The emerging security challenges under NATO’s New Strategic Concept

Speech given by Brig. Gen. Massimo Panizzi, IMS Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Advisor

  • 16 Nov. 2011 -
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  • Last updated: 17 Nov. 2011 15:30

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last year as NATO worked to develop and refine the new Strategic Concept adopted by the Heads of State and Government at the Lisbon Summit, much of the effort focussed on examining our modern global security environment and the emerging challenges that have developed as a result. It was clear that the fundamental and enduring purpose of the Alliance, to safeguard the freedom and security of its members, and the commitment of the nations to Collective Defence as outlined in Article 5 would remain unchanged. However, as the Group of Experts presented their analysis and recommendations to assist the SecGen in drafting the new Strategic Concept, another key aspect was also very clear: the strategic environment and related risks were no longer evolving as described in the previous Strategic Concept, they had evolved in an unpredictable way.

Strategic environment

When I mention this “unpredictability,” I’m not saying the risks to our security are greater now than before, just that our current security challenges are more uncertain and potentially more complicated now. It is harder to project and predict where the next challenge will arise and what the scope of that challenge will entail. This is the nature of our globalised security environment where the spread of technology, growth of mass communications, and increasingly interrelated economies, to highlight just a few aspects, have developed an interconnected network that results in what I think of as “global reverberations.” In our security environment, the global reverberations of events in one area of the world can yield consequences felt across the globe.

I believe, the fundamental new paradigm that we must adopt with regards to the global security today is how we think about these threats. We cannot afford to view these new challenges through our old lens of “black and white”, a rigid mindset that perceives these challenges from the “bi-polar” perspective of the past will not work in our modern environment. This is difficult for many of us to truly accept, but in today’s multi-faceted and interconnected environment, we must possess the flexibility to quickly adapt to the ever-present challenges and emerging threats. Therefore, NATO is addressing these new challenges and risks with a fresh perspective, a comprehensive approach that encompasses broad political, military, economic and social dynamics to enable agile and blended solutions to the root causes of these security challenges. As we all are aware, the conventional threats to the security of the Alliance are still of concern, albeit much less likely than in the past, yet the threats of terrorism and cyber attacks, for instance, impact Euro-Atlantic security daily.

While NATO’s principal task remains the defence of its member states, what has changed is how we accomplish the task as a result of these new underlying risks.

NATO is going through an extraordinary time. The Alliance has never been involved in so many military operations in the past as now and it has never been under so heavy political and financial pressure to undertake its transformation. So what about NATO’s existing commitments and how are we preparing to take up future challenges?
One of the key points is that NATO is not and does not intend to become the policeman of the world.
The Strategic Concept, adopted by the Heads of State and Government inLisbon, is very clear on that point. NATO is not a global security organisation but its concerns are global.
That is why almost 150,000 men and women are deployed under NATO’s banner on three continents. And we should never forget to pay tribute to our troops, men and women alike, for the outstanding work they do in those difficult missions, and also to bow respectfully to the many sacrifices that have already been made.

NATO’s operations


Let’s start with Afghanistan, where the situation remains difficult but, in spite of casualties and often alarmist comments in the press, the situation is not getting worse. On the contrary the situation is showing some signs of improvement (sse the Asia Foundation survey issued yesterday). I would remind you that 49 nations are involved in ISAF; 49 countries which, for the sake of solidarity or out of self-interest, believe that it is their duty to take military and not only military action in Afghanistan. This is important for the sake of legitimacy. Which country could risk having another terrorist regime take over power in Kabul?

It is true that the Taliban are very resilient - nothing new there - but they are not in a position to establish themselves as the winners on the Afghan stage, primarily because the majority of the Afghan population does not want them back in business.

Since July 2011 NATO has been involved in a transition process. By 2014 Afghan security will gradually transition to the authority of the Afghan army and police forces. For the time being no increase in tension has been observed in those districts that have been transferred to Afghan authorities.

