Octavian Manea

Octavian Manea

How a boiling Black Sea is slowly cooking NATO frogs!

The recent harassment of the HMS Defender near Crimea is just the latest episode in a broader Russian behaviour to claim waters illegally and challenge freedom of navigation. In fact, for quite some time, Russia is practicing a form of hybrid warfare at sea – warns Admiral (Ret.) James Foggo.

Seven years after the Crimea annexation, the Black Sea remains what has been called the ‘soft underbelly of NATO’. How do you see the transformation/the changes in the Russian way of warfare and what worries you about them? There is a term that I found very useful in this context coined by David Kilcullen in his most recent book where he talks about a special type of warfare, that of liminal warfare  – essentially ‘riding the edge’, exploiting the ambiguity of blurred lines of conflict to challenge an established order and exert control on key parts of the regional commons – practiced in a certain ecosystem, a geographical area ‘transitioning between two states of being…that are in limbo, that have ambiguous political, legal and psychological status’.

My introduction to the Black Sea took place in early 2011. In 2010, I became a one-star admiral in charge of Submarine Group 8 in the Allied Submarine South that included the navies of the Southern Mediterranean and Black Sea region countries that operated submarines (Greece and Turkey). At that time, we were bringing the Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers to Rota, Spain as Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF). It was our desire to use those ships in multi-mission capacity, not just for missile defense, which is their primary mission, but to perform other multi-missions: anti-submarine warfare, anti-air warfare, maritime interdiction operations, etc. The US DDG is really a versatile platform. We sent one of these destroyers then to the Black Sea for the first time and the Russians were not happy about it. The Burke Class Destroyers have the ability to carry the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) and the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3)–the best ballistic missile interceptor in the world. When the Russians protested against the destroyer sailing in the Black Sea on a legitimate Montreux convention request, the response of the Sixth Fleet Commander at the time—Admiral Harry Harris was –“Well, send another one!”  The important lesson learned here is that you have to be present for both your allies and partners to receive reassurance and to let others that want to challenge you know that you are going to be there with like-minded nations in solidarity. In other words, “Virtual presence equals actual absence!”  Eventually, the Russians got used to a US DDG entering and operating in the Black Sea.   

As this relationship progressed with the post-Soviet era Russian Federation, there was actual dialogue, we had joint military activities with their forces.  Every year, it became a milestone event to build and approve the “Russia Work-Plan.” Everything done in collaboration with Russian Forces was approved at the Secretary of Defense level. In fact, during the run-up to the Olympic Games in Sochi we had two ships in the Black Sea, but then out of the blue came the illegal annexation of Crimea and the Russia Work Plan ground to a halt. We should have seen this coming after the 2008 attack on Georgia but for some reason we didn’t. As a community of western allies and partners we were completely surprised. This was accomplished through what David Kilcullen calls liminal warfare or essentially hybrid warfare by a different name. Personally, I don’t like the “little green men” expression, but I do appreciate and understand hybrid. Undermining a sovereign nation can be done without firing a shot through intimidation, spawning social or nationalistic unrest, capitalising on social-media and utilising the new domains of cyber and space in coordinated attacks that occur under the threshold of a NATO Charter Article 5. All these things happened and now Crimea has been annexed and there exists a continuing tension along the border in Donbas or what is often called a frozen conflict. Sometimes this area heats up, as we saw most recently with the build-up of a 100,000 Russian forces along the line of demarcation between Crimea and the rest of the Ukraine.  In the final analysis, I was relieved that the Russians stood down, but they proved they can do this quickly and that it wouldn’t have taken much to go from an exercise to a real-world operation and cross that line in Donbas. Accordingly, we need to continue to maintain our presence in the Black Sea – the soft underbelly of Eastern Europe.

The boiling frog scenario

What does the hybrid component mean when applied to maritime issues? I think we’ve seen a glimpse of that when we look to the Russian actions in the Azov Sea or in the broader Black Sea ecosystem.

Hybrid or liminal warfare conveys that something is “brewing” as I said earlier, and brewing below the threshold of an Article 5 violation. We have this expression in the West called the “boiling frog.”  The frog sits in a pot of water that is slowly brought to a boil. In the final analysis, the temperature change is so subtle over time, that the frog never realises that it’s been cooked. Some of the incremental changes or encroachment that have taken place in the Black Sea region during the last decade and my tenure of seven commands in Europe remind me of the boiling frog scenario. 

You have to be present for both your allies and partners to receive reassurance and to let others that want to challenge you know that you are going to be there with like-minded nations in solidarity. In other words, “Virtual presence equals actual absence!”

For example, beyond Russian actions in Georgia in 2008 and the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, I was the Commander of Naval Forces Europe in 2018 when the Sea of Azov incident (where Russian FSB vessels fired on, rammed and captured Ukrainian naval vessels) took place. The regulation of the Sea of Azov is different than the regulation of the Black Sea or other body of waters under the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS). The Sea of Azov is regulated by a bilateral agreement between Russia and Ukraine that was signed in 2004. As a result, it is the business of these two signatories to resolve their differences in the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait, thereby limiting what Western powers can do on the other side of the Kerch bridge and up to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. Nevertheless, when I was the Naval Forces Europe Commander, I said both publicly and privately, that left unchecked the West might see an export of this protocol/pattern of bad behaviour from the Sea of Azov into the Black Sea. In other words, the Russians could export this protocol of restricting access to the Sea of Azov to the rest of the Black Sea. I believe this is exactly what happened recently, coincident with the build-up of Russian land and air forces near Donbas, followed by Russian Navy forces announcing a number of closure areas in the approaches to the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea throughout this summer and into the fall. This is a form of hybrid warfare.

They tried the same thing during the Trident Juncture 2018 off the coast of Norway and the Norwegians told me it was the first time that they had seen a declaration of a closure area for a missile exercise in their EEZ very close to their territorial waters, as well as in the middle of Trident Juncture maritime operations. When you declare closure areas, under the auspices of the UNCLOS – you don’t “own” that piece of ocean. The oceans are called the “global commons” for a reason. Nations declare closure areas to notify their intent to conduct dangerous military activities (like a missile exercise) for the benefit of civilian traffic in the impacted areas. It is intended to be a safety mechanism but can be abused to cut off sea lines of communications and normal transit routes. This is what is happening today—it is an unfair practice and it should be stopped—so what can you do about it?  There is no reason you can’t sail into those areas, particularly if nothing is going on at the time. Demonstrating the will and the ability to project power and presence is very important. Both sides eventually get used to it. It is important to challenge this kind of hybrid warfare at sea with presence operations that are non-hostile. 

It is also important that in doing so, we reduce the chance of mistakes and miscalculations on the high seas during close encounters between US/NATO and Russian warships. There needs to be a broader NATO multilateral agreement on this and I would suggest that NATO Navies conduct a closer examination of the Code on Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) for risk mitigation during “unplanned” encounters, particularly in the Black Sea.

Let’s reflect a bit on the broader consequences of Russia investing massively in counter-power-projections bastions to neutralise some of the traditional features of the American/Western way of war. How do they change local balances of power? What worries you the most? How should US and NATO forces change how they operate in such increasingly non-permissive environments?

