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Defence and Security Issues Discussed in the 21st Century
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The DSF's Co-founder, Lady Olga Maitland
Welcome to The Defence and Security Forum

The Defence and Security Forum was founded by Lady Olga Maitland in 1983. It was originally a campaigning organisation known as Families for Defence launched to challenge the anti-nuclear protest movements such as CND. Families for Defence’s remit was to promote the NATO case for multilateral nuclear disarmament. In the course of doing so the purpose was to focus on the importance of a proper provision for the defence of the United Kingdom.
Major General Patrick Cordingley, our Chairman Our Keynote Topics

  • International Relations
  • Economics
  • Politics
  • Defence and Security

NATO: 20TH Century Relic or Credible 21st Century Strategic Actor?
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General Sir James Everard, KCB, CBE
Former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe

We should never stop reading, listening and learning, and yet we are often too immersed in the daily grind and crises (and there is always a crisis), to the point that too few of us do. This why the work of the Defence & Security Forum is so valuable in keeping us honest. In this case on NATO and whether the Alliance is inadequate or indispensable.

What we believe depends on where we sit. I am a military pragmatists. My tribe like things that can be observed and measured. We know the crucial importance of understanding the opponent. We like strategies that pass the test of reality (remembering that even the best strategies do not come with a guarantee of success).

You may or may not my version of contemporary and future history.

You may or may not believe that our strategic partnership with Russia is long-dead, and the Kremlin sees itself at war and is operating now to destabilise the West.

You may or may not believe that the West and rules-based international order is in retreat.

You may or may not believe that China can simultaneously be a partner, competitor and rival.
You may or may not believe that Europe’s inability to set its strategic compass and compromise between different visions will produce a Europe without a vision.

You may or may not know how NATO works, that Capitals retain decision-making authority – and so when we are critical of the Alliance we are implicitly critical of ourselves.

You may have your own truth. Good. I will listen and learn. However, no-one can deny we are now a long, long way from the post-Cold War triumph of liberal democracy and the so-called End of History.

I believe the threats to the Euro-Atlantic Area from Russia, China and Terrorist Groups are very real.

I believe that the understanding of war in Russia has broadened to embrace non-military means, but that this approach is underpinned by its conventional and nuclear capabilities – and we ignore these at our peril.

I believe that given these threats NATO remains an extra-ordinary instrument for building common purpose across Allies.

I believe that if the Alliance did not exist we would be working to create it.
I recognise that present tensions in the Alliance are harmful, but observe that this is not a new phenomenon and in hard times NATO has always overcome the different, sometimes contradictory perspectives of Allies.

And yet for all this NATO is not yet the best it can be.

The first problem is that NATO is a mystery to many people.

 Governments (for reasons good and bad) have not educated their populations on the threat or what NATO does to keep them safe. This lack of understanding is a vulnerability.

In 2017, 73% of Britons approved of NATO, today it is only 50%. In France, it is 39% - and falling. In Spain favourability towards NATO (different poll and different metric) is 29%, in Germany 30% and Italy 35%. 25% of NATO supporters in the UK also admit (YouGov UK December 2019) they do not know what NATO does, whilst a further 15% believe NATO is the military wing of the United Nations.

The second related problem is that the question of how Europe defends itself is not ‘mainstream’. The debate is live today amongst our policy makers, not because of the actions of our adversaries, but because we fear the American security umbrella can no longer be taken for granted. This given US (and UK) powerplay in and around the Pacific designed to match the pace of China’s rise. This given our untidy retreat from Afghanistan.

As an aside commentators were quick to say that NATO failed in Afghanistan, but I remind you again we are NATO.

What happened? The NATO non-combat Mission RESOLUTE SUPPORT (which included US troops) sat alongside and was interdependent on a US-led counterterrorism mission (which included Allied troops) both under a single (US-NATO) Commander serving two masters, but bound together (held together) by one simple idea: In Together-Out Together.

Did President Trump have the right to speak for or negotiate with the Taliban on behalf of all international and NATO troops in Afghanistan? Even if many Nations (and 49 deployed troops at one time or another) were only there to support the US he did not.

 But challenging President Trump was potentially counter-productive for NATO and so Brussels and Capitals avoided self-harm and went with the flow: In Together: Out Together.

Did Allies have concerns? Yes, but in truth no-one wanted to be left holding the baby in a country rotten with corruption, where no-one in government appeared to be accountable for anything, in a nation still stuck (to quote Kim Barker) somewhere between the 7th Century and Las Vegas.

 In the end it was not the fact that the US had decided to leave Afghanistan, but the manner of the negotiations that put US domestic politics ahead of our commitment to the Afghan government and people without a Plan B and the nature of (our) collective departure. Clearly nobody expected the house of cards in Afghanistan to fall so quickly, but it did and we are all embarrassed and exposed by our failure.

As a result the nagging doubts over US reliability were reinforced, compounded by a pandemic that has exposed the weakness and fragility of nation states.
All this further emboldens Russia and China.

How do we recover?

By ensuring that the US and the Allies get their collective act together in NATO to ensure the future of our democracies are defended from a position of strength.
To do this we need to again prioritise Collective Defence and deliver on the commitments already made at the Brussels Leader’s Summit this year (2021) to not only update the 2010 Strategic Concept (the official document that outlines NATO’s purpose, nature and fundamental tasks) but also take forward a new military strategy to (quote) strengthen our ability to deter and defend against any potential adversary and to maintain and develop our military advantage now and in the future.

