Author and freelance writer. Sometimes in London more often elsewhere




Persuasive writing


By James Maclaren, Jan 11 2020 02:36PM

Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw the US from NATO and French president Emmanuel Macron has called it 'brain dead'. Do the recent disagreements between NATO members come when the West needs its defence alliance the most?

Not so long ago a former British Deputy Supreme Commander Europe (DSACEUR) joked that a NATO headquarters just about had the ability to brief itself. Such a view stemmed from the uneasy attempts to adapt NATO’s organisation and operations to the more nuanced challenges of dealing with a wide range of non-military threats. Over large bureaucratic headquarters running low intensity stabilisation missions provided examples of not very efficient military command and control with long national screwdrivers tweaking even the most low-level operational decision. It was a far cry from a military alliance that successfully faced down a military threat from the Cold war Soviet Union.

But the General’s frustration at such operational friction has now been overshadowed by more strategic and fundamental questions about NATO’s viability.

The organisation’s recent attempt to celebrate seven decades of existence in maintaining a European peace were muted, overshadowed by a series of arguments amongst the member states that go further than the regular squabbles of a complex international organisation. Instead it threatens to drive huge cracks in the organisation that may be irreparable.

What’s the problem with NATO?

At the heart of the NATO dilemma is disagreement about what NATO is for and who pays for it. The US, the alliances largest contributor by some margin is unhappy with both the idea of collective decision making and current burden sharing arrangements. The US would prefer to be unconstrained by alliance decision making in when and where it can deploy military force and recent decisions on the use of military force suggests it is not over-concerned with the view of its NATO allies on such matters. But most of all it resents the unequal financial burden of NATO. The first problem is the money.

NATO members are expected to commit two percent of their GDP towards defence expenditure. Only seven of the twenty-nine member states provide this level of national treasure, widely agreed to be the minimum necessary to meet collective operational readiness, and no one is anywhere near the GDP percentage that the US commits to defence expenditure.

The biggest offender resting in the US gun sights is Germany, which despite recent promises to increase its defence spending is not projected to achieve the two percent threshold until 2030. Such a timeline infuriates a president with a view, shared widely in the American political and military establishment, that Europe is getting defence on the cheap and it must stop.

The Trump preference for a transactional approach to diplomacy, naming and shaming those who fall short in their obligations was sharply illustrated by the holding of a special two-percenter lunch during the recent summit hosted by the British in the undistinguished town of Watford north of London. The smugness of this event and the fragmentation of NATO discussions into such groupings is not likely to do much to restore harmony. Of course, given the current US Administration’s view on the value of NATO, a long argument about burden sharing could simply be a means to justify the US in distancing itself and disengagement from the alliance.

Disenchantment works both ways. While the US fumes about spending, or its lack of, many European states are privately seething at the series of unilateral decisions made by the US. This includes the withdrawal of troops from Syria, a theatre of operations where close allies such as Britain and France had troops deployed, and which left a power vacuum, to be swiftly filled by an unrestrained Turkey. This country, also a NATO member, lost no time in occupying Kurdish areas of norther Syria. A further decision to conduct a UAV strike to kill the prominent Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, bringing the region to the brink of conflict was unilaterally undertaken by the US. Such strategic shifts and actions taken without consultation goes against the spirit of NATO collective responsibility and the US exercising its muscle and independence in this way has left a bad taste in European capitals.

There are also major differences in agreeing the alliances purpose. Its Cold War accomplishments made it too successful to dismantle and with mixed success NATO has reshaped itself a number of times stretching and contorting its charter, mandate and resources to maintain relevance and credibility. The US does not share the German and Eastern European preoccupation with Russia as a threat and NATO urged by the larger nations such as the US, UK and Canada, has moved its planning horizons and mission sets beyond the comfort zones of many of its members. NATO has been used to confront wider security dilemmas, and with each step away from the toe-to-toe power balance within the European theatre small cracks of disunity have formed. Many inside and outside of the organisation believe that in the quest for post-Cold War relevance NATO has been over-eager in seizing new and emerging threats and in doing so has overreached its collective organisational ability to deal with them.

The pendulum of conflict may be swinging back towards the re-emergence of state on state conflict as a first-tier threat. Russia still smarting from its humbling in the immediate post-Cold War period now seeks to reassert itself and looms large as NATO’s spectre. It has undertaken major military modernisation accompanied by an appetite to intervene in areas and conflicts it assesses to be of interest. Most of the member states joined NATO for reasons of territorial protection within Europe simply wishing a defensive arm around them to keep the Russian bear away. To most states, particularly in Eastern Europe, constraining Russia remains the organisation’s raison d’etre.

