Prof Lindley-French: We have to engage Russians on currency of power they’ve chosen

Prof Dr Julian Lindley-French at the the Rīga Conference 2022 by © Valdis Kauliņš

The Lithuania Tribune recently interviewed Professor Dr Julian Lindley-French, Chairman of The Alphen Group, during the Annual Conference on Russia organized by the Baltic Defence College in Tartu, Estonia. Dr Lindley-French shared his insights on a range of topics, including the current security situation in Europe, the role of NATO, and the conflict in Ukraine.

During the interview, Dr Lindley-French provided suggestions for a peace plan in Ukraine, and China’s role in it, drawing on his experience as co-author of The Alphen Group’s report on the subject. Dr Lindley-French also discussed the role of NATO in Europe’s security landscape forthcoming Vilnius NATO Summit, expressing optimism about the organization’s future while also highlighting areas where more progress is needed, such as increasing European capabilities to meet NATO’s Article 5 commitments.

During the interview, Professor Lindley-French was asked about the German brigade’s promise to arrive in Lithuania in the event of a need. He stressed the importance of deploying European brigades and US brigade combat teams and the need for a credible defence and deterrence strategy in the region.

He highlighted the need for a revolution in the European force base to create an enhanced NATO response force with up to 300,000 mainly European military personnel able to move at 10 to 15 days’ notice. He called for a proper assessment of the alliance’s needs and for NATO’s defence planners to work out exactly what forces are needed in the next 10-15 years and how to pay for them.

Overall, the interview provided valuable insights into some of the key challenges facing Europe’s security today and potential paths forward for addressing them.

How the Ukrainian victory should look and how it’s going to look. What do you think? 

Well it should look like a return to 1991 borders. And to do that, the West, specifically NATO is going to have to increase the military support and speed up the military support to make it relevant to the fight.

And, if the West organizes and develops a campaign plan across diplomatic information, military economic lines of attack, it would very quickly demonstrate to Russia and Russians that they’ve made a terrible, terrible mistake and force them to negotiate.

Now you ask me where will it end up? If we’re willing to take that kind of action and some risk, there’s inevitably some risk involved, then we will prevail. If not, it will become another tragic European frozen conflict which will drag out the conflict. This will suit Putin because it means the narrative of war will keep him in power, he offers nothing else to the Russian people.

The narrative of threat from Russia will also develop. Let’s face it, Europeans, North Americans, we all have our own domestic issues. History shows after the initial shock when we get used to things, however difficult, such as in Afghanistan, we lose strategic patience, we lose focus. Putin’s hoping for that. If we do Putin will be rewarded for his aggression. Naturally, we would craft all sorts of words to deny that but that’s what the truth would be. And that’s the truth Putin would take away, that he can always outlast the democratic West. So this really is not just about Ukraine, central though it is to this war. It’s about our place, the West, in Europe and the world.  And the ability of Europeans in particular to shape their own security environment.

I could also foresee a situation in which the Russians would give up Donbass, but not Crimea, because Crimea goes to the, almost to the mythical heart of being Russian. I suppose the paradox is that it’s exactly in Crimea where Grigory Potemkin created Potemkin villages with the whole Russian/Putin myth, Novorossiya, Ruski mir, built around his Potemkin/Putin village of false history. And if we allow that myth, that Peter the Great, Catherine the Great myth to become entrenched, then this is just the beginning of a very long struggle indeed.

The regime in Moscow and the Russian people have decided that the currency of power with which they wish to engage the West is force. Well, let them see the force the West can generate when roused. I think of World War II. I think of the appalling miscalculation that Hitler made. Look at the facts not the myth. Nazi Germany was far from invincible in 1940.  Indeed, Britain surpassed Germany in aircraft production in June 1940. The Germans never caught up. For all the narrative of appeasement in fact the British were actually better prepared for a long war than Germany.

Then the Americans got involved and, alongside the immense sacrifice of the Russian people and many others, including brave Lithuanians, America’s immense industrial technological power pushed the Allies towards victory. Well, we have to do the same thing now, because this is not just about defeating Russia in Ukraine. It’s about deterring Russia going forward in this part of free Europe. It is also about credibly deterring Russia going forward across hybrid warfare, cyber warfare, and not just kinetic warfare. Indeed, the very character of warfare is changing, so we need a new model of deterrence to meet the new challenge.

