How competition against China could improve NATO –


Allowing the United States to concentrate its military resources in the Pacific requires a division of labor within NATO that forces Europeans to take responsibility for the defense of their continent, writes Antonia Colibasanu.

Antonia Colibasanu is Future geopolitics‘Chairman and CEO. Geo Political Futures (GPF) was founded in 2015 by George Friedman, international strategist and author of The Next 100 Years.

NATO has long ceased to be the military alliance that served the Allies in the fight against the Soviet Union. For Eastern Europe, NATO membership was the first step towards EU membership, which brought the promise of much needed economic development in the absence of a serious threat. of impending conflict from the east. Things changed somewhat in 2008 when Russia went to war with Georgia. Moscow has shown that it is ready to defend its buffer zones against Western “encroachment”. Georgia, a NATO partner for peace, has not benefited much from the alliance, but the alliance has still been successful in deterring larger-scale multi-country conflicts against its members.

Then came the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014, which replaced a pro-Russian government with a pro-Western government. This effectively created a new line of containment, uniting countries from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea around the triangle of strategic partnerships between the United States, Romania and Poland and supported by the Three Seas Initiative, which is supposed to support the development of infrastructure necessary for military cooperation between states in the region. Thus, over the past five years or so, military exercises in Eastern Europe have increased in number and complexity, still showing a significant participation of American and British forces.

Meanwhile, the rest of Europe – namely NATO’s Western allies – were mostly silent about Russia, treating it for what it was to them: a distant and not urgent threat. And anyway, they had their own problems. Since 2008, Western Europe has had to deal with an unprecedented economic crisis, followed by a refugee crisis. Both posed new challenges for internal security. Countries like France and Germany were concerned about the immediate threat of terrorism and social instability. Some of these threats are of course adjacent to Russia, and NATO has established research centers across the region to study them.

This touches on a fundamental and essential principle of NATO: intelligence sharing, which is vitally important but still elusive for the alliance. During the Cold War, intelligence sharing was relatively straightforward, as it was simply a matter of collecting and disseminating information about the Soviet Union. But as NATO evolved, it drew up threat lists and flagged risk assessments in which countries were grouped according to common priorities to tackle specific problems. NATO works for the countries of the East as a communication platform and coordination takes place inside but also outside NATO. Their interoperability and capabilities are discussed directly with the United States in accordance with existing strategic partnerships. They do not share the same level of coordination with France or Germany.

In addition, capacities differ from country to country. Because some NATO member states have been less willing to invest in defense over the past three decades, the alliance lacks interoperability. That is why, since the Obama administration, the United States has advised NATO member states to increase their defense budgets. But that’s easier said than done when their economies swing from one crisis to the next. Essentially, the different priorities among NATO members make them less willing to share information with each other, creating a trust deficit that has diminished military effectiveness.

What is different now?

NATO’s existing Strategic Concept was drafted in 2010. Written in the context of the war in Afghanistan, it addressed “great power competition” but did not examine the potential of Russia and China to emerge in as potential challengers of the established order. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated geopolitical trends already underway. The supply chain crisis has revealed the need to build secure logistics for strategic operations. He underlined how Europeans can be harmed by too much dependence on China. Simply put, China’s rise to power and the constant threat from Russia have given NATO a new common goal.

The American strategy is to guarantee the possibility of defeating one great power and dissuading another in a different theater at the same time. To that end, Washington began to look to Asia, strengthening alliances with like-minded countries in the Western Pacific, but it also had to keep deterrence capabilities against Russia high on its agenda. (Here again, the pandemic has accelerated trends already underway.) Allowing the United States to concentrate its resources, including its military resources, in the Pacific requires a division of labor within NATO that forces Europeans to take charge of the defense of their continent. This is the only way for the United States to reduce, if not eliminate, its presence.

In order for NATO to achieve its stated objective, the Europeans should not only invest in preparing their own forces to make their conventional deterrence credible, but also play an active role with China. And Brussels seems to have started to understand it. The UK, France and Germany participated in the India-led Malabar exercises, in which all members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (US, Japan, India and Australia) participated this year. In fact, the UK has made it a strategic goal to work with the Quad and expand its influence in the Indo-Pacific region, primarily the Commonwealth.

For this to work, NATO must be supported by a platform of economic alliances that give way to enhanced confidence and the infrastructure necessary for military interoperability. It starts with the military-strategic advantages that the alliance offers to the United States and Europe: guaranteeing access to high-tech resources and, above all, preventing China from acquiring them. In a political gesture to this end, the European Parliament vetoed the trade and investment agreement with China in May. The United States and the EU have reportedly started discussions on the possibility of establishing a transatlantic artificial intelligence agreement. And the United States and Eastern European countries have implemented the Transatlantic Telecommunications Security Act, which will boost digital sovereignty.

China is an economic power that could become the world’s leading technological power, which the Soviet Union never was. NATO wants its members to maintain their superiority in what are called emerging disruptive technologies. This means that NATO – and the governments of its member states – must engage with the private communities that develop dual-use technologies, ensuring that these innovations are protected from exploitation. Since NATO has traditionally set standards for military technologies for its members, it could play a similar role in setting interoperability standards for emerging disruptive technologies and in setting standards for their use, as well as in export controls to prevent them from falling into the hands of rival powers. Interoperability also refers to the streamlining of AI algorithms and the sharing of datasets, which makes it essential to establish common rules for AI between the EU and the US (to their credit , these rules are already being created.) Working with countries in Asia-Pacific and with the Quad, in particular, would facilitate the alliance’s efforts in decoupling the supply chain and technology from China. .

All of this would require enhanced coordination among member states, which in turn could lead to increased intelligence-sharing based on growing trust among NATO allies. Indeed, the current situation in the world could help to enhance NATO’s military function while making good use of NATO’s political power. Given the economic challenges facing all NATO member states – especially those facing Western Europe – it remains to be seen whether ambitious discussions around NATO’s Strategic Concept will become a reality.


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