Author: General ret. Klaus Naumann, born in Munich in 1939, was a soldier from 1958 to 1999. He was Chief Of Defence (ChoD Germany) in the German military from 1991 to 1996, then until 1999 the highest ranking officer of NATO as Chairman of the Military Committee. Since 1999 numerous voluntary activities in national and international bodies.
NATO’s Achievement: Europe’s Longest Peace Period
Preface: The description of the contribution made by NATO and the world of 2021 so far describes the likely developments over the next few decades and the resulting global challenges. This is followed by ideas for a NATO strategy in unbounded conflicts and for the political shape of the new NATO.
Since its founding in 1949, NATO has protected the democracies of North America and Europe during the Cold War and successfully prevented war. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, it helped to overcome the division of Europe from 1991 and it has been in combat since 2001 through worldwide operations reliably contributed to the security of alliance members against terrorism. Founded as an alliance against the former Soviet Union, it has continuously adapted to the changes in the situation and developed from an alliance against to an alliance for the protection of free democratic constitutional states. NATO, without which it would not have been possible to peacefully achieve the unity of Germany by mutual agreement, is a unique success story. But precisely because of this, the question is repeatedly asked whether they are actually still needed, because it could justifiably be said: “Mission accomplished”.
Despite some shortcomings and regrettable gaps in the capabilities of its allies, with the exception of the USA, NATO is still the only powerful instrument of European security and it will continue to be the simply irreplaceable bracket that links Europe’s security with that of North America. This has to be emphasized at a turning point in which voices are being raised which, in overestimating their own abilities and failing to recognize strategic immutability, falsely demand European autonomy or believe in a utopian misjudgment that all conflicts can be resolved through dialogue.
Two of the strategic constant immutations that have persisted for more than 70 years should be mentioned in advance: First, geostrategically Europe can only be defended if the allies see the North Atlantic as the “Mare Nostrum” and, second, it is the only one capable of nuclear protection USA, which prevents Russia, but also all other nuclear weapon states, from threatening the NATO states with nuclear weapons or even using them. The mutual assistance obligation must continue to be maintained. It remains the decisive insurance for Europe, which is so dependent on the protection of NATO in a troubled world, and it gives the USA the legitimacy that an „America Alone“ can never give. The three pillars of transatlantic security: collective defense, joint crisis management and the design of cooperative security are still valid, as is the view of the dangers within a 360 degree radius.
Characteristics of a world in constant change
The world 2021
Corona deeply wounded the world in 2020 and changed it permanently, in parts permanently. Neither the return to the globalized world of the last two decades, which brought so many conveniences but also many problems, nor to the familiar multilateral order will be possible. Old problems will remain, new ones will arise, but the comforts that have become dear will stay away. But even without Corona, which should by no means have been the last pandemic, the world would be completely different in 2021. Just four points: First, in the Europe of an EU that is fragile due to nationalism, but in need of protection, further weakening occurred due to the USA’s rejection of multilateral agreements and treaties, which is still the only truly global power in the world. At the same time, Russia was ultimately weak, thanks to ruinous excessive nuclear armament and costly power projection in the Middle East, Ukraine and the Caucasus. Second, a global US-China confrontation is likely to begin, initiated by Trump’s short-sighted termination of TPP and exploited by China’s “three-component strategy: the new Silk Road including the development of a military projection capability, the China 2025 technology concept and the offer of a new world order determined by China, which leaves no room for the freedom of the individual and subordinates his rights as well as international law to the interests of the community controlled by Beijing.