Other powerful nations see it differently. The French President Emmanuel Macron is one such leader. He chose the recent UK summit to side-line the birthday celebrations and follow up on his NATO is ‘brain dead’ comment by positing that NATO should concentrate its efforts on the menace presented by Islamic terrorism. Such a view largely reflects his own country’s concerns about radical threats from African states. France with the most overseas deployed troops of any European nation is an influential player and sees rapprochement with Russia as the way to secure European peace allowing the organisation to continue its orientation towards other transnational and not necessarily military threats.

Such a view does not travel far; but the French president’s intervention was a successful attempt to set the agenda, attempting to shape the future of NATO around a Franco narrative.

So, what of NATO’s future?

At its most successful NATO was a conventional military deterrent alliance where the simplicity of the Article 5 clause, an attack on one was an attack on all, could be translated into a political decision making and military command structure that looked and was solid. From the frozen tip of Norway to the warm islands of Greece, there was no break in the wall, each commitment measured costed and assigned. Operational plans were resourced and practised.

The return of NATO to that of a conventional military alliance structured to temper Russian ambitions and protect the economic sovereignty and political freedom of Europe is a worthy enough cause. It need not be the West’s answer to all threats, just the ones that challenge territorial integrity – a threat all member states can agree on. In this situation it is the only show in town. While the EU’s rhetoric trumpets a rival military capability able to operate independently of the United States, in truth it remains the dream of Federalists and without the inclusion of Great Britain, Europe’s major military power, is unlikely to amount to much. NATO’s future probably rests in returning to what it knows best and leaving the many non-military threats with which it has tried to engage to other agencies.

The bottom line, however, is that the future of NATO continues to rely upon US engagement. Without the military clout of the US, NATO would be of little military significance. Pooling all their resources the Europeans would struggle to mount and sustain a small crisis response mission in their own neighbourhood. The United States has called time on bankrolling the defence of Europe. More European NATO members will have to give ground to American demands that they spend a greater amount of their wealth on their armed forces.

The US will want to see more member states at the two-percenter lunch and see them more quickly than the current trajectory supposes.

By James Maclaren, Feb 12 2019 12:26PM

As the UK exits from the European Union it seeks to renew friendships and strengthen ties with countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. But there is a security price to pay.

The recent arrival of a Royal Navy warship, HMS Montrose into Auckland Harbour heralded a new defence initiative and return to the Asia-Pacific region by the UK. The Type 23 frigate is to be forward deployed to the region for three years and will undertake a number of duties including participation in the international maritime operation to enforce sanctions against North Korea. HMS Montrose is the latest in a line of British warships to operate in the region. Such deployments are not always viewed favourably. The transit of HMS Albion through the South China Sea in September 2018 produced controversy, and was described by China as provocative. It resulted in a protest to the UK being lodged by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. will continue in response to China’s The UK has confirmed that it will continue to participate in the international Freedom of Navigation Operations led by the United States, which are undertaken to resist China’s attempts to consolidate its territorial claims to a large swathe of the South China Sea.

However, the presence of the warship served another purpose.

As the British Government prepares to finalise its departure from the European Union there is renewed interest in developing far stronger ties to the region. Using the UK’s military for what it’s Ministry of Defence calls ‘Defence Diplomacy’ is part of several initiatives to win friends and influence people in an area of the world the UK has neglected. There is good reason for this.

The UK needs new trade partners.

Southeast Asia looks set to continue its steady economic rise albeit at a slightly more modest rate. According to latest OECD analysis, overall growth across the region will continue at a respectable 5.2% until 2022. As the UK seeks to balance its loss of access to the EU single market, it eyes the continued potential of the region with great interest. It sees trade with the Emerging Asian countries as strong markets for its technology, services and education sectors and views the recently renamed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as an ambitious route to a deeper engagement once its departure from the EU is complete.

As the second largest exporter of military equipment in the world it also sees big opportunity for its defence industries. These ambitions were given a boost recently by Australia’s decision to select the UK designed Type 26 Global Combat Ship for its Future Frigate program. Not only is this a commercially significant decision but it will take the military interoperability between the countries to a new level as they eye the continued expansion of China’s maritime capability.

There is a historical angle too.

The UK has always been uneasy about its active withdrawal from engagement in the region. Past ties to countries such as Singapore and Malaysia and powerful wider links to Australia and New Zealand rapidly diminished following Britain’s inward turn to Europe, a process which many viewed with disquiet, like cutting off links with members of your family. There was a strong sense of sadness following the handover of Hong Kong that the country was turning its back on family, friends and allies too hastily. This was not just the nostalgia of a declining power, many view the shrinking of trade relations in the region to have been a strategic mistake and missed opportunity that the modest if safer embrace of the EU would not compensate for. Many believe taking a wider global view is critical to post-Brexit success and provides an opportunity to restore and rejuvenate historical links.

