British Army publish Dr Tomas Ries article on domestic European military operations and aggression towards Russia and China
A European perspective on security 2020
Towards a far tougher world
Author: Dr Tomas Ries
Dr Tomas Ries, senior lecturer, the Swedish National Defence College, identifies the main trends in the rapidly changing global security environment and assesses their implications for European societies and for the future roles of the Armed Forces
In the coming decade, our security environment will, in all likelihood, deteriorate significantly. The number of direct challenges to vital national interests is likely to grow, while their diversity and complexity will increase. This will have two consequences for the military. First, the importance of the military will grow. Second, deep changes will be necessary in how, and with whom, the military operates, how it must be structured and how it relates to its society.
We are presently in the early stages of a deep transformation of the global security environment, resulting from the revolutions in scientific, technological and economic power of the past half-century.
Three broad trends can be discerned:
» A rapidly shrinking planet; environmentally, physically and socially.
» An accelerating tempo of change and intensity of interactions;
» A gradual power shift from state to transnational networks. This, in turn, is transforming the foundations on which our security rests. Our environmental base has entered a sustained decline. The depletion, degradation and disruption of our ecosystems has two major consequences:
» Increasing the scarcity of natural resources; and
» Increasing the turbulence of our habitat.
Our social base is ruptured by rising political fragmentation and instability.
Increasing scarcity and turbulence in the environmental dimension will place severe strains on both the social and functional dimensions:
» From rich to poor, all global societies will face increasingly destabilising environmental stresses (such as water scarcity, food prices, extreme weather, natural disasters or rising sea-levels);
» Within and between states, tensions between the need to exploit the environment versus the need to protect it will increase. A new conflict between sovereign rights to exploit versus universal environmental values will arise. In the worst case, violent military force may be used, either to safeguard critical ecosystems or to gain access to scarce resources;
» The global economy (rising prices and costs) and technological infrastructure (disruption and cost) will be strained, amplifying social hardship and increasing the tendency to seek zero-sum solutions.
In the social dimension we are facing a possible regression back towards a zero-sum world and a revival of more classical power politics:
» Peer diversity is gradually leading to greater multipolarity. At best, it will be much more difficult to reach multilateral solutions for broad global issues (both economic and environmental). At worst, diverging agendas, combined with greater domestic instability and environmental strain, could lead to the return of violent power politics;
»The increasing gap between the rich and the poor, both domestically and globally, will increase transnational problems caused by organised crime, global revolutionary movements, uncontrolled refugee and migration flows, pandemics and the dissolving of societal bonds. While soft development aid will reduce world poverty, a significant share of the world’s population – an estimated two billion people – will continue to live under desperately miserable conditions;
» For the richest societies, declining standards of living and the need to compete with rising economies will increase domestic tensions. If the reforms necessary to counteract these problems are introduced they will upset spoiled societies that expect welfare benefits as a right. If the necessary reforms are not made, we will face national bankruptcies. In both cases the twin pressures of violent national chauvinism and domestic social problems and crime will increase;
» Finally, the need for austerity will increase, reducing our material assets, including those available for the military.
Under these conditions the functional dimension becomes our crucial security-political centre of gravity:
» First, because it prevents the decline or collapse of the world’s leading actors, who have the capacity to address these challenges;
» Second, because it generates deeply shared vital interests among the lead actors, encouraging non-zero-sum cooperation over zero-sum competition;
» Third, because it drives the growth of a contented global middle class, reducing the domestic pressures for violent nationalism;
» Fourth, because it provides the scientific, technological and economic tools to address the environmental and social crises.
The extent to which we can protect and promote the global economy, and the technological infrastructure on which it rests, will be a key factor in determining how violent global politics will become and how severe the impact and the development of the looming environmental crisis will be.
The overall effect of this is to create a far more complex and difficult situation for the security analyst and the security decision-maker:
» The increasing diversity of existential dangers from all three security dimensions (environmental, social and functional) calls for a broad holistic perspective;
» The intensified interaction between disparate elements calls for synergistic analysis and interoperability;
» Increasing volatility and uncertainty is reducing our ability to forecast and prioritise danger. As a result, we must complement our traditional planning-based responses with a greater emphasis upon agility and resilience.
The following issues are likely to rise to the top of our security agenda in the coming decade, and will shape the type of missions assigned to the military:
» Flow security. Protecting and promoting our economic and technological flows will become our most immediate existential concern. Military missions will be needed to protect critical technological nodes and flows (for example, Sea Lines of Communication, or SLOC) from antagonistic threats, ranging from state-generated dangers, to transnational revolutionary movements to organised crime. This will require close cooperation with diverse (non-military) actors involved in the flows and with partner states. This could also generate shared interests and efforts among diverse stakeholders around the world;
» Ecosecurity. Protecting our environmental base will rise to the top of the security agenda as the impact on our societies becomes more pronounced. Military missions can range from domestic disaster relief (from clean-ups to policing) to regional and global surveillance, policing and enforcement. In the most extreme cases, wars, including large-scale global power projection, may erupt, either to protect or gain access to vital ecoservices;
» Hard-power politics between leading global actors will return and possibly overshadow today’s relatively soft multilateralism. The question is, how hard and how violent will they be? If the global economy stagnates or crashes, the potential for impoverished violent nationalism becomes high. If the global economy thrives there will be strong incentives for non-zero-sum cooperation among leading stakeholders. This will, however, be offset by diverging world views and agendas, inflamed by rising environmental and domestic stresses. In this case, the need for military forces capable of managing confrontations with major advanced states will grow once again. While China is the current focus of such future concerns, Russia may come to present a far greater future military challenge in Europe;
» Transnational problems will intensify as the global rich-poor gap increases. Our retreat from Afghanistan probably marks the end of our willingness to experiment with large-scale global social engineering. But, with a continued rising tide of uncontrolled migration, organised crime and revolutionary movements, we will not be able to avoid problems – they will seek us out. We may need to shift our efforts towards a more defensive barrier strategy. This is both a morally distasteful and, without draconian measures, a potentially ineffective approach – but we may have no alternative. This will be complemented by the more focused and highly cost-effective global hunt-and-kill operations developed by the United States. This global shadow war, integrating high technology with special forces, and targeting the networks of global organised crime and revolutionary movements, will in all likelihood be considerably expanded;
» Domestic military operations in support of civil authorities could be necessitated by rising tensions within declining European welfare societies. Similar requirements, but less sensitive, will arise if we are struck by large-scale environmental or industrial disasters. In a traditional perspective, the military should not devote its scarce resources to such operations. But in today’s circumstances, if the government has no other resources at its disposal it will call on the military for support and the military must be able to respond effectively.
This diversified set of challenges places a premium on flexibility as well as on close cooperation with other key actors in other states, in the private sector and/or in other parts of government. A capacity for modular cooperation with very different partners will thus be necessary, with the military sometimes
in a lead role, sometimes in support.
Finally, it is important to reiterate that our increasingly volatile and uncertain world obliges us to complement forecasting and planning-based responses with two other strategic principles:
» Agility: the ability to dodge threats detected at the last minute;
» Resilience: the ability to absorb and recover from threats that surprise us and knock us down.
These are tall orders. How to meet these challenges in times of rising austerity, and how to create the adaptable armed forces and non-military governmental tools necessary to cope with them, constitutes one of the
most daunting tasks of all.