A couple of decades ago, one of the favourite phrases of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was “it’s a funny world”. It is true that we live in a very funny world today.
Couple of years ago, British academic, Tim Gartner Ashton said “If we could whip in a time capsule and go back to just 10 years ago, we would see how the world was massively different than today.” EU was opening up a wide range of optimism and economic prosperity in the world with ERASMUS training program. On the other hand, more countries were lining up to join the EU, NATO and Russia was trying to form a security partnership, even cooperating in places like Afghanistan. Indeed, when I worked with Madelene Albright, with a group of experts in 2010, on NATO’s new strategic concept, the biggest issue was what NATO is going to do in the future. There is peace in Europe, Balkans is quite peaceful, we are greatly going to the end of the ISAF, NATO mission in Afghanistan, things are looking better with Russia. One of the reasons we came up with the idea putting cyber, counter-terrorism, energy security in the new strategic concept was to give NATO a higher role in an increasingly peaceful world.
How quickly that has changed? Reminding that you can have sudden unpredictable, irretrievable change for the better just like in 1989, in equal, things can go opposite directions. When I look at the situation today, I often remember Edmund Burke, 18th century political scientist, philosophical commentator, who said; “Rage and frenzy will pull down more in half an hour than prudence, deliberation, and foresight can build up in a hundred years.” How true that is. Many political scientists describe the situation over the last four-five years, particularly since 2014, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its incursion in Eastern Ukraine, as a great deterioration. But we still don’t quite know how far we go before we hit the bottom, hopefully start climbing back up.
One of the problems is Shia-Sunni complexity, and the variety of the issues we confront with. For much of my NATO career, things would rather be simple. In 1980 one map of a war on the wall, with sort of a 60 km zone in the West Germany, was where the future of international conflict, future of this politicizations, the decision between peace and war will be played out. So, if you could plug the Fulda Gap, the rest of the world, at least the Transatlantic Community would remain relatively quiet. You could really boil macro cosmic bounce to the micro cosmic.
And that didn’t change very much. Because after the war calmed dawn, we had the micro Bosnia, and it was not just a question in Bosnia or stopping the conflict. Bosnia was the laboratory of great 21st century World War. Responsibility to protect, putting camps to back together again, relations between majorities and minorities in Europe, the definition of self-determination, the issues of European integration, international justice, NATO-EU Cooperation, all of these were going to be constructive.
If we had got it right in Bosnia, we would have a blueprint that we would apply to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. But it was one problem, in one place, at one time. As I said, it was all interesting sui-generis, but also micro-cosmic, where some big new principle of new international order, new world order, as George W. Bush put it, would be defined. Of course, that might not be very easy, all of us had to deal with those kinds of issues, we had lots of time to get intelligence, we had lots of time to decrease the troops or to increase the troops. We had plenty of time, so that the UN, EU could reach after. You knew a year before that you are expected to send battalions to Afghanistan, you had long time to canalize the rest of your forces to get where you wanted. There were no immediate blowback and consequences within security at home.
Now it is different, problems are at our doorsteps, and NATO for the first time in its history has the internal front in addition to East and South. In terms of being able to provide order, the priorities of the allies differ. There have been some allies obviously looking the eastern front as a priority. The UK looks to the Russian hybrid campaign against UK, which is crucial to its security. If you go across to Greece, Turkey and Portugal, what is going over Mediterranean is very important. The Russian flexible challenge comes across as much more hypothetical. If you try to get a common view on the priority of the threats, and try to get generosity, each ally would agree that “If you help me on my particular challenge, I will reciprocate and I will send to the conflict states to show you that I am investing in your challenge.”
How do we deal with first time ever with these three strategic fronts? If you succeed on two, but not three, for example if you deal with conventional challenges outside but not able to do with hybrid warfare type scenarios, if you pacified the East but the South remains bleeding, wounded, hardest groups, organised crime of human trafficking, refugees, we are not going to have a secure Europe during the 21st century.
So, what are the key issues that we have to place?
First thing is that there is no central axis defining world politics, no sort of a framework which basically structures international system. I remember the days when the US Presidents and Russian leaders complete immediately trade decisions, like Reagan and Gorbachev. On TV last night, I have seen the pictures of signing the INF Treaty, 1987, literally bringing the end of the Cold War, saying “now we are going to do de-escalation”. That doesn’t work anymore. We have too many inter-connected but at the same time disconnected problems.
