Political Will Remains Most Important Factor
Opening the proceedings at IAV 2018 in Twickenham on 23 January in his role as Conference Chairman, Gen. Sir Adrian Bradshaw, KCB, OBE, NATO’s former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe (DSACEUR) gave delegates a succinct, pithy view of the challenges facing the alliance. Military and political in nature, he left no doubt in his audience’s mind that the maintenance and encouragement of political will among member state governments – coupled with the pressing need for greater cooperation and collaboration between NATO and the EU – remained critically important aspects of the transatlantic alliance’s daily activities. In the latter respect he noted with regret the reduced role that Britain would probably play in the political dialogue post Brexit.
The range of security challenges he identified span several domains: a resurgent, aggressive Russia, the continuing struggle against Daesh/ISIL, the North Korean issue (which he characterised as stabilising), the changing nature of Chinese power on the global stage and the diminution of Western influence as a result of economic pressures.
With regard to Russia, he identified a number of factors driving renewed assertiveness and aggression on the part of Moscow: humiliation over the collapse of the Soviet order, refret at the loss of power and status in world affairs, traditional Russian concerns at being surrounded by China, NATO and unstable flank states and – crucially – President Putin’s need to refresh his domestic popularity through the creation of threats and a visibly robust defence of Mother Russia.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of his 20 minute address was the repeated use of the phrase “proper, grown-up, joined-up military strategy:” it was almost a plea. It is always instructive to be privy to the views of someone who has so recently been at the heart of the NATO decision-making process and who has a clear view on the priorities that the alliance, its member governments, constituent armed forces and competent industrials should espouse. Delegates at IAV 2018 can have been left in no doubt that, while progress is being made, much more – so much more – remains to be done.
And in his encouragement for the pursuit of “refreshing our deterrent,” Gen. Bradshaw gave threw into stark relief the old but often forgotten adage that our uniformed brothers are often the boldest and most pragmatic protagonists of peaceful conflict resolution. “We need to develop these terrible military capabilities precisely so that we never need to use them,” he told conference. Against a background of political indecisiveness, poor public communications and inadequate resources, that is a viewpoint that is thought-provoking at best, chilling at worst and possessed of huge impact in either case.