.
E

uropean defense and security policy is typically not the most thrilling subject. The machinations of Eurocrats in Brussels, the debates in Berlin, Paris, and London over defense spending, and the glacial pace of policymaking do not lend themselves to exciting developments. Yet, answering critical questions about the future of the European experiment and its alliance systems is perhaps more important than it has ever been. A revanchist and aggressive Russia, an American shift to the Indo-Pacific with a rising and aggressive China, and the effects of Covid-19 are all highlighting the importance of inter-European relations and the need to revisit the strategic landscape on the continent. 

Future War and the Defence of Europe | By John R. Allen, Frederick Ben Hodges, Julian Lindley-French | Oxford University Press | June 2021.

General John R. Allen (USMC, ret.), Lieutenant General F. Ben Hodges (USA, ret.), and Julian Lindley-French, a senior fellow at the National Defense University, attempt to unpack these critical challenges in their new book “Future War and the Defence of Europe.” It is an interesting and wide-ranging exploration of a complicated, but often droll topic, brought to life by the eagerness of its writing and the passion of the authors. 

The book’s flow is somewhat challenged as it reads like several distinct, individually-written essays, hastily assembled without a common editor to unify the language or pacing. Individual components do stand well on their own, but fall a touch short of providing a consistent narrative throughout. It would have been much stronger had it been presented as a collection of individual essays under the same title, with either more division between the pieces or additional analytical interludes to help frame the discussion. 

For example, there is a fascinating section on the lessons of history for European defense policy. Loosely grouped under eight themes, there are some 20 lessons that are absolutely fascinating and thought-provoking, and grounded in NATO’s, the EU’s, and trans-Atlantic past relations during the Cold War. It is a stand-out piece, but one that is thrown into the mélange of other topics without much of an introduction or conclusion—both of which would have made that essay far stronger. 

Bookended by two fictional scenarios (which feel a touch tacked on), the book’s main text begins with lengthy explorations of the implications of Covid-19 on European defense and security policy. It then transitions to a broad range of analyses on everything from Russian strategic interests and defense policies (unfortunately recycling overly simplistic analyses of Moscow’s behaviors and conduct), the threat of China’s expansionist foreign policy and its financial largess, the implications of advanced technologies and hyper-war, and others. 

As a starting point, the implications of Covid-19 on European defense and security policy are significant. The authors point out that an overreaction of Covid-19—being an excessive deficit spending binge to restart the economy and/or a cannibalization of military budgets to support human security needs—could well imperil the future of European stability and its ability to successfully defend itself. The pandemic exposed systemic vulnerabilities within the European experiment as different countries charted their own responses and unity of effort was decidedly absent, while there was too much reliance on China-based supply chains. 

The perennial challenge of guns-versus-butter is made all the more real in the wake of a global pandemic and almost certainly will force painful choices. The authors’ assertion that the investments in future pandemic preparation, societal and economic resiliency, and human security could pay dividends for European defense is not entirely without merit. The issue is, however, making the case for such investment in a time of increasing post-pandemic austerity and linking those investments more directly to programs with tangible defense benefits. Strengthening health systems is a far easier sell than investing in a next generation light armored vehicle or cyber defenses.  

At the same time, Brussels and other European capitals historically lulled themselves into a belief that war—industrial, informational, or otherwise—is nigh impossible, this despite the aggressive and destabilizing actions of Moscow, not the least of which was the first seizure of a sovereign territory (Crimea) since the end of World War Two. (It is notable that the authors say little on Ukraine). A heavy dose of strategic realism and responsibility is needed, according to the authors. Inter-state war or, at the very least, inter-state conflict is a very real possibility. While non-state threats have occupied much of the time and attention of European defense and security institutions, state-based threats, Russia, in particular, is very much a clear and present danger—one made all the more concerning with the trends at the intersection of technology and warfare the authors outline. 

