Bobo Lo was previously Head of the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House and Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Moscow. He has written extensively on Russian foreign and security policy, with a particular focus on Sino-Russian relations.
By Ana Maria Luca| Bucharest
When the Syrians took to the streets in 2011 after the Tunisian, Egyptian, and Libyan uprisings, surprisingly for the outsider, the Kurds did not immediately join in. There were some protests here and there, but nothing was politically coordinated. There was also no outreach to the rest of the Syrians protesting in Daraa, Homs or Idlib.
Motto: Europe’s elites have not forgotten their history, they are just ignorant of it.
We sat down with Professor Julian Lindley-French, Senior Fellow of the Institute of Statecraft, London.
Q: Two years ago, in Norway, NATO organised one of the most important exercises since the Cold War, and especially since the security environment shifted dramatically in 2014. What does Trident Juncture 20181 tell us about NATO’s readiness and ability to reinforce an exposed ally?
A: We have a dangerous asymmetry between General Gerasimov’s “30 days crash force” and NATO. The issue is that in 30 days the Russians can cause chaos. Beyond the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP), the Tailored Forward Presence in South-Eastern Europe, the Very High Readiness Joint Taskforce (VJTF) and even in the case of the NATO Response Force (NRF), we are looking at 30 days’ notice to move. The NATO dilemma is that the bulk of its forces could not move in any strength prior to “D plus 30”. The problem with the Kremlin is that there is a direct link between its sense of domestic vulnerability and this huge Russian force of arms.
It is a mixture of political weakness and local military superiority. My great fear is a worst-case scenario in which Russia would present Europe with a territorial fait accompli. It would achieve a limited political and military victory [editor’s note: e.g. crossing the border into one of the Baltic states and seizing a piece of territory] before NATO would mobilise and would ask: do you want to go to war over the Baltic states?
My sense is that European politicians, faced with such a scenario, would not act. It is important to demonstrate that we can again undertake Article 5 operations, but you’ve got to look at how long it takes to get everything in place. That is the weakness. We should never underestimate General Gerasimov and his staff.
Military power still has a major role to play in influence. We’ve got to understand that Realpolitik and Machtpolitik is back.Professor Julian Lindley-French
They’ve looked systematically at our weaknesses, at our seams, and worked how to exploit them if the President gives the “go ahead” order. Vostok 182 was testing aspects of this. The problem is that our forward-deployed forces are simply not backed up with anything to get there in time. If you can’t move the heavy forces quickly, to wherever you need them in an emergency to back up your forward-deployed forces, you lose deterrence value.
That is why the latest NATO initiative – the so-called Four Thirties3 (developing 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons, four combat vessels ready to use within 30 days or less) – will plug a dangerous gap between the spearhead forces, the immediate follow-on forces (the NATO Response Force), and the bulk of NATO forces, which would take up to 120 days to mobilise in an emergency.
Q: “Fort Trump” in Poland or “Fort NATO” on the broader eastern flank? What should be prioritised – political cohesion in NATO or, for the sake of a credible bilateral deterrent message, a Fort Trump in Poland? In a way Warsaw is tired of waiting for Old Europe to provide credible security guarantees. Another solution is the proposal of Gen. Ben Hodges to fix the mobility problem in Europe.
A: It will take years to fix the mobility problem. Let me be really radical. Do you really think that the Americans and the British will use NATO in an emergency? The Americans plus the three major European powers (Britain, France, Germany) wouldn’t wait for a committee meeting in NATO to act. The bilateral US-Polish thing makes sense in terms of dealing with the issue. It doesn’t make sense in keeping NATO together.
But if NATO is not actually delivering deterrent value, what’s the purpose? If it is all about being nice to each other when being nice makes us more insecure, there comes a point when that is simply too dangerous. I would strongly argue that the Polish have a point.
But the key issue here is Americans not being overstretched. The Chinese and the Russians are coordinating, and they will make life for America as difficult as possible. The problem with this equation is a weak Europe. If Europe would be stronger that wouldn’t be an option, but it is. It all comes back to Europeans not doing enough. The only option is to make the trans-Atlantic relationship work.
Q: The collapse of MENA and the massive influx of immigrants into Europe massively changed the political climate; to some extent it has produced a tribalisation of Europe. On the one hand we have this need to prepare for the return of great-power competition, while at the same time Europe should have the operational ability to wage post-9/11 campaigns to stabilise fragile and failed states.
