Is NATO prepared to celebrate its centenary?

BY: Jacobien van der Kleij

NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated, following the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers on 17 June 2020, that the dire situation of COVID-19 does not imply that other challenges have gone away.

PEJOURNAL – NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated, following the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers on 17 June 2020, that the dire situation of COVID-19 does not imply that other challenges have gone away. With 70 years behind them, NATO member states have been hit with numerous historic consequential shifts and threats, shaping the direction of NATO, its deterrence and defence strategies, and indeed its very structure. These include the Readiness Action Plan, launched in 2014 and the Readiness Initiative in 2018, aiming to enhance the readiness of existing national force and new security challenges.

Its main aims remain at the core of the Treaty Organization: providing for the common defense of its 30 members, solving problems related to defence and security issues, while news threats and unpredictabilities are pushing the organization into new directions and making alternative resolutions. But there is more to discuss about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the existing power structures in the international system in due course.

While the security environment where NATO is faced with is more demanding, changing and complex than ever since the end of the Cold War, it’s need for redefining its potential outlook might even be a more laborious task.

Thus, as the Alliance looks to the future, how will new strategies and initiatives lead to NATO 2030, continuing credibility of its stance, strengthening its aims and its identity? Is NATO’s position in danger, or on the contrary has been reinforced in the age of a coronavirus pandemic, globalization and increased interdependence? Is NATO’s outlook still as relevant and coherent as before to understand the current international relations? Will the treaty organization remain to have a significant role in the world’s joined security system? Which place for NATO in 2030?

Here are some of the most recent challenges that NATO will need to navigate if it is underway to celebrate its centenary with the same endurance.


According to Stoltenberg, NATO must “stay strong militarily, be more united politically, and take a broader approach globally and prepare for a world without the INF Treaty, which will unstabilize us Allies”. After disproportionate military actions of Russia in the past, it will be a challenging task to improve the complex partnership with Russia. NATO is grasping at straws to find solutions for their unresolved conflicts, and the demise of the INF treaty is only one of them.

The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was founded in 2002, on the Declaration on “NATO-Russia Relations: “a New Quality”. But has this really been an effective consultative mechanism, taking into consideration the wide range of performances deficiencies of both parties? Two main reasons can help us in explaining Russia’s evolving perception of NATO – and on the other hand understand NATO’s claim of a so called renewed military threat.

Since NATO’s expansion early ‘90, the relation between the alliance and Russia has faced several crises, instabilities and disruptions, from NATO’s air strikes against Serbia in 1999, to the Russia-Georgia conflict in August 2008 to the deployment of the SSC-8 missile since 2014,  that led to INF Treaty’s definite collapse. Russian expert, author and academic at the University of San Francisco, Andrei Pavlovich Tsyganch, acknowledges that each conflict was accompanied by a disruption of institutional and political communication between Russia and the Atlantic alliance.

Meanwhile, Russia has ramped up its military presence in the Arctic, which added up to the already existing tension, their unpredictability and their lack of credibility. The risk of a new crisis due to parallel interests in Arctic policies, could easily spill over into conflicts elsewhere. For example in Afghanistan, where has been a notable escalation of Russian interference. While NATO is leading a non-combat mission in this region, they work closely with and depend on Russian authorities, being NATO’s main fuel suppliers for their missions in Afghanistan. We can call it cooperation, co-existence or a never-ending diplomatic dance.

Other events since 2014 – mostly notably the aggressive actions in Ukraine by Russia, obliged NATO to suspend all practical cooperation with Russia. Political ties and military channels of communication remain open, but tensions are tight, even after the establishment of the NATO-Russian Council. Those meeting would ensure a closer convergence with regard to joint decision process, projects and military actions, aiming to reducing risk and advocate transparency.

The last Council meeting was in early 2019, but no agreements were set down concerning the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty or Ukraine. Discussions remain long, difficult and have shown non-effective results. This last summit was NATO’s last effort to ask for full and verifiable compliance from Russia with the Treaty. 

