PREMIUM TAG BLOG – The Transatlantic relationship: no business as usual

Written by Rob de Wijk

Both the US and the UK will have to deal with an EU that is rapidly turning into a geopolitical player.

“The European Union and European countries have a strategic choice to make, either to wait for the United States and the Biden administration, or to move on”.

So said France’s minister of finance and the economy Bruno Le Maire said in an interview. 

Most European governments agree with his viewpoint. This is not new. For two decades, the Trans-Atlantic gap has widened. President George W. Bush’ war against Iraq and the withdrawal from international treaties such as the Kyoto climate agreement and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, brought him on collision course with the Europeans, especially the EU.

President Barack Obama who was initially hailed by Europe as the new messiah, pivoted to the east and withdrew troops from the continent. 

His successor, President Donald Trump, has trashed America’s relationship with Europe in every imaginable way. 

Europeans trust President Biden, but they also see America’s future as less predictable. 

This brings us to European Strategic Autonomy.

One can say of course that the US and Europe need each other against a rising China and a resurgent Russia. That could be true, but at the same time the EU has become a completely different player. 

China is seen as a strategic competitor. Russian hybrid threats are seen as the main security risk. The refugee and migration crisis made Europeans aware of the need to collectively protect their outer borders. The 750 billion Euros recovery package for dealing with the economic consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak has opened the door to Eurobonds. The result is an EU that will be a crucial geo-economic player on the capital markets, thus challenging the position of the Dollar and London.

Unsurprisingly, the debate on the vague concept of European Strategic Autonomy (ESA) is now embraced by what were staunch opponentsto the idea such as the Netherlands.

Indeed, the October 2020 Defense vision 2035 argues that the Netherlands should fully embrace ‘Europe’. For the Netherlands as one of America’s most loyal allies, this is no less than a revolution.Why this radical shift?

Brexit has been the accelerator for change. The United Kingdomstrengthened French-German leadership. The post-Brexit EU will reflect German economic preferences such as financial prudency, competitiveness and innovation. 

Regarding foreign policy and defense, France as the EU’s only nuclear power and member of the UN Security Council, will be accepted as the undisputed European leader.

And this leads logically to the lack of European capabilities.

A key problem is that military operations are difficult to execute without American support. 

The European-led Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz (EMASOH) that was carried out in 2020 next to the American led International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC) to maintain order in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz is a case in point. Due to the American decision not to support the European mission with intelligence and satellite information, mission effectiveness was limited. 

In the December 2020 issue of Survival Barry Posen asked the intriguing question whether Europe could defend itself against Russia. His answer was ‘a qualified yes’. Despite deficiencies in interoperable C3, intelligence and strategic reconnaissance I tend to agree. The main explanation is the changing nature of the threat, French nuclear deterrence and Russia’s military-technical challenge to launch an all-out attack on Europe. 

Is Europe then becoming a geopolitical player? 

Both the US and the UK will have to deal with an EU that is rapidly turning into a geopolitical player. In 2020 President Xi and Putin tried to make use of the perceived chaos in Europe, but they were confronted with a much more unified player than they expected.

In December Brussels agreed on an investment pact with China aimed at creating a level playing field on European terms. Despite Biden’s objections Brussels moved on. 

Brexit resulted in almost 2000 pages of rules and regulations that were at odds with the idea of ‘take back control’. 

Regarding defense most governments agree that Strategic Autonomy requires new initiatives. At the same time, they agree that defense against Russian hybrid tactics requires a completely different approach and that China and Russia will deny them UN Security Council mandates for interventions and peace support operations. 

Interestingly, European ideas on foreign policy and defense start to look surprisingly similar to those of the Biden administration. 

The President embraced a humble, less ambitious ‘middle-class foreign policy’ that seems to reject regime change wars and ensures that decisions are made to benefit common people. 

This, and a shared belief that China is a strategic competitor, couldbring the EU and the US closer together. This, however, does not mean that the Europeans will wait for American leadership. They will move on. 

TAG PREMIUM BLOG: Biden and the High North

By Kate Hansen Bundt

Incoming U.S President Joe Biden has a lot on his plate. China is one of the big agenda items. A look at what China – and Russia – is up to in the High North is going to demand much more attention from NATO, with support from the new administration. 

“The President of the US does a lot to set the tone of global politics”, Gideon Rachman wrote in the Financial Times on November 24.

And we might add that the US President’s rhetoric and themes are followed by politically-focused eyes around the world, 24/7. 

That goes for the small states tucked in the High North of Europe as well. That was so clear to observe when President Donald Trump suggested to buy Greenland from Denmark in 2019. 

When Denmark turned his offer down, Trump called off his state visit to this small state and long-time ally. Loyalty in NATO did not seem to have any value to Trump. Nor did the kind reminder that we do not sell and buy territory in the 21st Century change his mind. 

So you can appreciate that in Scandinavia, the election of Joe Biden was met with great relief. Although we do understand that Biden’s first priority must be to handle the pandemic and a rather complex domestic agenda, we all hope for a more decent tone in international relations. 

Biden will hopefully bring back what Wolfgang Ischinger, chairman of the Munich Security Conference,  recently labelled the three T’s: truth, trust, and transparency. In Oslo we would also welcome at least three other changes that will influence security in our neighbourhood. 