A: This is NATO’s “360 degrees” dilemma. It is not only geographical (east, south, north and west); it is also across the conflict spectrum. If you are not prepared to invest in high-end power projection capabilities, then at least invest in mass. The UK is investing in highend assets.
What you need for stabilisation is a lot of mass. The Italians, the Spanish, even the Germans should be investing in mass. If you cannot be the top of the spear force, then you provide the bulk behind it. This cannot go on. It is a Groundhog Day.
We have this range of threats – from mass movement of people, terrorism, instability, to high-end strategic peer competitors. We have to cover both. Britain is investing in essentially a high-end small force built around a maritime amphibious Navy to go with the Americans. But we are not investing in a continental army. In a sense we are going back to a very British, 19th-century army – a small professional expeditionary force.
It’s like a SWAT team for high-end operations. But the real bulk is in the Navy. The Queen Elizabeth4 is a good way of buying influence with the Americans, but not a very efficient way of defending Central and Eastern Europe. What this means for continental Europe is that you need France and Germany to lead the defence of the continent. Europe is too dependent on over-stretched American combat forces.
Q: The conclusion of the bi-partisan Congressional Commission on the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy is that “deterrence is weakening and war is becoming more likely” as the perception that the US can decisively defeat military challenges is fading. The background is the return of great-power competition, as well as the erosion of the US’ military edge. Why this crisis? What are its implications for Europe?
A: It’s classic IR (international relations) theory. Robert Gilpin talks about cycles of systemic change. What happened is that the cycle of systemic change has accelerated because of the nature of globalisation.
The reality is a hegemon at the end of its time. For about 20 years after the end of the Cold War we thought about America as the hegemon and us like the hegemonites, and we’ve become complacent. Revisionist powers with anti-status quo agendas have emerged.
The trouble is that we in Europe are living in a community fantasy. Everyone outside Europe understands spheres of influence, balances of powers, zero sum-game geopolitics. That is the stuff of statecraft. Europe is the exception.
Military power still has a major role to play in influence. We’ve got to get our heads around that because of what happened in history, and understand that Realpolitik and Machtpolitik is back. I would love the world to operate in the community logic so central to the idea of the European Union. But the essential struggle in South-East Europe is a struggle between zero-sum Machtpolitik and the community concept of international relations.
Q: How would you describe the changing character of war and conflict today? What is driving it? How should we describe the Russian and Chinese ways of war? The British Chief of Defence Staff usually quotes Chris Donnelly (at the Institute for Statecraft) who said that Russia aims at creating “new strategic conditions. Their current influence and disinformation campaign is a form of “system” warfare that seeks to de-legitimise the political and social system on which our military strength is based. And this undermines our centre of gravity, which they rightly assess as our political cohesion.”
A: The revisionist powers are practising what I call a systematic fight of 5D warfare – the use of force to underpin a strategy of Disinformation, Destabilisation, Disruption, Destruction, and all leveraged together by Deception.
The unfree world is engaged in a continuous war at the seams and margins of the Alliance, employing all the above for comparative strategic advantage. They combine to form a new method of warfare that spans the hybrid, cyber, hyper warfare spectrum.
Future war will be a complex matrix of coercive actions, all of which will form part of a new escalation of conflict designed to blackmail the target into accepting what could be perceived as unacceptable actions. China and Russia are studying our societies; they are looking at our alliances and working on our vulnerabilities to apply pressure, in pursuit of revisionist ends, using a myriad of coercive means.
The Russian objective is a sphere of influence, an implicit rebuilding of a Warsaw Pact, in forcing countries in Central and Eastern Europe to look back at Moscow, instead of Brussels or Washington. Russia’s strategic goal is to conduct a continuous low-level war at the seams of democratic societies, and on the margins of both the EU and NATO, to create implicit spheres of influence.
China’s objective is the domination of its near abroad and keeping the Americans out. For both Russia and China this is a strategic competition and military power is the key ingredient. In many ways it is an arms race similar to the pre-WWI world where we have these autocratic regimes determined to change the international system.
Q: Are you worried about the imbalance on the Eastern Flank, especially in the Black Sea region?