All of these things we can do through our Alliance, our amazing Alliance. But we as free nations and free peoples have got to have and demonstrate the political will, the cohesion, and the plan to apply our overwhelming resources in pursuit of our high political goals. THAT IS WHAT THE NATO VILNIUS SUMMIT IS ALL ABOUT THIS SUMMER! It is also NATO’s mission here, now and into the future. It is also why I come to conferences like this (Editor – the Annual Conference on Russia, organised by the Baltic Defence College in Tartu, Estonia), like the Riga Conference, because you here are on the front line of freedom. And, I have a duty to support you and our Alliance and indeed our Union in that mission, because freedom is at stake.

I live in a village in the West of Europe and in that village they have no real sense of being at war. But like it or not, in a way they are. It touches them. But in time, if we don’t deal with this, it could engulf them. And so I do believe that we have to engage the Russians on the currency of power they’ve chosen.

Now, the tragedy of all this for Ukrainians and for Russians, is that Russia could have a wonderful relationship with its Western neighbours. It could have a symbiotic relationship where it could enjoy the peace needed to modernize its society with the wealth it gains from its energy supplies to Europe. But of course, Putin and the people around him do not want to modernize Russia’s society, because to modernize Russian society would threaten the regime. And, the only thing that matters to Putin and the people around the man is staying in power.

So what is the consequence of the myth that free Europe threatens Russia? What Putin is doing is condemning Russia and Russians to a future in which they are little more than a vassal state of the Chinese. Make no mistake, official China despises the Russians and see them already as a very junior partner. And, it’s never a good thing to be a junior partner of the Chinese. They will also exploit the Russians ruthlessly for their own ends. And it is Putin who has put himself and his country in the position where the only choice he has is between being a vassal state of China or a client state of the West.

A client state of the West or supplier state of the West?  Then, the future of the Russian people would be much rosier. But no, this myth that there is a threat from the West, which is only propagated because the real threat is the very freedom that the West enjoys.

And that is why we find ourselves in 2023, in the 21st century, with another tragic repeat of something that more like the wars of aggrandisement of the 19th century. That is tragic. And to make sure we don’t fully go back there, we must be decisive. We, the collective West. 

And how to make sure that the taxpayers, taxpayers in benevolence, taxpayers in Portugal, would understand that they need to spend more, much more than 2% for their defence because it’s a life threatening, you know, existential threat. As you said, they don’t understand it. 

Leadership. In a word, leadership. Our leaders are beginning to wake up to this new reality. Look at my own country, the UK.  We are beginning to increase our entire national security budget, which is between 5% and 7% of a $3.2 trillion economy, the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world. However, if we are to play the leading role we must in Europe’s future security and defence we will have to increase our defence budget from about the £50 billion a year now to about £70 billion a year.

All of us also need to spend both better and in a more co-ordinated way.  For example, the UK is building one of the most modern navies, ship for ship in the world. New nuclear attack submarines, new nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, new destroyers, new frigates, new aircraft carriers. This is because at the end of the day, we’re a maritime power. We’re also building reinforcing our world class intelligence, which of course no one really knows about, but which is the backbone of intelligence in Europe. All of the above requires leadership, particularly at times of economic duress.

Leadership is about a partnership with citizens in a democracy.  Most people, if they’re told the reason why we have to do this, most people will say, “Okay, as long as you spend that money well, do it! Times have changed and we are all going to have to pay more taxes for defence. But promise me this: if you increase the defence budget quickly, make sure you, Dear Leader, have a clear plan of how to spend my money and do it as efficiently as possible”. If any such increase is simply for political theatre, to give the impression that we’re doing more when we’re not, we will end up making huge defence investment mistakes at great expense.

We should begin Europeans sitting down and working out who does what best and then making those investment choices together. And, with no disrespect to any other European country that process has to be led by the British, the French and the Germans.  The ‘Big Three’ represent almost 70% of Europe’s entire defence expenditure, and some 90% of defence R&D, research and development. If those three countries can agree strategy, then we can establish clear divisions of labour thus ensuring we invest to our strengths.

