The TAG Shadow NATO Strategic Concept

February 3rd, 2022

The TAG NATO Shadow Strategic Concept 2022

2022 is an inflection point for NATO. It would be easy to think that the future of NATO is all about what is happening today in Ukraine. The current crisis is hugely important but the future of the Alliance is not simply about the future of NATO-Russia relations.  There are other vital questions that must be addressed. What will be NATO’s role in Europe and the wider world? What kind of NATO will needed by 2030 if the Alliance is to continue to credibly preserve peace and protect people? What must NATO and its nations be collectively thinking about going beyond 2030? These are the questions that The Alphen Group (TAG), which I have the honor to chair, set out to answer with the publication today of the TAG Shadow NATO Strategic Concept 2022 (link above) by the German Marshall Fund, the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and the Norwegian Atlantic Committee. 

Strategic Concept 2022 is no ordinary piece of think-tankery. It is also very much a team effort involving all the members of The Alphen Group.  Whilst I acted as lead writer it is really the product of some very serious thinking by some very serious people.  These include Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, a former NATO Deputy Secretary General and US Ambassador to both NATO and Russia; Lieutenant-General (Ret.) Heinrich Brauss, the former NATO Assistant Secretary-General for Policy and Planning; General (Ret.) Sir James Everard, the former NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe; Lieutenant-General (Ret.) Ben Hodges, former Commander of the US Army in Europe; Admiral (Ret.) Giampaolo di Paola, the former Italian Defence Minister, Chief of Defence Staff and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee; General the Lord Richards, the former Chief of the British Defence Staff; Ambassador Stefano Stefanini, and the former Italian Permanent Representative to NATO; and Jim Townsend, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Eurasian Affairs at the Pentagon.

NATO tomorrow

Preserving peace and protecting people will demand of the Alliance the credible ability to both deter aggression at the high-end of the conflict spectrum and deal with the continued threat posed by terrorism and the instability it spawns.  Collective defense, crisis management, co-operative security will thus remain the three core missions of the Alliance but in a markedly-changed and changing strategic environment compared with 2010 when the last such strategy was drafted. However, NATO will be unable to project stabilizing influence and deterrence power if its home-base is critically vulnerable to attack and corrosive manipulation.  Therefore, Strategic Concept 2022 establishes the improved resilience of Allied societies as an urgent NATO priority.

Furthermore, Strategic Concept 2022 also envisions NATO is a very different geopolitical context than 2010. The unrelenting rise of China as an economic and putative military superpower is changing the fundamental assumptions Washington must make to realize US security and defense interests. In the past more capable European Allies would have been nice for the US to have, it is now an imperative, if not the greatest single strategic imperative in Strategic Concept 2022. The only way the Americans will be able to maintain their security guarantee to Europe will be if Europeans take on far more strategic responsibility for their own defense.  That is one of the many geopolitical lessons arising from the current Ukraine crisis. The Americans are not only facing the prospect of Russian aggression in Europe, but also a China that is systematically searching for ways and means to weaken America, not least by exploiting the growing over-stretch from to which US forces are increasingly subject the world over. 

Implicit in Strategic Concept 2022 is a new transatlantic security ‘contract’ that reflects the realities of the 2020s, not the 1950s, built on a far more equitable sharing of the burdens of both risk and cost of alliance between the US and its Allies. Specifically, Strategic Concept 2022 calls on Canada and the European Allies to invest sufficient forces and resources by 2030 to collectively meet at least 50 percent of NATO’s Minimum Military Requirements identified by the strategic commanders. These will include fully usable forces required to cover the whole spectrum of operations and missions, as well as the strategic enablers required to conduct multiple demanding large and smaller-scale operations. Such operations will be conducted both alongside US forces in a variety of regions inside and outside SACEUR’s area of responsibility, as well as autonomously when agreed.

NATO the day after tomorrow

2030 is the day after tomorrow in defense planning but what will be change agent to match NATO’s new ends, ways and means? Strategic Concept 2022 calls on the Canadian and European Allies to by 2030 at the latest stand up a new NATO Allied Command Operations Mobile Heavy Force (AMHF). The AMHF will consolidate all Allied rapid response forces into a single pool of forces supported by the requisite force and command structures. Critically, the AMHF will act as a high-end, first responder Allied Future Force designed to act from seabed to space and across the multi-domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information, and knowledge. The AMHF will be sufficiently robust and responsive, and held at a sufficiently high level of readiness, to meet any and all threats to the territory of the Euro-Atlantic area in the first instance, and have sufficient capacity to also support those frontline nations facing transnational threats such as terrorism. The AMHF will thus build on the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force and the enhanced NATO Response Force, as well as those very high readiness forces that will emerge from the vital NATO Readiness Initiative.

The AMHF will enable the Allies maintain a high degree of affordable interoperability with fast-evolving US forces. As such, the AMHF will act as the single most important force integrator as well as the guardian of high-end force interoperability vital to NATO’s deterrence and defense posture. It will also be the synergizing change agent for the introduction into the Allied Order of Battle of artificial intelligence, super/quantum computing, big data, machine learning, drone swarming, and autonomous capabilities (for example, manned-unmanned teaming, decoys, relays, and networked autonomous systems), hypersonic weapon systems to enable an allied capability to engage in hyper-fast warfare.