At the beginning of November 2020 the world experienced the next step in the implementation of this strategy with what is arguably the most powerful economic union in the world, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership RCEP. Fifteen countries in the Asia-Pacific world, including democracies like Australia and Japan, have come together under the leadership of China. They represent 2.2 billion people and 30% of world trade. Nobody will get around RCEP, neither the USA nor the EU, which has become almost marginal as a result, which in recent years has accepted China’s reach for critical infrastructure and crucial technology as well as the consensual 16 + 1 declaration dictated by China without reaction. Third, at this moment of the challenge, the tired Americans rejected the role of world policeman. It could be permanent because the majority in deeply divided American society no longer wants to take the risks for others and often alone. The protective power of the value system of the West abdicates, trust in the power of law is disappearing and fear of the might of the stronger grows. Fourth, Europe too is finally realizing that security in the world of the future is fundamentally to be seen globally. There is hardly a crisis that can be overcome regionally and only with military means. Modern means in the spectrum from social media to cyber to artificial intelligence can decide conflicts even before the use of military power. This makes the threat more diffuse, reaction times are almost zero and deterrence becomes almost impossible.
In conclusion: China is now the challenger in the struggle for supremacy in the world. Europe cannot prevent this development, it is too weak for that, but it must see clearly: The price for American protection of Europe will be a clear positioning, better the revitalization of the partnership. The usual empty words and, above all, German vagueness are no longer enough. In the future: First, Europe’s relationship with China determines the future of transatlantic relations, despite American adherence to the necessary, but certainly reduced, cooperation; second, as it has been since Obama, the US will be more Pacific and less European. This is also supported by the demographic development in the USA: the majority of US citizens will soon have Asian, Latin American or African roots. All of this is confirmed by the report of the NATO Reflection Group, which was presented on December 1, 2020. It demands that Europe’s defense capability is guaranteed and will form the basis of the new strategic concept that is finally to be drawn up. In it are the truly global changes to be taken into account as well as future forms of conflict, which can be described as unbounded, as a struggle for information superiority and as accelerated by automation. In further work steps, the future of NATO, its strategy in the new forms of conflict and certainly also the relationship between reaction and prevention as well as the options for winning the conflict-ending initiative and prevention will have to be discussed.
However, a systemic conflict will be overriding: the liberal value system of the West is challenged by China’s claim to be able to offer a new, more attractive value system. The NATO countries must meet this challenge through the resilience of their own democracies and through NATO’s credible ability to reliably protect the free, democratic, constitutional states of the Alliance. That is the background. But it must also be assessed which characteristics of world change are recognizable beyond 2030 and which risks and dangers arise from it. The role of NATO in world change can be derived from this. Europe’s answer to the question of how it can consolidate the US’s ties to Europe and what it must do to be on an equal footing with the US in the indispensable instrument of transatlantic security, NATO, is Europe’s answer. Only then will the alliance be affirmed and supported by the people on both sides of the Atlantic as an anchor and insurance in a presumably stormy world change.
The world after 2030
Forecasts are always difficult, especially at times of change, but some general developments are emerging.
1. The development of a world with many regional centers of power without an undisputed regulatory power is likely to continue. In it, the USA initially remains the only globally viable power in all power categories, despite the damage to trust in the USA and the multilateral order caused by President Trump. They may increasingly turn inward, but they will not turn away from the world and they will face the challenge of China. China is likely to still be a challenger in 2030, although it will continue to strive for supra-regional, including military capabilities. However, China is unlikely to achieve full global capacity to act before the middle of the century. China’s great advantage in this dispute is that it is able to implement its coherent long-term strategy step by step. China has considerable internal weaknesses, Hong Kong and the treatment of the Uyghurs show that. These Achilles heels limit his leeway and they can be used against China.
2. The world will be increasingly urbanized with huge, barely governable cities, in which new, easy-to-use technologies and also artificial intelligence will be increasingly used by internationally cooperating criminals. The states‘ monopoly on the use of force could break. Internal conflicts could increase, there are likely to be even more ungovernable and ultimately failing states. This could also lead to conflicts between states.
3. The formation of huge industrial cartels seems conceivable, which still have their headquarters in one state, but manufacture globally and evade any national control and even any political influence of their home country. They could become more powerful than any government in the world and they will only follow the laws of the market and their interests. They act without democratic legitimation, but with greater financial power than the world of states.
