Redeveloping the Tools and Mindset of Strategic Competition

Interview with Dr. A. Wess Mitchell, co-chair of the NATO 2030 Reflection ProcessHe is co-founder and principal at The Marathon Initiative, a policy initiative focused on developing strategies to prepare the United States for an era of sustained great power competition. Previously, he served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs from 2017 to 2019. Prior to joining the State Department, Mitchell cofounded and served as President and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA).

Let’s describe the strategic environment of the 2020s and the structural drivers that push for the NATO strategic adaptation over the next decade. Essentially what sets aside the 2020s compared with the 1990s and the post 9/11 eras? What are the key operational problems of NATO going into 2020s? 

I think the defining characteristic of the international environment of the 2020s is the return of great power competition. Specifically: the rise of China and the persistence of Russia as a militarily capable large state.  

China’s significance lies in the fact that it is the first rival in America’s modern history with the potential to surpass the US in the major categories of national power; its economy is already larger than America’s and its military has ambitious plans to surpass the US quantitatively and qualitatively within the coming decade.

Russia is of course not a full-spectrum competitor like China, but it nevertheless possesses substantial conventional power projection capabilities and the world’s largest nuclear arsenal. Russia stands out because it also possesses motivation: this is a country that was the main loser of the last systemic rivalry so it sees itself as having the most to gain from reversing the verdict of the previous contest, so to speak. . .

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