NATO’s Next Decade

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Nine thinkers assess the alliance’s future ahead of a historic summit.

An collage illustration shows map segments with member countries — and possible future members — of NATO. Russian President Vladamir Putin is seen in profile with a tear of Ukraine map to signify the effect of the Russian war on the alliance.
An collage illustration shows map segments with member countries — and possible future members — of NATO. Russian President Vladamir Putin is seen in profile with a tear of Ukraine map to signify the effect of the Russian war on the alliance.
MARK HARRIS ILLUSTRATION FOR FOREIGN POLICY

What was NATO before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? A Cold War relic in search of a mission, a drain on Washington as it pivoted to Asia, a needless irritant to a nonthreatening Russia—or so a chorus of academic and media pundits told us. French President Emmanuel Macron, Europe’s pundit-in-chief, famously summed up the mood by calling the alliance “brain-dead.”

Countries closer to Russia knew differently, of course, and tirelessly warned their western peers that the alliance still served a vital purpose. Today, in many ways, NATO is back to its roots as a bulwark of the trans-Atlantic West against an expansionist Kremlin. Weapons are heading east, and troops are being forward-deployed. Seeking the bloc’s traditional protection, Finland has joined, Sweden is in the waiting room, and Ukraine’s path to membership will be discussed when NATO leaders meet for their annual summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, next week. All of a sudden, we’re talking about the defense-industrial complex again, tallying ammunition production and counting tanks.

But this is no return to the past, even if some might be nostalgic for the sense of unity and purpose that seemed to define the West during the Cold War. Having brought that epic contest to a peaceful close without a major conflagration arguably made NATO the most successful military alliance in history. Today, however, the bloc operates in a very different world, where Moscow is just one challenge of many. As allies of Russia, China and Iran now impact European security directly; NATO, in turn, is eyeing new threats to the east.

With its asynchronous combination of 21st-century technology and long-forgotten trench warfare, land battle looks very different today, with many lessons from Ukraine for NATO still to absorb. Russia is much smaller and weaker than the Soviet Union—especially after its forces’ decimation in Ukraine—but it still has its nuclear arsenal. As the Wagner Group’s march toward Moscow showed, the country is also less stable and predictable than the Soviet Union ever was, giving the alliance a whole new set of Russia scenarios to prepare for. And unlike in NATO’s heyday, what was then still called the “Third World” isn’t content to watch from afar but rather wants a say in how conflicts are managed.

To give us a sense of how a revitalized NATO might address these and other challenges, Foreign Policy asked nine prominent experts from Europe and the United States for their views. Below, they discuss some of the most important topics facing NATO leaders next week and going forward, from membership for Ukraine to the bloc’s role in facing China. You can scroll down and read through or use the navigation options to choose a writer and topic.—Stefan Theil, deputy editor



Security Guarantees Are Ukraine’s Bridge to Membership

By Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former NATO secretary-general

NATO leaders meeting in Vilnius need to recognize that peace and stability in Europe relies on a secure and independent Ukraine. Ultimately, that means bringing Ukraine into NATO. Personally, I believe leaders should already extend an invitation for Ukraine to join in Vilnius—but unfortunately, certain leaders of NATO member countries remain hesitant to make a commitment while the war is ongoing. This is a mistake. If you make membership dependent on the end of hostilities, you give Russian President Vladimir Putin the incentive to continue the war indefinitely.

If there is no agreement on an invitation to join NATO, the second-best option would be to outline a path toward membership in three steps. First, confirm that once Ukraine is invited, it can follow Finland and Sweden on an accelerated path into NATO by removing the need for a membership action plan, a procedure that could drag on for many years. Second, pledge to review the question of NATO enlargement at the alliance’s 75th anniversary summit in Washington next year. Finally, establish a NATO-Ukraine council with a mandate to work on the conditions that need to be met for Ukraine to join the alliance.

These steps would send a clear message to Putin: Sooner rather than later, Ukraine will become a member. You cannot stop this process.

