A senior NATO official said Thursday that the “risk for a major interstate conflict has increased” in recent years, pointing to a shift in military and economic power to countries such as China and Russia.
“China is leveraging its economic power to increase defense spending as a foundation of the growing global power strategy,” NATO Supreme Allied Commander Transformation Gen. Denis Mercier said during an address to the Atlantic Council.
“The neighboring India is following the same path and could reach a comparable status in the medium term. At the same time, Russia is resurfacing with the will to become a major power again, challenging the established order in the former Soviet space," he said.
The French general summarized the findings of the latest Strategic Foresight Analysis (SFA) report, comparing it to the first SFA report released in 2013. The 2017 report, released last month, identifies 20 global trends and 59 of their policy implications for NATO.
Mercier highlighted some of the major trends, including a worldwide shift in economic and military power from North America and western Europe to countries such as China and Russia.
The report notes that China and Russia are major defense spenders, with China spending about $215 billion on defense in 2015. It also mentions that among NATO countries, 22 declared increased defense spending in 2016.
The report predicts that this trend will continue, stating, “Asia-Pacific economies are projected to drive 60% of the total global increase in defence acquisition, research and development and 30% of the total defence acquisition budget through 2020."
According to the report, the shift in political power will require NATO to develop stronger ties with more countries.
“Reaching out to rising powers for military-to-military dialogue would help to develop confidence and security building measures,” the report advises.
The report also details other risks to NATO’s missions, including the impact of demographic and climate changes on military affairs. The report warns that higher levels of urbanization may force NATO interventions into densely populated cities, and that climate change may increase military activity in the Arctic.
Mercier noted Thursday that the Allied Command Transformation's first SFA report was more optimistic concerning international security than this year's report.
“The 2013 report acknowledged the complexity of the security environment and identified less potential for major conflict,” Mercier said. “This demonstrates that our starting assumptions will always be challenged.”