4. A world in which the usual order of states and societies, also here in Europe, could break, cannot be ruled out. Should the free constitutional states prove unable to cope with the increasingly complex questions of securing the future and continue to consume prosperity, as they do today, through the convenient “business as usual”, then the resilience of the democracies could be endangered, perhaps even lost . However, the effects of global climate change and demographics are likely to be overriding, although in some cases not similarly predictable. Climate change can still be influenced by the action of the world of states, although the extent and prospects of success are currently still open. Demographic developments, on the other hand, can be calculated up to the middle of the century, but can be exacerbated by climate change to such an extent that global changes in the security situation could result.
Just two examples: On the doorstep of Europe, which is dependent on the freedom of the sea, lies one of the sea areas in the world most severely affected by possible climate change, the Arctic Ocean. It could become ice-free entirely or for most of the year in the next 20 years. There will be new mining opportunities there, after all, 15% of the world’s oil and 25% of the world’s gas reserves as well as considerable deposits of minerals and metals are believed to be there, and above all there will be new sea routes to Asia that are 5000 nautical miles shorter. That means one week less navigation and new challenges for the control of a huge, so far hardly monitored sea area. All nations of Europe depend on the use of the high seas. If it is refused, the survival of all NATO and EU countries is in danger.
Most dramatic, however, will be the impacts of climate change on drinking water supplies and food production. Just one example: If the Himalayan glaciers continue to melt, the drinking water supply of around two billion people will be at risk. Emigration would follow. The interaction of climate change and demography can create migratory pressure. This can lead to conflicts and even climate wars, Darfur is an example. The result is a world without a world order and without a binding order of values. It contains the old causes of conflict such as territorial claims, ethnic problems and religious tensions. But there are also exacerbating demographic shifts, scarcity of resources and the consequences of technical and economic imbalances. Europe, for example, with its aging and shrinking societies, as in Russia, must maintain cohesion, prosperity and a certain degree of social security and at the same time must meet the increasing population pressure from Africa, even without climate change – Africa’s population will grow by probably 2 billion people by 2050 . The population of the Middle East will also grow and become even younger. Millions of refugees from southern Africa could be on their way north, driven by thirst and hunger. Countering this through aid and preventing flight through incentives is not a task for NATO, but a question of survival for many NATO countries. Without a solution, however, there is no security for the NATO countries.
In North America, on the other hand, the population is growing and remaining as young as it is today. Population growth in Africa and the Arab world is thus a global problem, but it only becomes a risk for the European NATO countries, because migration pressure creates conflicts because every conceivable solution leads to enormous resource problems. For humanity in 2050, then around 9 billion, the need for food will also increase by around 30%. The productivity of agriculture should be increased by 60% and today’s excessive waste of food, 50% go to the garbage, should come to an end. Today around 800 million people are starving. Housing and feeding humanity by 2050 will be a problem. The drinking water problem becomes even greater. A lack of water could cause conflict. Currently, 870 million people, 300 million of them Chinese alone, have no access to drinking water. Around 1,000 children die every day because they drink polluted water. Many dam projects make matters worse. One example are the Mekong springs in Tibet: China is concerned with drinking water and water for agriculture, but that means that Vietnam lacks the floating debris that makes the Mekong Delta the rice chamber of Indochina. But there is likely to be a dispute over other resources too, not even primarily oil and gas. The shortage of metals and rare earths could become the biggest problem for large parts of Europe, because considerable segments of industrial production and the energy transition, which has largely failed in Germany, depend on their availability. Distribution and access conflicts cannot be ruled out for the future, not least because of the raw material colonialism of the People’s Republic of China.