A: What we need to carry out is a series of mega-exercises where we develop the capacity to move large amounts of forces quickly. The primary weakness of the Alliance’s deterrence posture is the lack of a heavy conventional reserve force able to support front-line states in strength, quickly, and across a broad conflict spectrum, if the threat comes from several directions at once.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is revolutionising warfare to such an extent that future war will be conducted simultaneously from the low end of the conflict spectrum to the high end.Professor Julian Lindley-French
We need a big exercise in Central Europe that will move in different directions, able to support the national forces under pressure. We need a rapid-reaction heavy force. That is the plug that is still missing between our forward deployed forces and the whole NATO command structure; that could take between 90 and 120 days. The American presence in Europe is not big enough (around 3 BCTs – Brigade Combat Team5). The Europeans are going to be effective first responders in a crisis. But such an answer should be built around mass.
If we can demonstrate to an adversary that the threshold is too high to act – that is what deterrence is all about. It is not Russia that worries me now. Russia is being aggressive in its near abroad because of the nature of the regime. Russia is not systemically threatened. It is because Russia is so vulnerable domestically that it becomes more dangerous and its actions become really threatening. The simple fact is that the Russian military is too big for an economy half the size of the UK. This is dangerous.
Q: In your writings you talk about “coercive escalation” as a way for Russia to intimidate its victims and prey [upon them]. What role do these very specific investments in A2/ AD capabilities play in this broad, coercive escalation ladder? What is their implication for deterrence calculus, and for the ability to defend the most exposed US allies?
A: The anti-access/area-denial bubbles in Kaliningrad and Crimea are the basis of coercive operations. Let’s take the Suwałki Gap. Imagine the Russians gradually putting more pressure.
We have the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) in the Baltics, an information campaign started, a destabilisation operation started; we see the wrapping-up of the forces in Kaliningrad and Belarus, and you got this increased pressure that basically says to NATO, “pull your troops out, we are going to close the Suwałki Gap, take the Baltic states back and there is nothing you can do about it.”
What we could do about it is start holding exercises which give the impression of neutralising Kaliningrad or even Crimea. The problem for the Russians and Gerasimov is that they don’t have sufficient mass themselves to cover the huge Russian borders. What we are not doing is being systematic in our analysis of how we would make life uncomfortable for President Putin and General Gerasimov.
Q: How would the Fourth Industrial Revolution (with AI and big data) change war?
A: A revolution in military technology is underway that will be applied in future on the twenty-first century’s battle space by enemies armed with AI, big data, machine-learning and quantum-computing. The impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on changing war is incredible.
It is revolutionising warfare to such an extent that future war will be conducted simultaneously from the low end of the conflict spectrum to the high end. The new technologies and the interactions between them are changing the character and conduct of war. They accelerate the pace of warfare, accelerate the speed of conflict and shorten the decision action cycles.
When you’ve got machine learning so fast that when humans intervene, it actually makes the whole process less efficient; when you have swarms of drones actually talking to each other about how to exploit vulnerabilities in defence systems – this is going to completely change warfare. Quantum computing will be essential if we are going to be able to defend against hyper-war.
It is about understanding and seeing the patterns. One of the big problems in 5D warfare is understanding when an attack is actually an attack. That will need high-level computing power. Add the hypersonic weapons and we will have the perfect storm.
I made this film about the sinking of the HMS Queen Elizabeth. It was about swarms of intelligent drones launched by an unmanned underwater Russian vehicle backed up by Iskander anti-ship missiles, and it showed how vulnerable a contemporary deployed NATO maritime task-force can be because they haven’t invested in proper defence systems.
This is the message I come back to. Europeans need to demonstrate firepower, but it should be 21st-century fighting power. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will change the nature of fighting power. The Americans, the Russians and Chinese are driving this forward. The Americans are offsetting the future and the Europeans are not, and this could create a massive interoperability gap. The true test of solidarity is that we need to invest in the right capabilities.
This interview is published in conjunction with Small Wars Journal.
By Mykola Kapitonenko | Kiev
In the pre-election rhetoric used by all the front-runners in Ukraine’s presidential campaign, issues of national security and foreign policy ranked high. The conflict – referred to by many as ‘war’ – with Russia, the question of annexed Crimea, aspirations for NATO and EU membership, became topics of specific concern and points for emotional political discussions. The overwhelming majority of presidential candidates – there were 39 on the list in total – highlighted the restoration of the country’s territorial integrity and moving closer to EU and NATO membership as their foreign and national security policy priorities.