For example, a couple of months ago, we were celebrating the triumph over ISIS in Rakka and Mousul, and Washinghton Post’s brilliant editor was saying, this is the great news, now let’s concentrate on 26 other conflicts going on in Syria and Iraq. Al-Qaida benefiting from having the pressure of it, in order to reconstitute and re-emerge significant force, and probably is this took myself in one, in order to get much attraction, on at the other. A couple of years ago, David Patreous, was to say, “We only Americans will solve this Middle East peace, between Israel, Palestinians and Arabs, that would attract so the Arab world, that would improve the America’s influence in the Middle East. There is unfortunately not a single conflict as during Cold War, although dangerous, also provides the key to a more stable world order.
The problem today is that the problems tend to ally each other extremely well and effectively. Bad guys honey each other out, such as cyber criminals in the internet and terrorists. Bad things get quickly inter-connected, into piracy, terrorism, organized crimes. But unfortunately, solutions don’t ally very effectively. Therefore, dealing with one issue doesn’t make it unfortunately go away. So, there is no central axis.
The second thing, there is a return to great power conflicts. Despite the hopes Donald Trump and EU to solve things with Russia through a few meetings or solve things out with President Xi-Chang of China, more personal factors than the objective factors seem to be driving the situation today. There are constraints coming off. A few years ago, great power rivalry was likely to start, new start can lapse to 2020-21. So far US has shown no willingness to recommit to extend that effort.
So not only the major powers now seem once again to compete with each other, in arms races or technological superiority of the investments, rather than a mutual understanding, but of course the danger we see in South China Sea or in the Black Sea or elsewhere is unconstrained by some kind of a crisis management system, could easily be linked to escalations.
Every zone is contested, every space is contested. So, we have no option but to compete in order to preserve access to our space. It is not by any surprise that greatest military issue in NATO is incapsulated by the formula ‘Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2AD)’. I am going to keep you out of this space, which is going to be mine. How we will do that, of course militarily as well as politically.
And finally, we are competing with ourselves. We are not only in competition with external actors, but increasingly in competition with internal actors. Maybe the internal debate even more crucial, even more vicious, even more destructive than the external one. Our internal divisions increasingly promote external challenges, external challenges promote internal divisions, populism, polarization, hybrid scenarios, they increasingly become difficult to manage. Therefore, we have to deal, for the first time, both for the internal and the external. It means that the centre of gravity of warfare is going from land borders to the mindset of our populations. What our people think? What they believe as truth? What stimulates their reactions? What authority they are prepared to follow? becomes as important for our security as the troops deployed on our borders. The functionality of our society becomes increasingly important.
The third issue is the security changes. When I was a young man, basically the security was paying taxes to the government, we spend them wisely and effectively, and security is providing. But it is not anymore. We now have the privatization of the security, as increasingly we see private companies. Not just private security companies like Blackwater, in Iraq. Eric Prince, who attended to Trump administration, is happy to privatize the conflict in Afghanistan. He believes that way US could win it faster. But it is not just private sector taking over the functions of the state. But it is also the fact that state can’t basically do it anymore by itself, therefore, it is you, city of Manchester, you have to prepare to deal with terrorist incidents, because, you are the main actor. The responsibility is on you, on citizens, acting in a responsible way you have a better assumption of risk. In the cyber area, we have this fascinating debate about who is liable, who is responsible. Is it the government ever regulated Microsoft, this is Microsoft not producing software, not thinking security, is it the individual not having insurance to cover security risk? We are talking about resilient citizens in the world today as much as we talk about resilient companies or resilient structures. So, the concept of the security and who is responsible for having it together is changing.
Finally, the smaller Western role in multilateralism. Multilateralism episode, as a value system and an ideology, was experienced by the EU across in the soft power era. A well-known EU diplomat Robert Cooper used to say “speak softly, carry a big carrot”, that was his definition of world widely EU foreign policy. That is very interesting, if you look for example UN Peacekeeping, back in 2013, China paid 3% of UN Peacekeeping, today 10,5 %, and China now provides over 7000 UN peacekeepers from the Peace and Liberation Army (PLA) in a broader region including in Africa and Middle East. On the human rights issues, China has become a dominant voice, while US left more than 35 UN resolutions of the Human Rights capital. Who is driving the multilateral process? It means much more complicated environment, where Chinese understanding of multilateralism is completely different than ours.
