It is clear that NATO Europe faces three very distinct defense challenges.
The first is the question of the evolution of Nordic and North Atlantic defense; the second is Germany and forward defense in Central Europe and the third is how the NATO Southern European states will sort out their leadership roles in meeting a diffuse and diverse set of economic, security and defense challenges.
During my visits to Italy in the 1990s, a regular dialogue partner on Italian defense was the head of the Italian Air Force, BG Pasquale Preziosa. Now retired, he remains actively involved in the efforts to advance integrated defense in Europe and to expand the capabilities of Europeans in their direct defense role.
After my visit to Italy in June, I had a chance to talk with him about the way ahead for European defense in light of the war in Ukraine and its impact.
Preziosa started the discussion by focusing on the challenge of crisis management today.
He argued that there is a major lesson learned from the financial crisis of 2008 in the new digital era. Normal approaches to risk management could be insufficient to manage new crises. Preziosa argued that indeed the war in Ukraine was demanding new approaches to crisis management.
Political military decisions are based on the Intelligence data, whose warning function shares much in common with risk management. He quoted a 2016 RAND report as follows:
“When the concept of the risk becomes fragmented to the point of obscurity, it cannot contribute in meaningful ways to effective strategic choice. Too often… quantitative risk models were used to generate supposedly reliable, objective forecasts of situations that reflected deep uncertainty. When used as a substitute for strategic judgment under uncertainty, risk management invites disaster.”
“When data are sufficient in quality and quantity, the models could be accurate. When we have too little information, this will involve nonlinear dynamics and contested values that belong to the complexity governed by other parameters, in those we should: avoid predictive models, develop scenarios of possible futures, understand sources of uncertainty, focus on principles of robustness.”
The lesson for the strategist is to realize that the process of managing uncertainty is an unfolding task, and should be based on rigorous information searches and analyses of the elements of strategy.
NATO has recently approved a new Strategic Concept. It reaffirms the values of the Alliance and sets out NATO’s three core tasks of deterrence and defence, crisis prevention and management and cooperative security.
The new concept document underlines that “Our world is contested and unpredictable…and the threat we face are global and interconnected…Strategic competition, pervasive instability and recurrent shocks define our broader security environment.”
Nonetheless, Preziosa adjudges the new strategic concept to more based on risk management understood in Cold War terms namely, a strategy based on risk management for the containment of the military threat and not with uncertainty and strategic competition or active and ongoing engagement in dealing with the adversary.
Moreover, the recent EU “Strategic Compass” issued nine days before the invasion of Ukraine, recognized the need to strengthen the Union’s military capabilities and identified priority areas for cooperation as strategic transport, satellite communications, cyber security, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Among the Compass’s proposals, there is also the creation of rapid reaction teams to respond to hybrid threats, disinformation and political interference, and – by 2025 – of a 5,000 strong Rapid Reaction Capacity, a sort of bigger EU Battlegroup.
The declared level of ambition to increase up to five thousand the level of strength of the military force appeared too late and too weak to reset the new European defense architecture whose aim is to reach a strategic autonomy.
The national security is nowadays about much more than contemporary weapons systems and terrorism concerns. It is about long-term technological prowess, long-term economic and financial health, and the long-term privacy of citizens including their medical, financial, and other forms of data.
The West is now imperiled by many more threats than it was in the past.
In other words, Preziosa warned that both the new NATO and EU strategies are not focused on the nature of today’s strategic competition being posed by China and Russia, which requires ongoing engagement in dealing with countering actions, rather than simply preparing a deterrent posture.
Airpower in Shaping a Way Ahead in European Defense
Airpower because it is rapid and can have a decisive combat effect can operate to deal with crises more effectively and decisively to deliver a crisis management effect or affect than more slow moving movement of other types of combat power.
We continued our discussion:
We first met in October 2013 in your office in Rome. We met several times over the next three years as you were leading the effort to introduce the F-35 into the Italian Air Force and Navy. In the first interview we did you highlighted the relationship between airpower and strategic change.
“Partnerships are changing; continents are working to get closer and to work more effectively with one another. But there is a governability shortfall in managing the new challenges, and in such areas of shortfall the problems appear. There are continuing conflicts within and among continents but there are also new patches of emerging challenges within the seams of the global system whereby terrorists, organized crime or forces of instability grow and disrupt.”
