NATO’s Dilemma

Soldier with NATO Flag. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Flag in Hands of the Trooper. NATO Operation Concept Photo.
Soldier with NATO Flag. North Atlantic Treaty Organization Flag in Hands of the Trooper. NATO Operation Concept Photo.

In this article, Mike Phillips details the current organisation of NATO, its recent evolution to adapt to emerging challenges, and its current dilemma. He reviews a book “Future War and the Defence of Europe” published a year ago that predicted the events unfolding in Ukraine today. For three years from December 1992 Mike was the Maritime and Greek Airfields Infrastructure Officer in NATO Allied Forces Southern Region, Naples, Italy during the Bosnian War.

What is NATO?

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is a military alliance created in 1949 to provide collective security against Soviet expansionism and to encourage European political integration in the aftermath of World War II. It serves as a collective security system, wherein its member states agree to mutually defend any attack on a member party — a pledge enshrined in the treaty’s most famous tenet, Article 5. There are 14 Articles. The recent meetings of NATO were triggered by 8 NATO Eastern European countries invoking Article 4 that states “The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.” Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine was the cause.

NATO’s Military Organisation

The key elements of NATO’s military organisation are the Military Committee, composed of the Chiefs of Defence of NATO member countries, its executive body – the International Military Staff – and the military Command Structure (distinct from the Force Structure).

The NATO Command Structure is composed of Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation, headed respectively by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and the Supreme Allied Commander, Transformation (SACT).

The Force Structure consists of organisational arrangements that bring together the forces placed at the Alliance’s disposal by the member countries, along with their associated command and control structures. These forces are available for NATO operations in accordance with predetermined readiness criteria and with rules of deployment and transfer of authority to NATO command that can vary from country to country.

Nato Command Structure

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Responding to Emerging Challenges

In 2014 the allies decided to reinforce the NATO Response Force (NRF) which is a highly ready and technologically advanced multinational force made up of land, air, maritime and Special Operations Forces (SOF) components that the Alliance can deploy quickly, wherever needed.

Today, NATO faces the greatest security challenges in a generation—including terrorism, cyber and hybrid threats and a more assertive Russia. During the Warsaw Summit in 2016, NATO Allies agreed to review the Command Structure, so that it continues to meet the challenges of a complex and evolving security environment.

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In 2017, NATO Defence Ministers agreed on an outline for future work to adapt the Command Structure. Key elements include:

  • A new Command for the Atlantic to ensure that sea lines of communication between Europe and North America remain free and secure
  • A new Command to improve the movement of troops and equipment within Europe
  • Reinforcing logistics elements across the NCS in Europe
  • A new cyber operations centre to strengthen cyber defences and integrate cyber capabilities into NATO planning and operations of authority to NATO command that can vary from country to country.

Limitations to National Resources

In recent years it has become clear that both US and NATO resources are limited to cope with emerging challenges of China and North Korea in the Far East as well as the Russian threat. The US has persuaded its European allies to fulfil their remit to commit 3% of GDP to NATO forces. President Macron of France responded that the EU should be taking greater responsibility for threats in its own “backyard” to allow the US to focus on the Far East.
Unfortunately, post-Brexit UK recently sent one of its two new aircraft carriers to the Far East to emphasise its “new global role” and has taken no part in the EU’s Conference on the Future of Europe’s security and defence issues. Russia’s massive invasion of Ukraine is a wake-up call that all democratic nations of Europe must now develop a coherent and comprehensive strategy to defend ourselves against this threat to our way of life.

Future War and the Defence of Europe

That is the title of a book, published in June 2021, co-authored by General John Allen (previous Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan), Lt General Ben Hodges (previous Commander US Army in Europe) and Professor Julian Lindley-French who served on the UK Chief of Defence Staff’s Strategic Advisory Group.

It starts with a futuristic concept in 2029 when the world is hit with another pandemic. Covid 29, when Europe’s overstretched and underfunded Armed Forces have faced reduced budgets to re-build their health and social care systems. Strangely, Russian and Chinese forces are less affected by the new pandemic. You must read the book to find out why! In 2030 the US is drawn into potential conflict with China over its strategic aim to impose its power over the South China Sea. Russia has also commenced a campaign of information warfare to prepare for military action in Eastern Europe. To make things worse, the Middle East and North Africa are a powder keg waiting to blow. The world is staring down many barrels of hyper war. I won’t be a spoiler and say anymore.

Except to say the book then lays out in forensic detail the scale of the challenge Europeans and their allies face if Europe’s peace is to be upheld. It analyses the basic assumptions about how Europe’s defence is currently organised and the future needs of a fast-changing transatlantic relationship. Including the effect on NATO, the EU and all European nation-states. The book builds a radical vision of a technology-enabling future European defence, built around a new kind of Atlantic Alliance, an innovative strategic public-private partnership, and a future hyper-electronic European force, E-Force, it must spawn. Europeans should be under no illusion: unless they do far more for their own defence, and very differently, all that they now take for granted could be lost in the maze of hybrid war, cyber war, and hyper war they must face.

The book is available from Amazon UK and Amazon Spain (in English) in hardback and Kindle versions. Details are

ISBN: 9780198855835 ISBN-10: 0198855834 Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA

NATO’s Dilemma can wait no longer

War does not wait for sanctions to bite. People die on Day 1. Refugees flee from Day 2. Force must be met by credible threat of force. Sanctions alone did not deter Putin from invading Ukraine. He will not stop there. Moldova will be next. And where then? The West has let Putin get away with too many atrocities, including murder on British soil. Only a direct threat of military action will stop him.
NATO (with EU support) has the ability to use the NATO Response Force to establish a no-fly zone over Moldova and Western Ukraine to create safe corridors for refugees to escape atrocities that may befall. The US and NATO fear that this could risk escalation to World War 3 and have, so far, made it clear this will not happen. Under Article 4 NATO could counter any threat to Moldova by reinforcement of its forces in the region.

Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe and has an Association Agreement with the EU. The EU is their largest trading partner and 15% of the Moldovan population have Romanian (EU) passports. As announced, the EU will support those countries that have opened their arms to over a million Ukrainian refugees since the Russian invasion. Civilian targets are now being widely attacked and there is a threat that weapons banned by the Geneva Convention may be used. Unfortunately, the West has ignored the warnings of the last 8 years, including those in the book I refer to. We now face a dilemma on how best to counter the challenges of autocratic leaders’ ambitions by a more robust policy and organisation for the security of Europe. I will cover this in a further review of the book.