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Don’t Let Russia Dominate the Strategic Concept

When NATO members agree on a brand new Strategic Concept at their summit in Madrid, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will dominate the dialogue. But with this existential disaster rightfully taking middle stage, different threats haven’t gone away. The problem for NATO is to situate Russia’s invasion in a wider strategic context, addressing different key points earlier than they create new existential crises in the future.

What does this imply in apply? We contend that regardless of the present centrality of the Russo-Ukrainian warfare, Sino-American rivalry is prone to drive U.S. nationwide safety considering in the coming many years. NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept ought to handle this actuality. Among the many challenges in Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific, China’s designs on Taiwan determine most prominently. China is watching the Russo-Ukrainian warfare intently, looking for to attract strategic classes. This dynamic needn’t be catastrophic for European and trans-Atlantic safety. It creates alternatives for E.U.-NATO cooperation and higher European strategic autonomy (or strategic duty) in the context of an everlasting trans-Atlantic bond. Europe and Asia are more and more linked as two theaters in a world system hinging on the United States and anchored in its alliances in each areas. The strategic idea ought to thus lay out a imaginative and prescient for a way NATO can concurrently compete with each China and Russia.



There are additionally a number of particular threats and challenges that the 2022 Strategic Concept ought to handle. First, allies ought to sort out the results of rising and emerged disruptive applied sciences on strategic, protection, and power planning. Second, adversaries are more and more utilizing high- and low-tech approaches in need of armed battle to disrupt nationwide politics and every day life in Western democracies. Enhancing and coordinating resilience throughout the alliance needs to be a objective of the strategic idea. Third, cash stays the sinew of warfare. Whether it’s funding in nationwide and common-funded capabilities, or transfers to companions like Ukraine, ample and environment friendly spending is a requirement for a profitable technique. Fourth, NATO ought to proceed to grapple with the distinct however associated challenges of terrorism and irregular warfare.

While it appears clear that Russian aggression has mitigated some centrifugal tendencies in the alliance, NATO will stay extra like an orchestra requiring a conductor to keep away from strategic cacophony, moderately than a self-organizing jazz band. The strategic idea represents a possibility to raised convey the members of the alliance into concord. To achieve this, it ought to handle the twin problem posed by Russia and China, whereas higher balancing NATO’s core commitments with a various set of recent and rising threats.

Russia, China, NATO, and the World

As the trans-Atlantic neighborhood focuses on the Russo-Ukrainian warfare, rivalry with China continues apace. Scholars and policymakers differ on conceptual approaches to this twin dynamic, with some arguing for a geographic division of labor each inside Europe and throughout the Atlantic, and others sustaining that, as a result of Europe is lower than the sum of its components, U.S. army management stays indispensable.

Identifying a job for NATO in the Indo-Pacific is exceptionally difficult. Whether by Europeanizing NATO to allow the United States to give attention to the Indo-Pacific, contending with Chinese industrial funding in European vital infrastructure, or encouraging allies to interact in Asia themselves (individually or collectively), the new strategic idea should handle the relationship between the trans-Atlantic neighborhood and China. At an absolute minimal, the strategic idea ought to place NATO to assist the present international order and “demonstrate its commitment to security and democratic values as well as to the peaceful resolution of disputes.” Such a concerted method to China is definitely attainable: Chinese habits could even have “brought NATO together” in methods analogous to Russian habits, and there could also be extra room for financial convergence between China and the West than typically imagined.

A big strategic concern for NATO allies is to keep away from precipitating a Russian-Chinese authoritarian alignment. While Russia and China face distinct strategic challenges of their very own and their “unlimited partnership” has appeared to come upon some limits, their continued pursuit of rising, disruptive applied sciences and their authoritarian fashions of governance current important dangers to NATO allies. These fashions, coupled with Russia and China’s shared willingness to undermine nationwide and worldwide establishments in the trans-Atlantic neighborhood, imply that the most daunting risk NATO faces could also be to its foundational values. Incorporating these core values into technique and coverage will probably be a key activity for the 2022 Strategic Concept.

