hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Seizing Sevastopol: What to do with Russia’s French Warships?

Alphen, Netherlands. 23 July.  Predictably the EU fell apart yesterday over what to do about Russia.  Naturally the assembled foreign ministers all pretended otherwise but the only winner was President Putin.  There was a motley extension to the motley collection of asset freezes and travel bans and some talk of future sanctions covering the energy, financial services and defence sectors. It was only talk. And of course Britain and France fell out (again).  France accused Britain of hypocrisy over London’s demand that Paris halt the €1.2bn sale of two state-of-the-art French warships to Russia.  French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius not unreasonably pointed out that Britain has been far too “no questions asked” about the London money of Russian oligarchs close to President Putin.  The French were too polite to point out that Britain still has some 252 active arms export licenses worth some £132m for the sale of weapons to Russia.  For all that it is inconceivable that in the current situation France would help Russia create an entirely new expeditionary military capability. 

These are not any old new warships.  Weighing in at 21500 tons the Mistral-class ships are state-of-the-art marine amphibious command and assault ships that for the first time ever will give Russia the ability to launch from the sea 450 special and specialised forces supported by helicopters and tanks.  The first of the ships is due to be handed over to the Russia Navy in October.  France says that Russia has promised not to use them in its ‘near abroad’. Nonsense.  These two ships could be deployed anywhere around Europe from the High North to the Baltic Sea, from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. 

France must stop talking contracts and start thinking strategy.  That means seizing the ships.  There is a precedent. One hundred years ago in August 1914 the British seized a brand new battleship they had been building first for the Brazilians and then when that deal fell through for the Turks.   Winston Churchill personally insisted the ship be taken into British custody.  She was a state-of-the art Super-Dreadnought battleship with 14 12 inch guns, displacing 30,000 tons and capable of 22 knots. 

Although contractually obliged the British Government of the day felt the strategic situation of the day warranted seizure.  As one can imagine the Ottoman Empire was none too pleased by the seizure (along with one other new battleship) and some scholars believe it helped to push Constantinople towards Wilhelmine Germany.  Still, they could have been used against the Royal Navy and that would have been just a tad embarrassing.

The problem of course with seizure (apart from a seriously peeved Putin) would be what to do with the ships.  The French Navy has neither the personnel nor the budget needed to crew two new ships of this size. However, there are three alternative, very non-Russian options that Paris may wish to consider: 1. create a new Anglo-French strike force; 2. make the ships NATO common assets paid for by NATO Europe; or 3. make the ships the first EU-owned assets at the core of a new maritime amphibious Combined Joint Expeditionary Force (CJEF).

Under the 2010 Franco-British Defence and Security Co-operation Treaty the two countries are working up a CJEF.  Current efforts have been focused on co-operation between air and land forces.  However, with the launch of the two British super aircraft carriers HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales the addition of the two Mistrals to a maritime amphibious CJEF would markedly enhance the ability of the two countries to launch and sustain significant operations from the sea.  This would ensure Britain and France were at the centre of efforts to enhance the expeditionary capabilities of Europeans but also offer real support to hard-pressed Americans.  The problem as with all ships of this size is their crewing but that is not beyond the bounds of sensible solution.

One of the big issues at September’s NATO Wales Summit will be burden-sharing.  The ships could become a NATO-owned asset in which all Alliance members invest.  The Alliance would then in effect purchase the ships from France and they would be crewed by personnel from all NATO nations – just like the Luxembourg-registered E3 aerial surveillance vessels.  The beauty of this elegant solution to France’s dilemma is that the purchase and subsequent crewing would go some way to helping some NATO members get towards the 2% GDP defence investment target the Americans regard as the minimum.  It would also help the Alliance develop a serious European High Readiness Force (Maritime).