The push back toward the Asia-Pacific countries is being gently welcomed with warm words of support from governments from Singapore through to Australia. Non-Commonwealth countries too have showed they welcome an increased UK presence in the region’s trade, diplomatic and defence arrangements. Vietnam have warmed up their bilateral relationships with increased defence dialogue and trade discussions, while UK troops train in Japan with the Japanese Defence Forces.

But there are security obligations as well.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the ‘Five’ Eyes intelligence alliance and many other international organisations the UK sees itself as a substantial figure in the maintenance of a rule-based world order. There is a view in Government that given the globalised nature of common threats and the challenges to stability that exist, the UK should offer more than warm words and diplomatic pressure to support the US beyond the traditional NATO area of interest and use its significant security capabilities including when necessary hard military resources. A programme of training and support to Commonwealth countries like Malaysia and Singapore is underway, but there will be more, with military collaboration dialogues planned at various levels of pace and depth with the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia; all taking place against the backdrop of trade talks and increased diplomatic engagement. Both Australia and New Zealand isolated outposts of western security cooperation welcome increased UK security commitments which build on already strong bilateral arrangements with muscle and effort.

Enter HMS Montrose.

While on one level the forward deployment of a single warship represents nothing more than diplomatic signalling, it is a sign that UK military presence will grow in the region. Carefully coordinated with close allies like the US and Australia the deployment of Royal Navy ships will become a regular feature of UK military operations. Already plans are being scoped for a future deployment to the region by the new giant aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth. A more ambitious plan for a permanent Royal Navy base in the region is under consideration by the UK Government and was trailed around Whitehall by the UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson MP.

What this means

Britain has a history of synergy between trade expansion and military operations (as well as the Royal Family) and sees their roles as mutually inclusive. After all, the East India Company — an early pretender to modern-day global corporations — was owned and funded the Indian Army of Empire days. Without the support of military power economic success would not have been possible. While no one suggests a similar approach is planned, in recent decades the UK has relied entirely upon its soft power capability to advance its interests in the region. Post-Brexit this is likely to change.

With developing markets and high-growth the countries of Southeast Asia and the Pacific represent an area of strategic interest which the UK will approach with new vigour. However, the price for deepening trade relationships and dependencies is likely to be the need to shoulder more responsibility for regional security. The early signs are that the British recognise such engagement is worth the prize.

By James Maclaren, Oct 15 2018 06:06PM

The mystery of the whether Pakistan continues to detain POWs from the war continues. The families of the men missing for nearly five decades believe they are still held captive in defiance of international law in jails in Pakistan.

In the weak December sunlight, the Indian Air Force Hawker Hunter began a second run to strike the heavily defended radar complex set atop the Sakesar Mountain in West Pakistan. Its pilot Flight Lieutenant Gurdev Singh Rai knew the terrain well. He had conducted the same bombing run the previous day dodging the wall of anti-aircraft fire which rose like a curtain from the Pakistani ground forces deployed to protect the base. The 1971 war was only two days old and Rai was part of the enormous air offensive that would decimate its Pakistan Air Force opponents, cripple its navy and allow Indian forces in the east of the country to strike deep into East Pakistan and force the capitulation of its forces resulting in the creation of the new state of Bangladesh. Unfortunately, Flight Lieutenant’s Rai’s short war was over. The hail of anti-aircraft fire from the ground batteries fatally wounded his aircraft. Rai crashed, and he was declared missing in action by his squadron later that day.

Two days later and four thousand miles away his younger sister Rajwant Kaur was sitting anxiously in the front room of her modest home in North London. She was watching the BBC’s evening news coverage of the war and alongside her was her husband and their landlord. Suddenly she bolted from her chair and went to the television pointing at the screen. ‘There,’ she said excitedly. ‘Thank-goodness there is Gurdev.’ There on the grainy screen was her dirty and battered but safe brother standing in a line of prisoners of war (POW) guarded by Pakistani troops. Relief washed over her. He would be safe now, however the war went he would come home.

But Gurdev Rai never did come home. Rajwant waited days, then weeks months years and finally decades for news, but she has never seen him or had official news of him since that grainy television picture.

How could this be? Gurdev was a POW and protected by international law. In theory when the conflict ended just a few days later with a decisive Indian victory, completed lists of prisoners should have been exchanged via the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). As POWs they would have been entitled to mail, fair treatment and should have been repatriated as soon as possible under internationally monitored arrangements. The 90,000 Pakistani POWs were rapidly returned but the unknown fate of Flight Lieutenant Rai is not an isolated one. When Pakistan produced its list of 635 POWs 51 Indian POWs from 1971 were not accounted for leaving their families grieving confused and over time to a large extent forgotten. The earlier conflict between the two countries in 1965 had left three other personnel still unaccounted for.

