This post was originally published on May 18, 2016, on Lindley French’s Blog Blast: Speaking Truth Unto Power:
Alphen, Netherlands. 23 May.
Europe’s leaders are Europe’s greatest weakness. Stockholm is a beautiful city, both solid and enticing in equal measure as it cavorts between land, sea, and sky. And yet behind the façade of Swedish steadiness worry lurks. So much so that Sweden is quietly resurrecting its old Total Defence Concept as it becomes ever clearer that Russia regards Swedes as part of their self-declared special zone of influence.
My reason for being in Sweden was to attend a NATO-backed Advanced Research Workshop organised by my own Atlantic Treaty Association. The subject; hybrid warfare and the need for societal resilience. The meeting addressed the particular threats posed by cyber, and other Janus-faced technologies, to the very connectivities that make modern Western society function. As the meeting unfolded news spread that the main radar at Stockholm’s Arlanda Airport had gone down, and that two important Swedish radio masts had been sabotaged. The prevailing view was that both installations had been attacked, and that Russia could well have been responsible.
Now, if it was the Russians then it would be nice (for me at least) to think that the attack took place to mark my arrival in Stockholm to talk about the threat posed by Russia through hybrid warfare at a NATO-backed meeting. However, peering through the fog of my own ego the attack just may have had more to do with the parallel launch of the new Saab Grippen E fighter, and/or Montenegro becoming the latest member of NATO.
The ARW meeting was excellent. Lots of intelligence, academic, and business specialists got up to frighten the life out of me about what could be done to my life by some spotty-nosed oick in the back of beyond armed with a lap-top and zit-fuelled attitude. It was especially frightening if, aforesaid specialists said, aforesaid oick was backed by an adversary state (no names, no pack drill). In such circumstances there was every chance apparently I could be remotely switched off, and millions like me,and transformed into a can of sardines. I would prefer tuna.
Now, as is often the case with such meetings, I was held back for its finale for which I had prepared a worthy presentation entitled: “Hybrid Threats? What Should NATO Stand Ready For (not my title)? Instead, I tore the thing up in front of my audience. Why? Because I am getting tired of making ‘should’ presentations. Indeed, I wasted ten years of my life with ‘should’ presentations on the so-called Comprehensive Approach, whereby everyone was meant to do everything, all together, at exactly the same time, to make Afghanistan and other places safer. Why am I so tired of making such presentations? Politicians. Or, to be exact, the inability of a European political leadership in denial to properly consider worst-case scenarios.
Given that the Stockholm ‘ARW’ was meant to be part of the preparations for July’s NATO Warsaw Summit one would have hoped that it was part of a Great Awakening on the part of Europe’s leaders as to the threats Europe really faces. However, be it the threat posed by Russia and/or ISIS there seems little appetite to break out of the ‘let’s be friends with Russia at all costs’, or the ‘all hyper-immigration is wonderful’ political psychosis into which much of Europe’s political caste has retreated bereft as they are of solutions.
By coincidence, as I was speaking in Stockholm my old friend General Sir Richard Shirreff was addressing another question head on; ‘what if’ Russia attacked the Baltic States. In his new novel entitled 2017: War with Russia Richard describes an attack by Moscow that in effect removes the Baltic States from the EU and NATO by military means. Fantasy? You would think so listening to the usual coterie of bleeding heart luvvies who stepped out of the woodwork of uninformity to criticise Richard. Wake up and smell the real world!
Some time ago I was Head of the Commander’s Initiative Group of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps. The commander? Richard Shirreff. Richard then went on to become NATO’s No.2 military man as deputy supreme allied commander, Europe (DSACEUR). As DSACEUR Richard witnessed daily what the Russians and indeed ISIS are trying to do to Europe.
The book has all the hallmarks of another great work of faction back in the 1980s, General Sir John Hackett’s The Third World War. Yes, at some level such works need to be treated with a pinch cum dose of political salt. They also need to be taken deadly seriously. Reading between the lines Shirreff’s book is pretty much making the same point as Hackett’s book; the threat is not simply that posed by an adversary like Russia or ISIS. It is the threat posed by Western European political leaders in denial and the consequent obsession of such ‘leaders-lite’ with political news management rather than, and at the expense of, crisis resolution.
The hard truth is that until and unless ‘leaders’ like David Cameron, Francois Hollande, and Angela Merkel, and the careerist yes men and women with whom they surround themselves, really start to listen to the intelligence briefings they get, Europe will go on becoming steadily less defended and less defensible. Sadly, such briefings are still too often filed in the ‘what is politically possible’ dodgy dossier, rather than the ‘what is strategically necessary’ action dossier.
The true test of that switch will be when meetings like Stockholm cease to be interesting, but by and large irrelevant, exercises with little or no planning traction, and instead start to inform real defence planning. For, as I said in my remarks, if our societies remain as vulnerable as they do today to disrupting and destabilising attacks at the many seams that today exist within them, politicians will be unwilling to project the influence and force needed to keep Europeans safe.
Sadly, Europe’s leaders are not as yet willing to face the hard realities of hard Realism the twenty-first century is incubating. One would hope the coming NATO Warsaw Summit would be the Great Awakening. Don’t hold your breath. My fear is that only the coming mega-shock will awake Europe’s weak leaders from their strategic slumber. Until they do awake Europe’s politicians, their lack of strategic imagination, and their collective weakness, will continue to pose the greatest threat to Europe.
Julian Lindley-French is an internationally-recognised strategic analyst, advisor and author, Vice-President of the Atlantic Treaty Association, CGAI Fellow, Senior Fellow of the Institute of Statecraft, Director of Europa Analytica & Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow, National Defense University, Washington DC