4 key tasks of Europe in dealing more dangerous and complex world.
I think that Europe has four key tasks in dealing with – maybe not necessarily – a more dangerous world, but increasingly a more complex world.
I think first thing is that Europe has to learn defending its sole militarily. Europe is no longer an unchallenged, unthreatened space. We certainly see the possibility that part of the EU militarily might be occupied. It is not beyond the imagination. So, the first challenge is how Europe should deal with this situation. Once again, it has to project hard power and defend its territory, defend its place, and be able to not only deter but also respond if that challenge takes place. The
US, notwithstanding some the rhetoric that we heard at the time of the recent NATO Summit, is committed to this. US is increasing its troops in Europe, increasing its budget and spending in European deterrence initiative, is building bases and infrastructure. But, on the other hand, there are some main issues. The first issue is if American commitment would be sufficient if we had a major challenge from Russia in terms of reinforcements and very small US permanent presence in Europe. Even if you keep NATO framework, it is quite clear, Europeans have to spend more on defence for a larger and much more efficient army.
But the other question is, if we see President Donald Trump not as an accident of history, but the harbinger of a longer- term policy of US with a smaller or even no commitment to Europe. Then how far should Europe today spend its time today to design some kind of alternative to the US, not in a kind of “all barrels and missiles, we don’t need you Americans any longer”. I wouldn’t advocate that for a minute, but in a sense, we need an improvement plan. We need to look those issues of having major operations such as Libya and Bosnia. What is the best time mode to do that? President Macron seems to be going two directions at the moment. One is the EU group with Germany, one is the whole more pragmatic European interventions with UK, Norway, non-EU countries, around a coalition of the willing of those countries who has an interventionist culture, willing to be a portion of planning of operations.
Second thing how do we promote a more effective response to the challenges of the South? We are not simply running the latest process of ISIS, Syria or Libya. The US is making big voices to EU stepping up in terms of pain for more reconstruction in Iraq. How do we have an effective burden share? What is the effective transatlantic EU policy built in more systematic way? Would you go it more in Middle East or would you jump over the Middle East or more in Africa? How should the governance be in Africa, given the demographics, the climate change and the bulk of the migrants where they are coming from.
Third issue is hybrid warfare. How do we deal with the vulnerabilities coming from being highly tech, highly connected, integrated, globalized and democratic societies and economies? The advantage also makes us highly manipulable and highly vulnerable. What is resilience in terms of infrastructure? So how do we have a better sense of classifing these sorts of acts? EU had an interesting cyber exercise last year in Estonia, where they looked to response to the cyber- attacks. While some ministers classify these acts as Article 5, some don’t want to get into a war when nobody got killed. So how do we come to a greater understanding on this centre of gravity? The attribution makes the problem more complex. What is required in terms of attributions? Thirdly, the question of EU-NATO. What do we have in our arsenal in terms of major topics in take, which will turn this activity from being “low-risk high gain” to something which is something “high-risk”.
Finally, one clear task of the EU is fixing soft power culture. Its morals-based ideology. How do we build some kind of sense of rules and norms in such a world becoming increasingly anarchic? We have so many unwilling partners, but we need to try once again some kind of rules-based agenda. Is this something we could do to rescue the nuclear proliferation treaty? Can we build some crisis management, risk reduction measures, confidence building measures? Thinking now that all of these have to be embraced with China, not only be East-West, US-Russia. Concerning Artificial Intelligence, should we support the campaign of Amnesty International, “Stop the killer robots!” These are not only automated but increasingly autonomous weapons systems. How do we build a world very soon that soldiers are going to be half man and woman, half machine, with chipping farms, with gene editing genetic engineering, with chemical enhancements, where the front line of military former battle will increasingly be robotized in the future? Is the gene out of the bottle? Can we still do something about it? What should we push in international system? So that at least we head off some the nightmarish consequences of this world.
Bearing in mind by the way, new domains wrote me up. It was tough enough 20 years ago to do this just on land, air and the sea. We have now new version of domains, space, slobby space, fifth domain of warfare. We have now a sub- maritime, the activity now under the oceans. We have the half domain of virtual reality, augmenting reality, which rapidly move back becoming space of the domain.