This new posture has four key elements – first, a new NATO Force Model is expected to replace the NATO Response Force. In the NATO Response Force, Allies have 40,000 troops available at less than 15 days readiness. When fully implemented, the Force Model will have tiers of high-readiness forces – it aims to provide over 300,000 troops at up to 30 days of high readiness[iii]. In addition, it also aims at least 500,000 troops up to 180 days. The transition to this model is expected to be completed by 2023.
Second, the Allies agreed to scale-up the Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) forces to brigade size units where and when required. In 2017, NATO had approved four EFPs to be deployed in the Baltic countries and Poland. During the Extraordinary Leaders’ Summit in March 2022, NATO announced that it will double the number of EFP missions from four to eight, with new battlegroups for Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria to reinforce Allied deterrence and defence[iv] in the region.
Third, Allies also agreed to enhance the number of existing pre-positioned equipment so as to boost the credibility of NATO’s deterrence.
Fourth, NATO also aimed to enhance the collective defence exercises to be prepared for high intensity and multi-domain operation to strengthen NATO deterrence and forward defences.
2. Membership for Finland and Sweden
After the initial opposition to Sweden and Finland’s membership application by Turkiye – the three countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on 28 June 2022. In the MoU, Stockholm and Helsinki committed to extend their full support to Turkiye against threats to its national security. To that effect, Finland and Sweden will not provide support to YPG (People's Protection Units)/PYD (Democratic Union Party), and the organisation described as FETO (Fethullah Terrorist Organization) in Turkiye. Both countries also confirmed that the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) is a proscribed terrorist organisation and committed to prevent activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organisations and their extensions. The agreement further stated that both the Nordic states will have no national arms embargoes in place for Turkiye. Additionally, they will address Ankara’s pending deportation or extradition requests of terror suspects, which is to be done in line with European treaties.[v] With the signing of the MoU, Turkiye withdrew its opposition to the membership application of the Nordic countries, paving way for NATO to formally invite them to join the Alliance. They completed their accession talks on Monday 4 July 2022 and are due to sign the Accession Protocols which will then go to all NATO countries for ratification procedures.
Both these countries are strategically located, with Finland sharing a long border with Russia in the north and Sweden located across the Baltic Sea. Their accession would exponentially expand NATO’s border with Russia and will bolster the Alliance’s eastern flank and its collective defences in northern Europe. The invitation of membership also symbolises a critical security re-posturing in Europe – as it marks the end of neutrality and military non-alignment that Sweden has followed for more than 200 years and Finland, since its defeat by the Soviet Union during Second World War.
3. Ukrainian Crisis
The crisis continued to be the core agenda of the discussions for the Alliance members. The Allies agreed on a Comprehensive Assistance Package for Ukraine which will accelerate the delivery of non-lethal defence equipment, improve Kiev’s cyber defences and resilience, and support modernising its defence sector[vi]. It will also assist Ukraine in its post-war reconstruction and reforms. As a response to the crisis, NATO for the first time, activated parts of its Response Force as a defensive measure.[vii] It is a multinational force consisting of land, air, sea and special operations forces from the allies that can deploy quickly in support of the NATO alliance. It is also helping to coordinate Ukraine’s requests for assistance and is supporting Allies in the delivery of humanitarian and non-lethal aid.[viii]
4. Strategic Concept 2022
The Alliance, on 29 June 2022, adopted its new Strategic Concept for steering NATO for next decade. The Strategic Concept is NATO’s key document which contains major provisions and security assessments of the previous decade and set the priorities of the Alliance for the next decade. The last Strategic Concept was released in 2010[ix] and assessed that “the Euro-Atlantic area is at peace and the threat of a conventional attack against NATO territory is low”. This stands in stark contrast with the 2022[x] assessment that “the Euro-Atlantic area is not at peace…We cannot discount the possibility of an attack against Allies’ sovereignty and territorial integrity”. Second key difference between the two is on Russia. While the 2010 Concept called for a true strategic partnership with Russia; the 2022 Strategic Concept called Moscow as the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. It seeks to establish spheres of influence and direct control through coercion, subversion, aggression and annexation. Third, while China was not mentioned in the 2010 document, it features prominently in the 2022 document.