The European strategic picture is complicated by new and uncomfortable questions about the United States’ commitment to Europe. While successive presidents sought to pressure Europe to increase defense expenditures, President Donald Trump—in wholly transactional terms—publicly questioned the utility of the NATO alliance and introduced doubt about Article 5 obligations of common defense. While President Joseph Biden is working to heal that rift, America’s pivot to Asia is raising those questions again, albeit in vastly more diplomatic parlance. Would the United States actually defend the sovereignty of its Eastern European NATO allies? That is a question that was once unthinkable, but now debated. 

On the warfare side of the equation, the author’s focus on the kinetic and cyber threat from Russia is a touch limiting. Naturally, the book is titled “future war” so the focus on advanced technologies is not surprising. Artificial intelligence, hypersonic cruise missiles, and other next generation technologies/weapons systems will certainly accelerate engagement times and shorten the time to kill in a hypothetical European conflict, but it also presupposes that Moscow will choose to engage in open warfare. At the same time, a macro-level focus on Russia’s order of battle masks qualitative differences between those forces and their Western counterparts.

While the authors do discuss Russia’s “complex strategic coercion” and the 5Ds of warfare: deception, disinformation, destabilization, disruption, and destruction these areas are not fully explored. This is somewhat surprising as Moscow’s non-kinetic actions—propaganda and active measures aimed at undermining European unity and European democracies themselves—have arguably proven much more effective and are a more pressing threat to European security. To be sure, mass mobilizations such as that which occurred along the Ukrainian and Crimean borders earlier in April of this year can be both alarming and destabilizing, they are much more about signaling capability than intent.   

Arguably, the non-kinetic aspects of Russia’s irregular warfare campaigns should receive considerably more attention than it does. The more pressing threat is not necessarily Russia’s material capabilities, but its ability to exploit existing divisions, and to destabilize by non-kinetic means: partnering with or supporting both far-left and far-right parties; pumping out absurd and barely believable propaganda; spinning falsehoods to stoke ethno-religious tensions, etc… Russia does not necessarily need to, nor does it want to, engage in a kinetic military engagement, one that will almost certainly result in the very thing it fears the most—a unified Europe. 

The authors rightly note that a strong and cohesive political base at home is necessary to ensure defense against complex strategic coercion, but it is a passing reference at best. Equally, the authors only briefly touch upon the internal dynamics of the NATO and EU member states, which often place them at odds with one another, complicating a unified response to Russian or Chinese in-roads. How will Northern European states square their interests with Southern European states, or the Baltic States with that of a now “Brexited” United Kingdom? What of growing illiberalism in Hungary and Poland? Where does Turkey, an ever more complicated issue, fit in European defense? 

NATO and EU defense and security policies are in dire need of reform, and the institutions themselves need to adapt to both the current threat environment and the implications of hyperwar. This will not be an easy process as it requires both a collective understanding and appreciation of the threat, and the will to actually reform the institutions themselves. The authors do emphasize the importance of interoperability, and joint training and operations—both are areas that in the interim could markedly improve the West’s ability to deter Moscow’s potential kinetic aggression, however ephemeral it may be. Deterrence is ultimately the key concept, but how Europe and the United States deter Russian irregular or political warfare is very much an open question, one not fully addressed in “Future War”.

In the end, the future outlook is neither good nor terrible. Can the U.S. defend Europe? Yes, but not easily on its own and not without key partners on the continent. Can Europe defend itself? Certainly not, and not for some time without aggressive coordination and investment, and a reinvention of the strategic alliances. Not terribly much has changed since General Hastings “Pug” Ismay (later Baron Ismay) said that the NATO alliance was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." While Berlin will certainly object to its conclusion, the former two propositions are very much accurate for the foreseeable future.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

a global affairs media network

www.diplomaticourier.com

Future War and the Defense of Europe

Photo by AdobeStock.

June 27, 2021

European defense and security policy remains a critical, if often overlooked, topic. The recently published "Future War and the Defence of Europe" considers what is often a droll topic with an eagerness and passion that can be felt by the reader.