In this process, training of the Afghan army and police is the key issue. Over 300,000 members of the Afghan security forces (172,000 military and 134,000 policemen) have already been trained by NATO and within a year that figure should reach 352,000 (ANA = 195,000; ANP = 157,000). The security of 25% of the Afghan population is currently provided by Afghan forces whose operational level is improving. With Phase two of the transition that figure should reach 50%. So, I know that not everything is easy in Afghanistan but we are seeing improvements that should also be highlighted.

And as I said before, these training missions are of utmost importance if we want to achieve the 2014 goals.

As for the future, an important issue at the upcoming Chicago Summit in May 2012 will be the development of an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, beyond 2014, to continue to support Afghan forces and avoid jeopardizing what has been achieved. The presence of military instructors and advisers will probably be required after 2014 and that will be the case for a fairly long period of time.


In Kosovo, after 12 years of NATO (and EU) presence and in spite of a recent increase in tension in the North, KFOR is fulfilling its mission successfully. Resumption of political dialogue will be at stake in the coming months between Pristina and Belgrade, under the aegis of the European Union, to find lasting solutions and reduce tension. In particular, this involves dismantling criminal networks in the North, removing extremists from local politics and for Pristina to reassure the Serb minority. I would like to stress that cooperation in the field between the EU’s mission (EULEX) and KFOR is quite remarkable and has been, once again, confirmed over the last weeks in the difficult ongoing negotiation phase for removing the roadblocks established by some Kosovo Serbs in the north.

Counter piracy

Off the coast of Somalia, NATO is operating in full coordination with other actors in particular those involved in the EU Operation “Atalanta”. While the piracy attempts have noticeably increased over the past three years, there has been a relative stagnation in the number of vessels being hijacked and of hostages being taken due to active measures undertaken to protect the vessels cruising in that region. There were 45 ships hijacked in 2009 and 2010 and “only” 20 since the beginning of the year. Pirates are adapting to our countermeasures and becoming more aggressive, taking advantage of huge maritime expanses. The Somali basin covers an area larger than Europe. The farthest attack took place 1,500 nm (i.e. 2,700 km) off the Somali coast. It is clear that any lasting solution involves restoration of the Rule of Law in Somalia and better governance in other countries of the Horn of Africa. But, for now we are forced to do our work at sea and leave other actors, as Kenya for instance which has deployed ground forces in Somalia, to do their part of the job on the ground.


A less known mission is the NATO training Mission in Iraq. This mission has clearly demonstrated the NATO’s ability to contribute, at military level, to regional capacity building. It is an emblematic example of a limited engagement with a maximised effect. With the strength of only 180 military, the NTM-I has been deployed to Baghdad since 2004 and has contributed to train and educate the leadership of the new Iraqi Army and police forces. Some 5200 officers and NCOs and 10,000 policemen have been trained, in theatre, thanks to the NTM-I. This successful mission has formed the basis of the NTM-Afghanistan that I referred to beforehand. Such kind of training mission is a cost effective military tool that NATO will probably use again in the future to help countries to improve their security.


To complete this survey of operations, I think that the Libyan crisis is a good reflection of NATO’s capabilities and shortfalls. Operation “Unified Protector” is now officially terminated and time has come to draw the first lessons learned from this achievement. It was an undeniable military success because it prevented the massacre of many civilians, because victory on the ground was left in the hands of the Libyans and because Arab partners joined us in this endeavour.

It was also a political success story. As you probably remember, the Alliance took several years before deciding to become involved in Bosnia, several months to go into action in Kosovo, but only 6 days to decide to transfer responsibility for air and maritime operations to NATO.

Although the mission was accomplished fairly fast, this operation also shows NATO’s capability limitations. Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands France, Italy, Norway and Great Britain, played a major part in this operation. However, without some of the critical capabilities that the US alone holds, things would probably have been much trickier. Keep in mind that, for example, 75% of air refuelling capabilities was provided by the US Air Force and this is also true of most ISR assets. Conclusions must be drawn from this and we must try to remedy those chronic capability shortfalls.

