NATO: An Alternative Strategic Concept

A contribution from the left

Paul Mason
36 min readMay 13, 2022

This is a discussion document aimed at all those who don’t have access to the ongoing NATO Madrid Summit preparations: politicians, civil society groups, activists etc. Its aim is to engage the Summit process from the left, presenting the kind of argument and proposals in line with social-democratic, green, radical left or progressive nationalist principles, in response to the Ukraine crisis and the emergence of systemic competition/conflict. I’ve circulated copies online but this is the definitive version. 13 May 2022

To download a PDF version click here.


As we approach the Madrid Summit, civil society needs to have its say in the formulation of a new NATO Strategic Concept. This report proposes the following major changes.

  • NATO to adopt democratic resilience as its primary task, co-equal with deterrence and defence.
  • NATO to disavow significant out of area operations beyond the immediate periphery.
  • NATO to incorporate the EU, and its goal of strategic autonomy, into the formulation of Western strategy, with EU represented on NATO council.
  • NATO to seek security co-operation with China, while actively deterring the immediate and acute threat from Russia.
  • All three NATO nuclear powers to pledge no first use of nuclear weapons and make “sole purpose” declarations
  • NATO to adopt Austin/Blinken conflict goals with regard to Russia/Ukraine.
  • Human security, climate change mitigation and democratic resilience to be adopted as non-negotiable objectives.
  • Enlarged conventional forces deployed in three sub-theatres (Nordic, eFP, Black Sea) with clear signalling and deterrent intent.
  • Allied defence spending to rise to 3% GDP by 2025, with standardised forms of measurement, state directed investment and wider use of reserve/territorial forces.
  • NATO to adopt goal of achieving global dominance in EDTs and EDT countermeasures.
  • NATO countries to collaborate in adapting to the current Revolution in Military Affairs

The express purpose of these proposals is to address the major weakness of the alliance: the erosion of democracy, social cohesion and rule of law within our own societies — and the erosion of consent for military action.

To mobilise the populations of Allied countries in an era of systemic competition, NATO strategy must be primarily defensive, and focused on threats to the Euro-Atlantic area.


Soviet policy in the 1930s, wrote the historian Mark Harrison, “prepared continually for war. At the same time, this was not preparation for any particular war, forecast or planned for any specific time and place, but insurance against the possibility of war in general.” (Barber and Harrison, p16)

Surveying the text of the NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept, we can make the same retrospective judgement. Its authors could not see even the beginnings of the threat we now face. “Today,” began their survey of the security environment, “the Euro-Atlantic area is at peace and the threat of a conventional attack against NATO territory is low” (NATO, 2010, p10).

As a result, they designed NATO as an insurance policy against war in general. Global south instability, cyberwarfare and terrorism were the biggest blips on the threat radar. Out-of-area crisis management remained the core obsession. The current revolution in military technology was barely anticipated: lasers, electronic warfare and access to space were referenced. Artificial intelligence, robotics and hypersonic missiles were not.

Today, NATO faces a real war on its doorstep, with existential consequences. Russia has invaded Ukraine. It has demanded the rollback of 30 years of democratization and collective security in Eastern Europe. It has declared NATO its adversary. It is mounting hybrid offensives inside our civil societies.

Meanwhile key out-of-area interventions — in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan — have tangibly failed, leaving large parts of the electorate in NATO’s core countries disillusioned and even hostile to crisis management operations.

China has emerged as a systemic competitor to the USA on a global scale, causing some to argue that Washington should deprioritize the defence of Europe, or load the main burden onto European states.

And some NATO countries are clearly failing to live up to the democratic and rule-of-law aspirations of the North Atlantic Treaty — including Turkey, Hungary, Poland and, most dangerously, the USA itself, which has failed to bring to justice the politicians responsible for inciting the attempted 6 January coup.

In response to the changed situation, the 2010 Strategic Concept will not only have to be replaced at Madrid, but the whole purpose of the NATO reworked.

