Working Group 5: Strategy and Policy
Chair: Jim Townsend (US), former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Eurasian Affairs and CNAS (TAG)
Co-Chair/Rapporteur: Dr Robert Grant, Programme Director, Wilton Park
The Strategy and Policy Working Group will discuss how foreseeable threats, challenges, and scenarios of 2035 and the changing character of war (based on defence and security implications of emerging and disruptive technologies) will affect NATO and EU security and defence strategy and policy. What might future NATO and EU membership look like? What changes in NATO and EU roles, responsibilities and instruments of power are conceivable, desirable to achieve the most effective outcomes for integrated deterrence, security and defence, crisis prevention and response, resilience? What areas of NATO and EU cooperation are likely to improve or deteriorate and how best to achieve synergy? What challenges will NATO and EU face in the case of a major U.S. engagement in another theatre, and how best might allies and EU member states prepare for such a scenario? What new roles might NATO partners play in Alliance security and defence? What new security structures are needed for European security and defence and regional stability in Europe’s periphery? How NATO and EU plan should, prepare, compete, respond, fight and win? What changes may be needed to NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept and existing NATO defence policies or EU’s Strategic Compass and European Security and Defence Policy?
Hanna Shelest (Ukraine), Programme Director, Ukrainian PRISM (TAG)
Heather Venable (US), Associate Professor of Military and Security Studies, Department of Air Power, Air University
Rainer Meyer zum Felde (Germany), Kiel Institute of Security Policy (TAG)
Slawomir Debski (Poland), Director, Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) (TAG)
Ilmars Lejins (Latvia), Deputy Director, NATO IMS P&C
Vincenzo Camporini (Italy), Scientific Advisor, Institute of International Affairs (IAI), Rome, Italy
NATO Adaptation in the next decade: the transition from NATO 2.0 in 1990 to NATO 4.0 in 2035
With the end of the Cold War, NATO was faced with re-inventing itself from a wartime alliance to one that was more political than military and focused on creating a Europe “whole, free and at peace.” The Soviet Union was no more, leaving NATO without an obvious threat but with an identity crisis. It had to adapt to peacetime which it did; NATO 2.0 enlarged, militarily became smaller, and focused on going out of area. The hopes of the 1990s faded as an aggressive and revanchist Vladimir Putin set out to reassemble the Soviet empire by invading Georgia n 2008 followed by Ukraine in 2014. At NATO’s 2022 Summit in Madrid, NATO had to again adapted itself to a new geopolitical reality and became NATO 3.0, one of rebuilding its force structure in Europe to deter an aggressive Russia and face war already breaking out in Europe. Today, NATO 3.0 is rebuilding territorial defence in Europe.
By 2035, there well could be a NATO 4.0 adaptation, shaped not just by geopolitical change but a revolution in military technology beginning in this decade that changes the very character of warfare. There is also the possibility that instead of a NATO 4.0 driving military technology in 2035, NATO will remain at the outdated version 3.0 because the Allies did not move fast enough to stay on the leading edge of technology. NATO’s adversaries may have made a different decision.
NATO in 2035 could see the US still in a leadership role but with reduced engagement in NATO, for political reason or because the US is engaged in another theatre, like the Indo-Pacific. If current defence spending trajectories hold, the European pillar at NATO, including Ukraine, may have the capability and willingness to take on more responsibility and fill gaps left by US forces being used elsewhere. But filling those gaps seamlessly will be critical, as the Russian threat to European stability will likely have increased. By 2035, a seething Russia could be in the middle of rebuilding a more professional and capable military guided by lessons from the war in Ukraine, including incorporating modern military technology. A hostile China will likely be seen by NATO as more of a threat than it does today, continuing unabated its military build-up and harnessing new military technology.
NATO in 2035: Does it adapt to 4.0 or remain mired in 3.0?
Given the geopolitics in the years to come driven by threats from Russia and China, NATO and EU security and defence strategy will have gone through multiple adaptations by 2035. At least one and perhaps two new NATO Strategic Concepts will likely have been drafted by then as well as a new EU Strategic Compass. Changes to NATO and EU policy and the resulting staff reorganizations at NATO HQ will likely take place frequently as NATO adapts to the changing strategic environment. Fast-paced technological breakthroughs will also drive changes to NATO/EU strategy as the institutions struggle to stay on top of technological surprise and adapt to its impact on the character of war.