NATO membership is the ultimate destination, but to get there, Ukrainians needs stability and security. That is why they need a fourth step: robust security guarantees now. Even before next week’s summit, a group of Ukraine’s allies should back guarantees based on the Kyiv Security Compact that I co-authored with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andriy Yermak.

Security guarantees cannot be given by a piece of paper. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteed Ukraine’s borders and sovereignty—and turned out to be worthless when it mattered. Instead, Ukraine’s partners must ensure that Ukraine can defend itself, by itself, until it is covered by NATO’s Article 5. This should involve an open-ended commitment from a group of guarantor countries to provide weapons, joint training under European Union and NATO flags outside Ukraine, intelligence sharing, as well as sustained investment in Ukraine’s military-industrial base. This should be modeled on the United States’ long-term military support for Israel.

Security guarantees are not an end in themselves, but they can provide the bridge to Ukraine becoming a full member of both NATO and the EU. They can provide the security needed for Ukraine’s economy to recover, reconstruction to start, and millions of Ukrainians to return to their homes.

Leaders meeting in Vilnius must not repeat the mistakes of the past. They must back robust security guarantees and set Ukraine on the path to NATO membership. If they fail to do so, we risk never-ending instability and conflict on European soil.

[Watch Rasmussen’s live discussion with FP’s Ravi Agrawal on FP Live. The two discuss what to expect at the NATO summit, security guarantees for Kyiv, and how to manage competition with China.] 


An illustration shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with a torn map of Ukraine and arms extended to symbolize possible entry into NATO.An illustration shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with a torn map of Ukraine and arms extended to symbolize possible entry into NATO.

MARK HARRIS ILLUSTRATION FOR FOREIGN POLICY

Ukraine in NATO Will Make Europe Safer

By Dmytro Kuleba, foreign minister of Ukraine

As the Vilnius summit approaches, the battle of arguments over whether Ukraine should be invited to join NATO is in full swing. Meanwhile, Ukrainians are fighting in Europe’s bloodiest war since 1945—losing loved ones, defeating the Russian invaders, and liberating their homeland. Today, Ukraine’s commanders, soldiers, and all of society are gaining essential experience in defending against the Russian threat. Tomorrow, they will contribute their mettle to make all of NATO safe.

Who wouldn’t want an ally with Ukraine’s strength, courage, and tenacity? It is a new reality compared to 2008, the last time a NATO summit formally discussed Ukrainian membership. Ukraine is no longer just seeking to slip under the collective security umbrella. Today’s Ukraine is a net contributor of security, protecting itself and the Euro-Atlantic community from an aggressive and revanchist Russia.

When Ukraine wins the war and joins NATO, it will be Ukrainian brigades—not U.S. or German ones—guarding NATO’s eastern flank. Battle-hardened Ukrainian units will be stationed in allied countries seeking protection from the Russian threat. No other NATO member has our experience and skills, including how to react to and repel an invasion within hours. That resolves one of the alliance’s most serious issues—rapid response time—while also boosting collective security.

We are not seeking immediate membership. We will not drag NATO into this war. We have never requested foreign troops on the ground in Ukraine. With the generous assistance of our partners, we will defeat Russia on our own. This war is ours to fight.

But the next war can be avoided by admitting Ukraine into NATO. What we are therefore requesting is a strong step toward Ukraine’s future membership. In Vilnius, we ask NATO to recognize three obvious things: First, NATO needs Ukraine as much as Ukraine needs NATO; second, Ukraine is an inseparable part of Euro-Atlantic security; and third, Ukraine should be invited now to join NATO, with membership taking effect when conditions are met.

An invitation like this will not provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin—on the contrary, it will deter him from future aggression. When confronted with strength, he invariably backs down, as all of us saw when the Wagner Group marched toward Moscow. With Putin weakened by the mutiny, there is a window of opportunity to invite Ukraine to join NATO.

If NATO leaders are not yet ready to grant an invitation in Vilnius, they should state clearly when they will be. Membership has formal requirements, but an invitation does not. All that is required is strategic foresight and political will.

