Policy Paper

Next Steps in NATO Deterrence and Resilience

June 11, 2021
Steven Keil
Heinrich Brauss
Elisabeth Braw
4 min read


NATO’s summit this month marks a new phase of the alliance’s year-and-a-half long quest on how it will adapt to the challenges of the next decade and beyond. Secre­tary-General Jens Stoltenberg will unveil his proposals from the NATO 2030 initiative, which aims to make the alliance “even stronger. Strong militarily. Stronger politically. And more global.”[1]

This will be the first holistic rethink of alliance strategy in over a decade.

In principle, the Brussels summit will prove to be a pivotal milestone in the NATO’s evolution. But this is only the beginning of a process that will enable NATO to face current and future security challenges. Summit and post-summit deliberations will confront many of the serious issues of political cohesion expe­rienced over recent years, which ultimately instigated the NATO 2030 process at the 2019 London leaders meeting.

Today, many of these challenges remain. There are significant differences among allies on issues like threat prioritization and the balance between dialogue and deterrence vis-à-vis Russia. While defense spending has improved, adequate burden sharing is still lacking and discussions on how best to incentivize better prac­tices or what those targets may indeed be are politi­cally charged. There are also growing concerns about the democratic trajectory of certain NATO members. The chief difference in alliance dynamics since the start of the NATO 2030 effort is the new U.S. admin­istration, which more naturally gravitates to multilat­eral approaches and has a long history in engaging and supporting Euro-Atlantic institutions.

The NATO 2030 effort and strategic concept review cannot paper over political problems, but they also must avoid fixating on these. NATO must adapt to larger strategic shifts and their consequences—namely the rise of China and its implications for U.S. engage­ment in and around Europe. This has consequences for how NATO counters Russia’s threat to European security, the continued challenge of terrorism, the new challenges posed by emerging technologies and climate change, and strategic stability. As Stoltenberg has reiterated, enhancing consultations will be critical to NATO’s adaptation in the new era. More frequent consultations may result in more public disagree­ments. But they are critical for allies to create the space to consider the deficiencies and opportunities of its approach in a new geopolitical era.

In this spirit, the two parts of this paper seek to contribute to the discussion on NATO deterrence and key issues surrounding resilience, offering action­able recommendations for the allies to consider. The first, authored by Heinrich Brauß, takes a broad look at NATO’s deterrence posture and the Enhanced Forward Presence effort. First outlining the strategic shifts in the geopolitical environment, Brauß then turns to how the alliance can augment and enhance its deterrence efforts from the Baltic to the Black Sea. He lays out ten specific recommendations as NATO considers how best to adapt its deterrence posture.

The second contribution, authored by Elisabeth Braw, takes a deeper dive on resilience issues and the specific need to examine the nexus of supply chains, Euro-Atlantic security, and private-public partnerships. While supply-chain management is the responsibility of member states or institutions like the EU, developments like the coronavirus pandemic and various cyberat­tacks have revealed the vulnerability of NATO and its militaries. Braw draws out these challenges and offers suggestions on how to connect national security policy and important industries across societies, to including briefings and potential joint military-industry exercises. She argues that NATO can play a vital coordinating role in enhancing gray-zone activities interacting with crit­ical supply chains and the private sector.

Launching the NATO 2030 effort, Stoltenberg remarked that “the best way to prevent a conflict, is to remove any room for doubt, any room for miscal­culation about NATO’s readiness, willingness to protect all Allies. Defense and Deterrence is central.”[2] He also underscored that resilience is key and “that resilience—be it infrastructure, telecommunica­tions, 5G or healthcare, access to protective equip­ment—all of that matters for the civilian society, but it actually also matters for NATO as a military alliance and our military capabilities.”[3] The ideas put forth here offer an important and timely contribu­tion to the current strategic dialogue facing NATO, and the transformation it will undergo following the Brussels summit.

Photo credit: Maxx-Studio / Shutterstock.com 

[1] NATO, Remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on launching #NATO 2030 – Strengthening the Alliance in an increasingly competitive world, June 8, 2020

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.