German Perceptions of the Strategic Future
Will the international world order erode?
Will value systems drift apart?
Will globalization be stopped in its tracks?
Just 10 years ago, in 2008, the Western world was experiencing the worst financial crisis since the Black Thursday crash of 29 October 1929. Through the financial storms that ensued in Spain, Ireland, Greece and Portugal, Germany’s political and financial leadership argued for a unified and coordinated strategy to address the issues and stave off a possible wide-scale collapse.
Germany has continued to lead the European Union (EU) in its response to the 2016 British referendum to leave the EU, better known as BREXIT.
Germany has demonstrably become the financial leader and economic powerbase of the EU. In tandem, Europe, “continues to be encircled by threats and instability, from an increasingly autocratic Russia which is waging a multifaceted hybrid war against the West, to continued instability in the Middle East, and an ongoing Islamist terror threat and a refugee crisis to the south that may escalate exponentially in the coming decades,” as Guy Verhofstadt wrote in The Telegraph earlier this year.
In response to the ongoing political, financial and economic uncertainty and instability, strategists at Germany’s Ministry of Defence developed six possible scenarios and the potential cascading political consequences.
The resulting “Strategic Forecast 2040” was published in February 2017 and sent a very distinct message that the “structure of Western Europe since World War II, and of all of Europe since 1991, is no more.
And Germany intends to look out for itself.”
The analysis was commissioned in response to Western failure to anticipate the end of the Cold War and Russia’s military aggression in eastern Ukraine since 2014. Authored by defence strategists belonging to Germany’s Federal Armed Forces Planning Office, “the Defence Ministry secret paper is remarkable in every respect,” noted German newspaper Der Spiegel, which further elaborated that the document “describes a possible failure of the EU with potentially incalculable consequences for German security.”
That such a document was authored, suggests serious tensions within the global system.
The paper went so far as to outline the implications of “weakening national loyalties, faltering economies in the West, disease epidemics, ‘drone swarms’ deployed by hostile states, and miniaturized chemical, nuclear and biological weapons.”
As with many governmentally-authored strategic analysis, Strategic Forecast 2040 was reportedly kept secret until Der Spiegel accessed a copy.
The classified report outlines a number of social trends and international conflict scenarios that could have an impact upon Germany’s future security environment.
While the document reportedly does not make any prognosis, it does emphasize that the scenarios described in its pages are “plausible with the 2040-time horizon.”
It is projected that the combined threat of BREXIT, plus the persistent Russian aggression in Ukraine and along the borders of the Baltic states, would create a period of insecurity that could precipitate the breakup of the EU.
Six scenarios are described, with the worst-case scenario being the breakup of the European Union, a development that would force Germany into a “reactive mode.”
Other scenarios include issues surrounding BREXIT and calls by some elements within the EU nations to break away.
Historically, Germany has been a powerful voice for European unity and has continued since the EU inception to be a supportive voice as well as the economic driver.
Should the EU dissolve, Germany would likely find a separate path for continued economic success while other countries could find themselves in economic turmoil resulting, ultimately, in economic ruin without the financial life-support systems that the EU provides members.
The forecasted scenarios could push other European nations to seriously consider their respective situations and incorporate these potential realities to their national strategic planning.
Notwithstanding, Germany would stand to lose from the dismemberment of the EU although perhaps not to the same degree as many other members.
The scenarios envisioned by the German strategists embrace a variety of interesting geopolitical predicaments that could confront Germany and its leadership.
They include European nations being seduced by Russian influence to join the Eastern Bloc, the consequences of American isolationism, and the potential for a China versus Western confrontation. The Forecast includes the ultimately dire scenario identified as the complete demise of the West.
In the wake of each scenario, the authors provide an analysis of the trends in society, the economy, and environmental and political issues, as well as military analysis.
The first two scenarios imagine a European Union confronting various internal struggles, with Germany continuing to address local and international peacekeeping efforts.