Firstly, we need the US back at the international table. 

The Nordics are all small states highly dependent on multilateral institutions and a rule-based international order. For small states, it is essential that the great powers recognize the importance of common rules, regulations and norms that regulate behavior and contribute to conflict resolution. 

That is why we need a US that again stands up for international law, reinforces its multilateral commitments in the UN, re-enters the Paris Climate accord, the WHO and other multilateral agreements that the Trump administration left. 

On the other hand, we should acknowledge that the last four years has brought geopolitical changes that have left us Nordics and other Europeans in need of reforming our old international structures. We would welcome a Biden administration that seeks reforms together with its democratic allies globally and in Europe. 

Secondly, we need a US that will regain its leadership in NATO.  And does the Alliance need it! 

Trump has damaged the transatlantic relationship by questioning the very existence of NATO and the US security guarantee. A Biden administration must rebuild trust and credibility. That does not mean that the difficult issues facing the Alliance will disappear overnight. But we need another tone among allies in order to get involved in a real strategic debate for a NATO fit for 2030. 

On their side, the Europeans must fulfill its Wales 2014 commitments on defense spending. The fact that the 2 %-goal ironically might be easier to deliver due to Covid-19 and the shrinking economy, should not lead us into the illusion that European allies could avoid taking on more responsibility not only on future NATOs costs, but also responsibility in a world increasingly marked by great power competition. 

With Britain leaving the EU, it will be crucial to avoid an institutional competition between the EU and NATO. We need a strengthened European pillar in NATO to take greater responsibility for Europe’s “near abroad”. A Biden administration will almost certainly pivot towards Asia and focus on China.

Thirdly, in the High North, above the Arctic circle,  Biden will meet both China’s icebreakers and Russia’s nuclear submarines in Norwegian waters, which is seven times larger than the Norwegian land territory. 

While the Chinese presence is still rather small it indicates that China wants a foot in all regions of importance.

Russia has of course legitimate interests in the region but over the past few years it has continued its military modernization and increased its military activity both on land and at sea in the High North. This affects Norway.

The asymmetric relation in size and military power between Norway and a Russia stretching over 11 time zones will always make Russia a defining factor for Norwegian security. The Kola peninsula, located just across the border from Norway, continues to be home to the Russian sea-based nuclear strategic deterrent. To protect this, Russia has re-established its “bastion defence”, an anti-access strategy that presents a strategic challenge to the vital sea lines between North America and Europe, and thereby threatens the defence of Norway.  

Norway has a long tradition of maintaining a dual-track policy towards Russia. It is based on NATO-membership and firm line-drawing on one side and on the other active dialogue and cooperation where we find common interest, such as on fishery management, the environment, Coast guard, search-and-rescue and not least on people-to-people cooperation.  This contributes to stability and the risk of unintentional misunderstanding. 

But Trump’s overall unpredictability, tough rhetoric and complex relationship with the Kremlin has made it more difficult for Norway to communicate to the Trump administration the delicate balance between deterrence and assurance towards a more forward leaning Russia. 

Indeed, the Trump administration’s increased unilateral military activity combined with an element of surprise and often no warning, have according to some critical voices in the North increased tension with Russia. 

What Norway and NATO needs is to establish a predictable “new normal”, in which collective defense, preparedness and the presence of US and NATO forces in the North, are perfectly normal. They are going to need Biden’s support.

TAG PREMIUM BLOG: Dealing with Risks

By Holger Mey

Those who were surprised by the outbreak and world-wide spread of the Corona virus/COVID-19 had either no understanding of biology or history or both.  Everything that happened in recent months was foreseeable and foreseen as well as predictable and, indeed, has been predicted.  Experts had for many years warned that a pandemic comparable to the so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918 was about to happen sooner or later.  Even some politicians, such as President Obama, some years ago made alarming public statements to that effect.

Unfortunately, policymakers do not usually act in anticipation of challenges or threats, but rather re-act to events.  This is, on the one hand, understandable because the political agenda is comprehensive and requires constant adjustments and re-prioritization, and to take measures to prepare for contingencies that seem less likely are inevitably put lower down the to-do list.  That’s the nice interpretation.  On the other hand, and this is the not so nice interpretation, politicians in non-crisis situations prefer to promise good things to their respective peoples rather than confront them with harsh reality, such as a possible pandemic.  Shying away from confronting people with unpleasant reality and the need for appropriate funding and measures inevitably leads to inadequate societal preparation for the next crisis.

To some extent, the lack of precautionary measures, planning, and exercising in the area of civil defense, health care, disaster relief, protection of critical infrastructure, etc. is comparable to the lack of defense spending and military preparation during peacetime.  Historically, the result all too typically has been that societies later pay with both blood and money.

However, even among military planners there is a tendency to plan for only those scenarios that one would hope could just about be coped with.  The prevailing assumption tends to be that the opponent is either incompetent or cooperative, or both.  No more worst-case analyses, but rather best-case assumptions.  Little planning was “threat driven”, but rather “budget driven”.  Budget constraints led to a situation where it was more about making the Armed Forces efficient for peacetime rather than effective for wartime.

