Understanding NATO: Abstract
(Source: RUSI Journal; posted June 22, 2020)
By John Andreas Olsen
NATO is the most successful political and military alliance in modern history. It remains an essential contributor to peace, security and stability in Europe and North America. With the recent accession of North Macedonia, membership in the Alliance has increased from the original 12 countries to the current 30, and more are eager to join. NATO is vital to the nearly 1 billion citizens of its member states who, every day, benefit from the transatlantic framework it provides, including over 100 million from the former Warsaw Pact who have lived in freedom since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

It has established political partnerships, and military and non-military cooperation with 41 countries in Europe and around the world, as well as with other international organisations, notably the EU, the UN and the OSCE. These partnerships continue to expand.

NATO has proved to be such a successful organisation because it has sustained an unwavering commitment to its original purpose, values and principles, while simultaneously adapting to ever-evolving security realities.1 Since 2014 – following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and the rise of the Islamic State – NATO has developed a comprehensive strategy to achieve two broad goals that are both essential to transatlantic security: strengthen the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture; and project stability to its neighbourhood.

Russia’s aggressive actions have profoundly changed the conditions for maintaining security in Europe, and the ‘Arc of Instability’ that stretches across North Africa and the Middle East has fuelled terrorism, mass migration and displacement that undermine European stability.2

The coronavirus pandemic adds a new dimension within which NATO must operate. The pandemic has affected almost the entire globe, and is having a serious impact on people’s lives and the world economy. NATO members agreed from the outset to contribute to the fight against the virus by seeking ways to help those in immediate need, stopping the virus from spreading further and preventing a global health catastrophe from turning into a defence and security crisis. Member states have shown a high degree of cooperation in coping with the pandemic, and military forces from across the Alliance have flown missions to transport medical personnel, supplies and treatment capabilities.

Although NATO should not be the ‘first responder’ to such a crisis, its personnel, mechanisms and procedures have helped civilian authorities save lives.3 The pandemic will undeniably have an impact on defence budgets, procurement plans and exercises. It also has the potential of worsening already-tense relations between rival states, and hostile non-state actors might take advantage of the resulting societal disruption.

Looking beyond the current crisis, this article reviews how ‘NATO@71’ has adapted to the strategic environment that emerged in 2014 and identifies six primary challenges for ensuring future relevance.


Click here for the full story, on the Reuters website.

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