Another important lesson learnt is that for any kind of operation, regional support is fundamental. Without the support of the Arab League and some countries of the region, the International Community would never have been able to tackle the situation in such a firm way. The partnership between NATO and all other actors made this operation a success.

Security challenges


This leads me to the second topic: terrorism, in which tackling the role of partnerships is also fundamental.
As with many of the emerging security challenges, the multifaceted nature of terrorism has caused the Alliance to revise old approaches and develop new innovative means to confront this threat. Consequently, we have expanded the quantity and scope of our partnership network with other nations and international organisations, and developed robust information sharing architectures to facilitate support for these relationships.

With regards to cooperation and partnerships, NATO’s approach to the dangers of terrorism recognises that the threat emanates both within and beyond the borders of the Alliance. This aspect highlights that we can no longer operate alone. As illustrated, by our missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo and until recently in Libya, our partnerships have built credibility and legitimacy of our efforts. In addition, these frameworks are essential in establishing a culture of security cooperation between NATO and other actors which enhances awareness of regional politics and social conditions that foster successful responses to the emerging security challenges. The new Strategic Concept emphasized the importance of our existing networks like the Mediterranean Dialogue, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and Partnership for Peace and further acknowledged the value of developing flexible relationships beyond those frameworks to better meet the desired aspirations of our partners.

A fundamental lesson learned based on NATO’s operational experience and vast partnership network over the years is the value of timely and relevant information sharing in the fight against terrorism. Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean, which commenced shortly following the events of September 11, initially relied on deployed forces to monitor shipping, to detect, deter and protect against terrorist activity but now has become largely network-based, developing considerable Maritime Situational Awareness through the use of modern tracking and analysis technologies. It has also benefited enormously from cooperation with non-NATO contributing nations. Networking, both in the sense of NATO networking with other countries and organisations, as well as in the sense of computer and digital networks, gives us a vision of the Area of Operations that just wasn’t there for the first commander of OAE. Likewise, the Afghan Mission Network has created a single federated network to enable all International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) partners to work from a common, shared operational picture, with key information flowing much faster between the nations, as well as the Afghan authorities.

But there is still considerable work to be done in these realms. Allies and our partners have many obstacles that prevent optimized use of the architectures for information sharing – from the technical issues of procedures, databases and capabilities to the fundamental sensitivities regarding compartmentalization of intelligence information, sources and methods.

Cyber defence

Prior to the cyber attacks on Estonian institutions in the Spring of 2007, NATO’s cyber defence efforts primarily focussed on protection of communication systems and capabilities under direct purview of the Alliance. Following these attacks, NATO conducted a rigorous assessment of its cyber defence and recognized that a much broader approach was needed to bolster the Alliance’s security in this burgeoning field. As detailed in the new Strategic Concept, NATO will “develop further its ability to prevent, detect, defend against and recover from cyber-attacks.” The principal aim is to protect NATO networks and the capabilities of our Allies and Partners that enable and support our core tasks of collective defence and crisis management.

Against this background, this past June the NATO Defence Ministers approved the NATO Policy on Cyber Defence, which together with the Action Plan, represents our priorities and specific tasks – the “What” and “How” NATO will maintain the flexibility to meet the challenges posed by cyber threats. NATO’s coordinated approach to cyber defence spans the full spectrum from planning processes of capability development to the response mechanisms designed to thwart cyber attacks. As a result, the principles of NATO’s cyber defence are based upon prevention, resilience and defence of critical cyber assets. Prevention achieved by increasing our preparedness and mitigating disruptions to our systems, and resilience fostered by rapid recovery following an attack.