This should not come as a surprise to the West. It was back at the turn of the millennium, around 2000, when it was recognised at least in Washington, in some think tanks and amongst the strategic minds in the Pentagon – one of these was Andy Marshall, who was the head of the Net Assessment – that an anti-access/area denial strategy was a very real and rather inexpensive manner in which to secure an area of a coastline or airspace against any potential threat or amphibious landing of an opposing force. Early in this century, we started to see the build-up of the highest density of weapon systems (an interlocking system of coastal missiles, interceptor aircraft, air-defense systems, surface ships, and submarines) in one geographic area – Kaliningrad in the Baltic Sea. It was really the first A2/AD bastion that was created in this post-Cold War Russian Federation world. An A2/AD strategy can be very effective. It builds on the proliferation of weapons of asymmetric warfare and although it is effective in protecting a coastline, it can also reach out much further than territorial waters and into the open ocean where it can restrict the ability of commercial shipping to conduct freedom of navigation on the sea lines of communication in international waters.

When talking about A2/AD, I always refer back to a famous war game in the United States called Millennium Challenge where a retired Marine Corps officer, Lt. Gen. Paul van Riper took command of the Red Force (the opposing force) and created an A2/AD strategy that was so effective that the exercise had to be re-set and had to start over. Over time, because the A2/AD strategy has been successful, particularly the Russians and now the Chinese are both investing their resources to protect their interests and project power far from their respective coastlines. Who would have ever thought that the Russians would have established such a significant presence in Syria? In fact, they’ve created an A2/AD cordon around Syria and out into the Mediterranean which raises tension in the Eastern Mediterranean. With the annexation of Crimea in Black Sea they’ve done the same thing with S-300 and S-400 systems that form a cordon of early warning well beyond 12 miles from land. There are also increasing numbers of reported incidents of GPS jamming or spoofing in the Black Sea and other maritime domains where we operate. These are all functions of the expansion of the domain(s) of warfare from what used to be 3 domains (land, sea, air) into now 5 domains (+ cyber and + space).

One of the things I’ve told to my friends in the Black Sea was that if this A2/AD strategy is being effectively employed by our adversaries, why don’t you try it yourself? In fact, building a network of connected surveillance along the coastline is exactly what Romania and Bulgaria are doing. The challenge is to connect on the other side with Georgia, Ukraine and Turkey as well.

It’s becoming very busy in the Black Sea, especially when you add the 6 Kilo class submarines (2 that are operating in the Eastern Med, 4 that are operating in the Black Sea) that carry the very capable Kalibr cruise missile which Russia proved works very well in combat. With the reach of the Kalibr weapons system, they can essentially target any capital city in Europe. We need to know where those vessels are at any one time. This can be very challenging.

The need for a new NATO maritime strategy

The traditional discussion when you try to counter any A2/AD posture is either to incentivise allies to build their A2/AD capabilities, or to adopt an ASB (Air Sea Battle) kind of thinking. Is this also part of the broader picture that NATO should have in mind for the Black Sea ecosystem?

The new strategic review that was conducted by NATO happened to be led by one of CEPA’s own Dr. Wess Mitchell, a brilliant diplomat and scholar. To my great delight the report underscored the need for a new NATO maritime strategy. The last one was published in 2011, before of the return of the Russian Federation and the rise of China as a peer competitor. 

Oftentimes when a crisis occurs, we are late to recognise it because of a failure of indications and warnings: we are not paying attention to signals and then we respond by “running to the sound of guns.” I had two grandfathers in the First World War in the trenches and my father hit the beach in Normandy after D-Day—they ran to the sound of guns…

An A2/AD strategy can be very effective. It builds on the proliferation of weapons of asymmetric warfare and although it is effective in protecting a coastline, it can also reach out much further than territorial waters and into the open ocean where it can restrict the ability of commercial shipping to conduct freedom of navigation on the sea lines of communication in international waters.

In the NATO maritime domain, oftentimes we will also run to the sound of the guns. Is it in response to a snap exercise in the High North or the Arctic region? Is it in response to high tension in the waters off Kaliningrad or is it in response to the most recent build-up in Donbas both at sea and on the land?  

With a strategy you have a plan. There are branches and sequels to that plan. These plans are adapted to geographical regions, like the GRPs. When you have a plan then you understand what tools, capabilities and what capacity and types of ships you need to successfully deter or defend. When you articulate those types of platforms and the capabilities that go with them (anti-air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare), that costs the Alliance in terms of resources from individual nations or NATO Common Funding. A strategy can provide some form of coalescence and agreement on who provides what to support the plan.

The last piece of the puzzle that is really important about any strategy is what we in the United States call a Time Phased Force Development Doctrine (TPFDD) – i.e. who goes first and when and where do follow-on forces arrive?

Incorporating all of these things in the paragraphs preceding will constitute a maritime strategy that is much overdue.

The Fourth Battle of the Atlantic

What are the implications for the West of what you call the Fourth Battle of the Atlantic? How should NATO adapt its maritime posture to deal effectively with it?

When I coined the expression the Fourth Battle of the Atlantic with my brilliant co-author, Dr. Alarik Fritz back in 2016, neither of us realised how popular that expression would become.

At the time, we were sounding the alarm on the fact that ‘Russia employs an “arc of steel” from the Arctic through the Baltic and down to the Black Sea. Russia has the capability to hold nearly all NATO maritime forces at risk. No longer is the maritime space uncontested. For the first time in almost 30 years, Russia is a significant and aggressive maritime power’.

This response to our warning order on the return of the Russian Federation (particularly in the undersea domain) was met with strong resolve on the part of the Alliance. We are able to assign an extra fleet to augment the 6th Fleet and MARCOM and our NATO Allies in deterring and defending the euro-Atlantic theatre. When people asked me during my time as Naval Forces Europe Commander—Is the US withdrawing from Europe?—I said absolutely not. Let’s look at some recent events. We just re-inculcated the Second Fleet that’s been decommissioned for a while. We agreed to create a Joint Forces Command HQ in Norfolk, Virginia to bolster the pillar of the transatlantic bridge from North America to Europe. That was a significant event and expenditure of resources on the part of the United States. Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, USN, has done a great job taking that organisation from initial operational capability to full operational capability. He deployed forward and took command of the BALTOPS and established an expeditionary HQ in Iceland in advance of one of our Carrier Strike Group deployments.

It should be also stated that the Fourth Battle of the Atlantic is not only about the Atlantic Ocean. It is also the other oceans and seas that connect with the Atlantic Ocean including the Arctic Ocean, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea. In fact, the Arctic Ocean represents the trans-Polar bridge between Northern Europe and the Barents Sea in the Western Pacific. It is an area of common ground between the Pacific and the Atlantic and Northern Europe and it brings us together with our Asian allies and partners. In this region, encompassing the coastlines of eight bordering Arctic nations, including the Russians (they have 40% of the coastline and a lot of the natural resources are on their continental shelf) we have a new arrival—a self-declared “Near Arctic Nation” – China.