So Britain, for example, its main emphasis will be on maritime and air defence,  protecting the North Atlantic against the Russian Northern Fleet, joint expeditionary forces, special forces. The French will be more land heavy. However, the backbone of European/NATO land deterrence going forward will be the Germans. Countries like Poland, who are making a great effort, will be vital but, remember, Warsaw still has a defence budget which is only  25% of the UK’s defence budget. For their increased investment to reinforce the common good they need the Brits, the French and the Germans to collectively get their defence act together. For example, what I would advise my Polish friends to do is to employ their political energy to get the European Defence, Industrial and Technological Base (EDTIB) fit for purpose. Which it is not! 

For example, it’s nonsense that the French and the Germans are talking about building a future combat air system, the SCAF, whilst the British, the Japanese and Italians are doing the same thing with other countries. Let’s have one programme.

And when we need to, let’s buy off the shelf from the Americans. I mean, the F-35 was a very complicated project. Britain was not a client as we are part of the core development team. But there are assets the Americans have when they begin to ramp up their defence industrial production, that if we can’t produce something in time by a European bespoke system, we buy American or anybody else who has Australian or Japanese if they have the asset. Why? Because we Europeans must at all costs preserve the ability of our armed forces to work with the Americans at the high end of conflict and under extreme duress. THAT is the meaning of interoperability, THE core element of Alliance defence and deterrence.

Moreover, the Russia-Ukraine war, I don’t like people saying the Ukraine war, is a global event, a systemic, geopolitical event. That’s why you see Australians, Japanese, South Koreans attending NATO summits. Not because NATO is going global, but because our Alliance is the only organisation in the world that has over 70 years’ experience of building military interoperability through standards to maintain deterrence and defence. These Partner countries do not want to join our Alliance, but they want to be able to work with it. Because it’s not only the cornerstone of global security it is also the security and defence bedrock upon which the world-wide Community of Democracies stands.

China? What I would say to Beijing is this: “What you’re doing with Russia at the moment, with respect, does not make strategic sense”. I lived in Hong Kong many years ago. I have some insight into how the Han Chinese, who dominate China, think of the world. China wants respect, and it deserves respect. It doesn’t have a society that’s the same as our society, but it’s going to be a world power. Already is. Still, it doesn’t make sense for China to abandon the very relationships with the democratic world that make it rich and powerful and who are still the major focus for its foreign-led investment and trade.

It’s still North America, Europe, Japan, Australia, and other emerging democracies with which China NEEDS to trade. It certainly doesn’t make that sense for them to destroy those relationships in support of a failing, unstable, demographically declining Russian state that will drag it into crisis after crisis.

Just look at the figures. Look at the facts. For example, the Russian economy, is at best some 60% the UK economy, and a fraction of the collective West’s economy. It is the latter which China needs to maintain its growth. Indeed, the only way the Communist Party of China can stay in power is if it continues to fulfil what I call the post-Tiananmen Square Contract with the emerging middle classes, whereby they continue to make increasing numbers of Chinese people wealthier in return for those Chinese people not questioning the authority of the Party. The Chinese Social Contract.

And if they mess with that, they’re messing with the future of China. So, again, the key to the future of China is the relationship with the global democracies. So given how sober and sensible Chinese foreign policymakers tend to be, and they’re not the same as Russia,  it’s ridiculous when I see commentators in the West say Russia and China. China is different. China isn’t full of those chips on the shoulder about the West the Russians have, the Russian Seloviki (Editor- individuals related to the military and the law enforcement structures), this bitterness they have. China doesn’t have that.

China wants respect. But China’s also prepared to be pragmatic. So be pragmatic. The Alphen Group, which I have the honour to chair, has just launched our new Ukraine strategy, “A Comprehensive Strategy for a Secure Ukraine” One of the many recommendations we make is that at the Hiroshima G7 meeting in May. Hiroshima, with all its overtones of atomic nuclear past destruction, that we invite India and China to that meeting.

We then create a G7-Plus Contact Group in which China and India take part to thrash out a legitimate and just political settlement to this war. China and India, who aren’t always close friends themselves, but are friendly with the regime in Moscow work with the Kremlin in Moscow, whilst we in the West work with Kiev to find a way out of this ghastly war before any more death and destruction. 

