The great pending challenges of NATO

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed NATO’s plans and matters to be discussed at the Madrid summit. Now Russia has become the Alliance’s main challengebecause of the threat it represents. A challenge of another type – due to the need to carry out an adaptation – is the future entry of Finland and Sweden into NATO.

But the future challenges of the military alliance go beyond Ukraine, such as the growing challenge of China, climate change and cybersecurity. All these issues will be addressed at the next meeting of NATO member countries, in which they will also the new strategic concept will be approved.

“The NATO’s most immediate challenge is how to continue to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia and how to avoid future attacks of Russian aggression”, Kristina Kausch, a senior researcher at the German Marshall Fund in Madrid, tells RTVE.es. “But there are other great challenges that will be included in the new strategic concept and that also includes deal with china. Until now, NATO has always been very focused on Russia and now China is added as a long-term challenge”, he stresses.

The challenge of China and Russia to the international order

More than four months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, NATO claims that the war represents the “greatest threat to our security in decades”. The Madrid summit has the objective of making the military alliance maintain a “credible deterrence and a strong defense”, according to its secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, at a time when Russia has become one of NATO’s biggest challenges.

“Immediately, the great challenge of the Alliance is Russia”, affirms the professor of Contemporary History of the UNED, Isidro Sepúlveda. “The strategic change of increasing aggressiveness that Putin has had in recent months shows To what extent have the scenarios changed?. The systems of cohesion and coercion that existed previously no longer work and this forces us to rethink the structural foundations of the Alliance and the weight that defenses are going to have in the budgets in the next decade”, he adds.

For her part, the researcher at the Elcano Royal Institute, Carlota García Encina, points out that “12 years after the last strategic concept, the scenario raised is totally obsolete”. “We have a conventional war that was not expected and, above all, the Alliance’s challenge is to make the most accurate diagnosis possible of the situation. The issue of Ukraine must be addressed, defense and deterrence must be addressed”, he stresses.

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Despite the fact that the war in Ukraine is the most immediate challenge for the Atlantic Alliance, the new strategic concept that will be approved at the Madrid summit will include other great challenges, such as China. China’s surprising strategic rise has made the Alliance has to consider security in a more global way, taking into account the emerging challenge of the Asian giant. The United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, went so far as to affirm that, instead of Putin’s Russia, China is the one that represents the most powerful and determined threat to the world order.

In an interview granted to RTVE, Stoltenberg pointed out that “China is investing heavily in increasing its defense spending and this is a major problem for Europe”. “At the Madrid summit we are going to demonstrate that we are adapting to this changing world in order to continue to be the fundamental pillar of security for our allies in Europe and North America,” said the NATO Secretary General.

“We are in a new era that is defined as the era of competition against the great powers and there the main actors are the United States and China. NATO has to play a role there. The Indo-Pacific theater is also important for the Alliance”, emphasizes García Encina.

NATO and climate change

Climate change is also one of the main challenges facing the Atlantic Alliance, as the growing impacts on the climate pose both direct and indirect threats to human and national security all over the world. The consequences of climate change, such as droughts, heat waves or floods, require humanitarian assistance and They can lead to massive displacement.

“Climate change is a reality that is producing variations of all geopolitical types, but also others, such as population movements, changes in configurations in the States themselves…”, details the professor of International Relations at the European University, José María Peredo . “These issues, as a consequence of the climate, can cause social destabilization and that is already a security risk,” he adds.

Both Kausch and García Encina agree that climate change is one of the main security challenges of our times. “It is one of the great changes that NATO has to face, which also has to play a role always within the means that are at its disposal,” says the German Marshall Fund researcher.

“Climate change is one of the great changes that NATO has to face”

Although the Russian invasion of Ukraine has affected the Alliance’s objectives in this field, its climate agenda may be compatible with its military priorities. The armed forces employ equipment, such as armored vehicles or aircraft, which consume a lot of fuel. According to a report published by the International Military Council on Climate and Security, defense continues to be the largest individual consumer of hydrocarbons in the world.

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In June 2021, Stoltenberg stated that the climate is a security crisis and NATO assured that its members had committed to “significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from military activities”. Now it remains to be seen what measures the member countries of the summit take.

For the countries that belong to NATO, climate change also can jeopardize the integrity of your operations and the well-being of your personl. “Climate change is changing a fundamental scenario of the great chessboard, which is the Arctic, but it also has to do with the shipping routes in the world as a whole, with the rainy periods, with the desert areas…,” he explains. Sepulveda. “The most obvious case of how climate change affects international security is in the Arctic and Russia knows this very well. He is making strategic takeovers of very important positions. Something that was marginal becomes strategically fast-paced,” he asserts.

Cybersecurity, one of its priorities

In recent years, malicious cyber activity has increased greatly, from espionage to cyber attacks. For this reason, governments have increasingly increased their cyber defense capabilities and NATO must also change its defensive mission.

The current strategic concept dates back to the Lisbon summit in 2010, in a world where cyber threats were not so important. Now, cyber defense plays a key role and it is hoped that this will be reflected in the new strategic concept that will be approved in Madrid.

“Cybersecurity It was one of the Alliance’s priorities and it has to be much more so.s”, says Professor Sepúlveda. “On many occasions we miss what we do not see. The conflict in Ukraine cannot be explained without cybersecurity. The binomial that forms cybersecurity with Intelligence is a binomial that is increasingly united and moving in these terms is essential, ”he adds.

NATO has evolved in its approach to cyber threats and in 2016, at the Warsaw summit, allies recognized that cyberspace has become a domain separate from military operations and in which the Alliance “it must be defended as effectively as it is in the air, on land, and at sea.”

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“The issue of cybersecurity is important. Already in 2016, countries committed to cyber defense issues. In Brussels last year, a comprehensive cyber defense policy was approved, but we must continue working because it is not easy”, indicates García Encina. “We are adapting to a changing reality and it would be necessary to advance at more accelerated steps”, adds the expert, who emphasizes that “Unity will be essential.”

The pitfalls of the incorporation of Finland and Sweden

Just over a month ago Sweden and Finland took an unexpected turn in their security policy when applying for NATO membership. The accession of new nations to the military alliance must be approved unanimously by the 30 members and then ratified by their parliaments. The entry process of Sweden and Finland it got complicated after Turkey blocked it citing the two countries’ ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a setback that has disrupted the Alliance’s plans for rapid accession.

“The incorporation of Finland and Sweden must be seen as a challenge, in the sense that they are two more countries leaving neutrality to enter this new framework that is becoming more political and security-oriented”, says Peredo. “This entry is very important because the two countries abandon neutrality to committing to security in democracies“, Add.

The Secretary General of NATO and most of the Alliance countries have welcomed the decisions of Sweden and Finland, but experts agree that the accession of these two nations will be a challenge for NATO. When Sweden and Finland become part of the Alliance, NATO’s land border with Russia will increase from 1,215 to 2,600 kilometers.

“Resolving the Turkish disagreement, which will surely be resolved, is the first stumbling block,” says ESADE Professor of Strategy and Politics and Director of ESADEgeo, Ángel Saz-Carranza, who emphasizes that “comes with an additional challenge, which is a much longer border with Russia”.

In this sense, Peredo believes that “the more countries that join NATO, the Alliance also changes the meaning it has as an organization”. “Take more risks. The fact that there are more countries involved means that if one country is attacked, the whole organization would react”, he asserts.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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