It is not All About the Money: The Future of NATO Adaptation

By Tomáš Nagy, Research Fellow, GLOBSEC Policy Institute

 

To an extent, you have heard it all before – European Allies must step up to the plate, and spend more on defence. Decades of serious fiscal neglect led to state of politically unbearable overreliance on American capabilities, and pushed the buck of responsibility for NATO´s integrity onto the US. That era of European strategic neglect is coming to an end as the pressure from the other side of the Atlantic grows, and the Alliance itself is embarking on a complex adaptation to the strategic needs of our age. And it is not just about money – this is a much more complex process which touches upon NATO’s political, military and structural dimensions.

“The era of European strategic neglect is coming to an end as the pressure from the other side of the Atlantic grows, and the Alliance itself is embarking on a complex adaptation to the strategic needs of our age.”

Without any doubt, a more responsible fiscal policy is the ultimate prerequisite for an enhanced Alliance as without a convergence towards the 2 percent GDP spending on defence and the 20 percent investment objective the adaptation itself would significantly lack its ultimate catalyst. However, the financial surge itself could easily prove to be meaningless unless its application is co-ordinated across all the required defence sectors. Today, NATO is facing a wide array of both challenges and threats which need addressing if the Alliance is to adapt:

1. On NATO’s Eastern flank, the Alliance is faced with resurgent Russia which annexed Crimea and is supportive of the Eastern Ukrainian separatists. Thankfully, NATO, via Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltics and Poland, Tailored Forward Presence in the Black Sea area and the common training commitments with Georgian forces, is “returning” to the East. However, the Alliance must find a viable path towards degrading the Russia’s A2/AD (anti-access, area denial) capabilities in the region and continue the work on augmenting its rapid reaction capabilities to efficiently address potential future emergency scenarios.

2. On NATO´s Southern vector, we have been witnessing a dramatic failure of governance across huge swathes of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Threats of terrorism, regional-strategic rivalries, civil wars and mass migration compound the bleak socio-political situation in the region. NATO must rethink its Southern posture, and establish a truly 21st century rulebook on code of conduct and ambition level in the neighbouring broader MENA region.

3. On NATO´s North, an entire new challenge is to about to appear. Climate change and the discovery of huge hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic are shifting the dynamics of geopolitical rivalry also along the Northern vector. Thus, it is becoming more popular to talk about NATO’s Northern flank, yet another strategic issue for the adapting Alliance.

“Climate change and the discovery of huge hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic are shifting the dynamics of geopolitical rivalry also along the Northern vector.”

4. As have seen in 2016 and 2017, cyber threats constitute a significant source of danger for virtually every aspect of life, economy and society. While the Alliance is realising this trend – as cyber defence became the part of NATO’s core task of collective defence and got recognised as a domain of operations – NATO will continuously face the need to adapt to evolving cyber threats via strengthening the resilience of critical networks and infrastructures.

5. The cumulative impacts of cyber challenges, hybrid threats, the nexus among terrorism, migration and crime lets one believe that need for a deep and effective strategic partnership between NATO and the EU has never been greater than it is today. More, however, must be done so that the two organisations become complementary in e.g. the MENA region or assist each other in strengthening resilience of the transatlantic area.

NATO remains a cornerstone of the transatlantic security. However, its success will depend on its ability to address the (often diverse) security challenges of its members. To succeed in this role, the Alliance will need to become even more solid in terms of cohesion and even more comprehensive in its policy orientation. Any decision to spend more on defence after years of neglect is more than welcome. However, the financial boost is not the complete panacea to an array of challenges that Alliance needs to overcome in order to guarantee its citizens the desired level of security, stability and (the conditions for) continuous prosperity.

 

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