Much of life is about assessing likelihood.  As the physicist James Clerk Maxwell put it, “The true logic of this world is in the calculus of probabilities”.  There is a caveat. When it comes to security and defense (and insurances in day-to-day life) another factor comes into play: the level of possible or expected damage.  To put it simply, whilst “threat” is the product of “capability” multiplied by “intention”, “risk” is the product of “likelihood” multiplied by “level of damage”.  Military capabilities without any intension to use them do not pose any threat.  However, intentions change, which is why people speak of “potential threat”.  Risk, in contrast, is ‘intention agnostic’.  There may or may not be an intension, but a technical failure, human error, or a natural disaster, including a pandemic, can still present a severe risk.

Consequently, even a highly unlikely event can pose a significant risk if the damage it would inflict would be very high.  These are low-probability/high-impact scenarios’ and are precisely the kind of scenarios that cannot be neglected. Preparing for the worst reduces the likelihood that events that happen despite their low probability turn out to be extremely severe.  Resiliency requires an ‘architecture’ which demands hardening, immunization, emergency procedures, exercises and training, decentralization, diversification, autonomization of small entities, subsidiarity, an extremely competent research and development environment, a competitive industrial base, an effective and comprehensive health system, technical relief personnel, police, firefighters, etc. in sufficient numbers and sufficiently reinforceable.  That places a particular premium on flexible reserve force (stocks and people), and preparations for fast recovery, as well as the ability to mobilize civil society through effective civil defense. Thankfully, there are many ways to mitigate risk by preparing a society for the worse.  Moreover, there will be many positive effects for society, such as an improved and more robust health system, even if the worst case does not happen – or, at least, not happen soon.

There is still a small chance that this time policy-makers will learn from their past mistakes and their failure to prepare for a pandemic that was both predictable and predicted.  After the pandemic will be before the pandemic.  There are also many similarities with regard to war and military preparedness.  The difference is that preparing for the next pandemic mostly reduces its fatal consequences, whilst preparing for a strong defense not only reduces the fatal consequences of any future war, but also significantly lowers the likelihood that such a war would break out in the first place.  Can there be any better investment into the future?

PREMIUM TAG BLOG: Tanks – For The Memory?

By Paul Cornish

The UK Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy is approaching completion. UK defence reviews are usually accompanied by dire warnings as to the effect of any budget cuts on an individual Service’s capability or on defence as a whole. By some accounts, the fate of the UK’s 227 Challenger 2 main battle tanks (MBT) is in doubt. Unfortunately that decision, and others, might be driven not by good strategic sense but by structural problems in the UK defence debate.

The first problem is a widespread lack of knowledge of, and interest in the purpose of a given military capability. For example, some might claim that the MBT has no role in modern warfare; that it belongs to a past era of armoured and mechanised warfare. But I am not confident that this era has yet been consigned to history. And if I’m right, then the MBT certainly still has a role. The modern MBT is a mobile, well protected and very destructive battlefield weapon system. It is also, admittedly, vulnerable; there are plenty of ways in which a 60+ tonne machine can be destroyed – mines, missiles, smart munitions etc. But in the last resort, the most dependable means with which to destroy a tank is … a tank. Rather than make questionable assumptions about military history, the better question to ask is whether the decline of the MBT is universally accepted – and it isn’t.

This brings us to the second problem – incomplete (or, at worst, tendentious) threat analysis. It would be wrong to claim that geopolitical adventurism, antagonism and even militarism have disappeared from Europe over the past 30 years or so. It would also be difficult to argue that the MBT no longer has a role when it would certainly feature in any large-scale military operations in eastern, central and western Europe. Russia has invested very heavily in armoured warfare, with a fleet of about 2,800 ‘active’ tanks (which it is modernising) and another 10,000 or so in reserve. For one European country at least, tanks are still in fashion.  It cannot be said that today’s Europe is stable and predictable any more than it can be said that MBTs are defunct. A genuinely ‘threat-based’ review (as is promised) would suggest precisely the opposite.

The third problem is best described as techno-fetishism. Part of the argument against the MBT seems to be that it stands in the way of 21st century technology. Certainly, this is a period of great invention and innovation, particularly in information and communications technology. But to argue that we should abandon ’the old’ because it’s old and embrace ’the new’ because it’s new, is simplistic. Innovation is about the application of ideas (and inventions) to the present, thereby achieving some improvement (practically or organisationally). Generally, however, innovation is not about changing the present overnight. Although it can at times have momentous impact, innovation is more often cautious and incremental. And when it comes to security and defence there’s a lot to be said for being cautious and incremental. The MBT is obsolescent; of course it is – it’s a human invention destined to end up in a museum. But there is a difference between obsolescent and obsolete.

The final problem is that of cost and ‘affordability’. The level of defence spending in the UK is not a law of nature – it is a political choice. Rather than trim capabilities to meet a declining defence budget, under the spurious reasoning that the threat picture points in this direction (when it does not), or because the military-technological future has arrived (when it has not), government should instead be hedging against unpredictable and undesirable futures which might nevertheless come our way. Government should be choosing to invest in Armed Forces to ensure they have the latency and flexibility to meet the broadest range of conceivable challenges, rather than assuming that we can relax and take a strategic holiday for a few years. The UK has tried this twice on a large scale – once in the inter-war years and once in the late 1940s – both times to our strategic disadvantage.