In October 2021, NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that, in terms of threat perception, China was coming closer to the Alliance.[xi] The 2022 Strategic Concept describes Beijing as a “systemic challenge” and states that its ambitions and coercive policies challenge NATO’s interests, security and values. Emphasis is also placed on the deepening partnership between Russia and China which attempts to undercut the rules-based international order and run counter to NATO’s values and interests. NATO has, in the document, emphasised that the Alliance is open for construc.tive engagement with Beijing and also seeks to keep open channels of communication with Moscow to manage and mitigate risks, prevent escalation and increase transparency with Russia. It has, nonetheless, recognised multitudes of threats emerging from these nations such as hybrid and cyber operations, rhetoric and disinformation.
Fourth, Indo-Pacific also finds a mention in the new document. With the initial reference made to the Maritime security as key to peace and prosperity, the emphasis is laid on the fact that the “developments in that [Indo-Pacific] region can directly affect Euro-Atlantic security”, therefore NATO will strengthen its cooperation and dialogues with its partners in the region. This is significant, as it highlights a shift in NATO’s focus beyond Euro-Atlantic region. This element was also highlighted in the Summit statement where the emphasis was laid on importance of common approaches to global security challenges where NATO’s interests are affected. The statement called for strengthening of NATO’s engagements with existing and potential interlocutors beyond the Euro-Atlantic area. The presence of leaders from Australia, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand for the Summit points to this growing trend.
Fifth, the emphasis is laid on the 21st century challenges including emerging and disruptive technologies, space and cyberspace. The document highlights that NATO will enhance its ability in space and cyberspace to respond to the full spectrum of threats. This is to be done by increasing investments in the Alliance’s ability to prepare for, deter, and defend against coercive use of political, economic, energy, information and other hybrid tactics by states and non-states actors. An interesting addition to the document is that the “Hybrid operations against Allies could reach the level of armed attack and could lead the North Atlantic Council to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.” This is the first time that Article 5 has been linked to the hybrid threats that the member states face.
Sixth, the document makes a reference to the NATO’s enlargement process, calling it a historic success. The Alliance reaffirmed its Open Door Policy, consistent with the Article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty and emphasised that decisions on membership are to be taken by NATO Allies and no third party has a say in this process. A key inclusion is the affirmation to the decision taken at 2008 Bucharest Summit and all subsequent decisions with respect to Georgia and Ukraine. In the 2008 Bucharest Summit[xii], NATO had welcomed Ukraine and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership and agreed that these countries will become members of NATO. However, given the current situation in the region, it remains to be seen how this step will followed through.
During the post-Summit press conference Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “We live in a more dangerous world and we live in a more unpredictable world. And we live in a world where we have actually a hot war going on in Europe, with large-scale military operations we haven’t seen in Europe since the Second World War”[xiii]. These lines highlight the current geopolitical realities of Europe as well as of the NATO. One of the key conclusions that could be drawn from the Summit is that Russia is no longer a ‘partner’ as was described in the 2010 Strategic Concept rather it is now a ‘direct threat’ to the Alliance. This is a significant realisation on the part of the Alliance which has sent a signal that it will not be business as usual with Russia. As a response to Russia’s actions, the Allies have put in place sweeping set of economic sanctions, including excluding Russian financial institutions from the SWIFT system of payments, thereby, weaponising the economic and payments system. The Alliance has put the onus of future trajectory of relations on Russia by stating that any change in relations would depend on the Russia complying with international law and halting its actions in region.