A third option would be to make them the first EU-owned common defence assets to give EU Battle Groups a much-needed capability boost.  Indeed, the ships would certainly help to create an enhanced EU maritime amphibious capability.  It would help France lead the way towards the 5000 strong expeditionary EU force former President Sarkozy called for back in 2008.  One option would be to place the ships at the heart of a project cluster involving several EU member-states under permanent structured co-operation, possibly the Weimar Triangle.  By making such a move France would again be firmly at the helm of efforts to enhance the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

There is one other option; one hundred years on from Entente Cordiale France could generously give one of the ships to the Royal Navy.  The Russians had intended to name one of the ships Vladivostok and the other somewhat provocatively Sevastopol.  Again there is a precedent for such name changes.  In 1914 the British christened the new battleship HMS Agincourt (of course).  In 2014 the British could offer the French a choice; HMS Crecy, HMS Waterloo or how about HMS Trafalgar?

Just a thought.

Julian Lindley-French

Monday, 21 July 2014

MH17: How Much Do ‘WE’ Care?

Alphen, Netherlands. 21 July. “Why don’t the Russians care about the people on that plane?” That was the question a friend of mine put to me this morning.  It is a question I find hard to answer.  Of course, the Russians do care about what happened, especially the Russian people.  No-one in Russia wanted this ghastly disaster but Russia must be held account for what happened because Moscow made the disaster possible.  However, that begs an even bigger question; how much do WE care about MH17?

The evidence for what happened is now undeniable even by the Kremlin.  Last Thursday MH17 was shot out of the skies by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile that was either fired by a pro-Russian separatist with a Russian advisor standing by or possibly even by a Russian GRU (military intelligence) officer.  Four Ukrainian military aircraft had been shot down over the previous week by Russian missiles a part of an attempt by Russian forces to help the separatists blunt a Ukrainian offensive into eastern Ukraine. 

This morning President Putin said that “all must be done to end the conflict”.  However, whilst the Kremlin did not want this to happen Moscow only ‘cares’ about MH17 and the victims who died therein in so much as the disaster complicates the politics of an expansionist strategy to which Russia remains fully committed. 

So, how much do ‘WE’ care?  There are options open to the West – both Europeans and North Americans – which would hurt an already vulnerable Russian economy.  Tighter travel and financial sanctions could be imposed on top officials in the Kremlin.  Deeper and far better co-ordinated so-called ‘sectoral sanctions’ could be imposed by both North Americans and Europeans on the Russian energy and technology sectors that build-on the restrictions imposed by Washington last Wednesday.  Such sanctions could be further reinforced by a complete stop to all development loans and co-operation projects by the EU and which build-on last week’s limited EU action prior to MH17’s downing.

However, any deeper sanctions will be a real test of ‘WE’ as further strictures would hurt Europeans and their vulnerable economies in particular.  Hence the question how much do WE care?  The question also pre-supposes the idea that a ‘WE’ actually still exists.  The idea of a ‘West’ is open to serious doubt so dysfunctional has the relationship become.  The idea of a ‘Europe’ is even open to ridicule so pathetic has the EU response been and so utterly dysfunctional what might be termed a European foreign policy.

Britain, France and Germany finally stepped into the leadership void over the weekend by jointly calling for stringent measures to be taken against Russia.  However, the strange foreign policy no-man’s land that now exists between the EU and its member-states has reduced the European ‘whole’ to far less than the parts of its sum.  Indeed, too many EU member-states no longer have a foreign policy at all (Britain most particularly).  What is left is a kind of transactional politics in which ‘foreign policy’ is directly linked to perceived economic cost. 

President Putin knows this.  Today, the foreign ‘policies’ of Europe are measured purely and only in terms of ‘cost’ rather than the defence of values central to democracies.  Therefore, concerted action against aggression reduced to a balance sheet analysis of immediate cost given the varying trade and energy relationships Europeans ‘enjoy’ with Russia.  Any sense of a ‘WE’ goes straight out of the crisis window. 

A real test for Europeans will come tomorrow at an EU meeting called ostensibly to discuss a new approach to Russia.  If European leaders are serious about facing down Russian expansionism and the arms flows that created the conditions for the loss of MH17 and 298 innocent people they will be judged by their actions. 