The fate of the MBT, and any other military capability, should be decided neither by quasi-historical projections, nor techno-fetishism, nor cost – but by strategy. Strategy is an attempt to engage with a future that is not merely uncertain, but fundamentally unknowable. But it must nevertheless be engaged with – decisions must be made in the present for the strategic posture of the future. It’s at this point that cash-conscious governments like to tell themselves (and the rest of us) that perhaps the future is less unknowable than is supposed, that they have the singular skill of peering into the future and finding, when they do, that the future is, uncannily, not too worrying and can, most conveniently, be managed on an even more limited budget or with some technological ‘fix’. Fine – but I’d prefer a MBT to a crystal ball any day.

Professor Paul Cornish served in the British Army’s 1st Royal Tank Regiment in the 1980s

PREMIUM TAG BLOG: Multilateralism Buckles Under Corona

The post-1945 order was in bad shape before the Coronavirus swept across the globe. In the midst of the pandemic, it is barely surviving with few prospects of being revived.

By Judy Dempsey

The West’s leading countries should have risen to the challenge as soon as it became clear that the coronavirus was going to be a pandemic. But they didn’t.

One by one, the leaders and members of the multilateral institutions established after 1945 failed to think and act strategically and globally.

Whether or not globalization will return to the status quo ante once the virus is conquered – and it’s not going to be very soon according to experts – is an open question. What is not in question is the inability of multilateral institutions to perform during globalisation’s first pandemic.

Consider the United Nations and its World Health Organization arm.

The former’s role during the virus has been abysmal. The United Nations Security Council couldn’t manage to agree to discuss the pandemic. China, a permanent member of the council blocked it. The other members should have taken a tough stand by speaking up, rallying support and demanding that the UNSC adopt some policy. They didn’t. It might have helped had the United States been more supportive of the UN. But the Trump administration has had only disdain for it. Since January, the UNSC has been toothless.

So has the WHO. Its leadership was irresponsibly cautious. Chinese pressure played a big role. The longer the WHO prevaricated, the more countries delayed in making preparations to deal with the infected. So much for that multilateral institution.

President Donald Trump has had few kind words to say about the WHO’s performance. His administration decided to withhold funding for it. Other western countries were mealy-mouthed about the WHO’s handling of the pandemic. But because several European countries are now so critical of Trump’s policies, they chose not to openly criticize the WHO. This is a pity. The organization – indeed the entire United Nations – is in desperate need of reform. The Europeans and other countries should have spoken out.

As for the World Trade Organization, that’s been on the death bed for some time. Again, the Trump administration has been far from helpful in trying to reform it while China has blocked all efforts at reform. The Europeans and Japan have repeatedly come up with proposals. But because all these multilateral organizations work by consensus, the WTO has become almost paralyzed. When it comes to trade issues – and this is such a major casualty of the coronavirus – it might as well have not existed.

The Group of 7 industrialised countries, when they recently virtually met, it lead to naught. Yes, Trump doesn’t have much time for G7 or the bigger G20 – but that doesn’t mean major, rich countries cannot be much more vocal about what is happening to the dismantling of the post-1945 world order.

The list goes on.

Just consider NATO. It pats itself on the back when member states air lift medical supplies to allies. But what has NATO been doing in terms of resilience, which was until recently the buzz-word of the Alliance and the European Union?

The alliance is not only highly vulnerable in terms of the functioning of its energy grids, transportation networks, the protection of health facilities and airports. The Alliance’s ability to fend off any attack from either Russia and China can almost be written off.

NATO still cannot move seamlessly across Europe to defend its eastern borders. The bridges and airports and railways are not equipped to allow this. In addition, this multilateral institution that is supposed to cooperate with the EU in terms of having a “NATO Schengen” that would allow troops and equipment to pass unhindered across Europe has not yet materialised.

As for China’s increasing presence in Europe, in ports, in establishing logistics centers, in using several countries for investment which is never far away from intelligence gathering, NATO is sleepwalking through these developments. Airlifts of medical supplies are no substitute for strategy and foresight.

Now to the EU. It has learned so little from previous crises. Yes, belatedly, the EU Commission is doling out billions of Euros for the health infrastructures. Don’t even think about how these funds will be monitored and used. But politically and strategically, the EU leadership has been disappointing while the member states have gone their own way. Health is the prerogative of the member states, not the Commission. But the EU could have – and still can – make a difference if there is the minimum of political will and leadership.

Briefly, here’s how. The EU cannot go it alone, even if it wanted to.

The first thing it should to is to get its friends on board – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, individual states of the United States. Several African countries have to be included as well. And reach out to Latin America. Hold a virtual summit with a tight agenda and a moderator that knows how to moderate. The agenda is about rebuilding multilateralism.

Second, blabbering elites are not needed. What is needed are experts: scientists, philanthropists, musicians, pedagogues, humanists, environmentalists.

Third, this is about the future of a world order that will either descend into a free for all or emerge with a set of values that will promote trust. China, Russia and other authoritarian countries have to made choices as well. That’s another blog. What’s important now is redefining the West. And soonest

PREMIUM TAG BLOG: Germany should lead the way towards NATO’s New European Pillar

The Alliance should use the reflection process to develop a new European pillar in NATO, in order to re-calibrate the relative weight of European and American commitments to the Alliance, both in terms of resources and decision making.

