What is NATO’s Strategic Concept?
The Strategic Concept is – besides the North Atlantic Treaty establishing the Alliance in 1949 – the key document that serves as a blueprint for NATO’s political and operational action and the capabilities it will need. The Strategic Concept defines NATO’s values and purpose, provides an assessment of today’s security environment, and outlines political and military decisions.
Since the end of the Cold War, the Strategic Concept has been updated roughly every ten years. The last Strategic Concept, which is now being replaced, dates from 2010.
Why is an update needed?
In 2010, the focus was still on the strategic partnership with Russia, based on the NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997. The world has changed dramatically since then as a result of Russia’s actions, and the risks to security in the Euro-Atlantic area have increased significantly. It was therefore necessary to revise the previous assumption that the Euro-Atlantic area was at peace and a conventional attack on NATO territory was unlikely.
The Heads of State and Government proposed that the Strategic Concept be updated back in 2021. This decision followed a process of reflection, initiated by Germany in 2019 with the aim of strengthening NATO’s political dimension. Russia’s unlawful and brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, which is ultimately an attack on the European peaceful order, has since further heightened the need for action.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock put it thus at the NATO Summit in Madrid:
Russia’s brutal attack has not only brought immeasurable suffering to Ukraine. It has also pulverised the cornerstone of security in Europe, on which we have relied since the end of the Cold War.
What is new in the Strategic Concept?
In the new Concept, Russia is identified as the most significant threat to the Allies and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. Against this backdrop, the focus is on the core task of strengthening joint deterrence and collective defence. This does not, however, detract from NATO’s two other core tasks, crisis prevention and management, and cooperative security wherever possible.
Human security also plays a large role in the new Strategic Concept, because security is more than diplomacy and military tools. A greater focus is also placed on the major challenges posed by climate change and on gender perspectives and the contribution women can make to resolving conflicts.
Another change reflects NATO’s relationship with China. The country was not mentioned at all in the Strategic Concept of 2010, but now NATO sets out the systemic challenges posed by China to Euro-Atlantic security. Constructive engagement with China with the aim of safeguarding the Alliance’s security interests and building reciprocal transparency is the goal.
Also new in the Concept is the observation that terrorism remains a constant threat to our democratic societies and that terrorist attacks still pose the most direct threat to the security of our citizens. The Strategic Concept also contains a clear commitment to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons.
Why is the Strategic Concept important for Germany?
NATO is and remains a life insurance policy, a survival policy, for its member states, because it is an indispensable guarantee of German, European and transatlantic security. The commitment to defend each other set out in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty ensures credible deterrence and defence for Germany and all Allies. This guards and protects the Allies from military or political coercion. The updated Concept takes account of the altered circumstances to which the German Government had, for its part, already responded.
NATO’s new Strategic Concept also complements the Strategic Compass for Security and Defence adopted by the Foreign and Defence Ministers of the EU member states in March 2022. This document, too, is the result of a process initiated by Germany. Furthermore, Germany’s first ever security strategy is currently being prepared at national level. When forming the new government, the parties agreed in their Coalition Agreement that this strategy should be drawn up with the broadest possible public participation.
What else happened at the Summit?
In the course of the discussions about Russia’s war in Ukraine, it was also decided to accept Finland and Sweden as new members of NATO. This will not only benefit the two countries themselves, but will also strengthen NATO as a whole and thereby make the Euro-Atlantic area more secure.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock commented as follows at the NATO Summit in Madrid:
The accession of Finland and Sweden will also make NATO stronger, both as regards defence capabilities and as an Alliance for democracy and international law.
In addition, it was decided that the Alliance’s eastern flank on the border to Russia and Belarus should be further strengthened.