Suspicion that the men may still be alive and held captive by Pakistan continues. Over the years reports of sightings of the men who served in all branches of the Indian Armed Services have emerged. Dr R.S. Suri’s, father of Major Ashok Suri, captured in the 1971 war at first believed the army when they declared Major Suri as "Killed in action", Then in early December 1974 he received a smuggled note apparently from his son saying that he was well. The note had been carried by a released prisoner in Pakistan who claimed Major Suri was still being held in jail. To raise hope further, a second note from Major Suri arrived and was declared sufficiently authentic by the Indian Defence Ministry to have the officer’s official status changed from “killed in action” to “missing in action”.

Various other sightings of the missing men have taken place.

Major AK Ghosh was caught on camera by a Time newspaper report in late December 1971. A Pakistan radio broadcast in early December 1971 reported that Flight Lieutenant Sasoon had survived the wreckage of his Canberra aircraft shot down whilst on a bombing mission and was in captivity. The young wife of Flight Lieutenant Dhavale received his wallet which included her photograph and his scarf intact, but despite these personal belongings there was no apparent sign of his body near his wrecked aircraft.

Wing Commander Hersern Singh Gill was by reports befriended by two imprisoned Pakistani officers jailed in Attock military prison in 1973-1974 for their role in plotting a military coup. Other reports suggest that up to forty unaccounted for Indian prisoners were held in Attock Jail at that time.

A Sikh prisoner repatriated to India reported a meeting in 1983 with a Captain Kamal Bakshi who he had met while serving time in Multan Jail. Captain Bakshi’s sister is British and still lives in London.

As late as 2003 a Canadian Human Rights representative visiting Lahore Jail was called out to by prisoners claiming to be held from the 1971 conflict but was denied contact with them by his minders. Even more recently in 2012 an Indian carpenter working in Oman reported he had been approached by a fellow Sikh who claimed to be Sepoy Jaspal Singh and that he and four other Indian POWs had been held in Oman since 1975 in what would be one of the earliest cases of rendition.

Pakistan has always denied any knowledge of the men. As the years have passed the families faith in their own Government’s actions in attempting to recover the men have been shaken. In 1982 President Zia the military dictator ruler of Pakistan visited India. In a surprise move he agreed to allow some of the families to have consular access to prisons where it was suspected the majority of the 54 POWs were being held. Six of the families travelled to Pakistan although the heavily controlled visit yielded no sign of their loved ones nor clues as to where they might be.

There is an apparent unwillingness of the Indian Government to internationalise the issue.

In 2015 the human rights lawyer Jas Uppal from the UK charity Justice Upheld petitioned the Indian Supreme Court wanting the matter raised with the International Court of Justice as a matter concerning international law. As a result of her petition the Court received an affidavit from the Indian Ministry of Defence in which it declared that it had no details regarding 54 missing defence personnel believed to be held captive as prisoners of wars (POWs) in Pakistan jails after the 1965 and 1971 wars.

Ms Uppal has had the question of the missing POWs raised in the UK Parliament bringing the attention of the UK Government to the fact that two of the missing POWs have sisters who are British citizens. However, The Foreign Office declined to become involved referring to the matter as a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan. Ms Uppal does not consider that good enough. “Two of the kin of the Indian POWs are British nationals who urgently need the support of their Government to ascertain the fate of their kin. The British authorities have good diplomatic ties to both India and Pakistan therefore Britain is the best placed to mediate in this situation.”

So far, her calls to elevate the case of the men has gone unheeded.

So, what happened to the missing 54 POWs? There is much evidence that these men survived the combat phase of operations and Pakistan has a history which continues of conducting ex-judicial detention. Its jails’ hold detainees which fall into special categories of prisoner which are determined by the Nation’s powerful security apparatus rather than the courts. Many believe that the fear of prosecution by the new nation of Bangladesh for war crimes of members of the former Pakistan military held as Indian POWs meant that a special category of prisoner for use as bargaining chips against such prosecution was created. Over time the prisoners became an embarrassment possibly to both sides as the turbulent diplomatic relationship between the two countries never produced the right time to reveal their existence.

This view may be supported by the decision of The Red Cross to keep its records of the Indo-Pak war of 1971 confidential until 2035. The reasons for this remain obscure but suggest that details of negotiations between the two countries are too sensitive to be made public. That’s only a short step from explaining away the missing 54 as simply collateral damage as the two nations struggle to live next to one another. It’s unlikely all of these men have survived nearly five decades in captivity but it’s quite possible that some did. If so, they continue to wait with diminishing hope that their government and international pressure will come to their assistance and allow them to live the last few years of their lives in a dignified manner.