China says that sovereignty is vital and that no state has the right to interfere in another state’s sovereignty. Ok, then China – convince the Russians that they have got to withdraw their forces from Ukraine, all of it, and in return we can then start to talk about rebuilding the economic and security relationships that Russia desperately needs.

We in the West must also be realistic because we will also pay a price to pay going forward.  Most of the costs of rebuilding Ukraine will fall on the West. Okay, Russia will have to pay reparations, but let’s be honest, if you look at history after World War II, it was the Americans that rebuilt much of Europe through the Marshall Plan aka the European Recovery Program. We will need something similar.  

Tribunals will also need to be set up to look into war crimes, but again, and sadly, history suggests that unless Russia suffers a catastrophic defeat those held accountable for war crimes will probably not be the ones that made the key decisions because that simply makes finding peace impossible.  It is an unjust but sad reality. However, the bottom line is and must remain all Russian forces out of all of Ukraine, and only through such a contact group do I believe that we can create the institutional framework to bring this conflict back under control.

Alternatively, as Russia’s incompetence begins to become self-evident even to Russians and the regime comes under growing pressure, as at some point it will, then even greater danger lurks. Moscow can’t keep on mobilising the far-flung regions of Russia just to throw men into the meat-grinder that is this war. At some point, the Kremlin will have to start touching Moscow and St. Petersburg and the Russian heartlands, and then the Russian people will really begin to realize that Putin’s war is failing.  How long? No-one knows.  

If that happens then the risk of nuclear proliferation, of NATO being dragged into a direct war, inevitably grows. So let’s start taking concrete steps to stop it now. How? So far we in the West have reacted to this war. Yes, we’ve all done our individual national things to help Ukraine, but the effort has been too often fragmented. What we need now is a plan that stretches across diplomatic, informational, military, and economic lines of strategy to get support to Ukraine, to restore Ukraine, to end the war, and over time gradually rebuild a European security architecture which is no longer subject to this criminal tragedy that’s happening in Ukraine today.

Do you think that the Chinese have enough leverage on the Russians to put them into their place?

Yes. In fact, the paradox is that Putin has been trying to lean on China to offset his own weakness, but in so doing, he has made himself far weaker in relation to China. And the Chinese are doing the Russians no favour. They’re driving a very hard bargain on energy.

If the Chinese tell the Russians that this war is beginning to really damage China’s fundamental national strategic interests, then Russia will be completely isolated and will have no alternative to either escalate through mass mobilization, thus putting the regime at risk, creating a frozen conflict that would pretty much look like the Line of Contact between 2014 and 2022, or offering genuine negotiations and the prospect of a reset back to at least before February 23rd of last year, and preferably back to 1991 borders. That’s got to be the plan.

But all of this depends on whether we in the West are willing to take the necessary steps to show that we’re very serious about achieving these goals.

What about the Ukrainians? Are they going to be accepting that some territories might be lost?

They shouldn’t have to, and I don’t want them to. I’m also an Oxford historian and I’ve studied these dilemmas most of my life. And what traditionally happens with smaller powers trapped between big powers is that ugly compromises are too often made and usually when the two sides each have just enough power to avoid a decisive outcome one way or another. Indecisive outcomes lead to unjust settlements, whilst the wrong outcomes simply mean occupation.

I believe that Russia’s power in relation to the West is so weak that with tacit Chinese agreement there could be a way to restore Ukraine and deny Russia any rewards for its blatant aggression. However, for such an outcome to have any chance of being realised the West’s collective negotiating position at the beginning of any negotiations must be clear support for Kiev. No ifs, no buts. Therefore, before we talk about sanctions relief for Russia, even before we discuss reparations, war crimes, rebuilding of Ukraine, compensation to Ukrainians, Russian access to the global economy and the banking system, before we talk about that, there must be a precondition: withdrawal of all Russian forces from all Ukrainian territory.

And what is there for Russia to do that?

For Russia, it will take a recognition that this entire misadventure was a ghastly mistake. What would be on offer is thus a final chance for Russia to re-engage with global economic structures, banking structures, finance structures, so that they can rebuild their society and their own broken economy and gradually be brought back into the international community.