Despite the unreliability of Russia on conventional warfare, the last standing arm control agreement between the US and Russia, called new START is bound to be extended. This Treaty should limit the partners’ nuclear weapons to 1,550, the lowest number it has been in decades. Although the US was accused by Russia to have violated the INF, Trump is eager to build trust with Russia again and discuss the core challenge of their unique partnership. If this decisive point in Trump’s presidency will go doing into history with a modern set of agreements tied with Chinese approval, is still a matter in question.

Conclusively, we can acknowledge that Russia’s provocative military activities and non-commitment have prompted Alliance to strengthen their deterrence and defence posture, approved during the Warsaw Summit in July 2014. Because as long as NATO and Russia have significant fundamental differences, they will continue keep a vigilant eye on each other’s interventions, strategies and military expansions. The NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 along with NRC constitute the formal bases of their bilateral relation, but the direct practical execution on current security issues are missing.

Lack of transparency, delivery on the promises, and contraventions might remains actions of the past, but not to be forgotten for future agreements. NATO and Russia must find a way to cooperate as practical partners in areas of common interest, as we see in the region of Afghanistan. Indeed, Russia is prepared to use its military power in order to achieve its aims, but mostly in non-NATO countries.

We should take a closer look to their non unconventional operations, as cyberattacks, information warfare and election interference.  Because, according to the Secretary General, The SSC-8 demonstration of Russia accounts for only one challenge that NATO is dealing with. “We need to discuss our response to the whole range of Russian missile systems. Conventional and nuclear, currently deployed or under development. ”

Meanwhile, Balkan countries as Bosnia and Herzegovina continue to fight for a near future within NATO, assuring a security maintenance and passing laws for their countries, regardless of Russia’s regard.


During the aftermath of World War II, Canada moved step by step away from its quasi-isolationism position and its indifference towards European conflicts. During Mackenzie King’s premiership lasting until 1948, the foreign policies in Canada and diplomatic international relations were firmly established. At the end of 1940s, prosperous and liberal Canada enjoyed an unprecedented growth lasting for two decades.

As a consequence, there was an significant increase in birth rates and immigration from Europe, with a population growth of almost half a million from 1948 to 1949. But it was former Secretary of State for External Affairs, Louis St. Laurent in 1949 that admitted that Canada’s foreign interests must meet further external defence commitments.

His pragmatism and interest in foreign affairs was not always appreciated in Canada, though support was growing during that time. Moreover, the military actions of and the postwar controversies with the Soviet Union (USSR) posed a realistic threat for the Western Hemisphere, urging Canada to take a step further on the world stage.

As a result of these events, Canada became one of the founding countries to sign the Washington Treaty of 1949, that led to the formation of North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It wasthe first peacetime alliance Canada ever joined. The question to ask ourselves now, however, is in which extent NATO military and political support still adds value to Canada’s current security and defence system. Are Canada’s actions and position within NATO underestimated and inaccurately overlooked nowadays? What is the reason why Canada is lacking influence within NATO? Which actions should Canada take to become as appreciated and needed as it was during NATO’s draft?

Canada’s involvement in the draft of the 14 articles of the Treaty in 1949 was significantly important, more than we have acknowledged until now. It started with Lester B. Pearson, Secretary of State for External Affairs at the time, who emphasize that NATO should be more than a military alliance – it should also focus on a cooperative alliance focusing on political, economic and cultural integration.

This would guarantee that the alliance would remain dynamic and modern, capable of defeating current and future challenges. This clause in Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty, focusing on a stronger political role of the alliance, would be remembered as the Canadian Article.

Thus, Canada main aim from the inception of Treaty on, was broadening NATO’s framework by emphasizing on the non-military cooperation of the Alliance. We observe a key drafter and value-added member of the NATO, deploying its Armed Forces in Iraqi and Afghanistan and showing commitment to burden-sharing initiatives. Have we gave too little attention to Canada’s military participation in NATO’s operation to date?

In June 2018 for example, Canada became member of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, dealing with conventional and new unconventional treats as cyber warfare. At the 2018 NATO Summit, the Allies agreed on and improving readiness of NATO’s forces by adapting NATO Command Structure and placing a greater emphasize on cyber security. Currently there are 915 Canadian Armed Forces deployed on operation Reassurance, exemplifying Canada’s assistant in military operation. Yet, these efforts are weakened by the fact that, in 2015 Canada spent only 1.24% of its $1.7 trillion economy on defence.