The Baltic Sea is another important region. Like the Black Sea, it is a closed area of water, you have to get through a strait to get there, so there is a choke point. It is a thriving economic area and nobody wants to disrupt that through major power conflict or regional crisis. We want it to be calm, prosperous, stable, secure and safe for all the Baltic Sea nations. The same situation exists in the Black Sea or Mediterranean Sea. The concept of the Fourth Battle of the Atlantic and how you respond to it or how you prevent it from getting worse is important to all these important bodies of water.

The precursor to war becomes the war itself

You commanded one of the biggest post-Cold War exercises of NATO – Trident Juncture 2018. Core dimensions of NATO adaptation after Crimea annexation such as VJTF or NRF were exercised then. What were the lessons that you’ve learned from Trident Juncture 2018?

It remains the most successful NATO exercise since the Cold War. For me, Trident Juncture was the pinnacle of my 39-year career and the chance to command a force of 50,000 NATO soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines on-board 70 ships, 265 aircraft and 10,000 tracked or rolling vehicles.  It was an Article 5 exercise and even though we used a fictitious adversary’s name, as reporters continued to press me I acquiesced that it was all about the Russians and our ability to deter and defend in the euro-Atlantic theatre. We spend 90% of our time deterring but we wanted them to understand that we are capable of moving a very large preponderance of force into the territory of a NATO nation whose sovereignty had been violated in order to defend it.

Under the Total Defence Concept, we received tremendous support in Norway from “Viking” military and civilian forces alike, including hoteliers, air traffic controllers, cab drivers, barbers and stevedores. The logistical statistics were stunning for the period of the exercise: 58 container ships arrived, 2100 containers delivered, 150 road convoys conducted, 1 million meals served, 660 tonnes of laundry washed, 35,000 beds established in the field.

It was the equivalent of moving 7 brigades in about a month. There was significant planning up until that event and in the future we are not going to have the time to plan in this time horizon, but what Trident Juncture demonstrated was that there is an incredible dependence in the Alliance on logistics and military mobility.

Liminal or hybrid warfare is not going to result in great tank battles in the Fulda or Suwalki Gaps. It is going to be these little pressurised pockets of intimidation below the threshold of article 5 and the boiling frog scenario – it happens and it’s done before we know it.

The Russians were also invited. They were able to see with complete transparency what NATO accomplished during the exercise. We demonstrated what we wanted to – that the NATO alliance is extremely strong, cohesive, capable and so… don’t mess with us!

Trident Juncture contributed to deterrence not only just in the High North and Arctic but also all the way to the Black Sea. The more you raise the risk calculus for the adversary, the less likely they are to cross the line. In the case of hybrid warfare in Ukraine (not a full member of the Alliance), the risk was low enough to make it attractive. I think that’s what’s gone through the Russian leadership’s decision calculus. In particular, Russian leadership concluded that it could cross this line and take this territory without firing a shot, and so they did it.  

We must consider this carefully in preparing for the future.  Liminal or hybrid warfare is not going to result in great tank battles in the Fulda or Suwalki Gaps. I don’t think that traditional symmetrical warfare is what is going to happen. It is going to be these little pressurised pockets of intimidation below the threshold of article 5 and the boiling frog scenario – it happens and it’s done before we know it. In conclusion, I submit that if the precursor to war becomes the war itself, then we’ve got to re-evaluate the whole manner in which we conduct warfighting. I think that is where we are today. The next battle of the Atlantic is going to look a lot different than the Fourth Battle of the Atlantic that we are fighting today.  Let’s do what it takes to be ready for it…

Excerpts from this interview were previously published in Small Wars Journal and Cronici Curs de Guvernare (in Romanian).

Admiral (Ret.) James Foggo is a distinguished Fellow with the Transatlantic Defense and Security Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). Over the last decade in Naples, Italy, he served in multiple major commands as Commander, Naval Forces Europe/Africa; Commander Allied Joint Force Command, Naples; Commander, U.S. Sixth Fleet; Commander, Submarine Group 8; and Commander, Submarines, Allied Naval Forces South.

Brad Allenby: “Pluralism was designed for a time when information moved more slowly”

In this wide-ranging interview, Brad Allenby – a Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics at Arizona State University – warns us about the transformational impact of technology (including AI) on the existing institutions and shares his insights on the future of war.

Writing about the rise of AI, Henry Kissinger pointed out his concern with “the historical, philosophical and strategic aspect of it. I’ve become convinced that AI is going to bring a change in human consciousness exceeding that of the Enlightenment.” What worries you about the rise of AI (especially as the rise of AI happens in a context where advances in biotechnology and neuroscience seem to be opening new frontiers)?

One of the difficulties is that AI is one of those technologies like electricity, an enabling one across the technological frontier. We are going to be using it in the car navigation systems, in cellphones or refrigerators. It is not that we are going to have this integrated AI as a technological threat in the same way that we perceive a nuclear weapon. AI is going to enable new behaviors and new activities, which is one source of problems—just think about the intervention of the Russians in the 2016 American elections. At the same time, you are also going to have fundamental changes in the assumptions that underwrite our institutions. If you look at the American political system today we are arguing about the First Amendment [on freedom of speech]. But AI as integrated into social media, and the amount of information that we are generating means that that is an irrelevant question. If you can’t get on social media you don’t have free speech. You have AI integrated with other things acting in ways that are destabilising for the existing institutions. This is our biggest problem. The rate of change is accelerating, it is going to be more profound, so we are going to need to be able to develop new institutions that are much more agile and adaptive, and yet at the same time more ethical than the ones they are replacing.

How do you see the impact of AI and big data on democracy and pluralism at a time when the public square has increasingly moved online? Can they make democracy and pluralism more resilient and healthy, or are we going to see the opposite: AI-enabled malign information campaigns, tribalism on steroids (with societies that become divided along Hutu vs. Tutsi lines), or even Orwellian states where comprehensive surveillance is dominant?

Especially because there are so many dimensions to these changes, I think that you can’t predict; the only thing you can really do is to create scenarios. It is not an unreasonable scenario to ask if the integration of AI, the party and private firms into a network in China, which is part of the Social Credit System (SCS) doesn’t give authoritarianism a significant jump in fitness. Meanwhile the difficulty with pluralism is that the pluralistic structure was designed for a period when information in particular moved much more slowly. You see that in the First Amendment and with the checks and balances system. These are fine until the rate of change and technological reality decouple them from the governance system. Institutions that were designed for a low-bandwidth world suddenly find themselves overwhelmed by information flows. Once that happens, pluralistic societies have to think deeply how they reinvent themselves, because their authoritarian competitors are already reinventing themselves. A reasonable scenario is that the changes tend to weaken pluralism and tend to strengthen soft authoritarianism.

If the US is going to be successful going forward, it is going to have to figure out how to create a pluralism that embraces tribalism.

In this context, the thing to keep an eye on is how different cultures manage to use the integrated capability of the emerging cognitive ecosystem — 5G, social media, AI, the Internet of Things. Are they able to use that in ways which augment the effectiveness and the power of the state and party? Or does it rebound on their system in such a way that it fragments even more? The Chinese are putting together the Social Credit System (SCS) which integrates all of those. Everyone depends on the social credit system. You have a high credit score and you can get in airplanes, in trains, you can go to certain colleges. It becomes a very powerful way of nudging behaviour. They are creating a structure where unless people behave the way you want them to, they are going to hurt themselves.

