Note the consistent 4th domain theme of cybersecurity…:
As member nations gather to celebrate NATO’s 70th anniversary this week, POLITICO asked experts to forecast what the military alliance will look like 10 years from now.
How should it spend its growing resources? What new technologies are needed to counter Russian aggression? What threats must NATO prepare for that are not being discussed today?
Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
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Get ready for NATO 4.0
Retired Adm. James Stavridis is operating executive at the Carlyle Group. He is a former supreme allied commander of NATO.
If you think of NATO as a computer program, NATO 1.0 was the Cold War — two massive war machines on hair-trigger alert staring each other down across the Fulda gap in Europe. NATO 2.0 was very expansive and reflected the counterterrorism operations post-9/11 into Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Now we are in NATO 3.0, which has refocused on Europe and the threat of Russian adventurism as exemplified by their forays into Moldova, Georgia and above all Ukraine — not NATO members to be sure, but NATO partners.
I’d say NATO 4.0 in 10 years will continue to guard its members in Europe from Russian pressure, but will also be far more engaged on the borders of the alliance in the High North (Arctic); be vastly better at cybersecurity and offensive cyber capability as an alliance; and continue to address illegal migration and the movement of terror groups from the south.
While NATO might add another member or two (perhaps Georgia, Sweden or Finland) it will remain roughly the same size and composition.
NATO’s biggest long-term challenges are a diminishing appetite from the U.S. for security guarantees for Europe, as exemplified by U.S. President Donald Trump administration’s highly ambivalent attitude toward the alliance. This will be compounded by Brexit and the attendant centrifugal forces pulling at Europe, which will in turn undermine political unity — the true Achilles’ heel of an organization that operates on consensus. Finally, there will be downward pressure on defense budgets on both sides of the Atlantic as nations try to address social and infrastructure needs.
Priorities will be more on cyber, unmanned vehicles (from space to the bottom of the sea) and special forces. There will be a greater emphasis on maritime and less on land-warfare capabilities, unless Russian adventurism becomes particularly acute.
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Adapt to the new world order
Nathalie Tocci is director of Istituto Affair Internazionali and special adviser to European High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini.
NATO turns 70 at a time of profound global restructuring. The alliance was born in the heydays of U.S. hegemony, and became the beating heart of the security of the liberal global order.
That order is fast fading.
The world is moving into a more multipolar future, featuring a mix of competition, conflict and hopefully — but not necessarily — enduring cooperation. To adapt, NATO must fundamentally change.
Its most urgent task is to revise the “social contract” that underpins the alliance. For the last 70 years, that contract featured the U.S. shouldering the lion’s share of the defense burden in Europe. In return, Europeans broadly accepted to pursue their foreign policies in line with the U.S., even when — as was often the case in the Middle East — their interests did not coincide with Washington’s.
The end of the international liberal order as we know it means transatlantic cooperation will become even more vital than it is now. To maintain a healthy transatlantic bond Europe will have to take greater responsibility on defense — and Washington will have to have greater respect for the European quest for autonomy. It will be a long and bumpy ride, but a necessary one.
In a world in which illiberal, or at least non-liberal, powers will play a more salient role, Europeans and Americans will need to stand closer together to protect the liberal values underpinning their political and economic systems. In security terms, this will require an even stronger NATO in the 70 years to come.
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Keep transatlantic love alive
Ulrich Speck is a senior visiting fellow at the Berlin office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
To survive, NATO needs to ask itself a difficult question: What role will it play in the new global power struggle?
During the Cold War, NATO’s mission was to contain and deter Russia in Europe. It later became an instrument to facilitate the transformation of Central Europe and to integrate the region into the West; then it transformed into a platform for joint American-European military interventions in the Balkans and in Afghanistan. Since 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its attack on eastern Ukraine, NATO has turned back to its original mission: protecting European NATO territory against Russian aggression.
Now, in the face of significant changes to the global order, it needs to rethink its core mission once again.
The United States — though it’s likely to remain Europe’s most important partner on security — will be increasingly consumed by its competition with China. Russia, its nuclear competitor, will also stay high on Washington’s agenda. NATO will have to determine where it fits into this new power dynamic. Its most likely role will be to put old wine in new bottles, or keep doing what it can do best: keep Europe safe from Russian designs and prevent it from being blackmailed into submission by Moscow.
In doing so, the NATO’s biggest challenge will be to maintain a high degree of cohesion and cooperation with the U.S., and to withstand the centrifugal forces pushing Europe and America toward divorce. The alliance needs to make sure Washington doesn’t lose sight of the value of its alliance with Europe and that Europeans are ready to do their fair share by investing considerably into defense.
