Danish Atlantic Council new report: War in the Future- New and Old Challenges.

In these months, rearmament, especially of the European parts of NATO, is starting. The question for politicians and the military becomes, what should we invest in? What type of war are we facing? This report will seek to describe some of the changes facing war. The report has passed two peer reviews by both an officer on generals’ level and a professor in international politics.


In the last twenty years, new types of war, hybrid war, and cyberwar have been discussed. However, the Ukraine war shows very clearly how new and old technology are mixed and how different types of warfighting happen simultaneously. We see war in cyberspace as well as tanks, infantry, and planes deployed on the battlefield. NATO must be able to do this in the future.


Looking forward to 2040 is a difficult task, though we can now already predict some of the changes — they are underway, they are based on research performed during the last 10 to 20 years, the technologies exist and the domains are known. However, the unknown factor is how the individual elements will work together. Further, there remains the risk that brand new and unforeseen technologies may arise.


NATO sees four characteristics of technologies that will define combat-critical military technologies in the future: Intelligent, interconnected, distributed, and digital. IIn its work towards 2030 with Emerging Disruptive Technologies (EDT), NATO is focusing on seven technologies. For each of these technologies, separate strategies are developed. The technologies are as follows:  artificial intelligence (AI), data and computing, autonomy, quantum-enabled technologies, biotechnology and human enhancements, hypersonic technologies, and space.


Based on the above approach, this report will examine the future of NATO warfighting and is based on the following assumptions:

  • For the next 20 years, we will live in some kind of international crisis where the focus will constantly shift from one crisis to another. Such a permanent international crisis is the symptom of the superpower rivalry we will see in the next 20 years.
  • To distinguish war from peace is no longer a clear possibility. We are living in a grey zone where distinctions vanish. This has been described as hybrid warfare or special warfare.
  • Geography has returned—and at the same time, geography has disappeared. This means that future threats can arise from powers physically close to NATO-states, such as Russia, and that the cyber domain represents a threat without a geographical dimension. A particular challenge will be in for form of threats from states outside of the ordinary NATO Area of Operations, such as China, as the NATO Secretary-General pointed out in August 2019. Threats to a NATO state can now originate from almost anywhere in the world.
  • Technology becomes more and more expensive, while at the same time, technology is cheap and can be developed anywhere.
  • Space has emerged as a warfighting domain in its own right and as a key enabler for almost all terrestrial operations.


In the past, Western military transformation was focused on and provided an opportunity to:

  1. change tactics based on newly available technology,
  2. change the size of the armies/navies,
  3. establish new strategies,
  4. impact on society by establishing a new administration that was able to handle a new military,
  5. an escalation of the area of operation.


The necessary military transformation/revolution of NATO towards a capable warfighting machine in 2040 should be based on a well-thought-out strategy that relates to the five elements outlined above. The five elements can also be used as a checklist.


This report will describe these elements of the future changes in security policy, strategy, and new technology to provide a platform for military procurement in each NATO state.