By Anna Wieslander

The new NATO European Defense Pillar

On March 31, in the shadow of the coronavirus crisis, NATO appointed an expert group to support Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in the “reflection process” which was decided upon at the London summit in December. The initiative, aimed at strengthening NATO’s political role, came after French president Emmanuel Macron’s November 2019 declaration that the Alliance was “brain dead” due to a lack of consultations ahead of the American troop withdrawal from Syria. 

Although the “reflection process” is a limited response to the overall transatlantic drift of the past years, it could nevertheless be used to push for greater Alliance unity and better burden sharing, and improved power sharing. Specifically, the Alliance should use the reflection process to develop a European pillar in NATO, in order to re-calibrate the relative weight of European and American commitments to the Alliance, both in terms of resources and decision making. 

Coined by the Kennedy administration in 1961, a “European pillar in NATO” is an old idea whose time finally has come. Rather than pursuing impossibly complex and divisive debates on “strategic autonomy”, a “European Army”, and a “European Defense Union”, concepts that makes little sense to many, the twenty-one EU and NATO states should focus on defining and developing such a pillar. 

Matching Ambition to Resources

Since Brexit was announced in June 2016, France and Germany have prioritized deeper European defense cooperation as an essential European integration project. A deteriorating transatlantic relationship during the Trump presidency has further spurred a European belief that Europe needs to “take its destiny in its own hands”, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it. A third driving force is the growing global great power competition and the need for the EU to play a role in a world of growing geo-political threats in which at present it lacks both the means and the influence.

In the face of the European demarche the Americans have adopted a traditional and yet somewhat schizophrenic stance, calling on one hand for increased burden-sharing and European defense spending, while on the other questioning European intentions. “Show me the money!” a Pentagon official commented after French President Emmanuel Macron´s speech on the need for more “European independence” at February’s Munich Security Conference. 

Given the latest news that the EU´s long term budget for security and defense will face a drastic reduction compared with the initial suggestions, the Americans have a valid point. The flagship project of military mobility, is illustrative in this regard. As vital as it is for the reinforcement of the Eastern flank, the budget has disintegrated from €6.5 bn in the initial Commission proposal, to €0 in the current EU technical proposal.

With brutal reality replacing dreamy rhetoric on EU defense ambitions, focus needs to shift from enhancing EU autonomy and independence, toward a European pillar of real strategic substance in NATO. Such realism would provide a practical and much-needed way forward and leverage efficiently the political will to strengthen Europe´s security contributions within a preserved and adapted transatlantic community.

Power, History and Germany

Throughout NATO’s history, there have been times when Europeans have come together to carve out a distinct identity within the Alliance and better combine and co-ordinate their defense effortd. Some landmarks have been achieved in the NATO-EU relationship, such as the Harmel Report of 1967, the birth of a European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP); the so called Berlin plus arrangements between NATO and the EU, that enables the EU to request NATO to make available assets and capabilities for EU-led crisis management operations.  Of late, the NATO-EU Strategic Partnership has developed practical co-operation in strengthening resiliency and countering hybrid threats. 

Recently, both German´s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and French President Emmanuel Macron have referred to a “European pillar in NATO”, without making specific proposals.  Therefore, it is high time for clarity. Specifically, a formal process should be initiated and led by a major European state.  With Brexit, UK has lost the necessary link to ESDP to take on such a role. France is by tradition the reluctant NATO ally, with its long-established quest for greater European independence from the Alliance, and as such is unlikely to foster the necessary consensus. 

Leadership and Partnership

The responsibility must fall to Germany.  As the traditional unifier in the EU and with its defense deeply integrated within NATO, Berlin is the natural leader, even if it has hitherto lacked the requisite political energy and tradition to lead on defense issues. Consequently, Germany will need some help from its friends. Several European states, including the Nordics, the Baltics and the Central and Eastern states, are ready to support Germany in articulating a clear vision and way forward for the new European pillar of NATO. 

The shift of emphasis, from autonomy in the EU context, to strengthened European capabilities in the NATO context, would critically fit with what a majority of European states view as realistic and desirable security arrangements. Finally, the new NATO European pillar would also afford the Alliance a far more constructive platform for Europe to work with the U.S., and better enable NATO to meet the challenges of the Twenty-First Century. 

Anna Wieslander is Director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council and Secretary General of the Swedish Defense Association. 

PREMIUM TAG BLOG: Making Security a “Kitchen Table Topic” in Germany

Its about engaging the public which has been excluded from foreign and security issues too long dominated by the elites.

By Dr Alexandra Schwarzkopf

Seventy-five years after the end of World War Two, Germany is a major economic and democratic power. I think  it’s time for us to assume more responsibility worldwide.

And especially given our past, we should vigorously contribute to the defense of our allies and the democratic world order to which post-War Germany owes so much.

To do this we need a societal debate – a kind of citizens forums – about German foreign and security policy as part of a broader debate about its strategic role in the world of the 21st century. The most populous and biggest economic power in the EU cannot be a bigger version of Switzerland. Germany’s “strategic beauty sleep” must end.

Until now, both foreign policy, and even more so defense policy, have not been of particular interest to a large part of the German population. This is even true when German soldiers are deployed to a conflict zone. One can say this has never really been different. And besides, the average citizen has enough to do with family and work. 

