Dan Sowik on the ARRC Staff Ride to Berlin

At first glance, the city of Berlin bears few scars of the brutal Soviet assault it suffered in 1945. However, at certain moments during NATO’s Exercise ARRCADE BUGLE 14, a chronological journey through the siege which ended the Second World War in Europe, and through the city’s Cold War experience, the history seemed to seep out of the surroundings. Standing on Kustrin Fort and looking westward across the River Oder towards Berlin, as so many thousands of Red Army soldiers must have done with anticipation and apprehension in April 1945. Looking out from the Seelow Heights over the Oder flood plain, across which nearly a million Soviet troops advanced in the last big push of the European war. Standing on the remains of the Humboldthain flak tower in central Berlin, where crew after crew of Hitler Youth manned the guns in defence of what remained of Hitler’s Germany, in the face of certain annihilation by a ferocious Soviet artillery bombardment.

Though certainly of immense historical importance, the Battle for Berlin does not stand as a shining example of strategic brilliance from which modern leaders can learn. It is, at its simplest level, a case of the final death throes of a fanatical regime being violently suppressed by the brute force of an equally tyrannical opponent. Leadership was weak on both sides, with Hitler giving contradictory orders and awaiting salvation in the form of outmanned and outgunned armies, and Stalin playing Russian generals against one another, letting them throw tens of thousands of men into the fray as they competed to enter Berlin and capture the Reichstag building. Effectiveness at the tactical level varied wildly, but this was ultimately of little consequence when both sides were willing to accept such heavy losses.

Having grown up in the bubble of relative peace and security that is post-Cold War Europe, perhaps the most striking thing about the Berlin staff ride was how the historical conflict simultaneously felt so foreign, and yet so familiar. While the idea of total war in Europe now seems like a bad nightmare for many of us, some collective memories are longer than others, and the history of the 1940s now acts as an ideological catalyst for a war in Eastern Europe. While the presentations and discussions with NATO personnel which punctuated the tour highlighted the ways in which warfare at the tactical, operational, and even strategic levels has evolved in the last 70 years, the trip served as a poignant reminder of what can happen when grand strategies collide. Moreover, hearing the news while in Berlin that a civilian airliner had been shot down over Ukraine drove home the point that the Second World War was no more a ‘war to end all wars’ than the First.

Ultimately, the Berlin staff ride was an incredible experience, and an opportunity to study perhaps one of the most comprehensive victories ever achieved in a war of ideology and conquest. While there are few modern parallels, there are still lessons which can and should be learned from the Battle for Berlin, not the least of which is the ultimate, terrible cost of total war between industrialised, fanatical nations.

MStrat and ARRCADE FUSION

‘Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps’ is an imposing title that is entirely suitable for NATO’s premier rapid deployment headquarters. This means ‘HQ ARRC’ is the headquarters that NATO may turn to in its hour of need. If it is believed that a region needs stabilising, this will probably be the organisation that does it.

However maintaining the capability and expertise that ensures this is not an easy task. This is where exercises like ARRCADE Fusion become important. At several points throughout the year the staff at HQ ARRC are tested to breaking point through simulations designed to mirror what could happen if they were deployed. The Exercise Control, or ‘EXCON’, spends three weeks causing chaos within the simulation and the staff of HQ ARRC has no choice but to respond with all the energy they can muster.

Within this maelstrom of activity and acronyms, two former MStrat students found themselves arriving with sleeping bags and, in my case, wholly inadequate waterproof clothing in hand. Daniel Sowik and I had volunteered for this mission determined to understand what the ‘Applied’ in ‘MA Applied Security Strategy’ actually means.

As part of an experiment for HQ ARRC and SSI, we were attached to the G2 Branch’s All Source Cell. The G2 is responsible for the HQ’s intelligence activities and our cell analysed the intelligence gathered. The All-Source Cell’s team of analysts makes assessments that help guide senior level decision-making.

Thrust into this frenetic environment Daniel and I were given our roles. He was working with the G2’s Political Advisor as Political Analyst and I, with a counter extremism role in Whitehall, as the Counter Extremism Subject Matter Expert.

However before we dove into the workings of G2 there was the simple matter of the simulation itself. We read hundreds of pages about it, covering mineral deposit locations to relationships between key individuals. After wading through this information, we began to develop our contributions.

