Rebooting Alliance Solidarity Without a New Strategic Concept

The contagion is prompting NATO to embrace the new normality and approach the hybrid and conventional threats with the new vision. NATO’s Secretary-General launch of NATO 2030 initiative is the illustrative evidence of this attempt. However, can NATO respond to new realities without reviewing old 2010 resolutions given in Lisbon in its Strategic Concept? Can Alliance members undertake the significant changes without reaching the solidarity and consensus on the novel threats, such as China or cyber warfare, and not fixing the shared strategic vision of the evolving security environment on the paper?

The bursts of NATO policy reconfiguration have always been propelled by a series of crises and instability. Eventful 2014 was characterised by the dramatic shifts in power distribution, namely the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and waged war in Eastern Ukraine by the Russian Federation. These events were followed up by the election of Trump, Brexit, and the expansion of China’s economic superiority which were marked as the potential perils to North-Atlantic security. Moreover, China’s endeavours over disputed territories in the South China Sea and its disruptive offensive activities within the cyber environment pose additional pressure on NATO’s sustainability. On top of that, Russian fortified positions in the Middle East, Kremlin’s subvert actions aimed at eroding democracy in the Eastern flank and financial fuelling of the anti-EU and anti-NATO political coalitions jeopardise regional security and defense capabilities. As well as the further application of hybrid weapons and disinformation campaign is constantly executed by Kremlin authorities. Among the other perilous tendencies which keep undermining alliance’s security architecture is the set of such accumulated issues, such as increasing terrorism, melting Arctic, climate-related threats, growing strategic U.S.-EU divergence, the recent withdrawal of Iran from the nuclear treaty, settlement of Afghanistan conflict, rooting disaccord over NATO expansion and existing approaches towards partnerships with NATO-neighbourhood and other emerging democratic states (Valasek, 2019; Kramer, 2019). COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated some of these challenges, posed new threats and revealed vulnerabilities that explicitly signal of the necessity to review the out-of-fashion 2010 Strategic Concept, since the newly emerged issues were not properly addressed and foreseen in the 2010 strategic document (SD). Management and response to threats outside and within of NATO bastion as well as the performance of the core NATO’s tasks rest on the correctly designed SD. No doubts, that most of the above-mentioned threats and dichotomy will remain in place over the next decade. Hence, the Alliance should not only acknowledge the novel security environment but revise and reach unity over the priorities outlined in the SD.

China’s pitfall

Emerging China and its penetration to NATO-members region and markets is a mounting issue to be considered while recalibrating the new SD (Roberts, 2019). However, it is observed a high degree of Alliance members’ unwillingness to acknowledge China’s military and economic influence and the significance of addressing this challenge.

Lack of unity and concrete measures on cooperation with China might translate into real tangible geopolitical, economic, and cyber negative implications for North-Atlantic security. Not only Beijing became a leading consumer of the Persian Gulf’s oil and gas, and it keeps claiming and reinforcing power over South China Sea territories, but it also increased its presence within NATO-mandate’s area, e,g. the Nord-Baltic dimension, fortifying its capability within EU seaports and Europe became more reliant on Chinese technology, namely due to Huawei’s digital infrastructure expansion (Pavel,2019; Valasek, 2019; Holslag, 2019). Bejing is also conducting massive disruptive cyber espionage, infringing the intellectual property rights, exporting military equipment to the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia; but more importantly – in terms of altering the power parity, – China became an ally for Moscow and advanced its nuclear capabilities. This Moscow-Beijing cooperation is multidimensional and long-running. In 2014 allocated credit to Kremlin from China significantly assisted to mollify the negative outcomes of sanctions imposed by the West coalition against the Russian Federation. This dual engagement is also backed up by the joint research cooperation and execution of military exercises across the Arctic (Pavel,2019; Valasek, 2019; Holslag, 2019). Having asserted its positions in the Arctic region through announcing itself as ‘Near-Arctic State’, this has substantially undermined the regional balance of power and security. China is in pursuit of the sheer amount of opportunities varying from the extraction of valuable Arctic resources, undertaking scientific researches in tandem with Russian stakeholders, to testing this soil as a potential ‘Polar Silk Road’ (Foggo, 2019).

