24 February 2020

NATO- 2020 outlook

Ştefan Oprea

Disputed by Russia, blamed by the US president and already posing a weak strength on the inside, NATO will have to continue its relevance because Alliance’s main goal is establishing the collective defence, and this means creating and imposing solidarity and cohesion between its members.

Image source: Mediafax

As I was foreseeing at the beginning of 2019, when the Alliance celebrated 70 years of existence, NATO is now experiencing a critical inflection moment, which is more and more serious nowadays, determined, unfortunately, by some allied states which want to reach autonomy, this way affecting the solidarity and principles that were NATO’s foundation from the very beginning.

The current strategic context makes NATO turn, by 2020, into an alliance wherein the structural changes against its own cohesion will unbalance its concerns regarding the deterrence and defence posture. Having Russia on one side, promoting the influence spheres, and China on the other, in a constant effort to include, in its global projects, as many states as possible, the conflicts inside the Alliance will lead to long-term perturbations over organization’s capacity to stay trustable.

Though it has previously been under administrative measures, which limited its presence as a member, without making the Alliance go down, this time, NATO’s relation with Turkey is turning the member status into an issue which, in certain conditions, can ask allies for practical answers. 

The Ankara-EU/US relations’ deterioration and, concurrently, a nearness process to Russia, which ended with the procurement of S-400 systems, reveals its consequences. Turkey’s participation shutoff for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, as well as the doubts on the American nuclear arsenal maintenance at the Incirlik Air Base, will affect the entire Alliance ahead of the Russian challenge in Europe and the multiple threats coming from the Middle East. From this point of view, the uncertainty provoked by Turkey’s recent positions is creating an important political strategic and operational dilemma which will, most likely, force the Alliance review the emergency plans for responses to threats.

At East, Russia is still a threat, due to its efforts to undermine the Alliance. With an entire series of capabilities (land, air, maritime, space, cybernetic) and a significant nuclear potential, Moscow has enough strategic importance comparing to Europe’s NATO interests and allies. The use of cyber-attacks, espionage, the influence on the European power market and propaganda to spread the disagreement between the NATO member states and Alliance’s subversion, are turning Russia’s pressures on Central and East Europe into a security challenge.

At South, although NATO was not open enough in approaching the risks emerged in the Mediterranean Sea, in general, and North Africa and Sahel, in particular, these risks are real and will ask for an increased attention on Alliance’s strategy in the area. The increased activity in the Mediterranean Sea (a decisive actor in the Syrian war), as well as the modernization, establishment or new military bases and the installation of air missile defence systems, the unfortunate influence in Western Balkans, the strategic partnership with Serbia, are turning Russia into a serious challenge for NATO’s interests in this geographic space, without being a bigger threat for the global interests than other similar actors.

In the following period, the Alliance will experience a series of security challenges and threats coming both from the East and the South. From state and non-state actors, military challenges, to terrorist, cyber or hybrid threats, these are all regional instability sources, challenging the Alliance essentially. And, also from this point of view, the common understanding of the future strategic security environment will continue to be NATO’s uppermost goal.

NATO perspectives in this strategic context

NATO main challenging topics, in 2020, are focusing on the operational sector, and the elements contributing to the internal cohesion will be decisive in implementing the pro-active policies for Alliance’s future dynamic security environment management.

Establishing the internal cohesion within NATO. 2020 will hardly be the year wherein the Alliance will manage to cool down its disputes inside the transatlantic relation or between the member states, particularly between Turkey and US.  Furthermore, the recent statements of president Macron, on NATO’s so-called “brain death”, are not supporting the process that much. From this point of view, it is obvious that geography, history and the national concerns are foreseeing Alliance’s breaches growth and, given this background, one of the main questions regarding NATO’s future is how will the different security interests be better balanced among the member states.

Strategic priorities estimation at times of transregional risks. Now, maybe more than ever, NATO is facing unpreceded challenges and, therefore, its flexibility will be even more challenged. The internal crises, along with the possible missions at East and South of NATO, is again essential and, in such circumstances, security’s current vision, as a continuous crisis management exercise, can be an inappropriate cliché for the future. Even if Eastern challenges’ source is well-known, the complexity of security’s dimension has worsen a lot in the entire NATO responsibility area. The nuclear aspects, asymmetrical, hybrid, digital actions etc. are placing the Alliance, in the future, ahead of a large diversity in terms of risks, without any clear gravity center regarding security. Also, NATO’s member states’ inability to understand them and have a common discussion on it, are making the security perspectives inside the Alliance be both clear and complex.

Capabilities need and construction. In 2020 also, the fair tasks distribution inside the Alliance is one of the key factors to reduce the transatlantic tensions that is affecting NATO’s future. The 2% of GDP for defence issue, up to 2024, is also an extremely important goal, from a political perspective, and the financial effort will be fairly estimated only after understating its contribution to increasing the future military capacities’ effectiveness of Alliance’s member states.

Although analysts are claiming that defence budgets cannot be provided, in the future, due to the negative demographic tendencies, the commitments must be accomplished, at least theoretically. Within the same background, the military mobility increase stays a priority, at the highest level, and reaching this goal will depend, mostly, on NATO-EU’s cooperation, a combination wherein EU has a lot to say.

NATO’s response to hybrid threats’ prevention

Although hybrid threats are directed, mostly, towards states and governments and the responsibility of fighting attacks is, firstly, on their hands, the polyvalent nature of hybrid threats will determine NATO’s leadership to try new ways of approaching them, but also new decisional formats, other than the traditional ones. From this perspective, determination on the response to a hybrid, non-kinetical or kinetical campaign, will turn into NATO’s most difficult challenge for the following years.

Translated by Andreea Soare