Tag Archives: NATO

A Call for an EU Auxiliary Navy – under German Leadership

By Dr. Sebastian Bruns

A popular quote reads “A ship in port is safe. But that’s not what ships are made for.” Correspondingly, one could quip “Navies are very good in constabulary tasks. But that’s not what they’re maintained for,” echoing noted political scientist Samuel Huntington in the process. More than sixty years ago, Huntington wrote about the purpose of naval forces in the early Cold War, yet some of his thoughts have an enduring value for 2016. In the Mediterranean, not one but two naval task groups are working hard to contain a humanitarian crisis at sea. While their service is admirable and strictly necessary, even as it is only a drop in a bucket, naval capabilities which are in high demand elsewhere are bound in a mission that is only a secondary role for navies. Instead, Germany should lead the way in investing in an EU auxiliary force.

A crowded boat with migrants awaits rescue by EU NAVFOR MED.
A crowded boat with migrants awaits rescue by EU NAVFOR MED.

In May 2015, the German Navy began participating in the search and rescue mission in the Central Mediterranean north of the Libyan coast, dubbed EU NAVFOR MED (Operation “Sophia”) shortly thereafter. The pressure to act had become unbearable for political decision-makers in Berlin and Brussels after yet another devastating humanitarian catastrophe which occurred somewhere on the High Seas between Libya and Italy. An overloaded boat sank during the night of 18/19 April, costing the lives of up to 800 migrants. Hundreds others had perished in the Mediterranean during the months before. Following a European Council decision and a parliamentary green light, the German Navy dispatched the frigate Hessen (F221) and the combat support ship Berlin (A1411) to provide a presence north of Libyan territorial waters. At the time, both ships were operating off the Horn of Africa and in the Easter Mediterranean to provide the German Navy with an operational reserve. Hessen and Berlin joined a number of other EU vessels, which ranged from warships to auxiliary and coast guard ships. EU NAVFOR MED was just the latest mission that the German government engaged its shrinking military forces in; on the maritime domain alone, Germany is continuously involved in naval operations in the central Mediterranean (ACTIVE ENDEAVOUR, since 2002), off the coast of Lebanon (UNIFIL, since 2006), and on the Horn of Africa (EU NAVFOR Atalanta, since 2008). German Navy participation in one or often two of the four Standing NATO Maritime Groups, exercises, training, and out-of-the-schedule naval operations such as providing cover for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons at sea in 2014 have added pressure to (wo)men and material.

Combat support ship Berlin and frigate Hessen steam side by side in the initital provision of humanitarian assistance on the Southern flank.
Combat support ship Berlin and frigate Hessen steam side by side in the initital provision of humanitarian assistance on the Southern flank.

Cue: Queen, “Under Pressure”

Since the summer of 2015, rotating up to two ships in and out of the EU NAVFOR MED mission – such as the Berlin’s sister ship Frankfurt (A1412), or the tender Werra (A514) – put a truly severe strain on German military-operational planning. It goes without saying that adapting these venerable warships and supply vessels, which are optimized for many things other than housing, feeding, and medically caring for hundreds of castaways on board, has put a strain on the Deutsche Marine. The noble task of saving lives at sea has challenged the well-trained crews of the ships, but it hardly obscured the fundamental problem that more than two decades of defense budget cuts, strategic disorientation, and a larger disinterest in all things hard power by the German public (and most of its political masters) have caused. By default, the German Navy has turned into a low-end, operationally-minded force, where high intensity should be a design guide.