Learning how the HQ worked and improving our situational awareness, we eventually became integrated into the processes driving the ARRC’s activities rather than being just ‘attached’. Daniel and I developed white papers that helped to inform the HQ’s commanders, as well as operating as sounding boards for intelligence assessments. Mostly importantly we gave different perspectives on the situation that were appreciated and taken onboard by senior staff, giving us excellent feedback that helped drive the creation of our products. For Daniel and me, hearing that experienced and respected military personnel were finding value in our output was extremely gratifying.

However this is not the whole story of the ARRC.

My personal reflection often returns to being genuinely impressed by HQ ARRC and its personnel. Seeing people work 15 hours a day, keep their spirits up, and find time for the gym is mind-blowing to my former student self. This was whilst sleeping in tents situated in a cold and constantly wet Cornwall far from home.

But what has really surprised me is my reaction to leaving HQ ARRC. After integrating into and experiencing the simulation I remember the feeling of immediacy and the adrenaline rush from operating in that environment. Suffice it to say, I hope to be back soon.

Al Cole was a student on the Innovation Cohort who now works in the Department of Education on Counter Extremism

Bosnia Herzegovina Through Fresh Eyes by Al Bowman, MStrat Student

My last experience of the Balkans was as a young infantry officer deployed as part of the United Nations Protection Force in 1995.  Although we were told the Former Republic of Yugoslavia was part of the European land mass and was a conflict on our doorstep, it didn’t much feel like it; it felt a long way away and very different from my own experience of Europe.

What struck me returning for the first time was just how European it now feels.  For all the talk of basket case countries and corrupt bloated political systems the people of Sarajevo and it’s surrounding cantons did not reflect this assessment.  The conflict of 1992-1995 was horribly divisive and unimaginably brutal, yet somehow the human desire for revenge and justice has been parked in order to move on.

Admittedly the underlying nationalist and ethnic tensions that caused the last conflict remain and there is a sense of unfinished business but the hope is that the more that Bosnia Herzegovina can be drawn into the European expansion experiment the less chance there is that the unfinished business will be violent.

What struck me most travelling between Sarajevo and Gorazde was the distance, geography and physical reach between places that look very close on the map.  The Dutch commander at Srebrenica in 1995 was only a short helicopter ride from Sarajevo but it must have felt like he was isolated on a different planet as the genocide took place.  Britain has been lulled into believing over the last 20 years that globalisation has reduced the likelihood of conflict and the physical distance between places is less important.  However, I suspect that geography is very much alive and well as a critical factor in global politics and economics as Russia is demonstrating now.  Soft power and influence is great but it needs hard power that can be projected to make it meaningful.

We ought to remember this when crafting our next salami-slicing National Security Strategy that suggests we can do more with less (again).

MStrat Student, Dom Valitis, reflects on a field trip to Bosnia

One of the first things you notice about Sarajevo is the surrounding landscape. The lush steep hills that tower above the city and the picturesque houses scattered among them paint an idyllic picture that would stand out in any travel brochure or guidebook on the Balkans. At the same time though, they also make you feel rather vulnerable. After all, it was these very same ‘fairy tale’ like hills that enabled Serb Forces to besiege the city and mercilessly attack its residents for nearly 4 years. Although impossible to fully comprehend what that must have been like, standing in the city centre looking up at those hills, you at least get ‘a sense’ of the vulnerability Sarajevo’s residents must have felt during those dark and violent days.  Indeed, the war is never far from mind in Bosnia. From the shrapnel scarred and bullet-riddled buildings to the painful memories etched in the very faces of the Bosnians we met, reminders of the conflict are everywhere.  The trip offered a number of experiences and insights like these that cannot be conveyed in a textbook or learned in a lecture.

Of course, that’s not to say there wasn’t a place for academic pursuits during our visit. The conference room of our hotel in central Sarajevo was the perfect location for a series of lectures on the conflict, how it shaped Bosnia and what the international community is doing  (both right and wrong) to help the country move forward. We were privileged to hear from some of the key people driving that effort forward. Representatives from the UK, EU, UN and OSCE all took time to honestly and openly share their views and opinions with us. It was an invaluable insight into how strategies are applied in the ‘real world’ and the challenges that are encountered in the process.

