The first two decades of the new millennium have proven the spectrum of security challenges in front of us is unlikely to narrow. Quite the opposite, on top of the “usual” and relatively well-recognized ones, we are being confronted with an array of new threats, which we need to understand better.
Rapid development of emerging technologies, pandemics, deepening scarcity of key natural resources, acceleration of demographic processes, climate change and so on are some of the threats that — just like traditional ones — cannot be tackled single-handedly. Not only do they require a concerted international effort but also a whole-of-government approach, with the military component playing an increasingly active and important role.
Addressing the high dynamics of the global and regional situation will not be effective unless we continuously adapt. Our laws, institutions and mindsets must adapt. Our military must adapt. NATO must adapt.
We welcome the alliance’s ongoing adaptation along three key aspects: responsiveness, readiness and reinforcement. It is essential that we build on the progress achieved and fully implement the existing strategic initiatives and concepts, such as the Concept of Deterrence and Defense of Euro-Atlantic Area; the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept; the NATO Readiness Initiative; and the adapted NATO Response Force.
Similarly, we are pleased with the vigorous brainstorming of the next NATO Strategic Concept. A new, forward-looking document, which will be adopted during the 2022 NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, must leave no doubt the alliance remains strong and efficient as well as ready to address the whole spectrum of challenges — in particular, to conduct the most important mission of collective defense.
The need to bolster the current three core tasks is unquestionable. Having been considered by some as obsolete and no longer relevant, collective defense has rightly regained its significance as a core task of the alliance. Crisis management and cooperative security prove their value daily while dealing with transnational threats or instability in NATO’s neighborhood.
But we need to look beyond. We have already strengthened our toolbox regarding traditional military threats, but we should continue to make it even better. On the threshold of the third decade of the 21st century, NATO must go back to its roots and rebuild its capabilities for collective defense. Simultaneously, it needs to manage emerging, nonmilitary challenges that will have a tremendous impact on our security and readiness and may be detrimental to the core missions of the alliance.
The compounding effects of mass migration and other challenges will continue to increase the reliance of national governments, international organizations and communities on the military. Supporting first responders in natural disaster relief efforts, taking an active role in countering the spread of infectious diseases, and deploying to emerging zones of instability or conflict are just a few examples.
The military will also play an increasing role in border control and migration management. That’s already taking place as part of our response to the hybrid operation orchestrated on the eastern NATO and European Union borders. Our soldiers provide vast support to the Border Guard in sealing the Polish-Belarusian border, thereby protecting our country and other NATO and EU members from destabilization. Similarly, the military will be more frequently used to mitigate energy supply issues and mounting supply chain backlogs.
The inevitable questions arise: Is our military ready to embrace the challenge? How do we strike a balance between the core tasks and an increased engagement in support of civilian authority? How do we prioritize resources and capabilities while adjusting training without decreasing readiness, agility and lethality?
Work on the new Strategic Concept, core tasks of the alliance, its ability and determination to deter and defend, and our ongoing adaptation continue to form the crux of the debate.
There cannot be any shortcuts here. Nevertheless, emerging, nonmilitary threats to Euro-Atlantic security have justly gained great importance in our discussions.
All these efforts may be, however, not good enough if we don’t bolster NATO’s political and defensive cohesion as well as the trans-Atlantic bond. It is also essential we look at ways to meaningfully strengthen defense cooperation with the European Union as well as ensure synergy of efforts between NATO and the EU.
Poland, for its part, takes all these issues extremely seriously, while striving to contribute better to the overall capabilities of both NATO and the European Union.
This is why we embarked on an ambitious plan to streamline the Polish military, starting with regulations. We drafted a new law that will combine and update the existing laws and regulations, allowing for the introduction of a common defense concept; the increase of troops; simplification of the military service system; rebuilding of the reserves; and an improvement to the quality and efficiency of training. This new law could possibly come into force next year, marking a new era for the Polish Armed Forces.
I am fully convinced we will come up with a new, visionary Strategic Concept that will chart a course for a stronger and better alliance in the 21st century.
Mariusz Błaszczak is Poland’s minister of national defense.