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A Polish soldier with a painted face and wearing a beret sits in a tank as a NATO flag flies behind him in Zagan, Poland, in 2015.A Polish soldier with a painted face and wearing a beret sits in a tank as a NATO flag flies behind him in Zagan, Poland, in 2015.

A Polish soldier sits in a tank as a NATO flag flies behind him during military exercises in Zagan, Poland, on June 18, 2015.SEAN GALLUP/GETTY IMAGES

NATO’s New Power Bloc

By Kristi Raik, deputy director of the International Centre for Defence and Security

One of the long-term strategic consequences of Russia’s war against Ukraine is that NATO is growing larger and stronger in northeastern Europe—the long arc from the Nordic countries to the Baltic states to Poland. This power shift will transform the alliance over the coming decade, making it more capable of deterring the Russian threat. Growing defense capabilities in NATO’s northeast will help make Europe a more serious U.S. ally while also laying the groundwork for a possible reduced U.S. contribution to European security in the future.

Poland, in particular, is building one of the strongest militaries in Europe. Warsaw has gone on a procurement spree and plans to spend 4 percent of its GDP on defense in 2023. The Baltic states are also undertaking major increases in defense spending, aiming at 3 percent of GDP in the coming years.

The accession of Finland and (hopefully soon) Sweden will mark an even bigger strategic shift, bringing new strengths to NATO, including Finland’s highly capable land forces and Sweden’s strong maritime capabilities. These two new members will add strategic depth to the defense of the Baltic region. Instead of being NATO’s weak spot and a possible magnet for Russian aggression, the Baltic Sea will be a virtual NATO lake. Never before in history have all these countries belonged to the same military alliance.

Perhaps most importantly, the new northeastern bloc within NATO will inject strategic clarity into European security debates. The Nordic countries, the Baltic states, and Poland have been among Ukraine’s strongest supporters, above all because these countries have an existential interest in seeing Russia defeated in Ukraine. Likewise, they have a strong interest in credible security guarantees for Ukraine after the war—the most credible and efficient solution being membership in NATO. Ukraine’s accession to the Western alliance—which most allies agree is a matter of when, not if—will make Kyiv a part of the alliance’s power shift as well. The military ability and society-wide resilience Ukrainians have demonstrated since February 2022 leave no doubt that NATO would be substantially strengthened by such a new member.

The obvious reason for NATO’s northeastern members to pull together is an aggressive Russia aiming to restore its old sphere of influence. These countries do not expect the Russian threat to diminish anytime soon. Even if Russia loses in Ukraine, it will be capable of rebuilding its forces in a few years’ time. Importantly, Russia is unlikely to give up its imperialist ambition to reestablish control over its neighbors. NATO’s northeastern flank will ensure the alliance will take Russia seriously as a long-term and existential threat.

At the same time, NATO’s northeastern members are making the most serious efforts to strengthen Europe’s ability to take care of its own security. They don’t like talk of a possibly reduced U.S. commitment, as they are well aware of the Americans’ indispensable role in their defense. Unlike some Western European leaders, who lecture about European “strategic autonomy” and the supposed need to keep the United States at a distance, northeastern countries are focusing on actual deeds by taking on a bigger share of the responsibility for Europe’s security—all the while hoping that this will help keep the United States close.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin is flanked by two Russian flags at the end of a long table as he chairs a meeting with members of the government via video conference outside Moscow.Russian President Vladimir Putin is flanked by two Russian flags at the end of a long table as he chairs a meeting with members of the government via video conference outside Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a video meeting with members of his government at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on April 19. GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/SPUTNIK/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Is NATO Ready for Chaos in Russia?