If Europe’s leaders are serious Russian oil-giant Rosneft will tomorrow be removed from the London Stock Exchange by London, France will scrap the €1.2 billion sale of two Mistral class advanced maritime assault ships to Russia and Germany will scrap a whole host of trade deals with Russia.  A strong signal would also be sent to Moscow if Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt is immediately appointed EU Foreign Minister and with immediate effect.

Additionally, access of Russian firms to European financial markets will be blocked even though that would hurt London and Frankfurt.  If serious the meeting will also confirm Ukraine’s status as an EU Strategic Partner and consider accelerated measures to wean Europeans off Russian energy supplies which admittedly will take time.  There would also be a decision to end once and for all the agreement to construct the Ukraine-bypassing South Stream Pipeline to supply gas from Russia to the rest of Europe. 

So, is there sufficient of a ‘WE’.  No.  The same old EU empty nonsense will emerge from the same old type of meeting as very little action is doubtless blown-up in the communique into “decisive measures”.  Italy and others will block anything that might in any way affect their Faustian energy deals with Russia.  It is questionable whether Britain, France and Germany are really prepared to take together real steps that would hurt both Russia and themselves in the name of principle.  After all trade relations between Russia and its fellow Europeans (particularly Germany) are worth ten times that of Russian-US trade links.

President Putin fully understands all this.  He understands that in this crisis as in so many others there is no ‘WE’ – neither a Western ‘WE’ nor a European ‘WE’.  Indeed, his superficially emollient words of this morning are specifically designed to undermine the already very little ‘WE’ that exists.

MH17: How much do ‘WE’ care?  Sadly not enough.

Julian Lindley-French

Thursday, 17 July 2014

MH 17: Russia Stop this Madness!

Alphen, Netherlands. 17 July.  Today I was at Amsterdam Schiphol airport picking my father up.  There can be little doubt I walked past the poor people of many nationalities whose remains are smouldering as I write on the Steppe close to the Russia-Ukrainian border.  It is of course too early to tell what or who downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 as it made its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.  However, the known circumstances, the location, tweets from pro-Russian separatists congratulating themselves for shooting down a Ukrainian military plane that coincide with the loss of MH 17 and other information which I have seen all point to a surface-to-air missile of Russian design as being responsible. 

Let me say at the outset that Russia did not do this.  The chance that a state-of-the-art Russian military system under Russian military control was used is very small indeed.  Such advanced systems would have had an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) safeguard that would have ‘tagged’ MH 17 as soon as it was ‘painted’ as a target. What is far more likely is that an older, less sophisticated system such as an SA 11 (NATO codename ‘Grail’) or something similar was involved.  Such systems are known to be in the hands of the separatists who may or may not have the capability to operate the system effectively.  There is clear evidence that Russian military equipment is making its way across the border between Russia and Ukraine and the Ukrainian military may have lost some SA 11s during Russia’s occupation of Ukraine-Crimea.

It is equally unlikely to have been the responsibility of the Ukrainian military.  Two Ukrainian military aircraft have been lost over the past 48 hours to missiles fired either from within the separatist area or possibly even from over the border in Russia.  There has certainly been a clear escalation over the past few days and there can be little doubt Moscow is pulling the strings.

Last week I published a piece for the RUSI Journal entitled “Ukraine: Understanding Russia”.  In the article I tried to look at the conflict from the Russian viewpoint because too often other Europeans simply impose their assumptions on Russia.  Equally, I am no apologist for Russia.  My fellow sitting on the fence Europeans trying to explain Russian aggression away at almost any cost also have to look hard at themselves.  For example, how can France possibly sell two state-of-the-art amphibious attack ships to a country that is creating and managing such a conflict in twenty-first century Europe?

Of course Russia did not want this awful disaster to happen and President Putin rightly called President Obama the moment he heard of the disaster.  However, the bottom-line is this; Moscow must bear some of the responsibility for this disaster.  In 2014 it is Moscow that has created the conditions which has led to the loss of a civilian airliner carrying 295 innocent people to a surface-to-air missile over European airspace by fuelling the crisis and arming the separatists.  In 2014 only Russia can create the conditions for a peaceful resolution to this conflict by insisting on and joining the EU to help craft a negotiated constitutional settlement for a Ukraine at peace with itself and its neighbours.  To make that happen Moscow must stop its efforts to de-stabilise the Kiev regime and begin to behave in a manner befitting the Great Power Russia is.

