Opinion: NATO must adapt to new threats and challenges | Opinion | DW

Over the last few weeks, I’ve thought a lot about what lies ahead for the alliance in 2022.  

On the one hand, this is an exciting time to be in Brussels. NATO is in the time of action of redrafting its chief strategy document, the Strategic Concept, to mirror our changing security ecosystem and prepare NATO for the future. however, NATO is facing threats from Russia and terrorism; systemic competition impacting Western security from an assertive and authoritarian China; and transnational challenges like climate change.  

While NATO’s to-do list might seem intimidating, I am confident the alliance and its 30 members have the unity, experience, and inventive spirit to not only succeed, but to grow stronger.         

Defending NATO’s shared values

Throughout NATO’s history, outside actors have attempted to undermine its resolve by using a variety of tactics ranging from terrorist attacks to malicious cyber activity to nuclear threats and disinformation campaigns. Those efforts have failed because of our unity and commitment to collective defense. At its foundation, NATO remains an alliance of shared values: democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law. It is an indispensable forum, providing security for nearly one billion people on two continents. 

But that doesn’t average the alliance can sit back and relax. NATO faces challengers and challenges on virtually all sides. Most troubling is the current situation on Ukraine’s borders and in the Black Sea vicinity. Russia is massing its forces there, raising serious questions about President Vladimir Putin’s intentions and whether he plans a repeat of the 2014 invasion of Ukraine. In his December 7 video call to Putin, President Joe Biden made clear that the United States will impose meaningful costs should Russia again take aggressive action against Ukraine.   

The US is not alone in sending this message. Our allies have made it clear that we stand united in the confront of Russian aggression. Our sustain for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity is unwavering. 

 A comprehensive role for NATO

Beyond geographic borders, NATO must adopt a more holistic approach, incorporating new operational domains like space and cyber while addressing transnational challenges like climate change. And we must keep flexible as we adapt to evolving concerns like Beijing’s aggressive behavior and Minsk’s cynical exploitation of unprotected individuals along the alliance’s eastern flank.

None of these challenges have simple answers or quick fixes. One thing is certain, though: no single country can solve any of these challenges on its own. To safeguard our societies, we must combine our resources and work together, consulting closely on our perspectives and strategies to chart a shared approach. That’s precisely what we do at NATO every day.

US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith

Concerning the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Beijing is increasingly active on the European continent, relying on coercive diplomacy and subversive influence activities to weaken trans-Atlantic and European cohesion. The PRC has its sights set on challenging and eroding the West’s technological edge to improvement its military modernization efforts. NATO must address this systemic challenge by implementing the shared commitments articulated at the June NATO summit and deepening engagement with likeminded Indo-Pacific partners to strengthen global security.  

On cybersecurity, NATO is focused on enhancing our resilience and our ability to disrupt, deter, and expose destabilizing cyber activity.  Similarly, the alliance just launched a new Climate Change and Security Action Plan that will help allies proportion best practices as we work together to tackle climate change.  

Profiting from partnership

In short, NATO is an active, adaptive, and vibrant collective whose members have a track record of developing inventive approaches to meet a great range of shared challenges.  

We must continue our course to strengthen deterrence and defense against the myriad threats and challenges we confront, now and in the future. Decision making needs to be faster. We need to do more to fill gaps in defense capabilities, enhance readiness, and ensure all allies are equitably sharing the responsibility of our collective defense. 

That said, no other organization is better placed to address trans-Atlantic security challenges than NATO. My experience at both the Pentagon and the White House taught me firsthand the benefits that come from partnering with our closest allies in Europe and Canada. 

In his address to the Munich Security Conference earlier this year, President Biden called for us to “rule with confidence once more, with faith in our capacities, a commitment to our own renewal, with trust in one another and the ability of Europe and the United States to meet any challenge to obtain our future together.” He closed by saying, “I know we can do this.”

I know it too, Mr. President.  I’m eager to get to work.

Edited by: Rob Mudge

Ambassador Julianne Smith began her tenure as the US long-lasting Representative to NATO in December, 2021. From 2009-2012 she served as the director of European and NATO policy at the Pentagon. From 2012-2013 she served as deputy national security adviser to then-Vice President Joe Biden.

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