For the first time in its history, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has to deal with two major tasks at the same time: defense of the alliance and crisis management. That is why state and government leaders should fundamentally reorganize the alliance when they meet at the summit on September 4 and 5.
The strategic concept of NATO includes three tasks of equal importance: collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security. But reality and future ideas were formed almost exclusively by the need for crisis management in Afghanistan. That all changed abruptly with the Russian aggression toward Ukraine.
Now, the NATO states have to strike a new balance, strengthening the alliance’s defense on the one hand without weakening crisis management on the other. Because as threatening as the Ukraine crisis is, it’s only one in a series of crises ranging from Eastern Europe across the Middle East right down to North Africa. These crises incorporate the full spectrum of risks from interstate wars to unstable states, terrorism and piracy.
For the defense of the alliance, the 28-member group has work to catch up on after years of neglect. Because a Russia that’s willing and capable of changing borders in Europe by force demands that NATO reinforces its very essence: the capability to provide military aid. Neither its adversaries nor its own members should be in any doubt of the alliance’s ability to provide reliable protection for its members.
That’s why the alliance has to rework its military planning, so it is really capable of defending its eastern members in an emergency. It also has to be able to act more quickly. That does not mean necessarily more soldiers, but above all more speed and better intelligence capacities. It means not just reorganizing NATO’s rapid response force. The states have to work on their intelligence and air transport deficits. The armies have to train again for defense duties, not just for stabilization operations like in Afghanistan.
During the Cold War, armies were deterred by conventional and atomic weapons, but conditions have changed.
Military thinking too has to be modernized. During the Cold War, armies were deterred by conventional and atomic weapons. But conditions have changed, as the Ukraine crisis shows. Today, the defense coalition has to react to unconventional warfare: soldiers without clear nationality markings infiltrating another country, supported by special forces and backed up by professional warfare intelligence and cyber attacks.
The role of conventional troops is changing: The up to 40,000 or so soldiers posted by Russia on the Ukrainian border had a posturing role but also served as a shield and supply point for the unconventional forces fighting in Ukraine. As the alliance has no instruments for this or for economic sanctions, the cock fight with the European Union has to end and be replaced by close cooperation. This NATO reform will be decisive – like many times before – not just for the survival of the organization, but also for the security of Europe.
This article was translated by Bob Breen. Vinny Kuntz also contributed to this story. To reach the author: email@example.com