They don’t even have to be friends with Europe or the West. We can have a relationship without a friendship even if I would prefer a form of friendship with Russia over time, also recognising that it will take a long time. But we can at the very least have a relationship that is in the interests of all of us and which would finally give a chance for Russia to modernise itself, to restore itself and enter the 21st century. It has been a failure to modernise Russian society which is the real reason we find ourselves in this mess. In the interim we, democracies must watch events in Moscow very carefully. If Russia takes any such opportunity to ‘modernize’ itself aggressively, and simply rebuild its armed forces, we will not only have to watch but respond.  

But by any measure, this war has been a massive mistake by the Kremlin. Russia has not only defeated itself through its military incompetence they now seem clueless about how to get themselves out of a tragic mess of their own making. Simply continuing a failed war because they can’t get themselves out of it by sending human wave after wave of Russians  to be slaughtered on a battlefield to nowhere, that’s not leadership. It is weakness.

Sometimes in history countries have to accept that times have changed. My own country, Britain, is a very different to the country I was born into. Yes, we’re still a power, but we’ve accepted that life moves on and we are not the power we were. The British Empire is long over and we have adapted to that. We have all got to have an ability to change and that is precisely what Russia does not have and precisely why Russians retreat into past myth.

You see, Russia is not simply at war with Ukraine or the West, it is effectively at war with modernity. Russia will always be a great regional power, like Britain, but neither of us are world powers anymore, let alone superpowers. Get over it!

Change happens. There is a great future for Russia if Russians want it. And that ultimately is the tragedy of this war for both Ukrainians and Russians, because it is not the West that is denying Russians that future, but their own corrupt leaders. So look to the future, Russia, not the past, and then we can find a way to rebuild relationships, rebuild lives, and critically rebuild Ukraine. Do that and we in the West are willing to invest billions of dollars and euros in rebuilding Ukraine. But, again, Russia, has first to get out of Ukraine. There can be no use of force in Europe in the 21st century to change internationally recognized borders. That is a principle we will never accept, never accept. And Russians must understand that.

What do you say to those people who are afraid of Russia, which is getting modernized again?  And usually when you look at the history, Russian history, it is once modernization starts taking place, they start rebuilding not the society, but they start rebuilding the military. 

The moment they do that, then we rebuild our own forces to meet the threat. That is what NATO is for.  Remember, if the political will is there, and THAT is the West’s problem, particularly western Europe, we can rebuild at a far faster, far more advanced, far more capable way than Russians can. We don’t have levels of corruption as they do in Russia. We don’t have these strange, what I call rent seekers, who take the modernization money away from the actual job in hand. We have our problems, but nothing like those faced by Russia and Russians.

So, when we unleash the awesome power of the Western democracies in pursuit of peace and freedom then there’s nothing Russia or anybody else can do to match that. What Russia has done to Ukraine is a massive wake up call – or at least it should be. One can only hope that leaders in western Europe finally abandon their long held mis-belief that they only need recognise as much threat as they think they can afford!  

NATO summit in Vilnius, what are your expectations and what it should achieve?

It’s one year after Madrid and I want to see hard military power put front and centre of the Alliance mission. I want to see a realistic, proper assessment of where we are implementing the key components of NATO Agenda 2030 and the NATO Military Strategy, particularly concerning force-development, reinforcement of collective defence and deterrence, the innovation funds, modernization of our armed forces, common funding, cyber, emerging and destructive technologies, increased and improved defence investment all of which will be vital making our collective defence and deterrence  posture credible.

I particularly want to see a evidence of a much greater understanding by our leaders of the growing impact of emerging destructive technologies on the Alliance across the hybrid, cyber and increasingly fast hyper war. I also want to see first real steps on the road to a NATO future force, what I call the Allied Mobile European Heavy Force and which is mainlyEuropean and which much expands the enhanced NATO Response Force will be much expanded. I want to see the NATO Readiness Initiative expanded so we have far more high readiness forces and graduated response forces available to NATO commanders. I want to see a multi-domain force concept developed. I want to see the excellent Military Strategy and the outstanding work being done by General Cavioli and his team at SHAPE reinforced. Momentum is everything in a crisis. THAT means meeting the challenge Secretary General Stoltenberg set us all: that the 2% Wales Defence Investment Pledge far from being a ceiling of our ambitions is merely a baseline, a foundation. The job is Vilnius is to  honestly check on our progress from Madrid to 2030 and beyond, even if some Allies might find that uncomfortable.

