Resilience and Article 3

  • Last updated: 22 Jun. 2016 10:37

Each NATO member country needs to have the resilience to withstand shocks like natural disasters, failure of critical infrastructure and military attacks. Resilience is a society’s ability to resist and recover easily and quickly from these shocks, combining civilian, economic, commercial and military factors. In sum, resilience is the combination of civil preparedness and military capacity.

25-30 September 2000 Exercise Trans-Carpathia 2000 in Ukraine. - elimination of consequences of a transport accident with chemical spill.

The principle of resilience is firmly anchored in Article 3 of the Alliance’s founding treaty: “In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”

The individual commitment of each and every member to maintain and strengthen its resilience reduces the vulnerability of the Organization as a whole. Members can develop resilience through the development of home defence and niche skills such as cyber defence or medical support. When Allies are well prepared, they are less likely to be attacked, making NATO as a whole stronger.

Moreover, military forces, and especially deployed troops in times of war, depend on the civilian sector for transport, communications or basic supplies such as food and water, to fulfil their missions. Military efforts to defend Alliance territory and populations therefore need to be complemented by robust civil preparedness. However, civil assets can be vulnerable to external attack and internal disruption in times of peace and of war. By reducing these vulnerabilities, NATO reduces the risk of a potential attack, reinforcing its deterrence. A high level of resilience is therefore an essential component of a credible deterrence. 

The resilience of each NATO member country needs to be sufficiently robust and adaptable to support the entire spectrum of crises envisaged by the Alliance. In this context, Article 3 complements the collective defence clause set out in Article 5, which stipulates that an attack against one Ally is an attack against all. Allies need to give NATO the means to fulfil its core tasks and, in particular, those of collective defence and mutual assistance.

Vulnerabilities in a transformed security environment

Today’s security environment is unpredictable. Threats can come from state and non-state actors, including terrorism and other asymmetrical threats, cyber attacks and hybrid warfare, where the lines between conventional and unconventional forms of conflict become blurred. The challenge of responding and adapting to these hazards is compounded by trends that have radically transformed the security environment.

Firstly, falling defence budgets since the end of the Cold War have gradually increased the overall reliance on civilian assets. A few figures illustrate the extent of this: in large-scale operations, around 90 per cent of military transport is chartered or requisitioned from the commercial sector; on average, over 50 per cent of satellite communications used for defence purposes are provided by the commercial sector; and roughly 75 per cent of host nation support to NATO operations is sourced from local commercial infrastructure and services.

Secondly, civil resources and critical infrastructure are now owned and operated by the private sector. Driven by the objective of making profits, the private sector has eliminated most redundancies, which are costly. However, these very redundancies are the civil assets that governments used to maintain for an emergency back-up in times of crises. During the Cold War for instance, there were territorial defence mechanisms and capabilities in place ready to support a war effort, but they no longer exist.

Over time, with the reduction in military investment and the privatisation of previously government-owned assets, a heavy reliance on civilian enablers, bound by commercial practices, has developed.

Third, with the widespread use of new technologies, our societies have become interconnected and interdependent not only in cyber space, but also economically and financially. This can be a strength, but it can also be a weakness, as the global financial crisis of 2008 showed. 

Partnering to strengthen resilience

Within this new security environment, NATO is adapting its approach to civil preparedness, which needs to meet the requirements defined in the Alliance’s policies and long-term strategies. Cooperating with the private sector, other international organisations, in particular the European Union, as well as partner countries, will reinforce the efficiency and effectiveness of civil preparedness across the board.

The role of civil preparedness in crisis management

When military forces need to deploy, they rely on the civilian sector for support. In concrete terms this means that once in the field, military forces are reliant for instance on civilian transport facilities, satellite communication and power supplies, not to mention food and water supplies, to conduct their operations.

The range of functions and facilities the civilian sector covers is so broad that assessing the state of preparedness of each area of activity is very difficult. NATO has identified continuity of government, of essential services to the population and support to military operations as the three critical civilian functions that a country must be able to uphold under all circumstances. Civil preparedness is a national responsibility, but it has a huge impact on NATO.

So far, there is little data to indicate how Allies meet the requirements for resilience in the current security environment. Exercises are an effective way to conduct stress tests of national arrangements, in particular when it comes to large-scale problems such as dealing with hybrid warfare or an attack with weapons of mass destruction. However, in order to support Allies, NATO has developed guidelines and a package of tools. It has agreed seven baseline requirements for national resilience against which Allies can measure their level of preparedness:

  • Assured continuity of government and critical government services: for instance the ability to make decisions, communicate them and enforce them in a crisis;
  • Resilient energy supplies: back-up plans and power grids, internally and across borders;
  • Ability to deal effectively with uncontrolled movement of people, and to de-conflict these movements from NATO’s military deployments;
  • Resilient food and water resources: ensuring these supplies are safe from disruption or sabotage;
  • Ability to deal with mass casualties: ensuring that civilian health systems can cope and that sufficient medical supplies are stocked and secure;
  • Resilient civil communications systems: ensuring that telecoms and cyber networks function even under crisis conditions, with sufficient back-up capacity; and
  • Resilient transport systems: ensuring that NATO forces can move across Alliance territory rapidly and that civilian services can rely on transportation networks, even in a crisis.

The vulnerabilities Allies have to contend with are numerous, complex and multidirectional. They can arise from military challenges, hybrid warfare, but also from natural disasters such as floods, fires and earthquakes. NATO’s work to improve resilience is not specific to any single vulnerability. It contributes to protecting citizens from all potential hazards.