New Domains

Whether in coordination or not, China and Russia will undoubtedly proceed to problem allies in domains like area and cyber utilizing rising and emerged applied sciences. Dealing with such challenges is core NATO enterprise — grounded in Article 3 of the Washington Treaty and resting primarily with nationwide authorities. The new Strategic Concept ought to purpose to combine these comparatively new domains whereas responding to disruptive applied sciences as properly. Allies should endeavor to achieve a “pre-crisis” consensus on what area and cyber actions would represent an “armed attack” in accordance with Article 5. This sort of disaster decision-making is a core operate of NATO’s political and army headquarters. Such settlement, when paired with improved nationwide capabilities, would contribute to deterrence by speaking resolve to adversaries. Improved capabilities themselves will solely come up by public-private partnership to take care of a technological edge. A typical strategic tradition of innovation, a lot of which arises from the non-public sector, is a key benefit that NATO has — and may retain — over its adversaries. Such innovation has been on show in the Russo-Ukrainian warfare and can probably be important in future conflicts.

National Resilience

Although defending human and bodily infrastructure from uneven threats is inherently nationwide enterprise, NATO itself can function a platform for coordinating allied responses to those challenges. NATO allies agreed on seven baseline necessities for nationwide resilience at their 2016 Warsaw Summit. They have additionally “improve[d] their cyber resilience by introducing capability targets” into the NATO Defence Planning Process.

Recently, nonetheless, nationwide resilience has been challenged in further areas, which needs to be mirrored. Specifically, NATO ought to handle democratic backsliding, election interference, and financial and data manipulation. Specifically, NATO’s necessities for nationwide resilience needs to be upgraded to require nationwide safeguards towards democratic backsliding. Prior to taking on her place as the senior U.S. Department of Defense official in Europe, Rachel Ellehuus highlighted the vulnerabilities laid naked by such backsliding and argued that “the trans-Atlantic alliance will only remain strong if members genuinely abide by its founding principles.” By incorporating such safeguards into NATO’s techniques for monitoring allies’ protection preparations, allies can form each other’s political, financial, and safety incentives in ways in which cut back these vulnerabilities.

Allies must also agree to cut back dramatically their reliance on non-allied power — the vulnerabilities inherent in German dependence on Russian fuel have been uncovered throughout the Russo-Ukrainian warfare. Progress towards independence can not come quick sufficient. Finally, non-allied possession of vital infrastructure, particularly transportation and telecommunications, poses dangers that haven’t but materialized in the similar means as power dependency however are simply as harmful. The dangers needs to be explicitly addressed in the strategic idea, and concrete steps towards mitigation ought to improve accordingly. Military mobility stays a vital infrastructural problem that allies must also explicitly grapple with in coordination with the European Union. As in the cyber realm, the NATO Defence Planning Process could also be an applicable venue for these efforts.

The Sinews of War

Burden-sharing has been a major problem to NATO since its beginning — mitigating collective motion issues inherent in alliances is considered one of the key features of the “O” (Organization) in NATO. Allies and analysts are sometimes seeking new burden-sharing metrics to offer a extra exact view of how the price of collective protection is definitely distributed throughout the alliance. But repeatedly the primary metrics that NATO tracks — reminiscent of share of GDP allotted to protection and the 4 parts of protection budgets (gear, personnel, working and upkeep, and infrastructure) — have proved to seize the essence of this challenge. The “inputs” NATO measures are extremely predictive of just about each measure of “outputs” that has been devised. This seems to carry true even in measures of assist to Ukraine. The easy pairwise correlation desk beneath makes use of knowledge offered by the newly developed Ukraine Support Tracker. The solely components that appear predictive of army assist to Ukraine (at the 5 p.c degree of statistical significance) are earlier spending on working and upkeep and infrastructure as a share of GDP (column 1 in the pairwise correlation desk beneath). The comparatively giant (.4173 and .4395, respectively) and statistically important coefficients on these two variables recommend that allies that deploy and allies that put money into nationwide infrastructure have additionally invested in supporting Ukraine militarily.