The men have never faded from the memory of their families who keep hoping to learn the truth of what happened to their loved ones following that short war. Numerous appeals for information and legal applications to both governments and the international community have led nowhere. Sadly, for Rajwant Kaur alone in a North London suburb, a serious car accident has left her confined to a wheelchair. Yet she still waits patiently sustained by the hope that one day her brother will walk into the room and they will be reunited.

Elsewhere when Indians celebrate December 16 as ‘Vijay Divas’ (Victory Day) the feelings of the families to whom the 54 POWs never returned will have mixed and muted feelings as they wonder whether their loved ones remain hidden after all this time behind a Pakistani prison door.

Note to Editors:

1. The Indo-Pak war took place between 3 Dec until 13 Dec when the forces of Pakistan surrendered.

2. Jas Uppal is a UK lawyer who runs the charity Justice Upheld (

3. Supporting images for the story are available.

4. The names of those 'Missing 54'.

Major SPS Waraich IC-12712 15 Punjab

Major Kanwaljit Singh Sandhu IC-14590 15 Punjab

2/Lt Sudhir Mohan Sabharwal SS-23957 87 Lt Regiment

Capt Ravinder Kaura SS-20095 39 Med Regiment

Capt Giri Raj Singh IC-23283 5 Assam

Capt Om Prakash Dalal SS-22536 Grenadiers

Maj Suraj singh IC-18790 15 Rajput

Maj AK Suri SS-19807 5 Assam

Capt Kalyan Singh Rathod IC-28148 5 Assam

Major Jaskiran Singh Malik IC-14457 8 Raj. Rifles

Major SC Guleri IC-20230 9 Jat

Lt Vijay Kumar Azad IC-58589 1/9 G Rg

Capt Kamal Bakshi IC-19294 5 Sikh

2/ Lt Paras Ram Sharma SS-22490 5/8 G R

Capt Vashisht Nath

L/Hv. Krishna Lal Sharma 13719585 1 JAK RIF

Subedar Assa Singh JC-41339 5 Sikh

Subedar Kalidas JC-59 8 JAKLI

L/Nk Jagdish Raj 9208735 Mahar Regiment

L/Nk Hazoora Singh 682211303

Gunner Sujan Singh 1146819 14 Fd Regiment

Sepoy Daler Singh 2461830 15 Punjab

Gnr Pal Singh 1239603 181 Lt Regiment

Sepoy Jagir Singh 2459087 16 Punjab

Gnr Madan Mohan 1157419 94 Mountain Regiment

Gnr Gyan Chand Gnr Shyam Singh

L/Nk Balbir Singh S B S Chauhan

Capt DS jamwal 81 Field Regiment

Capt Washisht Nath Attock

Sq Ldr Mohinder Kumar Jain 5327-F(P) 27 Sqn

Flt Lt Sudhir Kumar Goswami 8956-F(P) 5 Sqn

Flying Officer Sudhir Tyagi 10871-F(P) 27 Sqn

Flt Lt Vijay Vasant Tambay 7662 –F(P) 32 Sqn

Flt Lt Nagaswami Shanker 9773-F(P) 32 Sqn

Flt Lt Ram Metharam Advani 7812-F(P) JBCU

Flt Lt Manohar Purohit 10249(N) 5 Sqn

Flt Lt Tanmaya Singh Dandoss 8160-F(P) 26 Sqn

Wg Cdr Hersern Singh Gill 4657-F(P) 47 Sqn

Flt Lt Babul Guha 5105-F(P)

Flt Lt Suresh Chander Sandal 8659-F(P) 35 Sqn

Sqn. Ldr. Jal Manikshaw Mistry 5006-F(P)

Flt Lt Harvinder Singh 9441-F(P) 222 Sqn

Sqn Ldr Jatinder Das Kumar 4896-F(P) 3 Sqn

Flt Lt LM Sassoon 7419-F(P) JBCU

Flt Lt Kushalpal Singh Nanda 7819-F(N) 35 Sqn

Flg Offr. Krishan L Malkani 10576-F(P) 27 Sqn

Flt Lt Ashok Balwant Dhavale 9030-F(P) 1 Sqn

Flt Lt Shrikant C Mahajan 10239-F(P) 5 Sqn

Flt Lt Gurdev Singh Rai 9015-F(P) 27 Sqn

Flt Lt Ramesh G Kadam 8404-F(P) TACDE

Flg Offr. KP Murlidharan 10575-F(P) 20 Sqn

Naval Pilot Lt. Cdr Ashok Roy

Sqn Ldr Devaprasad Chatterjee

Plt Offr Tejinder Singh Sethi

By James Maclaren, Mar 14 2018 11:20AM

Following the brazen attack on a former Russian spy on the streets of an English city which to date has not provided the inspiration for an espionage tale, the UK and with less enthusiasm its allies ponder how to respond to an act of state terrorism. The reason for outrage is obvious: the use of a highly specialised nerve agent on the streets of a city better known for its dreamy Cathedral spire and traditional country market raises the bar on the murky intelligence sparring with the Russian state which has either decided to operate outside of accepted international rules of behaviour or, possibly worse, has lost control of the most deadly of weapons a class of which it continues to develop and refine.

