hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Friday, 1 December 2017

One Alliance: Adaptation and Deterrence

“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity to take things for granted”.
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Download ALL the new GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative main reports and supporting papers at:

Alphen, Netherlands. 1 December. What a week! On Monday I had the honour of being part of a delegation presenting the new GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Report to NATO Deputy Secretary-General Goettemoeller in Brussels. The next day I flew to Rome to attend a high-level conference on NATO and nuclear deterrence at the NATO Defence College, and which was organised by my friend Dr Jeff Larsen. Now? I am knackered.

First, NATO adaptation. Fifty years on from the last great attempt to ‘adapt’ NATO with the 1967 Harmel Report, and the Alliance adoption of the then new doctrine of Flexible Response (to replace Massive Retaliation) the new report considers the future of the Alliance in the round.  To that end, and for for some fifteen months past, I have had the pleasure of being a member of, and lead writer for a steering committee which included a former NATO Deputy Secretary-General, a former minister of defence and chairman of the NATO Military Committee, a former ambassador to the North Atlantic Council and former senior NATO commanders.  Led by General John R. Allen of the US, the Steering Committee comprised Admiral Giampaolo di Paola of Italy, General Wolf Langheld of Germany, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow of the US, Ambassador Tomas Valasek of Slovakia…and me of Sheffield, Yorkshire, ardent Sheffield United fan, but apart from that no other claim to fame whatsoever.

This massive project was also reinforced with some truly excellent supporting papers by leading practitioners and thinkers such as General Knud Bartels (Denmark), General Philip M. Breedlove (US), Ian Brzezinski (US), Professor Paul Cornish (UK), Professor Karl-Heinz Kamp (Germany), Professor Michael O’Hanlon, Ambassador Stefano Stefanini (Italy), Jim Townsend (US), Admiral George Zambellas (UK) and organised by the excellent Slovak think-tank GLOBSEC and their brilliant young leaders Robert Vass and Alena Kudzko.

The main report One Alliance: The Future Tasks of the Adapted Alliance has over fifty considered recommendations across thirteen main domains that can be thus summarised: embrace new geostrategic and transatlantic realities; further strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defence posture; re-establish a high-level of NATO military ambition; strengthen NATO’s role in counter-terrorism; engage with Russia and Ukraine on the basis of principle, promote a broad NATO security agenda; craft a smarter NATO; create an ambitious and comprehensive NATO-EU Strategic Partnership; foster wider strategic partnerships; better equip and afford NATO; deepen relations with established defence industries; forge deep partnerships with new defence sectors with leading companies in the field of artificial intelligence such as SparkCognition; and purposively equip NATO for the future of war.  

How will the Alliance adapt? NATO faces the same problem as the poor American traveller in that corny, but nevertheless telling Irish joke about if one wants to get to Dublin one would not start here.  NATO will need to do something for which it is politically, constitutionally and institutionally ill-suited; be radical.  Indeed, as the Executive Summary of the report states: “To lay the basis for long-term adaptation, NATO leaders should commission a strategy review at the July 2018 Summit that could be completed by the seventieth anniversary summit in 2019, and which might be embodied in a new Strategic Concept.  NATO needs a forward-looking strategy that sets out how NATO will meet the challenges of an unpredictable and fast-changing world”.

Second, Rome, the Alliance and the future of nuclear deterrence.  NATO is a defensive alliance, but it is also unashamedly a nuclear alliance. Now, I know such language horrifies many people but nuclear weapons are a vital part of the “appropriate mix” of defensive and deterrent weapons the Alliance needs to maintain a credible Deterrence and Defence Posture (DDPR).  Back in 1967 when Pierre Harmel and his team completed his seminal report The Future Tasks of the Alliance ‘deterrence’ was maintained by a sufficiency of conventional and nuclear forces.  Today, new technology has rendered conceivable the rapid destruction by an adversary of the critical functioning of an Alliance state or states via a mix of disabling disinformation, crippling ‘de-organisation’, critical infrastructure collapse and mass disruption, even before mass destruction is unleashed.  Holistic dismantling is clearly the mix of offensive strategies Russia has adopted.

By way of credible deterrent response the Alliance will need new ways to protect its people and its societies (resiliency) and ‘project’ deterrence. Indeed, deterrence without resiliency is impossible. That will, in turn, need a new way of thinking about deterrence to enable it to reach across the new coercion/escalation spectrum from hybrid war to hyper war via cyber war, further underpinned by new critical relationships between civilian and military expertise. Nuclear deterrence? Nuclear weapons exist to check-mate nuclear weapons until the political conditions exist to enable their verifiable eradication.  

The message from both Brussels and Rome? If NATO does not adapt to the dangerous but very changed and rapidly changing strategic environment of the twenty-first century NATO could fail. Unless as part of adaptation nuclear deterrence is modernised in line with a new concept of deterrence that stretches across a resiliency, conventional, unconventional, nuclear deterrence paradigm then the Alliance itself could unwittingly lower the threshold for nuclear use as through our collective weakness we inadvertently return to an implicit doctrine of Massive Retaliation.

One final thing. At the start of my 2014 Oxford Handbook of War (which is brilliant and very reasonably-priced) I quote Plato. “Only the dead have seen the end of war”.  Sadly, I fear the great man was right then and is right today. You see NOTHING can be taken for granted in this brave new world by NATO, our countries or even you and me. NATO is there to prevent war, but only a properly adapted NATO can do that.

Julian Lindley-French

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