Table 1: Pairwise Correlations Between Defense Spending and Military Aid to Ukraine

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
1 Military Aid to UKR 2022 1
2 Milex/GDP 2018 0.1882 1
3 Equipment/GDP 2018 0.074 0.8256* 1
4 O&M/GDP 2018 0.4173* 0.8311* 0.7416* 1
5 Personnel/GDP 2018 -0.0735 0.8701* 0.6244* 0.5207* 1
6 Infrastructure/GDP 2018 0.4395* 0.5264* 0.4161* 0.5023* 0.3595* 1
7 Proximity to Russia -0.1763 -0.1758* 0.2824* 0.4041* 0.1743* -0.1029* 1
8 Atlanticism 2018 -0.1125 -0.0937* 0.0842* 0.2138* -0.1208* 0.0279 0.0158 1
Pairwise correlations, * = important at .05 degree


Nonetheless, NATO can enhance its burden-sharing preparations by enabling allies to concentrate on capabilities by the NATO Defence Planning Process and put money into high-return advisory missions reminiscent of supporting Ukrainian armed forces. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s balanced give attention to “cash, capabilities, and contributions” is a commonsense method at the strategic degree and needs to be carried ahead in the new strategic idea. Rather than jettison the Wales Pledge benchmarks, allies can proceed to give attention to their implementation. Increased funding creates new capabilities — integrating these capabilities into a technique will produce higher outcomes.

In apply, this implies recognizing that there’s a sturdy empirical hyperlink between spending at this time, the capabilities which that spending buys tomorrow, and the contributions to collective safety these capabilities make the day after tomorrow. It is comparatively clear that functionality shortfalls end result from the choices to not put money into these capabilities. The NATO Defence Planning Process is an ample mannequin to deal with this. While effectivity is vital, allies mustn’t allow each other to make use of it as an excuse to keep away from obligatory spending. In quick, if NATO is critical about fielding extra capabilities and attaining extra equal trans-Atlantic burden-sharing, European allies should make investments extra.

Terrorism and Irregular Warfare

Focusing on geopolitical competitors with China and Russia will doubtless lead NATO allies to shift assets from the struggle towards terrorism. This structural state of affairs requires NATO to develop a sustainable method to mitigate terrorist threats. Fortunately, the key necessities for this complement the necessities of nice energy competitors. Both contain bettering defensive capabilities, sustaining disaster response capability, and persevering with to boost intelligence sharing. For instance, partnership constructions like these used to assist Ukraine since 2014 can be utilized to deepen cooperation in combatting terrorism globally. Similarly, lots of the components inherent in nice energy proxy warfare are suitable with combatting terrorism — for NATO this principally entails associate capability constructing and data operations. The positive factors that NATO, and notably NATO particular operations forces, have made in coordinating the struggle towards non-state adversaries will assist in nice energy competitors, and their continued engagement will stop primary counterterrorism capabilities from withering. The 2022 Strategic Concept can provide high-level political path in assist of incorporating irregular warfare right into a broader method to deterrence and protection.

Orchestrating a Cacophony of Cacophonies

While consultants have lengthy described NATO as perpetually in disaster, the present Russo-Ukrainian warfare presents a novel army, political, and strategic problem that actually deserves the use of the time period. So far, it has helped create a transparent consensus round collective protection. But allies’ strategic priorities proceed to vary in secondary areas. Where these variations can result in cacophony, the objective is to assist create a symphony, or at the least a coherent jam. Thus, the 2022 Strategic Concept affords an vital alternative. If approached correctly, this doc can articulate a division of labor for competing with Russia and China, whereas additionally bettering high-tech safety, common resiliency, burden-sharing, and counter-terrorism capability.


Jordan Becker is an academy professor and director of the Social Science Research Lab at the United States Military Academy, West Point. He can be affiliated with the Centre for Security, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, and IHEDN and IRSEM at the French École Militaire. Ambassador Douglas Lute is the former U.S. everlasting consultant to NATO and retired from the U.S. Army at the rank of lieutenant common. Simon Smith is an affiliate professor at Staffordshire University and is the editor-in-chief of Defence Studies. This article displays the views of the authors and doesn’t essentially signify the place of the U.S. authorities. It attracts upon discussions at the NATO Strategic Concept Seminar held at West Point on Feb. 3–4, 2022. Those discussions are captured in higher element in a lately launched particular part of Defence Studies.

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