However, even the official milestones to Madrid — the NATO Reflection Group report, the Brussels 2021 declaration and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s contribution, written just prior to the Ukraine war — have failed to capture the scale of the transformation needed.


What NATO needs is not a concept but a strategy. That strategy needs to be publicly agreed between politicians, debated by parliaments and civil society, and implemented — as always — in classified Military Committee Guidance, and through more efficient and transparent NATO structures.

At one level, the emergence of a clear, conventional threat demands a return to the Cold War-style formation of strategy: assess the threat, decide the priorities, design and deploy the forces, procure the capabilities, frame the command structure and set a readiness posture. The proximity and severity of the threat demands a clear break with the practice of producing consensual, anodyne, principles-based documents, which mask strategic tensions instead of resolving them.

But at the political level we cannot go back to the Cold War routine. The USA threatened to walk away from the Alliance as late as 2018. Its own democracy remains fragile — and any strategy document based on a realistic risk assessment must include contingencies for the emergence of an isolationist/authoritarian Presidency after 2024.

Meanwhile, in practical terms, it is the USA that has set the pace of Western response to Russian aggression and, from late April 2022 onwards, specified a clear war aim. NATO, by contrast does not have the structures or authority to originate grand strategy, and one of the ambitions of Madrid should be to resolve this problem.

The challenge at Madrid is to produce consensus over Western geopolitical strategy and turn this into a diplomatic, military, intelligence and procurement mandate, incorporating commitments to human security, decarbonization, democracy and the rule of law as non-optional components. Doing that requires political leadership of a kind that was not needed during the first Cold War.

Until 1989, the portion of NATO’s Eastern flank bordering its direct adversaries consisted only of Germany, Greece and Turkey. In each of these countries there was a distinct “Cold War” political settlement, with a political establishment compliant with US wishes and a deep state dedicated to containing those who were not. Put bluntly, the USA could easily square the governments of these three front line countries with the demands of forward defence.

In 2022, by contrast, with the accession of Finland and Sweden, NATO’s land flank alone will stretch continuously from the Arctic Circle to the Black Sea, placing eight former Warsaw Pact states, with highly diverse political and military “styles”, on the front line, alongside Turkey where democracy is seriously attenuated, and Finland which may be reluctant to host foreign troops and nuclear weapons.

The militarization of the Arctic turns Canada into a frontline country. In addition, a key structural partner — the European Union — has expressed its desire for strategic autonomy, in part driven by fears over the durability of the US commitment to NATO.

So the Strategic Concept 2022 has to be a diplomatic agreement on geostrategic goals first; a force generation, doctrine and deployment plan second. And it must be infused throughout with the founding democratic, universalist and legal principles of the Alliance.

In the process of making it, NATO’s leaders have to address honestly the question: how did we get from 2010 to here? How did we get from blithe assumptions about the permanence of peace, to Western troops scrambling to escape the collapsing order in Kabul, and the sudden eruption of military aggression from Russia, with all traditional deterrent measures failing?

Almost nothing within the official process asks that question. The author has no access to the internal documents, but of the public ones only the NATO-PA report explicitly queries the conduct of the Afghan mission, and the former obsession with out-of-area operations.

As a result, the Madrid Summit stands at risk of showing that, while NATO may be an adaptive organization, it is not alearning one. It may change tack abruptly, but never explain to itself, or its component electorates, why.


As to the various “shadow” contributions that have achieved reference status in the run-up to Madrid, they contain useful insights, but pull in different directions and are out of date:

The Reflection Group report (TRG), completed in November 2020 identifies, albeit in euphemistic language, the major problem: that democratic resilience within NATO is threatened by the emergence of numerous anti-democratic actors (implicitly Hungary, Turkey). As a result, though it stands in need of exerting quasi-sovereignty over its members — in terms of contribution, interoperability, collaborative R&D in emerging technologies — the risk is that the Alliance shatters under the strain of systemic conflict with Russia and systemic competition with China.