The German Navy’s dilemma, at 16,000 people and just 62 vessels at the smallest it has ever been by a December 2015 count, was illustrated best right before Christmas. In response to the November attacks in Paris, the frigate Augsburg (F213) was re-assigned from EU NAVFOR MED to provide air defense for the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle in the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. The mine hunter Weilheim (M1059), en route to return from UNIFIL to its homeport on the Baltic Sea right in time for the holidays (and probably the least-capable vessel to offer space for potentially hundreds of migrants), was tasked to remain in the Central Mediterranean. It joined the corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein (F264), another warship tasked with a humanitarian assistance task that was hardly envisioned by strategic and operational planners in Berlin and Rostock, site of the naval command. Samuel Huntington, who warned that navies should concentrate on providing high end options and not be used for low-end missions, would probably turn over in his grave. This is not to say that other countries did not have their own challenges in providing assets to the mission, but some of them are better equipped to attend to low-end missions. The Royal Navy, for instance, dispatched HMS Enterprise (H88), a multi-role hydrographic oceanographic vessel.

The corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein is currently part of Germany's contribution to EU NAVFOR MED. Germany's naval missions can sometimes be as complicated as its ship-naming policy.
The corvette Ludwigshafen am Rhein is currently part of Germany’s contribution to EU NAVFOR MED. Germany’s naval missions can sometimes be as complicated as its ship-naming policy.

When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail

In February 2016, the German Navy is still tied up in the EU NAVFOR MED. Privately owned platforms such as the Phoenix, operated by the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), and two vessels operated by Doctors without Borders (Medicines Sans Frontiers, MSF), the offshore supply ships Bourbon Argos and Dignity 1, have also at some point joined the operation (although they are not integrated into the EU force). At the same time, the Aegean Sea, which offers the shortest distance between Turkey and Greece, has moved into focus for human trafficking. The cold of winter has hardly deterred the refugees from mounting unseaworthy dinghies, rubber boats, or derelict fishery vessels that the criminal networks of human traffickers operate. In response, NATO stepped in and dispatched its Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2). The task force is commanded by the German rear admiral Jörg Klein and currently consists of the German Navy combat support Ship Bonn (A1413) and four frigates from Turkey, Italy, Greece, and Canada. As the New York Times noted in an article on 11 February,

“while the hastily made decision reflected the growing urgency of the situation, it was not clear that it would have much practical effect on the flow of refugees fleeing Syria’s five-year civil war: The alliance said it would not seek to block the often rickety and overcrowded migrant vessels or turn them back, and military officials were scrambling to determine precisely what role their warships would play.”

Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route.
Standing NATO Maritime Group 2, seen here steaming in formation, is currently tasked with operating on the Aegan Sea refugee route.

A European Auxiliary Navy

Granted, the political leverage for European integration is low at the moment. The European Union is struggling to fend off tendencies that call not for an ever closer union, but in fact work towards dismantling some of the EU’s accomplishments in the wake of the refugee crisis. Still, with security and defense in increasing demand, including maritime security from on Europe’s southern flank, there need to be fresh ideas that can be operationalized quickly. In the face of the deteriorating relations between the West and Russia and the disintegrating Middle East, warships should contribute to the more robust stance against political aggression and hard threats, thus focusing on more of their core tasks (no doubt requiring doctrinal and conceptual re-assessments in some European capitals). This would give NATO a stronger role, and leave the EU to take care of the low-end maritime task. It could thus serve as an example of burden-sharing between the two entities.

Germany could play a leadership role in drawing up a European auxiliary navy, reenergizing the European spirit of cooperation in the process. Such a task force could have a number of political advantages. First, it would send a strong signal that European nations are willing to work together to address the ramifications of maritime trafficking. Second, Germany would address calls from inside and outside to do more. As a maritime nation with strong normative impulses, the Federal Republic would also demonstrate to the electorate (long weary of military engagement) that it is aware of the utility of naval forces in crisis response. Naturally, German investment into an auxiliary EU navy should not come at the expense of more robust naval tasks with the German Navy, but these could be better tailored if the combat support ships, frigates, and corvettes need not be used in lesser operations. Third, if and when the current migrant crisis ebbs, the European auxiliary navy could concentrate on the public diplomacy role of naval forces, providing anything from humanitarian assistance to the provision of medical services on goodwill tours around the world (like the U.S. Navy and the Chinese PLAN routinely do already). This auxiliary navy could also lend a hand to regional coastal and constabulary navies and coast guards (e.g. in West or East Africa) to train and exercise.