Are the 21st century autocracies better positioned to compete and master AI/cognitive infrastructures than democracies?

Democracies in particular have a big problem. In the Constitution of the US we have this strong split between the military and civilian powers. That is great until your adversaries adopt a whole strategy of civilisational conflict (and both the Chinese and Russians have done it), in which case you are in trouble. Your military knows that it is a threat, but it is over the civilian infrastructure, so they can’t intervene. The pluralistic response may become more chaotic, and very importantly, it begins to take longer. The problem with authoritarianism has always been that it was fragile. But designed properly, a social credit system can not only nudge citizens to behave the way the authoritarians want them to do, but it can also detect when there are issues that might affect the legitimacy of the authoritarian. It can become a way of channeling information upwards as well. Designed right, the traditional problems of authoritarianism are ameliorated by this integrated AI/human capability. If that is the case, then you have pluralism getting more and more chaotic, more sclerotic, and you have soft authoritarianism becoming more effective.

The West: too successful to adapt?

During the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution was a hugely disruptive force that reshaped the international system and the balance of power globally. Some benefited and others lost. Are we in the early stages of a similar competition between the West and the Rest, spearheaded by a new technological revolution? With what implications?

Yes, we are. Successful institutions are going to be successful because they are fit for the current environment. That has been true for 200 years of Western models of governance. That also means that when things change fundamentally, they are the unfit ones. It is very hard for a successful organisation to adapt. AT&T used to be a great telephone company, but along comes internet telephony and AT&T goes away. The same is true of very successful governance systems. The problem that the Americans have is that they’ve been successful, and that is going to inhibit their ability to adjust to a world where the fundamental assumptions underlying those institutions have changed. Internationally, we may be entering a period where we are moving toward a kind of neo-medievalism: rather than having a single power we are going to have competing local power dynamics that tend to disrupt international commerce and could lead to higher levels of violence.

The amount of information that is available, the too many different stories, create an information overload so people fall back on their core narratives, not because they are stupid but because they are forced to. The only way they can continue to make sense of the world is to fall back on a tribal narrative that is more a matter of belief than of applied rationality.

This new type of medievalism might happen also inside the states not only in the international system. Tribalism is on steroids, the space for compromise-oriented elites is shrinking. This is a huge pressure for the US, as it used to function under the logic of E pluribus unum.

It is a problem that particularly the Americans have. To the best of my knowledge we never really had a world power that didn’t have an exceptionalist narrative. The problem is that today in their pursuit of identity politics the Americans have managed to destroy the integrating social narrative. The exceptionalist narrative in the US is very weak. Over time the US will become less competitive because tribal interests are going to grow to dominate the body politic. If the US is going to be successful going forward, it is going to have to figure out how to create a pluralism that embraces tribalism. That is going to be very hard. Tribalism, identity politics are here to stay. It is important to understand why. Individuals are information-processing mechanisms. If you fundamentally change the information environment you are going to perturb the performance of individuals and their institutions. Technologically-enabled trends are slowly undermining the core assumption of a pluralistic society — the individual as a rational citizen. That is exactly what we’ve done in the last 10 years. The amount of information that is available, the too many different stories, create an information overload so people fall back on their core narratives, not because they are stupid but because they are forced to. The only way they can continue to make sense of the world is to fall back on a tribal narrative that is more a matter of belief than of applied rationality. In short, a shifting away from System 2 thinking (predisposed to slow, applied rationality), back to System 1 thinking (predisposed to fast, emotional, intuitive thinking). That means that tribalism is not only going to continue, but strengthen.

The era of civilisational conflict

You have written a lot on the changes that affect conflict and war. What significant trend-lines do you see as shaping the future of conflict?

To me the deeper question is what fundamental structures have to change as we move into an era of ongoing, low-level civilisational conflict. Unless and until something dramatic happens, that is going to be the state of the world. If that is the case, what works and what doesn’t? You might say that clearly the military-civilian divide embedded in the US Constitution is obsolete and you should rethink it. That is never going to happen, but the deeper you get into what is happening to those assumptions, the more those kind of fundamental changes may need to be thought through.

But back to this paradigm change. The easiest way to think about the civilisational conflict is that over the last 30 years, the US has become the preeminent traditional military power. If you are China or Russia you are not going to be able to accept that that limits your freedom to protect what you feel are your vital interests. So you are going to figure out some way of developing effective asymmetric warfare and strategies. Overall, strategic and technological imperatives are changing how war and conflict are framed, generating a shift from military confrontation to a much broader and complex conflict waged across all domains of civilisation. Both Russia and China have gone in the same direction moving toward coherent theories of 21st-century conflict, and contemplating the inclusion of all dimensions of a civilisation in a very deliberate, strategically integrated process of long-term, intentionally coordinated conflict. You see this trend with the so-called ‘Gerasimov doctrine/New-generation warfare’ and the ‘Unrestricted warfare’ doctrine of the Chinese, and the implication is that all elements of an adversary’s culture and society become fair game for conflict. It does mean that you will be constantly attacking across that entire frontier. The idea that war is restricted to certain times and certain forms of combat becomes obsolete. Something that we need to recognise is that Russia is in constant war with the West; they have been over a long time, and they are continuing to fight it. The problem that NATO has is that it is more like a digital system. It is either on or off, it is either war or not. With the Russians it’s analogue. That is not something that the West is well designed to meet, either in terms of strategy or institutions. As much as the West may not like it, our adversaries have chosen civilisational conflict, and that is where we are. We need to adapt.

You can see the different ways in which major powers structure, for example, their cyber-activities. The Russians tend to use both internal government and criminal organisations. The Chinese tend to keep their high-technology companies very close and integrated with the state, so the party, the state and the private companies are all generally aligned in their behaviour. The Americans tend to let their companies go and view their private sector as being the innovative sector. That kind of fragmented approach means the Americans are unable to coalesce and align, even informally, the way the Chinese are. They have a different idea of what constitutes a civilisational conflict structure than the Americans do.

Something that we need to recognise is that Russia is in constant war with the West; they have been over a long time, and they are continuing to fight it. The problem that NATO has is that it is more like a digital system. It is either on or off, it is either war or not. With the Russians it’s analogue.

How do you see the implications of the emerging cognitive infrastructure for the traditional Boydian OODA loop? Visions of the war of the future talk about ‘algorithmic warfare’, where decision dominance is of the essence.

Conflict at the level of world powers of all kinds is going to be faster, more complex, and more systemic. Being fast and understanding your environment better – accelerating the OODA loop beyond the point that your adversary can follow – is going to provide the strategic advantage. At the same time, there will be many conflicts, such as in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, that are going to be low-level communal and tribal violence powered by deep ideological differences – the so-called neomedieval environment. Speed, agility, access to large data pools, and adaptability are key, so the nations that figure out how to do that – how to get inside the OODA loop of one’s adversaries – are going to dominate over time. The West is not doing particularly well on any of those metrics, which should be a cause of concern.

What do we want to save about the ancien régime?

What are the implications of how we should think or rethink about the resilience of a pluralist democracy?