The Alphen Group report (TAG) leans towards solving this problem by mandating the European and Canadian allies to achieve tough resource goals — e.g. contributing 50% of all combat power by 2030 — which it labels “strategic responsibilities”. The TAG report’s clear agenda is to allow the USA to face towards China as a priority, leaving NATO’s centre of gravity in Europe, with consequent need to upgrade of Europe’s military capabilities and spending. This “China hawk” agenda, though on the back burner because of Ukraine, remains strong within American security thinking.

The Elcano Institut Real (EIR) “One Plus Four” report, mandates NATO to focus on one overarching goal — building alliance cohesion — and add democratic resilience to its present three core tasks (deterrence, crisis management and co-operation). Published in December 2021, it is the most recent shadow contribution and summarizes NATO’s diplomatic challenges as (1) Democratic resilience (2) China (3) European strategic autonomy (4) Learning the lessons of Afghanistan, (5) the future of arms control, including emerging disruptive tech (EDT).

Two of these reports push for the centrality of democratic resilience — both as a practical countermeasure to Russian hybrid warfare and as a means of solidifying support for deterrence among the Allied populations.

All three reports mention human security and climate change, though without much in the way of concrete proposals.

But all of the public contributions so far fail accurately to express the actual decision that lies before NATO, which is: where to fight, where not to fight, how to formulate strategy between fractious allies, how prevent the erosion of the democratic principles we are supposed to be fighting for, and how to mobilize populations jaded by two decades of “out of area” warfare in the global south, with questionable outcomes.

This report, written after the Russian attack on Ukraine, proposes an Alternative Strategic Concept. Its purpose to show what NATO could be like if the democratic, high-welfare societies who will form the European centre of gravity could — in alliance with their Canadian and US liberal political allies — set the agenda.

It is a social-democratic answer to the question: “how can NATO defend its territories, its values and the economic security of its member states, while taking the peoples of the Allied countries with us on the journey?”

Its structure is based on that of the 2010 document for reference, as it is likely that the official draft will follow that structure.


The nature of the threat is clear and urgent. Russia has attacked Ukraine, ripped up the NATO-Russia Founding Act, withdrawn from key components of the global security architecture, breached the Geneva Conventions, buried the Helsinki Final Act, made the unilateral threat of nuclear attack against NATO, and stands credibly accused of crimes against humanity and genocide.

Putin’s strategic aim is not simply to dismember and “de-Ukrainize” Ukraine, but to divide NATO, sideline the EU and force the USA to deal direct with both Moscow and Beijing in a rules-free game of great power politics.

That is the intent NATO must adapt to and thwart.

So far, Russia has failed. NATO countries have displayed unprecedented resolve and unity. They have — separately, through ad-hoc alliances and through NATO itself — imposed the most severe economic sanctions in post-1945 history. They have, in response to the escalating criminality of Russia’s aggression, moved from the supply of small arms, intelligence and training to the large scale re-equipment, training and supply of Ukraine’s armed forces.

Having begun in crisis management mode, key countries within NATO moved to active deterrence of the Russian threat.

In April 2022 the USA clarified its goal in the conflict:

  • To weaken Russia militarily and economically so that it cannot pose a future threat to any neighboring country on the scale of the Ukraine operation.
  • To ensure Ukraine remains an independent, sovereign country capable of defending its own territory.

At the Madrid Summit, NATO should formally adopt these goals as its short-to-mid term strategy.

Until the Russian aggression is decisively deterred, there can be no talk of a “dual track approach” to Russia — i.e. firm deterrence combined with the ambition to de-escalate towards a new co-operative security arrangement.

The route to security co-operation with Russia and Belarus lies through the withdrawal of the two draft treaties; withdrawal of Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory; the payment of reparations by Russia to Ukraine and other countries affected by disruptions to energy and food security; the return of over a million abducted Ukrainian citizens; and Russia’s assent to new security guarantees for Ukraine.

