Next summer NATO will hold another summit, gathering heads of state and government from all 29 member countries. Summits focus our efforts and provide guidance and direction for the alliance, and this summit takes place at a crucial time.
NATO faces a deteriorating security environment that is both dynamic and complex. Threats present themselves across domains, concurrently and from different geographical directions. Global and regional instability has led to a common understanding among allies that the need for NATO is as great as ever. However, to ensure that the alliance is capable of dealing with these threats in an effective way, the alliance needs to adapt. This will be a main theme at the next summit.
Transformation is underway. At the summit in Wales in 2014, the member states agreed that NATO must improve its ability to provide collective defense and deterrence. This was necessary after a decade where the alliance had focused on out-of-area crisis response operations. Furthermore, Russia’s blatant disregard for international law in its illegal annexation of Crimea and military operations in eastern Ukraine reminded us that state-on-state conflict in Europe no longer is a remote possibility. NATO has embarked upon an ambitious and comprehensive reform agenda.
NATO’s contingency plans have been updated. We have established more capable readiness forces, and we are stepping up our efforts to fight the threat from violent extremists and terrorism. Furthermore, the alliance has established a troop presence in the Baltic states and Poland. This deters aggression and reassures our allies. Exercises and training is a way to demonstrate alliance resolve and to ensure interoperability among forces. NATO is now training and exercising more, in larger formations and with more realistic, high-end scenarios. The alliance is increasingly becoming a hub for allied exercises. My government will host the next large-scale Article 5 exercise in Norway next year. This sends a powerful signal.
As a result of these and other measures, the alliance today is more effective, relevant and strong.
However, our work is not done. We must continue to reform. I want to highlight three important areas that require our focus in the lead-up to the summit.
Firstly, the current command structure is not fit for purpose. It was conceived during a time when out-of-area crisis management operations were the prime operational focus. Now that collective defense and deterrence again are top priorities, we must make changes to the command structure. The NATO defense ministers decided in November to establish two new joint commands. One will have a particular responsibility for the maritime domain and the sea lines of communication across the Atlantic. The other will focus on logistics, movement and mobility. These issues may seem mundane. However, the command structure is a key instrument in generating and fielding the alliance’s collective fighting power. NATO’s legitimacy and credibility depends upon a robust and relevant command structure. This will be an important and very concrete deliverable for the next summit.
Secondly, NATO needs to pay more attention to the maritime domain. Maritime areas will be increasingly contested in the future, and NATO must be prepared to uphold the rule of law and safeguard our interests at sea. The alliance needs to improve its competence and ability to operate in high-intensity maritime environments. That includes the ability to operate our forces in areas where potential adversaries may try to deny entry or freedom of movement. NATO must strengthen our maritime profile. This will be a key point for discussion leading up to the next summit.
Thirdly, NATO must review and adapt our decision-making processes. The complex threats and challenges that we face have one thing in common: Threats and attacks will emerge and occur with little to no warning time. That means that decisions must be made swiftly. That is a challenge for a consensus-based organization such as NATO, with 29 member states. However, we must address this. We risk being at an asymmetric decision-making disadvantage vis-à-vis potential adversaries that are able to take quicker and more effective strategic decisions. This could significantly undermine our collective security.
At the summit, there will be a frank and honest discussion on burden-sharing. The U.S. administration has rightly pointed out that the United States shoulders a disproportionately large share of the financial burden for our common defense. This situation is not tenable. In order to ensure the long-term viability of NATO, all nations must stand by our commitments to make the necessary investments in our defenses.
The upcoming summit is an opportunity to step back and contemplate the true value of NATO. The alliance is a unique construct. No other organization has a standing joint command structure, available high-end military forces and a standing decision-making apparatus. NATO is a political as well as a military organization. And it is an alliance that is founded upon a common set of values. These are the values that bind us together as liberal, democratic nations. Now more than ever, NATO must hold true to and safeguard these values.
The U.S. has on numerous occasions made it clear that it stands by its commitments to its NATO allies. This is also demonstrated through action. U.S. investments in European security through the European Deterrence Initiative is a clear example.
In an increasingly uncertain world, the value of stable and strong alliance relationships increases. The transatlantic security relationship — as manifested through the NATO alliance — is an unmatched and powerful force for stability and security. At its core, this is NATO’s historical mission: ensuring peace, freedom, stability and prosperity for our people. NATO has been successful in this endeavor because we have been able to adapt. NATO needs to continue to adapt, as it has since its inception in 1949. This is the enduring task of the heads of state and government that will convene in Brussels next summer.
Frank Bakke-Jensen is Norway’s minister of defense. He is charged with creating and executing the country’s security and defense policy.