The AMHF will be flexible and deployable in several guises and under more than one flag, including as a NATO-enabled European coalition (both EU allies and partners) or as a framework for coalitions of the willing and able. Above all, the AMHF will be proof of a transformed NATO by giving shape, purpose and meaning to greater European strategic responsibility. Such responsibility, and the autonomy it eventually fosters will be a function of power not words and reflect the relative military capability and capacity of America’s Allies inside NATO. It must be seen clearly as such. Reinforced by new ‘enablers’, such as combat support and combat service support, and transformative and integrative professional military education the AMHF will be designed to exploit NATO’s richest resource – its free citizens.

NATO the day after 2030

Joe Robinson, CEO of Defence Improbable and National Security, in an excellent opinion piece entitled China is stealing a march in the metaverse arms race, offered a sobering vision of the future: “The metaverse for war is not science fiction. These capabilities exist to today. I know this because my company builds some of the foundational technologies”.  Strategic Concept 2022 looks out to 2030 because strategy in democracies is the art of the politically possible.  However, Joe’s message is compelling. NATO MUST look now beyond 2030 to a world in which warfare will take place across a new spectrum of hybrid war, cyber war and super-fast hyper war and be conducted at speeds beyond human command imagination. A world in which adversaries will seek to systematically exploit every vulnerability of open, democratic societies by inflicting perma-war across 5Ds of disinformation, deception, disruption, destabilization, and applied complex strategic coercion through the implied threat of destruction. Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, data harvesting, machine learning and Big Data applications will (and are) be the harbingers of such warfare, as well as its multipliers.  

Therefore, NATO must begin thinking now outside of its very well-established boxes. The Alliance will need to enter a new world, a virtual, immersive, secure world in which NATO can test planning and policy, craft responses, identify vulnerabilities and reinforce them, and systematically explore the vulnerabilities of adversaries.    Such a response will stretch NATO’s leaders conceptually and demand a new vision of defense education and information that stretches from leader to defender to create an entirely new concept of deterrence that also stretches across the meta-sphere from information warfare to cyber warfare to the most exotic reaches of seabed to space hyper warfare.

Fast information and knowledge will not only be vital it must be at the cutting edge of Allied preparedness and readiness, it will be at the very heart of credible deterrence and defense. To do that the Alliance will also need new defenders and create for a place for them, people who are creative, constructive disruptors who do not necessarily fit the traditional policy or military mold.  In short, to prevail NATO must become a new strategic nexus where political leaders and military commanders meet academia and the games industry on an equal innovative footing if the Alliance is to match the speed of relevance in any future war and thus maintain credible deterrence. Such civil-military fusion will be as vital as Allied military-military fusion and will need to be driven by entirely new ideas of standardization, innovation and interoperability. Much of NATO’s future technology and expertise will come from the commercial sector and be driven by it. For Europe and its analogue defense and technological base that will mean nothing less than a digital and digitizing revolution and a complete rethink about just who or what is in the defense sector of the future. Less metal bashers, more systems integrators. 

In our latest Oxford University book, Future War and the Defence of Europe, General (Ret.) John R. Allen, Lieutenant-General (Ret.) Ben Hodges and I write “Critically, much stronger strategic public private partnerships need to be forged both to prepare for shock across the spectrum of adverse events and to recover from them. One consequence of globalization has been the progressive decoupling of Western states from Western corporations with the very idea of the multinational corporation as the antithesis of the Western nation-state.  A far stronger partnership between the public and private sectors IN states and across states will now be crucial, and not just to limit the effects of systemic shock”. Amen to that!

NATO now

Finally, what of Ukraine and Afghanistan now? Sadly, there is not much NATO can any longer do for the brave people of Afghanistan other than learn the lessons of a failed campaign and the need for more robust political cohesion, more intelligent use of military force, greater civil-military integration and strategic patience. Ukraine is another matter. Strategic Concept 2022 is clear: the Alliance must launch a Ukrainian Deterrence Initiative (UDI) as an extension of the Alliance’s Enhanced Opportunity Partner program. Under the UDI, the allies must do all they can to assist Ukraine to defend itself, dissuade Russia from launching further aggression, and thus increase Kyiv’s leverage in pursuit of a political settlement to the conflict in Donbas. The UDI must include the provision of military equipment and training, as well as efforts to enhance Ukraine’s resilience against cyberattacks, disinformation, economic warfare, and political subversion. The UDI will also establish a function-driven form of partnership, making it a formal Alliance responsibility to help train Ukrainian armed forces and to facilitate their acquisition of modern defensive weapons backed by common funding. Similar support should be offered to Georgia.

Ukraine is a test of collective resolve. For several Allies who are not on the outer boundaries of either NATO or the EU, and who face debt-ridden post COVID economies, the conceit of many Europeans over Ukraine is very similar to that of Neville Chamberlain about another ‘artificial’ (as he saw post-Versailles Czechoslovakia) country: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible, it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing”. Like Chamberlain many Allies fail to realize the price they could pay in the longer run by holding on to cherished delusions over the shorter-term. At least Baldwin and Chamberlain rearmed from 1934 onwards as an insurance policy. NATO?

The TAG NATO Shadow Strategic Concept 2022. The Alphen Group commends our report to you.

Julian Lindley-French