NATO leaders have invited Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to present proposals at their next Summit for measures to reinforce Alliance unity, increase political consultation and coordination between Allies, and strengthen NATO’s political role.
To support his reflection process, the Secretary General has appointed a group of ten experts. Only one of these represents the 14 of 30 Allies who have joined NATO since 1999. In this policy paper we set out issues, concerns and expectations about NATO’s future adaptation from the perspective of the three Baltic states and Poland, based on a series of interviews with several senior officials and members of the expert community in each of the four states.
While not identical, the views of our interviewees were close. They broadly agreed that while NATO faces a multitude of threats, Russia is by far the most serious. In response, NATO should prioritise—and enhance—its core task of collective defence. However, they recognised, it is essential for NATO to maintain a balance between the security interests of all Allies. They support the 360-degree approach and are ready to back and participate in efforts to deal with threats from other regions too.
NATO should also retain its core tasks of crisis management and cooperative security. The Covid-19 pandemic suggests that NATO should re-calibrate the crisis management task to better reflect the need for collective support to the civilian authorities in large-scale efforts to deal with crises on Alliance territory.
Our interviewees were generally cautious about otherwise expanding NATO’s roles and responsibilities, arguing that the Alliance should consider where it can add value, while avoiding overreach. They saw, for example, only a modest role for NATO in dealing with the challenge from China. They were, however, supportive of the Alliance developing further its global network of partnerships, both with states such as Australia, Japan and South Korea, and with other international organisations, notably the EU. NATO should also continue its cooperative security efforts with a focus on states in the immediate neighbourhood. And while further NATO enlargement is unlikely at present, the door should certainly remain open.
Interviewees in all four states expressed concerns about the tensions within the Alliance and the lack of US leadership. While these tensions persist, it is probably unwise to consider drafting a new strategic concept. Nonetheless, the internal challenges might be eased if the Allies are prepared to use NATO to a greater extent as forum for consultation on a wide range of security issues.