E

uropean defense and security policy is typically not the most thrilling subject. The machinations of Eurocrats in Brussels, the debates in Berlin, Paris, and London over defense spending, and the glacial pace of policymaking do not lend themselves to exciting developments. Yet, answering critical questions about the future of the European experiment and its alliance systems is perhaps more important than it has ever been. A revanchist and aggressive Russia, an American shift to the Indo-Pacific with a rising and aggressive China, and the effects of Covid-19 are all highlighting the importance of inter-European relations and the need to revisit the strategic landscape on the continent. 

Future War and the Defence of Europe | By John R. Allen, Frederick Ben Hodges, Julian Lindley-French | Oxford University Press | June 2021.

General John R. Allen (USMC, ret.), Lieutenant General F. Ben Hodges (USA, ret.), and Julian Lindley-French, a senior fellow at the National Defense University, attempt to unpack these critical challenges in their new book “Future War and the Defence of Europe.” It is an interesting and wide-ranging exploration of a complicated, but often droll topic, brought to life by the eagerness of its writing and the passion of the authors. 

The book’s flow is somewhat challenged as it reads like several distinct, individually-written essays, hastily assembled without a common editor to unify the language or pacing. Individual components do stand well on their own, but fall a touch short of providing a consistent narrative throughout. It would have been much stronger had it been presented as a collection of individual essays under the same title, with either more division between the pieces or additional analytical interludes to help frame the discussion. 

For example, there is a fascinating section on the lessons of history for European defense policy. Loosely grouped under eight themes, there are some 20 lessons that are absolutely fascinating and thought-provoking, and grounded in NATO’s, the EU’s, and trans-Atlantic past relations during the Cold War. It is a stand-out piece, but one that is thrown into the mélange of other topics without much of an introduction or conclusion—both of which would have made that essay far stronger. 

Bookended by two fictional scenarios (which feel a touch tacked on), the book’s main text begins with lengthy explorations of the implications of Covid-19 on European defense and security policy. It then transitions to a broad range of analyses on everything from Russian strategic interests and defense policies (unfortunately recycling overly simplistic analyses of Moscow’s behaviors and conduct), the threat of China’s expansionist foreign policy and its financial largess, the implications of advanced technologies and hyper-war, and others. 

As a starting point, the implications of Covid-19 on European defense and security policy are significant. The authors point out that an overreaction of Covid-19—being an excessive deficit spending binge to restart the economy and/or a cannibalization of military budgets to support human security needs—could well imperil the future of European stability and its ability to successfully defend itself. The pandemic exposed systemic vulnerabilities within the European experiment as different countries charted their own responses and unity of effort was decidedly absent, while there was too much reliance on China-based supply chains. 

The perennial challenge of guns-versus-butter is made all the more real in the wake of a global pandemic and almost certainly will force painful choices. The authors’ assertion that the investments in future pandemic preparation, societal and economic resiliency, and human security could pay dividends for European defense is not entirely without merit. The issue is, however, making the case for such investment in a time of increasing post-pandemic austerity and linking those investments more directly to programs with tangible defense benefits. Strengthening health systems is a far easier sell than investing in a next generation light armored vehicle or cyber defenses.  

At the same time, Brussels and other European capitals historically lulled themselves into a belief that war—industrial, informational, or otherwise—is nigh impossible, this despite the aggressive and destabilizing actions of Moscow, not the least of which was the first seizure of a sovereign territory (Crimea) since the end of World War Two. (It is notable that the authors say little on Ukraine). A heavy dose of strategic realism and responsibility is needed, according to the authors. Inter-state war or, at the very least, inter-state conflict is a very real possibility. While non-state threats have occupied much of the time and attention of European defense and security institutions, state-based threats, Russia, in particular, is very much a clear and present danger—one made all the more concerning with the trends at the intersection of technology and warfare the authors outline. 