The background to these commitments is interesting. In 2016, despite a number of sensible tactical steps taken by the Alliance since the Russian Annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Alliance remained wedded to Crisis Response and had not recognised Russia as a threat.

Three SACEURs in a row worked closely with the Military Committee to strengthen NATO. A NATO Military Strategy was produced in 2019. This recognised Russia and Terrorism as threats to the Alliance, and moved the Alliance away from a strategy of reaction to one of action. This Strategy was only ever noted by the North Atlantic Council (they reserved judgement), but it was then followed by a detailed Concept for the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA) which was approved.

DDA is the agent of change for NATO

It is long. It remains classified, but DDA both upholds the defensive nature of the Alliance and sets out how NATO armed forces plan to deal with the two main threats, Russia and Terrorist Groups. It is also elastic and can be applied elsewhere.

DDA visualises the complex nature of modern warfare as a contest, where deterrence must demonstrate an intelligence-led and unambiguous ability to defend, and defence relies on controlling geographic areas and the multiple domains of warfare simultaneously, allied to the ability to deliver Forces, Fires and Effects at speed.

This Concept was then brought to life – underpinned – by  a Strategic Plan (known as the SACEURs Strategic Plan – the SASP). This is the first military strategic plan for the employment of the military instrument since 1968, and builds on Alliance peacetime activities and provides an area wide perspective across the five domains to directly challenge our adversaries.

It also contains a strategic framework that defines Military Strategic Objectives and links these to Military Strategic Effects and Military Strategic Actions, making the act of political control much easier.

DDA has been approved at 30, and the SASP has now been sent to the Alliance’s supreme political body, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) for approval.

But the military are already acting. Within his Authorities SACEUR has already issued a Directive for Peacetime Vigilance based on the logic of DDA. This aims to harmonise the peacetime military activity conducted by Allies. Indeed, many Allies are already embracing this new methodology during their peace-time activities, with the UK best in class.

However, there are those in Brussels and Capitals who do not like the concept or idea of 'unpeace' and where this might take us.

Their concerns are reasonable and need to be addressed, but they (perhaps) think the military have moved too quickly, and are ahead of, or have gained too much influence over the political process. For now they have gone with the tide, but I think we will see more debate on how we defend Europe as we close with the delivery of DDA-SASP. What would they say if they were here?

That it is easier to find visible ways to counter, contest, complicate and circumvent our competitors than meet well-defined military strategic objectives; that competition encourages competition and so the death-spiral begins; that our actions will simply increase the Russian sense of insecurity; that this is going to be costly; that it diverts attention from NATO 2030 with a militarized strategy when what we really need a more political NATO with more creative non-kinetic solutions.

Capitals retain decision-making authority in NATO and I hope these questions have been looked at, our leaders are reassured and will now stick to their guns. In delivery DDA-SASP provides a strategic framework that both enhances political control and will help restore balance and sustain peace in the Euro-Atlantic Area. NATO is already stronger because it is beginning to act as one to a common vision. Important because Russia respects strength. The alternative? Drift, reaction and lost opportunities on a downward path to mediocrity and an inadequate NATO.

Final thoughts

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, US power allowed Europeans to believe that military power was no longer important (to paraphrase Robert Kagan). Defence spending fell by around 30% between 1991 and 2015. We (Europe) were slow to accept the true nature of the threats we face, and too slow to adapt strategically, because it was just / is just so politically and economically difficult to do so – and we hoped there was an easier way.

We instead provided space to our opponents in the hope they would off-ramp, or that we could transform them through rapprochement, through trade or simply by giving time to time. We feared provoking them, and often turned the other cheek. None of this has worked. And all the time we have given ground, and no longer hold the initiative. 

Our intentions were honourable, but I suspect that Basil Liddell Hart would have called our efforts to date head-in-the-sand Ostrichism (read Defence of the West). Others would call it complacency, and history shows us that complacency is ‘the curse of our forces and the killer of our men’ (General Francis Tuker, Commander 4th Indian Division, North Africa WW2).

So, what to do?

The 2022 Strategic Concept must communicate a clear Alliance understanding of future warfare and drive forward the implementation of DDA-SASP.

We must invest more effort in educating our populations on matters of security and defence, until (to quote Isaiah) the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

Our voters must understand that today we are losing without really knowing it, and that there is a better way.

We must rebuild our military capabilities for a multi-domain fight because our technological edge in all the domains of warfare has faded.

And when the time is right NATO must also allow outsiders to ‘red team’ its thinking. Shining a light on what we are doing (transparency) is a vital part of being an Alliance of democracies.

Finally, for NATO to genuinely be a strategic actor in the 21st Century will also require the UK to lead others by the hand. Indeed, the UK is one of very few countries (perhaps only country) with the self-interest, knowledge and mana to lead in NATO. NATO is often secondary in the thinking of all Allies. We (the UK) can change this, can lead in NATO by word and deed, so that we can all sleep soundly in our beds because the Alliance stands ready in the night to deter and defend - and our adversaries know this to be true.

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A DSF speaker. Lady Olga Maitland talking to delegates. A DSF speaker
Delegates enjoying the debate. Lady Olga Maitland chatting to a delegate. Cordingley

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