New forms of conflict
In the world of the future there is no shortage of causes of conflict, and these conflicts will be easier to laed. But they will run very differently from the well-known wars between states. As a result, the usual forms of warfare will also become less and less applicable and NATO will have to check in the follow-up work in 2021 whether the armed forces planning does not give too much weight to yesterday’s war. Future conflicts between states will be conducted in five dimensions: Land. Air, sea, space and cyber space, and they will use new technologies like the quantum computer, artificial intelligence and robotics. They will get incredibly fast and could create opportunities to render opponents defenseless before the attack is even noticed. The transitional form are the already recognized and used hybrid forms of conflict in which non-state actors have access to the violence potential of states. Another precursor was seen in the Azerbaijan / Armenia conflict at the end of 2020, in which the superior use of Turkish drones made the decision.
But that’s not all: a large number of such weapons are available on the market and international criminal cartels have amounts of money that are beyond the imagination of states. They could gain access to all means of power and the interconnectedness of the world allows them to be shifted at lightning speed. The figures before Corona prove this: nine million people were on the plane every day, 115,000 tons were transported in the air and at sea every year an incredible 9.5 billion tons. Conflicts of the future could begin as internal conflicts, perhaps wholly or partly led by non-state actors, i.e. terrorists, organized criminals, mercenaries, pirates and, in the distant future, by robotic forces. Additional danger arises as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including biological weapons, and from guided weapons to hypersonic weapons, will continue. Warfare will continue to be revolutionized to the limit of autonomous systems. Analogous to Industry 4.0, the military 4.0 is currently emerging, but thanks to new technologies such as quantum computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-chemical agents and perhaps also androids, the military 5.0, the 5G, will soon follow will also use 6G.
The development could give attackers the option of a preventive action that would render the opponent defenseless without using kinetic or destructive force. Sun Tsu thought this was the best form of warfare 2500 years ago. From 2030, very large states could be in a position to blackmail smaller states or to partially or even completely deactivate them electronically, without the attacked being able to identify the attacker. From these developments arise the challenges for a NATO that promises protection after 2030. A coherent concept of conflict prevention must now be developed for this. What is certain is that neither military means alone nor pacifist renunciation can secure peace. It therefore makes sense to adapt the existing state and international organizations step by step to the emerging developments and to redesign them in such a way that they will be able to cope with their core task of protecting the citizens and the integrity of the state and alliance areas tomorrow. Security can no longer be taken for granted, action must be taken now, even though Europe is weak, dependent and divided as it has not been for decades. So it is necessary to rethink strategy, because first you have to know what you want and then you can design instruments and organization.
The classic paradigm of strategy is to destroy the opponent’s means of power in order to then impose one’s own political will on him. This is always and only possible if the opponent is a state or an alliance and can therefore be located in an area. This strategy can even be used when limiting to strategic defense, i.e. reaction. The problem is to limit the conflict and to gain the initiative from the reaction through controlled escalation. Escalation dominance is a prerequisite for this. In the future, hardly predictable world, this is only possible in very limited local conflicts. If there is a risk of dissolving the boundaries of a conflict, previous deterrence is hardly effective because there is no power that can deal with all other powers at the same time. A strategy that achieves deterrence through the threat of annihilation thus becomes ineffective. One must therefore also think about paradigm shifts in strategy and answer the question of how one can develop a defensive strategy without thinking exclusively reactively. Technology offers many new possibilities for this. A strategy of paralysis could become possible. The use of military means that are no longer aimed at destruction could no longer be the last, but an early means, but it remains the ultimate means of politics. The future NATO strategy must also take into account the conditions of unbounded conflicts. This requires that the states of an alliance use all means of the states. This not only requires more meetings at ministerial level, but also new formats. Joint meetings of foreign and defense ministers and joint EU / NATO meetings already exist, other formats must be examined, such as the involvement of finance and / or development ministers on a case-by-case basis.
The decision-making procedures must be adapted for these meetings without, however, abandoning the unanimity principle for the political decision, in the case of NATO that is the decision of the NATO Council. But that may only apply to this level. Adherence to the principle of unanimity at all preparatory levels subordinate to the Council makes defense and protection in tomorrow’s world impossible.
