One of the main messages in the Final Report of the GLOBSEC NATO Adaptation Initiative (GNAI) is that NATO leaders should commission a strategy review at the July 2018 Summit. This review should, in turn, be completed by the seventieth anniversary summit the following year and embodied in a new strategic concept. Put simply, NATO needs a new forward-looking strategy to better confront the challenges of an unpredictable and fast-changing world.

The publication of the Final Report was quickly followed by the NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting in Brussels between the 5th and 6th December. We at GLOBSEC were naturally intrigued to find out just how much the main talking points at this event resonate with the key findings of the GNAI Steering Committee.

Press reports have highlighted a couple of top takeaways from the Brussels meeting. The first involves increased cooperation between NATO and the European Union (EU). During their joint press conference, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and EU High Representative/Vice President Federica Mogherini outlined the extent of joint-collaboration that already exists. Countering hybrid threats and cyber-attacks were among the partnership areas to be highlighted. This chimes with the GNAI Steering Committee’s recommendation that NATO better equips itself for the future of war. Making full use of new technologies and artificial intelligence-powered capacities will be essential.

However, closer NATO-EU cooperation remains a work-in-progress, as demonstrated by plans to improve military mobility, better coordinate the exchange of terrorism-related information and promote a greater role for women in peace and security. When it comes to military mobility, the GNAI Final Report makes clear the need for a better equipped and funded NATO guided in part by harmonised requirements and common specifications. When it comes to mobility, Secretary General Stoltenberg was clear that the Alliance has let this issue slip in recent years. Moreover, there is still a need to for increased coordination with NATO members that joined after the end of the Cold War. The idea of a “military Schengen” is thus slowly gaining traction beyond purely political circles, reaching to the working group levels – essential for any progress to be achieved.

The Ministers Meeting’s acknowledgement of the need for better exchanges of terrorism-related information reflects the Final Report’s recommendation for a stronger NATO role in counter-terrorism. The terrorist threat to the Euro-Atlantic area is unlikely to decrease any time soon. It’s up to NATO to bolster the EU’s efforts to combat terrorism by making its own unique contribution to foiling terrorist attacks on members, particularly when it comes to home-grown plots. NATO’s newly upgraded Joint Intelligence and Security Division (JIS) is just one way that the Alliance could better join the dots.

The second key talking point from the Ministers Meeting was the Alliance’s reaffirmation of its ‘defence and dialogue’ approach towards Russia, and the simultaneous support for partners in Eastern Europe. Following on from the joint press conference, Secretary General Stoltenberg emphasised that NATO remains concerned by Russia’s deepening relations with the breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions of Georgia. To this end, NATO Ministers reaffirmed their practical and political support for Georgia and its eventual membership of the Alliance. Today, Georgia,  Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina remain candidate countries for  accession and despite the obvious challenges, NATO´s open-door policy is fully endorsed by the members of the Alliance – just as it is by  members of the GNAI Steering Committee.

Both statements reflect the GNAI Steering Committee’s conviction that adaptation will only succeed if the Alliance fully embraces the new geostrategic realities. These undoubtedly include the challenges posed by a militarily-advanced and increasingly belligerent Russia. The response coming out of the Meeting also resonates with GNAI’s recommendation that NATO develops a new political strategy for engagement with Russia. At the same time, the Alliance must also help the likes of Georgia to defend themselves and lay the foundations for eventual NATO membership. To this end, NATO’s foreign ministers reiterated their commitment to Georgia’s membership and discussed planning for a joint military exercise in 2019.

GLOBSEC is delighted to see so many of the GNAI Final Report’s recommendations in alignment with discussions that took place at the recent NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting. But there’s work to be done by the Alliance in other areas. There will undoubtedly be other opportunities throughout 2018 to gauge synergies between NATO’s thinking and the Steering Committee’s valuable insights. Watch this space!