NATO should not aim to change the government of the Russian Federation by force; nor should it wish to destabilize Russia beyond what is necessary for its defeat in Ukraine; nor does it have any territorial claim on Russia.

However, at the Madrid Summit it should reiterate the clear warnings already given to Vladimir Putin: that any use of WMDs against Ukraine would trigger an active military response by NATO; and that any military aggression against a NATO member would trigger full and immediate military defence of the country targeted, under Article V.

As states scramble to find resources to meet the challenge of these conflict goals, they should rethink defence and EDT spending as investments, seeking to create positive multipliers thorugh industrial strategy and industrial planning.

Though each state brings its own defence/security tradition to these tasks, a social-democratic solution to generating and sustaining the larger forces, and longer logistic routes needed for forward defence would favour the creation of territorial defence, trained reserves and democratically controlled gendarmeries alongside professional armed forces.


The Alternative Strategic Concept is framed around the following principles, formulated as answers to the challenges outlined in the EIR’s “One Plus Four” report.

1. NATO’s goal is to maintain cohesion, capable of mounting effective deterrence against the Russian threat, and capable of formulating strategy on a timetable relevant to the threat.

2. Maintaining and enhancing democratic resilience should become a new core task. Our biggest vulnerability is the lack of commitment of large parts of our civil societies to collective defence. Putin (and Xi Jin Ping) know this and have poured billions into influence and disruption operations to exploit this fundamental weakness of the Alliance.

3. Building co-operative security with China, and countering the systemic challenge it laid down in the 4 February joint declaration is a secondary task for NATO. By committing to the strategy outlined below, NATO is making a choice similar to the one made by President Roosevelt in 1941: Europe first, Pacific second. Deterring Russia is a priority over containing China. And NATO cannot become a global-scale military power: its founding purpose is the security of the Euro-Atlantic area.

4. NATO and the EU should formalize their relationships so that the EU is able to participate in the formulation of grand strategy. The EU has a justifiable fear that US democracy, and indeed the Federal government, are so fragile that, under a different president, the task of collective self-defence will fall to Europe. The EU should outline explicitly the implications of European Strategic Autonomy at diplomatic, technological and military level over the next 10 years, and wherever possible align itself with the NATO strategy.

5. The lesson of Afghanistan, and indeed 20 years of expeditionary warfare that succeeded militarily and then failed politically, is to refrain from major operations beyond the immediate periphery of the Euro-Atlantic Area wherever possible. The “out of area or out of business” doctrine should be repudiated. The threat is on the Eastern Flank; the signal weakness of the Alliance is lack of public trust in the political and military institutions that left Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya devastated and chaotic.

6. There will be no comprehensive arms control agreement this side of democratic political movements emerging in Russia and Belarus (aka “colour revolutions”). Nor will we be able to make multilateral agreements and refocus NATO on human security as proposed by Kaldor (NATO, 2021). We should keep trying with arms limitation, particularly in space, but Russia is now a rogue actor in all domains of conflict, incapable of sticking to any treaty.

The proposed text of an alternative 2022 strategic concept is outlined below.




NATO’s fundamental and enduring purpose is to secure the freedom and security of all its member states, and their peoples, through political and military means.

In a world destabilised by emerging Great Power rivalries and totalitarian dictatorships, NATO is committed to restoring the rules-based global order, and to seeking strategic security co-operation with all countries committed to dialogue and peace.

In the process, its members recommit themselves to the practice of democracy, to observance of international law, and to non-selective membership of the core institutions of that order, including the ICC.

We reiterate NATO’s fundamental purpose: it an alliance for self-defence only, and not for power projection beyond its immediate periphery.


NATO member states form a unique community of values, committed to the principles of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We regard these principles to be universal.

The Alliance is firmly committed to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and to the Washington Treaty, which affirms the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security.