The last dedicated German hospital ship was the MS Helgoland, which saw extensive action in Saigon (South Vietnam) between 1966 and 1972. The ship was operated by the German Red Cross.
The last dedicated German hospital ship was the MS Helgoland, which saw extensive action in Saigon (South Vietnam) between 1966 and 1972. The ship was operated by the German Red Cross.

To this end, it is strictly necessary to inject some fresh thinking into how such as force could be tailored. It is imperative that an idea such as this can be put into action rather quickly before being brought to grinding snail speed by bureaucrats in Brussels or Berlin. First, one should look at the market of commercial vessels. Ro/Ro ships or offshore supply ships are available, usually even on short notice. They could be painted gray or white, manned by a mixed civilian-military crew, and quickly form the backbone of an auxiliary navy.

The Royal Navy used the Ro/Ro vessel Atlantic Conveyor in the 1982 campaign to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina. The makeshift helicopter and Harrier carrier was sunk by Argentine forces in the course of the conflict.
The Royal Navy used the Ro/Ro vessel Atlantic Conveyor in the 1982 campaign to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina. The makeshift helicopter and Harrier carrier was sunk by Argentine forces in the course of the conflict.

Other opportunities arise as well. The offshore patrol vessel L’Adroit (P725) is a demonstrator vessel built by French shipbuilder DCNS and was placed at the disposal of the French Navy for three years, a period that is now drawing to a close. The ship could be introduced as a French contribution to the auxiliary navy, which need not limit itself to state-run ships. If done properly, NGOs like SOS Mediterranee could be integrated (the non-profit organization operates the MS Aquarius, a former German fishery protection vessel). The former rescue cruiser Minden, built in 1985 and serviced by volunteers from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service, will join what is already emerging as a multinational, civilian, and military task force in the Mediterranean.

The former SAR cruiser Minden, for thirty years operated in the North Sea and Baltic Sea by an NGO, will soon begin rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
The former SAR cruiser Minden, for thirty years operated in the North Sea and Baltic Sea by an NGO, will soon begin rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

In the medium term, one could consider the charter of vessels which could be converted quickly as dedicated hospital ships, also crewed by civilian mariners and military. A logistics ship would also come in handy, as well as a simplistic command platform. To provide range, ships taken up from trade (not such a novel concept after all) could be selected if they provide the opportunity to operate reconnaissance drones or helicopters. In the long term, there are even further ideas that could be floated. For example, the 2016 German federal budget has earmarked the procurement of three new patrol vessels for the Bundespolizei See, Germany’s quasi Coast Guard. It is entirely plausible that these ships could also be detached as part of the EU’s auxiliary fleet, akin to NATO’s SNMGs – that is, if Germany politically resolves its constitutional conflict between police and military jurisdiction and respective responsibilities. To go even further, the German Navy is currently in the early stages of procuring the future multi-role combat ship MKS180, designed as a modular warship. Is it too far-fetched to consider adding a civilian variant, a MKS180CIV, for the auxiliary “Great EU White Fleet”?

The German Navy's next project: Multi-role combat ships MKS180 (artist conception).
The German Navy’s next project: Multi-role combat ships MKS180 (artist conception).

To be clear: Such an auxiliary navy would have to be organized, trained, and equipped properly. This requires financial and political investments. The task force, more of a 10-ship navy than a 100- or even 1000-ship navy, would provide a vision for European cooperation. EU or United Nations mandates would be desirable. It appears that it is also a much more sensible road leading to further defense and security cooperation than political soap-box oratories about the need for a European army could ever do. Politically and operationally, it could provide Berlin with a sense of regaining some degree of initiative when it comes to maritime security.

Sebastian Bruns directs the Center for Naval Strategy and Security at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel (Germany). He is the editor of “The Routledge Handbook of Naval Strategy and Security” (Routledge: London 2016). 