Most importantly, for the first time in 40 years NATO has developed robust regional defence plans all along the frontier with Russia with specific operational deployment objectives and capability requirements for individual allies; NATO has also enlarged its ready forces to 300,000, both are major undertakings. The implications for NATO itself and for individual Allies from these plans are profound, the implications being that the character of warfare has changed since the end of the Cold War and days of counter-terrorism and “out of area or out of business. As 2035 gets closer, Allies will need to retool themselves for a fight on the continent unlike any they have experienced before due to the changes in warfare. In the run-up to 2035, NATO will need to collect and propagate to Allies lessons learned from the Ukraine war (as well as Gaza/Israel war) and push allies to incorporate them through the defence planning process. Many of these lessons will centre on advances in military technology. The NATO defence planning process may have to be retooled as well to ensure capability goals incorporate advances in tech and motivate allies not to fall back on legacy systems.
Ensuring NATO stays on the leading edge of technological change and can adapt at the speed of relevance will become a top priority and will test the political skills of Alliance leadership to ensure Allies and EU members pay the price to invest in changes in hi-tech warfare and not fall victim to obsolescence and legacy thinking.
By 2035, a NATO version 4.0 should emerge, consolidating adaptations since 2023 and dedicated to mastering the revolution in military technology which will dominate warfare in the coming decades. To master the revolution in warfare in 2035, NATO will need not only to continue promising work already started at NATO to harness hi-tech but to raise the profile of tech in NATO’s culture — especially the priority in NATO capitals, where adaptations must take place. The following describes how foreseeable threats, challenges, and scenarios of 2035 and the changing character of war (based on defence and security implications of emerging and disruptive technologies) will affect NATO and EU security and defence strategy and policy by 2035.
Changes to NATO/EU strategy and policy resulting from the threat environment and the revolution in military technology.
- Changes to the Strategic Concept and NATO HQ staff structure
NATO’s defence strategy as laid out in its Strategic Concept will likely be impacted in the years to come as NATO leadership give additional guidance to NATO authorities about adaptation they feel is needed to keep abreast of changes in tech. It should be stressed that NATO today is already focused on the impact of tech advances on the character of warfare. However, in the years to come as the pace of tech accelerates (and is influenced by conflict such as those in Ukraine and Gaza), NATO may have to be more nimble in adjusting to change and more insistent that Allies keep up. To do this, NATO will need to play the leading role in the transatlantic community to make sure Allies are not just keeping up with technological change but are incorporating breakthroughs in new military procurement or in their legacy systems. NATO will have to ensure interoperability is not derailed as some Allies incorporate tech innovations (especially in communications) and some do not. NATO defence planning will be critical in the effort to develop and assign capability goals that move Allies forward on using tech and countering tech advances by adversaries.
To increase the visibility and meet the urgency of helping Allies deal with the revolution in warfare, NATO should consider adding to the Strategic Concept a fourth core task of maintaining NATO and the Allies on the cutting edge of technological change in warfare. The suggestion of adding a fourth core task is not taken lightly; adding a new core task is difficult and tasks are focused on meeting types of threats, not military capabilities. But the potential for breakthrough advances in tech that quickly provide an overwhelming superiority to an adversary is a threat NATO cannot let happen. The potential for swift advances by an adversary in military technology to threaten the Alliance in multifaceted ways puts maintaining superiority in technology into a special category of military capability all its own, alongside conventional and nuclear capability. Tech is no longer just an enabler for the other two warfare areas but should be considered a warfare domain in and of itself. To be dominant and master tech warfare will be an all-encompassing task reaching into every area of NATO, and so needs to have the political visibility and punch of a core task of the Alliance, signalling the importance NATO gives of dominating the tech space.
In the years leading up to 2035, NATO will likely undergo further reorganizations of staff to address various aspects of the tech revolution, including planning and training. Pulling together and making more coherent the various strands of tech work already taking place at NATO will be important, as will be NATO working more closely with the private sector and civil society. Giving the fourth core task its own Assistant Secretary General (ASG) for technology that can provide a single focus of leadership is essential; giving bureaucratic punch to an ASG at NATO HQ also signals to Allies the importance NATO gives to keeping pace with technological change as well as giving weight to the issue in NATO bureaucratic politics.
