home > What is NATO's New Strategic Concept?


At their Summit in Strasbourg / Kehl on 3 and 4 April 2009, NATO’s Heads of State and Government tasked the Secretary General to develop a new NATO Strategic Concept. This exercise should be completed by the time of NATO’s next Summit, which is expected to take place towards the end of 2010. The Summit also tasked the Secretary General to convene and lead a broad based group of qualified experts who will lay the ground for the new Strategic Concept. This will be done with the active involvement of NATO’s highest decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council (NAC). 

Why does NATO need a new Strategic Concept?

A sound transatlantic consensus on NATO’s roles and missions and on its strategy to deal with security challenges is essential if NATO is to function optimally. The Strategic Concept is the core NATO document that establishes and reflects this transatlantic consensus. Clearly, as the security environment that NATO has to deal with changes, so the Alliance’s Strategic Concept has to be periodically updated.  The current Concept dates from 1999, a time when NATO had 19 members compared to the 28 it has today and when NATO’s focus was very much on challenges within Europe or on Europe’s periphery. 

Clearly the new Strategic Concept, which must be elaborated and approved by all 28 current Allies, has to take account not only of the way in which security challenges have evolved, such as the new emphasis on proliferation, failed states, piracy, energy supplies, terrorism and climate change, but also of how NATO has adapted and transformed in the last decade to be able to better tackle these challenges. The new Strategic Concept will therefore not be only an analytical document. It will need also to give specific guidance to NATO governments on how they need to further transform the Alliance and their own national defence structures and capabilities to be successful in meeting NATO’s core tasks in the 21st century. The Strategic Concept must also give public opinion in the Alliance countries and beyond a clear sense of why NATO still matters and how in many ways it is helping to make them more secure. 

How would a Strategic Concept be developed?

The process leading to the new Strategic Concept will be an inclusive one. All Allies, from the largest to the smallest, will be actively consulted and involved. Moreover, the process should engage partners in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, as well as partners cross the globe. The process should also be transparent and engage other key international actors such as the EU and the UN as well as NGOs and all those in the strategic community who believe they have something useful to contribute and expertise to offer. Finally, an interactive dialogue with the broader public is encouraged via this special web module run by NATO’s Public Diplomacy Division. 

The Group of Experts will begin its work in early September and will divide its activities into two phases. The first phase, to run from September to mid-February, will be devoted to engaging the broader strategic community and policy makers in a dialogue on the challenges facing the Alliance. It will be called the reflection phase and will be organised around a series of four seminars devoted to different topics of relevance to the new Strategic Concept which will be held in NATO countries.

The second phase will involve the Group of Experts travelling to each NATO capital to present the results of the Group’s internal deliberations and preliminary conclusions directly to NATO governments with a view to receiving initial comment and feedback. This will be known as the consultation phase. 

The Group of Experts will meet periodically with the Secretary General, who has overall authority over the Group’s work, and with the North Atlantic Council and other stakeholders at NATO Headquarters. The Group of Experts will also meet in private session to advance its own thinking. 

After the completion of the reflection and consultation phases the work of the Group of Experts will be finished. The Secretary General will take the process forward by presenting his report, taking into account the conclusions and recommendations of the Group of Experts, to the Allies. On the basis of the reactions and political guidance that he receives from Allies, the Secretary General will then prepare the first draft of the new Strategic Concept for negotiation among Allies during the late summer and autumn 2010 and in the run-up to the next NATO Summit.

Once the text has been approved by Heads of State and Government at this Summit it will henceforth become NATO’s new Strategic Concept.