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Implications of a Changing NATO

Authored by COL Phillip R. Cuccia. | May 2010

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Summary

NATO officials plan to unveil the new North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Strategic Concept during the Alliance's summit in Portugal at the end of 2010. This monograph focuses on the impact that the Strategic Concept will have on the Alliance. This analysis describes recent trends within NATO and their implications, and provides senior military and political leaders with a discussion of the changing composition of the NATO nations and the impact of these changes on the nature of the Alliance. The monograph describes four possible scenarios of what NATO could look like in the future so as to give senior leaders thoughts to consider while instituting NATO policy.

In terms of NATO relevance, the prevailing thought at the close of the Cold War was that NATO needed to find a suitable common threat to substitute for the former Soviet Union. That role was initially filled by the threat of destabilization with the crisis in the Balkans and then by the NATO response to September 11, 2001 (9/11) and global terrorism. NATO's response was guided by a Strategic Concept written in 1999 which did not directly address global terrorism. The Strategic Concept was supplemented in 2006 with the Comprehensive Political Guidance which provided a framework and political direction for NATO's continuing transformation and set priorities for all Alliance capability issues for the following 10 to 15 years.

The NATO Alliance has now reached its 60th birthday and is currently in the middle of updating and rewriting the new Strategic Concept. The Alliance, which has grown to 28 countries, is facing problems with changing demographics, an awkward relationship with Russia, a war in Afghanistan, and threats of global jihad. Muslim immigration into Europe and population aging will have a great impact on European views of the Alliance. NATO must decide how closely it wants to work and coordinate with Russia in future endeavors. The most important issue at hand is how NATO is going to fare coming out of the war in Afghanistan. The desired NATO outcome needs to be defined clearly. It is imperative that the New Strategic Concept address NATO goals in Afghanistan and the ways and means of accomplishing those goals. Defined goals will give member nations objectives while formulating national defense plans. Getting the Strategic Concept right is the first step in maintaining the health of the Alliance.

This monograph examines four possible future scenarios for NATO: the U.S. leadership relationship with NATO continues on the same path; the U.S. leadership in NATO increases; the European Union (EU) leadership in NATO increases; and the NATO Alliance breaks apart. The scenarios present a range of short- and long-term challenges for the future. The prominent short-term challenge is consensus on the 2010 Strategic Concept. If well thought out, it will set the conditions for both short- and long-term success.

NATO must decide whether to “go global” or concentrate on the collective defense of Europe. But those options are not mutually exclusive. U.S. policymakers must ensure that NATO policy toward Russia is clear. NATO's relationship with Russia must be based on openness, both when the two sides agree and when they disagree. The new Strategic Concept must identify NATO goals in Afghanistan and indicate how they will be attained. The biggest threat to NATO now is the “internal threat” caused by the absence of consensus over what the perceived “external threat” to NATO is.