Sadly, I fear I may be witnessing quite the reverse.  Indeed, Moscow could well be on the verge of launching a classically Russian ‘August’ stratagem.  In 2008 Moscow waited until the midst of the European summer holidays to launch its invasion of Georgia.  Russian forces are now again building up on Ukraine’s border, increased volumes of Russian military supplies and advisers are crossing the border into Ukraine in support of the separatists and more aggressive action is already evident.

If Moscow has any sense of the damage it is doing to Europe but above all to Russia itself the loss of MH 17 must be pause for reflection.  At the very least Russia owes such reflection to the grieving relatives of the people past whom I walked today who are now the unwitting victims, the lost souls to a the ridiculous and tragic theatre of Russia’s twenty-first century insidious Machtpolitik.

MH 17: Russia stop this madness!

Julian Lindley-French

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

NEW Lindley-French Eisenhower Paper for NATO

Alphen, Netherlands. 16 July. Dear Fellow Blog Blasters,  I have today published a new Eisenhower Paper for NATO entitled "Connected Forces through Connected Education: Harnessing NATO's & Partner Nations Strategic Educational Resources".  Snappy title, eh?  It is of course brilliant.  However, if you disagree once downloaded the paper can be alternatively used for a range of practical and bodily purposes.

To download the piece please go to  If that fails and you really do wish to read it please go to the NATO Defense College web-site.

All best,


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Dangerous Connectivities: Why Mid-East War is Imminent

Alphen, Netherlands. 15 July.  Herodotus, the father of history wrote, “Force has no place where there is a need of skill”.  In the Middle East there is a desperate need for ‘skill’.  Like Europe a century ago today or more accurately Europe on the eve of the 1618 Thirty Years War everyone and everything is deeply connected and yet at the same time dangerously divided – the classic cause of what Thomas Hobbes called “a warre of all against all”.  What is at stake and what next?

Israeli forces enter Gaza following the murder of three Israeli teenagers and up to two hundred Palestinians die.  Shia Iran extends its influence over Baghdad as the Sunni Islamic State is proclaimed in parts of what used to Iraq and Syria.  Saudi Arabia mobilises its forces as the Sunni-Shia split deepens across the Middle East whilst states as far apart as Algeria and the Gulf totter in the face of Islamism and liberalism as elites and societies pull apart.

What is at stake? Three fundamental struggles are combining to threaten peace across the region (and beyond); the state versus the anti-state; the battle for regional-strategic dominance by states and the struggle between interpretations of Islam within failing states.  Although ostensibly about religion the Thirty Year wars (for that is what they were) were complicated by shifting ‘state’ power - the Habsburgs versus the Holy Roman Empire and the European core versus the European periphery - England, Sweden and Russia.  They were further complicated by growing populations and divided ideologies.

Critically, the war was triggered in 1618 by a relatively minor but nevertheless explosive event – a constitutional dispute between Protestants in Bohemia and their Catholic rulers and the destruction of a single Protestant church.  What happened next was unimaginable carnage.

Similar dangerous connectivities are apparent across the Middle East today, particularly as notions of pan-Arabism compete.  The Islamic State and the rise of fundamentalism has been fashioned from the failure of Arab nationalism, specifically the collapse of Baathism in Syria and Iraq.  The Islamic State is in fact an anti-state the very existence of which threatens all other states in the region as it seeks the destruction of the entire state system and its replacement with a Caliphate.   

To many Arabs nationalism once seemed the future acting in uneasy tandem with and in the name of pan-Arabism.  It was nationalism fuelled and reinforced by the creation of the State of Israel in 1947.  However, two crushing defeats by Israel in 1967 and 1973 helped to undermine the credibility of both the Arab ‘state’ and nationalism in the minds of many.  Defeat also helped Islamists offer a new form of pan-Arabism - Sunni fundamentalism. 

