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the Complete Review
the complete review - military

Future War
and the Defence of Europe

John R. Allen, Frederick Ben Hodges,
and Julian Lindley-French

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To purchase Future War and the Defence of Europe

Title: Future War and the Defence of Europe
Author: Allen, Hodges, and Lindley-French
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2021
Length: 292 pages
Availability: Future War and the Defence of Europe - US
Future War and the Defence of Europe - UK
Future War and the Defence of Europe - Canada
directly from: Oxford University Press

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Our Assessment:

(--) : good, fairly far-reaching overview

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Future War and the Defence of Europe opens and closes with two 'Scenarios', imagining Europe in 2030 and under attack from Russia. The first scenario sees: 'Europe defeated', positing a Europe unprepared for war and having failed to deal with issues on other fronts (such as mass migration into Europe) and an overstretched America not in a position to decisively support Europe. The second scenario describes 'Europe defended': a Europe that has, over the decade leading up to 2030, prepared itself for future war -- unsurprisingly, by following the suggestions that the authors have presented in the rest of the book ... -- and thus is fully equipped to deal with what might be thrown at it -- and thus leading, of course, to the happy ending: "Deterrence achieved, collective defence confirmed, future war averted".
       The bookend-scenarios are a reasonably clever way of presenting the possible real-life consequences of different courses of in/action that are then discussed more dryly and abstractly in the middle section of the book, short but packed pieces of fiction that cover both the large picture and try to give a personal touch to it (with the character of Jim, who: "knew that in another European emergency he would be one of the first to go, and right in the firing line"). It's not great fiction, but it gets the point(s) across.
       Future War and the Defence of Europe emerges very much from the shadows of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, and indeed the scenarios posit a Russian-Chinese developed and unleashed COVID-29 which, unlike COVID-19: "also affected young people in huge numbers. It did not kill them, but laid them low". (And, yes, 'Jim' is recovering from his own bout with it.) The Russian-developed COVID-29 is somewhat typical of the authors' approach, of stuffing more or less everything into this book, and certainly the use of biological warfare is something that must be considered in any look at 'future war'. Among the lessons of COVID-19, however, is now surely how quickly the spread of such a virus can get out of hand -- and how quickly variants develop (which always brings the potential of more dangerous and vaccination-resistant variants with it ...); it's hard to imagine any nation intentionally releasing such a virus, given the potential dangers it poses both to populations and economies. (The scenarios here see the Russians developing an antidote in tandem with the virus, and inoculating their own officials and armed forces; given the Russian mishandling of their own COVID-19 response, and the boomerang effect of their disinformation campaigns that has seen Russians being among the most vaccine-reluctant populations worldwide, it would seem to be particularly foolhardy of them to go down this particular route.)
       COVID-19 also figures in how the authors suggest it has and will affect government spending. The massive amounts of money already spent on the pandemic arguably puts many nations on a precarious financial footing -- and the authors worry that, in particular, military spending will be cut, especially if post-crisis economic recovery is slow. Under-investment in military spending is, in fact, one of their main concerns regarding European military capabilities, the authors noting that it isn't just an issue looking ahead but rather has already long been a problem, and is one of the reasons why Europe is, at present, ill-prepared for war.
       Beyond mere investment, the authors note: "European defence must be radically modernized". In the coming years, technological advances mean that war will be fought differently; they consider '5D warfare' -- involving deception, disinformation, destabilization, disruption, and destruction -- and find Europe largely unprepared for much of it. They suggest:

     Ten years hence, another major war in Europe would be a hyperwar. This would be ultra-fast warfare that combines a myriad of systems to wreak havoc in an instant.
       Plausible as that sounds, it is interesting to note that recent examples of larger-scale wars have, in fact, been prolonged and bogged down (and, arguably, failed) -- American-led engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq; the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen; even, on a smaller scale, the major Europe-proximate conflict, in the Donbas region. The taking of Crimea is the closest to a contemporary quick-strike action -- and, presumably, a similar seizing of the Baltics is the greatest current threat to Europe; still, one wonders if 'hyperwar' will really live up to its hyper-billing in practice, at least in the near-future.
       The authors present chapters on the likeliest threats to Europe, whereby the Russian one is obviously by far the greatest. They also consider Europe's southern flank -- extending to threats, in various forms, from both northern Africa and the Middle East -- as well the more distant and in many ways different threats from China.
       The central role of NATO, and, more generally, coöperation with the United States, is emphasized -- the authors easily concluding that, even if European nations do take the required steps: "Could Europeans defend Europe ? No, and not for a long time to come". Despite an American shift to the Asia-Pacific region, the authors agree it is in the continued best interest of both the United States and Europe to work closely together. Equally importantly, the authors argue that European nations must work together better on defence with each other -- a seemingly rather tall order, even if sensible.
       Sure, also:
Europeans must become far more radical in promoting a truly deep and joint strategic (and aggressive) form of defence public-private partnership built on strategic technologies over which the Allies must have complete control from concept to completion.
       The authors make their strong case for significant military investment -- but of course the question with any government spending is: at what cost, i.e. what areas can countries afford to not spend that piece of the (limited) money-pie on ? The economic impact of COVID-19 fortunately does not appear to be as dire on government budgets as the authors anticipate, so at least the choices are -- for now -- not that stark. As so often, too, it is also a matter of where the money is spent rather than how much: Europe would seem to have a lot of low-hanging fruit where a re-allocation of funds -- especially to technological innovation -- would already considerably improve defensive capabilities. In addition, simply working together better, specifically in pan-European procurement and research and development, would clearly be a helpful step to many of the improvements the authors see as essential.
       Some of the issues and proposed solutions are rather too easily dealt with -- notably (im)migration policy, the authors imagining (especially in their 'Scenario 2') that the the Europeans somehow get their act together between 2021 and 2029 and develop a sensible and functioning migration policy; as also the similar continuing American hysteria around the subject suggests, that is surely completely a pipe dream.
       With its focus on European territory, Future War and the Defence of Europe is naturally almost entirely concerned with a Russian attack; it is implausible that any other countries would physically attack. The authors -- who suggest Putin will still be in power, and Russia still in its same sad spiral of decline ten years hence -- consider some scenarios as to why Russia might attack Europe (notably as a distraction from its own failures), and correctly note that they would likely involve sphere of influence land-grabs (such as Donbas) -- rather than, say, larger scale invasions into or simply the destruction of (parts of) continental Europe. Meanwhile, the nuclear options and deterrents hover in the background but the authors, somewhat surprisingly, don't speculate much about an escalation in the fighting that might bring them into play.
       Russian capabilities, present and future, also generally seem to be somewhat overestimated here, though for the purposes of this exercise that may be warranted (better to expect the worst).
       Much that the authors propose is sensible and, in some form or another, feasible. Technological coöperation seems a particularly promising and likely avenue -- something that sadly can't be said for political coöperation, as European nations still seem to find it hard to work together on defense policy (in its broadest terms). Future War and the Defence of Europe can't address all the messy political realities on the ground in Europe but its general overview of significant areas of concern -- external as well as internal -- is nevertheless certainly of use. Of course, the big solution (which is also behind many of the small solutions on offer here) -- throw money at the problem -- is easy to make but also faces many hurdles. Certainly forces must be modernized, one way or another; certainly it would be particularly helpful (and cost-effective) if European could act in concert in doing so.
       Warfare is rapidly changing in these times, and the authors of Future War and the Defence of Europe correctly point out the significance of matters such as the spread of disinformation as effective tools in modern warfare, or the technological advances and capabilities that will come with the implementation of large-scale Artificial Intelligence. They note the importance of preparing for the next (possible) war, rather than relying on what was used in the last one(s), emphasizing that, whatever form it takes, future war will likely be an entirely new ballgame, played with a great deal of new equipment. Europe has a chance to prepare itself well -- but, as the authors hammer home, needs to get its act together, in a variety of areas, to do so. And, as they also make clear, for now and the foreseeable future, it's essential to keep the United States involved as well.
       Many of the basic suggestions, especially about European nations working better together, and a reäligned, strengthened NATO, aren't new or controversial -- but of course the difficulty is putting them into practice. Certainly, Europe needs to be more assertive in the role it should take, especially as American focus drifts also to the Asia-Pacific.
       Even as much concern about future war has shifted away from Europe and to Asia instead, Europe can hardly let itself be lulled into any false sense of security, and Future War and the Defence of Europe is a welcome reminder of the need for a strong and viable defense strategy. Given the rapid evolution of technology, it can only address some of the likely areas to focus on in coming years, but the basics are quite well-covered here, making for a good starting point regarding the necessary policy-making decisions European nations should be considering.

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 July 2021

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Future War and the Defence of Europe: Reviews: John R. Allen: Frederick Ben Hodges: Julian Lindley-French:

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About the Authors:

       John R. Allen (b.1953) is president of the Brookings Institution.

       Frederick Ben Hodges (b.1958) holds the Pershing Chair in Strategic Studies at the Center for European Policy Analysis.

       Julian Lindley-French (b.1958) is a founder of The Alphen Group.

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© 2021-2022 the complete review

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