- Changes to NATO and EU membership
NATO and EU membership will also be impacted by technological change. In the 1990s, NATO enlargement was geographically focused on bringing on members who could help create a NATO “whole, free and at peace.” NATO and EU membership was also the carrot used to motivate the new European democracies to make sometimes painful changes to how they govern before they could be considered candidates for membership. In the years leading to 2035, NATO and EU enlargement should be approached from a different angle. Are there candidates whose strengths may be new thinking and capability in the tech revolution? For instance, Ukraine is more competent in drone warfare and other aspects of the tech revolution on the battlefield than any Allied nation including the US. That alone should be taken into consideration when looking at Ukraine or other candidates for membership. Additionally, by 2035 launching satellites and building drones will not be the province solely of a few nations; many others will be able to bring such capability to the battlefield, thereby bringing the value to NATO of candidates in 2035 not obvious today.
The Partnership for Peace should be retooled to create special categories of Partners who excel in tech, such as those nations in the Indo-Pacific like India, who are not necessarily interested in NATO membership or even political partnership but in a “business relationship” with NATO where both parties can find value in working together on tech. A closer partnership based on working together on military technology can become the pillar of the NATO relationship with older partners such as Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan. Such Partnership can play defence as well…keeping China out by keeping Indo-Pacific nations close to NATO and the EU.
A retooling of NATO partnerships based not just on geopolitics as in the past but on strategic interests like access to rare earths or technological capability important to NATO could look like three circles of partnerships:
- Traditional partners who are candidate members (Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova) and those who are not candidates but enhanced partners (Japan, Australia, S. Korea)
- Partners key to stability in Europe’s periphery (MENA, Caucuses)
- Partners with whom NATO has strategic interests and could form a business relationship (India, partners in SE Asia, Africa and Latin America).
- New roles for NATO and the EU in 2035
A “European pillar” at NATO has always been politically present at NATO, especially after the end of the Cold War as the EU raised its ambition to become a major global power. By 2035, the European role will have (slowly) progressed along this trajectory; a strong European pillar at NATO by 2035 should include Europeans taking defence more seriously, with the core of the European pillar residing within EU but with defence and security representation in NATO. Especially if the US presence/engagement in NATO lessens, it may make sense to enlarge the European pillar at NATO by 2035 to include the UK, Canada and Norway.
As the EU changes, the way NATO engages with it should change. Closer NATO and EU cooperation on handling the tech revolution, including with the private sector, will be essential if the West is to keep pace with change. The tech revolution is driven less by government or by military requirements than by competition in the private sector, which in Europe is anchored in the EU. It will be the US and the EU, not NATO, that will regulate and legislate limitations on tech, setting rules that govern how high tech is used by the military regardless of what adversaries may be doing. The EU must have a better understanding of NATO military requirements and can help disabuse negative views about tech’s impact on warfare shaped more by ignorance and disinformation than on how the military would integrate and use hi-tech. The EU can also be a leader in helping European tech industry add value to military applications of hi-tech. Ignorance in both NATO and the EU about hi tech and the military, as well as each not appreciating the responsibilities the other has in protecting the public, will cause ill will and hostility in both institutions against each other that could cause a deterioration in the effectiveness of both institutions of managing the tech revolution.
In addition to roles that build an offensive tech position for both NATO and the EU, there is a defensive game for both as well. Both institutions will have roles, new for NATO, to ensure tech advances in the West do not bleed over into China or Russia. We can use tech to show us where the West is vulnerable to tech leaks and where the tech areas are located that both adversaries are trying to exploit. Such a role is not new to the EU but it is to NATO, NATO’s role should be to provide military advice to the EU to help them build a regulatory wall to stop poaching by Russia and China without doing harm to the tech industry in the West.
- Strengthening NATO – EU cooperation by 2035
Security and defence cooperation between NATO and the EU has grown, initially in fits and starts, each year since the 1998 St. Malo agreement between the UK and France that set the EU ambition to build a military capability. This cooperation was difficult to build because of European and transatlantic politics revolving around differing visions for the EU, particularly in the defence area. Greek-Turkish tensions over Cyprus also limited cooperation. Because of that conflict, Turkey has blocked any form of official cooperation between the EU and NATO. However, they have not vetoed informal staff cooperation. Turkish obstruction of formal NATO-EU cooperation will likely continue even to 2035, given the inability of both sides to find a solution to the Cyprus conflict. Therefore, closer formal ties between NATO-EU to ensure cooperation on military high tech to meet challenges in 2035 will not be likely.
