NATO in search of efficiency and balance

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Crisis management is one of NATO’s core tasks, alongside collective defense and cooperative security. NATO’s new Strategic Concept, which is currently being developed to replace the previous document adopted in 2010, is expected to put even more emphasis on the issue.

The debate on the issue should begin with an assessment of NATO’s current capacity to respond adequately to various global challenges. It is also essential to keep in mind the extent to which the alliance can positively contribute to their resolution.

In addition, the larger context must be taken into account. For example, the current Strategic Concept lists conventional threats as not being as relevant as they once were. Unfortunately, Russia’s aggressive policies are a reminder that conventional military conflicts are still a reality. These circumstances, given the limited financial, human and time resources, should encourage NATO to focus on setting its key priorities, rather than on expanding its scope.

Focus on the core goals

Lithuania has taken a clear stance on this issue, encouraging NATO to rethink the need to further develop the concept on the basis of the three core tasks. It might be useful to reaffirm the orientation of the alliance on the central objective of strengthening collective defense.

However, some NATO countries have expressed their willingness to broaden the concept of security beyond that of conventional defense. This should be assessed in the light of the current situation and realistic prospects.

The lessons learned from the withdrawal from Afghanistan are one example. In theory, this was a great opportunity to demonstrate current crisis management capabilities in practice; but it was not as efficient as hoped. In addition, divergences between member states are emerging on many other issues (for example, whether to engage in diplomatic dialogue with the Taliban), making it difficult to find consensus. Therefore, the feasibility of higher ambitions must be realistically assessed.

NATO’s resolve to effectively manage crises faces another challenge. In today’s world, crises arise in a wide range of areas, including cybersecurity, climate change, migration and disinformation. Although NATO has traditionally favored the military component, the objective of managing crises more broadly can potentially pose the problem of proliferation. It also risks devaluing the concept of “crisis” somewhat. In addition, the excessive use of the term “crisis” may call into question the possibility of an adequate response. Thus, the issue of crisis management itself faces various dilemmas.

China and Russia

With regard to the prospects for cooperative security, especially with regard to strategic partnerships, the main difference is the pivot to China which was not extensively mentioned in the 2010 strategic concept document. agree on how to define the relationship with Beijing and how to respond to the multiple challenges. The problems posed by Russia and China will have to be well balanced in NATO’s new strategy.

With the growing U.S. focus on the Indo-Pacific region, the interests of the Baltic states, especially with regard to the Western response to Russian aggression, may be somewhat sidelined. At the NATO meeting in Brussels in June 2021, leaders called on China to honor its international commitments and act responsibly. Nevertheless, the principles of future policy towards China remain vague.

On a positive note, in October 2021, NATO Defense Ministers approved a new comprehensive plan that focused not only on the threat from China but also Russia. The confidential strategy aims to prepare for a possible offensive on several fronts in the Baltic and Black Sea regions. The publication of such a document, within the framework of the elaboration of the new Strategic Concept, gives Lithuania the hope that these countries will be able to agree on the prioritization of the principle of collective defense.

In the current Strategic Concept, relations with Russia are defined alongside cooperative security with other partners, and NATO’s relations with Russia are described as “of strategic importance”. Lithuanian policymakers will say that NATO’s new strategic concept must also reflect the fact that Russia is not a reliable partner but, on the contrary, poses a security challenge. This is not only due to the aggression in Ukraine that started in 2014, but also to recent developments associated with Russia, including aggressive actions against various NATO member states. The suspension of Russia’s diplomatic mission to NATO is a good illustration of the trends.

Realistic needs-based partnerships

At present, a comprehensive understanding of Russia’s assertion is hampered by NATO’s adoption of a “two-track approach”, through which it seeks not only to deter but also to maintain dialogue. . Some NATO countries also continue to suggest leaving a window of opportunity open for the further development of relations with Moscow.

On this issue, Lithuania supports the proposals to break down the strategic concept into more specific parts, in order to separately address (possible) partnerships (in areas such as arms control, the fight against terrorism and climate change) . While agreements with Russia on these issues are possible, it should nevertheless be stressed that cooperation must be carried out on a non-naive basis, that is to say that other challenges are not neglected (aggression against Russia). ‘Ukraine, the need to strengthen NATO deterrence in the eastern part of the EU, etc.).

It is also important to maintain a strong transatlantic link. While there is no major disagreement between NATO and EU defense policy initiatives, the lasting relationship is hampered by the ambiguous approach of some European leaders to the question of European strategic autonomy. The EU is neither able nor likely to be willing to adequately compensate for US military capabilities, at least for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the new strategic concept should place a strong emphasis on the strategic partnership between the EU and the United States.

Finally, it is important that NATO continues to focus on countries in the Eastern Partnership region, such as Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. One of the aspects related to this is NATO’s open door policy which must be pursued.


This article was written for ICDS Diplomaatia magazine. The opinions expressed in ICDS publications are those of the authors.


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