NATO's Strategic Warfare Development Command

Charting NATO’s Strategic Course: The Crucial Role of Strategic Foresight Analysis

November 22, 2023

NORFOLK, Virginia. The Strategic Foresight Analysis series, spanning from 2013 to 2017, has been a cornerstone for shaping collective and Allied defence planning processes. These analyses, integral to understanding future trends, informed the development of the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept which lays out a strategic vision that will sustain NATO’s military advantage over the next two decades. It was endorsed by all NATO nations in 2021.

In 2022, Allied Command Transformation undertook a significant restructuring of the Strategic Foresight process, outlining several objectives. These included establishing a biennial foresight cycle with a trends assessment document (Strategic Foresight Analysis 2023) as a baseline; with a follow-on analysis expanding the military aspects of the Future Operating Environment (FOE24) of the Alliance 2024; develop subsequent foresight studies to analyse long-term challenges and inform long-term capability development; and establish a foresight community to modernize forward-looking practices and enhance future collaborative research.

The goal of the Strategic Foresight Analysis 2023 is to anticipate the evolving security environment through 2043 by evaluating driving forces and potential strategic uncertainties. The focus includes initial implications for the Alliance’s Military Instrument of Power and provides assumptions regarding the utility and effectiveness of diplomatic, information, and economic actions.

The Strategic Foresight Analysis 2023 scope is broad while it contributes to ongoing strategic studies. The Future Operating Environment 2024 will assess the evolving characteristics of actors, battlespace and modern warfare. It will support classified analysis related to the future strategies and military capabilities of NATO’s adversaries, as well as the challenges posed by climate change.

Key findings from the Strategic Foresight Analysis 2023 highlight several critical trends. Climate breakdown and biodiversity loss are identified as long-term existential challenges the world over. Resource scarcity is expected to drive instability, with the green energy transition becoming central to international and domestic affairs.

Additionally, the age of artificial intelligence and emerging and disruptive technologies is predicted to reshape states, societies, and armed forces at an unprecedented pace. Security concerns and strategic competition are leading to the formation of geo-economic blocs of countries, potentially weakening globalization.

Meanwhile, the rise of networked non-state actors, technological empowerment and urbanization present obstacles and opportunities in modern warfare. Resource needs, strategic competition, and technological advancements are expanding the challenges into new domains, from the sea to outer space and cyber.

The report also underscores the potential challenges to the rules-based international order, anticipating fragmentation, intensified strategic competition, and the emergence of new forms of security cooperation and military alliances. In an interconnected world, the Strategic Foresight Analysis 2023 identifies accelerating changes, strategic uncertainties, and instability as factors that will significantly impact the global landscape.

The rapidly deteriorating global security landscape has our adversaries aiming to capitalize on disruptions, challenging us in cognitive and virtual realms. NATO needs swift and more pertinent adaptation and transformation. The scope of competition and conflict has widened beyond the traditional Military Instrument of Power, extending into the Information domain. Enhancing dialogue between military and political spheres is crucial to counter these attempts. Even in times of peace, our adversaries are actively seeking ways to challenge our utilization of the Military Instrument of Power.

Strategic Foresight Analysis stands as a linchpin in fortifying collective defence planning processes. Its pivotal role has shaped NATO’s strategic trajectory, especially with the significant restructuring in 2022. The Strategic Foresight Analysis 2023, aiming to project security landscapes until 2043, serves as a critical tool in evaluating driving forces and uncertainties impacting the Military Instrument of Power. Its emphasis on the broader spectrum of diplomatic, informational, and economic actions reflects a holistic approach crucial for NATO’s adaptive resilience.

As the world contends with existential challenges like climate change, navigates the intricate interplay of technological advancements and formidable geopolitical shifts, this foresight analysis emerges as an indispensable compass guiding NATO through uncharted territories, equipping it to navigate evolving threats and bolster global security in an era of unprecedented change.