Ukraine and a NATO Theory of Victory
In light of the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine there are two strategic questions that need to be answered urgently and a third that must be confronted if NATO operations, capabilities and capacities are to meet the challenge Putin and Russia’s armed forces have thrown down to free Europe.
By : Professor Dr Julian Lindley-French
CSCIS Advisor, Senior Fellow, Institute for Statecraft, London; Director, Europa Analytica, Netherlands; Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow, National Defense University, Washington DC; Fellow, Canadian Global Affairs Institute; Chair & Founder of The Alphen Group
“You want decommunisation? Very well, this suits us just fine. But why stop halfway? We are ready to show what real decommunisation would mean for Ukraine. Going back to history, I would like to repeat that the Soviet Union was established in the place of the former Russian Empire in 1922. But practice showed immediately that it was impossible to preserve or govern such a vast and complex territory on the amorphous principles that amounted to confederation. They were far removed from reality and the historical tradition”.
President Vladimir Putin, February 22nd, 2022
For President Putin history is a sledgehammer. On December 30th, 1922 Lenin’s held his first “Council of People’s Commissars,” or Sovnarkom, and created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). In December 1922, there were only four Soviet republics represented, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the Transcaucasian Republic. By December 2022, will there be four Russian Federation ‘republics’? If so, to paraphrase Lenin, what is to be done?
In light of the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine there are two strategic questions that need to be answered urgently and a third that must be confronted if NATO operations, capabilities and capacities are to meet the challenge Putin and Russia’s armed forces have thrown down to free Europe. One only has to look at a map to see the implications for the Allies if Putin should succeed in establishing a Belarus-Ukraine salient in the heart of central Europe.
My contentions are twofold. First, that Russia is moving to seize all the territory claimed by the Donetsk and Luhansk separatists and given Putin’s very particular interpretation of history could go further. Second, what we are witnessing is a high-end force the spearhead elements of which re in transition towards strategic integrated fighting power.
1. As alliances such as NATO update their warfighting concepts, how should these concepts and the national capabilities underpinning them adapt to a changing threat environment?
My focus is NATO 2030 and beyond. My defining message is unapologetically ‘si vis pacem, para bellum’. Let me be blunt: President Putin is trying to drive a T-90 Armata through NATO’s political ends, strategic ways and operational means, given the fast pace of the shifting balance of military power in Europe and the wider world, and whatever the sophistry is employed about Ukraine not being a NATO member. With all due respect to and cognisance of the unfolding tragedy in Ukraine Russia’s invasion is also about the future democratic defence of a Europe in which Russia enjoys missile and nuclear dominance and can establish an effective air and missile defence bubble against much of Europe’s capabilities pretty much, as, when and where Russia chooses. We, the collective Allied ‘we’, with our talk big, deliver little political and strategic culture, if that is what one can call it, have let him do that.
Therefore, everything I am going to say is set against the true test of the future credible defence of Europe in the face of a determined and clever nationalist autocrat; a demonstrable and communicable NATO theory of victory. A theory of victory is a set of propositions about how and why the behaviour of one belligerent affects the behaviour of others in a desired manner. A credible theory of victory demands a continuity between threat, policy and strategy driving the ends, ways, and means of defence and deterrence. Do we Europeans even have a theory of victory? President Putin and General Gerasimov do. Are there any links between ends, ways and means in Europe?
Then bottom-line is that if we do not get our warfighting thus deterrence act together and fast the strategic space for President Putin to exploit with his theory of victory can go far further than Ukraine. He must be countered and contained. This challenge is set not just in the here and now context of Future War and the Defence of Europe but the now and hereafter. Specifically, the specific concepts, capabilities, capacities and structures that will be needed when Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, Big Data, hypersonic missiles, swarming, Nano-tech and quantum computing become the very stuff of a not-so-far future integrated strategic warfighting concept. What must NATO have in place to credibly deter and defend in such an eve-of-war battlespace, as well as what level of command and force interoperability and standardisation would be needed to make NATO’s warfighting and deterrence concepts real given the fast changing character of war and the scope and nature of the threats with which we require our Alliance to contend.
In that light MY essential warfighting concept, and thus what I believe must be NATO’s minimum deterrent, must be designed around a core multidimensional and multi-domain manoeuvre force able to operate across air, sea, land, cyber, information and knowledge based on a sea-bed to space tech-led manoeuvrist approach. Such a force would be an extension, albeit a radical extension, of current NATO warfighting doctrine which is designed to apply critical strength against critical weakness using surprise, deception and applied power.
In a 21st century high-end All Arms Battlespace Allied forces will soon need to act at machine-led hyper speed of relevance in critical places at critical times, learning and adapting as well as engaging, operating and creating to generate multifarious unexpected problems for an enemy to resolve. The unexpected must be a primary Allied strategic enabler because for far too long President Putin and General Gerasimov have become far too comfortable in their assumptions underpinning their theory of victory. Relevant and timely Allied fighting power will be crucial fused with real-time information for people trained and equipped to fight and win on a ‘battlefield’ that is very different from the insecure spaces of the past thirty years or so.
2. What areas ought to receive priority with respect to restoring deterrence, and what does a theory of victory against adversary standoff entail?
First, back to basics: deterrence is the use of demonstrably relevant capability and capacity to strategically communicate high threshold cost and risk to an enemy. Or, as Thomas Hobbes famously said, “Covenants without the sword are but words and of no use to any man’. The very concept of who it is that must be deterred demands a profound set of changes to the idea of deterrence that will demand the demonstrable capacity to use first strike in information and cyber war and maintain a second strike capability in conventional and (Heaven forbid) nuclear war. Only then will NATO match the escalation continuum that has been designed by an intelligent aggressor for engagement in ‘perma-war’ across the mosaic of hybrid, cyber and hyper war. Such a new idea of Allied deterrence will not only need credible conventional and nuclear forces, but also offensive and defensive information effects and cyber effects. People protection and force projection are now two sides of a three sided deterrence, defence and resilience coin.
