At the end of its annual summit in Madrid in late June, NATO adopted a new strategic concept. The guidance document is the eighth of its kind since the founding of the alliance in 1949. It radically breaks with the three previous post-Cold War security briefs, however, which observed that “the Euro-Atlantic area is at peace” because “the threat of a conventional attack against NATO territory is low.” In the eyes of NATO, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed that calculus, claiming that the military organization can no longer discount the possibility of an assault on sovereign NATO states. Continuing the same cryptic language, the new strategic concept concludes that the Euro-Atlantic area now is “not at peace,” in spite of no NATO member being in a state of war with Russia.
Behind this word play, a more dangerous policy change has been codified in the document. Since the adoption of the Harmel Report in 1967, NATO has always officially included diplomacy in one form or another (with political dialogue and strategic partnership being interchangeable labels) as one of its “core” or “fundamental” tasks. The “NATO 2030” report from November 2020, for instance, unequivocally stated that “NATO should continue the dual-track approach of deterrence and dialogue with Russia.”
In the new strategic concept, the core tasks have been purged of the need for diplomacy, except for one or two throw-away lines about “meaningful and reciprocal political dialogue” about arms control issues buried in the middle of the text. Rather, in addition to its original function of deterrence and defense, NATO now fully embraces “crisis prevention and management,” which it has spearheaded since the 1990s with its legally dubious and morally questionable interventions in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya; and “cooperative security,” referring to NATO’s enlargement in Eastern Europe and its Partnership for Peace cooperation with countries in ever further-away regions, including the Black Sea, the Middle East, North Africa, and even the Indo-Pacific, which the British have been pushing to include in a “global NATO.”
Russia was the first country to sign up for the Partnership for Peace program back in 1994. The new NATO doctrine, however, states that Russia can no longer be considered a partner “in light of its hostile policies and actions.” The strategic concept ignores the fact that NATO’s enlargement and new core tasks, which the alliance adopted after the Cold War in an effort to justify its continued existence, have likewise long been seen as hostile in Moscow, nor does it offer any reflection on how the new policies might have contributed to the current unpeaceful “strategic environment.” Instead, it hails the “historic success” of NATO’s expansion in terms of space and substance and insists that the alliance “does not seek confrontation and poses no threat to the Russian federation.”