NATO is a Euro-Atlantic security alliance. Its strategy over the next 10 years will be to deter threats to peace and security in the North Atlantic, the High North, Europe, the Mediterranean and the Black Sea (hereafter called the Euro-Atlantic Area).

Given the emergence of an aggressive, criminal systemic threat from the Russian Federation — which has issued existential threats against the Alliance — defence of the Euro-Atlantic area shall be NATO’s primary focus for the foreseeable future.

It is unlikely that NATO (as opposed to individual member states or alliances of such states) will take part in stabilization or crisis management beyond the Euro-Atlantic area and its periphery.


Since 2018, the security environment has changed dramatically, due to: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; Russia’s issuance of two Draft Treaties (17 December 2021), effectively demanding the revocation of NATO expansion post 1997; the joint declaration of 4 February, by Russia and China, declaring an end to a single rules-based global order; and the withdrawal of Russia from the Council of Europe. Secondary effects of the war, and Western sanctions, could further erode global security: debt defaults, the disruption of energy and food security; the effective paralysis of the UN.

Russia’s attack was designed as an overt challenge: to our collective security pledge under Article V; to all commonly accepted assumptions about nuclear deterrence; and to NATO’s right to offer an open door to all European democracies that meet NATO’s standards. In response, NATO must reformulate and reorder its core tasks.

4.1. NATO’s primary task is collective defence through active deterrence. NATO members will always assist each other against attack, in accordance with Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. That commitment remains firm and binding. NATO will deter and defend against any threat of aggression, and against emerging security challenges where they threaten the fundamental security of individual Allies or the Alliance as a whole. This commitment will apply across all five domains of warfare.

4.2. Co-equal with the military defence of the NATO area, our core task is to maintain healthy multiparty democracies, observing the highest standards of press freedom, human rights, human security, electoral practice, the rule of law and the active decarbonisation of energy supply. Only common and active adherence to these ideals, and peer pressure on those who stray from them, gives us the right to impose on each other obligations that could lead to global conflict.

4.3. NATO remains committed to seeking co-operative security agreements with our neighbours, allies and emerging global powers, including India and China. It will make no co-operative security agreement with Russia until the Draft Treaties of December 2021 are withdrawn; until all Russian troops are withdrawn from Ukraine’s sovereign territory; until reparations are paid to Ukraine; and Russia accepts Ukraine’s post-war security guarantees.

4.4. NATO will deprioritise crisis management beyond its immediate periphery. It will not actively seek participation in out-of-area deployments, unless requested by the UN or by a sovereign and legitimate government. We specifically repudiate the “out of area or out of business” philosophy advocated by some during the past 25 years.

We will launch a self-critical review of NATO operations in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq, and commit to the mandatory application of lessons learned to the practice of any future crisis management operations.


NATO remains the unique and essential transatlantic forum for consultations on all matters that affect the territorial integrity, political independence and security of its members, as set out in Article 4 of the Washington Treaty.

Any security issue of interest to any Ally can be brought to the NATO table, to share information, exchange views and, where appropriate, forge common approaches.

At the Madrid Summit, all NATO members hereby renounce claims on each other’s territory and territorial waters.

At the Madrid Summit, NATO and the EU will aim to integrate their geopolitical strategies and decision-making processes.


The scale of the threats outlined above requires not only the modernisation of NATO armed forces, and enhanced inter-operability, but the substantial expansion of available combat power.

The Military Committee will be tasked to author a new strategic posture and doctrine, covering the full spectrum of the hybrid, conventional, cyber, space and nuclear domains.

NATO governments will actively collaborate to achieve and maintain leadership over our competitors in emergent disruptive technologies (EDTs).

In addition NATO will develop a centralised capability to make grand strategy, including an Economic Warfare Directorate.

To mobilise the people and resources needed to meet this challenge, all defence and research investment should aim to achieve social and economic multiplier effects, boosting growth, productivity and social cohesion.

