found the UK a complex military partner.

At the very least, more unified threat perceptions would be a vital precondition for any new Transatlantic Bargain and the additional resources it would dictate. As one glaring example, there was still no consensus on whether China should be principally viewed as an opportunity or a threat. These cognitive and conceptual gaps need urgently to be narrowed if the Alliance is to respond to the scale and complexity of challenges outlined in the French document and comparable national assessments.

Paul Schulte, February 2021

President Biden and the US-German Special Relationship

“In the long run, the United States can only maintain its role as a global power through close cooperation with a stable, democratic, prosperous Europe capable of acting collectively. Similarly, Europe can only maintain and strengthen its collective ability when working with a transatlantic partner in place. Hence, devotion to European integration and transatlantic engagement will continue to be two sides of the same coin”.

“More Ambition, Please! Towards a New Agreement between Germany and the United States.”

Biden, Germany and hard multilateralism

January 28th, 2021.  A new German Marshall Fund report is out that shines a light on the future of the transatlantic relationship and the coming Biden Doctrine of hard or assertive multilateralism. Full of Hanoverian and Hanseatic common sense “More Ambition, Please! Towards a New Agreement between Germany and the United States.” calls for a revitalised US-German strategic partnership (during the Cold War the US-German relationship was always vital). Whilst German/European (I am never quite sure of the German distinction) ‘ambition’ is the headline of the report it is really about the re-forging of transatlantic cohesion in the wake of the Trump administration and in a changed post-pandemic world. At the core of the report is a very serious call by very senior Germans for Germany to do far more in defence of Europe, to become a more reliable partner of the United States, and to think and act strategically rather than ‘mercantilistically’.  The central message is that given the many challenges faced by both North Americans and Europeans across a spectrum of threats from Russia, China, Iran and terrorism such challenges can only be successfully faced together.  

Ironically, by offering a roadmap for Germany to do more in a revitalised transatlantic relationship the authors also highlight the vital importance to the US of militarily-capable European allies and the urgent need for Washington to again invest in multilateralism.  Germany rightly wants the Biden administration to see international institutions much as Germans do; as far more than necessary constraints on lesser powers who do not live in America’s shining city on the hill.  The report thus implies the need for both Americans and Europeans to converge on a new policy of hard, assertive multilateralism in which adherence to the norms and values of international regimes is also guaranteed by a sufficiency of hard military democratic power. The aim?  To put a firm brake on Chinese and Russian efforts to establish Machtpolitik as their preferred method for the conduct of twenty-first century international affairs.  

The strength of this report is that it rises above German parochialism to offer strategic perspective infused with ambition by establishing fundamental strategic realities Berlin must now grip. First, Germany must be at the fore in engaging together the coming strategic challenge of China which is still only in its infancy.  Second, Germany must help lead Europe’s collective defence effort to enable it to become far more efficient and effective in the post-pandemic economy to assure Allied defence and deterrence.  Third, during an emergency in which the US is engaged world-wide Europeans, with Germans to the fore, must assure their own defence. Indeed, as the report rightly states, whilst the US affords Europeans defence ‘reinsurance’, the insurance policy itself must be European. 

NATO: the Atlanticsphere and the Eurosphere

NATO? It must be transformed, not merely adapted built around two re-modelled ‘plug and play’ pillars that transcend the increasingly diluted boundary between member and partner, EU and NATO – the Atlanticsphere and theEurosphere. The Atlanticsphere would be organised around the US with Britain, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, the creed of which would be intelligence-gathering and maritime security in the North Atlantic.  The Atlanticsphere would be linked closely linked to Five Eyes, the intelligence-sharing community that involves America, Britain, Canada and Australia (ABCA) plus New Zealand, and increasingly and interestingly, Japan.  The Atlanticsphere would be centred on two power-projection navies – the United States Navy and the Royal Navy (yesterday one of Britain’s new aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth became the fleet flagship).  Whilst focussed on operations in and around the North Atlantic, as its name suggests, it would also enjoy a strategic creed and culture that could enable it to operate far beyond. Britain?  In spite of current challenges London will increase its defence budget by some ten percent over the next four years with an increasingly powerful Royal Navy the main beneficiary. London’s message to Washington and other allies is thus clear: new US-EU, US-German strategic partnerships will be important but when it comes to another crisis crunch it will be good old Britain with its developing strategic raider force that will be the most able and capable. 

Biden’s ambitions for Germany will thus depend on the extent to which the Eurosphere offers the US partnership beyond words and transatlantic piety. The report is thankfully practical on this crucial issue.  Whilst the Eurospherewould necessarily be built on the Franco-German strategic partnership it would also be re-fashioned to de-conflict EU and NATO security and defence efforts.  Critically, whilst the report calls for European defence integration it does so from the perspective of a deep collective effort rather than the Nirvana of a common defence.  The report thus reflects a necessary balance between the need for a stronger Germany and Berlin’s perpetual and rightful angst over German power and its potential to destabilise Europe.  

