09 January 2019


Ştefan Oprea

Image source: Mediafax

 2018 was a year in which Russia's growing aggression and the Middle East instability made the size of collective defence, for the first time since the Cold War, probably insufficient. As a consequence, Member States' defence investments to close their own internal security gaps signal an evolutionary outlook for NATO, from a security solution based on the US presence in Europe, especially for smaller member states, to an Alliance that obtains its power from the sum of its parts.

Strategic context

A number of instability factors outline the security situation currently faced by NATO. A period of relative stability after the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s ends with the beginning of the "Arab Spring", the annexation of the Crimea in 2014, the Azov Sea crisis, to which it is added a series of combinations of state and non-state actors intertwined with phenomena such as migration and organized crime, autonomy issues, traditional rivalries, and the combination of explosive demographics and poor economic growth in northern Africa and the Middle East, creating this way a series of dynamic security challenges. Although "on the field" reality is far from stable, we can however consider that on the NATO's eastern flank is a static instability comparing with the NATO's southern flank (from North Africa to Afghanistan), where we identify a type of instability with different degrees of dynamism. If we add to all of this that Turkey, by its geographical position and its collaborative policies with Russia, with its neighbours under international sanctions as well as the Arab world, amplifies NATO's discomfort in this area, the complicated image of the border the south of NATO is becoming more and more predominant. In this context, what developments are foreseen for the Alliance in 2019?

In the East, NATO will maintain its interest in enhancing discouragement by   strengthening its collective defence posture.

This military component of deterrence will continue to rely mainly on the response capability and mobility of the high-readiness forces, along with a NATO's forces in addition to a forward presence deployed on the territory of the NATO states which border the Russian Federation. But, how Russia can be simultaneously a competitor, opponent and partner, often with partially compatible foreign policy interests with the EU or NATO, these forces serve as a deterrent, in the context of commitment to reassure those nations in its geographical proximity.

In the South, the challenges are fundamentally different to those faced by NATO in the East. The source of the problems is the weak and the failed of the states and their impossibility to prevent and combat transnational terrorism in region or beyond it. Moreover, they are incapable of offering their own citizens the opportunity to remain and thrive in their countries, affected by a dramatic gap between the dynamic growth of the population and the economic one.

In this complex world, NATO will continue to face challenges in addressing the underlying causes of the effects of this “arc of instability”, and will need to use agilely entirely instruments of power and influence in a coordinated manner.

Moreover, the existence within NATO of some Member States that tend to undermine the independence of their own judiciary, obstruction of independent mass-media, or even lack of solidarity and discretion in relation to another member in the theatre of operations, affects solidarity and principles that led to the establishment of the Alliance in April 1949.


NATO perspectives in this strategic context

Faced with these challenges, collective defense, crisis response and cooperative security remain valid and relevant objectives, and for that, the Alliance's unity will be essential in 2019. Thus, next year will be the decisive moment for NATO to reaffirm unity and collective will to discourage all those who will try to undermine values ​​and rule-based international order. It will be marked by the anniversary of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April. As stated by US President Harry Truman, in the 1949 establishment of the Alliance "a shield against aggression" NATO remains the bulwark of our common security, as well as our common commitment to human dignity and freedom."

In this anniversary year, the world's oldest military alliance will meet in Washington to reaffirm their unity, power and ability to cope with the most pressing international security issues.

Although not at risk of extinction, NATO is however in a critical inflection point in its 70-year history. From this point of view, the further of the Cold War-specific approaches is no longer an option, the current world, much more frenetic, multidimensional and complicated, imposing the Alliance to find appropriate and just responses for today's world. Russia, migration, terrorism or cyber security deserve the most attention.

Next year will mark 70 years in which NATO has kept peace in Europe. The original purpose was to create a defensive shield against the Soviet Union. The Cold War is over, but, unfortunately, the significant challenges remain. In recent years, we have witnessed an increasingly dangerous and unacceptable pattern of behavior on the part of Russia. Although from the beginning, the Kremlin's goal was to divide and weaken NATO, the fact that countries still want to join NATO shows their need for security and reassurance. The annexation of Crimea by Russia and its proxy invasion in eastern Ukraine have confirmed why countries want to join the Alliance.

But Russia is not the only challenge NATO faces. The threat of international terrorism remains. And, from this perspective, identifying the response to a more challenging security environment does not come free of charge, and allies continue to spend more on defense.

Enhanced cooperation with the European Union, the United Nations and other key actors, such as non-governmental organizations, to use politics, diplomacy, economy, justice, law enforcement, and finally military instruments in full agreement with host nation solutions will that NATO should ensure long-term stability in and outside the pan-European space.

Combining of external and internal pressures threatens to further erode the confidence that NATO is based on, an alliance whose members are committed to "protect the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, based on the principles of democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law". That is why the Alliance must be firm and predictable. And from this perspective, NATO will maintain its two-way approach: strong deterrence and combined defence with the pursuit of meaningful dialogue.

Counteracting hybrid threats will be a priority for NATO cooperation with the EU in the common approach of defining a working definition of hybrid threats, taking into account the many actors who need to cooperate with each other. Also, the Alliance will continue to take action to make this activity dynamic and tailored to the diversity of hybrid actions, focusing on predictive capacity and identifying the right response tools.

Force planning and training will be directed to preparing leaders and command and control systems, especially in a computerized war where the enemy is constantly trying to penetrate C2 networks using communications and system disturbance equipment GPS.

Preventing strategic surprise will be another desiderate, and from this point of view, early warning and intelligence sharing among allies, even if information gathering and distribution is a national responsibility, must be improved especially by increasing trust among members.

Optimizing defence spending and procuring new technologies, in the conditions in which the European Union is positioned to become a self-contained defence force, is becoming a priority issue for the Alliance." Starting from the imbalance in defence spending between the US and other NATO members, future concerns within the Alliance will focus on the possibility of partially correcting this worrying reality. Although NATO does not make industrial policy itself, it will show its interest in the participation of Europe's small and medium-sized enterprises, which are part of the defence equation, to major investments the Alliance will make in areas such as Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), tactical and strategic mobility, the Integrated Air-and-Missile Defence System (IAMD) and the maritime domain, especially anti-submarine capabilities.

With regard to partnerships, in the coming year, "deepening" NATO's relations with partners will remain a priority, even if the issues of how they could participate in operations or integrate into the organization remain unresolved. Also, NATO's commitment to do something for them in a crisis situation remains also uncertain. Despite all these impediments, NATO's interest in stepping up cooperation with partners will remain a priority in the operational field, even though prudence scrutiny of the Alliance's expansion process is required.

Public diplomacy will be a priority within the Alliance in 2019 in order to obtain public support, communicating more through concrete actions than words. A free and properly informed mass-media will continue to be one of the most powerful tools allies have.

The further development of NATO's adaptation process will be the major goal throughout the next year. NATO will remain the powerful political, diplomatic, and military vehicle that we have at our disposal to protect our territories and our values. Even if it is 70 years old, the Alliance is more important, vibrant and capable than ever.