Russia’s Ukraine action has led the Alliance to bolster its own defences. NATO has taken multiple decisions in terms of bolstering its eastern flank by increasing the number of Forward Presence from four to eight; it has also increased the Response force from 40,000 to 300,000 and enhanced its prepositioned forward equipment. While these initiatives, given the present situation, are welcome; the key question on how these decisions will be implemented remains to be seen as the time line approved by the Alliance for the above decisions is 2023. Another key and perennial issue is the question of burden sharing. Even as the Alliance members commit to a more robust NATO, many of them fall short of their commitment to spend at least 2% of their GDPs on defence. At the Wales NATO summit of 2014, allies had agreed to work towards the 2% target by 2024. According to the latest NATO figures, only nine member states of the 30 have met the 2% threshold[xiv]. While Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that 2% “should be a floor, not a ceiling” – burden sharing and increase in defence spending by member states remains a critical issue to be resolved.
Another critical challenge for the Alliance is managing the Ukrainian crisis. As the crisis enters its fifth month, the biggest challenge for NATO still remains on how to help Ukraine defend itself without the Alliance getting drawn into the crisis itself. This is primarily because the longer the crisis goes on, the higher is the risk of escalation, whether by design or by accident. This is further compounded by the severe disruptions to the global economy, energy and food supply. The crisis has also added new set of challenges that NATO faces such as: managing the future of enlargement, engaging with a Europe which has growing geopolitical aspirations, and building a transatlantic security architecture which is capable of accommodating the diverse and complex issues, such as hybrid warfare; space technology; climate change etc., facing the allies. While the new Strategic Concept has acknowledged these challenges, how NATO is going to formulate its policies and future trajectory remains to be seen.
Dr. Ankita Dutta, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i] Madrid Summit Declaration, NATO, 29 June 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_196951.htm, Accessed on 1 July 2022
[ii] Remarks by President Biden and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, The White House, 29 June 2022, https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2022/06/29/remarks-by-president-biden-and-nato-secretary-general-jens-stoltenberg-madrid-spain/ , Accessed on 1 July 2022
[iii] New NATO Force Model, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2022/6/pdf/220629-infographic-new-nato-force-model.pdf, Accessed on 1 July 2022
[iv] ‘Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’, Extraordinary Summit of NATO Heads of State and Government, 24 March 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/opinions_193613.htm, Accessed on 1 July 2022
[v] Trilateral memorandum between Türkiye, Finland and Sweden, NATO, 28 June 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_197342.htm?selectedLocale=en, Accessed on 1 July 2022
[vi] Madrid Summit Declaration, NATO, 29 June 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/official_texts_196951.htm, Accessed on 1 July 2022
[vii] CNN, 25 February 2022, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/02/25/politics/nato-ukraine-russia/index.html, Accessed on 1 July 2022
[viii] NATO's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, 3 June 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_192648.htm, Accessed on 4 July 2022
[ix] ‘Active Engagement, Modern Defence’, Strategic Concept 2010, NATO, Lisbon, https://www.nato.int/lisbon2010/strategic-concept-2010-eng.pdf, Accessed on 4 July 2022
[x] NATO 2022 Strategic Concept, Madrid Summit, NATO, June 2022, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2022/6/pdf/290622-strategic-concept.pdf, Accessed on 4 July 2022
[xi] Financial Times, 18 October 2021, https://www.ft.com/content/cf8c6d06-ff81-42d5-a81e-c56f2b3533c2, Accessed on 4 July 2022
[xii] Bucharest Summit, NATO, April 2008, https://www.nato.int/docu/update/2008/04-april/e0403h.html, Accessed on 5 July 2022
[xiii] Press Conference by Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Press Room, 30 June 2022, https://www.nato.int/cps/ru/natohq/opinions_197301.htm?selectedLocale=en, Accessed on 5 July 2022
[xiv] Defence Expenditure of NATO Countries (2014-2022), Press Release, NATO, 27 June 2022, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2022/6/pdf/220627-def-exp-2022-en.pdf, Accessed on 5 July 2022