NATO: The New Strategic Doctrine and Ballistic Missiles

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was primarily founded for cross-border defense in the aftermath of World War II.  Founded by the Western Allies on April 4, 1949, it sought to prevent the traditional form of military aggression embodied by the German invasion of Poland.  Considering that purpose, many NATO leaders are reconsidering NATO’s function in a world in which terrorism and weapons of mass destruction are the globe’s key ills.  NATO leaders are putting forth a “New Strategic Doctrine” which seeks to update the organization for the twenty first century.   The new doctrine will recognize NATO’s classic role of collective defense, but will also acknowledge that the globe’s true problems relate to terrorism, missile attacks, disruption of trade and supply lines, and of course cyber attacks.

Emblematic of the New Strategic Doctrine is the controversial Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) plan being considered by NATO.  Designed to prevent a potential Iranian attack, the $300 million dollar system would place radars and interceptor missiles across Europe.  Opponents argue that the missile defense system counters many of NATO’s original purposes.  For example, Germany believes it may distract form the goal of achieving a non-nuclear Europe as Russia could seek to increase its nuclear arsenal in response.  In a sense, it could provoke a cold war type conflict.  In addition, some argue it is too costly, and will distract NATO from its traditional ability to defend less powerful nations such as Poland.  Considering the present recession, Poland and the Baltic states will likely need significant assistance for these plans to see fruition.  Proponents argue that BMD is a logical change considering the Iranian threat.  In addition, the cost is a small price pay.  Finally, some argue the BMD could actually improve relations with the Russians.  Specifically, many argue that NATO could include Russia in its plan leading to increased communication with Moscow.

NATO has also changed by operating outside of the European theater.  However, some question its viability outside Europe.  Specifically, NATO has 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, though two-thirds are American.  Over 600 NATO troops have perished in Afghanistan and it has been involved for nine years.  On the one hand, NATO’s abilities to some appear limited.  Some NATO states appear reluctant to contribute: Canada and the Netherlands are withdrawing their combat troops.   On the other hand, some argue that not fighting in Afghanistan directly conflicts with NATO’s core purpose: collective defense of other NATO states.  The war on terror cannot be combated solely by the United States.  Either way, the certain point is that NATO is changing and its role in the world is being hotly debated.


  1. This is a very informative post on a topic with many interrelated issues. I am interested in focusing on whether cyber attacks are considered Article 5 attacks under the North Atlantic Treaty. The strategic concept document identifies cyber attacks as a main threat, which “can reach a threshold that threatens national and Euro-Atlantic prosperity, security and stability.” That could mean that some cyber threats could lead to collective retaliatory action. But it does not necessarily mean so. Drawing a bright line for what constitutes an Article 5 worthy cyber attack may not even be something NATO should do in accord with the Strategic Concept. There are a few reasons why that might actually lead to discord among members; there may not be a consensus on invoking Article 5 for the particular threat. Further, if factors were specifically drawn out, those who do initiate an attack on a country will already know what to avoid in their attack in order to avoid facing Article 5 consequences. Cyber attacks could become a true danger, and it is important that NATO members are on the same page, but without a bright line outline for what may meet the threshold of an Article 5 attack.

  2. I’m not sure Russia would be such a threat to a non-nuclear Europe. In fact, Russia recently agreed to cooperate with NATO on building a European anti-missile network. Russia could be an ally to NATO and the U.S. in the fight against ballistic missile attacks from Iran. It does not appear that Russia will increase its nuclear arsenal. It only appears that Russia does not want its nuclear arsenal decreased through the program. The real issue would not be Russia’s thirst for nuclear weapons, but instead Russia’s thirst for weak neighboring countries. In 2008, Russia invading neighboring Georgia while it was in discussions with NATO over a program similar to the anti-missile network. After Russia’s invasion, the program was scrapped. If Russia continues to take advantage of weak neighbors, it cannot be said that it is helping to fulfill NATO’s goals. NATO should focus on an alliance with Russia, but continue to monitor Russia closely for imprudent behavior against neighboring states.

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