Biden internationalism versus German mercantilism

However, President Biden and his foreign and security policy team should be under no illusions about the challenge of building such a special relationship with contemporary Germany and hold Wandel durch Handel (change through trade) has over Berlin’s foreign and security policy. The true test will be Germany’s position on the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline, a project of such strategic implications that it could rapidly create a decoupling German-Russian mutual dependency. Indeed, in anticipation of a Biden push to impose more sanctions on Putin’s Russia Chancellor Merkel said recently, “We need to talk about whether we don’t have any more trade with Russia or what level of dependency is tolerable”.  

Armin Laschet, Chancellor Merkel’s chosen successor as leader of the CDU and possible future chancellor, emphasises the scale of the challenge.  Over recent years Laschet has revealed himself at best sceptical of both the US and the UK.  His public disparaging of criticism of Russia in the wake of the 2014 invasion of Crimea and the use of Novichok by the GRU in Salisbury in 2018, revealed a strongly pro-Russian position.  This may have something to do with there being some 1200 or so companies that trade with Russia in Laschet’s fiefdom of North-Rhine-Westphalia. Herr Laschet and his ilk might also suggest that Germany already has a special trading relationship with the US and needs little more. In that case, Germany also has a ‘special relationship’ with China. After all, every second VW that rolls off the production line is made in China.  Perhaps most worryingly, a November 2020 Pew poll revealed only one in ten Germans to have a positive view of the US. 

There is also an American flip side to all of this that Germans also need to better understand: with so much to do at home and with US forces stretched thin the world over the amount of political capital the Biden White House is willing to invest in a new US-German strategic partnership may be distinctly limited. In other words, like it or not Berlin could well soon have to pay the real price of leading Europe and make a choice between a French-led ‘autonomous’ European defence and a US-guaranteed European defence.  Clearly, for Berlin a return to pre-Trump transatlantic business as usual is really not an option. 

The Biden Doctrine and European strategic responsibility

The hard truth the report reveals is that Wandel durch Handel is simply not enough anymore.  For the transatlantic security relationship to remain more than some latter day Potemkin village American soldiers must see properly equipped German forces of scale alongside them ready and willing to fight the hard yards of Europe’s future defence.  Berlin is right to reject the idea of strategic autonomy being peddled by Paris, which smacks too much of some latent Gaullist obsession with the American presence in Europe. Rather, Germans must match the hard multilateralism of the Biden administration by promoting complementary European strategic responsibility with Germany (and France) to the fore. 

A US-German Special Relationship would in no way detract from the relationship that Britain, France or any other European power has with Washington, all of which are special in their own special ways.  Indeed, in spite of the usual coterie of detractors the Special Relationship between Britain and the US is secure in its uniqueness and will continue to be so. However, as the report states, the US and Germany now have a chance with a new Administration to create a strategic partnership built on the best of both strategic and political cultures. Carpe diem!

Biden and the US-German ‘special relationship’

There are, of course, some caveats Germans must recognise. First, attempts to bully Britain will fail. Britain remains a very important military power that will be critical to the future of the Alliance and the sharing of transatlantic burdens.  This is something many Europeans simply do not want to hear right now in the wake of Brexit.  Let me be clear; Brussels, Berlin and Paris cannot have their gateau and ‘mange’ it when it comes to Britain’s role in NATO.  If current EU efforts to make post-Brexit life as hard as possible for the British continues popular support for defending Europe will plummet and Britain will retreat further behind its nuclear shield. President Biden and his German allies need to realise that danger and bring Britain with them. The Atlanticsphere and the Eurosphere must complement each other, not become alternatives.  

Second, trust must be built by investing in legitimate power.  Indeed, the future of the transatlantic relationship will rest as it always has on power and trust.  There must be sufficient power to ensure the Alliance is credible in its core mission of defence and deterrence, and sufficient trust in each other to know that when the next inevitable crisis comes Americans and Europeans not only will stand together but can stand together with the necessary military and resilient civil capacity and capability to act together.    

Third, re-assert NATO’s true purpose by re-establishing a power strut at its core.  NATO’s duty is to stop a major war in and around Europe by proving the Alliance can fight one.  The Alliance has always been built around a core relationship to keep it aloft, a bit like the central wing strut on a plane. For the early part of its existence the Anglo-American relationship provided that strut because it was built on the experience of combined operations forged during World War Two.  Indeed, NATO emerged out of such experience. With France having excluded itself by the 1970s the Federal Republic of Germany provided much of the strut, at least on the European landmass.  Now, Germany is being again called upon but to act as a just such a strut of the Alliance. However, to do so Germans will have to confront something many would prefer not to – how to fight and win a war. 

More ambition needs more action

More Ambition, Please! Towards a New Agreement between Germany and the United States is an important German statement that would have been difficult for responsible Germans to write even a decade ago.  The rest of us? We will never forget your past, Germany. How could we, yesterday was Holocaust Memorial Day.  The Shoah will never be forgotten. However, most of us are also prepared to trust modern, liberal, democratic and responsible Germany with our future as long as Germany is prepared to trust itself. As L.P. Hartley wrote in 1953, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there”.

Julian Lindley-French  

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