In NATO’s contemporary, fast approaching and very REAL world the successful deterrence and defence of our defensive Alliance any theory of victory must be specifically designed to complement, counter, confuse and confound that of the enemy if the Alliance is maintain stand-off, which is the essence of deterrence, prior to mutually agreed force reductions. Let me be controversial, NATO could well lose the next big war because it does not yet know how collectively to win, where, with what and with whom. It is working towards such a posture but it needs to go faster and harder. This is not the fault of the Alliance. Rather, most European political leaders and their defence planners in Europe have for too long failed to understand, or are not allowed to understand, the fundamental and evolving character of war and the nature of future conflict against enemies capable of all-domain, trans-regional escalation, nor how to shape the dynamics of such wars to safeguard Allied interests, nor have they been willing to bear the costs required. Too many Western European leaders in particular, the drivers of European defence, have for too long been locked in denial about the possibility of a major future pan-European war leading to false assumptions and thus higher risk being invested in both policy and planning. For too long, European leaders have only been willing to recognise how much threat they believe they can afford after every other national contingency or policy has been paid for in the endless pursuit of electability and under the ruthless tyranny of the here and now. Now? Given COVID 19?
Given events in Ukraine the next steps on the road to new Allied theory of victory and with it a transformed Allied deterrence and defence posture must be the re-establishment of a demonstrably credible operational-capability balance in the eyes of any potential enemy. Over the short to medium term if NATO is to develop a relevant warfighting concept it must do it on the run by reinforcing the Eastern Flank of the Alliance. That means the strengthening of the Enhanced Forward Presence; the acceleration and expansion of the NATO Readiness Initiative; and by moving HQ Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (HQ ARRC), NATO’s most capable non-American deployable corps headquarters from England to near Warsaw reinforced by American, British, German and Polish forces and in support of the EFP forces, HQ Multinational Corps (Northeast) and supported by the Joint Support and Enabling Command (JSEC).
HQ ARRC must now be designated as the command and development driver for a new European-led first responder, high end multi-domain Allied Mobile Heavy Force (AMHF) heavy enough to fill the 1500 km gap between MNC (NE) the Black Sea and the Baltic States, manoeuvrable enough to both deter a high-end aggressor such as Russia, heavy enough to also support front-line states facing terrorism, as well as capable enough of holding the European theatre across the hybrid, cyber, hyper war spectrum in an emergency if US forces are simultaneously engaged in Europe, the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere. The AMHF is the centre-piece of the new Alphen Group’s Shadow NATO Strategic Concept and it should be front and centre of the forthcoming NATO Strategic Concept.
The NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept (NWCC) must also become the driver of an effective shared methodology for guiding and coordinating investment choices. The list of strategic tasks is continuing to expand, whilst the number of nations able to undertake them over time and distance and under high-end attack continues to shrink. If not, then all-important NATO high-end force interoperability will become ever harder to maintain and vital future technological coherence as difficult to generate as political cohesion.
3. Can European Armies organise for the 21st Century fight, or are the requirements and costs simply beyond them?
THAT is THE multi-billion dollar, euro, pound question. Future high-end force interoperability will be THE sine qua non of NATO. No ifs, no buts. Ask General Gerasimov. It will be the very cornerstone of future NATO deterrence and defence, particularly if Putin succeeds in establishing a new Belarus-Ukrainian salient. NATO must thus assume that its forces will need to fight to deter a 190,000 strong force in which quantity is indeed its own quality (like Russia’s 8th Combined Arms Army) and which is not only lethal but capable of free-thinking. A force steeped in the offensive and built to turn a very particular theory of victory into a real victory with long-range fires, mass, manoeuvrist and multi-domain power are combined to strategic effect in Europe with rapid sensor to shooter/fires capabilities at scale and distance, strong manoeuvre forces and the aggressive use of Special Purpose Forces in the Rear Area.
In any such fight, NATO forces will need a resilient interoperable C2 system, the synchronisation of multi-domain lethal and non-lethal effects combined with aggressive Find and Fires capabilities, allied to the intelligence-led use of Cyber and Electromagnetic Activities (CEMA) via a concept of force convergence. That highlights the importance of speed, simultaneity and a relentless focus on the deep battle as a way of presenting the enemy with multiple dilemmas at such a tempo that it creates decisive advantage and/or windows of opportunity thus enabling the Allied Mobile Heavy Force to be a decisive element in realising NATO’s theory of victory if needs be. Anything less than that is co-operability NOT interoperability and will not withstand the test in a high-end future fight and instead become an open invitation to an intelligent enemy to engage to effect in war at our many seams, both civil and military.
Ukraine and a NATO Theory of Victory
To conclude, let me quote my friend and fellow member of The Alphen Group, General Sir James Everard. “NATO now recognises the complex nature of modern warfare as a contest where deterrence demands a demonstrable ability to defend, and defence is based on controlling geography and the all the domains of warfare simultaneously (allied of course to the ability to deliver forces). Many allies are also embracing the new methodology during their peace-time activities, with the UK leading the way”. Amen to that!
Europeans are falling far behind in the battle for strategic thought dominance which is a vital driver of policy, strategy and structure and thus ends, ways and means. That is precisely why they urgently need a new theory of victory. It is high-time that the NATO European Allies faced future war intellectually and politically, which is why General John Allen, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges and I wrote Future War and the Defence of Europe and why General Lord Richards and I will be hosting the high level Future War and Deterrence Conference at Wilton Park in October.