According to Der Spiegel, these two scenarios use the term ‘existential crisis’ to define maintaining a unified and stable Europe, while fully appreciating the inherent flaws of the union itself. Notwithstanding, a strong transatlantic relationship continues. The scenarios were “regarded as the current state of affairs for Germany, where its defence and security focus has been on local and international peacekeeping operations.”
Interestingly, the third scenario resonates, reflecting the sentiments and activities that are currently occurring in Europe and the rest of the Western world.
It depicts a period of “rising nationalism and expanding anti-EU sentiment” as well as the heightened threat from terrorism. This is currently exemplified in the ongoing political machinations in Austria and within the former Eastern Bloc countries of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. The situation describes exacerbating factors such as the uncontrolled mass migration of over 1.8 million into continental Europe. This issue has sparked serious political concerns predicated on the spectrum of experiences that EU members have had recently over Islamist-inspired terrorist acts.
Moreover, many countries see this mass migration as a means to facilitate the infiltration of Islamist terrorists into European Union member nations.
This scenario recognizes that the situation has sparked the phoenix-like rise of nationalist movements that emphasize sovereignty and security issues in certain EU members. These developments raise serious concerns over the future of the union itself.
As the study points out, these trends could facilitate the disintegration of the European dream.
This third scenario does not appear to explore further the implications of an EU breakup or its cascading consequences.
The last three scenarios are more global in nature but appear to be much darker and futuristic, detailing “the further deterioration of the economies of Europe and, ultimately, the collapse of the European Union, coupled with an ‘increasingly overstrained’ United States still serving as the world’s key ‘stabilizing factor.’”
Scenario four describes a collapse of the European Union as a political body. Extremism is rising and there are a number of EU partners who appear to “seek a specific approach to Russia’s ‘state capitalist model.’”
In this scenario, the United States is experiencing imperial overreach, including trying to address some issues of global strife as well as serious economic instability. Nonetheless, the United States continues to serve as a tentative stabilizing factor in the West.
This scenario notes a significant decline in the economies of Europe and China, with the commensurate direct impact upon Germany’s economy as their two main export markets experience extreme economic problems.
Entitled “West to the East”, the fifth scenario explores the possibility in which some eastern European countries are no longer pursuing European integration, and instead opt to join the Eastern Bloc.
Scenario five describes the West as being the United States and Europe (not the European Union) and the East consisting of Russia and China.
These two countries have negotiated a strategic partnership in their challenge to the unipolar world dominated by the United States.
In this new bipolar world, economic competition between these two blocs remains confrontational and intense, although the issues surrounding economics and trade precludes, for the most part, any major conflict.
Access to oil and gas draws some eastern European countries to ally with Russia as economic dependency on fossil fuels and natural gas continues unabated.
The most problematic of the six scenarios is entitled, “The EU in Disintegration and Germany in Reactive Mode”, which would consist of “multiple confrontations.”
This future prognosis describes a world in which the international order erodes after “decades of instability,” the value systems worldwide diverge and globalization comes to an end.
According to this study, EU enlargement has been abandoned, countries have abandoned the European Union and, Europe loses its global ability to complete economically.
“The increasingly disorderly, sometimes chaotic and conflict-prone world has dramatically changed the security environment of Germany and Europe.”
This sixth and last scenario proffers the strategic notion of a total collapse of the European Union as a political body. In this projection, the United States is experiencing critical imperial overreach and, as a nation, is concomitantly experiencing global strife and economic instability.
Nonetheless, the United States serves as a tentative stabilizing factor in the West.
Unfortunately, American leadership is increasingly seen as “no longer able to act decisively to prevent global crises from escalating.”
This scenario also identifies a significant decline in the economies of Europe and China, which would impact its top export markets and therefore Germany’s economy writ large.
Should such as situation arise, Germany would experience a serious economic slowdown and would have to find new markets for its manufactured goods.
This scenario paints a very dark futuristic view. The EU has experienced a total collapse, and the American national leadership has diminished such that it cannot provide the decisions necessary, nor act decisively, to prevent a global crisis.
