NATO’s new Strategic Concept

3. December 2022 - from Dr. Theodor Benien

NATO refocuses: The Atlantic alliance has radically changed its policy toward Russia. At the core of the new strategy: defence, crisis prevention and security.

NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. (Image: Nato)
Image top: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President of Lithuania Gitanas Nauseda inspect the NATO EFP Battle Group in Rukla. The unit is led by the German armed forces. EFP stands for “Enhanced Forward Presence” and is intended to deter Russia. (Image: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler)

Reacting to changing geopolitical and strategic realities, NATO has adopted a new Strategic Concept in response to the Russian attack on Ukraine, a gross violation of international law. At its Madrid Summit, held on 29-30 June 2022, the western defence alliance made it clear that it would not stand idly by while Russia undermines the peaceful political order in Europe.

In the face of an increasingly fragile and unpredictable world order characterized political instability, strategic competition, and advancing authoritarianism, the Strategic Concept reaffirms “that NATO’s key purpose is to ensure our collective defence, based on a 360-degree approach.”


In plain terms, this means that from now on the western alliance will focus on three core tasks: deterrence and defence; crisis prevention and management; and cooperative security. The western alliance also expressly acknowledges the commitment made in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, in which the mutual willingness of the 30 NATO member states to defend one another is enshrined: an attack against one state shall be considered an attack against them all.

The Strategic Concept begins with a clear analysis of the global threats facing NATO member states and notes with concern that peace in the Euro-Atlantic area has been shattered. There is a great deal of uncertainty concerning the political and strategic world order. The concept states: “We cannot discount the possibility of an attack against Allies’ sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Unlike before, the Russian Federation is no longer considered a partner, but “the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security.”

International terrorism and conflict and instability in Africa and the Middle East are also classed as a threat and a challenge. The same is true of China, which in NATO’s view is deliberately remaining opaque about its strategy, intentions, and military build-up.

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was founded in 1949. It has been headquarted in Brussels since 1967. There are currently 30 states in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and Finland and Sweden are candidates for membership.

At the core of the new Strategic Concept are three traditional core tasks that aim to strengthen the entire western alliance and ensure it remains fit for the future:

Deterrence and defence. NATO’s deterrence and defence posture is based on a mix of nuclear, conventional, and missile defence capabilities, complemented by space and cyber capabilities. This posture is to be significantly strengthened to deny any potential adversary possible opportunities for aggression. Great importance is also assigned to maritime security, digital transformation, and the use of space and cyberspace.

Crisis prevention and management. The 30 heads of state or fovernment of the Atlantic Alliance have also pledged to increase their current efforts to better anticipate and prevent crises, wars, and conflicts. Crisis prevention is described as an important contribution to ensuring stability and security. Crisis management is also to be ramped up through closer cooperation with organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, and the African Union.

Cooperative security. Because of this third core task, the Strategic Concept reaffirms an “Open Door policy” for all European democracies that share the values of the western alliance. The EU is described as a “unique and essential partner” for NATO. NATO and the EU play complementary and mutually reinforcing roles in supporting peace and security.


Taken as a whole, the new Strategic Concept can be regarded as a course-setting interpretive document for security and defence policy in which NATO has set out its approach to counter future threats. With the political leadership in Moscow having lost trust and credibility in the eyes of the world as a result of the invasion of Ukraine, it is unavoidable that NATO and the EU will have to radically rethink their previous policies toward Russia, refocus and change course. It is not yet possible at this point to provide a reliable prognosis of what political changes and military power balances this will lead to for Europe in the long term.

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