By Angela Stent, author of Putin’s World: Russia Against the West and With the Rest

The short-lived mutiny by Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin and his mercenary army against the Russian government reminded the world that autocrats appear to be stable—until they are not. As NATO leaders convene in Vilnius, they will focus on the immediate challenge of the Russia-Ukraine war and how to maintain and increase support for Kyiv in the current counteroffensive. But the Western alliance will inevitably confront having to deal with a less stable nuclear-armed Russia. NATO has returned to its original mission of containment—the Soviet Union then, an increasingly aggressive Russia now. But the ability to accomplish that mission will depend on who might come to power after Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the unlikely event that Putin were to opt for a managed transition—akin to how he came to power in 1999—then he would likely install a successor who would initially continue his policies, including prosecuting the war in Ukraine. In that case, NATO would focus on its current dual policies of supporting Ukraine and deterring Russia from escalation. But a managed transition might not work if the new leader decided not to protect the interests of the Putin elite. In that case, or if Putin suddenly departed the scene with no chosen successor, a power struggle would ensue, similar to what happened after Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin died. A more unstable Russia with different elements of the security services supporting opposing sides could raise new concerns about the disposition of nuclear warheads. Europe would likely see a wave of refugees.

To prepare for various scenarios of an unstable, unpredictable, post-Putin Russia, NATO needs to encourage its members to shore up their defense capabilities, particularly the front-line Baltic states and Poland. This includes conventional military weapons and cyberdefense, but NATO members also need to anticipate a range of unconventional threats from a less stable Russia, such as weaponizing nuclear energy. In case of an unstable transition or worse, the alliance would have to reiterate the importance and continuing applicability of Article 5 collective defense. And it would have to reach out to the Russian military to ensure that there was viable communication about nuclear issues.

NATO’s best scenario for a post-Putin Russia would be a leadership that rejected the imperial mindset of the current Kremlin, realized that domestic development and modernization were more important for Russia’s future as a great power than aggression against neighbors, and was willing to resume discussions on strategic stability and nuclear safety. However, it is unclear how Russian elites and the Russian public, which have been fed a diet of xenophobic, nationalist rhetoric for years, would respond to such a radical change in Moscow’s outlook. Barring some unforeseen developments—and Russia can always surprise—this scenario is still some way off, and the immediate challenge remains confining the instability within Russia’s borders.


European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stands at a podum with the EU flag behind her during a debate on Russia's war on Ukraine at the European Parliament.European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stands at a podum with the EU flag behind her during a debate on Russia’s war on Ukraine at the European Parliament.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a debate on the Russia-Ukraine war at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Feb. 15. FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

The EU and NATO’s New Division of Labor

By Liana Fix, Europe fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

Europe’s old division of labor—NATO responsible for the continent’s security, and the European Union for economic prosperity—is no longer sustainable. The return of major land war to the European continent for the first time since 1945 has made it clear that NATO has to become more European, and the EU more of a security actor.

The reason is simple: Protection through NATO means, overwhelmingly, protection by the United States. With an ongoing war in Europe and a looming conflict over Taiwan in Asia, the United States could become overstretched. As just about everyone agrees by now, Europeans need to carry more of the burden for their own security. However, better burden-sharing within NATO alone will not be enough. Many European countries have already committed to increase defense spending after Russia’s invasion, but the spending is uncoordinated, fragmented, and largely ineffective at reducing Europe’s dependency.

This is where the European Union comes in. French President Emmanuel Macron’s grandiose plans for European “strategic autonomy” independent of Washington have been exposed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an unrealistic and dangerous fantasy—and were opposed by Central and Eastern European countries even before the war. On a more realistic level of ambition, the EU can make a real and lasting contribution to European security by investing in Europe’s defense industrial base and bankrolling the military capabilities that Europeans are lacking. Financing European defense and coordinating procurement is not a task for NATO, which has little influence on what its member states buy and how they finance it. Here, the EU can make an actual difference.

The EU has already gone through a remarkable transformation since Russia launched its war in 2022. Never before has the bloc acted so quickly and decisively during a security crisis, moving with power and speed on sanctions and energy decoupling from Russia. For the first time, Brussels used the European Peace Facility, set up in 2021 to fund peacekeeping missions, to directly procure weapons and ammunition for a non-EU country. Additionally, the EU is financing a military assistance mission to train up to 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers.

