German Brigadier General Erich Vad, a security adviser to his country's chancellor from 2007-13, is worried that Russia's increasing willingness to project its power abroad could cause big problems for Europe.
Divisions within the European Union and the shifting sands of global power have prompted the EU to re-assess its security posture. Vad is proposing a European defense force, made up of continental powers such as France and Poland, with Germany taking a leading role.
The EU has set itself a deadline of mid-2016 to come up with a new strategy and role for Europe in the increasingly complex global security environment. The German general, now retired after his years of service under Chancellor Angela Merkel, spoke with VOA during a recent visit to Washington.
The West is witnessing a profound change in great-power relations not seen since the end of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Vad says.
'New way of waging war'
In his view, Russia and China are calling into question the legitimacy of the established world order, and Europeans seem unprepared for 21st-century challenges. First among these is Russia’s new security doctrine and its use of hybrid warfare in proxy wars against the West.
“It’s a new way of waging war, which the Russians used in Ukraine,” he says. “A combination of secret-service irregular forces, combatants and minorities and everything else. It’s a special kind of war, which you cannot counter with tanks and armored divisions as in the Cold War.”
He worries that the Russians might "use this playbook to destabilize the Baltic States, Poland and other countries of NATO.”
Another cause for concern is the growing chaos to Europe’s south, Vad says. The spread of failed and fragile states and ungoverned spaces – from North Africa to the Middle East – is feeding extremism that often spills over into Europe.
European countries, especially France, are increasingly under threat from returning foreign fighters and homegrown extremists. Vad cites the assault earlier this year on the offices of the weekly Charlie Hebdo, which paralyzed Paris for days. The assailants, armed with Kalashnikov semi-automatic rifles, were two Islamist brothers who grew up in France.
“You could see thousands of soldiers on the streets not only in Paris, reacting to this kind of attack against our tolerant, democratic societies,” Vad says. “We have to develop measures to protect us from the security point of view, but also to protect the openness of our societies.”
Europe’s economic security also is being challenged, the German general says. He cites the difficult dispute over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, waters that carry $5 trillion in maritime cargo every year - including much of Europe’s trade volume.
“We could never accept a situation where China is able to control whether our ships can go through or not,” he says. “I don’t think that the Chinese are interested in a confrontation policy, but there are developments ongoing, which we have to respond to.”
The traditional distinction between internal security and international security has ended, Vad says. "We have to find complex answers to all of these challenges,” he adds, “otherwise we will lose.”