Similar to our efforts in countering terrorism, cyber defence relies heavily upon NATO’s partnership, coordination and information sharing with our Allies, international organizations and other relevant contributors to provide a common defence against the shared threat and risks. NATO will provide early warning and situational awareness of specific threats in the cyber arena requires coherent and timely information sharing mechanisms to facilitate coordinated prevention and resilience.

The proliferation of ballistic missiles. The missile defence initiative

The proliferation of ballistic missiles is another major issue that, according to NATO’s assessment, will pose a real and growing threat to the Euro-Atlantic region, the consequences of which could be catastrophic if combined with Weapons of Mass Destruction.

NATO decided to develop capabilities to defend its populations, forces and territories against potential Ballistic Missile threats. It will take time. It takes commitment. It takes a huge diplomatic effort. We endeavour to cooperate with others, specifically with Russia, in a manner that respects all of our strategic issues. But we are anticipating and acting now to assure our shared security for this potential but very dangerous eventuality. I won’t speculate on the origin of such a threat but the reality is that these threats may emanate from volatile situations unfolding in our vicinity or at distance.

Global domains

Free access to global commons – cyber, space, land, maritime – is fundamental to NATO’s ability to operate. It is inconceivable that we could operate effectively should our forces be denied the use of even one of these four domains. We must continue to work to assure the freedom of these global domains. Let me say few words on maritime and space domains.

The Maritime domain is already a source of concern, if we consider the impact of piracy to naval transit, as I highlighted before. According to some figures and statistics the global cost of piracy on the economy is estimated between 7 and 12 billion dollars a year. The average ransom paid by the shipping companies to free their ships and crews rose from $150,000 in 2005 to $ 5.4 million in 2010. How long can this situation be sustained? And if you consider the possibility to fight against this scourge, you immediately realise that a broad comprehensive approach is needed, including not only operations at sea but more significantly, improving governance and a regional approach on the ground.

Space is not yet a battlefield, but who can predict that this global domain will not be affected, in the years to come, by malicious intent. Personally, I believe that attacks against satellites are a potential huge security threat. Someone says is not a matter of “if”, but of “when”. In strategic terms, can you imagine the strategic and tactical superiority reached by someone who is able to blind his adversary by destroying his spatial capability of observation? No doubt that space is already a challenging area in commercial terms and that it will assume greater strategic importance, in security terms, in the future.

Therefore, Anticipation is a key word. It also includes not simply focusing on the desired end-state, but from the outset, on everything that will contribute to the achievement of that end-state. It is like cooking. A chef does not simply focus on the final dish he will create. He first focuses on all the ingredients, and the quality of those ingredients, which combined will assure the success of his creation. This approach is absolutely critical to asymmetric threats such as international terrorism and piracy at sea, or new challenges such as energy security and the security impact of emerging technologies, all of which require a broader comprehensive approach.

None of these threats or challenges can be thwarted or solved solely by military action. One of the main lessons learned by NATO since its mission in Bosnia is that military capabilities and determination are not sufficient when acting in failed states. The military can contribute to restore a safe and secure environment but governance, the rule of law, economic development and basic civil services, for example, need civilian experts and civilian capabilities that are complementary to military action. And this civilian expertise needs to be incorporated at the beginning, in a process completely integrated with that of military planning, to maximise the effects of civil-military cooperation.

In other words, security and governance are two pillars that must be built in parallel in order to then allow the construction of the third pillar – development. We can affirm that Security-Governance-Development is the triptych for long term stability.

No international organisation has the ability to unilaterally build these three pillars in parallel. That is why the NATO Heads of State and Government acknowledged that a limited but enabling civilian capability is needed and must be part of the planning process if NATO wants to anticipate all aspects of its future missions. It is a small but important step forward.

NATO reform - NATO transformation - The financial crisis

I would now like to mention now the challenges facing us which have a direct impact on the transformational process of the Alliance. I would like to emphasize three of them: financial, capability and partnership challenges.

