Supporting Paper of the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative

By General (Ret.d) John Allen, General (Ret.d) Philip M. Breedlove, Professor Dr Julian Lindley-French, & Admiral (Ret.d) George Zambellas

Abstract

This is a paper about NATO strategy in future war. It is built around two scenarios: one in which the Alliance is defeated because it did not prepare for future war; and another in which the Alliance prevails because it did. The paper calls for the crafting of a NATO Future War Strategy (and Strategic Concept) that would convince Moscow that under absolutely no circumstances would the threshold to war be so low as to make it imaginable, let alone winnable.  Or, that the threat of such a war would force the Alliance and its nations to accept unacceptable compromises over either sovereignty or security.

Future war will see an adversary seek to destroy the ability of the Alliance and its nations both to protect people and to project power and influence in pursuit of sound defence. Future war will thus be part of a grand asymmetric strategy by enemies to offset Allied strengths. Attacks on Alliance societies will take place at the seams between peoples, their beliefs, and their states, to keep NATO strategically, politically, and militarily off-balance.  Traditional military platforms, systems, technologies, and strategies, allied to new and accelerating technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and beyond, will be used in an effort to achieve decisive strategic aims quickly.

A NATO Future War Strategic Concept must be crafted to quickly establish a credible twenty-first century deterrence and defence, and forge the intelligent use of hard power with the smart use of technologies and influence across the conflict spectrum. Article 5 operations will need new ways to understand when an attack is underway and to establish rapid action, cyber-defence & offence, hybrid defence & offence, allied to the strengthening of societal resilience to address the attack. The Alliance must be able and willing to meet the force-on-force challenge from Russia and other adversaries. NATO is behind the twenty-first century future war curve, and adaptation must help that Alliance correct that.

Introduction

This paper is about NATO strategy in future war, and the fast-changing relationship between strategy and technology in warfare. Twenty-first century war will be a war fought with autonomous systems, in which mass disruption by an enemy could be the harbinger of mass destruction. How would NATO defend against such an enemy, and how would the Alliance fight and win such a war? The paper considers the interaction of Allied strategy with fast-emerging technologies, and the extent to which the former must adapt to the latter if collective Alliance deterrence and defence are to remain credible.

This paper calls for a new NATO Strategic Concept to address the challenges of future war. Several adversaries are engaged in preparing for future war, as is the United States. However, central to this paper is Russian thinking on future war.  This is because Moscow has undertaken a systematic analysis of how an ostensibly weaker, but unitary actor, could exert influence over the far stronger, but far more divided, set of actors that is the NATO alliance.  To that end, the paper rest on two scenarios: one in which the Alliance is defeated because it did not prepare for future war; and another scenario, at the end of the paper, in which the Alliance is victorious because it did.

The paper also considers Russian future war strategy as a case study in evolving strategic threat. The paper concludes with NATO’s response, and the new balance the Alliance, its nations, and its partners must strike if they are to successfully protect vulnerable, open societies, and project the future warfighting power that will be vital to the maintenance of credible Alliance deterrence and defence.

The very idea of future war is controversial and must be acknowledged as such. Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman writes, “The idea that societies, and their associated military systems might be comprehended as complex systems encouraged the view, reflected in the perplexing searches for enemy centres of gravity that hitting an enemy system in exactly the right place would cause it to crumble quickly, as the impact would reverberate and affect all the interconnected parts”. [3] In almost all imaginable circumstances NATO would not crumble and would respond. However, evidence from stated Russian strategy, and its military posture would suggest that President Putin, and some around him, actually believe a combination of Russian strengths and Western vulnerabilities might indeed afford Moscow such a ‘decisive moment’.  Or, at least, believe some strategic benefits might accrue to Russia, given that such thinking is now central to Russian grand and military strategy. Russia is already working on a range of strategies that support its belief that Moscow could benefit from what it calls “controlled chaos”, in the event of a struggle with the West, that engages a range of media, technology and military assets to achieve strategic and political objectives.[4]

At best, the search for an accommodation with Russia must now be reinforced by the need to again consider the worst case. Whilst the West has undoubtedly made mistakes in its dealings with Russia, responsibility for this shift in Russian strategy and its aggressive posture must lie firmly with Moscow.  Therefore, this paper is ultimately devoted to a NATO Future War Strategy that would convince Moscow that under absolutely no circumstances would the threshold to war be so low as to make it imaginable, let alone winnable, or that the threat of such a war would force the Alliance and its nations to accept unacceptable compromises over either sovereignty or security.

Core Message

The core message of this paper is thus: NATO needs a new Future War Strategic Concept if the Alliance and its nations are to maintain credible deterrence and defence in the twenty-first century. Specifically, NATO will need to have a far more holistic understanding of the relationship between protection of citizens and the projection of power and influence, in all its many forms.  The Internet of Things, allied to emerging technologies with wide-ranging military applications, such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and the systems-driving algorithms it creates, make it increasingly possible for ostensibly far weaker powers, such as Russia, possibly in tandem with criminal and Islamist groups, to cause damage to Western societies out of all proportion to their size and capabilities. Such technologies will (and must) profoundly affect Allied security and defence policies and strategies, which are the focus of this paper.

You can download the full paper Future War NATO? From Hybrid War to Hyper war via Cyber War here.

 

 

[1] See, “’Whoever leads in AI will rule the world’, Putin to Russian children on Knowledge Day”. RT, 1 September, 2017. (N.B. This source can be relied upon when quoting the Russian President.) https://www.rt.com/news/401731-ai-rule-world-putin/

[2] Cornish P. & Donaldson K. (2017) “World of War 2020” (London: Hodder & Stoughton) p.2

[3] Freedman, L. (2013) “Strategy: A History” (Oxford: Oxford University Press) p. 239

[4] Gudrun Persson in a March 2017 article for the NATO Defence College critiquing a 2017 book, “The War of the Future: A Conceptual Framework and Practical Conclusions: Essays on Strategic Thought” by Igor Popov and Musa Khamzatov, that critiques Russian thinking and cites writes, “A particularly topical subject in Russian military strategic thinking in recent years concerns the view on soft power and so-called ‘controlled chaos or manageable chaos…recent conflicts demonstrate that ‘peaceful demonstrations, anti-regime demonstrations, and in some cases foreign military intervention turning entire countries and regions into a state of controlled chaos can now be called a new type of contemporary warfare”. See Persson G. (2017) a critique of “The War of the Future: A Conceptual Framework and Practical Conclusions: Essays on Strategic Thought” by Igor Popov and Musa Khamzatov, (Rome: NATO Defence College) pps.5-6.