The UK is bracing itself for the usual reciprocal expulsion of diplomats and will find a catalogue of measures which they hope will satisfy domestic demand for a tough response while making its anger at the Russian action clear. The Government is keen not to repeat the debacle of the Litvinenko affair where its slow steady reliance on judicial process simply confirmed the Kremlin’s opinion that Britain has become a weak state vulnerable and easily bullied. It will have noted the decline in the strength and capability of its armed forces, the political divisions which prevent unified action and the slow integration of financial and economic links which make decisive reprisals difficult to swallow.

It is no longer the binary age of the Cold War and the last twenty years have seen a progressive economic integration into western markets which make many of Britain’s allies uneasy at the prospect of moving beyond the ritual declarations of outrage and support. It seems likely that whatever package of punitive measures are put in place, the problem of a long-term strategy as to how to deal with a Russia which is willing to operate outside of international standards remains.

Russia remains a deeply insecure nation that demands respect and needs attention. It craves the empire it never really had and feels deeply the humiliation inflicted upon the country by foreign powers following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Its grievances include, the expansion of NATO up against its borders, a string of western military interventions undertaken with scant regard for Russian opinion and a desire to be free of the encirclement it feels, despite the vastness of its lands. An encirclement made more obvious by the rise of the nations of the Far East and in particular China whose wealth and power now dwarfs that of Russia.

In Putin it has a leader who is an unreconstructed product of the old order, when Soviet power, weight and influence, in particular by the United States, could not be ignored. As he engineers a further landslide victory in the forthcoming presidential elections, his grip and hold on the Russian establishment is stronger than ever. Despite the western mockery of pictures of a bare chested middle-aged man riding horseback in the Urals or fishing on a Siberian lake, to a Russian people who enthusiastically believe their own propaganda he is all-powerful.

In truth, economically Putin has been a failure. The economy continues to perform badly compromising the autocratic leader’s strategic ambitions for Russia. The economic marginalisation that is coming for Russia is set to one side while the state-owned media machine whips up the scapegoats of western sanctions to explain poor economic performance and generates support for foreign adventurism, which includes the seizure of Crimea, intervention in Syria and meddling in US and other elections.

The reconstruction of Russia’s military capability is a priority for Putin and represents a source of national pride. The rusting and rotting hulks in the harbours at Vladivostok and Murmansk must have been a source of irritation to the Russian leader and the reclaiming of Russia’s status as a great power begins with investment in the military tools that accompany such standing. As a Cold War era aircraft carrier chugs steamily through the English Channel and analogue non-precision cluster bombs are directed onto Syrian suburbs there is some way to go to achieve the military might that Russia clung onto during the heyday of the eighties. But we are back to Tupolev bombers circling Norway and the British Isles, submarine probes of the Swedish coastline, development of the modern domains of warfare such as cyber and of course as the events of Salisbury remind us, Russia has not lost its affection for the development and use of chemical weapons.

The real response to a Russia that will not conform to international standards of behaviour is to challenge it where it feels strongest. Russia adopts the tactic of the street gang-leader who demands respect with shows of strength and aggression. In the Cold War President Reagan recognised this and did what should always be the approach with bullies, he stood up to them. In the case of the Soviet Union he simply outspent them, forcing Soviet defence expenditure to over 15% of its GDP, a share that no countries economy could ultimately afford. It did so without the US economy having to pause for breath. Since then defence and security priorities have changed. The US and NATO have transformed themselves in a world police, focussed on the defeat of Islamic based terrorism and undertaking stability operations. With misgivings and warnings from some, military capability and force structures have moved away from the ability to conduct state on state conflict to meeting transnational threats. This may have to change.

So, what does this mean for Britain and what should the longer term British response to Russia be?

Britain is able to demonstrate some leadership by responding to the development of the Russian military capability in kind. It has a far bigger economy than Russia which could easily find the necessary defence budget increases to demonstrate to Russia that it cannot throw its weight around unchallenged. It can use the increase to fill the gaps in conventional warfare capability which have emerged as the UK’s armed forces have been hollowed out in favour of other political and domestic priorities. The arbitrary defence of meeting the NATO minimum GDP spending should be thrown out. It is in any case a spending limit which reflects a different set of strategic challenges.

