Purpose and core message: The purpose of the meeting was to prepare a TAG position paper for the NATO Reflection Group (NRG). By 2030 NATO must develop a strong European pillar with a European first responder, high-end future force (EFF) at its core able to deter and defend against threats, support Allies, and convince the US to remain engaged in the defence of Europe.
Three challenges: The state of NATO’s defences are more difficult than many realise; greater trust between the Allies will be needed before a new NATO Strategic Concept can be drafted; the focus should be on the full implementation of decisions taken at Warsaw 2016, Brussels 2018 and London 2019. The meeting focused on the balance to be struck between maintaining Alliance political cohesion and ensuring a credible NATO defence and deterrence posture in a post-COVID 19 world in which Europe’s security environment deteriorates rapidly. Refusal of Allies to face “acknowledged threats” would be dangerous, particularly the growing clash of values with authoritarian states and the strategic consequences of the Sino-Russian strategic alignment.
The meeting: The NRG must answer three specific questions. How can NATO and EU complementarity be improved? What is NATO’s role in dealing with China? How can Europeans play a stronger role in their own defence and thus shift burdens within the Alliance? It will also need to make a strong statement about who are NATO’s friends and adversaries. Transatlantic burdens must be “shifted”, but the wider value of the transatlantic relationship must also be re-stated, particularly in the US, including the geo-economic.
Making the political case for a stronger NATO is vital. European leaders and peoples need to be ‘educated’ about the vital and continuing role of military power. Leadership from NATO’s “big capitals” is crucial. Without a new strategic ‘contract’ between the US and Germany any progress will be difficult. No significant action can be taken prior to the November 2020 US presidential elections.
Critically, NATO must deter the full range of threats based on a realistic and “coherent concept of defence and deterrence”. There have been “huge achievements” in modernising NATO’s conventional deterrent, particularly IAMD. “Huge gaps” are now also understood. Greater progress is needed towards better military mobility, although that will require agreement over civil capability targets which has proven elusive. The furore over US plans to withdraw 28% of its force from Europe has “hammered the final nail into the coffin” of the Defence Investment Pledge of 2%/20% by 2024. A new approach to defence investment is needed.
Given the stakes the NRG must aspire to be a worthy successor to the December 1967 Harmel Report which established a ‘dual track’ approach: peace through strength, and effective conflict management through dialogue. Time is pressing. The COVID-19 crisis reveals an Alliance at a strategic tipping point. If Allies are unable to act together then NATO could well cease to be a defence alliance and become little more than an agency for military standardisation.
Next Steps: The TAG NATO 2030 Food for Thought paper will be adapted in light of the meeting and form the basis for a TAG submission to the NRG. The draft final paper will be submitted to the TAG for final approval.