December Member Round-Up

Welcome to the December 2015 Member Round-Up and happy holidays! CIMSEC members have examined an array of international maritime security issues, including the future of China’s aircraft carrier program, budgetary cuts to the U.S. Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) acquisition process, Russian naval capabilities in the post-Cold War period and the decline of British sea power.

Beginning the Round Up at The National Interest, Harry Kazianis discusses the primary features driving the development of China’s aircraft carrier program and the operational capacities the program will yield for the PLA-N. Mr. Kazianis explains that the continued expansion of the program and the inclusion of carriers in China’s maritime defense policy have reflected Beijing’s grand strategic vision of Chinese seapower expanding into the Asia-Pacific and eventually attaining global power-projection capabilities. Also at The National Interest, Mr. Kazianis discusses China’s expanding anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) programs and the implications the DF-26’s nuclear and conventional attack capabilities have on regional influence and nuclear deterrence. Further to this, he explains how the multi-use DF-26 ASBM has been upgraded with anti-identification, anti-interception and integrated technologies to enhance the missile’s ability to conduct successful offensive and defensive operations.

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Ankit Panda, for The Diplomat, identifies the costs and benefits of an accidental freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea where a U.S. B-52 unintentionally flew within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese claimed Spratly Islands. Mr. Panda explains that although the flyby slightly increased tensions in the region, the incident reduced some ambiguity concerning how China would respond both politically and militarily to a U.S. FONOP or U.S. military provocation near disputed Chinese maritime territory. In a separate article also at The Diplomat, Mr. Panda discusses the deployment of Japanese ground forces to the East China Sea near the disputed Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands largely to promote jurisdictional control over the Islands. The increased ground force presence will enhance Japanese intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities near the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Island chain while reducing Chinese operational capacity in the region.

Michal Thim, for Thinking Taiwan, discusses the strategic importance for the Taiwanese Navy to procure an improved submarine force capable of protecting the country’s maritime interests in the Taiwan Strait and resist an increasingly powerful PLA-N. Mr. Thim notes that a lack of domestic shipbuilding experience concerning the construction and design of submarines challenges the possibility of Taiwan’s future undersea operations being capable of surviving an environment with increased Chinese ASW capabilities. The article highlights the effectiveness of Argentinian submarines against the powerful British Navy in the 1982 Falkland’s War to demonstrate how Taiwan can use a capable submarine force as an asymmetrical weapon system to balance naval power in the region.

James Goldrick, at The Interpreter, analyzes components of China’s maritime strategy in an attempt to identify whether Beijing will use its maritime forces to secure and promote global sea lines of communication systems as opposed to developing a strategy focused on securing resources and denying foreign powers influence in the region. Mr. Goldrick suggests that China’s dependence on international maritime trade flow requires the U.S. to acknowledge the usefulness and logical increase in the PLA-N’s size and capabilities while China must use these capabilities as a means to endorse maritime security in support of the global system.

Concluding the Round-Up’s discussion on Chinese maritime developments in the Asia-Pacific, Kyle Mizokami for Popular Mechanics discusses China’s acquisition of the Russian Zubr class hovercraft and explains the procurement of these amphibious systems as a result of the several island-based territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Mr. Mizokami outlines the technicalities of the Zubr hovercraft such as the carrying capacity of the ship, onboard weapon systems and maneuverability to highlight the increased amphibious capabilities the PLA-N has acquired.

Patrick Truffer, at Offiziere, concludes the December Round-Up with a comprehensive analysis on the development of Russian naval capabilities after the collapse of the Soviet Union and explains how the Russian Federation Navy (RFN) has shifted its focus from the quality and quantity of its conventional forces to the long-term capacity of its strategic forces. Mr. Truffer explains that the RFN has sufficiently maintained the maritime component of the military’s nuclear triad with substantial upgrade investments in the nuclear-powered Borei-class submarine allowing for the older Delta- and Typhoon-class submarines to be replaced.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the month of December:

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on the NextWar site or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies and defense policy and management.

