“As the world changes, NATO will continue to change,” says Jens Stoltenberg, the North Atlantic treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary-General. On 8th June, 2020, the Secretary-General launched his outline of the NATO 2030 in an online conversation with the Atlantic Council and the German Marshall Fund of the United States. This is a reflection process about NATO’s vision in the next ten years and plays its continuous role to keep the members safe in an increasingly uncertain world. He put it trenchantly that “NATO 2030 is about making our strong Alliance even stronger, strong militarily, stronger politically, more global.”
NATO is a political and military alliance and stands for freedom and security of its members through political and military means. Politically it promotes democratic values among members and enables them to build trust, cooperate in security issues and prevent conflicts in the long run. The military dimension makes it a distinct organization. In case the diplomacy fails to ensure peace, it undertakes military operations under the collective defence clause of NATO or a United Nations mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organization as per the situation and need for preventing conflict and maintain peace. It has been successful in its goal in the last 70 years of its foundation and operations as its members have remained peaceful and enjoyed the benefits of democracy, freedom and development. It was founded in Cold War condition in 1949 with only 12 founding members to secure peace in vulnerable Europe, promote cooperation among its members to defend against the threats posed by the Soviet Union.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the geopolitical and security landscape changed drastically. The membership of the organization has risen to thirty now which has also opened new areas and dimensions of threat perception and security concerns. The non-military aspects of security threats have assumed an extremely virulent dimension and proportions. It requires a revised and collective response as its penetration is difficult to prevent. The Secretary-General in his Press Conference on 4th December 2019 said that the Alliance has guaranteed peace and security for seventy years as we stand together all for one and one for all with our ironclad commitment under Article 5 for collective defence and shared security. To make the Alliance continue to play a decisive role, space has been added as the fifth operational domain for NATO security alongside land, sea, air and cyber. At present, NATO is also faced with emerging and disruptive technologies and looking for ways and means to maintain its technological edge especially in the arena of telecommunications and ensure an effective response to hybrid threats.
To defend against the threats from New Russia, it has a three-pronged strategy- developing strong deterrence and defence capabilities, meaningful dialogue to ensure predictability, transparency and risk reduction and strengthen arms control regimes and mechanisms for disarmament and non-proliferation. It has expressed concerns about rising China which entails both opportunities and challenges. It has assumed a new concern arena to device a collective response to engage China in the security mechanism and arms control regimes.
The formal process of the NATO 2030 started during the 70th anniversary of the Alliance in London on 4th December, 2019. The leaders took important decisions about NATO force readiness, space as the fifth operational domain, telecommunication including 5G besides threats from terrorism and fundraising and sharing to the tune of 400 million US dollars by 2024. Thus begin the reflection process to strengthen the political dimension which had assumed an unprecedented level of divergence and disunity. Prior to the 70th-anniversary meeting in London, the remark of French President, Emmanuel Macron that “we are experiencing the brain death of NATO” brought the division out in the open. His remark was in line with the French policy of united Europe with less dependence on US security. This was made in the context of the US decision to withdraw from Syria without duly informing the European partners. This is also largely in the wake of a growing US strategic shift since the Obama presidency from Europe to Asia-Pacific. The divergence has been further widened with Donald Trump’s emphasis on “America First policy”, expressions of commitment ambivalence and raw antipathy towards Europe based on their less NATO burden share. This trend has been accentuated by the hyper-nationalist political parties coming to power in the NATO countries which has sapped the fabric of collective consciousness and commitment needed to sustain the Alliance in its spirit and mission.
These manifestations of political differences were becoming a regular trend with the transatlantic differences in Syria, Iraq and Iran in particular. The entire Middle East policy especially Iran and Palestine has made political cleavage between Europe and the US a huge setback to the Alliance and its united stand against the new challenges. Unilateral US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or Iran Nuclear deal in 2018 despite the contrary view of the European allies of NATO weakened the political strength of the Alliance. The creation of Instrument of the Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), an Iran trade promotion mechanism on 31st January, 2019 by the European allies in the face of US economic sanctions of Iran under its constraining ‘Policy of Maximum Pressure’ is another example of the yawning transatlantic gap.
The similar divisions have marred the unity of NATO members on the intractable issue of Palestine. The Trump administration has taken a number of actions from shifting embassy to Jerusalem, Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights, Jerusalem, Middle Peace Plan to the current policy of support to impending Israel’s annexation of parts of West Bank. Last February, twenty-one EU countries came out against both Trump Peace Plan and West Bank Annexation. Josep Borrell, the EU Foreign Policy chief, said that the block will use its clout to prevent unilateral action. Moreover, some EU countries like France, Belgium and Ireland
are considering punitive response against Israel if it goes ahead with the plan. The actual position can be understood if Israel continues with its plan from 1st July, 2020 onward. The Alliance is also faced with a difficult option with its defiant member Turkey and its decision to purchase S-400 from Russia despite the warning of security concerns of the NATO defence and security threats. The alliance is yet to close its longest military involvement with Afghanistan and Iran.
In light of these ongoing and new challenges, the NATO Secretary-General, Jen Stoltenberg appointed a group of experts on 31st March, 2020 to reflect upon and suggest strengthening the political dimension of NATO by increasing political consultation and coordination among allies to reinforce the Alliance unity. The group co-chaired by Thomas de Maiziere and Wess Mitchell had a meeting with the Secretary-General on 22nd April , 2020 via video-conferencing when it was stressed that the alliance remains strong and working on to adapt to new and changing security environment. The reflection process is to make it stronger and enable it to deal with new forms of challenges in the years ahead.
In brief, NATO 2030 is about making the Alliance politically stronger and more global in approach in an increasingly competitive world and keeps the members safe in the next decade and beyond. It is at sincere reflection mode involving best minds and means at disposal and will come out with major policy direction and approach in 2021. Hope the recommendations are going to reflect the pragmatic evaluations of its major shortcomings, flaws and failings in light of the new challenges so that it can adopt a realistically holistic security doctrine based on a prudent balance of military and non-military dimensions to prevent the conflicts and making the intent of peace a global pursuit.