By James Everard
What do you think of NATO?
In 2017, 73 per cent of Britons approved of NATO. Today, it is only 50 per cent. In France, it is 39 per cent, and falling In Spain, support for the military organization (albeit a different poll and different metric) it is 29 percent while in Germany it is 30 percent and Italy 35 per cent.As if these numbers are not alarming enough, 25 percent of NATO supporters also admit they do not know what NATO does. A further 15 percent believe NATO is the military wing of the United Nations (https://yougov.co/uk/topics/international/articles-reports/2019/12/04/ and https://pewrsr.ch/354CMAT
For too many, NATO is an enigma for citizens who neither understand the true nature of the threat now, nor what NATO does to keep them safe.
Worse, NATO’s political leaders have chosen not to educate their citizens. This is dangerous. Without vigilance NATO’s adversaries are allowed to accrue advantages in peacetime, potentially affording them a decisive edge in wartime.
What is NATO doing to address these deficiencies?
The Military Committee, NATO’s top military authority, recently approved the Supreme Allied Commander Europe’s Area of Responsibility (AOR) Wide Strategic Plan (SASP). This is supposed to activate the Concept for the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA). The DDA both upholds the defensive nature of the Alliance and sets out how NATO armed forces plan to deal with the Alliance’s two main threats, Russia and Terrorist Groups.
It is not an exclusively military strategy and involves a range of expertise to counter disinformation, disruption, destabilisation, deception and (implied) destruction. The DDA and the SASP have been sent to the Alliance’s supreme political body, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) – the ambassadors appointed by the member nations – for approval.
What’s behind this new strategy?
In May 2016 a new SACEUR, General Curtis Scaparrotti, arrived from Korea where he had commanded US forces. The Korean theatre was set and ready for the fight, the European theatre was not. General Scaparrotti, and his successor General Todd Wolters, worked closely with NATO’s Military Committee to correct the Alliance’s military weaknesses. NATO now recognises the complex nature of modern warfare as a contest where deterrence demands a demonstrable ability to defend, and defence is based on controlling geography and the all the domains of warfare simultaneously (allied of course to the ability to deliver forces). Many allies are also embracing the new methodology during their peace-time activities, with the UK leading the way.
However, it is far too early to celebrate a job well-done. This is because while all NATO leaders accept that to be credible the Alliance must also be lethal, some are also concerned that the military – cart before the horse – are ahead of the political process. And when this happens cheques may be written that can never be cashed.
As the polls suggest, such reservations are also shared by huge numbers of their citizens who do not only fail to understand the nature of contemporary threats. Nor do they grasp future warfare or modern deterrence. They take peace for granted.
What do leaders think?
The leaders’ concerns are manifold. It is easier to find visible ways to counter, contest, complicate and circumvent our competitors than meet well-defined strategic objectives. Competition begets competition and so the death-spiral begins. They also fear that the Alliance is forcing partners to take sides even when some competition is healthy. There is also a worry that NATO’s actions will simply increase the Russian sense of insecurity. Above all, NATO is letting the military off the leash in a way that means the Alliance is on a path to a slow-baked escalation with a self-defeating militarized strategy when we need a more political NATO that should identify more creative non-kinetic solutions. And then there is China.
The DDA-SASP does answer the “how” question implicit in their concerns. It provides a strategic framework that both enhances political control and will help sustain peace in the Euro-Atlantic Area. In addition, DDA-SASP is a rock-solid foundation for other instruments of power and prepares NATO forces to meet the challenges of geography, domains and readiness.
NATO is already better for it. This is vital because NATO’s adversaries must respect NATO’s strength. The alternative is drift, reaction and lost opportunities on a downward path to mediocrity.
What NATO must do next?
This brings me back to my first point about how NATO is perceived. The 2022 Strategic Concept must communicate a clear Alliance understanding of future warfare, champion the logic of DDA-SASP, and be honest about the freedoms and constraints that will shape its implementation. NATO must also allow outsiders to question and challenge its thinking. Shining a light on any challenge is a vital part of being an alliance of democracies, and in explaining what NATO does and why it matters.
General (Ret) Sir James Everard was NATO’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, 2017-2020