The political roof
Whether the political umbrella currently envisaged by the Reflection Group of adhering to Harmel with deterrence and dialogue against Russia and a vague suggestion of a China strategy to be developed is sufficient, requires thorough examination. Doubts are appropriate, because from the point of view of the USA and Canada this is not a convincing reason to hold on to the costly transatlantic alliance, nor is the protection of the opposite coast provided by Europe and the political advantage of not having to act alone sufficient. The added value for them in the looming conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific region is missing. A NATO security and defense strategy vis-à-vis China must be developed that protects the West and its values and at the same time includes the offer to China of cooperation to reduce confrontation. Such a strategy below the threshold of the duty of assistance in no way means the practically impossible breaking off of all economic interdependencies, but their management for the benefit of security.
This means curbing China’s grip on Europe, i.e. reducing the use of critical infrastructure, access to key technologies and the instrumentalization of the 16 + 1 Declaration, but also NATO’s insistence on the unrestricted right to global freedom of the seas. For NATO, the latter means maritime domination in the North Atlantic and protection of the sea routes in the Arctic Ocean and in the Indo-Pacific region. That would be a definite added value for Americans and Canadians.
To this, the Europeans should add the willingness to lead and take responsibility for conflict prevention and containment in the run-up to Russia, in the Caucasus region and, in coordination with the African Union, in North Africa and together with the regional powers willing to cooperate and in Coordination with the US to assume responsibility for the area of the enlarged Middle East. The Abraham Accord and the development of a Strategic Agenda called for there is certainly more of a starting point for the need to limit Iran than the illusionary return to the JCPOA. This would ease the burden on the USA and add value that should strengthen its ties to Europe.
Conflict prevention through cooperation
Further sensible steps in the design of the political umbrella of a globally oriented NATO would be the coordination of the NATO China strategy with the EU and the establishment of at least two additional, regularly meeting consultation forums, an Atlantic-Pacific Security Council consisting of NATO, ASEAN and ANZUS, which meets at least once a year and a forum for the coordination of the protection of the sea lanes in the Arctic Ocean, which could initially be limited to an annual meeting of the NATO Secretary General and the chairman of the Arctic Council, the results of which the NATO Secretary General would routinely report to the NATO-Russia Council.
Limitation of the delimitation
Of course, the political umbrella of the future NATO should also contain an arms control component that goes beyond the proposals of the reflection group. It must primarily address the issue of limiting the sprawling nuclear armament and it must go beyond the NATO framework. In addition to the non-NATO bilateral negotiations between Russia and the USA and China, NATO should therefore look for ways in which the nuclear powers can jointly prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missile technologies, where they can see ways to verify the use of nuclear weapons for warfare and how long-term a controlled reduction in nuclear weapons could be agreed. A conceivable initial path for NATO could be to invite a group of experts, which, following the example of the ICNND in 2009, would work out proposals within two years, which the NATO Secretary General would submit to the UN Security Council after a vote in the NATO Council with the aim of establishing a mandate for Initiate negotiations.
Both yesterday and tomorrow: there is no security without political will
This is just an incentive for thought on the role of NATO in world change. There is no time to wait. The new US government should be able to act in the summer of 2021, then at least the work orders must have been issued so that implementation can begin after the elections in Germany on September 26, 2021 and in France in 2022. Only then can one begin to generate the decisive component for the credibility of the strategy, the political will to act when it is necessary. That is still Europe, especially Germany, greatest weakness. People suspect but do not yet see how great the danger is. The politicians of the free world are now called to make it clear to them. If they don’t, then uncertainty grows, then trust wanes and the dynamic of fear unfolds. This only benefits the demagogues, it destroys the willingness to understand freedom as freedom for responsibility. The dynamic of hope must now be awakened: clearly telling people where Europe stands, what paths there are and that Europe has the strength to survive. Hurry up to do this, but it’s not too late.
General Naumann’s article will appear in mid-2021 in the Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSS) – publication “World change – Reorientation of international relations“- Weltwandel-Neuausrichtung der internationalen Beziehungen