The European strategic picture is complicated by new and uncomfortable questions about the United States’ commitment to Europe. While successive presidents sought to pressure Europe to increase defense expenditures, President Donald Trump—in wholly transactional terms—publicly questioned the utility of the NATO alliance and introduced doubt about Article 5 obligations of common defense. While President Joseph Biden is working to heal that rift, America’s pivot to Asia is raising those questions again, albeit in vastly more diplomatic parlance. Would the United States actually defend the sovereignty of its Eastern European NATO allies? That is a question that was once unthinkable, but now debated. 

On the warfare side of the equation, the author’s focus on the kinetic and cyber threat from Russia is a touch limiting. Naturally, the book is titled “future war” so the focus on advanced technologies is not surprising. Artificial intelligence, hypersonic cruise missiles, and other next generation technologies/weapons systems will certainly accelerate engagement times and shorten the time to kill in a hypothetical European conflict, but it also presupposes that Moscow will choose to engage in open warfare. At the same time, a macro-level focus on Russia’s order of battle masks qualitative differences between those forces and their Western counterparts.

While the authors do discuss Russia’s “complex strategic coercion” and the 5Ds of warfare: deception, disinformation, destabilization, disruption, and destruction these areas are not fully explored. This is somewhat surprising as Moscow’s non-kinetic actions—propaganda and active measures aimed at undermining European unity and European democracies themselves—have arguably proven much more effective and are a more pressing threat to European security. To be sure, mass mobilizations such as that which occurred along the Ukrainian and Crimean borders earlier in April of this year can be both alarming and destabilizing, they are much more about signaling capability than intent.   

Arguably, the non-kinetic aspects of Russia’s irregular warfare campaigns should receive considerably more attention than it does. The more pressing threat is not necessarily Russia’s material capabilities, but its ability to exploit existing divisions, and to destabilize by non-kinetic means: partnering with or supporting both far-left and far-right parties; pumping out absurd and barely believable propaganda; spinning falsehoods to stoke ethno-religious tensions, etc… Russia does not necessarily need to, nor does it want to, engage in a kinetic military engagement, one that will almost certainly result in the very thing it fears the most—a unified Europe. 

The authors rightly note that a strong and cohesive political base at home is necessary to ensure defense against complex strategic coercion, but it is a passing reference at best. Equally, the authors only briefly touch upon the internal dynamics of the NATO and EU member states, which often place them at odds with one another, complicating a unified response to Russian or Chinese in-roads. How will Northern European states square their interests with Southern European states, or the Baltic States with that of a now “Brexited” United Kingdom? What of growing illiberalism in Hungary and Poland? Where does Turkey, an ever more complicated issue, fit in European defense? 

NATO and EU defense and security policies are in dire need of reform, and the institutions themselves need to adapt to both the current threat environment and the implications of hyperwar. This will not be an easy process as it requires both a collective understanding and appreciation of the threat, and the will to actually reform the institutions themselves. The authors do emphasize the importance of interoperability, and joint training and operations—both are areas that in the interim could markedly improve the West’s ability to deter Moscow’s potential kinetic aggression, however ephemeral it may be. Deterrence is ultimately the key concept, but how Europe and the United States deter Russian irregular or political warfare is very much an open question, one not fully addressed in “Future War”.

In the end, the future outlook is neither good nor terrible. Can the U.S. defend Europe? Yes, but not easily on its own and not without key partners on the continent. Can Europe defend itself? Certainly not, and not for some time without aggressive coordination and investment, and a reinvention of the strategic alliances. Not terribly much has changed since General Hastings “Pug” Ismay (later Baron Ismay) said that the NATO alliance was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." While Berlin will certainly object to its conclusion, the former two propositions are very much accurate for the foreseeable future.

About
Joshua Huminski
:
Joshua C. Huminski is Director of the Mike Rogers Center for Intelligence & Global Affairs at the Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress. He can be found on Twitter @joshuachuminski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.