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November Member Round-Up

Welcome to the November 2015 Member Round-Up. Over the past several weeks CIMSEC members have examined several international maritime security issues, including the modernization of U.S. Naval capabilities and strategies, France’s air war against ISIS, Russian military involvement in the Syrian conflict, the future of the U.S. Air-Sea Battle operational concept and growing maritime trilateral relations between India, Japan and the U.S.

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Beginning the Round-Up at The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Bryan Clark discusses the unsustainable operational stress the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are facing with longer and more frequent deployments in multiple areas of operation. As the U.S. combats ISIS across Africa and the Middle East while also addressing Chinese and Russian international boundary conflicts, Mr. Clark explains that current processes to prepare forces for deployment are insufficient and limit the abilities for naval and marine forces to deliver certain capabilities effectively. Also at CSBA, Mr. Clark explains the affects of a decreasing Defense Department budget and the possible steps it can take to minimize the impact of reduced spending levels.

Chuck Hill, for his Coast Guard Blog, discusses the development of the National Fleet Plan and its objective to increase cooperation between the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard through increased opportunities of commonality and interoperability. Mr. Hill describes the strategic laydown of the plan concerning shared facilities and ports, particularly the stationing of Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutters at U.S. Naval bases.

At The War on the Rocks, Bryan McGrath provides an analysis outlining key components of Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio’s military modernization platform. Mr. McGrath is supportive of Rubio’s focus to place priority on undersea and electronic warfare technologies considering these features of naval power are imperative for the U.S to maintain primacy in the maritime domain. Further to this, the strategy supports the development and construction of the Navy’s next ballistic missile submarine (SSBN(x)), the Air Force’s LRS-B and modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal to enhance strategic deterrence in the future.

Also on the future of U.S. military and naval strategy, Harry Kazianis at The National Interest shares an interview he recently participated in with the Air-Sea Battle Office. In the interview Mr. Kazianis poses several questions concerning the operational capabilities of U.S. forces within challenging environments where advanced Anti-Area/Access-Denial strategies are in effect. The interview focuses on the applicability and difficulties key components of the ASB concept encounter within A2/AD environments and the corresponding development of the Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons (JAM-GC) framework.

Entering the Asia-Pacific, Mira Rapp-Hooper at Lawfare discusses the U.S.S. Lassen’s freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the Spratly Islands and the legal implications the operation has concerning the status of the U.S. government’s recognition of the artificially constructed islands. Ms. Rapp-Hooper analyzes the U.S.S. Lassen FONOP attempting to establish whether the operation was an exercise of innocent passage or a demonstration of normal military operations within the surrounding Chinese-claimed 12 n.m. territorial waters. Ankit Panda, at The Diplomat, also interprets tensions in the South China Sea with an explanation of the political statements released from senior Chinese and American officials. Mr. Panda discusses the opposing remarks provided by Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter concerning U.S. FONOP’s in the South China Sea and the overall security of the region’s maritime domain.

Paul Pryce, for Offiziere, explains aspects of the Papua New Guinea Defense Force procurement strategy and the regional pressures demanding its success. Mr. Pryce suggests that Papua New Guinea become a more independent actor in terms of patrolling and monitoring its territorial waters without extensive foreign assistance from regional allies such as Australia. The procurement of affordable high-capacity offshore patrol vessels as opposed to advanced and expensive frigates is crucial for New Guinea to develop the ability to control its expansive EEZ territory and contribute to maritime stability within the region.

To conclude the November Round-Up, Darshana M. Baruah also for Offiziere, discusses the evolving trilateral relationship between Japan, India and the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific. An analysis of the trilateral naval exercise Malabar 2015, where an aircraft carrier, missile cruisers and frigates participated, reveals that the alignment of Indian, American and Japanese interests are consistent with the developing geo-strategic landscape of the region. Ms. Baruah suggests that the rise of China and the changing dynamics of maritime security and naval strategy have resulted in the need for these new political and strategic arrangements.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the month of November:

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on the NextWar site or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies and defense policy and management.