If pluralism is going to prosper, it needs to develop a way to reinvent itself from the foundations up. In doing so it may lose something that we value, but that is because it is becoming obsolete. In some ways we should think about the task as sitting down in 1788 – what do I want to save about the ancien régime? Because things are going to change and are going to be different. France was France before 1789 and it was France after 1789. So the question for the West is, what kind of West do we want to be?

Let’s also discuss the main ethical implications. People fear a future where robots might control us. What principles should regulate/govern the use of AI? Do you see the potential to educate and programme the intelligent machines in the spirit of the 10 commandments? Or are we becoming too much dependent on the old assumptions when imagining the future?

All of the above. I think we are already too dependent on the assumptions that were valid during the first Enlightenment, but they are going to change. The first Enlightenment didn’t fail – it succeeded brilliantly, but now it has obsoleted itself. The second Enlightenment is going to require us to rethink our ethical structures. As far as robots are concerned we are going to find that we have a far more complex environment, but the ethics are not part of what the robots bring to the table. We always tend to think about the robots and AI as being kind of like us. But they are not going to be. We are the product of the things that were evolutionarily necessary for a species like ours to prosper and become the dominant species on the planet. But there is no reason why the Internet should develop that same cognitive structure. For humans, emotion is among other things a shortcut to decision-making. If the situation is too complex, emotions kick in and we respond. An AI should not have the same constraint. It may have different ones, but it is not going to think the way we do. It is going to think profoundly differently. We keep thinking of AI as the Skynet. It may not be Skynet, it may be like Google maps or Alexa, that just become more and more part of your life.

Brad Allenby is a Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics and co-chair of the Weaponised Narrative Initiative of the Center for the Future of War at Arizona State University.

Parts of this interview were published in Romanian in the printed issue of Cronicile Curs de Guvernare, No. 91.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff (GMFUS): “We need a robust German-American relationship at the core of NATO”

Dr. Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of the United States was nominated Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs in the Biden administration last week. Several other GMF experts have already taken up key positions: Derek Chollet (counselor to the State Department), Laura Rosenberger (director for China on the National Security Council) or Julianne Smith (senior advisor to the Secretary of State). Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, vice president of the GMF, shares his insights about the future of the transatlantic relationship under the Biden administration and the need to reinvent NATO’s conventional defence around German contributions.

‘If the EU fails, we can say goodbye to the liberal order’ – an interview with Samir Saran, President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi.

To what extent is Europe important for the future of the world order? Europeans feel like they count less and less on the world scene.

Europe is, paradoxically, the single most important geography that will define the future trajectory of the global order. If Europe remains rooted in its fundamental principles – of being democratic, open, liberal, plural, supporting a transparent and open market economy, defending rule of law, the rights of individuals, freedom of speech – the world will have a chance of being liberal. If the European Union is split between the north and south, east and west and we see a large part of it deciding to give up on the Atlantic project and align with more authoritarian regimes – which is quite tempting, due to the material side attached to the choice – that will be the end of the Atlantic project. An EU that is not united in its ethics is an EU that will eventually write its own demise. How will Europe swing? Will it be an actor, or will it be acted upon? 

I have the belief that post-pandemic EU, as a political actor, will see a new lease of life. A new political EU may be born as the pandemic ends. Unless that happens, I believe this is the end of the European Union itself. It is a do it or lose it moment. Unless Europe becomes strategically far more aggressive, far more expansive, aware of its role, obligations and destiny you will see an EU that fades. For me, the most important known unknown is the future of Europe. Will the EU hold? Will the 17+1 become more powerful than the EU 27? Which way will the wind blow on the continent? Will it really be the bastion of the liberal order or will the liberal order be buried in Europe?

The Indo-Pacific is the frontline for European safety

We’ve been used to only existing as part of the transatlantic relationship. In the past few decades, Europe has never really seen itself as an individual actor, but rather in coordination with the US. That is something that is starting to shake now. Do you see Europe acting on its own terms, as a global actor, in the positive case in which the member states do get their act together? Are we rather going to continue to act together with the US? Or find some other partners?

I suspect that with Brexit, you might see a far more cohesive EU, organised around the French military doctrine and French military posture. With an absent UK, I have the feeling that the political cohesion of the EU will increase and that the EU will be far more coordinated in its approach to the geostrategic and geopolitical questions. France realises that by itself, without the size of the EU, it might not be a significant actor. A French military presence will be compelling only if it acts on behalf of the EU.

Europe believed that it could change China by engaging with them, however I suspect China will change the EU before the EU changes China.

In terms of other partners, Europe has made one error. Europe believed that it could change China by engaging with them, however I suspect China will change the EU before the EU changes China. The mistake that the EU makes is that it imagines that an economic and trading partnership will create a degree of political consensus in Beijing. Nevertheless, Beijing is not interested in politics, but in controlling European markets. 

What Europe should do is to consider the importance of India. If the European continent needs to retain its plural characteristics, South Asia is the frontline. What is happening today between India and China is actually a frontline debate on the future of the world order. The Himalayan standoff is just the first of the many that are likely to happen unless this one is responded to. If China is able to change the shape of Asia and recreate the hierarchical Confucian order, don’t be surprised if the fate of Europe will follow the same path. If Europe needs to feel secure in its own existence it needs to create new strong local partnerships – with India, Australia, Indonesia, Japan. The EU needs to see itself as an Indo-Pacific power. The Indo-Pacific is the frontline for European safety. If the Indo-Pacific was to go the other way, the mainland is not going to be safe.

What do you think about the CEE’s role in the new emerging order? We see an increased competition for hearts and minds here. How could India help, in an environment of increased competition and active engagement of China in this space?

The Central Europeans are going to be the centre of attention for many actors. China will buy their love, America will give military assurances and so on. In the near future, many actors will realise the importance of the CEE, simply because it is these countries that will decide which way Europe finally turns. In some ways they are the swing countries, the swing nations that are going to decide whether Europe remains loyal to the ideals of its past or decides to have a new path. CEE countries are in many ways the decisive countries.

CEE has two important options and two important pressures. The options: will they be able to create a consensus (between the Chinese, the Russians, the Old Europe and the new countries like India) or will they be an arena for conflict? Can we create a ‘Bucharest consensus’, where the East and the West, North and the South build a new world order and the new rules for the next 7 decades? If you play it wrong you might become the place where the powers contest, compete and create a mess.

There are also two pressures. Firstly, there is an economic divide in Europe. You are at a lower per capita income, you need to find investment funds for the infrastructure, employment, livelihoods and growth, which results in an economic pressure that needs to be tackled. Therefore, Europe will have to decide if the provenence of the money matters. Does it matter if it is red or green? Does it matter if they come from the West or the East? That is one pressure that needs consideration. How do you meet your own aspirations, while being political about it? 

The other pressure is the road you want to take. How do you envisage the future? Is it going to be a future built on cheap manufacturing? Being an advanced technological society, are you going to be the rule-maker of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or its rule-taker? Secondly, the nature of the economic growth that you are investing in becomes another pressure. This is the second choice that the CEE will have to make. In that sense, I believe that India becomes an actor. As we have experienced this in the past 20 years, we are one of the swing nations that could decide the nature of the world order, thus we may share this experience with you. We have also decided that we don’t want to be a low-cost manufacturing economy like China, but rather a value-creating economy, building platforms. Even if we have a small economic size, we have a billion-people digital platforms, digital cash system, AI laboratories and solutions. 