Above all, I want delivery. I want delivery of the NATO 2030 agenda and the NATO strategic concept. What I don’t is more want blah, blah.  We simply cannot afford it.  At its best our Alliance is the world’s foremost politico-military alliance. At its worst, it is little more than a glorified think-tank or summit organizing company where we talk endlessly about security and defence but to no end. It’s simply too dangerous now. NATO is THE mechanism for us all to develop affordable, efficient and effective armed forces that are legitimised by the fact that we are an alliance. Let’s use it. And that will be my test for judging whether Vilnius is a success or simply more blah, blah. One other test: I want Finland and Sweden inside the Alliance now, and I want Vilnius to be a celebration of their membership.

I haven’t heard the word Ukraine. 

Well, Ukraine is going to be implicit and explicit throughout the Summit. Indeed, in many ways this Summit will be the Ukraine Summit. Everything that I’ve said, future force, defence and deterrence is all against the backdrop of the lessons we’re learning in Ukraine and  what we need to do to support Ukraine. But everything we discussed there is in light of what has happened since February 24th, 2023.

You know, I was one of the few analysts who predicted this war almost down to the month. And I was told I was wrong. Even in Vilnius before the war, as the commandant here said, I said, this is what’s going to happen. Because I’m good at what I do. I’m also absolutely convinced that I’m right about the need for NATO to stop talking and start really acting. Not deluding ourselves, but getting down to answer the simple question, what is the force we need in place? The forces and resources we need.  At present there are 20 to 30 high readiness brigades in Europe.  We need at least 50 to 60. Are we Europeans really willing to pay not just for such a force but everything it needs to be effective over time and distance?

It is practical questions like these our leaders need to be answer in summits like Vilnius, because ultimately NATO is a worst-case alliance – it must be able to deal with the worst-case. For example, in a major European emergency the Americans might be busy elsewhere. What then? We have NATO because it’s both an insurance policy and a fire brigade! We have NATO because if our house catches fire, it can be quickly put out! What is if the house catches fire, and the American fire brigade is being stretched thin elsewhere, because it’s an engineered crisis involving the Russians and the Chinese or others? What then?  

In fact, the answer is simple: at the very least and at 2030 by the latest we Europeans need to be able to deliver a high end first responder military capability that can act anywhere  in Europe at any level of conflict across land, sea, air, cyber, information, space, knowledge. It must be led by the three major European powers, Britain doing the maritime amphibious with some land, France doing maritime amphibious and land, Germany mainly doing land, and all of us doing air and space.

That’s the real challenge we face in what is a revolutionary moment in the history of our Alliance. This is a moment that is almost as important as 1949 when we created the Alliance. In some respects, this is about the creation of a new alliance, a new NATO, with Vilnius on the front line of that new NATO. But we’ve got to have the political will and strategic vision to make that happen and I will judge the summit accordingly. 

Do you think there’s a lot of chances that Sweden and Finland will become members of NATO at the Vilnius summit?

I would like to think so. We need to convince our Turkish friends that their concerns are met. We can do that. I’m sure President Erdogan can be convinced by giving him some of the things that he says he wants and by assuring him of the importance of Turkey to the Alliance. Look at a map if you want to see how important Turkey is. We must all collectively demonstrate that we’re not just focused on Ukraine, that we understand the tensions in the Black Sea region, the Caspian Sea region, the Levant, the Middle East, and that we are sensitive to Turkish security needs.

I hope that once Turkish elections, for example, are completed, there’s every chance that we’ll find a settlement to outstanding issues and that Finland and Sweden will then take their rightful places as powerful and legitimate Allies within the framework of our fantastic Alliance.

And the increasing role of Poland in defence. There are some conversations happening with the world about the power of decision-making, the power of the military is kind of shifting east and Poland is becoming a big part of it.