Since at least 2014, Russia’s economic and technological cooperation with Europe (and with the West altogether) have been in decline. Both Russia’s government and its people tend to underestimate the long-term consequences of this decline, because they fail to appreciate the fact that in previous decades and even in previous centuries, the paradigm of Russia’s development was based on close relations with Europe. In short, Russia was incapable of achieving economic growth if its relations with Europe were damaged. We should also remember that Russia’s governance is still despotic in nature, even though by the end of the twentieth century it had transformed from a Bolshevist regime to semi-authoritarian (now fully authoritarian) with the predominance of a state-run economy.
This despotic nature came to define the classic Russian approach towards such relations: Russia efficiently exploited both the political contradictions within Europe and the frictions between Europe and America. That approach provided the impetus for economic and technological modernisation, but also allowed the Russian authorities to prevent significant European influence on Russia’s political system.
However, the principles and values of institutional Europe (as well as the principles of trans-Atlantic unity) such as human rights and freedoms, the market economy and democracy, an independent judiciary and so on, pose a challenge to the domestic political order of Russia, especially after these principles came to be implemented in most Eastern European states.
So, it became harder for Russia to play its old-fashioned political game, and the essential tensions in Russia–Europe relations became apparent in 2008 when Russia’s post-Soviet political and economic model faced deadlock: in 2008, Russia’s annual GDP exceeded $1.6 trillion, and in 2017 it was less than $1.58 trillion.
Moreover, Russia’s annual economic growth has hovered around 1.5–2% since 2017 (after another recession in 2015–16), less than the average growth rate across the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development countries. At the same time, ties of cooperation between Russian and Western companies were damaged due to both the disillusion of foreign investors and the imposition of sanctions. So, even if Russia is growing, the development gap between Russia and Europe will only expand in the coming years.
It is in this context that Russia decided to rely on military power, in order to find a new path but also to prevent its near-abroad from gaining access to any competitive/ alternative political and economic institutional model. The reason was clear: any potential success story in the democratisation of post-Soviet states poses a threat to Russia’s domestic order.
Without the extended cooperation with Europe, Russia faces long-term and growing underachievement in its economic and technological performance.
This was the perspective which guided Russian aggression against Ukraine in 2014. Nevertheless, sooner or later Russia will need to make a choice between reconciling itself to all the necessary domestic political steps towards a market economy, democratic governance and peace in its relations with Ukraine, including the withdrawal from Crimea and Donbas on the one hand – and the irreversible loss of its relatively high status in world politics on the other.
The second option will be just as probable, as Russia will not be able to use Europe as the technological and financial source for its modernisation. The main challenge here is that without the extended cooperation with Europe, Russia faces long-term and growing underachievement in its economic and technological performance.
This underachievement creates problems even for Russia’s military capacity, which is one of the main tools for Russia’s foreign policy. For instance, Russian defence industry is incapable of producing advanced satellites, warships and aircraft and many others without access to European technologies.
History does matter
In the twentieth century, Russia’s most important achievements in the area of modernisation came from Europe and the United States. In 1922, soon after the Bolsheviks took full power in Russia, they signed the Rapallo Treaty with Germany which gave them access to German arms manufacturing technologies. Later Moscow obtained much industrial equipment and technology from the Soviet occupation zone in Germany after WW2, and some of this equipment was used in Russian factories until this century. Supplies of industrial equipment and technologies from the United States, in the 1930s through commercial contracts, and in 1941–5 through the Lend-Lease Act, also played a crucial role in Russia’s modernisation. However during the second half of the twentieth century Europe remained the main driver for Russian economic and technological development. During the Cold War, the USSR used both legal ways and espionage to get equipment and technologies from Western Europe, including Great Britain, Germany and France. Moreover, rising oil prices and higher demand for petroleum from European countries, along with the discovery of huge oil and gas fields in Siberia, allowed Soviet Russia to increase its trade with Europe. Russia mostly exported raw materials and mostly imported machinery and equipment, other goods and technologies.
However, the Eastern European states inside the Soviet bloc were even more important for Russia’s modernisation. The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA) was established to this end in 1949. During the decades Eastern Europeans were not only consumers of Russian raw materials, but also supplied the machinery and equipment that Russia needed. Moreover, their workers and engineers helped Russia in the construction of crucial facilities such as gas pipelines.