The Arab state has been further undermined by corrupt elites, a rapidly growing population and an imbalance of wealth across the region.  In states such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States oil-rich conservative elites have become fabulously rich whilst at the same time reluctant to disseminate wealth too widely.  They are like all such elites fearful that reform would critically undermine their power.  To buy off opposition Riyadh in particular has at times appealed to extreme conservatism to buttress their power in return for funding the exporting of the very fundamentalism that threatens the Kingdom.

And then there is Iran.  Shia-Persian Iran’s regional-strategic ambitions to be the dominant power have also further complicated an already flammable political landscape.  Worse, in its struggle with both Israel and Saudi Arabia and through the use of proxies in Syria and Lebanon a series of bilateral disputes have slowly morphed into one enormous confrontation over the future shape of the Middle East focussed on the relatively small space in and around Jordan.  Good old-fashioned Machtpolitik informs much of Iran’s policy but also what Tehran sees as a Sunni threat to Shia influence Iran believes it controls. 

What next?  The Middle East is in as dangerous a state as at any time since the 1973 Yom Kippur war.  Indeed, it is hard to see how the acute tension in both Arab societies and between Middle Eastern states and with Israel can be resolved peacefully.  The outstanding question is who will be on what side for what reason?  It would be easy to suggest that a future war would be essentially between those states of Shia extraction and those of Sunni extraction.  This would have Iran and Israel on the side-lines but seeking to influence proxies in a general Arab struggle.  However, the Middle East is simply not that easy.  Such a scenario would be complicated by ethnic divisions within many of the states involved rotting from the top down, which is precisely why the Islamic State has appeared.  It would be further complicated by interference from the Great Powers – America, China, European powers and Russia.  In other words a kind of Sykes-Picot revisited.

The war itself could be triggered by what is in systemic terms a relatively minor event.  It would also be a long war with hatred and calculus causing many twists.  The first war is likely to be triggered by an unofficial, unspoken and unlikely ‘coalition’ of states determined to defeat the Islamic State, i.e. to destroy the anti-state.  Such a coalition might include Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, Egypt and even by extension Israel, albeit implicitly. 

However, if and when the Islamic State is defeated much would be unresolved, not least between Iran and Israel. To protect its borders and break the link between Iran and Hezbollah Israel would do all it can to establish some form of influence over an Assad successor regime to in Syria.  Any conflict that strengthens the hand of Iran on Israel’s borders would be seen by Tel Aviv as a zero-sum game.  For the sake of its very survival Israel will not and could not tolerate such an outcome.  Iran in turn would also seek to establish influence over Damascus and Baghdad as it attempts to extend its sphere of influence across the Middle East.  Riyadh will act to prevent what it sees as a threat not just to the Kingdom but the wider region over which it too exerts influence.

Of course, the great unknown in all of this is the state of the Middle Eastern state.  So weak are so many Middle Eastern states that ANY conflict in which they are involved could see elites cast away.  Jordan is the most obvious example, but the Arab world’s most populous state Egypt is not far behind.  Logically (for Herodotus ‘skill’), it would actually be in the best interest of all to avoid any such general conflict and try to contain and then weaken the Islamic State.  However, such ‘logic’ would take clear vision and calm judgement neither of which the Middle East is renowned for together with a control over events which today many leaders simply lack.  True to form many leaders will seek what got them into power in the first place and which created the Middle East tragedy – short-term, secret pacts.

War today in the Middle East would not simply be another Middle Eastern conflict.  And, if it breaks out there is no telling to where it would lead...and who would be drawn in.  As Herodotus wrote, “The bitterest of men’s miseries is to have insight into much but power over nothing”.

Julian Lindley-French 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

President Putin Means What He Says

Alphen, Netherlands. 10 July.  On 1 July President Putin laid out Russia’s foreign and security policy priorities to Russian ambassadors and Heads of Mission at a closed door meeting in Moscow.  Three themes stood out: the primacy of the Russian national interest, a specifically Russian interpretation of international law and a new European security order.  Does President Putin mean what he says? 