Therefore, looking vigilantly towards the east is crucial for many strategic reasons. China played a decisive role as a signatory to the Iran nuclear deal 2015, but at the same time, we should keep in mind that European port facilities located within the NATO zone were purchased by the same actor (Gotteomoller, 2019). Eastward ambivalent cooperation matters, and also can be envisaged as the opportunity to deter Russia and isolate Moscow, for example. To achieve this task, NATO would need to embark on the new form of partnership with the Indo-Pacific region. Implementation of this can be found in the establishment of NATO-China Council, which should be stipulated in the future SD, similarly, NATO-Russia Council was once set up. Such a platform would ensure the dialogue among all European NATO-members, China, and the White House, foster cooperation where there is an opportunity for this, and alleviate the threats which emanate from China (Barry, 2019). Partnership with Beijing can be also offered on stabilising the Afghanistan crisis, while Kabul already developed friendship ties with China. Alternatively, Beijing can be considered helpful in tackling issues in Iran (Holslag, 2019).

Nonetheless, different perception of dialogue with China within NATO does not help to reach solidarity over its partnership. There is an explicit camp of such countries as Germany, Italy, France, and Portugal who advocate for limited interaction with the Chinese government. Another set of governments do perceive China rather as a co-partner over non-conventional security issues. This internal European ambivalence has been reflected in EU-China Strategic Outlook which classifies China as a partner and systematic competitor at the same time (Legarda, 2019; Holslag, 2019).

The roots of this selective approach lie in their strategic miscalculations of China’s offensive challenge and spurred by their unwillingness to be guided by Washington’s Chinese protectionism policy. The latter one harbours no illusions regarding China’s arrival and takes the hard-line stance on China as a rival. Beyond this divergence, the internal EU scepticism for NATO does not contribute to revising the alliance’s strategic thinking over its future with China. These factors neither allow to rebalance properly China nor find the common ground for the further cooperative framework. In any event, NATO members should unanimously acknowledge the role of China shifting Eurasian balance of power and beyond, and find a strategic approach on how to reconcile those changes to retain West’s dominance.

One possible counterbalancing and paramount solution for this is to deepen and extend the partnership with Japan and Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea. The importance of cooperation with these like-minded states has been also highlighted in NATO’s General Secretary 2030 Initiative.  These states might counterbalance China economically and militarily. Canberra and Tokyo contributed already on a different scale to Afghanistan. Japan allocated the development assistance of US$2.49 billion to stabilise the country and enhance further governance-building through infrastructure renovation (NATO, 2011; Pothier, 2019). Moreover, the inclusion of such Pacific partners as New Zealand, South Korea into the decision-consultation and debate over the regional defence and security policy-making and planning is crucial for diversification and “extended deterrence’’, given that these states have been already under the nuclear mushroom of the United States (Davis, 2010).

Expansion of like-minded partners in the Asia-Pacific region, expanding Alliance presence in the Arctic sea, alongside with appropriate cooperative mechanism might result in desirable security results for NATO. While further ignorance and non-endorsement of China’s ambitious role might translate into the negative consequences for deterrence. Before China’s rise, NATO could take its economic, military, political, and cyber superiority across Baltic, the Arctic, and Mediterranean regions for granted. However, this can no longer be the case. NATO should recognise that geopolitical realities in the region have changed and it is risking to lose the emerging stage of future digital, economic, space, and nuclear contestation and dominance (Ellyatt, 2019). During the recent NATO 70-anniversary meeting it was claimed that NATO will keep its investment to adopt towards emerging security challenges, and China’s factor is one worth this contribution.

Chinese adoption of Arctic Policy, reliance on northward cooperation with Russia, its waged disinformation campaign which undermines democratic institutions, and strategic ‘mask diplomacy’ amid the pandemic pose an array of challenges for transatlantic security and stability. Therefore, the relevance of NATO’s policies should be adjusted in accordance with China’s realm. The alliance should find the new strategic format and vision overbuilding ties with China; and this format definitely should satisfy Washington’s interests, appease China’s ambitions, and serve the security benefit of EU counter-partners.

Unifying the bond of disruptive Russia

One should not forget that back in the XX century threats emanated from the Soviet Union served as unifying bonds for Alliance members. Modern Russia is still a menace, however, some of the key members rather hold affection for assertive Kremlin. Erdogan, Macron, and Trump are inclined to favour Putin (Ghosh, 2019).  Meanwhile, ascending Russia keeps challenging NATO credibility on multiple flanks through employing conventional and nonconvention operations, and therefore it is crucial to uphold transatlantic solidarity over Russia’s menace to be able to avert its threat (Galeotti, 2019).