“With the range and distance of erupting threats, and the need for global cooperation or coalitions to deal with them, airpower needs to be modified.
“We now need to have assets which operate in a distributed manner with coalitions engaged to deal rapidly with problems. The advantage of airpower is its reach, speed and mobility. The challenge is to coalesce capabilities to put resources rapidly up against threats and challenges early enough to deal with them.”
That seems to me a pretty good forecast – looking back how would you describe the change in Europe since then, and what role for airpower?
BG (Retired) Preziosa: I wrote a book with the economist Dario Velo The Defense of Europe in 2019 proposing that more than ever we needed European defense.
“We needed to believe and pursue concrete actions to find a true and credible European identity, an identity that in the light of the latest events in the Middle East- Libya, Syria, and Iraq — was also required by all the major international actors since the fluctuating foreign policy pursued by the U..S and the authoritarian powers.
“To reverse the course, it was necessary that Europe quickly recovers a strong political initiative and a lost identity.
“This proposal anticipated the result of the European Council which based on the proposal of President Macron and Merkel put on Agenda an intergovernmental Conference on the future of Europe. Among the issues was the projected and key role that the eurozone will have to play in the hot areas of the world, from the Middle East to North Africa. The Conference on the Future of Europe has been closed recently waiting now for further actions.
“In the Ukraine crisis today, the EU can offer little in term of face of the re-emergence of military threat close to its border, beyond economic retaliation and the usual condemnation and choruses of indignation.
“Europe must still form and define its dimension of defense. And in such a role airpower is crucial.
“The role of the Airpower will be persistent and enduring in this century. Air superiority will still be a pre-requisite for all operations to succeed.
“At the strategic level, national security has become completely reliant on rapid power projection provided by air power and with new hypersonic armaments the air power will be even more significant in shaping options.
“At the operational level, air power can now deliver the desired effects with minimum collateral damage. At the tactical level, computing, sensing, and sharing data, will continue to change the way to do the war.
“The future of air power will be shaped by UCAV and ML/AI capabilities.
“Joint Air Power will need to evolve and adapt to meet the future security environment challenges, considering the use of cyber and space as enablers and force multipliers as well.
“In other words, working more coordination in the use of European airpower is a key part of the way ahead for European defense.”
We then turned to the question of a specific aspect of European airpower, namely, the emergence and thriving of the F-35 global enterprise.
I asked BG (Retired) Preziosa, as a key player in enabling such an enterprise how he saw the potential for the European partners in the F-35 program to shape more capability from the force and how important is such a development from your point of view?
BG (Retired) Preziosa: “I think that under the NATO leadership the European’s F 35 could develop more capabilities needed for the European landscape to increase deterrence and defense.
“F 35 is the only aircraft capable to respond to Anti-Access/Area Denial strategy.
“There are many European countries that acquired F 35 as a replacement of the fourth-generation aircraft. All F35 aircraft in Europe could develop under NATO command the capability to face the threat stated in the new NATO Strategic Concept.
“F35 could be the new standard for the air forces to guarantee standardization, interoperability and efficiency when deployed in the theatre.
“By the way, NATO still lacks the common sense of urgency to collectively solve the Joint Air Power shortfalls and Nations embark on projects based on their national interests, not what is most needed in NATO.
“The short-term focus is important because recent developments in the security environment around Europe shows the importance of a high readiness and preparedness and the availability of the full range of essential joint airpower capabilities and competencies to deter and defend against Russia within the full spectrum of threats.”
I would add to our discussion that to get the point where integrability is highlighted and kill web capabilities enabled, further development in how European air forces work F-35 integration is required as well as how the U.S. forces work their own F-35 aircraft.
Meeting the Challenges of the Return of Direct Defense in Europe
Since 2014 with Russia seizing the Crimea, it is clear that President Putin has an agenda to expand Russia. The current Ukrainian-Russian war is in the next step. How can Europe and NATO best meet this challenge?
BG (Retired) Preziosa ended our conversation by discussing the nature of the challenges facing the democracies and some key elements of how to meet those challenges.
