NATO Examines its Future

Earlier this years, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg appointed an independent study group for the purpose of examining the organization’s challenges in the coming decade.

The Secretary General particularly tasked the researchers with providing recommendations in three areas:  reinforcing unity, solidarity, and cohesion, and cementing the alliance; increasing political consultation and coordination between NATO members; and Strengthening NATO’s political role to address current and future challenges.

Their research, just released, indicates that NATO must adapt to meet the needs of a more demanding strategic environment marked by the return of systemic rivalry, persistently aggressive Russia, the rise of China, and the growing role of emerging and destructive technologies, at the same time that it faces elevated transnational threats and risks.

The group notes that “The overarching political objective for NATO must be to consolidate the transatlantic Alliance to ensure that it possesses the tools, cohesion, and consultative attributes to provide collective defense in this more challenging landscape. NATO’s political dimension must adapt in order to maintain and strengthen its efficiency as well as ensuring its relevance for all Allies.”

 The study group produced a number of key recommendations, including adding countering terrorism and most notably China as part of the organization’s essential responsibilities.

The group noted that NATO continue its dual-track approach of deterrence and dialogue with Russia. The Alliance, it was stated, must respond to Russian threats and hostile actions in a politically united, determined, and coherent way, without a return to ‘business as usual’ barring alterations in Russia’s aggressive behavior and its return to full compliance with international law. At the same time, NATO should remain open to discussing peaceful co-existence and to reacting positively to constructive changes in Russia’s posture and attitude. NATO should evolve the content of its dual-track strategy to ensure its continued effectiveness by raising the costs for Russian aggression and develop a more comprehensive response to hybrid forms of Russian aggression, while at the same time supporting increased political outreach to negotiate arms control and risk reduction measures.

Strategically, it was urged that NATO devote much more time, political resources, and action to the security challenges  posed by China – based on an assessment of its national capabilities, economic heft, and the stated  ideological goals of its leaders. It needs to develop a political strategy for approaching a world in which China will be of growing importance through 2030.  NATO must  “expand efforts to assess the implications  of China’s technological development and monitor and defend against any Chinese activities that  could impact collective defense, military readiness or resilience in the Supreme Allied Commander  Europe’s Area of Responsibility.”

The study group found that Terrorism poses one of the most immediate, asymmetric threats to Allied nations and citizens.  NATO should more explicitly integrate the fight against terrorism into its core tasks. This fight should be given a place within NATO structures, supported by necessary resources, commensurate with the threat that it poses. NATO should enhance the fight against terrorism as part of the hybrid and cyber conversation and ensure that the threat from terrorism figures in exercises and lessons learned. NATO should strive to improve current practices of intelligence-sharing among Allies to achieve better, common situational awareness in key areas.

Much of the thinking behind the push to expand NATO’s role in countering China and terrorists comes directly from recent headlines.  China has begun naval operations in the Mediterranean, directly threatening the alliance’s southern flank. The growing fusion of Moscow and Beijing’s military operations was also recently seen in the Sea of Japan, where the Russian and Chinese militaries engaged in joint training maneuvers. The increasing ties of both nations to Iran can also be seen as a dire development.

Frank Vernucccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government.

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