Alongside NATO members, such countries as Ukraine, Syria, and the Arctic zone became the areas of Kremlin’s direct influence. The dramatic alteration of the global power equation has been started with the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and military invasion of Russian troops to the Eastern Ukraine in 2014. Later on, Russia as a destabilizing security variable became present in all NATO dialogues ranging from the Middle East, the Baltic region to China, and sharing the ‘Arctic pie’. At the time when the 2010 Strategic Concept was released Russia was still perceived as a partner of NATO in preserving the global secure order in Europe, despite the tension that occurred as an aftermath of the 2008 War in Georgia. The 2010 document overlooked the risk of Russia undermining the rule-based international order, which led to unprecedented hostility and rivalry between NATO, its allies, and Moscow. Although, the partial revision of Russian offensive behaviour took place during the 2014 Wales and 2016 Warsaw Summits, which resulted in recapitulating the collective defence and deterrence priorities, in accordance with challenges originating from east and south flanks (Kamp, 2016). However, these measures are not sufficient enough in the light of uprising Russia beyond Ukraine and the Baltic Sea.

The recent withdrawal of the U.S. and Russia from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty keep worsening European and global security and Alliance cohesion. Unfolding uncertainty which was propelled by Moscow’s development of the SSC-8/9M729 created a wide gap for deterrence which NATO should fill in. This not necessarily should be done in an equal quantitative and qualitative way. On the contrary, the synthesis of the asymmetric responses across different dimensions is required (Durkalec, 2019).

However, the major disconnection of NATO’s actions and realities is lying in succumbing to the lure of conventional defensive methods to respond to Russia’s unconventional sophisticated activities. The amplification of hybrid tools to boost instability in NATO’s neighbourhood and its allies is an integral attribute of Russian style projecting its power. Traditional integrated air and missile defence (IAMD) race and deployment of the military forces alongside the Baltic and the Black Sea and North Atlantic zone are actively backed up by the cyber disruption, the spread of fake narratives, cultivation of trolls on the social media, election meddling, use of chemical weapons and AI tools. Meanwhile, these asymmetric measures are not adequately tackled by NATO. West coalition is still akin to limit itself to orthodox military exercises, planning, command structure, and arrangement of negotiations. The case of Russian attempt interference in 2016 U.S. elections, poisoning of Skrypals in London, deployment of “little green men” and army of trolls in Ukraine, AI-driven campaigns are ample evidence of NATO’s inability to keep pace with Russia on this ground (Pothier, 2019; Poyakova, 2018).

As it was rightly noted by the ex-CIA chief “Putin is the greatest gift to NATO since the end of the Cold War” (Ellyatt, 2019). Indeed, Moscow’s layered policies not only puts additional pressure but reveals the weakness of the alliance security dynamics. State members should not be preoccupied with the obsolete vision. Contrary, extracting lessons from Russia’s approaches should motivate Alliance members to ameliorate defensive capabilities and elaborate on the deterrence strategy for unconventional warfare. Ill-equipped Europe and the United States should seek the retaliation in re-assessment of the current nuclear arsenal and its effectiveness to deter Russia. This should also go in conjunction with the transformation of IAMD capabilities into layered one, upgrade of new hybrid solutions to maintain security architecture.

A variety of perceptions of Russia as an aggressor by state members also inevitably impacts NATO decision-making and strategic planning. For instance, it is explicitly visible on NATO decisions in the Baltic region and towards the war in Ukraine. Those aligned partners who generally militarily weak and located in the Russian proximity, are more likely to envisage Russia as a threat to their national security. As well as these members are more inclined to support a military response to Russian activities in Ukraine. Italians and Germany specifically do not consider that Russia constitutes a major threat which should be subverted by the military operations, unlike Canada and the United Kingdom (Binnendijk, Priebe, 2019).

Overall, the prioritization and interpretation of Russia’s concerns over other threats is a vital factor in crafting a coherent strategic vision. The common and shared vision should be reached and fixed in the future SD. ‘Russia might be overwhelmingly outpowered by NATO on paper but is outmanoeuvring NATO by other means’ (Roberts, 2019). Therefore, a mutually shared perception of Russia as a threat, and the respective reflection of this should be on the NATO agenda.

Shrinking internal cohesion and its implications

The variety of security challenges fragmented internal solidarity. The departure towards a new SD should be geared by the mutual agreement on how the formidable operational, financial, political, and other matters should be mutually viewed and dealt with. Some of the gaps should be harmonised and incorporated into the future SD in the first place.