It is likely, given the scale of the forces needed, that national gendarmeries, territorial reserves and fire & rescue capabilities and some civilian sectors of the economy will be required to play a part in NATO’s readiness plans.



The Euro-Atlantic area is today under threat of conventional, nuclear and hybrid attack by Russia and its allies. The threat from Russia is currently high. This situation results from the failure of the deterrence strategies outlined in the 2010 Strategic Concept and should be the object of study both by the military, political leaders and civil society. By responding to the results of such studies, NATO can prove to its adversaries, allies and the populations of member countries that it is not just an adaptive organisation but a learning one.


The immediate conventional threat is that Russia, in its unfinished war against Ukraine, escalates to conventional strikes against supply routes in NATO countries, airspace or territorial waters, or against the space platforms of NATO countries. The immediate nuclear, biological, and chemical threat consists of repeated Russian signalling of its intent to cross these thresholds, under the guise of a false-flag attack by NATO, and in repeated calls by members of the Russian power vertical for a pre-emptive, tactical nuclear strike on one or more NATO members.


China’s emergence as a rival superpower to the USA, with global military reach, has altered the power balance decisively. While China is not NATO’s adversary, it has — in the 4 February 2022 joint declaration with Russia — declared an era of systemic competition with the West, not just over spheres of influence but over the values of democracy, universality, and individual freedom.

China and Russia’s stated aim is to replace the rules-based global order, based on universal rights, with a three (or four) great power game, where all values become relative.

NATO reiterates its commitment to the rules based international order based on the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bretton Woods institutions and strategic arms limitation. It welcomes the economic rise of China, India and the global south and pledges to seek permanent co-operative security arrangements with all states which abjure illegal wars of aggression.

It advises all member states to ratify the statutes of the ICC.


The proliferation of nuclear weapons and other WMDs, and their delivery methods, threatens incalculable consequences for global stability.

Russia’s threat of first nuclear use, should NATO come directly to the aid of Ukraine, changes the terms of reference for deterrence. It requires that NATO respond with a new, integrated concept of deterrence, including intelligence, economic warfare, conventional deterrence across all five domains and an enhanced mix of weapons and platforms — alongside proactive and explicit signalling to deter any pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons.

The Madrid Summit reiterates and endorses the statement by the USA that any use of WMDs against Ukraine would be met with a devastating response.


Terrorism poses a direct threat to the security of the citizens of NATO countries, and to international stability and prosperity more broadly. Extremist groups — not just jihadi extremists but also from the domestic and international far right — continue to spread to areas of strategic importance to the Alliance, and within the alliance itself. Modern technology increases the threat and potential impact of terrorist attacks, in particular if terrorists were to acquire nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological capabilities.


Instability or conflict beyond NATO borders can directly threaten Alliance security, including by fostering extremism, terrorism, and trans-national illegal activities such as trafficking in arms, narcotics and people.

However, NATO’s capacity to intervene militarily in crisis management operations has been curtailed by withdrawal of consent for such operations by the electorates of those countries traditionally prepared to do so.

The US pullout from Kabul in August 2021 was a defeat for a key member of the alliance, squandering such gains that were achieved by ISAF/OP RESOLUTE FREEDOM, from which NATO itself must draw lessons.

Because of Russian aggression, and the need for NATO governments to build domestic support for countering it, for the foreseeable future the bar for out of area interventions will be set much higher. This is a clear change of focus for NATO.

While it does not prevent member states convening “alliances of the willing” for specific crisis interventions, we ask members to take note of the urgent/important nature of the Russian threat and its call on resources.


The start of the Russia-Ukraine war saw concerted cyberattacks by Russia and its allies (eg DPRK, China) on the civil and military structures of NATO countries and allies.

This came after a decade in which state and state-aligned offensive cyber capabilities proliferated rapidly. This year alone, Ukraine, the Marshall Islands, Andorra, Pakistan, Greece have all been victims of offensive cyber by state or quasi-state actors.