Both sides have a great deal to lose from a breakdown in relations: Without its first-rate allies in Europe, the U.S. would be much weaker, and without the U.S. nuclear umbrella, Europe wouldn’t be able to withstand Russian pressure and to keep its independence.
Only if they maintain a close relationship can NATO remain truly relevant.
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Balance the partnership
Alexander Vershbow is a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council. He was deputy secretary-general of NATO.
In terms of what NATO will look like, I think it will probably not have expanded any further, with the possible exception of Finland and Sweden going from partnership to membership. What I would like to see is the alliance become a more genuinely balanced partnership between the United States and Europe. Today the United States provides 70 to 80 percent of all key capabilities as well as spending a disproportionate amount of defense dollars.
I think as the U.S. shifts its focus increasingly toward countering China, Europe is going to need to backfill and take on much greater responsibility, including the defense of Europe against Russia.
The only actual live candidates to join the Alliance are Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ukraine and Georgia, which are special cases because of territory occupied by the Russians. I think after the addition of North Macedonia and Montenegro, there will probably be a pause in actual admissions. If Finland and Sweden decide they’re sufficiently threatened by Russia, they may decide to move from a very close partnership to actual membership.
In terms of spending, there’s a long list of capabilities where the United States is providing the lion’s share these days — airlift, transport aircraft, air-to-air refueling tankers, intelligence, surveillance and drones.
Over the next decade, Europe should set what NATO calls a “higher level of ambition.”
The challenge to getting there is making the case to the public that defense spending still matters. Many countries are still worried about terrorism or illegal migration. These are the immediate challenges that worry the southern flank: the Spanish, Italians, Greeks and French.
NATO has partnerships with countries south of Europe, such as the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperative Initiative. So I would hope in the next 10 years NATO will get more serious about its southern neighborhood at a level comparable to the eastern flank with Russia.
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Reinforce weak spots
George Robertson is a British Labour Party politician who served as the 10th secretary-general of NATO from 1999 to 2004.
When it comes to NATO’s future, we — the alliance’s members — are our own greatest challenge. If we don’t take seriously our own safety, we’ll be endangering all that has been achieved in the last 70 years.
NATO today has considerable firepower. The reason it has survived longer than any other defense alliance in history is that it has put values — like free speech and a free press, the rule of law and an independent judiciary, the separation of church and state, and above all else a tolerance of contrary opinions — at the core of its mission. These are our towering strengths, and they must be protected.
We’re entering a time of great geopolitical change and cannot afford to become complacent. The alliance needs to do more to deliver on promises made and share burdens equitably. Although NATO is powerful and its deterrence forces are credible, we also have weak spots that our adversaries know how to exploit. They seek to interfere in elections, dominate online platforms, exploit corruption, and feed global organized crime networks. Battle tanks and missiles are no defense against online interference and targeted infrastructure attacks.
To face these challenges, we need to dedicate more resources to ramping up intelligence. We need to be agile with informing and educating our populations and countering online mischief. We need to reinforce the defenses of our democratic institutions.
U.S. President Donald Trump has shattered the illusion that Washington will always be there to secure Europe. And while he should remind himself that 70 years of NATO have been one of America’s best investments, his attitude has had a silver lining: It has galvanized Europeans into spending more on defense. As we enter into the next decades of the alliance, we also need to make sure we’re spending our money the right way.
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Invest in space and cyber
Julianne Smith is a Weizsäcker Fellow at the Bosch Academy in Berlin and a former deputy national security adviser to former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
Over the past few years, NATO has rightly focused on ensuring it is ready to counter external threats and seamlessly move forces across the Atlantic and the European continent. Looking to the future, the alliance needs to turn its attention to strengthening its capabilities in new areas, such as cyber and space.
The alliance has made major strides to ensure that NATO headquarters and its accompanying commands are protected from cyber threats. The picture among individual NATO allies, however, is far less encouraging. Too many countries continue to lack defensive and offensive cyber capabilities, and too few allies are taking the necessary steps to reduce their vulnerabilities at home.
When it comes to space, member countries rely heavily on satellites for intelligence, navigation and surveillance on NATO missions in places like Afghanistan. Our adversaries know this and are building weapons to target those satellites. NATO needs a 21st-century space policy that acknowledges the importance of space and outlines ways in which the alliance can reduce its vulnerabilities there. It also needs to determine if space should be added to the existing list of NATO domains, which include land, sea, air and cyber.
