A Few Takeaways from ABCD 2020 “Strengthening Baltic Societal Resilience and Military Defence”
The Annual Baltic Conference on Defence 2020 (ABCD 2020) covered three main topics: the security and defence policy implications of COVID-19; deterrence and defence in the Baltic Sea region; and the role of reserves in the foreseeable security environment.
The conference featured a long and impressive list of speakers, including Kersti Kaljulaid, President of Estonia, João Gomes Cravinho, Minister of National Defence of Portugal, The Baroness Goldie DL, Minister of State at the Ministry of Defence of the United Kingdom, John Manza, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Operations, General Jörg Vollmer, Commander Joint Forces Command Brunssum and Lieutenant General Christopher G. Cavoli, Commanding General U.S. Army Europe.
Here, we highlight a number of takeaways from ABCD 2020. This is not intended to be an exhaustive record. The views recorded here were not necessarily shared by all participants.
The current and future security environments
The post-COVID new normal is not so different from the old normal. NATO still faces the same threats and challenges. Russia’s assertive and aggressive policies and behaviour have not changed. The era of post-Cold War peace is over. We need to maintain focus on core military tasks. Warning times are shorter, we see lower thresholds for when force is used. We therefore need closer cooperation, as demonstrated by the recent Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish decision to enhance coordination of operations in crisis and conflict. Even while traditional threats remain, new threats have also emerged. Our adversaries have sought every opportunity to exploit the COVID-19 crisis to their own ends, not least by challenging us in the grey zones and spreading disinformation to undermine our ability to curb the spread of the disease.
The impact of COVID-19 on NATO and our societies has been limited
NATO’s operations as well as deterrence and defence activities have been maintained during the pandemic, although extra precautions have been necessary to protect the health of service personnel and the public. Emergency powers were put in place in many democracies, but vital societal functions continued to work: parliament and cabinet meetings took place and the free media was able to work as normal. Autocratic regimes have not been more successful than democracies in containing the pandemic. Combatting the virus is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to be prepared for the unexpected. We should not lose sight of the fundamental values that make our societies free and democratic. The political resilience that protects our democratic values and institutions is just as important for our response to the pandemic as more tangible aspects of societal resilience, such as the protection of power grids, transport networks and supply chains. Hybrid attacks threaten our cohesion and undermine our societies.
The armed forces have successfully supported civilian agencies and cooperated with industry throughout the COVID-19 pandemic
The active role of the armed forces in supporting the civilian authorities was evident and much appreciated in many nations, including Estonia, Portugal, the UK, Spain and Sweden. The armed forces have the competence and flexibility needed to manage both military and civilian crises. Civil emergencies, including those due to the effects of climate change and hybrid warfare, are expected to become more common and our militaries will be required to become more involved in managing them. But just as the military has supported the civilian authorities during the pandemic, the civilian authorities will need to be able to support the military in case of an armed conflict. This is still very much work in progress in most nations.
Reservists play an important role in military defence but also in civil emergencies.
Nations employ reserves in different ways. Since the end of the Cold War, reserve forces in some countries have remained largely configured as units, but have tended to be used less for provision of mass through mobilisation and more as a supply of trained individuals to fill gaps in regular units. But reserves can also make a broader contribution to resilience as a third and fourth line of defence. Reserves enable armed forces to be larger, more flexible, and have a wider range of the skills, experience and perspectives that the military requires. Regulars, volunteers and reserves excel when working together. Reserves also help bridging the gap between civil society and the military. Readiness (snap) exercises for reserves are needed to stress test mobilisation.
Defence spending must be a part of the answer to making our societies more resilient. Defence spending contributes to building defence capabilities, supports local economies and will stimulate post-pandemic economic recovery. Defence spending therefore needs to be maintained.
The conference was organised by the International Centre for Defence and Security and the Estonian Ministry of Defence, in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers. The main sponsor of the ABCD 2020 was EuroSpike GmbH and in addition, the event was sponsored by BAE Systems, DefSecIntel, Milworks and Nammo.