Interview with Dr. Stefanie Babst

We had the pleasure to interview Dr. Stefanie Babst, Head of the Strategic Analysis Capability (SAC) for the Secretary General and the Chairman of the Military Committee at NATO.  She was a panellist at the Ralf Dahrendorf Roundtable (RDR), which was organised in conjunction with Munich Security Conference 2018. 

Dr. Babst, you are Head of the Strategic Analysis Capability (SAC) for the Secretary General and the Chairman of the Military Committee at NATO. What does someone with that title in practice do?

Our team’s job is to support our two top customers in anticipating crises and future challenges to NATO’s strategic interests, our policies and actions. We do this through scanning our global horizon regularly, trying to understand the signals we are picking up, framing our assumptions about specific trends and developments and offering a sense-making analysis. Typically, each of these processes ends with a key question: what does all of this mean for NATO? Therefore, a meaningful strategic analysis must always include a couple of well-thought-through policy recommendations for the organisation.

Your participation at the ELF side-event to the Munich Security Conference was highly appreciated. You have also further experience of participating in the Munich Security Conference. What do you think is the reason that the MSC has been able to become one of the major events for world leaders to attend every year?

Germany is certainly a key player in international security politics; and a hall mark conference like the MSC is attractive for a large group pf policy-makers, security experts and others. In many ways the MSC has become a place where you can measure the current pulse of international issues. That’s certainly a good thing. However, I sometimes think we have lost a bit focus on what I call the real issue, i.e. the state of play of transatlantic relations and how the two sides of the pond seek to advance their relationship. In Munich, the future of NATO, for example, competes with dozens of other strategic topics, ranging from climate change all the way to the technological revolution. All these themes are certainly very relevant but they also distract attention from a key question: how can we possibly protect and advance the transatlantic security relationship in the coming years?

In the ELF organised side-event at MSC 2018, we discussed the balance between deterrence and dialogue when it comes to relations with Russia. In what ways does NATO make sure that the level and type of deterrence and dialogue are up to date with current needs?

Despite the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and in light of Russia’s ongoing aggressive actions in Eastern Ukraine, the Allies have repeatedly made clear that they do not seek a confrontational relationship with Russia. We do not want to go back to the Cold War. At the same time, however, we will not just stand-by and watch how Russia threatens its neighbours militarily, tries to manipulate our public discourses or spreads false information. Our strengthened defence and deterrence measures are proportionate and transparent. And, importantly, they go hand-in-hand with our readiness to have meaningful conversations with the Russians. The NATO-Russia Council has met several times in the past few years, during which we discussed military transparency and risk reduction, the situation in Ukraine and exercises. A stronger NATO illustrating its preparedness to defend each and every NATO Ally against outside aggression and maintaining dialogue with Russia is not a contradiction.

Countries that are geographically located between NATO members and Russia have either ongoing frozen border conflicts or seem to have made up their mind about NATO. The latter group of countries contain Belarus, Finland and Sweden. What are the ways in which NATO keeps up a concrete dialogue with Belarus and how likely do you see a Finnish or Swedish membership within the next decade?

Belarus joined NATO’s partnership programme (Partnership for Peace) in 1995. Since then, our relationship is based on the pursuit of common interests, while also keeping open channels for dialogue. Cooperating with Belarus in concrete terms has not always been easy in the past years but in the area of defence reform, scientific cooperation and civil emergency planning the two sides are collaborating well. As regards Finland and Sweden, two other partner countries of NATO, “play in an entirely different partner category”: our partnership with the two countries has become so close in the past few years that there is hardly a topic on which we do not work together. Our collaboration ranges from military interoperability, joint exercises and joint operations all the way to countering hybrid threats. Whether and when the Finnish or Swedish people will decide one day that it would suit their national security interests better if they were a member of NATO, is entirely up to them.

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