The EU’s next logical step should be to do for itself what it has already done for Ukraine: Finance and build the military capabilities that will allow Europeans to become real security contributors, not just a burden to the United States. The EU cannot and should not replace NATO. However, European countries should acquire the capability to conduct a medium-size combat mission in their neighborhood on their own—without the United States, and within either an EU or NATO framework.

The initial instinct during wartime is to stick to what has proven successful in the past. However, the combination of Russia’s war and China’s stepped-up threats against Taiwan is such a significant turning point that things have to change in order to remain the same. To future-proof the world’s most successful defense alliance for the next decade and ensure the security of the continent, NATO needs to team up with its EU cousin.

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A collage illustration shows former U.S. President Donald Trump's face confronted with an outstretched palm in a stop position with arrows and a map of the United States around him.A collage illustration shows former U.S. President Donald Trump’s face confronted with an outstretched palm in a stop position with arrows and a map of the United States around him.

MARK HARRIS ILLUSTRATION FOR FOREIGN POLICY

Trump-Proofing the Alliance

By Ulrich Speck, foreign affairs columnist at Neue Zürcher Zeitung

When NATO leaders discuss the bloc’s future next week, there will be an elephant in the room: What happens if former U.S. President Donald Trump is reelected in 2024? Even short of pulling the United States out of the alliance, as Trump came close to doing, a future U.S. president might limit engagement in Europe, driven by either isolationism or the need to shift scarce resources to the Asian theater.

Without the United States, the value of the alliance approaches zero. Deterring the Kremlin depends on credibility and power—and for the foreseeable future, those qualities can only be provided by the world’s leading military.

Europeans lack the military strength and, even more importantly, the strategic unity to deter a determined adversary. France is little trusted in much of Europe and focused elsewhere and Britain is weakened by Brexit, while Germany does not have much of a functioning military at all. Countries along NATO’s eastern and northern frontier have the will but lack the means. Without a strong and credible deterrence, Moscow would double down on regaining its Soviet-era possessions, and war in all its forms would spread beyond Ukraine.

Trump-proofing NATO is impossible, and Europe must live with a degree of dependence. But the risk of losing Washington can be diminished. In order to keep the United States engaged as the key power behind the European security order, its allies have to massively raise their share of the burden.

The key to any serious burden-sharing remains Germany—Europe’s economic heavyweight, political and geographic center, and close partner of much of Central and Eastern Europe. Germany needs to become the key backup power for the countries exposed to Russian pressure. It won’t be able to do that alone, not least because it lacks a nuclear deterrent, which remains crucial to being at eye level with the Kremlin. But Berlin could and should take over a far bigger share of the burden, stepping into the still-vacant position of “partner in leadership” that then-U.S. President George H.W. Bush offered to Germany at the conclusion of the Cold War.

A commitment to spend 3 percent of its GDP on defense—roughly doubling the 1.44 percent it spent in 2022—would be a strong signal to Russia and Europe. By stepping forward the same way that Japan has done in the Indo-Pacific, Germany would make it much harder for any U.S. leader to blame Europe for not bearing a fair share of the continent’s own defense.

A muscular Germany ready to free the United States from a large part of its European burden would not only impress the skeptics in Washington, but usher the trans-Atlantic relationship into a new era no longer defined by Cold War memories. It would turn NATO into a key element of an emerging free-world architecture involving the United States, Europe, and key Asian allies and partners, including India, Japan, and South Korea. Tokyo has already stepped into the new era—not least by doubling defense spending—while Berlin has yet to take any serious steps.

A massive investment in German defense would be far more than a symbolic tool to keep Washington engaged. It would become the basis for a healthy and sustainable balance between the United States and Europe in underwriting the European security order. Finally, it would be the prerequisite for any Plan B in case the worst comes to pass and a future U.S. president withdraws from Europe, leaving the continent on its own to face a neoimperialist Russia.


