The Impact of the Ukraine Crisis on NATO 2030.

(Yesterday, I had the singular honour of addressing NATO ambassadors, senior officials and high-ranking officers at the famous Manfred Woerner Circle lunch. This is my speech. JLF)

Ambassador, thank you! Excellencies, distinguished officers and colleagues, great honour to address this famous circle named after a great man and servant of our great Alliance. As I get old there are few things in which I trust. Our Alliance is one of them but we cannot take it for granted.  To quote the American economist J.K. Galbraith “power is as power does”. Even dumb power. To quote Lindley-French, “until someone bloody stops them”. Normally, I would begin such remarks with a joke, and normally a bad one at that. The situation is too serious, too dangerous for that. 2000 km from here a fellow European country is being mutilated by a great power and a nuclear one at that. Given that, and what is to come, I want to focus on four core themes: strategic concept, deterrence, burden-sharing and future war.

New Cold War

This is the start of a long war leading, I fear, to a new Cold War.  It will reach across our societies through deception, disinformation, disruption, destabilisation and coercion through implied or actual destruction.

The war will continue as long as President Putin is in power. Possibly longer. What does he want? Well, just look at a map. Make no mistake, this is also one of those geopolitical moments for which our alliance was created. This is also what NATO was created for back in 1949.

A Europe Whole and Free?

Let me paraphrase another great man: from the Black Sea in the south to Kirkenes in the north a rust-encased iron curtain is again falling across parts of Europe. Unless stopped by our Alliance in its full majesty behind that curtain of oppression could one day again lie the capitals of ancient states, famous cities and peoples, and all subject in one form or another, not only to Russian influence, but to a very high and ever increasing measure of control, from Moscow. The 2022 Ukraine War, for that is what it is, has reset the strategic and geopolitical context of NATO, Europe and the wider world. We are moving from the fantasy globalised world of just–in-time back to the hard reality of just-in-case. For too long European leaders abandoned sound defence seduced by economists who failed to understand power and coercion can exist independently of supply and demand. We, our Alliance, must thus again confront two potentially existential questions. How can we preserve the peace? How can we ensure NATO deterrence and defence deters and defends into the future? European history is again entering a darkened room. We must go forward together with a mind-set robust enough, collective enough and ambitious enough to stop the corrupt, cynical and corrosive regime in Moscow from prevailing. In other words, facing down Russia (and China if it so chooses to be an enemy) will take a unity of effort and purpose not seen since our alliance faced 360 Soviet divisions across the once inner-German border… and do it whilst we also engage with our partners to the south in their struggle with maniacal anti-state.

NATO 2030 Agenda

Remember when the NATO 2030 agenda was adopted by leaders last June. It highlighted the need for deeper political consultation, strengthened defence and deterrence, improved resilience, preserving NATO’s technical edge, upholding the rules-based order, boosting training and capacity-building, combating and adapting to climate change, and investing in NATO. But, above all, it called for drafting a strategic concept that is truly strategic.

The thing is, that was June. Now is now. Then we were in the last days of tentative peace, now we are on the threshold of future war. Tear it up?  No. But understand this (and some among us are finding it hard to understand this) whilst the words might sound the same they mean very different things today than they did last June – timing and context are everything in geopolitics. Our collective (and it must be collective) level of ambition must now be far higher than it was last year because if nothing else deterring great power is no longer a theoretical exercise. It has suddenly become the new normal.

Strategic Concept

Therefore, the real challenge for the forthcoming Strategic Concept will be to capture that change and the change to come by 2030 and beyond and get in front of it. Will it? You see Strategic Concepts are not some PR brochure. They are a public contract between our elected leaders and you, the people who make NATO work. A contract that demonstrates our leaders understand the strategic goals and missions they are setting you and the relationship between the ends, ways and means you will need to succeed. Change or renewal? The US? Europe? Future war.

The Americans are as committed to NATO as ever. Partly because they need allies, albeit capable allies, and more not less every day, but also because NATO remains central to American statecraft. However, as China stretches US forces and resources the world over we, the European allies, will have to share more of the burdens of Alliance, even at the high-end of conflict.

Some might call it greater European strategic autonomy, some might call it greater European strategic responsibility, either way for all the many pressures we Europeans face, financial and societal, it is simply time Europe grew up strategically. Frankly, the alliance is the only vehicle of weight that can carry such ambition.

Do not get me wrong: the EU-NATO privileged relationship, or whatever it is called these days, will be vital for enhancing resilience. If we cannot protect our home base I find it hard to believe we will have the political hardness and resolve to project the power contemporary and future deterrence and defence will demand.   We could simply end up deterring ourselves.

I have the honour to chair the Alphen Group. Some of you will have read our Shadow NATO Strategic Concept which we had the honour to present in this house in February. We are clear: we call for the maintenance of the three core tasks – collective defence, crisis management and co-operative security. However, they must be turbo-charged with ambition, capabilities and capacities. We also call for a new priority of enhanced resilience in the face of the hybrid, cyber and hyperwar that our Alliance will need to grip by 2030, both directly and in partnership.