What is happening today between India and China is actually a frontline debate on the future of the world order. If China is able to change the shape of Asia and recreate the hierarchical Confucian order, don’t be surprised if the fate of Europe will follow the same path.

As we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the tyranny of distance between Europe and India disappears. We don’t have to worry about trade links, land routes and shipping lines. Bits and bites can flow quite rapidly. As we move to the age of 3D printing, to the age of quantum computing, of big data and autonomous systems, the arena where we can cooperate becomes huge. 

India gives Europe room to manoeuvre, room to choose. When it comes to choosing, besides the traditional American and Chinese propositions, there is also a third one – India, a billion-people market.

Do you expect that there is going to be a shift in the EU toward reshoring and ensuring that manufacturing is not captive to Chinese interests or to Chinese belligerence?

I think that we are going to see a degree of reshoring everywhere. It is not going to be only a European phenomenon. Political trust is going to become important. Political trust and value-chains are going to affect one another. Countries are going to be more comfortable with partners who are like-minded. They don’t have to agree on everything, but they should be on the same ideological and political spectrum. 

There are two reasons for this. One is the pandemic that we are currently facing and in a way it exposed the fragility of globalisation as we know it. The hippie and gypsy styles of globalisation are over. I think that people are going to make far more political decisions. The second is that as we start becoming more digitalised societies, individual data and individual space are going to be essential, thus you don’t want those data sets to be shared with countries whose systems you don’t trust. Value is going to increasingly emerge through intimate industrial growth, far more intimate in character – it is going to be about the organs inside your body, it is going to be about the personal experiences, about how we live, transact, date or elect. They are all intimate value chains. The intimate value-chains will require far greater degree of thought than the mass production factories that created value in the XXth century.

The EU may be setting the format for managing our contested globalisation

You mention the rising value of trust, as a currency even. In Europe, we often point out that we are an alliance based on values. But even our closest partner, the US seems to be moving in a much more transactional direction, let alone China and others. You are describing a worldview that is relying increasingly on shared values, at least some capacity to negotiate some common ground, on predictability, whereas in many ways it seems that things are moving in the opposite direction, a much more Realpolitik one. Is this something that is going to last?

The pandemic has brought this trend to the fore. People are going to appreciate trust and value systems more than ever. But I think this was inevitable. If you would recall, India used to be quite dismissive of the EU, calling it “an Empire of gnomes”, with no strategic clout. But if you look at the last two years, India has started to absorb, and in a sense to propose solutions that the EU itself has implemented in the past. India came up with an investment infrastructure framework in the Indo-Pacific that should not create debt trap diplomacy, should create livelihoods, respect the environment and recognise the rights and sovereignty of the people. India came up with this when it saw that the Chinese were breaking all rules and all morality to capture industrial infrastructure spaces. The Americans under Donald Trump also came up with the Blue Dot American project for the Indo-Pacific – a framework that was based on values. Whenever you have to deal with a powerful political opponent you throw the rule book in there. If you don’t want to go to war with them, you will have to manage them through a framework of laws, rules and regulations. The value systems are a very political choice. They are practices and choices enshrined in our constitutions and foundational documents. Therefore, dismissing values and norms as being less political or less muscular is wrong. The EU, “the empire of gnomes” that was much criticised for the first two decades as weak and not geopolitical enough, may well become an example for other countries. If it remains solvent, a vibrant union, and if it is not salami-sliced by the Chinese in the next decade, the EU may well be setting the format for managing our contested globalisation.

This pandemic is the first global crisis where Captain America is missing

How does India see the future of the Quad? Usually the Quad is associated with a certain vision of the Indo – Pacific, free from coercion and open to unhindered navigation and overflight. Are we going to see the emergence of a more formal geopolitical alignment or even an alliance to support a certain vision about Asia?

The Quad is going to acquire greater importance in the coming years. It is going to expand beyond its original 4 members. We’ve already seen South Korea and the Philippines joining the discussion recently. We are going to see greater emphasis by all members doing a number of manoeuvres, projects and initiatives together. The next 5 years will be the age of the Quad. The pandemic started this process. I see three areas where the Quad can be absolutely essential.

One is in delivering global public goods, keeping the sea lines open and uncontested so that trade, energy and people can move with a degree of safety and stability. In a sense, I see the Quad replacing the Pax Americana that was underwriting stability in certain parts of the world. 

The second area is going to be around infrastructure and investments in certain parts of the world. I see the Quad grouping many initiatives that will allow for big investments in countries which currently have only one option – China. The Quad will be able to spawn a whole new area of financial, infrastructure and technology instruments closer to the needs of Asians, South Asian, East African, West Asians including the Pacific Islands. The Quad will be the basis of this kind of relationships in the upcoming years.

Thirdly and most importantly, the role of the Quad will be to ensure that we won’t reach a stage where we have to reject the Chinese. None of us wants a ‘No China’ world, because all of us benefit from China’s growth and economic activities. Many of us have concluded that the only way to keep the Chinese honest in their engagements, economical or political, is to be able to put together a collective front in front of them, not negotiate individually. The EU has done that longer than anyone else and that’s why the Chinese don’t like the EU and apply a ‘divide and conquer’ methodology to get more favourable deals. The Quad is in many ways an expression of that reality, as well of that the middle powers in Asia and Pacific (Indonesia, Australia and Japan) will have to work together, sometimes without the Americans, to negotiate new terms of trade and new energy, or technological arrangements. The Quad in many ways is also the ‘make China responsible’ arrangement, an accountability framework which will keep the Chinese honest and responsible actors in the global system.  

The next 5 years will be the age of the Quad. The Quad in many ways is also the ‘make China responsible’ arrangement, an accountability framework which will keep the Chinese honest and responsible actors in the global system.

Do you also see this trend extending into the political sphere in a kind of collective endeavour both in Asia (through the Quad) and in the West (starting with Europe perhaps) to build a new kind of world order? Do you feel that this ‘middle powers concert’ is one possible way to go? Or do you believe that we are going to be disappointed, as we were by the BRICs, when some of the members drowned in their own domestic problems? 

We are part of a world that doesn’t have any superpowers. The last superpower was America, and that ended with the financial crisis ten years ago. Ever since, we have been literally in a world which had quasi-superpowers like the US, to some extent Russia, the Chinese, but there was no real hegemon that could punish people for bad behaviour and reward people for good behaviour. 

Some of the most interested actors in the Indo-Pacific in the last two to three years happened to be the UK and France. A few years ago, they sensed that if they want to be relevant in the future world order, as it is built and as it emerges, they need to be present in the debates that are unfolding in this part of the world. Both partnered with India – to do military manoeuvres, to create maritime domain awareness stations, to invest in infrastructure and to create clearly the beginnings of a new order that might emerge from here. We will have to create these coalitions to be able to get things done.

