NATO’s Challenge: Maintaining a Tactical Advantage in a Rapidly Changing Security Landscape
January 30, 2015
General Jean-Paul Palomeros, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, NATO
Honorable Robert Work, Deputy Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense
While the past decade has been largely defined by sustained engagement in the Middle East, NATO is now facing an array of global threats: China’s rising military prowess threatens to redefine the norms of East Asia, Russia’s incursion into Ukraine is stoking old Cold War tensions, and the Middle East is continuing to experience heightened instability and conflict from non-state actors. Although NATO recently concluded its 13-year combat mission in Afghanistan, Deputy Secretary Work believes that the alliance is only now beginning to experience “the most volatile and…complex” security environment in the alliance’s history.
In addition to the kinetic threats, NATO is being forced to rethink how the conflicts of the future will be fought and won. In particular, Gen. Palomeros views new cyber threats as a “a game changer” for the alliance; both the Islamic State and Russian military have utilized new technologies in order to manipulate information and reshape local conflicts in their favor. In this new form of warfare, Gen. Palomeros believes that North American and European forces have “no leading edge or advantage” and instead must rapidly adapt and innovate in order to succeed in this new security reality.
In particular Gen. Palomeros called on European countries to enhance their security posture, emphasizing that each NATO member must pledge at least 2% of their annual GDP to maintaining and enhancing their defense capabilities. As has been demonstrated by recent events in Ukraine, European powers were neither prepared nor capable of challenging Russia’s advancements into Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.
On the other hand, Mr. Work was slightly more optimistic, stating that the U.S. and NATO still maintained a marginal technological edge over other global powers. He did however concede that this edge was quickly “eroding,” as for the past 13 years, China, Russia, and other powers have been able to study and emulate the capabilities that the U.S. and NATO have utilized in Iraq and Afghanistan. Further, observers have formulated ways to check and counter these capabilities, such as developing long-range ballistic missiles capable of targeting aircraft carriers, formulating access-denial strategies, and interrupting satellite and cyber communications.
Inspired by Eisenhower’s “New Look” policy, Mr. Work wants to change the way the U.S. military works and engages around the world, relying less on manpower and conventional forms of strength and instead work on developing new, more strategic forms of enforcing U.S. strength. While there is no one-single strategy that will allow the U.S. to succeed, Mr. Work seems committed to the notion that, in the future, the U.S. and NATO must rely on persistent innovation and technological advancements in order to maintain NATO’s defense and security superiority.
Unfortunately, both the U.S. and Europe’s strategic capabilities are not only threatened by potential enemies, but also by budgetary constraints. In light of sequestration, Mr. Work is attempting to steer the U.S. military towards making more targeted research and development investments, specifically citing the desire to develop unmanned naval vehicles, more agile and advanced nuclear capabilities and precise and long-range ant-ship technologies while also relying more on small special operations units to carry out missions in the future.
While Mr. Work remained committed to the U.S. priorities outlined in the most recent Quadrennial Defense Review, he noted that the U.S. and NATO must remain flexible and adaptive in order to succeed in a dynamic global environment. Even in a time of constrained resources, innovation, cooperation, and shared-risk are key to driving progress and ensuring future prosperity.