Europe and Russia before and after 2014
After the end of the Warsaw Treaty and CMEA, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ties of cooperation with European states also changed, although Russia became even more dependent on the whole of Europe. Nevertheless, in the post-Soviet era, before the annexation of Crimea, Russia’s access to Western technologies and investments was also limited due to the grand corruption and poor institutional environment in the country.
Later, in the 2000s Russia was able to support its economic ambitions with huge amounts of petrodollars as it had done in the 1970 & 1980s. The modernisation and the trade and cooperation with European states as Russia’s main partners certainly benefited it a great deal.
The problem is that up to 70% of all FDI (Foreign Direct Investments) in Russia are FDI round tripping. So, actually they are not direct foreign investments but come back from the offshore subsidiaries of the Russian corporations.
However the other 30% are real, and most of them come from Europe. There were two peaks in the balances of FDI in Russia: $74,783 billion in 2008 and $69,219 billion in 2013. After that Russia lost many European investors; some of them have decreased their work in Russia since President Putin returned to power in 2012.
Of course, there are still European investors working in Russia, but they have definitely become much more prudent in their business strategies. Although the post-Soviet modernisation of Russia has not been completed, some competitive companies have appeared in the fields of telecommunications, IT, banks and retail.
Once again Europe was a source of knowledge, technologies, capital and equipment. Moreover, Russia cooperated with European companies in order to modernise its defence industry and armed forces. For example, in the 2000s Russian authorities tried to interest EADS (currently Airbus) and AugustaWestland (currently merged with Leonardo) in manufacturing aircraft in Russia.
The German defence company Rheinmetall supplied a training centre for the Russian army, the Italian company Iveco supplied armoured vehicles, and a couple of Mistral helicopter carriers were ordered from France (these ships had not been supplied due to the European sanctions in response to Russia’s actions against Ukraine). One more example: as one of the leading space powers, Russia was unable to develop and produce advanced communication satellites without cooperation with European aerospace companies such as Thales, Airbus and others.
So, Russia needed such cooperation in order to maintain its ambitions to world-power status. All the examples above mean that the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas have impacted Russia’s economics hard. This situation suggests that the country will be unable to develop successfully before it withdraws from Crimea and European investors come to trust Russia again.
This scenario will be unavoidable if the EU and the US maintain their positions towards Russia’s trouble-making foreign policy. Therefore Moscow’s model of economic growth, with its typical authoritarian practices of limiting private initiative and its aggressive foreign policy, is bound to fail – there are just no drivers for sustainable development in Russia, so the country will likely only be able to maintain its current status projection as a political winner for a limited time.
Reasons for measured optimism
So, more than five years of confrontation between Russia and the West have resulted in the long-term decline of Russia’s economy. The economic gap between Russia and the developed countries is increasing, and there is no hope of Russia managing sustainable development within the current political circumstances.
Nor can China replace Europe as Russia’s main trade partner. In 2017, the trade between Russia and six European countries presented in Table 3 was 1½ times higher than that between Russia and China that year. Also, China cannot give Russia the investments that the European countries gave before the Crimean annexation or even still give now, even if it were just because Russia is not a priority market for Chinese companies.
At the same time though, Beijing is trying to keep Moscow as a strategic partner. For instance, China has secured itself a longterm supply of oil and gas from Rosneft and Gazprom.
Also China is gradually entering the Russian telecommunications and transport sectors, and will hardly stop there. However, what China needs is a predictable neighbour which will definitely not join any anti-Chinese coalition. This is China’s main objective in its relations with Russia. All that means that China has no interest in Russia’s sustainable development, as it has no interest in Russia’s domestic political situation. So, the cost of confrontation is growing for Russia.
With Western sanctions in place, Russia is unable to modernise its economy. Due to the absence of significant sources for development in ‘fortress Russia’, it is fated to decline in its political and economic sustainability, which makes scenarios of domestic turbulence much more probable.
Also the number of people in Russia who have benefited from its authoritarian regime is decreasing. Consequently, we will see a significant transformation of the regime in the coming decade, with the option of transition towards democracy and market economy. In order to restore itself as a trustworthy actor and partner, Russia will need to undertake huge domestic reforms and withdraw from Ukraine, and possibly from Georgia and Moldova (that depends on the political circumstances of the future transition of power in Moscow in the coming decade).
Also, Russia will have to reconsider its trouble-making tactics towards the Western states and its adverse approach towards NATO and the EU enlargement process. Nevertheless, if this happens, some day Europeans will be the first to support Russian efforts towards economic and political modernisation.