Preziosa went back to the early 1990s and underscored that the nuclear deal made in that period of time laid the foundation for the current crisis. This is how he put it: “John J. Mearsheimer in a Foreign Affairs article one year before the Budapest argued that a denuclearized Ukraine, was not positive either for Kiev or for the stability of the Central and Eastern European quadrant. Mearsheimer added that the widespread belief of the time, also promoted by then U.. S President Bill Clinton, was wrong with regard to the benefits of denuclearizing Ukraine.”
Preziosa then cited the perspective of President Macron with regard to the new situation facing Europe and the United States.
“President Macron in an interview to Étien Gernelle affirmed that we are at the beginning of new era and war is back in Europe since Yugoslavia disorders. A nuclear armed power is threatening a nuclear attack for territorial aggrandizement reasons and this is a big change in the grammar of deterrence.”
Preziosa argued that the current Russian aggression against Ukraine is different from Crimea in a fundamental way. “If in 2008 in Georgia and in 2014 in Ukraine, Russia had intervened in reaction to other events, this time it deliberately chose war, and this is a great rupture with the past. The rupture comes by progressive tendency of Vladimir Putin starting in 2008 in Georgia with the perception of possible NATO enlargement followed by the Western weakness in Syria in 2013 when chemical weapons were used.
“Putin has convinced himself of, about a betrayal of the 1990 agreements, an expansion of NATO with a willingness to annihilate his country, to have been abandoned by the West in the Caucasian crisis, essential for Moscow above all because they are lined to Islamic terrorism. Western countries did not understand the consequences in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea and secession of Donbass.”
He added: “Putin has launched an offensive operation based on the perceived weakness of the West. and deduced that the Western democracies were weak.”
He quoted Macron: “All this does not happen in a day. But today the bill has arrived.”
He noted that there are significant spillover effects globally from the war in Ukraine and certainly in Europe. “The events in Ukraine are destabilizing for the Western Balkans which are subject to Turkish, Russian and Chinese influences. The hot spot in the Balkans is Kosovo that never reached political stability with Serbia.”
In addition to the Russian challenge, China is ramping up its global reach and capabilities as well. As Preziosa put it: China is challenging America’s role as the world’s sole superpower.
As a result of the China’s widening influence, spheres of global dominance are projected for the future between the authoritarian and democratic powers.
“Since market liberalizations in 1978, China’s economy has doubled every eight years. Four of the largest banks in the world (by asset) are in China, in the age of easy money, and it is the largest creditors in the world.
“The era of America’s singular dominance is being challenged across multiple strategic domains, with several second-order outcomes. Recent trade wars have caused fractures between the two nations’ trade relationship. Cross border trade settlement in renminbi instead of US dollars has risen exponentially since 2010.China’s Belt & Road initiative has signed agreements with 138 countries. Globally, there are over 3485 megaprojects backed by China’s government.
“The competition between great powers with a clear distinction between the objectives of the democracies and the authoritarian powers.”
But the democracies themselves face divisions not just among themselves but internally within each democratic state. Finding cohesion where possible is crucial to shape a way ahead to deal with the authoritarian challenges globally.
Preziosa underscored that “In the U.S. and in Europe much remain to be done to put their political systems in order and preserve the political and economic strength of the world’s major democracies.”
And his own country, Italy, certainly faces core security challenges along with political ones which need to be met as part of an overall response to the defense challenges posed by the authoritarian powers.
As he concluded: “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has brought out the extremely risky character of Europe’s energy dependence on Moscow. The side effect of the Ukrainian crisis affects the Middle East and North Africa in terms of the energy issues and food security.
“The fear is that discontent will generate new waves of instability and migratory flows to Italy and Europe. Italy is one of the European country most dependent on Russian energy supplies, and the energy issue can only assert itself as the first point to be addressed. The first step taken by Italy has been to turn to third countries that produce and export energy, to diversify our sources of supply and pursue our energy security. This strategy has involved both African countries and North African countries such as Egypt, Algeria, and Egypt.
“Italy needs to find an internal political stability as well to shape not only its way ahead but to play the kind of role which is needed for expanded European influence and cohesion in dealing with the 21st century authoritarian challenges.”