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  NATO’s new strategic concept: main highlights

Vadim Volovoj, Doctor in Political Sciences
2011 01 10

A new Alliance’s strategic concept was adopted at the end of November in Lisbon during the NATO summit. Let’s discuss some of its key moments.

First of all, the Alliance’s decision to act beyond NATO borders is very disputable (after the operation against Yugoslavia in 1999 NATO was criticized for not respecting position of the UN), however, this aspect was left in the new concept. On the one hand, it is understandable, since, according to the concept “Instability or conflict beyond NATO borders can directly threaten Alliance security”, and NATO will therefore employ preventive measures. On the other hand, the above wording gives a possibility to act everywhere and any time. Nonetheless, in the concept the focus is given to: a) coordination of actions and plans with the UN and b) complex regulation of situation in post-conflict situations (i.e. application of political, civil and military measures). Unfortunately, the document doesn’t say that NATO will act only after receiving sanction of the UN. At the same time, today the world needs rapid response to challenges, and the UN can hardly respond effectively to critical situations. Thus from the operational point of view the new NATO’s strategy seems quite realistic and balanced.

Secondly, considerable attention in the new strategic concept is also devoted to new threats. Determination to solve cyber threat problems is welcomed, but Baltic States and Poland are more concerned about the energy security. The new strategy only partially considers this aspect since first of all gives due regard to the assurance of security of energy infrastructure. Therefore, the part of the strategy related to “consultations among Allies on strategic assessments and contingency planning” in the sphere of energy security could be considered as a progressive aspect.

Thirdly, the Concept retained the principle of open doors, directly related to the Alliance’s relations with Russia. For quite a long time Russia urged NATO to refuse the idea of accepting Ukraine and Georgia to the Alliance. This was probably the reason why MAP’s (Membership Action Plans) for these countries were not approved in Bucharest. Therefore the credit should be given to the Alliance for its courage in emphasizing the necessity of partnership with Ukraine and Georgia. This demonstrates that NATO is not renouncing its main principles.

One of the objectives of the new strategic concept on nuclear arms might also complicate relations of Moscow and the Alliance. The document says that “in any further reductions our aim should be to seek Russian agreement to increase transparency on its nuclear weapons in Europe and relocate these weapons away from the territory of NATO members”. Russia is very sensitive toward any attempts to “entrench” upon its nuclear arsenal, which is perceived as an instrument response to the development of the U.S. missile defense system. Therefore, its deployment away from NATO borders and reduction of superiority in the sphere of nuclear cruise missiles would probably be not acceptable to Moscow. Situation concerning the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe also seems stuck, since Russia abandoned the treaty some time ago and blaming the West for this step.

After the NATO-Russia Council meeting on missile defense cooperation these perspectives were evaluated quite optimistically. However, the Russian representative to NATO, D. Rogozin noted that there were no specific decisions on this issue and that all negotiations were still ahead. It is obvious that their main problem is expansion of NATO to the East, since it is too early to think of its elimination from the East-West confrontation agenda. D. Medvedev’s warning on a new arms race in case of inability to reach the agreement only confirmed the above hypothesis.

To be short, in the new strategic concept the Alliance confirmed its basic (including Article 5) principles, assessed the new threats and substantiated the need of integrated crisis resolution. However, some parts of the concept seem quite vague: for instance, the document says that “today the Alliance remains an essential source of stability in an unpredictable world”. Is this true? The document also highlights the required level of military expanses, whereas Great Britain and Germany are cutting their military budgets. It also stipulates close cooperation with the UN and strategic relations with Russia. But nobody actually knows how it will look like.

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