Nevertheless, just because it has never really been different, it does not mean that it must always remain that way.  Take the enormous growth of the global climate change movement. Whatever one may think about it, it demonstrates that large parts of the population, and not only young people, do have time to deal with a complex topic which goes beyond their day-to-day challenges because they believe it affects their life.

So how can foreign-and-security policy become a “kitchen table topic” like the climate change topic has become?

In a number of ways. The first is communicating to citizens 

the importance of foreign policy and security matters to their personal situation. Once they really think about it, most citizens would probably not question that protecting one’s borders, trade routes and communication systems is crucial for their continuous prosperity and political stability.

That is why politicians of all parties, as well as experts and members of the Bundeswehr (armed forces), should go on the public offensive and make the population aware about foreign policy and security issues and their effects on the individual citizen. 

This could be done by meeting in town halls and other public places and not just confining them foundations and think-tank premises. And don’t forget about going to schools, colleges and universities. 

Also, larger numbers of professors and students should be included in security and foreign policy conferences such as the MSC. In other words, don’t have security and foreign issues dominated by the elites. The media has a super important role to play as well.

Secondly, to be become a real “kitchen table” the topic has to be framed in a more positive way. Its not only about focusing on threats. Its about trying to explain how foreign and security policy actually can resolve conflicts. If peace and security as an outcome of a successful foreign and security policy is more emphasized, maybe more Germans will be willing – despite our past – to accept military strength as one necessary pillar of security policy.

So once the debate on foreign policy and security issues is associated with safeguarding people’s physical and economic security, defending allied states and preventing genocides, security policy just might have the real potential to become a topic average citizens want to talk about at their “kitchen table”.

Finally, and this cannot be stressed enough, citizens must be confident that once they get involved in these debates, their voice will be heard. If that is the case then unsettling and upsetting developments in foreign policy, higher defense expenditures or soldiers’ casualties might not cause them to turn their back on the topic and say “I don’t want to hear about it”.

Instead, there could be the realistic chance that citizens will “want to hear more about it”, and become active participants in the debate on foreign-and-security policy. It might even lead to a broader debate on Germany’s strategic role in the 21st century.

PREMIUM TAG BLOG: (Some Worrying) Future Transatlantic Security Options*

The current collision between history and disruptive forces of change poses a huge challenge to the United States, Canada and the European democracies. Those of us who believe in liberal democracy and the transatlantic alliance must take the steps necessary to ensure their future.

By Stanley R. Sloan

As 2020 hits the ground with many bangs, those of us working on transatlantic relations face questions about near-term US-European security futures.

There is little mystery about the threats and challenges facing NATO and EU members. They include Russian intrusions, radical Islamist terrorism, and creeping Chinese intervention, adding to the internal challengeof illiberal politics undermining liberal democracy. So against this backdrop, let’s consider first some future scenarios.

I suggest three broad possibilities for the future of the transatlantic alliance: substantial continuity, radical positive change and radical negative change

First, substantial continuity. In this potential future, very little changes the trend lines that have been laid down by history.  

The United States remains committed to participate in the defense of Europe, to deploy substantial numbers of troops in Europe, and to retain military leadership of NATO with a senior American general serving as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander.  

Also in this scenario, a post-Trump administration triesto repair damage done to US leadership of the alliance, without abandoning US burdensharing concerns.  

All current allies remain in the alliance, despite some wavering (Turkey) and others experimenting with forms of democracy that do not conform to liberal democratic values.

With the United Kingdom having abandoned EU membership, the EU continues, with some modest successes, its attempts to give the Union a more substantial integrated military capacity.  

The UK makes cooperative military arrangements with former EU partners while seeking a continued “special relationship,” including intelligence sharing, with the United States.  

In this potential future, several allies spend around 2 percent of GDP on defense by 2024 as agreed at the 2014 Wales summit, while others fall short.  

Second: radical positive change.

In this future, the goal of a more balanced transatlantic relationship comes more clearly into view.  The United States remains committed to the alliance while supporting European efforts to take on more burdens and responsibilities in the alliance.  

The members of the EU make substantial advances in coordinating and even selectively integrating their defense establishments.  

A true European army controlled by a politically united Europe remains out of reach. But all EU members increasingly sacrifice bits of their national control in a variety of pragmatic cooperative arrangements.  

The UK, despite its departure from the EU, commits to thorough defense cooperation with EU members, while remaining fully committed to NATO.  

Increased European defense spending is accompanied by the revitalization of the European defense industry, with multinational firms and co-production arrangements setting up a healthy competition across the Atlantic. At the same time, the US-European competition for sales is moderated by better transatlantic defense industrial cooperation.  

The stronger European contribution to defense is acknowledged with alternating European and American Supreme Allied Commanders of NATO as a transition to a possible future in which Europeans routinely hold this post.  

The role of Secretary General also alternates between prominent European and North American political leaders.

Third: radical negative change

This scenario presents a much darker future.  

The United States essentially abandons its transatlantic commitments and leadership roles.  The European allies fall into disputes about how to maintain their security and provide new leadership.  

Such a scenario could begin with the reelection of Donald Trump.  

In this hypothetical scenario, the United Statescontinues the process of abandoning its international leadership and decides to remove all US forces from Europe. Trump tweets that he and Vladimir Putin have agreed that such a move would promote peace and security in Europe.  