For me though, the highlight was hearing from ‘ordinary’ Bosnians who were willing to share their deeply personal experiences about the conflict, what life is like in Bosnia today and their hopes and fears for the country. Although harrowing, the trip to Srebrenica and meeting survivors of the massacre was a valuable experience.  So too was our visit to the Sarajevo tunnel and the personal briefing we received from representatives of the International Commission on Missing Persons about their work identifying the hundreds buried in Bosnia’s mass graves. A visit to Goradze underlined the sacrifices made by Britain’s armed forces during the conflict and a discussion with students from Sarajevo University highlighted the challenges facing the country today.

The MStrat trip to Bosnia was an invaluable experience and one that brought to life a cruel conflict that – sadly – is yet to be fully resolved.

 

SSI Field Trip to the Somme

SSI Somme Field Trip

Three MStrat Students recall the SSI Somme Trip:

“On a drab and grey Friday afternoon in March we found ourselves standing in a hedgerow next to a farm looking at a large-ish copse at the far end of a field.  Except it wasn’t a hedgerow, it was the forward-most trench of the German Strongpoint defending Serre village on the morning of 1 July 1916.  And the copse wasn’t one large copse but four smaller ones – known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  This was the left hand flank (the German right) of the British attack on the infamous first day of the Battle of the Somme where the British Army, largely made up of Kitchener’s volunteers formed into Pal’s Battalions, sustained nearly 60,000 casualties in a single day.  Over the course of the weekend we worked our way south, visiting the battlefields around Serre, Beaumont-Hamel and, finally, Thiepval where we laid a wreath from the students and staff of the Strategy and Security Institute at the imposing memorial.

A dozen of intrepid MStrat students took the opportunity of being in France to tour the battlefields.  Whilst many of us had been before, Professor Newton situated the battle in its wider strategic context and gave us a different view of the Great War.  Even if he did have a particular interest in resurrecting the reputation of the Generals… It was interesting to see the extent to which our understanding of what happened in the trenches is coloured by myth.  The portrayals of ‘lions lead by donkeys’ in films and TV shows like Blackadder and Oh What a Lovely War have had a lasting impact and overwritten what may be a more accurate portrayal of strategic leadership in 1916.

Kevin Myers, an Irish historian and journalist, took up this theme of building a myth as he explained how those Irish who fought with the Allies, have been written out of Irish history by successive waves of politicians and academics – despite many of the soldiers being Nationalists themselves.  The power of this narrative is striking, and fascinating how it endures a century on.

For all the understanding we developed of the wider ‘picture’ surrounding The Great War, you cannot escape the pathos of rows of, immaculately kept, white gravestones.  Many of the graves, particularly at ‘Sunken Lane’ the forming up point for the attack on Beaumont-Hamel, stood in clusters – in the beaten zones of the German heavy machine guns.  It does not take much imagination to visualize the ranks of men trudging across No Man’s Land and what they must have gone through.

It was a thoroughly valuable, fascinating and ‘enjoyable’ (if such a word can be used in such a context) trip brought to life and to relevance by our two excellent Tour Guides!”  Gavin Saunders

 

“Having been to the First World War battlefields on a school trip almost a decade ago, as many thousands of children will do so over the coming years to mark the anniversary of the conflict, a few recollections of the Somme stood out – bad weather, the perfectly conserved cemeteries dotted about the countryside, the vast expanses of openness, story after story of seemingly futile attempts to break the German line and, embedded in the psyche, the striking Thiepval Memorial.

This SSI trip now as a (hopefully) more observant MA student and soon-to-be platoon commander, confirmed these memories but also did much, much more.  Perhaps unsurprisingly the ability of General Newton to tie tactical, operational and strategic elements of the Somme together, along with the stories of individuals that really bring a battlefield tour to life, was remarkable – his descriptions of enfilading fire and beaten zones were somewhat more convincing than the valiant efforts of Miss Smith nine years ago. Likewise Kevin Myers powerful inputs on the myths surrounding the Somme were important in helping aid our understanding of the post-war narrative of the battle, and appreciating its place in British history.

