December 4, 2020

NATO 2030 – Initial Reflections from the Northeast Corner of the Alliance

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speak to reporters after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel at chancellery in Berlin, Germany August 27, 2020.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speak to reporters after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel at chancellery in Berlin, Germany August 27, 2020.

Recently the Group of Experts appointed by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg delivered its report on NATO 2030. The report includes a number of recommendations that are intended to strengthen the political dimension of the Alliance alongside a proposal to update the 2010 Strategic Concept.

Nations have so far been hesitant to review the strategic concept for fears of opening a can of worms that would be hardly manageable. With the Biden administration taking office in early 2021 the conditions for agreeing on steps to strengthen the Alliance have improved.

The authors deserve credit for a report that well describes the security and political environment that forms the basis for their recommendations to adapt the organization. In doing so they have contributed their personal experience from all geographic regions of the Alliance while being somewhat less restrained by the national sensitivities and caveats that mostly contaminate NATO documents.

This post contains some initial reflections about the report seen through a Baltic lens. For well-known reasons, it thus focuses on how aspects important for collective defence have been addressed:

  1. The report should be read in its entirety since the overview it presents in its Introduction and Main Findings does not constitute a traditional executive summary. There are some important differences between the material here and the later, more detailed analysis and recommendations. The description of Russia as a rival versus Russia as a threat is an example.
  2. The description of the threats and challenges posed by Russia, China and terrorism is well written and explains the external factors that justify a strengthening of the Alliance.
  3. While the document describes the need for specific ‘ends’, it is less vocal when it comes to suggesting specific ‘means’. It is, for example, difficult to argue in favour of or against the report’s recommendation to incorporate terrorism more fully into NATO’s core tasks, when the authors provide few examples of what NATO should do here that it does not already.
  4. The report displays a rather complacent attitude towards NATO’s existing military capabilities. It includes language such as ‘formidable in military strength’ and refers to NATO’s comprehensive military adaptation as something that already has been completed—but decisions taken only recently as part of the defence planning process may require more than 10 more years before they are implemented. Further, full and timely implementation will require resources that many nations have not made available due to their lack of progress in fulfilling the six-year-old Defence Investment Pledge. Admittedly, the focus of this report is on NATO’s political dimension, but this should not be achieved at the expense of the military dimension.
  5. The material on political decision-making might also have been given more visibility and substance, due to its importance when launching a collective defence operation. Since 2014, NATO’s decision-making procedures have been reviewed, but they are insufficiently exercised. The once annual NATO Crisis Management Exercise is now conducted only twice every three years – an unfortunate trend that contradicts a recognised need for increased responsiveness. Decision-making must keep pace with the deteriorating security environment and with the readiness of Alliance forces. One means could of course be to introduce a time-limit, as proposed by the Group of Experts, but this would be of little relevance without a frequent and regular Crisis Management Exercise and scenario-based discussions through which decision-makers in Brussels and in capitals learn and practise how national and NATO decision-making actually works.

Overall, the report takes adequate stock of today’s security and political environment, which will in turn form the basis for the evolutionary steps that will need to be considered, along with other suggestions, in the process of updating NATO’s Strategic Concept.

Filed under: Commentary