U.S. – EU antagonistic tandem

One of the recurring existential issues of the North-Atlantic relationships emanates from disharmonic political relations between EU members and the U.S. This dichotomy is characterized by a various number of issues. There is a long-running discord over financial 2% GDP commitment, the Paris climate accords, U.S. Asian pivot, the desire of EU-members to enhance their regional security and consequent U.S. unwelcoming reaction on EU aspirations (Valasek, 2019).

Recent Iran’s withdrawal from nuclear deal and announcement of Germany, France, and the U.K. to stand by the deal and preserve the trade partnership with Iran through INSTEX regardless of Trump’s stance is another proof of the existing internal turmoil which constitutes impediments for unification (Valasek, 2019; Townsned, 2019; Ellyatt, 2020). All of these factors cultivated further EU ambitions for seeking greater independence from Washington and setting up such initiatives such as PESCO, EDF, adoption of the 2016 European Global Strategy. However, mere autonomy would only contribute to overall transatlantic security sustainability. It is unlikely that EU’s initiatives will duplicate or replace NATO’s functions or eradicate the role of the U.S. on the continent. Instead, political polarization should not affect the military collective defence and security endeavours. The U.S. should encourage and support EU desire to advance its partnerships, and make the Baltic and Eastern Europe more resilient towards perils which emerge from neighbouring countries and non-traditional threats (Lindstrom and Tardy, 2019). Europe in its turn, should clarify the borders of their independence from Washington and find the scheme of further cooperation with the UK in the wake of Brexit.

The novel virus crisis has also fueled already existing distrust of European partners in the reliability of relations with the U.S. and eventually, both parties of the transatlantic alliance turned inward (Brattberg, 2020; Donfried & Ischinger, 2020). Trumps’ decision to withdraw US troops from German soil depicts a part of existing Brussels-Washington antagonism. This decision holds more political motives rather strategic. The real underlying reasons are the desire to make Germany increase its defence budget, prevent the completion of the Nord Stream II pipeline which will increase Russian influence in Europe and also suspend the spread of Huawei hegemony. All of these good intentions can be justified. Yet, one should not forget that German substantially increased its defence expenditures over the last few years, while the German parliament is trying to vote Huawei out of telecommunications infrastructure, and finally, the pipeline is nearly done (Schmitt and Donnelly, 2020). This withdrawal politically hampers NATO deterrence capability, whilst Germany is crucial for Russia deterrence and the overall security of Central Eastern Europe (The Economist, 2020; Fitz, 2020).

Donfried & Ischinger, 2020). COVID-19 should be viewed as a political momentum for NATO members to reaffirm their commitment to core transatlantic shared values and principles and act jointly in uncertain times, instead of being governed by the inward-looking mindset.

Human Security

To uphold peace and security the holistic vision of the current security architecture should be promoted. Primarily, this should presuppose protection of human security which is overlooked in the 2010 Strategic Concept, while the document is more concerned about the ‘hard’ threats. Expert predictions claim that the impact of the ‘soft’ security issues will be only scaling up. Hence, institutions such as NATO should come up with the new solutions on how to handle novel menace (Speranza, 2020). The COVID-19 outbreak showcased the vitality of the human security component and underscored the necessity of expanding NATO’s capacity to public health.

Although the conventional notion of security was extended to threats to climate, ecology, and public health by the Alliance during the 2019 Summit in London, the members should do more to ensure that NATO is well-prepared to manage novel threats to human lives. For instance, in the future NATO can be more charged with the responsibility of coordination, logistics, and delivery of medical equipment. Besides, given the experience of being engaged in humanitarian missions, during 2005 while dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Pakistan earthquake NATO should consider its ‘humanitarian’ component and revitalise this in the post-COVID age. Such institutions as the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC), NATO Support and Procurement Agency, as well as the Alliance’s Civil Emergency Planning unit can be involved in the future to provide support with crisis management (Waszczykowski, 2020). The EADRCC namely is playing a crucial role in strengthening shared security, defence and deterrence, and solidarity among members. Alliance policymakers should not ignore the potential of this centre and advance its capabilities given the changing threat environment (Speranza, 2020). Alternatively, NATO can maintain the stockpile of the public health supplies available for all partners. Thus, in case the pandemic reoccurs there is a guarantee that every transatlantic member is stuffed with the necessities immediately (Donfried & Ischinger, 2020).

