Authoritarian actors, hybrid attacks, territorial integrity and other keys to the new NATO Strategic Concept | International

Norwegian soldiers operated a field gun during NATO exercises in the Nordic country in mid-April.
Norwegian soldiers operated a field gun during NATO exercises in the Nordic country in mid-April.JONATHAN NACKSTRAND (AFP)

“The Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to the security of allies and the peace and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area”, while “China’s malicious cyber and hybrid operations and its confrontational and disinformation rhetoric target allies and harm the security of the Alliance.” The Madrid Strategic Concept, NATO’s roadmap for the next decade, places Russia and China as the main adversaries of the Atlantic Alliance, although it does not equate them.

Contrary to the document approved in Lisbon in 2010, NATO no longer sees Russia as a strategic partner. Now it only aspires to “strengthen the deterrence and defense of all allies” and support the resilience of its partners in the face of Moscow’s coercion. As a maximum, it intends to “keep open communication channels [con Rusia] to manage crises or mitigate risks”. And this policy will not change until Moscow ceases “its aggressive behavior and fully complies with international law.”

Instead, NATO remains open to reaching “constructive engagements” with China, “including building reciprocal transparency,” despite remaining vigilant against “coercive tactics and efforts [de Pekín] for dividing the Alliance.” However, the allies are concerned about “the deepening of the strategic partnership between China and Russia” that undermines an international order based on rules and goes against Western values ​​and interests.

There are times when the Strategic Concept does not clearly identify its adversaries, but limits itself to classifying them as “authoritarian actors” and “strategic competitors” (a label that serves both the Russian and Chinese regimes and some others) which he accuses of interfering in the democratic processes of Western countries through “hybrid tactics, either directly or through proxies (interposed actors)”. For the first time, the Strategic Concept mentions, among hybrid warfare strategies, “disinformation campaigns, the instrumentalization of migration, and the manipulation of the energy supply and the use of economic coercion.”

Here are other highlights from the document:

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South flank. Although Russia is the greatest military threat and China the economic one, NATO recognizes that “terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, is the most direct asymmetric threat to the security of citizens and to international peace and prosperity.” When analyzing this threat, exerted by non-state groups and international networks supported by states, the Atlantic Alliance turns its gaze to the south, consistent with its 360-degree strategy, which contemplates threats from any geographical latitude.

“Conflicts, fragility and instability in Africa and the Middle East directly affect our security and that of our partners,” acknowledges the text. Security, political, economic and demographic problems are aggravated by climate change, the fragility of institutions, health emergencies and food insecurity, “fertile ground”, he warns, for the proliferation of terrorist organizations, with coercive interference of “strategic competitors”, he adds, alluding to the penetration of Russia (and also of China) in Africa.

The Strategic Concept expressly cites the Sahel, along with the Middle East and North Africa, as one of the regions of “strategic interest” for the Alliance, a list that also includes the Western Balkans, the Black Sea or the Indo-Indonesia. Pacific, a remote region in which events take place that “may directly affect Euro-Atlantic security”, for which it has close relations with partners such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, present in Madrid.

In the framework of the instability of the African continent (although it also occurs in Ukraine), NATO refers to “sexual violence” associated with armed conflicts and forced population displacements, which have “a disproportionate impact on women, children and minority groups”.

Territorial integrity. Against this background, the Strategic Concept of Madrid places “deterrence and defense” on its frontispiece as the fundamental mission of the organization and, for the first time, the protection of the territorial integrity of its member countries is set as an objective. “While NATO is a defensive Alliance, no one should doubt our strength and determination to defend every inch of Allied territory, preserve the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all Allies, and prevail against any aggressor,” it warns, in a statement without precedents that, for the experts, supposes an extension of its protective umbrella to Ceuta and Melilla, until now excluded. The Strategic Concept cannot reform the Washington Treaty, whose article 6 excludes Spanish cities in North Africa from the Euro-Atlantic area, but it does imply a strong political message and a consensus text that Spain could invoke if necessary.

hybrid threats. NATO also declares itself ready to deal with hybrid threats and warns, for the first time, that “a single attack or a series of malicious cyber attacks” could reach a level sufficient to be considered an armed attack for the purposes of applying the Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, by which the allies commit to mutual defense. Also, he adds, the coercive use of political, economic, energy or information tactics could be equated to a military aggression. In contrast, NATO maintains its nuclear doctrine intact, which considers the atomic weapon (of the United States, but also of the United Kingdom and France), the “supreme guarantee of security”.

Along with deterrence and defense, but relegated to a secondary position by the invasion of Ukraine, crisis prevention and management and cooperative security are the other two fundamental missions of NATO. The Madrid document only mentions in passing the “lessons learned” from the two decades of mission in Afghanistan, which ended in August last year with a fiasco, and insists on the need to have the resources and capabilities to deploy and sustain operations of stabilization and counterterrorism, a mission that the latter considers an “essential part of collective defense.”

Magnification, the door open. NATO highlights that its successive enlargements have been a “historic success” and reaffirms its “open door policy” to “all European democracies that share the values” of the Alliance and contribute to its security. “Decisions about belonging [de un país] NATO is taken over by the allies and no third country has anything to say”, he adds, referring to Russia. For the avoidance of doubt, the allies express their willingness to develop their association with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia and Ukraine and reiterate, although without reproducing it, the declaration of the 2008 Bucharest Summit, when they applauded the will shown by these last two countries to apply for membership and agreed that they would be “members of NATO” in the indeterminate future.

The Strategic Concept dedicates a long paragraph to the EU, which it says is a “unique and essential partner for NATO”, with which it plays a “complementary and coherent role that is mutually reinforcing”. The Alliance recognizes “the value and strength of a stronger and more capable European defense” and applauds initiatives aimed at “increasing defense spending” and developing Europe’s “military capabilities”, provided that “unnecessary duplication is avoided”.

The text concludes with a commitment to provide the resources, infrastructure, capabilities and troops to meet the objectives set and ensure that national defense spending and common funds are in line with the challenges NATO faces, but without setting any a specific number or a percentage. That remains for next year, when the 2% of GDP set at the 2014 Wales summit should have been reached. Spain has committed to doing so by 2030 at the latest.

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