Future War and the Defence of Europe

Future War and the Defence of Europe

Written by : General USMC (Ret.) John R. Allen, Lt. General USA (Ret.) Frederick (Ben) Hodges, and Professor Julian Lindley-French (Oxford: Oxford University Press) 

John R. Allen is the president of the Brookings Institution, a retired United States Marine Corps four-star general, and former commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces – Afghanistan. On September 13, 2014, President Barack Obama appointed Allen as special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL. He was succeeded in that role by Brett McGurk on October 23, 2015. He is the co-author of Turning Point: Policymaking in the Era of Artificial Intelligence with Darrell M. West.

The Challenge

Unless Europeans do far more for their own defence Americans will be unable to defend them, but there can be no credible future war, future defence of Europe without the Americans!

The COVID 19 pandemic has accelerated the shift of power from West to East revealing a host of vulnerabilities in Europe’s defences and making major war in Europe again a possibility. The lessons of history? From D-Day to the creation and development of NATO the importance of sufficient and legitimate military power has been at the heart of credible defence and deterrence, whilst shared innovation and technology have been critical to maintaining the unity of effort and purpose vital to upholding Europe’s freedoms. 

However, Europeans now face a digital Dreadnought moment when strategy, capability, and technology could combine to create a decisive breakthrough in the technology and character of warfare and not in Europe’s favour. The future of peace in Europe could well depend on the ability of Europeans and Americans to mount a credible defence and deterrence across a mosaic of hybrid war, cyber war, and hyper war. To remain credible deterrence must thus reach across the conventional, digital and nuclear spectrums. If not, Europeans will remain vulnerable to digital decapitation and the imposed use of disruptive technologies. 

The Threat

Critically, if the defence of Europe is to remain sound both Europeans and their North American allies must squarely and honestly face the twin threat of hostile geopolitics and disruptive technologies, and they must do so together and with shared purpose: 

Russia: Russian economic weakness and political instability allied to the overbearing cost of the Russian security state and its development of new weapons poses the greatest danger to European defence;  

Middle East and North Africa: State versus anti-state Salafist Jihadism and the impact of COVID-19 are exacerbating deep social and political instability across the region. The Syrian war has also enabled Russia to further weaken Europe’s already limited influence therein, with transatlantic cohesion further undermined by conflict over what to do with Iran and its nuclear programme.

China? The rise of China is the biggest single geopolitical change factor. Europe’s nightmare is China and Russia working in tandem to weaken the US ability to assure Europe’s defence.  US forces are stretched thin the world over and could render European defence incapable at a time and place of Beijing and Moscow’s choosing.  The Belt and Road Initiative and the indebtedness of many European states to China is exacerbating both European weakness and transatlantic divisions. 

The Dilemma

Can NATO defend Europe? Only if the Alliance is transformed for if it fails any ensuing war could rapidly descend into a war unlike any other. Europeans must thus understand that if Americans are to provide the reinsurance for European defence, it is Europeans who must provide the insurance.  NATO is thus in the insurance business.  It is also an essentially European institution that can only fulfil its defensive mission if Europeans give the Alliance the means and tools to maintain a minimum but credible deterrent.

Could Europe defend Europe? No, and not for a long time to come. Given post-COVID-19 economic pressures the only way a truly European defence could be realized would be via an integrated EU-led European defence and a radical European strategic public–private sector partnership formed to properly harness the civ-tech revolution across Artificial Intelligence (AI), super-computing, hypersonic and other technologies entering the battlespace.  Can Europeans defence-innovate? They will need to.   

The Future

Europeans must quit the comforting analogue of past US dependency and help create a digital and AI-enabled defence built on a new, more equitable and more flexible transatlantic super-partnership.  A super-partnership that is fashioned on the anvil of an information-led digital future defence against the stuff of future warfare: disinformation, destabilisation, disruption, deception and destruction. A partnership which at its defence-strategic core has a new European future force able to operate across air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge. 

The future of European defence is not just a military endeavour. COVID 19 has profoundly changed the challenge of defending Europe. It has also changed the assumptions upon which the transatlantic relationship has rested since 1945 and also changed the relationship between the civil and military sectors and even between peace and war.  Therefore, Europe’s future defence will depend on a new dual-track strategy: the constant pursuit of dialogue between allies and adversaries allied to a minimum but critical level of advanced military capability and capacity. Only a radical strategic public-private sector partnership that leverages emerging and disruptive technologies across the mega-trends of defence-strategic change will the democracies be able to defend themselves.  

If not, then as Plato once reportedly said, “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. 

Julian Lindley-French

Analyst, author, commentator and speaker with ten books to my name, including two for Oxford University Press (and about to publish my third for Oxford “Future War and the Defence of Europe), My job is to speak truth unto power in an age when the gap between power, people and politics is growing dangerously wide. My focus is the tension between strategy and politics with an emphasis on security and defence policy. My analysis is the product of many years policy and practitioner experience, allied to long and deep research. Sadly, I also support Sheffield United Football Club – the triumph of endless hope over long, hard, and painful experience!
Forthcoming Book
Future War and the Defence of Europe (Oxford University Press English Edition and Kosmos Press German Edition)
Recent Books:
2017: The Geopolitics of Terror – Demons and Dragons (Routledge)
2015: NATO: The Enduring Alliance 2015 (Routledge)
2015: Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power ( 2nd and paperback edition) (Amazon)
2014; The Oxford Handbook of War (paperback edition) (Oxford University Press)
2014: Little Britain: Twenty-First Century Strategy for a Middling European Power (Kindle e-book)
2012: The Oxford Handbook of War (Oxford University Press)
2007: A Chronology of European Security and Defence (Oxford University Press)
2007; NATO: The Enduring Alliance 2007 (Routledge)
2003: Terms of Engagement (EUISS)
1998: Coalitions & the Future of Security Policy

Future War and the Defence of Europe: Amazon.co.uk: Allen, John R., Hodges, Frederick Ben, Lindley-French, Julian: 9780198855835: Books

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