The pandemic tells us something which is also quite tragic. Ever since I was born I have never witnessed a global crisis that did not have America as a response leader. This pandemic is the first global crisis where Captain America is missing. What makes it even more complicated is that the successor to Captain America has caused the crisis. Hence, you have the old power, which is absent and engrossed in its own domestic realities, and the new power that has been irresponsible and has put us in this position. Both the previous incumbent and the new contender don’t have the capacity to take action in this world by themselves. This tells us that building a coalition of middle powers is absolutely essential. It is not a luxury, it is not a choice. This is something concerning our own existential reasons that we must invest in.

Do you see this coalition of middle powers as some sort of a ’league of democracies’? It is a concept that was previously advanced by John McCain and now Joe Biden is embracing as his overarching framework for foreign policy. Do you see the potential for creating this league of democracies as some sort of manager and defender of the liberal international order?

I think it is inevitable. Technology is so intimate that we are not going to trust our data with folks we have a suspicion about. Thus, it is this reality that makes this coalition of democracies and like-minded countries inevitable. Even if we may never call it that, it is going to become that. We are going to notice countries engaging in these intimate industries with others who are similar, who are like-minded, who have similar worldviews. Still, this process may take longer than we have. We do not have the luxury of time, because we are going to be destroyed, divided, decimated and sliced in the meantime.

A few countries will have to take leadership – either the French, the UK, the EU itself, or India, or all of them. Until there is an agreement on a big vision for the new world order we must agree to an interim arrangement and have to create a bridging mechanism that takes us from the turmoil of the first two decades of this century to a more stable second half of the century. We don’t want to go through two world wars in order to achieve this unity, as we did in the past century. We need to have some other mechanisms that will prevent conflict, but preserve ethics. 

In this context the EU-India and the CEE-India projects are essential. It is us who have the most at stake, because our future is on the line. The more the world is in turmoil, the less we will be able to grow sustainably. It is our interest to create and invest in institutions and informal institutions that could preserve a degree of values and allow for stability.

Such a coalition reuniting countries from Central Europe, Western Europe and from Asia (such as India, Australia, Japan) will normalise the behaviour of both America and China. I do not think that they behaved responsibly in the last few years – one because of its democratic insanity, and the second because of its absolutist medieval mindset. Along these lines, you have democratic failure at one end and a despotic emergence at the other end. We need to ensure that democracy will survive and that the middle powers will be able to normalise this moment.

What is Russia’s role in all this? Is Russia going to be on our side? Or is it going to be on China’s – considering that sometimes they seem to, although their agendas perhaps align only when it is opportune for both of them?

Russia has an odd reality. It is a country that has a very modest GDP (the second smallest within the BRICs) but it is also a country that is possibly the second most powerful military force in the world. A big military actor with a very small economic size. This is creates a policy asymmetry in Moscow. It has very little stakes in global economic stability or global economic progress, but it has huge clout in the political consequences of developments around the world. The Russians have somehow to be mainstreamed into our economic future. Unless Russia is going to have an active role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution or have real benefits, their economy will stay in the 20th century and therefore their politics is going to reflect a 20th century mindset. If they are included in the economic policies of the future, their politics will evolve too. It is not an easy transition. Nevertheless I would argue that the Russians have to be given more room in European thinking so that they don’t feel boxed into the Chinese corner. The last thing that we should be thinking of is giving Russia no option but to partner with the Chinese. Perhaps the immediate neighbours (the CEE) will not be open to a partnership, taking into account their political history. But countries like India would be able to offer space for manoeuvre. In that sense, India could be a market, a consumer, an investor in the Russian economic future and the CEE-India partnership could become important. Can we together play a role in normalising that relationship? Can we give the Russians an option other than China? If Russia’s economic future is linked to ours, it doesn’t have to be in the Chinese corner. The Russians are not the Chinese. The Chinese take hegemony to a whole new level; the Russians have this odd asymmetry that defines their place in the world. This asymmetry should be addressed with new economic possibilities and incentives. 

The rise of the Middle Kingdom

We’ve been discussing how to react to a world that is increasingly defined by China. But what are China’s plans? What does China want? 

I do not know their plans, but I can tell you how I see China’s emergence, from New Delhi. I define it through what I call the 3M framework.

Firstly, I see them increasingly becoming the Middle Kingdom. Chinese exceptionalism is defined in those terms. They believe they have a special place in the world – between heaven and earth. They will continue to defy the global rules and they will not allow the global pressures to alter their national behaviour or domestic choices.  So we will see the first M, the Middle Kingdom, emerge more strongly in the years ahead.

This pandemic is the first global crisis where Captain America is missing. What makes it even more complicated is that the successor to Captain America has caused the crisis.

Secondly, this Middle Kingdom will make use of modern tools. They see Modernity as a tool, not as an experience. In that sense they use it to strengthen the Middle Kingdom, not to reform and evolve. Such tools include digital platforms, the control of media and a modern army with modern weapons to control and dominate. 

Thirdly, the final M deals with a Medieval mindset. They are a Middle Kingdom with Modern tools and a Medieval mindset that believes in a hierarchical world. We are a world which has moved away from the hierarchies of the past. The world is more flat, people have equal relationships. The Chinese don’t see it like that. They see a hierarchical world, where countries must pay tribute to them. They sometimes use the Belt and Road Initiative to create the tribute system or the debt trap diplomacy to buy sovereignty. Likewise, they use other tools to ensure the subordination of the countries they deal with.

These three Ms are defining the China of today.

Samir Saran curates the Raisina Dialogue, India’s annual flagship platform on geopolitics and geo-economics, and chairs CyFy, India’s annual conference on cyber security and internet governance. He is also the Director of the Centre for Peace and Security at the Sardar Patel Police University, Jodhpur, India. He writes frequently on issues of global governance, climate change, energy policy, global development architecture, artificial intelligence, cyber security, internet governance, and India’s foreign policy and authored four books, the latest of which is called ‘The New World Disorder’. 

The interview was conducted by Oana Popescu and Octavian Manea, as part of the Central Europe-India Forum Initiative created by the Observer Research Foundation (India), Keynote (Czechia) and GlobalFocus Center (Romania).

“It is more than a trade war between US and China, it is a hegemonic rivalry” – an interview with Kuni Miyake

Kuni Miyake is president of the Foreign Policy Institute and research director at Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo. A former career diplomat, Miyake also serves as special adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Japanese government.

How would you characterise the post-COVID Indo-Pacific security ecosystem from a Japanese perspective?

One thing is for sure: pandemics accelerate and in many cases deteriorate already-existing tendencies. For this reason, I focus on the big trends. In the case of East Asia there are several such tendencies. One, China is on the rise. Two, the United States is becoming more and more inward-looking, if not isolationist. What’s happening now is quite similar to what we witnessed in the 1930s: you have a new rising regional power that considers the status quo as something to be adjusted, and therefore it can be changed even by force. With that in mind, the rising power challenges American hegemony in the Western Pacific by force. That is exactly what Japan did in the 1930s, but China is doing it on a scale 10 times bigger. In the case of Japan we attacked Pearl Harbor and we started a war. China is not that stupid. But nationalism is an opium. Once you start using it, you cannot stop it until you destroy yourself. That happened to Japan, and I am afraid that something similar could happen to China. These trends have been exacerbated and accelerated. 