Numerous NATO members now have centres of excellence for defensive cyber operations, and even cyber commands. In the future NATO will develop a co-ordinated cyber command, and states its readiness to undertake offensive cyber operations against any declared adversary, with or without provocation.


The biggest strategic change triggered by the Russia-Ukraine war will be in patterns of trade and energy consumption.

In response to the invasion, major NATO countries collaborated with the EU and others to: shut down access to the SWIFT interbank payments system; freeze and in some cases seize assets worth tens of billions of dollars belonging to members of the Russian oligarchy and power vertical; freeze around half of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves; impose trade embargoes on essential goods and materials.

In addition, numerous individual states have pledged, and begun to implement, oil and gas boycotts against Russia, raising the risks to their own energy security.

In response to the West’s trade and energy actions, China has begun to agitate for an “anti-sanctions bloc” — described by some proxy supporters of Beijing as a “new non-aligned movement”.

The result of these financial, trade and energy realignments has been to seriously reverse the process of globalization; to stimulate the formation of politicized trading blocs centred on two totalitarian states (Russia and China).

It is likely, in the process, that damage to the supply side of the world economy will begin to stimulate debt defaults by states against each other, and against the private sector, and disruptions to energy and food security, raising the risk of a serious global recession.

In response, the Madrid Summit advises members to begin the co-ordination of national energy and food security strategies.


The past decade has seen four, linked developments in defence and civilian technologies that have begun radically to change the nature of warfare. Each of them is rooted in the digital revolution.

(a) The emergence of ubiquitous smart devices — primarily the smartphone and the internet of things (IoT) — enabling both state and non-state actors to gather data on civilians and military formations in real time. This massively enhances the asymmetry between those with the power to gather and analyze data, and the users of the devices. It allows both the IoT and the civilian smartphone to be “weaponized”, to become as Ford and Hoskins (2022) argue “nodes in a kill chain”, and massively alters the way war is represented, both by the military and civilians.

(b) The rise of anti-access/area denial (A2AD) weaponry, with associated operational goals and strategies. This was driven by China and Russia’s response to US proficiency in expeditionary warfare, leading them to develop long range missiles, backed by cyber and space operations, to prevent the USA maneuvering in critical areas in of sea, air and potentially outer space. Combined with the capability for precision strike, this has altered the operational practice of all major armed forces.

(c ) Emerging and Disruptive Technologies (EDT) including artificial intelligence, hypersonic missiles, autonomous drone systems, quantum computing and ma- chine learning, robotics, big-data analytics, nanotechnologies, biotechnologies and bioengineering. These present states and non-state actors with ways to attack and threaten NATO countries, requiring NATO to achieve technological superiority and to develop counter-strategies against their use.

Of these technologies, the rise of cheap UAVs, produced by second tier powers (eg the Turkish Bayraktar 2) or even by adapting commercial drones (as in Ukraine) has tangibly and swiftly altered the balance between unmanned systems and expensive armoured vehicles, and even warships, forcing all militaries into an urgent search for countermeasures, and throwing long-term procurement decisions into disarray.

(d) Russia’s turn to hybrid warfare and its evolution into an existential challenge for Western democracies. Through a mixture of financial manipulation, corruption, organized crime, disinformation, cyberattacks, economic sabotage, electoral interference, blackmail, assassinations, irregular armed forces and regular forces, Russia has developed a modus operandi for rendering a “victim state” powerless to resist its diplomatic demands and military aggression.

Taken together, these four developments constitute a new “revolution in military affairs” (RMA).

However, unlike in the 1980s/90s, where military theorists drove a one-off doctrinal change in response to a set of quantifiable and predictable technological changes, this one is being driven “from below” — by improvised uses of the technology itself, and by spontaneous behaviors.