Such a move towards cooperation would benefit for Brussels-Washington cooperation, and also proves alliance readiness to adequately mitigate the future outbreaks. After all, it is crucial to keep a balance in the future SD between the traditional security and strategic interests and human security. Pressing and systematic issues such as disinformation or pandemic will not fade away, nor ISISS will stop testing Alliance members on the ground, or Kremlin will cease its war in Ukraine or provocations in the Middle East in the nearest future. The transatlantic community should reconcile both conventional and newly emerging threats in their security paradigm to be capable of delivering the main Alliance’s tasks.

 Roadmap for the hybrid practices and cyber domain

Fragmentation of Alliance is driven by the emergence of unconventional forces. It was highlighted above that NATO suffers from the lack of coherent policy on the newly emerged domain, embodiment of hybrid weapons in the toolkit, and its inability to respond to Russian and Chinese unconventional operations. The operationalization of the digital landscape should become a primary task in the new policy. The new agenda should encompass such activities as the establishment of a separate cyberspace operation centre, for instance, EU-NATO Taskforce for cyber crisis response coordination, recruitment of the niche experts, elaboration of the strategy towards cyber-operations (Ablon et.al., 2019; Lindstrom and Trady, 2019).

More importantly, novel warfare trends question the applicability of Article 5. Invasion of the Baltic soil does not leave any hesitation on invoking Article 5, yet this is a major concern in the case of the cyber-attack or “green man’’ invasion. Although, it was agreed at the Wales Summit that case-by-case incidents will be considered in the event of a cyber disruption campaign carried out against Alliance states, it still leaves uncertainty (Binnendijk and Priebe, 2019). Coalition members will require a more clarified contingency plan in case digital interference occurs or any other hybrid weapon is enacted, otherwise, the absence of agreed actions will jeopardise the credibility, relevance, and solidarity of NATO. To reach a consensus on this matter, the cyber and hybrid-compliance with Article 5 should be reached. This can be realised through the involvement of niche experts into future talks on new SD and those partners who already well-equipped with digital infrastructure and experience digital disruption, e.g. Estonia.

Discard of the potential of hybrid warfare and improper management will likely translate into loose of the crucial zone of influence, power distribution within it, and plausible financial, military, and political setbacks. Last London meeting became the first step towards recognition of hybrid warfare and cyber capability importance for upholding security. The next uphill task is the adoption of a new hybrid warfare vision in the next policy.

Cooperative security

One of the NATO DNA-element is cooperative security which should be reaffirmed in the next SD as well. Enhancement of the international security should be complemented by the reconfiguration of the approaches to such formats as “Partnership for Peace”, Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative due to the altered state of relationships between the Gulf States, Russia, and Alliance (Kamp, 2016). Additionally, the establishment of the outreach activities towards OSCE, the Arab League, the African Union is highly required to extend regional dialogue and maintain security beyond NATO’s mandate. Besides, active engagement with non-NATO western members, such as Finland and Sweden are a fundamental step in this regard. Their potential inclusion in the North-Atlantic marriage would strengthen drastically EU and regional security (Kramer et.al., 2015; Kramer, 2019).

Conclusions

Crisis in the Middle East, the arrival of China, USA-Iran escalated tensions, America’s First intentions, Russia’s mercurial political behaviour, the proliferation of the illiberal political movements and populism in Central Eastern Europe, further proliferation of terrorism, erosion of democracy, melting the Arctic, hybrid style of warfare and disinformation activities, global public health crisis – it is not a full list of challenges that signify the obsolete nature of 2010 Strategic Concept.

Changes in the power distribution should trigger the revitalisation of collective defence, cooperative security, and crisis management – the milestones and pillars of NATO. The inseparable task to this is the advancement of NATO’s resilience, so members could accomplish the deterrence and defence tasks and protect North-Atlantic territory. To preserve its core values and goal and act as a collective defence alliance, member-states should not look for what diverges and weakens their unity. Instead, a common strategic attitude to perilous issues should be elaborated in the future SD. Once it used to be an equally shared fear of the Soviet Union, the same way China, Russia, nuclear deterrence, pandemic, and advancement of hybrid capabilities should become a novel unifying ground to hammer out a new SD, taking into consideration all alliances’ priorities. NATO’s solidarity is just like a devil, is in the detail. If this unity on facing joint challenges is not reached and fixed on the paper, collective and decisive actions will be hard to perform.

Written by Victoria Chumenko

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