The Declaration on the 2014 Wales Summit will gradually change this, urging the signatories to increase its spending to 2% of the national GDP. This would make Canada spending for Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) $34 billion by 2025.

With this fact given, we can conclude that Canada is trying to evoke NATO’s attention by strengthening their performances and taking part in the new bodies of the institutions of NATO, as the Joint Delegation, which represents Canada at the decision-making bodies of the Alliance. Their contribution to become a more effective political-military alliance is owed to their input in development, international and military cooperation. Indeed, their military engagement remains extremely vital, playing an important but often neglect role in the Arctic area, covering almost 40% of their homeland.

However, budget inefficiency does allow CAF to grow further and gain accurate recognition. Canada needs the support of the Alliance as much as NATO needs Canada as a reliable defence member. Both should agree on bolstering economical and political ties, as done within of the Joint Delegation, preparing for a more efficient role to play to face the threats of the 21th century. Exploring the definition of NATO’s out of its military context, providing political consultation and efficiency of execution, are Canadian values in commemoration of St. Laurent.

After 70 year of experience within NATO, Alexander Moens at the Fraser Institute agrees that “Canada cannot simply follow the way of specialization in terms of military capabilities. Even if niche capabilities may be sufficient in very few cases, the bulk of Canadian defence must remain based on broad defence capabilities and a wide range of actions.’’ Canada’s contribution should not be left behind.


On Saturday 11th June 2020, Jens Stoltenberg warned for the increasing influence of China that will create a “fundamental shift in the global balance of power”. A fact that shall not be overlooked, nor by Canada,  the European Union, nor by NATO itself. The rise of China is nothing new. Since production reorientation from 1979 within the globalization of capitalism, China’s GDP has grown with nearly 10% every year.

Furthermore, Stoltenberg emphasized on the increasing presence of China in the Arctic. This poses once again new challenges for the Alliance. NATO’s founding Treaty served as a counterweight to the power of the Soviet Union in 1949, with its security remit limited to a North America and European defence and military alliance.

Furthermore, with heightened tension along the Himalayan border clash between China and India, there are risks that this conflict between the two nuclear power neighbours could escalade quickly. Chinese authorities have not released any further information about the incident in the disputed Galwan Valley, which resulted in the death of more than 20 Indian soldiers last June. In the view of these events, the North Atlantic alliance needs to be aware of Chinese fast developments and respond to it accordingly.

US on the other side has publicly supported India, sharing multiple values while considering the nation as a significant defence partner at a time of confrontation with China – but there is no guarantee of unconditional military support from US or the alliance members.

In the face of this current environment, where upstart players as China with longstanding interest play a substantial role in global affairs, the Alliance must cope with operations beyond NATO usual playing fields. Stoltenberg is aware of this fact. But how will NATO assesses its risks now Beijing is on its radar more than ever in the past, according to US Permanent Representative Kay Bailey Hutchison? “One thing is clear: China is coming ever closer to Europe’s doorstep,” is what Stoltenberg said during an interview with Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

He also reminded China to respect international shipping rules, hoping for a greater political approach for NATO and stressing on building a more global and multifaceted alliance for the future.

This entails providing nations in the Asia-Pacific region assistance while working closer with nations that have similar approaches and institutions as the Alliance’s members, as for New Zealand, Australia and Japan. In the wake of past clashes and powerful clouts and the construction of a broader security architecture, NATO should focus on the dynamiticity of its alliance while managing its risk reduction for unpredictable events. While conventionals conflicts in the Indo-Pacific continue unabated, NATO cannot no longer ignore hybrid threats – as intellectual property theft and cyber-espionage, and only blame Russia for it.

The national security of US, for example, has opened since 2013 already 1,000 investigations to reveal China’s attempts to steal U.S. State Secrets and intellectual property. FBI director Christopher Way concluded on a U.S. Council Foreign Relation event that China was “stealing its way up the economic ladder”. The cyber attacks became a greater concern to Australian institutions this year, where informations of which hold sensitive personal and economic data was stolen.