President Putin has repeatedly expressed his world view in open fora over many years.  And yet neither American nor European leaders have appeared to have believed him.  Indeed, the only leader who has confronted Putin of late has been Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper.  As for the rest of the West the response to Putin’s clearly stated view of the Russian national interest has always been one of denial.  No wonder the man is frustrated.

As early as 2007 at the Munich Security Conference Putin accused the United States of seeking world domination. “What is a unipolar world? No matter how we beautify this term, it means one single centre of power, one single centre of force and one single master”.  In 2008 speaking in St Peterburg Putin laid out the principles of Russia-centric European security, “Firstly, not ensuring one's own security at the expense of someone else's. Secondly, not undertaking action within military alliances or coalitions that would weaken overall security. And thirdly, not expanding military alliances at the expense of other members of the treaty.”  At the 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit President Putin told a stunned US President George W. Bush that, “…Ukraine is not even a country.  What is Ukraine?  Part of it is in Eastern Europe.  The greater part of it is a gift from us [Russia]”. 

In other words President Putin has been entirely consistent both in his world view and in his determination to pursue the Russian national interest in that context.  Which makes Putin’s 1 July statement all-the-more concerning.  Whilst Putin’s statement by and large re-confirmed then President Medvedev’s 2008 Sochi statement entitled “Five Principles of the New World Order” it was the tone of the language and the up-shift in ambition that was striking.

Putin used strong language to reinforce the lengths Moscow will go to assure its interests and ‘protect’ those who regard themselves as Russian, including the use of “self-defence”.  Putin also blamed the US and the EU for forcing Russia to intervene in Ukraine, although he was careful not to include certain European countries in his condemnation. 

Putin implied that American-led “deterrence policy” was a continuation of the Cold War. He told the assembled Russian ‘dips’ that Moscow would never have “abandoned” Crimea to “nationalist militants” or allowed NATO “to change” the balance of power in the Black Sea.  He also continued with his now well-established theme that the United States seeks global domination.

Critically, President Putin reinforced his commitment to a new European security order by seeking to further divide an already weak and divided Europe.  He blamed President Poroshenko for the breakdown of the ceasefire in Ukraine “in spite of the best diplomatic efforts of Russia, Germany and France”.  He also accused the US of “blackmailing” France with penalties against its banks and linked Washington’s actions to France’s intentions to sell Mistral assault ships to the Russian Navy. 

Putin also revealed a long-standing and apparently genuine frustration over what he sees as US hypocrisy.  Russia, Putin asserted, sought the mandatory application of international law “without double standards”.  In real-speak this means no action without a UN Security Council mandate, over which of course Moscow has a veto. 

President Putin also emphasised the continued expansion of Russia’s armed forces and the reinforcement of Moscow’s efforts to strengthen its sphere of influence as part of a new balance of power. With Moscow now spending 20% of all public funding on defence and with expenditure planned on Russia’s armed forces of some $700 billion by 2020 it is at the very least important that President Putin’s is listened to with care.  

To such a policy end Moscow would also seek to exert influence over states in the former Soviet Union and beyond through the Commonwealth of Independent States, a Eurasian Economic Union and the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation.

So what does President Putin want?  Putin understands power, weakness and opportunity.  The aim of his strategy is twofold.  First, the decoupling of the US (and to a lesser, less important extent the UK) from the security of Continental Europe.  Second, a new European security order built on a Russian-French-German alliance that excludes the US and UK.  Given Germany’s strategic ambivalence towards the US as evidenced by the latest spying scandal and the damage done by Edward Snowden President Putin also believes now is the moment to act.

Does President Putin mean what he says? Oh yes.  He always does - for good and ill.

Julian Lindley-French

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

NATO: Why the Wales Summit Must be Strategic and Ambitious

Alphen, Netherlands. 8 July.  Machiavelli wrote, “All courses of action are risky.  So prudence is not in avoiding danger (it is impossible) but calculating risk and acting decisively.  Make mistakes of ambition, not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do things, not the strength to suffer”.  NATO leaders will meet in September in Wales in what is the most important Alliance gathering since the 1991 London Summit in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War. 