Chinese military helicopters fly over a hazy sea with a ship in the distance off Pingtan island, one of mainland China's closest points to Taiwan, on Aug. 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan.Chinese military helicopters fly over a hazy sea with a ship in the distance off Pingtan island, one of mainland China’s closest points to Taiwan, on Aug. 4, 2022, ahead of massive military drills off Taiwan.

Chinese military helicopters fly past the Chinese island of Pingtan, near Taiwan, ahead of massive Chinese military drills on Aug. 4, 2022. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

NATO’s China Role Starts in Europe

By A. Wess Mitchell, principal at the Marathon Initiative

NATO’s 2022 Strategic Concept took an important first step by recognizing China as a security challenge, but now the alliance needs to translate that into concrete actions. That won’t be easy: China is not an accustomed object of NATO concern, and allies differ on how to deal with Beijing. But forging a coherent approach is vitally important for improving the West’s collective resistance to China and bolstering the United States’ ability to deter and—should it be necessary—fight a war in the Indo-Pacific.

Dealing with China starts inside NATO’s guts and gears. The alliance operates by consensus, precedent, and the tasks that follow from public pronouncements. That’s why it was so important that NATO included China in the 2019, 2021, and 2022 summit declarations, as well as the new Strategic Concept. The key now will be to build support for concrete actions that follow from the threat assessment and fit naturally into NATO’s core security mission.

First, NATO needs to develop contingency plans for what it would do in the event of a U.S.-China war. It also needs to have the ability to regularly take joint positions on China, even if it lies outside of its geographic focus on the Euro-Atlantic region. A major objective of Chinese diplomacy is to disrupt the cohesion of U.S.-led alliances, and NATO is a leading target. At a minimum, the North Atlantic Council needs to be able to air China matters routinely. Eventually, it will probably need a consultative body of some kind to deconflict between NATO and the European Union—and avoid paralysis in a crisis.

Second, NATO needs tools to thwart Chinese activities that undermine its ability to perform its military mission. That includes threats to infrastructure, telecommunications, military readiness, and interoperability. A NATO perforated with Chinese influence could find itself unable to defend itself against Russia in a crisis scenario.

Third and most importantly, NATO needs to be more capable than it is now of defending the Euro-Atlantic home area. It’s always a welcome sight to see French or British ships in Asian waters, and it’s wise for NATO to deepen its partnerships in the Indo-Pacific region. But the heart of NATO’s job is in Europe. The United States’ ability to deter, and if necessary, defeat China will depend on having a strong defensive glacis in Eastern Europe. That begins by inflicting a strategic defeat on Russia in Ukraine, but it will also require a more substantial and permanent NATO presence on the eastern flank. That can’t only come from the United States and front-line allies; Western Europeans will have to do much more in Eastern Europe than they do at present.

The next few years will be crucial in determining whether the West can avoid a major conflict with China. NATO has a crucial role to play as an anchor to global stability by doing its core job in Europe—and doing it well.


A large crowd of pro-Ukraine activists in warm clothes and holding signs rest on the ground during a die-in as an anti-war protest in front of the Bundestag in Berlin on April 6, 2022.A large crowd of pro-Ukraine activists in warm clothes and holding signs rest on the ground during a die-in as an anti-war protest in front of the Bundestag in Berlin on April 6, 2022.

Following news of Russian atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine, protesters stage a die-in in front of the Bundestag in Berlin on April 6, 2022. JON MACDOUGALL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Shielding 500 Million Europeans Is Priority One

By Ben Hodges, former commanding general of U.S. Army Europe and Africa

All over Ukraine, Russia is using precision weapons to attack apartment buildings, shopping centers, and energy infrastructure. Clearly, as long as Russia is a threat to NATO, the Kremlin’s methods of waging war on civilians mean that integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) will be required at a much greater scale than the alliance thought. Not only does critical military infrastructure need to be protected, as current plans envision, but NATO also has to protect half a billion European civilians.