Britain has to do this because it is unlikely that any other European nation has the mettle to go beyond statements and words that are as weak and feeble as those from Moscow are sneering and scornful. With a US that has returned to a position which follows national self-interest, there is no other credible western power with the capability and will to show the leadership the European Continent requires. In time its allies will realise that a resurgent Russia suppressing its fundamental weaknesses is a threat which must be addressed. Without leadership and example this will be a slow tortuous route to understanding that will be characterised by crisis and appeasement as Russia flexes its muscles. There will be no good news for many years.

Showing leadership in confronting Russia reflects Britain’s historical past in being prepared to do what is right rather than selfish or popular. The international community will respond, and Britain will not be alone in ensuring Russia learns to conduct its affairs within the accepted codes of behaviour or it will face consequences it cannot ultimately afford.

By James Maclaren, Jan 22 2018 08:33AM

Shortly the Government will release yet another defence review. In it, we can expect to see UK military capability conveniently redefined under the Treasury imposed expenditure threshold and expect it to say little other than re-emphasise the threats, present the cornerstone of UK defence policy as NATO membership and laud its special relationship (for which we can read reliance) upon the United States. It is unlikely to consider the flaws in this assessment, or consider what, in a post-Brexit environment, will be Britain’s role in the world. The principle purpose of defence review appears to be to address the gaping deficit in the Department’s budget. This most recent mini-review follows hard on the heels of a supposedly complete review in 2015 and is the third since 2010. To the cynical, UK defence reviews have become too political, too scripted and too frequent.

Ministers are proud of the UK’s record in meeting the NATO expenditure target of two percent, one of only four countries in the alliance to do so. While they gloss over the creative accounting necessary to maintain this achievement and prefer not to dwell on the mismanagement and budget raids which have slowly hollowed out the UK’s military capabilities. They prefer to point to increases in the military’s equipment budget headed by new RAF combat aircraft and the re-emergence of carrier strike capability. Not much will be said about the Army, which in particular looks in need of refreshing, particularly in the high-intensity combat area. The combined effects of sustained operations in Afghanistan, under-recruitment and reconfiguration to concentrate on operations short of high-intensity have left it ill-prepared to face a resurgent Russian military capability.

To many the need for a defence review seems unclear – what in the nature of threats and challenges to national defence has changed that much? The UK managed to navigate the end of the Cold War without a defence review and it was only the politically motivated Labour Party manifesto commitment to its SDR in 1997 that brought about the first defence review since Dennis Healey, another labour defence Secretary ripped up the defence song sheet in 1967. The answer that will be given to Parliament will probably be not much. But in truth a great deal has changed to Britain’s strategic situation and there is now, more than ever, a need for a proper review which does more than the usual exercise of packing a great deal of foreign and defence policy padding around what is essentially strategic defence mismanagement.

Part of the padding refers to some assumptions and constraints that Government is unwilling to confront with fresh thinking. For example, that NATO is a cornerstone of our defence policy or that the NATO inspired 2% spending commitment is the correct level of national treasure to invest in meeting the national interest. Recent defence reviews have broadly come to the same conclusions and followed the same narrative, the role of Trident, NATO, relationship with the United States are unquestioned and are taken as cardinal laws. As Britain considers its role in the world after departure from the EU then confronting some of these unchallenged rules of defence policy may be unavoidable.

Defence capability follows trade. The power of the Royal Navy was founded upon the need to protect the nation’s sea lines of communication. In a world where the UK begins to see its trade interests expand beyond the European continent, then a steady reversal of the Healey doctrine of withdrawal East of Suez will take place. It will do so at a time when the world has become to look significantly more dangerous than the decades in which Britain hibernated into the European cave and carried out its Cold War. Britain will need to stand on its feet again and to do so will have to have the capacity to act militarily and potentially unilaterally. International solidarity has limits and while NATO may just serve its purpose as a bulwark against Russian expansionism in Eastern Europe, it is unlikely to have the appetite or resources to support its members whose national interests have moved beyond the continent or usual reach of the alliance. To suggest that Britain should continue to be Europe-focused for defence while it

s trade and commercial interests reach far wider, is not logical and defies the lessons of history.

An increasing reliance on internationalism for national defence faces challenge in three areas. One is that countries with different interests and outlooks cannot always be expected to support one another. US patience with Europe is stretched. Presuming that it would be willing to support British interests as it seeks a wider global role is asking a great deal. Second, Internationalism genders a false sense of complacency which is created by a multinational approach to capabilities and capacity. It allows nations to comfort themselves that renouncing a national capability is OK, because it is still there, just provided by someone else. But whether that is true or not depends upon the circumstances that it can be called upon. Britain’s interests will diverge from many NATO member states, and the need for autonomous capability that may no longer be available from an alliance partner will increase.

