Friday, 18 September 2020
Up-to-the-minute perspectives on defence, security and peace
issues from and for policy makers and opinion leaders.

     |      View our Twitter page at     |     

Beijing's ambitions shouldn't be treated as an existential threat to the United States, argues Professor Anatol Lieven

Lieven passport photoA central distinction in Realist international relations thought is that between vital and secondary national interests. Vital interests are threats to a state's survival, and can take the form either of conquest and subjugation from outside, or the promotion of internal subversion aimed at destroying the existing political and ideological order – the strategy followed by the USSR across much of the world during the Cold War, and by the USA against the USSR and allied regimes.
Rivalry between the USA and China is not a battle to the death of this kind, and it is very important that the USA not see it as such. The phrase "a new cold war" is a cheap journalistic formula, but it contains real dangers. The geopolitical competition with China is quite different from that with the USSR, and if the US establishment frames it in the terms of the cold war, it may do great damage to the USA and the world in general. For while the Cold War with the Soviet Union stemmed originally from the Soviet revolutionary threat and the evil nature of Stalin's regime, many of the ways in which this rivalry was imagined and therefore conducted by the USA did terrible damage to America's own politics, culture and public ethics.
When states permanently threaten each other with destruction from without or within, even periods of peace have the character of temporary armed truces requiring permanent military and ideological mobilization. This breeds in turn continual international tension and domestic repression, and a cultural atmosphere of fanaticism, hysteria and conspiratorial thinking in all the countries concerned.
We have learned this again over the past generation. The contemporary Middle East is a tragic example of how an entire region can be crippled by the threat of internal revolutions backed by rival ideological states; but our European ancestors learned it more than 350 years ago, and tried to do something about it. The great achievement of the Peace of Westphalia was to end in Europe – for the space of 144 years – ideologically-driven mass rebellions against existing states supported by other states.
Crucial to the Westphalia settlement was the principle of Cuius Regio, Eius Religio – "Whose Realm, His Religion"; in other words, that the ruler of a country dictated the religion of his or her subjects without interference from other states belonging to the other religion. Rivalries and conflicts would continue, but states and regimes would no longer pose existential threats to each other.
All this changed again with the French Revolution. Once again, states threatened the basic identity of other states, and did so in part by stimulating internal rebellion. Once again, endangered states responded with ferocious mass repression. Assassination and the execution of defeated enemies returned to the European scene. The French Revolution spawned socialist revolution and conservative counter-revolution, which later characterized the Cold War.( More follows on next page)


The National Resilience Index 2020 is a study measuring how capable each of the D-10 club of democracies is in facing crises like pandemics or terrorist attacks.

Introducing it, the co-authors said :

"The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that the UK must do more to build up its national resilience. In the post-Brexit world, the UK needs to work on boosting public trust in central government, creating high-quality domestic supply chains for critical medical supplies, and improving social systems which help to protect the most vulnerable. " - Dr Rakib Ehsan Research Fellow, Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism

"Public health events have the capacity to cause disruption similar in scale to that of terror or hostile state activity. It is important that government systems recognise this in their outlook." - Nikita Malik Director, Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism

Read more on next page


Contributions are invited to the first "virtual conference" on this topic - History by people who were there.

Curated contributions may be added here and at tagged "Military Memoirs"

The first contribution, already published, is two letters from a Royal Navy officer written a few days after the Battle of Jutland.

Other observations on military careers anywhere in the world - in English - would be welcome.

These might be autobiographical (of any length) or written from recollections of those who were there serving their countries.

The ordinary aspects of military careers, not just those that make it to the history books, are particularly sought.

Send your submissions to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

We'll get them published as soon as possible

In response to a headline in the Times of London on 25th August 2020, a chord was struck and we rummaged in the archives to find this article by Guy Birks, a Researcher for the U K Defence Forum and now at Chosun University, first published 28th July 2010 at and viewable on the next page.


Edoardo del PrincipeIMG E6202Reviewed by Edoardo Del Principe, Research Assistant 2020, U K Defence Forum

European documents between agenda-setting and real strategy

The European Commission recently set out a new EU Security Union Strategy (ESUS) for the 2020-2025 period. The document updates the previous security agenda of 2015-2020 , reprising cardinal points and adding depth to the European strategy. It is not the first time the word "strategy" appears in a European document; perhaps the most famous was in the European Global Strategy.

Such material can sound maybe generalist or vague, but this is an inner weakness of every "grand-agenda," which cannot cover every aspect in depth. It could be inappropriate to use the word "strategy": such documents usually set policy guidelines for future politics. However, in this case the ESUS has a little bit more of a strategic flavour.


To mark the 20th anniversay of the Russian Navy's loss of the Kursk submarine in August 2000, we reprint our review from 2009 of the play "Kursk" which was performed at the Young Vic Theatre

Kursk - more than a theatrical experience . Reviewed by Elayne Jude,

How are we to apprehend the last hours of the 118 souls lost aboard the submarine Kursk in August 2000?

Perhaps by steeping ourselves in the reconstructed daily lives of the crew of an (almost imaginary) British Trafalgar class submarine, on covert patrol in the Barents Sea at the same time.


kristina new2By Prof Kristina Spohr (March 2018)
As the polar ice caps melt, Russia and China are leading the race to control the lucrative and strategically important shipping lanes and natural resources of the High North.
On 14 December 2017 Vladimir Putin gave his annual end-of-year media conference, which lasted nearly four hours and was televised across Russia. The British and American media focused on Putin's unsurprising announcement that he was going to run for re-election in 2018. A far more interesting story went largely unreported.


GnadXL-0179 39796 Hoffotografen KopieWhat are the trajectories of change within the multidimensional relationship between Russia, the US, the European Union and the post-Soviet space? Dr Oliver Gnad considers plausible narratives about how this quadrilateral relationship – and the world – will look like after the end of the next policy cycle ending around the year 2024.
2024 marks not only the end of the next presidential term in Russia but also the end of Donald Trump's second term in office (or the end of the first term of a subsequent incumbent in the White House). By that time we will either see the US and Europe drifting further apart (i.e. US with Europe or the US in Europe) or finding a new transatlantic narrative.
Also, the year 2024 marks the midterm of the EU budgetary cycle (2020-2027) which will heavily reflect the EU's ambition to come to grips with a Common Defence and Security Policy. More importantly, developments within the EU will decide upon the question whether the Union will be able to consolidate itself, whether it will enlarge further (Balkans), whether it will deepen (monetary union, tax union, foreign and defence policy, immigration) or whether it will end up as a two-speed Europe – either by will or force.


Continuous at sea deterrence was part of a discussion on defence and an independent Scotland held by the U K Defence Forum in 2013. Points made by the speaker and others are again relevant as the subject of Scottish independence returns to political prominence and are reproduced on the next page.


More Articles...

Latest from the Ministry of Defence

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies on the Defence Viewpoints website. However, if you would like to, you can modify your browser so that it notifies you when cookies are sent to it or you can refuse cookies altogether. You can also delete cookies that have already been set. You may wish to visit which contains comprehensive information on how to do this on a wide variety of desktop browsers. Please note that you will lose some features and functionality on this website if you choose to disable cookies. For example, you may not be able to link into our Twitter feed, which gives up to the minute perspectives on defence and security matters.