As to be expected the sheer scale of the bloodshed is impossible to ignore.  While an overall view of the statistics is shocking enough, it is only when you walk along the headstones reading names, ranks, ages and inscriptions that the emotion tied to understanding that each grave relates to an individual story, of life and of death, really hits home.  Visiting the Thiepval Memorial will once again be an overriding memory of the trip. Laying a wreath from SSI to show our respect was a moving tribute and the image of General Newton and Gavin Saunders bracing up having placed a cross at the gravestones of two unknown soldiers of the Hampshire Regiment, a lineage I hope one day to join, is one that will undoubtedly remain vivid for some time.”  Daniel Hunt

“As a journalist, I’m well aware of the sacrifices the brave men and women of our Armed Forces have made over recent years.  I can vividly remember every single repatriation, inquest and funeral I’ve ever been assigned.  All were deeply sad occasions.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for the families and friends of those who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Perhaps the main thing I took away from the SSI trip to the Somme was the industrial scale of the killing that occurred during World War One. Of course, I had read about the horrors of the war at school but nothing prepared me for the sheer number of graves.  Each one marking a life cut short, a family bereaved and a community shattered.  Nowhere was this more evident than at the Thiepval Memorial; a huge dedication to the 72,000 missing British and South African men who died in the battles of the Somme.  It was an utterly overwhelming experience and a poignant reminder of what can happen when strategies fail.” Dominic Valitis

MStrat Student Mal Craghill on a visit to HQ ARRC

Purposeful activity, influence and context are three themes which keep recurring during the MStrat programme. I wasn’t consciously looking for them during our visit to Exercise ARRCADE FUSION at RAF St Mawgan, but they were plain to see. As one who has worked in headquarters on operations and on exercise I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps exercise, involving as it did some 16 NATO nations. I was struck by how coherent the headquarters was, how well everyone knew the mission and how much effort was being put into its achievement. The integration of civilian and military activity to achieve influence across the area of operations was way beyond what I have seen previously, as was the context being brought to the exercise by a well-resourced and tightly run Exercise Control – including input from very senior and experienced civilian experts. Being a participant in such activity tends to constrain one from taking a coherent view of the overall effort; visiting ARRCADE FUSION allowed a wider view, and what I saw was impressive.

Marc Waring writes for the RUSI Journal on the Domestic Deployment of the British Army

Capt Marc Waring, a former Defence Fellow at SSI, has just written an article on “The Domestic Deployment of the British Army –  the Case for a Third Force” which has been published in the RUSI Journal.

Military Aid to the Civil Power has been employed sparingly, with the exception of Northern Ireland and some niche commitments, for much of the last decade, yet the requirement for it remains. Western democracies such as the UK maintain the ability to deploy their troops on home soil as a last resort, when civilian authorities are overwhelmed or exhausted. The riots of August 2011, for example, prompted calls for the deployment of the army. Marc Waring examines whether the army is still the most appropriate force to assist the police in extremis public-order situations or whether it is time to establish a ‘third force’, sitting between the police and the army.

If you are a RUSI Journal subscriber you can read Marc Waring’s full article here: http://www.rusi.org/publications/journal/

Gareth Stansfield’s co-authors Chatham House Paper

Chatham House, the home of the Royal  Institute of International Affairs has just published a paper co-authored by SSI’s Director of Research – Gareth Stansfield.  The paper considers how Iraqi foreign policy is being shaped by key people, processes and history as the country tries to reposition itself globally while dealing with a legacy of international sanctions and internal divisions over its position in an increasingly polarised Middle East region.   The authors have conducted a first-hand interviews in Iraq as well as workshops and interviews in London and Washington with a broad spectrum of diplomats, politicians, analysts and historians and civil society voices.

The paper is online at Chatham House here http://www.chathamhouse.org/publications/papers/view/192895 )

Paul Newton says aid is ‘critical to the UK’s national interests’

In an era of austerity there are hard choices to be made: government departments fight hard to preserve their resources, for strategy without the ‘means’ to implement it is facile wishful thinking. In such times – and given the fact that institutional memory is short – it is easy to lose sight of where our experience provides a clear lesson. 

Paul Newton, Director of SSI, and a number of other recently retired senior military officers have sent an open letter to the Prime Minister arguing that UK’s aid budget should not be cut. Properly focused development assistance – when combined with appropriate security – can lay a firm foundation for stability in fragile states. Sierra Leone is a case where those levers of UK’s National power and influence were properly synchronised and brought to bear over the long-term; and this use of ‘smart power’ has demonstrably improved the lot not just of the State but of ordinary people across the Country. 

Read the article here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2013/jun/23/letters-military-cuts