None of these state-based hacks were of anybody’s surprise on a global scale, but awareness should be raised how and whether to trust China fully. Although NATO is trying to seek to defend itself against the “imminent threat” and China’s geopolitical rise, there are no significant steps taken yet in terms of defense. The alliance needs to consider to bring together a cohesive strategy to face its confident competitor, while China continues to modernize its People’s Liberation Army resulting in a greater global power and military presence.

NATO response to COVID-19

No one can predict how health crises as the coronavirus pandemic unfold. But past pandemics have taught international organizations to anticipate better on future infectious diseases. This not only concerns the significant engagement of WHO and their leading international mission this year, but also that of NATO’s. But which vital role have they played in fighting COVID-19? Firstly, their urgent arrangement in order to facilitate medical supplies, organized by NATO’s Alliance’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC).

They play a significant, but often underutilized role when it comes to soft securities, as the spreading of misinformation, global health and climate changes – and represent one of the core bodies of in the crisis management mechanism of NATO. The Center have given similar assistant in the past – for instant against Ebola in the western part of Africa, the human immunoglobulin shortage in Romania en the H1N1 pandemic flu in Ukraine and Bulgaria. Most recently, they answered the call for a COVID-19 relief aid, providing Iraqi authorities redundant medical equipment from Spain.

But NATO’s response to COVID-19 should not be limited to the mediation of the military assistance through EADCC, even though little attention has been drawn to the role of these Armed Forces. More important, if we examine the long-term consequences of the corona crisis, is finding ways that can help to strengthen resilience of the civilian population against future large scale diseases.

Authorities in several countries, deeply affected by the coronavirus, have called in civilian support along with the military’s. Discussions to include COVID-19 in the categories of vulnerabilities, together with other cross border treats as global terrorism, have started since April 2016.

Additionally, a new program within NATO’s Science for Peace and Security Program (SPS), has been launched for the two following reasons. Firstly, to bring together scientist from multidisciplinair background who will analyse the infection of SARS-CoV-2, what will help us to counteract future epidemics. These contributions are thus essential for the development of NATO’s risk management and the containment of Covid-19, but also stresses on the scientific collective collaboration of the Allies during crises and pandemics.

“Italy has been actively engaged in the SPS Programme since the beginning; not only by laying its very foundations with the contribution of Gaetano Martino, one of the Three Wise Men, but also by steadily contributing to streamlining its decision-making’’, stated NATO’s Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenge, Dr. Antonio Missiroli.

Indeed, the Three Wise Men who were Foreign Ministers during NATO’s final Treaty agreements, Lester B. Pearson, Gaetano Martino and Halvard were known to cherish the political nature of the alliance and scientific cooperation between the members. Because transatlantic collaboration and “Partnership for Peace” should not only depend on a strong collective-defense alliance from a military point of view. I wonder how the Three Wise Men would value NATO’s expansion today, not of its members but of its range of activities and even its shortages.

As long as the world remains object of continuously global frictions, economic crises, health and security threats affecting European policies, geopolitics and geo-economics conflicts, NATO cannot only look backward, upholding past successes and strategies. The alliance must remain resilience-driven, dynamic, promote interoperability and ready to tackle and resolve future issues.

Alternatively, as the Alliance continues to enhance its defense and deterrence strategies, it should not omit to promote cooperation within the members and the partners members, and give EADRCC the chance to expand – whose resources and budgets are limited although the centre has great potential. NATO should encourage more of these bureaucratic side projects, who should not be neglected, even during and after COVID’s long recovery. Moreover, the strength, power and accomplishment of China, Canada and Russia should not be underestimated, even if NATO prioritize one country over the other, whether unintentional or not. It is more the question of an appreciation of the worldwide interconnection of national interests and concerns, underlined Stoltenberg during its launch of NATO 2030 last June.

With an eye on the future, the activities of NATO are likely to surge in a more globalized and competitive world than ever, but its own progression and vigour should not be left behind. NATO has the structure, the institutions and the willpower in place. But it is now the question how NATO will enable them correctly, reinforcing the right capabilities, taking in account the more diverse scala of activities and perils that the Alliance is faced with. Transparency and clarity of message are the two main and constant components of the actions undertaken by the Treaty Organization. But we certainly cannot say likewise for the timeline of the 21th century’s events and future involvements.