The alliance is not prepared for this. Improving the scale, quality, and sustainability of air and missile defense is therefore NATO’s most urgent military task. As we’ve seen in Ukraine, salvoes of missiles, drones, and enemy aircraft will likely come in swarms, from multiple directions and at a variety of speeds and altitudes. The initial defense against such an attack will most likely be by a single member state or group of states—until Article 5 is invoked and NATO decides to act.

This threat requires NATO members to better integrate their various capabilities and develop the policies and processes required to respond instantaneously to any sudden attack. What is needed?

1. NATO must ensure it has a permanent, fully integrated IAMD architecture to perform early warning and command-and-control functions and defeat incoming threats during the transition from peacetime to conflict.

2. Frequent joint multinational exercises should test and verify IAMD capabilities, including in a simulated contested environment. This has not happened at the required scale for at least the past 10 years.

3. Member countries need to invest in next-generation fighter aircraft and a follow-on for NATO’s Airborne Warning and Control System. The first line of defense will most likely be air forces, as ground-based air defense alone will not be able to protect most targeted areas. Aircraft can cover more territory and shift to threats more quickly. But this requires tested and reliable sensors and a command-and-control system to direct aircraft while integrating and coordinating them with ground-based air defense. No one model of aircraft is the answer, but European allies must invest in aircraft that optimize alliance interoperability. Nations that can’t afford aircraft or their own modern missile defense systems can contribute by purchasing and hosting sensors and other support.

4. NATO needs to strengthen the maritime component of air and missile defense with more ship-borne sensors and weapons systems.

5. Alliance members need to increase their ability to defend against a massive, comprehensive attack for an extended conflict. Air and missile defense must be sustainable for as long as the threat lasts.

6. NATO must accelerate the rapid fielding and training of Patriot systems in Poland, Romania, and Sweden, a key partner in any future Russia contingency.

7. The alliance should seek new technologies that can disrupt ballistic missile attacks before they can actually get off the launch pad.

8. NATO must improve passive defense of military targets by minimizing detection and damage through dispersal, camouflage, deception, and hardening.

If Russia makes the terrible decision to attack NATO, it will surely begin with a massive salvo of missiles, rockets, and drones. The West cannot afford to be unprepared. Effective deterrence—and if deterrence fails, defense—requires greatly improved air and missile defense.


An illustration shows the NATO compass logo at the center of expanding echo lines across the world map to indicate the alliance's network of allies and partners.An illustration shows the NATO compass logo at the center of expanding echo lines across the world map to indicate the alliance’s network of allies and partners.

MARK HARRIS ILLUSTRATION FOR FOREIGN POLICY

Make NATO a Network, Not a Bloc

By Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of New America

Is NATO a bloc or a network? At the alliance’s 2012 summit in Chicago, NATO members met alongside 13 global partners selected out of more than 40 countries for their critical contributions to NATO operations. The summit communique emphasized the vital importance of “a wide network of partnership relations” and embraced partnership beyond the bloc as a vital element of cooperative security. In a speech shortly after that summit, then-NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen described a kind of globally networked NATO comprised of “clusters of willing and able Allies and partners ready to cooperate in specific areas.”

That vision of a more horizontal, networked, and cooperative NATO is designed to “empower—to offer assistance and partnership—as much as to overpower,” as I wrote at the time. That ideal is quite at variance with NATO’s currently renewed role as the bulwark of the West, a united front of nations prepared to push back against what is left of the Cold War’s eastern bloc: Russia and Belarus. Yet when it comes to advancing NATO’s core values of “democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law,” whether they are at risk inside or outside the alliance, the network approach of building peer relationships among groups of countries and their officials is likely to work best. That is the way the European Union works among members, with candidate countries striving to join, and in much of its foreign policy.

Even as NATO renews its original raison d’être as a collective security alliance against Russia, its members would do well to remember the subtler security threats corroding strong and honest government institutions in countries around the world, as well as the existential nonmilitary threats all governments now face. Cooperative security networks are more important than ever.

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