NATO’s Next Strategic Concept: Achieving Modern Deterrence


NATO leaders will meet in Madrid next week, June 29-30. In particular, they committed to agreeing on a new strategic concept, replacing the one that has largely guided the Alliance since 2010.

The Strategic Concept is not the Alliance’s only guiding document, but it sets the tone and direction for many years to come and is spoken about almost daily as NATO’s 30 nations struggle to forge consensus. . It is important to do things right.

Perhaps confrontation with Russia will make this too difficult or premature and leaders will postpone the new concept until 2023 – but all Allies recognize that the 2010 language on Russia is largely outdated. And the same goes for the language of deterrence.

The Alliance faces an unstable period characterized by Cold War-like dynamics and the risk of nuclear fragility. A solid defense will be essential. The forthcoming Concept will rightly reflect initiatives already underway towards increased defense spending, greater national resilience and increased Alliance consultation and cohesion. This will include the forward deployment of forces and enhanced operational activity along the NATO/Russia borders.

But while a solid defense is necessary for deterrence, it does not guarantee it. For effective collective defense in times of instability, Strategic Concept 2022 must provide modern deterrence fit for the next decade.

This means changes from the 2010 Concept, which was written for less demanding times. The new wording should adapt the existing text but provide more precise direction and clearer intent. Concept 2022 should take the Alliance beyond the purely military conception of deterrence of 2010 towards modern broad-spectrum deterrence in times of peace, crisis and war, using all the tools at NATO’s disposal and by developing the intellectual capital of deterrence at all levels of the Alliance.

The language adopted by NATO since 2010 already recognizes the need for modern full-spectrum deterrence. But Concept 2022 should provide further guidance to Allies on how to proceed. Four fairly simple tweaks would make NATO deterrence more effective at lower risk and lower cost.

First, resilience. The first segment of the deterrence spectrum involves preventing your enemy from harming or constraining you. Allies are already focusing heavily on things like diversifying energy supplies and defending against cyberattacks. Last year they painfully agreed to examine each other’s resilience, because to a large extent the Alliance is only as strong as its weakest link. But national resilience was not explicitly part of the 2010 deterrence. It is to be incorporated in 2022.

Second, communication. Deterrence is about everything that goes through the mind of the adversary. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows how badly Moscow can miscalculate not only its neighbor Ukraine, but also the West as a whole. The Alliance needs not only the ability and the credible will to defend itself, but also the ability to communicate those facts accurately to its adversaries. Much more than in 2010, the new concept should say how NATO will improve its diplomatic and military communication channels and use the full potential of those that exist to implement deterrence, risk reduction and de-escalation with maximum effectiveness in the Kremlin and other hostile spirits. .

Third, shape deterrence through diplomacy. NATO seeks international stability with undiminished security for all. He has always sought negotiated agreements to achieve this. Arms control is in NATO’s DNA, as is the diplomacy with which to implement it, because arms control can facilitate better deterrence at lower risk and lower cost. The 2010 Concept does not describe arms control and the diplomacy to implement it in the context of deterrence. The new concept should put arms control at the heart of NATO’s modern deterrence toolkit, shape the confrontation with Russia and put Moscow on the diplomatic defensive.

Fourth, update for the next decade. Emerging disruptive technologies are already accepted in Concept 2010 as part of deterrence. But we talk less about their impact on strategic decision-making (including nuclear): so many new technologies, from hypersonic missiles to space weapons and artificial intelligence, can distort or disrupt decisions. The complexity of the interaction of disruptive technologies is a problem in itself. Effective decision-making is essential to the credibility of deterrence. Thus, Concept 2022 should not only include keeping the Alliance at the forefront of technology, understanding the threats and exploiting the opportunities, but also confronting the challenges of technological complexity for the decision-making of NATO. This will ensure that mitigation is a central element of Alliance capacity and institutional development for years to come.

If Concept 2022 sets the course, detailed planning will follow – and NATO will be safer because its deterrence will be stronger.

Mr. Adam Thomsonformer UK Ambassador to NATO, is now director of the European Leadership Network, a non-profit network of leaders working for a safer Europe.

Mr Graham Staceyformer Chief of Staff for NATO Transformation, is senior consultant at the European Leadership Network.


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