FCAS is expected to be adopted by the participating nations from 2040. Against this background, we asked President of the German Federal Intelligence Service Dr Bruno Kahl to provide a strategic threat analysis for 2040. This guest article is based on a talk that Dr Kahl gave during the meeting of the ‘AG Technikverantwortung’ (expert panel on the responsible use of new tech-nologies) on 2 October.

A strategic threat analysis for 2040

Portrait of Dr Bruno Kahl
Dr Bruno Kahl
President of the German Federal Intelligence Service

While we can make long-term forecasts for specific world regions and individual sub-ject areas, it is not possible to predict with absolute certainty which of these develop-ments will ultimately be most significant in geopolitical terms. We can nevertheless identify a number of megatrends that will have an impact on German security policy, requiring changes to our security architecture and consequently to the demands placed on our armed forces.

One fundamental megatrend that has been apparent for some time is that the world will not become a more orderly and organised place over the next 20 years, but rather much more diverse and, as a result, even less safe. Further megatrends include continued technological progress; a shift in economic strength between Europe, China, India and the USA; demographic development and change; climate change and a scarcity of re-sources; migration; and, despite the number of isolationist and nationalistic movements around the world, an advance in globalisation.

Each of these megatrends will have specific ramifications for military operations and the nature of military conflicts in the future. The protagonists of the 21st century will be faster moving, more sophisticated and more volatile. The battlefield will be influenced by a large mix of state, non-state and quasi non-state actors. This will make it more dif-ficult to distinguish between friend and foe.

The future will present new and different forms of conflicts. This applies to a broad range of hybrid threats and conflicts triggered by scarce resources or climate change. We are experiencing a ‘socialisation’ of war: military operations will increasingly take place in urban settings, affecting large segments of populations as a result.

The cyber and information domain will continue to gain in significance – especially when conflict dynamics and threat situations are complex or unclear. Social media and fake news will become increasingly prevalent, triggering wars of narratives. Digital asymmetries between the various parties involved, as well as an overall increase in mo-bility, will end up facilitating the proliferation of powerful and effective technologies to dangerous levels.

Digitalisation, automation and technological innovation will give rise to a ‘glass battlefield’ that – in contrast to the complex and opaque ‘fog of war’ of earlier eras – will shed light on the current situation and deliver information that is highly bene-ficial to tactical decision-making. All in all, the conflicts of the future will be more hy-brid and interconnected affairs with no geographical borders or temporal limits.

We need to know the future development strategies of other armed forces so that we are adequately equipped and prepared. Here, we will take Russia and China as examples.

From the Russian point of view, the major powers in today’s multipolar world aren’t engaging in direct military combat but rather in a rising number of local and regional conflicts. Right now, it is these kinds of conflicts that are more likely to escalate militari-ly rather than a large-scale war between major powers.

Russia is investing in new weapons, technologies and tactics, and is even testing them in the field – for example in Syria – so as to serve as a more credible deterrent. Air and space are becoming more important for the Russian armed forces in the process.

The hybrid and mostly covert methods of influence exerted by Russia are gaining ever greater significance, while moral, ethical and legal considerations are taking a back seat behind tough realpolitik using any method available. At the same time, the Russian sys-tem retains a consistent structure, regardless of Putin: the security authorities and mili-tary still form the centre of state power. In view of this continuity, the conflict with the West continues to be a defining factor in the system.

Even the multipolar world order can work to Russia’s advantage. The USA’s geopoliti-cal focus on Asia once again gives Moscow the opportunity to exert more influence on Europe. At the same time, however, Russia is still keeping a very close eye on the rise of China, its neighbour to the East. From a defence perspective, Russian weapon sys-tems are expected to have a technological edge over China until 2040.

In turn, Beijing’s security policy and military focus is likely to remain regional until 2040. Conflicts over sovereignty and territory directly on China’s periphery, as well as its rivalry with the USA in the Asia-Pacific region, will remain major influential factors in this regard.

The further rise of China under the leadership of the Communist Party will continue to play a decisive role in the world order up to the mid-21st century. President and party leader Xi Jinping has already declared China’s intentions to become a great power, on a par with the USA, by the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic in 2049. Wash-ington will therefore remain the benchmark for Beijing and its own foreign policy ambi-tions and security policy.

The medium-term goal of China’s military doctrine is to contain the USA’s position as the dominant military power in the Asia-Pacific region, while its long-term goal is to displace the USA here. In this context, the People’s Liberation Army is expected to be gradually reformed so that, by 2049 at the latest, it is capable of winning highly intense regional wars in the information age.

Due to weapon exports, it is conceivable that by 2040, complex Chinese weapon sys-tems such as combat aircraft and ground-based air-defence systems may be found in countries neighbouring NATO member states.

That’s why in terms of security and defence policy, it is in the interests of Germany and our European and transatlantic allies to know how Russian and Chinese defence exports in our neighbouring European or African regions could contribute to the international threat situation.

All in all, from a German point of view in general and from the perspective of the Bun-deswehr and German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in particular, ways in which we can better protect our soldiers against enemy threats during missions abroad will play an important role.

With regard to the strategic threat analysis for the decades ahead, based to a large extent on BND intelligence findings, policymakers will not only have to make foreign and se-curity policy decisions, but also develop European industry solutions with adequate technology and equipment.