A year ago, in June 2021, NATO informed us that war had changed and that it was no longer being fought with conventional weapons alone, but also through so-called ‘hybrid instruments’ designed for purposes other than war but still functional to the strategy. An example: information is identified as one of these hybrid tools, and therefore – we are told – any disinformation campaign through the so-called ‘fakenews’ should be considered a real threat to security, if and when this is able to affect the democratic dynamics of an allied country, putting its stability at risk. Therefore, security threat analysis should – thereafter – include not only conventional military scenarios but also these hybrid scenarios. As threat analysis also includes preparing responses to these threats, it has become necessary to broaden NATO’s strategic competence to allow it to adapt to these shifting perspectives.
The reason is that the Heads of States and Governments have decided to update the NATO Strategic Concept, the political document that guides and brings together the activities of the Atlantic Alliance and which will be formalized at the next summit in Madrid, on the 28th, 29th and 30th June.
Not only information – NATO experts tell us – but also web, economy, space and even climate change will have to become part of the security scenarios to be analysed from a war point of view, to ensure their strategic goals. If, for example, a government does not want or will not be able to take the actions considered necessary to deal with the increase in CO2, this too will be a safety problem and treated as such, that is, with a response pursuant to Article 5 of the Statute.
This will be the eighth modification of the Strategic Concept and each of the previous ones marked a critical turning point in international relations and balances. Unfortunately, most of them are still classified, but we are aware of those that came from 1989 onwards.
We know the modification of 1999, taken in correspondence with the Kosovo war with which it was determined how legitimate it is to act outside the territory of the member states, as long as it’s from a regional perspective. We are familiar with the 2011 amendment – in correspondence with the invasion of Syria – which extended the territorial scope of the Alliance and introduced the concept of smart defense. That formally opened up to contexts of hybrid war in a preventive perspective with the commanding lead from behind: that means to direct and guide critical socio-political processes before they turn into conventional security scenarios. We also know the consequences these NATO posture changes have had on a global level.
Yet, what has been presented so far is not even comparable to the political destabilization that the Atlantic Alliance is preparing to realize with this new Strategic Concept.
The process started immediately after Biden’s election: on 7 November 2020 the new President is elected and on the following 20 November the final report of the NATO 2030 REFLECTION GROUP is published, subsequently adopted in June 2021 as the NATO 2030 AGENDA in the next summit and which will form the conceptual basis of this new Strategic Concept in the process of definitive formalisation.
A clarification is required: these political upheavals – this is what we are talking about – need time and in all likelihood, they would have occurred even without Biden, but it is certain that his election has given the process a massive acceleration. The personal fixations of the US President, the need to revive the hegemony of US capital, and the complete subservience to US interests by the EU both as a unitary political entity and as individual states in bilateral relations are combined in a rare perfect alignment. Even Germany, after Merkel’s departure, completely crushed itself on the position of the US, putting an end to German exceptionalism.
Biden has a long-standing fixation: extending US domination over all the ex-USSR countries of the European territory. He was a great supporter of the war in Kosovo when he was a senator, he led the internal and international advocacy campaign for the eastward enlargement of NATO and, as vice-president of Obama, he chose as the first stop on his first official trip in Romania, Europe, which then entered the Alliance later that year.
Also as vice-president, he was Obama’s special delegate to Ukraine, playing a leading role in supporting the Euro-maiden coup and exerting all his pressure to persuade Obama and his Western allies to intervene harshly against the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Obama’s refusal to do so was one of the strongest reasons for friction between the two, and today Biden makes no secret of considering that failure to intervene as one of the major strategic mistakes made by his predecessor. Initial errors made fatal by the attitude of Trump, who dared to declare that if the people of Crimea wanted to go with the Russians, it was not a problem for him.
This conceptual imprint is clearly echoed in the final document of the NATO summit of 2021, where we read how, in the members’ opinion, NATO’s deterrence capacity has been compromised by having spent too little on arms, from having let things pass that should not have been let pass (such as the annexation of Crimea) and from the excessive diversity of political positions represented by the individual member states which, often, conflict with the strategic objectives of the Alliance itself.
The case of Germany and the gas pipeline with Russia (which never came into operation) is indicative. This and others were in fact expressly referred to as an example of what an allied country must not do. Biden, in essence, pulled the reins on the allies, calling everyone to order. NATO expects each member country to take responsibility for the achievement of strategic objectives, adopting congruent and coherent behavior, even if this means facing some negative consequences. It identifies two enemies: Russia as a contingent target, and China as a real strategic target, towards which, in June 2021 it already invited a more assertive attitude towards US positions.
The attitude certainly became more assertive and in the end, the conflict exploded. Europeans insist on sanctions against Russia even against their interest. The NS2 pipeline was blocked before the completion of the authorization checks and immediately after Merkel left the scene. European Nato members have adjusted military spending as required and there’s no day in which our political institutions do not openly profess their faith in NATO.
Biden believes Trump won the presidential election only thanks to a disinformation campaign orchestrated by his Russian enemies. These campaigns would have been carried out by Moscow with the specific purpose of obtaining geopolitical advantages to the detriment of the USA, which – as a result of this – have lost economic and political hegemony. All this – Biden believes – only because of that successful disinformation campaign. And this is why even information becomes a specific security scenario.
The US President’s view is that the weakness of the United States and the loss of NATO’s deterrent capacity have allowed other actors to appear on the international relations stage almost on an equal footing with the US, thus claiming to be treated as equals. In his vision, however, there are no peers, only subordinates or enemies; they only like a competition if they win.
For instance, in Italy the secret services register all those who express a divergent line from that expressed by the government in office, accusing them of dissent. If we read the document that would have been delivered to Copasir (Parliamentary Committee for the Security of the Republic), in reality there are “criticisms of the work of the Prime Minister Mario DRAGHI” or “the stigmatisation of the effect of the sanctions…”.
If, until yesterday, the possibility of expressing one’s dissent without suffering any prejudicial consequence – which is the fundamental nucleus of the right to freedom of expression: not only the fact of being able to express thought but the fact of not having to suffer prejudicial consequences from it by the State – was considered an indispensable cornerstone of any democracy that wanted to define itself as such. Today, this is no longer the case. Dissent becomes a security hazard and therefore a fault; if not really a crime, certainly cause for suspicion. Sufficient for the intelligence services and the press, certainly not – or at least not yet – for the courts.
It was only the exercise of a legitimate right of criticism and expression, yet this strange combination of press and intelligence can cause you to be condemned by public opinion without the need for any court, outside of every rule and principle of a state of law, and thus cause much greater and sometimes irreparable damage. Too few are the voices of indignation that have been raised, and too few are those who fail to see the danger inherent in the idea that in the name of the security of the State, or of the Atlantic Alliance, such unreasonable compressions of the right to criticise can be allowed, of political expression and opposition.
And this is precisely the ultimate goal, to dramatically expand the operation of the concept of safety, to the point of extending it as a real prerequisite of the rule of law: without safety, no rights, in practice. Absolutely unconstitutional, decidedly undemocratic, but perfectly in line with the objectives of the new Strategic Concept, and therefore entirely legitimate.
This was a preview of the preventive response strategies: identify, monitor, de-legitimise and point out anyone who does not think as NATO wants, as an enemy of the state.
And we are only at the beginning.
The author, Michela Arricale, is a lawyer, international jurist, political activist, and researcher at CRED – Center for Research and Development for Democracy.
The original article is on Altrenotizie.org, an independent, alternative newspaper directed by Fabrizio Casari, an expert in international politics.
The cover photo is an illustration by The Human Exploring Society released under Attribution 4.0 International Creative Commons license.