In 1991 they met to consider the implications of peace in Europe.  In 2014 they will meet to consider the profound and dangerous implications of the rapid shift in the global balance of power away from NATO’s member nations.  This summit will very quickly reveal whether there is sufficient unity of purpose amongst Alliance leaders to generate ambition and if they are big enough to distinguish between long-term strategy and short-term politics.  

The stakes are very high.  London in 1991 set the future orientation of the Alliance right up to 911.  In spite of the grand language of a Europe “whole and free” which set the course for NATO and EU enlargement there was an implicit question in London that has come to define the Alliance over the ensuing years, how little can be spent on defence?  Through the Wars of the Yugoslav Succession in the 1990s, the Kosovo war, 911, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere Europeans have been unwavering in their collective belief that whatever happens they will spend less on defence.  It is political dogma that was strengthened by the 2008 financial crash and the Eurozone crisis that has driven Europe’s retreat from strategic realism.  It has also fostered the appeasement of reality and a “we only recognise as much threat as we can afford” culture amongst leaders.

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the creation of the Islamic State on NATO’s strategic doorstep and the steady march of the Islamist anti-state, Iran and its nuclear ambitions, the rapid rise of strategic China, proliferation of destructive technologies across the world and a range of other potential threats it is clear that such self-deluding dogma must be challenged.  Indeed, with NATO leaving Afghanistan the twenty-first century is finally beginning for the Alliance in Wales.  Therefore, the Wales Summit should be the place where NATO properly and finally begins to prepare for the global Cold Peace that is being inexorably fashioned beyond Alliance borders in the battle between a West that is no longer a place but an idea and the new forces of intolerance and expansionism.

The first casualty of the Cold Peace is the assumption that the Americans will always be able to defend Europe irrespective of Europe’s own defence.   Indeed, a if not the central issue at Wales should be the fashioning of a new twenty-first century transatlantic security contract founded on two principles of political realism.  First, NATO Europe can no longer play at Alliance.  The vital need for the United States to maintain credible influence and deterrence in Asia, Europe and the Middle East means that Europe’s defence can only be assured in the first instance by Europeans able and capable of acting autonomously in and around Europe.  Second, a total security concept will be needed.  All security and defence tools from intelligence to armed force, civil and military must be fashioned to prevent conflicts upstream but also to engage in conflict if needs be when, where and how it happens. 

That means forces and resources shaped to face the world as it is not as leaders would like to be.  Therefore, if London was the defence premium summit Wales must be the defence re-engagement summit built on the principle that “security and defence matters”. 

My latest report for Wilton Park, a conference and research centre close to the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office entitled “NATO’s Post 2014 Strategic Narrative” was published last week (   The report argues that NATO is entering a new and unpredictable era as the Alliance shifts from campaigns and operations to strategic contingencies.  The word ‘strategic’ is the key as it means big and that implies ambition, forces, resources and a fundamental change of mind-set on the part of political leaders.

There is no doubt that prior to Russia’s annexation of Crimea the Wales Summit would have been little more than a glorified photo op.  Leaders would have somewhat disingenuously declared “mission accomplished” in Afghanistan.  Some thought would have been given to the preservation of military interoperability between Alliance forces and some declaration made about NATO’s Open Door and future membership and partnerships.

Now the Wales Summit must begin NATO’s search for the answer to five twenty-first century strategic questions which finally operationalise the 2010 NATO Strategic Concept and the three core tasks of collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security. How can NATO provide credible collective defence to its members?  What type of reassurance can NATO provide to both members and partners?   What support can NATO realistically offer to states on its margins?  What relationship should now be sought with an assertive Russia?  What more can NATO allies do to support the US in its global mission and at the same time ensure and assure security and defence in and around Europe?

In other words Wales must answer THE pivotal question; what is NATO for now?  Answers on a postcard please.

Julian Lindley-French