NATO’s new Strategic Concept: a confluence of perspectives

NATO’s new Strategic Concept has been presented and adopted at the 2022 Madrid Summit. The Atlantic Alliance is currently facing several threats and challenges. How are the member states going to tackle these issues? Several experts from Estonia, Germany, Greece, and Poland are unveiling their perspectives on how NATO’s future should be shaped.

By Corentin Dionet

« The new Strategic Concept is written every 10 years. This one will be the eighth. The strategic environment has evolved. Now, priorities have to be reformulated: climate change, China, Space, Artificial Intelligence, and Russia are areas of concerns. During the last decade, collective defense was not a priority. Today, a balance must be found between the historical competences of NATO such as collective defense, crisis management or cooperative security, and the new challenges (non-conventional, technological). There are multiple threats, but we need to figure out if we want to use NATO as a big blade focused on one task, ergo collective defense, or a Swiss army knife capable of tackling every challenge the Alliance faces » Jamie Shea, former Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at NATO analyzes.

Towards the “Swiss army knife”

The new Strategic Concept has answered many expectations. Looked-for to focus on the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, terrorism, migration crisis, cyber, space, hybrid threats, information warfare, climate change and CBRN threats, the ten pages long paper has completed its task. First and foremost, the new Strategic Concept identifies Moscow as the main threat: « The Russian Federation is the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. It seeks to establish spheres of influence and direct control through coercion, subversion, aggression and annexation. It uses conventional, cyber and hybrid means against us and our partners. Its coercive military posture, rhetoric and proven willingness to use force to pursue its political goals undermine the rules-based international order »1. This state of affairs resulted in an enhancement of the Alliance’s posture in Central and Eastern Europe, where the members have agreed to boost their presence.

Whilst the Russian Federation has been deemed the main threat to NATO, the People’s Republic of China has been described as posing « systemic challenges »2 to the Alliance. Nonetheless, terrorism has been identified as the second greatest threat: « Terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, is the most direct asymmetric threat to the security of our citizens and to international peace and prosperity. Terrorist organisations seek to attack or inspire attacks against Allies. They have expanded their networks, enhanced their capabilities and invested in new technologies to improve their reach and lethality »3. Instability in Africa and the Middle East raised and entertained, at least partly, by Russia, shows how much interconnected threats and challenges are for NATO nowadays.

The emergence of new technologies and explosion of the importance of cyberspace in the last decade has been considered by the Alliance in this text, as well as « the erosion of the arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation architecture which has negatively impacted strategic stability »4. Last but not least, climate change has been introduced as a threat after only a mention in the last Strategic Concept: « Climate change is a defining challenge of our time, with a profound impact on Allied security. It is a crisis and threat multiplier. It can exacerbate conflict, fragility and geopolitical competition »5.

An opportunity to showcase unity

Following the new Strategic Compass adopted by the EU in March 2022, NATO’s new Strategic Concept is another attempt to aggregate several visions and threat assessments at the continental level. During the recent years, while some Western European nations were looking south, Central and Eastern Europeans were pointing Moscow. « Russia is the main concern from our point of view. We have to rethink the premises of our fundamental ideas on approaching Russia. Right now, the founding act of 1997 entails commitment of limiting military deployment on frontiers. NATO is still considering this document valid while Russia does not abide by it. So, this new Strategic Concept needs to strengthening on territorial defense vis a vis Russia » indicates Kristi Raik, Director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at ICDS6. « NATO should be back to its primary mission which is collective defense and the ability to defend the vital interests of its members. This is the binding force of the Alliance. We need to send the message that deterrence and defense are the first missions of NATO. There needs to be a bigger presence in Poland. The Alliance has self-imposed a limitation based on the NATO-Russia founding act of 1997. We need to get rid of these limitations. We clearly need a strategic message that our region is not up for negotiations » Wojciech Lorenz, a Senior Analyst in the International Security Programme at The Polish Institute of International Affairs adds.

« The new strategic concept will be the NATO’s political framework for the next decade communicating how we see our strategic environment. Russia is not a partner anymore and this document will reflect and quantify this evolution. This is an opportunity to showcase and demonstrate unity. The drafting process itself is very important because it is an opportunity to build unity, consensus, and compromise » Anna-Clara Arndt, Research Assistant in International Security for the German Institute for International and Security Affairs affirms. « This is a vital exercise to update NATO’s purpose and mission. You could argue that it does not really matter what the new Strategic Concept is provided that it helps the Alliance to adapt in order to be able to rediscover its sense of purpose and role. It should provide a new framework for strategy and address the challenges posed by Russian aggression. In Greece, our NATO mindset prioritizes containment of Russia, security in cyber and enhanced cooperation against hybrid threats as well as terrorism. We are aligned with member states on those issues, whether they are geographically located or functional. » Kostas Ifantis, Scientific Director for the Center for Foreign Policy Planning in Athens complements.

Multiple threats

« The main priority is collective defense and coming with a clear concept on territorial defense as well as a burden sharing signal to the United States. We need to look at Russia as a global actor and adapt a long-term strategy to isolate Moscow and face their challenges on cyber, space, hybrid threats as well as in Africa. China is part of the equation as well. It is a problem but not a threat, though a push back is needed. Competing better, cooperating where you can seem to be the way » Jamie Shea develops, wondering: « Do we pursue a twin-track policy in dealing with Russia and China or are we creating a duo-containment strategy ? ».

If collective defense must be the main priority, other issues must not be forgotten according to Anna-Clara Arndt. « There must be complementarity between the EU and NATO. Priorities are also resilience, the impact of climate change on security, China, the defense of our vital interests. NATO must respond to all these challenges, finding a consensus and compromise because unity is the key.» Kristi Raik adds : « There is an openness, an understanding, and an acknowledgment in Estonia that we have to take seriously other allies concerns. There are other priorities such as cyber or China, which can divert attention from Russia because it is a long-term strategic competitor ». One thing is undeniable, NATO needs a long-term strategy in order to enhance the security of its member states and the new Strategic Concept is its roadmap for the decade to come, for better or for worse.

Kristi Raik, Estonia

« We need credible defense to deter Russia. NATO must increase its presence in the Baltic states with permanent divisions and stronger air defense. Forward defense has to prevail on forward presence. We wish to be able to stop a potential attack rather than having to reconquer our territories. This conceptual change is needed. »

Anna Clara Arndt, Germany

« Germany is drafting its first ever national security strategy right now. It will link with the EU’s strategic compass and the NATO’s new strategic conceptwill serve as reference points for this document. The Alliance is Germany’s life insurance. »

Kostas Ifantis, Greece

« Greece’s position is unique. We are convinced that NATO is not the forum for Greece’s security to be enhanced because the Alliance cannot provide security guarantees against Turkey. That is why we revised our strategic and military doctrine. Bilateral agreements with France, cooperation with the United States and the increase in American military presence in our country are our main focus. They are a leverage against Ankara. »

Wojciech Lorenz, Poland

« For Poland, the United States security guarantee and their military presence is paramount. The absolute priority must be collective defense and that is what the polish government will advocate for. Russia must be seen and described as a threat. Plus, long-term, flexible adaptation with sufficient investments to face potential high scale high intensity conflicts are needed. »

1 NATO 2022 Strategic Concept, available at :

2 Idem.

3 Idem.

4 Idem.

5 Idem.

6 International Centre for Defence and Security.