Yes, Poland is a leader. But what is power? Power is a combination of economic and military might, allied to strategic experience and the ability to use force. And one only has to look at the comparison with due respect to the size of the Polish economy compared to the British economy, for example, or the size of the British defence budget versus the Polish defence budget or the intelligence budget to understand both the vital importance of Poland and its limits.

Certainly, Poland has a vital role to play. But its ability to lead Europe will always be constrained by the fact that there are three powers, at least in Europe, that are four, five, six times more powerful in every respect.  What’s crucial ultimately is that France, Britain and Germany agree on the direction of travel in consultation with Poland and others.

This is not an exclusive imperialistic bid but rather the reality of how power works. If those three big powers can agree strategically, then everything is possible. Poland’s job is to continue its excellent regional leadership and leading by example. But to really release the potential of Europeans in pursuit of their own legitimate security and defence, it will ultimately be Britain, France and Germany in alignment that will drive the European defence of Europe forward together in a post-Brexit European security model and intergovernmental structure designed to share burdens and risks equitably with the Americans.

My vision? By 2030, Europeans should aspire to provide at least 50% of all the capabilities and capacities needed under NATO’s Article 5 commitment. 50%. That means a marked uptick in our capabilities. We can do it. We could do it very quickly. But there has to be the will-power, the cohesion and the momentum to achieve that. 

And the last question, I’m not sure how well you’re following this issue of the German brigade in Lithuania. And so at the moment we have this promise by the German government that in 10 days, a brigade will arrive in Lithuania if there will be a need for that.  What is your take on it?

I think it’s vital. In the same way, I think two British brigades here (Editor – in Estonia) are also vital. French brigades are vital. Why? Because we are shifting from a deterrence by punishment, forward defence posture to a deterrence by denial posture. And that means a different deployed force structure.

In fact, I find these debates slightly bizarre. The 10-day gap is not critical. We’ll get over that. The real issue is what level of force do the Allies have to deploy and where to make Article 5 deterrence and defence credible given the nature and scale of the threat.

Now, we’ve all seen that Russia’s Western military oblast has been greatly depleted because of the personnel shift to Ukraine. So, there is a reduced risk right now. But that might not be the same going forward. But then the next question becomes thus: OK, so you forward deploy more European brigades and US brigade combat teams. What’s behind it? At what strength and where do we deploy the very high readiness joint task force? Where and with forces do we deploy the enhanced NATO Response Force? What about notice to move of national Alliance forces? Will there be enough of them in sufficient strength and at sufficiently high readiness to be credible the roles, tasks, and missions they are given? Under the NATO Military Strategy the plan is for a far more enhanced NATO Response Force, with up 300,000 mainly European military personnel able to move at 10 to 15 days’ notice. Where? Who? What? How? Above all, when?

Any such force will require a revolution in the European force base. What is happening with that? The devil is in the detail, not blah, blah political statements.  We must hold our leaders to account for the commitments that they have made at previous summits. “OK, you said at the last summit we were committed to creating by 2030 these forces, an enhanced NATO readiness initiative, a new NATO Future Force, greatly enhanced European forces under NATO command. Where are we? Where are we on the plan?  Who is implementing what?

That’s the real debate that should be taking place here, not whether the Germans are 10 days late or tardy on redeployment.  I think the British are also a bit tardy reinforcing their deployment in Estonia because these days it’s quite a push for the British Army to put even two brigades in the field compared with one battle group, given its other commitments and the size of the army these days. In short, we’ve got to get over the strategic pretence, the defence pretence, that leads to problems like this whereby we make commitments that we cannot fulfill. If we make the commitments, we have to ensure we can meet those commitments.

What next?

First, a proper audit and assessment by the Alliance of what we need.

Second, ask NATO’s very able defence planners to sit down and work out exactly what forces we need in the next 10, 15 years and only then work out how to pay for them. Thankfully, much of that work has already been done by SACEUR and his team but we do need to hold the feet of our politicians to the NATO fire.

Finally, I would declassify much that is nonsensically classified. Only then will be build the partnership between leaders and grown-up citizens upon which any credible security and defence must stand.  After all, it is their money and their lives.

That can only be done if there’s much more transparency and trust between our leaders and our peoples  about how much NATO will cost, what NATO needs, and why they’re going to have to pay for it, and above all why we need THIS NATO.

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