Drawing from the open sources available regarding the scenarios, albeit futuristic, they do appear to embrace a number of strategic, national and domestic issues that presently exist in either nascent or maturing terms within the EU.
The strategists who authored the paper warn “there could be a breakdown in national societies because of a greater tendency for people to identify themselves by ethnic, regional or religious groups.”
It is clear from this analysis that the state’s social fabric in terms of national defence is of critical importance, and that the oft-repeated social meme that diversity is strength appears to fail in real terms.
The issues surrounding the mass migration of over 1.8 million people, many of them young males, has brought with it a spectrum of issues – secondary and third order affects – not fully considered or anticipated in terms of the real or potential social, economic and cultural costs.
This migration has posed a threat to German unity, particularly with the rising conservative and nationalistic movement consisting of concerned, generally conservative German citizenry, joined with less savoury, ultra nationalistic elements that could prove a serious threat to internal stability and security.
The situation is further exacerbated by the real concerns and fears of Islamic extremism, European Islamisation in various manifestations as well as growing insecurity in the form of European cultures.
Recently, observers noted that certain countries in Eastern and Central Europe, particularly Poland and Hungary, have seen their respective governments becoming increasingly authoritarian, predicated in part upon the perceptions and differences that exist within the European Union on how best to deal with the flow of refugees since 2015.
The presence of formal and informal no-go zones in a number of EU countries poses a direct threat to sovereignty and the safety of their respective citizens.
Great Britain’s stated intent to leave the EU, could potentially see other countries following suit, resulting in the rise of nationalistic sentiments within the EU membership in regards to protecting respective language, culture and security.
This multilayered environment, combined with a dearth of strategic leadership from either the United States or the EU, to deal with a number of multifaceted challenges, both domestically and internationally, is reflective of present themes and their manifestations.
Germany’s economic and political interest in an economically and politically stable European Union, combined with its inherent interest in maintaining its markets in France and other EU nations is fully understandable.
Thus, Strategic Forecast 2040 and its scenarios demand attention.
As one reporter notes, an “increasingly disorderly, sometimes chaotic and conflictual world has dramatically changed the security policy environment for Germany and Europe.”
The German scenarios underline a seemingly growing concern as to the future of the EU and, with it, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) which appears incapable of addressing increasingly divergent national interests and concerns.
The 2018 visit of American President Donald Trump to NATO highlighted that Germany, as well as other EU and NATO members, may no longer be able to rely on the United States security umbrella as it has since creation of NATO in 1949.
Should this be the case, there is an elephant in the room, in that a number of strategists and analyst have pointed out that Germany could create an independent nuclear capability in a relatively short time, joining Great Britain and France in a troika of European nuclear powers.
The present political situation may have sparked discussions on bringing about “National Service” as Italy, Germany and France are again considering reinstituting such a national defence program.
We may have witnessed the high point of European domination and the intellectual aspiration to create a unified European superpower incorporating liberal values may have experienced political overreach.
Moreover, the substantial costs of a Brussels-based bureaucracy and Parliament, a disregard (in some cases contempt) for personal or national perspectives, as well as the bureaucratic arrogance and determination to Europeanize sovereign states, seemingly at all costs, may prove its downfall.
For Germany, the European Union is strategically important as it relates to Germany’s core national interest as the foundation of its relationship with France, the structure and purpose of which was to “ensure that the conflicts of the past stay in the past”
Another core interest is that Germany needs the EU free trade zone as the crux and market for the burgeoning German economy.
After decades of peace, the EU and NATO may be experiencing a slow and painful breakup “under the weight of an increasingly divergent set of interests among their members.
So, Germany must make its own plans and it must plan for the worst.”
Given the dire scenarios propounded by the German study, other EU nations would be prudent to create contingency plans for the possible demise of an EU dream, as well as considering the necessity for rearmament programs to address future defence and security requirements.
Colonel Taillon’s 42-year military career included more than 22 foreign training missions and numerous deployments and 30 years in the intelligence community.
© 2018 FrontLine Defence (Vol 15, No 5)