There is a third concern which has remained largely unspoken. The Americanisation of European armies has been continuing for some time. The reliance upon US leadership, military philosophy doctrine and procedures, never mind its unmatched range of capabilities is almost total. Any force operating in coalition with the US is obliged to follow its methods and conform to its organisations. Nowhere is American exceptionalism more evident than in the conduct of military affairs. It demands and expects from its allies, and it ignores that with which it does not agree.

The problem is that many feel the American way just does not work! The American way of war is weighted towards technology often at the expense of grasping the political, environmental and situational nature of conflicts. Americans assume the domination of technology will prevail and this leads them on a vast and expanding journey to build increasing technology and complexity into weapons systems. It is arguable whether the American idea that networking technology directing precision munitions has actually revolutionised warfare or has provided the crushing advantage over its opponents. Not only does a case exist to say that this view of war is flawed, it is too expensive for allies such as the British to follow. To do so requires expenditure on equipment so costly that forces and capabilities which may have greater utility, particularly in the lower end of the conflict spectrum must be sacrificed to pay for it. Continuing to support unreservedly the ability to ‘plug-in’ into US capabilities will result in possession of a few exquisite and tiny capabilities incapable of autonomous action. This presents a problem to a UK required to operate beyond the NATO umbrella or without the support of critical allies. Numbers still matter if a nation is to be able to win wars, or at the very least conduct major conflicts at scale.

The gaps in other capabilities which attempting to maintain technology alignment with the US creates, requires the UK to rely heavily upon US help during military operations. Key ‘enablers’ such as heavy airlift, command and control, strategic intelligence, reconnaissance, air to air refuelling give the Americans a de facto veto over future UK military operations. The US has never been shy of exercising such a veto if it perceived to be in their interests to do so. While the Government would point to existing UK capabilities in all these areas, they do not exist at the level required to conduct strategic autonomy. Slowly, but irrevocably, since 1967 and probably before then, the commitment to NATO, Europe and the US, with the exception of a brief ad hoc hurrah to the South Atlantic in 1982, British operational coherence to respond to national strategic requirements has been eroded.

The American military philosophy adopts essentially a centrist approach to the conceptual art of war. While it loves to consider itself an advocate of the manoeuvrist approach and decentralised command, it truth it seldom practises what it teaches. The US love of detail extends throughout its military organisations. The use of operational art, a military philosophy enabling junior commander’s freedom of action allowing rapid decision making within a broader intent, is quoted often, but practised little. The stove-piped juggernaut of American military planning and operations is widely emulated among European allies who seem unable or reluctant to challenge whether the huge planning organisations and the military bureaucracy they create, either work for the conflict they are in, or are right for their own organisations and capabilities. They mimic without question.

More worryingly as the challenges of the future strategic environment are confronted the reliance on the US may expose the largest flaw of all. They lose their wars, or certainly do not win them.

In recent years, Britain has been dragged into wars of the US making in which it has offered sufficient forces to share solidarity but not enough to make a difference or alter the strategic direction of a conflict. These half-wars, high in human cost and expensive have demonstrated British strategic weakness. There is an argument for a significant increase in the amount of national hard power which Britain can deploy accompanied by an increased reliance upon its own military philosophy and notions of using combat power which are both distinctive and effective. It is normal for the UK to deploy small formations and individuals to conflict environments and achieve success through their own wit and resources. To do so they understand the human environment and the interactions and interdependencies between combatants and civilians. This is at odds with an American approach which utilises mass, kinetic effect and centralised control, but which is less agile and able to adapt.

It is not as the misquoted Churchill speech suggests that Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, but a rebalancing of UK national interest into a global trade environment will require Britain to be able to defend its wider trade routes and interests. This will as true over the next decades as it was in Napoleonic times.

The need to lift our defence sights beyond the edge of Europe, be able to engage in high-intensity conflict without reliance upon American support and not necessarily in a way dictated by the US, means the willingness to develop a national defence strategy that will cost more than the comfortable, presentationally satisfactory limit of 2% of GDP.

The UK cannot aspire to global significance while hiding behind the European curtain of defence cooperation and limits on expenditure. In Europe, defence expenditure is largely about territorial integrity with minor participation in low risk small operations managed and led by others. The British defence challenge just became bigger. Increasing the UK defence budget to 3% of GDP is not just about filling in the deficit caused by bad management, it’s about changing the shape of UK defence strategy and building capability to meet future needs. Its deeper message would be that Britain is serious about becoming globally engaged and is willing to plot its own course on the world stage.