In response, European allies discuss creating strong, integrated European defense structures to replace the transatlantic NATO one.  But they find it too challenging politically and financially.  

Even the overwhelming cost estimate projected in 2019 by the IISS for the EU members to create a defense system as capable as that of NATO turns out to be overly optimistic.  

Several member countries suggest that the EU should follow the US lead and sign a peaceful relations/nonaggression accord with Russia.

While some commentators immediately label this “the 21st century Munich,” most European governments decide they have little choice.  

In addition, this accommodation with Russia strengthens illiberal pro-Moscow parties throughout Europe.  That leads to the election of several national administrations that lean toward fascist forms of governance and away from liberal democracy.  Adieu NATO. Adieu the West as we know it. Russia will have achieved its long-term goal of destroying the transatlantic alliance, with connivance and weakness by European governments.

The future

With all its imperfections, the current transatlantic security system, with its twin institutional pillars of NATO and the EU, makes a strong case for preservation, even if it requires reform.  

Those who argue for abandoning this arrangement bear the burden of proving that they have a better idea.

The current collision between history and disruptive forces of change poses a huge challenge to the United States, Canada and the European democracies. Those of us who believe in liberal democracy and the transatlantic alliance must take the steps necessary to ensure their future. Choices at transatlantic ballot boxes will influence which future we choose.  They had better be informed choices…

*This brief is based on the draft text the author prepared for a presentation in Copenhagen in December 2019 whose presentation was vetoed by the US Embassy, which was a cosponsor of the conference.

A New Defense Posture for Europe: Minimum defense, Maximum deterrence

By Rob de Wijk

European NATO and EU member states need to develop a Strategic Autonomy doctrine based on a Common European defense and Security Policy.

President Trump has repeatedly accused the Europeans for not doing enough for their own defense and has threatened to withdraw America’s commitment to the defense of Europe.

But how strong is this commitment in practice?  In reality, America’s vital interests are threatened in Asia, not in Europe. For this reason former President Barak Obama already announced a strategic pivot to Asia in 2011. Due to global power shifts, America’s strategic orientation to the East is likely to be permanent and unrelated to Trump. However, due to his unpredictability and erratic behavior, Trump inflicts irreparable damage to the credibility of America’s security commitment. For all those reasons, America’s security guarantees to Europe are weak at best.

Take the 4,500 troops of the NATO multinational battle groups reinforced by British, French, Polish forces and American deployments under the European Deterrence Initiative and Operation Atlantic Resolve. They are still no match for the 400,000 troops of the Russian Western Military District. Of rhat number, 65.000 are deployed in close proximity of the Baltic States.

The key issue is that troop movements have become increasingly vulnerable. Due to advances in military technology, Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), harbors, airfields and propositioned stocks have become more vulnerable.

Then there is the abandonment of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, has triggered the development of new Russian weapons systems for the European theater, making matters even worse for Europe’s security.

 Furthermore, the EU-concept of Military Mobility is unlikely to solve the problem of rapid reinforcement. It is easy to abolish bureaucratic border-crossing obstacles on paper, but it is highly unlikely that Europe’s infrastructure –roads, bridges and rails – can cope with tanks, artillery pieces and other heavy equipment. Bridges might collapse, flatcars might not be available and European nations are unlikely to make the necessary investments any time soon.

Finally, for reasons of crisis stability, moving reinforcements on the continent from west to east could be extremely dangerous. In times of crisis, Russia might believe that an attack is imminent and might respond with a preemptive attack. The issue of reinforcements necessitates fundamental rethinking of the requirements of European security.

What is the solution? As force-on-force confrontations in Europe will completely destroy parts of the continent, a Cold War approach focusing on achieving the right ‘correlation of forces’ is meaningless. What is needed is a min-max posture.

Europe must bring its defense posture in line with strategic realities. I propose a collective defense posture of minimal defense and maximal deterrence. This posture requires European NATO and EU member states to develop a Strategic Autonomy doctrine based on a Common European defense and Security Policy and to define America’s role in Europe’s defense.

Collective defense could be based on the following premises:

  • Abandon the idea of transatlantic reinforcements in times of crisis and the certainty of America’s security assurances.
  • Abandon the notion of traditional force-on-force wars in Europe and rely on a limited number of ‘trip wire’ land forces and a small back up of reinforcements and air power for defensive purposes. Those forces should be non-threatening, enhance crisis stability and underscore the message that failure of deterrence will have grave consequences.
  • Revitalize the OSCE crisis mechanisms, e.g. the mechanism for risk reduction, early warning and the peaceful settlement of disputes. This should be complemented with a successor to the 1990 Charter of Paris, including recognition of spheres of influence.
  • Enhance resilience of the populace en homeland defense to counter hybrid threats, such as information operations.
  • If deterrence fails, Europe should rely on offensive cyber capabilities and delivery systems with conventional and nuclear warheads that can penetrate Russian Anti Access and Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities. This requires reliance on French and British nuclear weapons and probably the development of a ‘European nuclear bomb’.

The land, air and sea component can be implemented right now, but requires additional investment in hardened Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance. But relying solely on minimal defense forces without credible deterrence and the political will to use nuclear weapons if conflict termination fails is highly dangerous and an outright invitation of aggression.

