Fri, 23 February 2024

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By Lord Dannatt
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Britain must do more to deter Russian aggression – diplomacy and sanctions are not enough

3 min read

The term “grand strategy” may seem like a relic from previous centuries which became irrelevant with the end of the Cold War, but this is to ignore what is happening in today’s world.

Many governments practice grand strategy, but sadly few are our allies. Most are despotic regimes who are challenging the rules based international order, upon which Western security and the global trading system depend.

Putin’s goal is nothing less than to demonstrate the end of US global hegemony and to establish Russia as its equal; the pre-eminent power able to drive a wedge between Europe and the USA. As this strategy succeeds, Putin also intends to leverage China’s power to influence in his own interests.

Putin is demanding that NATO never again admit new members, such as Sweden, Finland or Austria; that the alliance should be forbidden from any military presence in the former Warsaw Pact countries that have already joined NATO; and that the US should withdraw all its nuclear forces from Europe, so that the only missiles threatening European cities are Russian ones. This ultimatum is premised on a fundamental lie, that NATO represents a threat to Russian national security.

Ukraine is merely one component of a long-running hybrid campaign against the West

Modern Russia is nothing like the old Soviet Union.  Nevertheless, we should not dismiss what Russia has done since 2008, what Russia is capable of doing with its vast arsenal of new weaponry. Nor should we take a complacent view of Russia’s future intentions.

Many Western leaders, and the bulk of the Western public, have not yet understood that Ukraine is merely one component of a long-running hybrid campaign against the West. Russia’s campaign is conducted like a war, with a war-like strategic headquarters at the National Defence Centre at the old army staff HQ, where all the elements of the Russian state are represented in a permanent warlike council, re-analysing, reassessing and revising plans and tactics. 

The whole concept of strategy as understood and practised by Putin and his colleagues is as something completely interactive with what their opponents are doing. It is not a detailed blueprint to be followed, but a measure-countermeasure activity: a research operation based on real empiricism; an organically evolving struggle; a continual experiment where the weapons are refined and even created during the battle; where stratagems and tactics must be constantly adapted and plans constantly rewritten.

To guide its constant and rapid adaptation, the strategy process must also include feedback loops and learning processes. To enable this, the hybrid warfare “battlefield” is what they call “instrumented”: constantly monitored by military and civilian analysts, both in Russia and abroad by embassy staff, journalists, intelligence officers, and other collaborators.

Meanwhile, Western governments like ours are still operating on the basis that we face no warlike challenges or campaigns.  We lack strategic imagination that would offer us opportunities to pre-empt or disrupt the Russian strategy.  We have no comprehensive body of skills and knowledge to give us analogous capacity to compete with Russia’s grand strategy, while Russia and others like China undermine the foundations of global security.

The UK needs to rediscover what in the past it has done so well, but it means an end to muddling through. It means creating machinery and culture in government that can match the capability and determination of our adversaries in every field of government activity. 

Everything the government are now doing is commendable, but diplomacy, expelling diplomats, diplomatic language and even economic sanctions are not enough.


Sir Bernard Jenkin is the Conservative MP for Harwich and North Essex.

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