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Wars to come, Europeans to act

19 Oct 2022 - 10:34
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A multimethod foresight study into Europe’s military future

“Watch out for War with a Capital W,” this new HCSS report concludes – based on the first comprehensive expert survey to study the future of European defence since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Authors Lotje Boswinkel and Tim Sweijs use a multi-method approach to explore where Europe is most likely to intervene militarily over the next ten years, and lay out a comprehensive policy agenda for European defence policy makers.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has been a strategic wake-up call for European leaders, leading to a boost in defence budgets across Europe and prompting Finland and Sweden to find shelter under the collective defence umbrella of NATO. If one thing is clear, Europe will need to assume a greater role in maintaining peace and stability in its own region and neighbourhood.

Using a multi-method approach, which includes the largest survey of European defence experts since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, consulting more than 80 experts from 22 countries, this report explores where Europe is most likely to intervene militarily over the next ten years. It anticipates where armed conflict and instability are most likely to occur, how European interests will be affected and lays out a comprehensive policy agenda for European policy makers.

Even with the current reinforcements of military postures across Europe, material and political constraints will not disappear. Therefore future-proof choices need to be made that address the principal security challenges and pinpoint necessary policy responses. This report includes predictive models of intrastate armed conflict and addresses the ‘dangerous dyads’, geopolitical features that make interstate wars likely, which would be most consequential for European interests.

There is an urgent need to think about necessary investments and capability portfolios in the long term, including but also beyond the current war in Ukraine. For fundamental decisions to be future-proof, a reflection on the future security landscape and operating environment is required. That is where the present foresight study comes in.

The study concludes that conflict between the major military powers is a defining feature of the current era and so European leaders must “Watch out for War with a capital W”. Europe must escape entrapment through a strengthened military posture combined with sustained diplomatic efforts. Moreover, efforts must be made to prevent and contain interstate conflict, particularly where dangerous dyads in Europe and its immediate neighbourhood come into play. Policy makers must continue to address global instability factors such as state fragility, polarisation and the democratisation of military technologies. Globally, policy makers must continue to address the climate-security nexus resulting from global warming.

This means an ever-larger variety of military capabilities will be required and expected from European states in a growing number of regions and across a growing number of issues.

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Lotje Boswinkel and Tim Sweijs - The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS)

Contributors: Collin Meisel, Saskia Heyster, Daan Sanders and Stella Kim