The financial crisis that is hitting hard all developed countries will be a long one and it will have lasting effects. Over the last 3 years, 24 billion euro have already been cut from the defence budgets of NATO nations. European military budgets are being hit hardest, but the Pentagon also announced major cuts.

This situation makes it necessary to reform the Alliance. The permanent military structure will go down from 13,000 to 8,900 within two years and the number of Headquarters will be significantly reduced. That is the famous reform of the Alliance’s Command Structure we are working on. At the same time agencies will go from their current number of 14 down to 3 and reform is underway at the Brussels HQ to co-locate civilian and military staffs. So it is quite a remarkable transformation process.

In this tight financial context the greatest challenge is to maintain capabilities. Let’s be realistic; there is a real risk that the Alliance and the European Union will lose capabilities.

Smart defence

The NATO Secretary General is proposing “Smart Defence” as a part of a possible solution. This involves looking into all cost-sharing possibilities to ensure that every euro is spent usefully. In this area, the work undertaken by the Allied Command Transformation HQ is fundamental. A number of areas which can be shared between willing countries such as education and training have already been identified. Also, similarly to what is already happening with the AWACS force, or Strategic Airlift Command’s C17s funded by 12 nations including two EU countries (Sweden and Finland), other projects could be developed jointly.

In the same vein, some valuable initiatives already exist, like the joint naval staff launched by Nederland, together with Belgium, the so called “Admiral Benelux”. Another concrete example of smart defence is the UK-NL Amphibious Force. An initiative started some 40 years ago but more relevant today than ever before. Or the Air Policing in the Baltic States.

Of course, there still are difficulties ahead. But the momentum is there and should not be stopped again, for the sake of the operational capability of the Euro-Atlantic community as a whole. Where there is a problem, also lies an opportunity.


The next challenge concerns partnerships. We can no longer operate alone.

Where other organisations are concerned, it is with the European Union that progress must be made. The Strategic Concept recognizes the EU as a unique and essential partner for NATO.

In practice, military cooperation in the field is very good. Problems are rather in Brussels where persistent political obstacles prevent further progress. Yet the EU has essential tools, particularly in terms of a comprehensive approach to crises.

With the other actors, NATO’s recent action has taught us that it is futile to try to impose any model on a different strategic, cultural and societal reality. The solution to many conflicts involves, inter alia, dialogue and partnership with other nations, which have a different culture but share our vision. NATO already has partnership frameworks, as I said, but the Strategic Concept made innovations as it acknowledged the importance of developing relationships outside those frameworks in order to closely reflect the needs and aspirations of partners. There is no doubt that the contribution of partners like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan or Morocco to operations in Libya provided significant and essential support to NATO’s involvement on the ground and the Alliance is grateful for that.

Similarly, the NATO-Russia relationship is improving. We know and accept the reservations of a number of Alliance countries whose past was deeply affected by the Soviet era. But we believe that Russia has more links than differences with the Euro-Atlantic family, even if the Georgia issue is still a deep wound. Once again, the Chicago Summit should provide an opportunity to enhance cooperation with Russia and perhaps progress towards better coordinated missile defence and other forms of co-operation. Should an agreement be reached along those lines, a major change would occur in Euro-Atlantic geo-strategy.


To conclude, I think that our strategic environment has probably never been as uncertain. Everyone feels clearly that this is the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one, but nobody is really able to imagine what will come next.

What is certain is that we, the military, must be as flexible as possible to address all imaginable challenges. And, I might add, not only the military but also diplomats and politicians. That means that we must continue to work together to find innovative and adapted solutions. That involves cooperating with others, organisations, allies and partners alike. In that approach Croatia, as a reliable, young, enthusiastic and very active Ally, has an important role to play.

Finally, I think that what matters most are values such as freedom, democracy, the Rule of Law that we, NATO, have in common as well as the link between Europe and North America. Everything we do must be judged by those values and those links in order to preserve them for future generations. This is, in short, what the New Strategic Concept tells us to do.