Future war

Here’s the crunch.Our Alliance not only needs to grip emerging security challenges, but also emerging defence challenges. They are a continuum. And, do not be lulled into complacency by the incompetence of Russian planning and performance in Ukraine. The direction of travel of warfare is clear, and thus deterrence and defence.  The next ten years could well see the equivalent of the past 70 years of technology crammed into the future battlespace. By 2030, certainly 2040, war could even be faster than human responsiveness driven by machine-learning, quantum computing, and a whole host of artificially intelligent hypersonic weapons and swarms of drones that will begin to see, decide, act and destroy autonomously, if not independently. Let me quote directly from my latest book Future War and the Defence of Europe written with my great friends Generals John Allen and Ben Hodges: “…the danger persists that Europeans are moving inexorably towards a lowest common denominator European force, an analogue ‘European Army’ in a digital age which simply bolts together a lot of European legacy forces”.  Yes, we Europeans have modestly increased our defence budgets since 2014 – both real and imagined. But defence and deterrence is relative and is it enough in the face of the pressures building on the US, the advances of enemies and surging inflation?

Strategic Concept 2022 must also offer an affordable vision of credible NATO deterrence and defence in 2030 and beyond. In both the book and the Shadow Strategic Concept we call for a hard core NATO centred on a high-end European future force, the Allied Mobile Heavy Force (AMHF), that would merge all of NATO’s high readiness forces,that is sufficiently capable to act as a credible first responder in the event of a major European emergency should US forces also be engaged in the Indo-Pacific and elsewhere. A force that has sufficient mass that it can act as a high-end first responder for any contingency and reinforce support front-line states to Europe’s south as they grapple with the potentially catastrophic collapse of order across the Middle East and North Africa. A force that is sufficiently manoeuvrable to act effectively across the multiple domains of air, sea, land, cyber, space, information and knowledge.  A force able to operate from sea-bed to space.

Hard Core NATO

Ambassador, Excellencies, distinguished officers and colleagues, if NATO 2030 is to be realised beyond the comfortingly rhetorical it will need far more ways and means to realise the ends of preserving peace. The bottom-line is this: without a hard military warfighting European-led core NATO could fail. If President Putin is still around he will not stop. It all comes back to deterrence. You see the thing about deterrence is ‘the other’ needs to believe we believe in our own policy and position. Only capability, capacity reinforced by demonstrable can assure that. Equally, we also need to re-think how, who and what it is we are deterring across the interactive and interoperable hybrid, cyber and super-fast hyper war that is coming capable yet?

NATO’s bottom-line is SACEUR’s Area of Responsibility (AOR) Wide Strategic Plan (SASP). It is the concept for the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA) which upholds the defensive nature of the alliance and sets out how NATO armed forces plan to deal with the Alliance’s two main threats, Russia and terrorism.  It is the NATO Warfighting Cornerstone Concept and the Deterrence Concept. Give them the tools and they will do the job! That means an Allied Command Transformation that can really reach out and transform, it means Allied Command Operations reinforced by a much more ambitious NATO Readiness Initiative. It needs fielding times of advanced equipment in Europe sufficiently fast and in sufficient quantity that me, the taxpayer, is not paying premium euro for museum pieces. We simply can no longer simply recognise as much threat as we can afford.


The Impact of the Ukraine Crisis on NATO 2030.

NATO is not a glorified summit organising agency. It is a defensive warfighting alliance that seeks to prevent wars by demonstrating to anyone or anything threatening our citizens that it can. That means all of our citizens from Stavanger to San Francisco, from Tallinn to Lampedusa, from Riga to Svalbard. By 2030 we will need a truly transformed NATO if we are to preserve a rules-based global order. If not a global NATO, a NATO that is certainly in the world. That means a real NATO China policy. Any power that weakens US forces also weakens NATO and the American security guarantee to Europe. Indeed, anyone who suggests China has nothing to do with NATO is, to coin a phrase, brain dead. We will also need at some point to rehabilitate arms control in Europe. 

A transformed NATO by 2030? The NATO Innovation Fund and the Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic are good starts, but we will need to go far further, far faster.  Are we up to the challenge?

In other words, what is decided by you and your bosses in these coming months is not just about the here and now. It is about 2030 and thereafter. It is about the tipping point in geopolitics we are at. Ambassador, Excellencies, distinguished officers and colleagues, as another famous leader once famously said at another infamously dangerous moment: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Our comparative advantage? Our people. Let’s give them the tools so they can do the job.

Let us stand together to defend freedom and democracy because it needs it. Give me a Strategic Concept I can believe in and which President Putin can believe in. Give me a Strategic Concept that delivers deterrence and defence 2030. Let us be NATO!

Ambassador, thank you.

Julian Lindley-French, NATO HQ, April 25th, 2022