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NORDEFCO Cooperation and the Russian Threat

The following piece by guest author Michael E. Lambert is from our partners at the CDA Institute as part of an ongoing content-sharing relationship. You can read the article in its original form here. 

Military cooperation between Northern European countries has been difficult to implement, especially because of diverging interests among countries bordering the Baltic Sea. This unique space includes Russia and its military outpost located in the oblast of Kaliningrad, NATO members that remain outside the European Union (Norway), members of the European Union outside of NATO (Sweden and Finland), and finally both NATO and EU member countries (Denmark, Germany, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania).

With the recent claim by Moscow to the United Nations of 1.2 million square kilometres of territory located on the Arctic sea shelf, and suspicion of getting ready for another hybrid war in Estonia, the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) arrangement seems more essential than ever to thwart Russian ambitions on the Continent.

From a historical perspective, cooperation between countries in Northern Europe has always been problematic, due to the fragmentation of interests and resources committed to their respective militaries. Countries such as Sweden still claim a policy of neutrality, while seeing Finland as a buffer zone between Stockholm and Moscow. On its side, Finland has long been opposed to NATO membership, owing to continuing fear of reprisals from Russia, with which it shares a common border.

Norway still refuses to consider integration in the European Union, in order to continue to reap substantial profits by selling its oil to the EU, and sales profits are used to modernize its army. Norway therefore shows a higher military level compared to other Scandinavian countries, evidenced by the proposed acquisition of the Lockheed Martin F-​35 fifth-​generation aircraft, while countries like Finland attempt to optimize their smaller military budgets by exploring other options, like the Eurofighter or the Saab Gripen fourth-​generation aircrafts.

These differences of equipment impede interoperability between Nordics. Also, identity is today one of the obstacle to ensure reliable safety against Moscow. For instance, Nordic countries are keen to become leaders in the field of cyber-​defence, but NORDEFCO has always denied the participation of Estonia, which is the most advanced country in this field owing to its NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence in Tallinn. Although Estonia has many of the characteristics of a Nordic country, its candidacy was never taken seriously because of its occupation by the Soviet Union until 1991.

These issues explain the late launch of NORDEFCO in 2009, and even if the cooperation is presented as a way to improve security on the long run, the implementation is not so obvious and discussions still remain theoretical.

To date, it is unclear what would happen in case of potential Russian aggression. Indeed, the differences between all the countries in the North seem to be now a real issue. As an example, Finland may end up isolated due to its policy of neutrality. And NATO won’t be able to provide a coercive response by using the Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, in so far as Finland doesn’t realize that neutrality may no longer be the best option. Moreover, the refusal to include Estonia leaves Tallinn isolated vis-​à-​vis Finland, at a critical time when NATO has yet to find a way to counter hybrid warfare strategies.

In a rather paradoxical way, the launch of the NORDEFCO was presented as a way to enhance cooperation between countries with similar cultures and to build partnerships in the military-​industrial sector. But this theoretical vision is now facing financial reality, as reflected by the military equipment acquisitions planned for the Royal Norwegian Air Force compared to that of the Finnish Air Force.

Moreover, the rejection of Estonia from “Northern Europe” shows a certain narrow-​mindedness and lack of pragmatism in relation to the threat posed by Russia.

Like the current situation in the European Union, the lack of willingness to emerge as a single military power seems to be the biggest obstacle for Northern European military cooperation, abetted by their divergent national interests. Countries in the Northern part of Europe have the capabilities to give rise to the type of regional cooperation needed in the current crisis with the Kremlin, but have failed to develop a common vision despite their otherwise strong similarities.

Michael E. Lambert is a PhD student at the Sorbonne Doctoral College & University of Tampere, currently working at the French Ministry of Defence – IRSEM and Franco-​German Institute on soft and smart power issues.