Nationalism is an opium. Once you start using it, you cannot stop it until you destroy yourself.

What would you expect to be the key pillars of post-Abe foreign policy? What will change? What will be the continuities?

Shinzo Abe is one of the few politicians in my country who really understands the global strategic environment and the imperative to maximise the national interests in the middle of such difficult circumstances. Fortunately, he stayed in power for almost eight years. If you have this time you can create a sort of a legacy which could last longer. Mr. Suga has no choice because he was part of the Abe foreign policy. I always say that foreign policy is also politics, and all politics is local. If you want to make a commitment in your foreign policy, the biggest opponent are not the foreigners but your fellow citizens inside your country who are opposed to new ideas. Therefore, in order to achieve a diplomatic goal, you need to convince the opponents inside your country. That is something Abe did and Mr. Suga did himself. That’s why I call Mr. Suga a part of the Abe foreign policy. He will just continue doing it. But Shinzo Abe was a Ferrari, a super car, and even if you drive a super car, if the streets are congested you cannot go anywhere. Mr. Suga is no Ferrari or Lamborghini, but if you find the right route and streets, you can go anywhere. Abe created a great environment for Japan to maximise its national interests. Abe’s legacy will stay.

The most worrying issue is the outcome of the US elections. This is a wild card. If Trump is re-elected we know how to deal with it. If Biden becomes president, probably his policy wouldn’t be dramatically different from the current administration. The main reason is that the geopolitical transformation in East Asia has been so drastic that it has really started a strategic rivalry between US and China. This is more than a trade war, it is a hegemonic rivalry. The Americans fear that one day China might challenge the U.S. hegemony in the Western Pacific and even replace the US in East Asia. This is not something episodic, but a strategic and structural trend which the pandemic has accelerated.

A key component of Abe’s foreign policy legacy is the Quad. How does Japan see the future of the Quad? What is the next stage in the development of the Quad? 

Too frequently we refer to China and the CCP. The Quad is not an alliance, the Quad is not NATO. It is a much looser sort of a forum because we don’t want to define it clearly. If you define it clearly then only a limited number of countries can participate. So we should make it open. India has finally joined. It took us 14 years. We started talking about the Quad in 2006. Foreign Minister Taro Aso told US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Hanoi in November 2006 that it was important for Japan, Australia, India, and the US to get together to discuss security issues in the Asia-Pacific, but at that time Ms. Rice did not respond positively. We may not see an expanded Quad in the foreseeable future. But what is more important is to keep the Quad united, to make it as loose as possible, so that more countries can join later in the future. The Quad is a good idea, but it is not NATO and shouldn’t be another NATO.

The Quad is not an alliance, the Quad is not NATO and shouldn’t be another NATO.

In June the implementation of the Aegis Ashore anti-missile system was canceled by Japan. At the same time there is currently a major debate in Japan about whether the SDF should develop counterattack capabilities, specifically acquiring attack missiles. What do these trends suggest about the national security policy, specifically about deterrence? 

Here the real issue is how we define our defence policy. There is a very long debate about what we mean by ‘exclusively defence-oriented’ defence policy. Exclusively defensive defence policy means nothing. It is a tautology. It is a strange kind of debate which we have continued for the past 60-plus years. It is time to rethink it because our potential adversaries have more military capability than before, and that requires more deterrent capability on the part of the Japanese side. Therefore it is not a debate between whether or not we should be able to attack enemy bases. It is not that simple. What is more important is a discussion about the qualification of the exclusively defensive posture of our defence policy. My argument is very simple, because defence policy consists of two elements: deterrence and attack capabilities. So try to deter your potential adversary first (so enhance the deterrence power to discourage enemy attacks), and if the deterrence fails you should be able to attack. As far as Japan is concerned, under the current constitution, we should put more emphasis on the deterrence side rather than the attack element. It is time for us to adopt a ‘deterrence-oriented’ defence posture.

Is Washington’s plan to withdraw troops from Germany particularly worrying for Japan? Do you see any ripple effects for the broader US posture in the Indo-Pacific, or questions about US credibility? 

The question is what are the stakes of the US presence in Europe and East Asia? There is of course the cultural angle – we are allies and share the same values. But the US is also a naval maritime power in the Indo-Pacific, where the economies are growing fastest. Therefore, the US might withdraw some troops from Europe to reinforce the deterrence posture in the Indo-Pacific area. But of course, this shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. You have more US Army troops in Europe while we have more US naval capabilities. In Asia what we need are the amphibious Marine units who can fight on the waters. It is a delicate balance, but the Europeans may have to keep in mind that the American priority has already shifted from Europe and the Middle East to Asia.

What does China’s most recent international behaviour (the border clash, the knock-out of Hong Kong freedoms, the bullying of Taiwan) expose about Beijing, its plans, ambitions and grand strategy? For sure this is no longer Deng Xiaoping’s China – “Keep a cool head and maintain a low profile” mind-set. Is this a sort of a wake-up moment? 

The reasons behind the recent self-assertiveness are the following.

Firstly: China is now a major power. It is not weak anymore. It has enough military power to realise its military and political ambitions. Secondly: the element of nationalism as part of the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. The legitimacy of the CCP consists of three pillars: China is one and united; their victory over Japan in the Patriotic War; and they finally found the third, which is the economic development in the late 1970s. This last element really divided the nation, because it widened the gap between the rich and poor. This is something that over time will destroy the legitimacy of the CCP. That’s why these days they have become excessively dependent on the nationalistic propaganda. The danger is that it is like opium, because once you start using it, you cannot stop it. 

Thirdly: the imperial personality of Xi Jinping. He thinks that it is time for China to strike back. With these three elements combined, China cannot stop assuming an assertive posture in the foreseeable future.

Xi Jinping thinks that it is time for China to strike back. China cannot stop assuming an assertive posture in the foreseeable future. 

When you visited Bucharest a few years back you warned about a power vacuum in the South China Sea that Beijing will take advantage of. What are/should be the lessons to be learned by the international community from the South China Sea? 

It is too late. We missed the opportunity a few years ago before they started landfilling and creating artificial islands. Once they were there and deployed all the weapons systems it became too late. In wartime these are highly vulnerable, but in peacetime it means that China is dominant inside the first island chain. We are located on the first island chain. As the US Marines say, they are already in the area and they are not going to move away. They are there to stay and defend their positions. What we can do now is to prevent the Chinese Navy especially from going out of the first island chain. In order to do that they will need more powerful platforms, which will be basically very vulnerable as the American forces transform in the future. 

Biden or Trump? Who is better for the US system of alliances?

Japan is an exception. Japan is the only nation among the allies of the United States which benefited most from the Trump Administration. Europeans suffered more than they gained. Of course, we suffered too because of the inherent unpredictability of the administration. A Biden presidency will be much more predictable. If Donald Trump is elected again maybe Shinzo Abe can play a role again. If I were Mr. Suga, I would nominate Abe as his special envoy.

Are you worried about intra-Democratic party ‘civil war’ between the Biden moderates and the radicalised progressive wing?

Yes, once Biden wins, another battle among the Democrats will resume. I hope this will not damage the foreign and defence policy of the Democratic party.