NATO will also have to spend more time talking about China. Given the massive investments China is making in artificial intelligence, its acquisitions of European advanced technologies, and its many investments in European infrastructure, the alliance can no longer afford to keep its head in the sand.
To ready itself for the challenges ahead, NATO urgently needs to share information on what China is doing in and around Europe, look into potential points of leverage within the transatlantic community and discuss how NATO can respond to potential future threats from Chinese investment.
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Lock in gains
Camille Gand is assistant secretary-general for defense investment at NATO.
Today, NATO faces the most unpredictable security situation in many years: with Russia destabilizing large parts of Europe; instability across the Alliance’s Southern flank feeding terrorism; and new cyber and hybrid threats. Since 2014, we have been engaged in an ambitious transformation to make sure NATO addresses these threats.
The defense spending trend has been reversed, with an additional $100 billion invested in defense in the 2016-2020 period. This has started to address the critical issue of burden-sharing across the Atlantic and movement toward the alliance’s 2 percent spending target. It will also greatly enhance our ability to preserve, for the next 10 years and beyond, NATO’s position as the single most important contributor to security, stability and peace for almost 1 billion citizens in Europe and North America.
The alliance’s acquisition of core capabilities that address shortfalls and enhance our readiness has also put us on the right track to address future challenges. NATO has renewed its focus on interoperability requirements, complemented by a strategy of long-term investment in cutting-edge technology.
NATO’s relevance in 10 years will rely on its ability to continue to react, adapt, modernize and reflect the common interests of the allies. Our investment in the transatlantic bond will also be key to our future success. Like any relationship, it needs nurturing and it is evolving. We must never take the mutual benefits for granted.
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Protect critical infrastructure
Tomáš Valášek is director or think tank Carnegie Europe.
To strengthen NATO for the next decade, don’t start with the militaries — they’re already reasonably strong. Military investments will come to naught if, in times of crises, our governments can be blackmailed and paralyzed by cyberattacks. The alliance’s most pressing challenge lies in securing its member countries’ critical IT networks.
The increasing interconnectedness of the critical civilian networks that manage trains, hospitals and utilities is our greatest vulnerability. Our adversaries would be foolish to hit us where we are relatively strong. Instead, they will take the path of least resistance: disrupting the provision of life-saving care to patients in hospitals; turning off electricity and heating; and sowing chaos on the roads and rails via cyberattacks.
By crippling our critical networks, our adversaries’ goal is to divide NATO from within. Even Russia knows it would struggle against the combined forces of the 29. What it seeks to do instead is to put pressure on allied capitals and test their willingness to come to one another’s aid.
This trap is not particularly difficult to escape but the solution requires time, focus and money. Managers of critical IT services should face penalties for failing to properly secure them. The insurance companies should insist on higher internet security standards. Governments should pay for the (mostly private) managers of a country’s most important networks to have access to the best IT expertise and assistance. This will cost money — and most of it will come, presumably, from outside governments’ defense budgets.
This is not an argument against raising defense budgets. NATO allies still fall short on many important military capabilities, including the means to destroy adversaries’ air defenses. The alliance needs to make both issues — securing critical infrastructure and increasing national defense spending — equal priorities.
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Address the rise of China
Sophia Besch is a research fellow at The Centre for European Reform in Berlin.
If NATO is to survive the coming decade it has to adapt to two big trends that are redrawing the transatlantic relationship.
The first is Europe’s push to become more militarily self-sufficient. Washington wants Europe to look after itself, invest in its territorial defense capabilities vis-à-vis Russia and take on more responsibility for its neighborhood in the Middle East and North Africa. But it is also wary of Europe’s drive for “strategic autonomy” as it might mean Europeans buying less American military kits.
To help reassure the U.S., Europeans need to clearly demonstrate how the EU’s military initiatives can increase defense spending and serve NATO interests. Americans, in turn, should accept that their demands for more equal burden-sharing will inevitably mean greater European independence.
The second trend is an increasing American preoccupation with the rise of China as an economic, political and military rival, which is reshaping how it views NATO and the transatlantic alliance.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned in February that the U.S. will find it more difficult to “partner alongside” European allies that have procured Huawei telecommunications equipment. Some in Washington also want Europeans to support U.S. efforts to provide security and protect trade routes in regions such as southeast Asia. While most European allies have little to contribute militarily in the South China Sea, they do have an interest in protecting their political systems from Chinese influence.
If Europe and the U.S. clash on how to deal with Beijing, NATO will no doubt suffer. The alliance should actively guard against a transatlantic rift by becoming a forum for more detailed exchanges on how to address the challenge of an increasingly powerful China.