Author : Vivek Mishra

Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Aug 20, 2022 Updated 9 Days ago
NATO’s strategic concept may be well-timed but since it harps on defending every inch of allied territory, it may also become its biggest test.
NATO’s Eighth Strategic Concept: Changing force posture in Europe The 2022 NATO Summit was held on 29–30 June in Madrid with leaders of the alliance gathering along with partners from Europe and the Asia-Pacific. Amongst the important standouts, the Madrid summit marked the first-ever participation of Asia-Pacific leaders from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korea. The major outcome of the conference was the launch of NATO’s Eighth Strategic Concept. Additionally, the two-day summit concluded with a reaffirmation of its open-door policy as Sweden and Finland received a formal invitation to join NATO. Among other important developments, the NATO Innovation Fund —the world’s first multi-sovereign venture capital fund—was also launched. Apart from the discussions regarding the Ukraine conflict which remains the primary focus of the alliance, issues such as food security, terrorism, climate change, cyber security, and space were also debated.

Significance of the NATO Strategic Concept 2022 

The longevity of NATO can be attributed to its continuous adaptation to changing needs of security and threat perceptions. The main mechanism to put out NATO’s newer strategies and adaptive reformulations has been its strategic concept—a guidebook to the alliance’s transformation to guarantee Euro-Atlantic security amidst changing threat assessments. The document is reviewed and updated approximately every 10 years, enabling the alliance to be prepared for existing threats as well as potential challenges in the future. The previous Strategic Concept was adopted at the NATO Lisbon Summit in 2010. Fast forward 12 years, the shift in the global security environment has underscored the necessity of a renewed strategy.

The main mechanism to put out NATO’s newer strategies and adaptive reformulations has been its strategic concept—a guidebook to the alliance’s transformation to guarantee Euro-Atlantic security amidst changing threat assessments.

The 2022 Strategic Concept is in line with NATO’s 2030 agenda, adopted during its 2021 summit. The latest document, in line with Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, builds on the alliance’s three core tasks: “deterrence and defence; crisis prevention and management; and cooperative security.” Aiding the European security order, the Strategic Concept focuses on being prepared for any spillover effects of the war in Ukraine while strongly condemning Russia’s breach of “sovereignty and territorial integrity”. The document explicitly titles Russia as the “most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”. Achieving the tenets of the latest vision statement will be key to NATO’s transformation given the ground reality of a full-scale land war in Europe. Importantly, the document also lists concerns regarding the “deepening strategic partnership” between Russia and China that was in direct opposition to NATO interests. 

From 2010 to 2022: NATO’s new force posture

The obvious but most noteworthy change between the 2010 Strategic Concept and the 2022 document is the transition of Russia from being a “strategic partner” of NATO to its “most significant and direct threat”. This shift in terminology is a direct consequence of the ongoing war in Europe between Russia and Ukraine. The invasion, characterised by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg as “the most serious security crisis” since the Second World War, was bound to force an increase in NATO troops along the alliance’s eastern flank. Announcing a change in force posture, Stoltenberg said, “Putin wanted less NATO on his borders, but because of his actions, he's getting more.” The alliance’s high-readiness contingent (the Response Force) will see a seven-fold increase from 40,000 to 300,000 troops by 2023; this increase will be witnessed primarily along the NATO-Russia border in eastern Ukraine. Capabilities are expected to be bolstered across all domains—land, air, sea, cyber, and space. Thus, the new force model reinforces NATO’s military position in terms of both enhanced deterrence and defence.

Achieving the tenets of the latest vision statement will be key to NATO’s transformation given the ground reality of a full-scale land war in Europe.

A shift in the US force posture

Support by the US is at the centre of NATO’s restructuring. Boosting NATO’s defence, US President Joe Biden announced an enhanced force posture in Europe. It is set to maintain a rotational army brigade combat team (BCT) in Poland while Romania headquarters an army BCT. Romania will also witness the deployment of a rotational brigade of 3,000 troops and 2,000 other personnel. The two BCTs will enable a sustained US heel-to-toe presence in the eastern flank countries in Europe, particularly in the Baltic countries. Additionally, the US will establish a permanent headquarters for its Fifth Army Corps Forward Command Post in Poland. The Army Garrison headquarters along with the Field Support Battalion shall also be stationed in Poland. These will provide increased interoperability with NATO allies in training in the European Area of Responsibility (AOR). In terms of non-ground force capabilities, the number of navy destroyers at the US naval base in Rota, Spain will expand from the previous four to six. Two additional squadrons of F-35 fighter jets are also bound to the UK. Biden also announced an increased deployment of “air defence and other capabilities” in both Germany and Italy.

A shift in the European force posture

Following the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, NATO deployed an enhanced forward presence in the Baltic states and Poland comprising four rotational multinational battle groups. This was intended to act as a trip wire deterring Russian aggression. The frequency and scale of Black Sea military exercises were also increased. However, in the aftermath of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, additional battle groups have been established in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. This was accompanied by more than 40,000 troops being placed under direct NATO command.

The US will establish a permanent headquarters for its Fifth Army Corps Forward Command Post in Poland.

Separately, NATO’s eastern flank shall be strengthened with more sophisticated weaponry bound for Kyiv. The UK confirmed an increase in its commitment to a NATO battlegroup in Estonia from 1,700 to about 1,000; these forces shall be based in the UK, ready to deploy at short notice. The eight frontline NATO battlegroups, from Estonia to Bulgaria, will see an increase to brigade-level of 3,000 to 5,000 troops. Germany has also pledged a raise in its troop commitment to Lithuania to the size of a brigade.

Impact on the global force posture

The main premise of strengthening NATO’s force posture is the assessment that the Euro-Atlantic area is not at peace. More importantly, NATO’s Strategic Concept makes it clear that the threat that NATO faces is global. While Russia has been identified as the primary cause for disturbing a peaceful and predictable security order in Europe, NATO recognises the China challenge in equal measure in its ability to carry out “malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target Allies and harm Alliance security.” The Strategic Concept also recognises China’s ability to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains, linking NATO’s challenge to the Indo-Pacific. NATO’s force restructuring focuses on a holistic approach to effectively deter Russia. But even as the war in Europe continues, NATO’s posture to create credible deterrence against Russia has been in question. Perhaps, the most significant aspect challenging NATO’s deterrence is the nuclear question and the odds in favour of the Russian ability to use nuclear weapons. Russia’s decision to raise the nuclear alert levels early on in the ongoing war against Ukraine has been a symbolic decision by Russia in that regard. There are serious concerns that a nuclear catastrophe is looming in Ukraine due to consistent artillery fire around the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Station in Energodar. These developments have catapulted NATO’s focus on strategic posture restructuring to a priority. However, most of the revisions aimed through the Strategic Concept are long-term projects with possibly little impact on the ongoing war in Europe. Nonetheless, NATO’s immediate help to Ukraine, through the supply of arms and equipment, in creating a credible defensive-offensive counter to Russia, cannot be discounted. NATO’s Strategic Concept may be well-timed but since it harps on defending every inch of allied territory, it will also become its biggest test should Russia decide to attack a NATO member country.
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Author

Vivek Mishra

Vivek Mishra

Vivek Mishra is a Fellow with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme. His research interests include America in the Indian Ocean and Indo-Pacific and Asia-Pacific regions, particularly ...

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