NATO’s defense policy cooperation is the most important area of cooperation for the Alliance. The aim is to deter armed attacks on Alliance members and to preserve peace in the North Atlantic area.
NATO’s Charter, the Atlantic Pact, operates under the UN Charter, which requires that conflicts be resolved without violence in the first instance. However, Member States are allowed to act militarily in self-defense under Article 51 of the UN Charter.
If a member of the Alliance is attacked, the other members must, according to Article 5 of the NATO Charter, perceive the attack as an attack on themselves, and together repel the attack and restore peace and stability. Article 1 stipulates, however, that conflicts must always be resolved in the first instance by peaceful means. Another important element is Article 4, which stipulates that every member has the right to request consultation if he or she feels threatened by an external enemy.
What Member States’ assistance will look like in the event that Article 5 is invoked is determined in advance, by agreement between the governments of the Member States in consultation with NATO’s military and civilian bodies. In these negotiations, national governments always have a veto. The relief efforts are affected by geographical factors: Danish and German units can be deployed in both Germany and Denmark, while few or no Norwegian units are planned to be deployed in Turkey – primarily for logistical reasons. It is simply too difficult for Norway to move large numbers of its own military troops over large distances. In NATO’s defense planning, it is primarily the United States, but to some extent also the United Kingdom and France, that are tasked with deploying their own troops far away – because they are the only NATO countries that have the capacity for this.
During the Cold War, the most important task of NATO’s military body was to plan possible operations for NATO countries’ defense against an attack by the Soviet – dominated Warsaw Pact. After Russia’s war against Georgia in 2008 and the Russian intervention in Ukraine in 2014, the focus has again been on collective defense.
The member countries have a special system for how the coordination and training of the members’ defense forces is to be organized. The governments of the member states first agree on which defense strategy to use. This “Strategic Concept”, NATO Strategic Concept,sets out NATO’s objectives and the means needed to achieve them. This is followed by more detailed planning under the leadership of the Alliance’s Defense Ministers. Here, specific goals are set for each NATO member’s military forces – based on, among other things, the country’s military potential, economic strength and geographical size. The goals of the individual states are then compiled in a joint plan (NATO Force Plan) which sets out guidelines for the training of military units. As the political and military reality changes, the plan is evaluated and revised at regular intervals.
Changing strategic concepts
NATO’s current strategic concepts were adopted in 2010. During the Cold War, all strategic concepts were secret, but from 1991 they were transformed into open documents. The strategic concept adopted in 1991 was the first to identify no specific enemy. Instead, it was emphasized that the alliance must now be prepared for many kinds of tasks – both deterrence through military defense and peacekeeping operations. At the same time, the concept of security was expanded. An update of the strategic concept in 1999 further toned down purely military threats in favor of other security threats, such as environmental threats and economic and political threats. However, collective defense capabilities remained important and it was emphasized that the NATO countries’ military defense should consist of a mix of conventional forces and nuclear weapons.
One change in the 1999 concept was the connection to other organizations, such as the UN. The Atlantic Pact of 1949 states that NATO member states shall not use force in a manner that is incompatible with the purposes of the United Nations. This has traditionally been interpreted as meaning that the UN Security Council must give NATO a clear mandate for tasks that fall outside the rights of collective self-defense, such as peacekeeping or peacekeeping operations outside the territory of NATO member states.
However, following growing difficulties in cooperating with Russia and China, which are permanent members of the UN Security Council and have a veto right there, the NATO countries decided in 1999 not to require a formal UN mandate for future peacekeeping or peacekeeping NATO operations. Instead, the Security Council’s primary responsibility for international peace and security is acknowledged, and it is said that NATO’s action will take place in the spirit of the UN Charter.
Following the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001, peacekeeping operations, counter-terrorism and operations outside NATO’s own territories dominated the Alliance’s agenda. For a long time, the international operation in Afghanistan (see Peacekeeping Operations) was at the center of the entire alliance’s military activities. Correspondingly, interest in most forms of territorial defense planning disappeared from the Alliance’s Member States.
In 2009, however, the NATO countries decided to renew the Alliance’s strategic direction. At a Lisbon summit the following year, a new strategic concept for NATO was established. In this came a very strong emphasis on collective, territorial defense, this was said to be the foremost of NATO’s three core tasks. The other two are international crisis management and various forms of security cooperation with partner countries and other actors. At the same time, care was taken not to point out any state as an enemy. Russia was presented as a partner, with whom NATO would increase its cooperation through a number of channels and institutions. This was in line with US President Barack Obama’s so-called ” resetpolicy “, which aimed to restore relations with Russia. Following Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, then-President George W Bush had strongly criticized Russian foreign policy in general, something Obama wanted to change.
New focus on collective defense
The 2010 strategic concept did not only include an increased focus on collective territorial defense. NATO also decided to start planning again for practical military defense of the member states, especially the Baltic countries and Poland. Following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and war against Ukraine from 2014, the trend towards an even greater emphasis on collective defense has accelerated within NATO. Although Ukraine is not a member of the alliance, it had for a long time worked very closely with NATO and a previous Ukrainian government worked for the country to become a member of the alliance. The smaller NATO countries in Central and Eastern Europe perceived the aggressive Russian policy towards Ukraine as a direct threat to themselves. NATO therefore began implementing a reinsurance policy in 2014, which aims to support these countries in various ways against a possible Russian threat. At the Wales Summit in September 2014, a number of measures, not least military, were decided to do so. They were summarized in one Readiness Action Plan(roughly “contingency action plan) and entailed, among other things, drastically increased military activity on the part of NATO in and around the alliance’s geographically most vulnerable countries. But the new-old threat also required changes in the command structure that had been dismantled over the years with a focus on peacekeeping operations. The background was that shortcomings in the alliance’s logistical capacity had been identified. In a classified document that was leaked in 2017, a general wrote that NATO “simply forgot how to move large ground forces in Europe”. A decision was made on two new commands that would make it easier to move troops quickly across Europe while keeping the North Atlantic sea routes between the United States and Europe open. Alliance Rapid Reaction Force, NRF, The structure). In addition, staff units were set up in the Baltic countries as well as in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. It was also realized that an increased focus on preparedness places new demands on the member states’ national units. At the 2018 summit, the leaders of the US initiative decided to review the preparedness times of individual allied countries, an initiative known as the NATO Readiness Initiative and to be implemented in 2020 (see NATO and Russia).
Melting ice provides a new playing field
At the same time, the melting of the ice, due to global warming, changed the game map in Europe. New sea routes were opened and the Arctic, with its rich raw material resources, has sailed up as a new strategic front. Focus on the Arctic has entailed a significant upgrade of the Keflavik base in Iceland, and in 2018 NATO held its largest exercise since the end of the Cold War in the area. Trident Juncture 18, as the exercise was called, was an Article 5 exercise involving 50,000 men from all member states as well as from the partner countries Sweden and Finland (see Sweden and NATO).