For non-Article 5 operations coercion remains important. This could require:

  • A new concept of coercive diplomacy that relies on non-military offensive capabilities, including cyber warfare, information campaigns, destabilization operations and sanctions.
  • Ground forces for stabilization missions and the defense of vital interests outside the NATO area.
  • Strong naval forces for defense of trade routes and limited SLOC protection.

If spend wisely, the present collective European defense budget of US$264 billion should be enough to safeguard Europe’s security. As a matter of fact, this also includes the funds for stabilization missions as well as capabilities for small-scale operations in distant theaters to defend Europe’s vital interests or support America.

Rob de Wijk

War Clouds On The Horizon

By Paul Cornish

The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI – informally known as ‘War Cloud’) is the US Department of Defense’s programme to enable US armed forces to operate and to prevail in the information age. The future of the programme is now in question just as ISISis going global and going digital.Without JEDI the US will be at a disadvantage. The West will lack the coherence needed for an integrated strategic information network.

The DoD’s December 2018 Cloud Strategy describes JEDI as “a commercial General Purpose enterprise-wide cloud solution” that will “ensure information superiority through data aggregation and analysis,” provide “centralized computing to tactical edge computing for the warfighter” and ‘enable emerging technologies such as AI’.

Under a contract worth US$10 billion over ten years, JEDI will effectively be a cloud service provider responsible for hosting, processing and distributing mission-critical, operational and intelligence material (ranging from unclassified to highly classified) to US armed forces around the world.

The Pentagon had hoped to award the JEDI contract by August 2019 but the process met delays. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure are competing for it. Oracle and IBM were ruled out of the competition in April 2019, although Oracle then mounted a legal challenge in the Court of Federal Claims to remain in the race.

Oracle protested the legality of the Pentagon’s insistence on a single vendor and, more specifically, that they were effectively (and unfairly) excluded from a bidding process that was allegedly designed in such a way that only AWS could meet the requirement.

After an eight month lawsuit, on 12 July the Court ruled in favour of the Pentagon, dismissing Oracle’s claim of a conflict of interest between AWS and DoD officials. For a moment at least, the way seemed clear for the Pentagon to award the contract to either AWS or Microsoft.

But then in late July President Trump entered the fray, expressing concerns about the possible award of the contract to AWS (Trump’s relationship with Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, is not especially cordial). As a result, in early August Mark Esper, the newly appointed Defense Secretary, was reported by Defense One to have put the contract award “on hold.”

The award of the JEDI contract is, of course, US business – in both senses of the word. But while it has so far been a bitterly fought commercial contest, what is now of more pressing importance is the strategic struggle that is re-emerging, in which there could be far more at stake.

According to a June 2019 report published by the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War,  ISIS is making a ‘Second Comeback’– with a distinctly digital flavour. In spite of having lost the territory of their so-called Caliphate, ISIS is far from defeated and could even be stronger today than its predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), was in 2011. ISIS forces are continuing to wage a “capable insurgency” involving as many as 30,000 fighters (as opposed to AQI’s 700 or so in December 2011).

The report describes a renewed emphasis on, and enthusiasm for elaborate (and effective) command, control and communications systems, a sophisticated understanding of the role of the global media (ISIS resumed its global media operations in July 2018) and of social media, and a sharpened interest in the value of relatively low-cost technology such as drones.

Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ISIS has ambitions to expand its global presence beyond Iraq and Syria. In a video message broadcast in April Baghdadi encouraged ISIS’s ‘global community of fighters and supporters’ to join a new ‘Battle of Attrition’. A series of suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday – in which 259 were killed and some 500 injured – appears to have been inspired by Baghdadi’s message.  ISIS has also claimed responsibility for operations in West Africa, Libya, Somalia, Central Africa, Pakistan and the Sinai Peninsula as well as others in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

If the “Second Comeback” report is accurate then the ISIS insurgency has not only resumed, it has returned with more ambition and agility than before, and with a sharpened awareness of the value of information in insurgency warfare. ISIS is not only going global, it is also going digital. This internationally distributed, information-enabled, agile war of attrition seems highly likely to challenge the values and interests of western states and their allies. The significance is clear; the information domain is not merely another feature on the strategic landscape, it is an environment for which the West needs to act strategically – or it will fail.

Western governments and security institutions are grasping the War Cloud idea; positioning themselves to win and maintain the initiative in information operations. NATO allies, for example, have agreed to establish a new Cyberspace Operations Centre (CyOc), to be fully operational in 2023. According to NATO Review the CyOc will be the Alliance’s “theatre component for cyberspace … responsible for providing cyberspace situational awareness, centralised planning for the cyberspace aspects of Alliance operations and missions, and coordination for cyberspace operational concerns.” In other words, NATO is developing its own War Cloud.

Information can be a strategic asset if it is networked among like-minded governments and organisations, but a gaping strategic vulnerability if it is not. JEDI is vital, not only in the national security interest of the US but also to ensure that the West’s strategic information network is as coherent and decisive as it can be. For both reasons, the JEDI contracting process should be concluded as a matter of urgency.

Paul Cornish is an independent security and defence policy analyst. He is Visiting Professor at LSE IDEAS, the foreign policy think tank at the London School of Economics, and is a member of The Alphen Group.

Twitter: @pncornish | LinkedIn: pncornish