However, this should not stop both institutions from intensifying informal cooperation on military technology in the years leading to 2035. NATO has tended to work on military tech in parallel, rather than in cooperation with, the EU. However, with the revolution in military technology threatening to quickly overwhelm the character of warfare, both institutions should try to break from past patterns and begin joint, or at least coordinated work on military technology, both to better protect breakthroughs in military technology from leaking to China and Russia and to ensure Allies and EU members are incorporating advances in technology in their defence industries and in their militaries.
To help do this, an informal, senior-level NATO-EU coordinating committee on the revolution in military technology should be formed to focus on the rules and regulations the EU (and the US) may be putting on how tech is used by the military and how this will impact NATO’s ability to deter an adversary who is not equally as constrained. At the EU, a “Commissar” responsible for tech and answerable to the EU Commission should take charge of military technological development in the EU, with an emphasis on dual use and coordination and interaction with NATO. The NATO-EU committee could also form a closer working relationship with the private sector and civil society.
NATO can inform allies and EU members on defence technology it thinks needs to be protected from leaking to China and Russia. Similarly, NATO can inform EU regulators about high tech breakthroughs that NATO Allies need to be able to access and so should not be kept from military use. This committee could also act as a clearinghouse, informing both sides of advances being made in tech and facilitating US-European industrial cooperation on tech, including coordinating NATO work on Diana with similar EU work in the European Defence Agency and in the PESCO process.
In some ways these EU and NATO approaches to tech are “apples and oranges” given the different defence and security ambitions of both institutions and the differing roles both institutions see themselves playing when it comes to tech. This coordinating committee has to work through these differences to find ways to keep NATO on the leading edge of tech while not running afoul of EU regulations that try to keep the harmful aspects of the tech revolution from impacting society. Already existing committees could be revamped and better optimised to become a coordinating committee: for example, NATO and EU already have weekly consultation on cyber; this group could be reorganized to address not just cyber but coordination on tech as well.
NATO/EU cooperation on military tech issues was non-existent a decade ago. If coordination can stay on an upward trajectory, 2035 should see a closer and more productive relationship between NATO and the EU, with NATO able to meet its requirements within an EU regulatory framework that also prevents tech leakage to China or Russia. Either EU and NATO will step on each other’s toes in the run-up to 2035 or will make progress by working together.
- NATO challenges backfilling for US forces in Europe if they are deployed to another theatre
Advances in technology can help NATO Allies deal with the capability gaps they could face in 2035 should the US be engaged elsewhere in another theatre, but only if Allies keep pace with technological change. For example, should the US reduce ISR assets in Europe, or satellite bandwidth, Allies could fill the gap with their own UAV or space capability. But if Allies fall behind the tech race and by 2035 Russia has recapitalized and modernized its forces using lessons learned from the Ukraine war, Allied deterrence could be at risk.
- What new security structures are needed for European security and defence and regional stability in Europe’s periphery?
The proliferation of security structures developed after the end of World War II has made the creation today of new additional structures no longer considered solutions to problems but sometimes part of the problem. For decades, Europe’s periphery, encompassing the Caucuses, the Middle East and North Africa, have been the source of instability causing the movement of peoples towards Europe, especially from the MENA. This movement of peoples has been caused by not just conflict but natural disasters, most recently drastic changes in weather conditions caused by climate change. Mass migration can bring with it terrorism and international criminal conduct, as well as humanity in desperate need for relief and the opportunity for a new life. The political conflict immigration has caused in Europe has helped to feed a new wave of extremism in European politics.
Creating new security structures between now and 2035 will not be a popular nor an appropriate response to restoring regional stability on Europe’s periphery. Making better use of existing structures such as the OSCE, the UN, the EU and the AU can be part of the solution, if nations in both Europe and in Africa/Middle East have the political will and resources to address the conflicts causing migration problems at its source. The problem is that by 2035 there likely will not be much change in political will or access to resources to address conflict in the periphery.
Addressing the root cause of these conflicts on the periphery of Europe is not considered a NATO project; NATO can help European Allies deal with the security implications of instability, but even then nations would rather address these issues domestically themselves, or work with the EU. But in 2035, NATO can help provide Allies and the EU with technological solutions to help them deal with instability on the periphery more efficiently than today. For instance, artificial intelligence can help pinpoint the source and causes for conflict in the future, predict where conflict may break out, or what environmental conditions may cause people to move north and where they may go. Political instability in the periphery may no longer come as a surprise as AI can predict where political stability is breaking down…or where a humanitarian crisis is beginning to brew, giving existing institutions early warning that stability is in peril thereby allowing an earlier response. Tracking migration, human trafficking and international crime will likely be more productive when aided by AI.