Deterrence and defence
NATO is a political and military alliance, whose principal task is to ensure the protection of its citizens and to promote security and stability in the North Atlantic area. As outlined in the 2010 Strategic Concept, the Alliance’s three core tasks are collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security.
Today, the Alliance is faced with a security environment that is more diverse, complex, fast moving and demanding than at any time since its inception. It faces challenges and threats that originate from the east and from the south; from state and non-state actors; from military forces and from terrorist, cyber and hybrid attacks.
Russia has become more assertive with the illegal annexation of Crimea and destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, as well as its military build-up close to NATO’s borders. In parallel, to the south, the security situation in the Middle East and Africa has deteriorated due to a combination of factors that are causing loss of life, fuelling large-scale migration flows and inspiring terrorist attacks in Allied countries and elsewhere.
The Alliance must be able to address the full spectrum of current and future challenges and threats from any direction, simultaneously. It is therefore strengthening its deterrence and defence posture in view of the changed and evolving security environment.
The Readiness Action Plan (RAP), launched at the NATO Summit in Wales in 2014, was a major driver for change in the Alliance’s deterrence and defence posture. The RAP was initiated to ensure the Alliance is ready to respond swiftly and firmly to new security challenges from the east and from the south. It has been the most significant reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence since the end of the Cold War.
Building on the RAP, NATO Heads of State and Government approved a strengthened deterrence and defence posture at the Warsaw Summit in July 2016. It is providing the Alliance with a broad range of options to be able to respond to any threats from wherever they arise to protect Alliance territory, population, airspace and sea lines of communication. For instance, four battlegroups were deployed in the Baltic States and Poland, and measures have been taken to reinforce security in the south-eastern region of the Alliance. NATO leaders reiterated their resolve, at the Brussels Summit in 2018, by adopting a Readiness Initiative to ensure NATO has the right forces in the right place at the right time, and can reinforce across the Alliance. With the Readiness Initiative or the so-called “four thirties”, Allies committed to forming by 2020, 30 mechanised battalions, 30 air squadrons and 30 battleships ready to use within 30 days or less. They will be able to respond to threats coming from any direction and will strengthen NATO’s defence posture. The modernisation of NATO’s Command Structure, coupled with improvements to military mobility will ensure NATO troops and equipment can deploy across Europe without delay both for exercises and for reinforcements in an emerging crisis. Moreover, the creation of a new Cyber Operations Centre in Belgium and the formation of hybrid support teams to assist Allies in need will also boost the Alliance’s deterrence efforts.
Collective defence remains the Alliance’s greatest responsibility and deterrence is a core element of NATO’s overall strategy – preventing conflict and war, protecting Allies, maintaining freedom of decision and action, and upholding the principles and values it stands for – individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. NATO’s capacity to deter and defend is supported by an appropriate mix of capabilities. Nuclear, conventional and missile defence capabilities complement each other. NATO also maintains the freedom of action and flexibility to respond to the full spectrum of challenges with an appropriate and tailored approach, at the minimum level of force.
The Alliance’s actions are defensive in nature, proportionate and in line with international commitments given the threats in the changed and evolving security environment, and the Alliance’s right to self-defence. NATO also remains fully committed to non-proliferation, disarmament, arms control and confidence- and security-building measures to increase security and reduce military tensions. For instance, Allies go beyond the letter of the Vienna Document and other transparency measures in planning and conducting NATO exercises. The Vienna Document is a politically binding agreement, initiated by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which is designed to promote mutual trust and transparency about a state’s military forces and activities.
More specifically, NATO’s strengthened deterrence and defence posture entails efforts on areas such as conventional forces, forward presence, joint air power and maritime forces, as well as cyber defence, civil preparedness and countering hybrid threats, including in cooperation with the European Union.
While renewed emphasis is being placed on deterrence and collective defence, NATO also retains its ability to respond to crises beyond its borders and remain actively engaged in supporting partners and working with other international organisations, in particular the European Union. All this is part of NATO’s contribution to the international community’s efforts in projecting stability. NATO’s deterrence and defence are not pursued in isolation. They are part of a broader response of the wider transatlantic community to the changed and evolving security environment.
Projecting stability consists in strengthening NATO’s ability to train, advise and assist local forces. NATO has a long history in this area – through operations in Afghanistan and the Balkans – and capacity-building with over 40 partners worldwide. It is increasing its efforts, for instance, by enhancing situational awareness, reinforcing the Alliance’s maritime dimension and developing a more strategic approach to partnerships.
Projecting stability is also about contributing to the fight against terrorism. NATO is a member of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and is building local counter-terrorism capacity where possible. It has a non-combat mission in Afghanistan, which provides training, advice and assistance to Afghan security forces and institutions; it has launched a training mission in Iraq to help prevent the re-emergence of ISIS; and it is providing capacity-building support to Jordan and Tunisia. NATO has also created a “Hub” for the South, a headquarters in Naples, Italy, from where regional threats are monitored and Allied efforts coordinated.
In view of today’s reality as well as the scale and complexity of the challenges and threats around NATO’s periphery, the Alliance will continue to strengthen its role in contributing to security across its three core tasks – collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security.