Because it is based on digital technology, whose capacities in some respects develop exponentially, it is unlikely that this revolution stabilizes into the kind of “new normal” force structures designed in the 1980s/90s.

Sharing advanced technological knowledge, and keeping that knowledge secure from the threat, will be a major priority for NATO as it confronts the new RMA.


Climate change, together with the economic and social disruptions triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, has become a major driver of instability, not only at the periphery of NATO but in its core countries. Extreme weather events, droughts, fires and melting ice caps all potentially create new dynamics of conflict, and new demands on the military to provide support to the civil power.

The IPCC’s Special Report on Global Warming (2018) mandates the world to achieve zero net carbon target by 2050. The military, which is estimated to emit 6% of all carbon, has a duty to adapt, both by reducing and offsetting its emissions. While such competencies will remain national, NATO has a role to play both in situational awareness of climate risks, pandemic risks and wider biological security.

The combination of war, totalitarianism, climate change, biosphere instability and economic hardship is threatening human security across the world. NATO’s ultimate aim — if the conflict with Russia can be settled — must be to restore multilateralism, the international rule of law, and enhance human security for everyone on the planet.

15. A

The most profound threat to the security of NATO countries arises from democratic decay. The attempted coup in Washington on 6 January 2020; the attempted coup in Turkey in 2016, and the resulting authoritarian crackdown; tangible Russian electoral interreference across NATO countries; the EU’s inability to impose the rule of law on Poland and Hungary; the pervasive influence of Russian-backed disinformation outlets are all signs of a profound destabilization.

Their causes are not just Russian or Chinese soft power and hybrid aggression, but a decade of austerity, rising inequality, the emergence of unaccountable platform monopolies prepared to weaponize dissent, and the atomization of old hierarchies by the emergence of the networked individual.

This, in turn, undermines NATO’s capacity for collective self-defence. It undermines the raison d’etre — the defence of democracies; it undermines consent for military intervention; it undermines the cohesiveness of some societies; it fuels the desire for independence and autonomy among national and religious minorities.

Therefore at Madrid, NATO will adopt democratic resilience as its fourth core task.



The greatest responsibility of the Alliance is to protect and defend our territory and our populations against attack, as set out in Article V of the Washington Treaty.

Until Russia withdraws its troops from Ukraine, and the two Draft Treaties of December 2021, the Alliance will consider the Russian Federation to be its declared adversary and the primary threat to global security.

NATO makes no claims on Russian territory. It remains primarily defensive alliance. It has no strategic objectives beyond the Euro-Atlantic area, other than to maintain co-operative security, collaboratively manage crises and avert terrorism.

If any country attacks a NATO member, whether by conventional armed force, sponsorship of terrorism or weapons of mass destruction, every country in the Alliance will take military action in collective self-defence.


Deterrence is the core element of NATO’s strategy. In response to the breakdown of the nuclear non-proliferation/strategic arms limitation architecture, the commonly accepted norms of strategic deterrence have been disrupted. Deterrence is further disrupted by the rise of EDTs.

This requires NATO, led by its three nuclear-armed members, to develop a new concept of integrated deterrence: a practice and doctrine of active deterrence, matching capabilities to threats all the way up the chain from terrorism and cyber-attacks to nuclear warfare.

So long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. So long as nuclear armed countries possess and develop tactical nuclear weapons, NATO countries reserve the right to do so.

So long as adversaries and potential threats go on developing EDTs, NATO’s goal will be to remain dominant in these technologies and the required countermeasures.

NATO, and its member countries, reiterate their refusal to use or store chemical and biological weapons, and call on all other countries to match this commitment.

At the Madrid conference, NATO’s three nuclear powers hereby commit themselves to no first use of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons are held for the sole purpose of deterring nuclear attack on NATO and its member states.


The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States; the independent strategic nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France, which have a deterrent role of their own, contribute to the overall deterrence and security of the Allies.


We will ensure that NATO has the full range of capabilities necessary to deter and defend against any threat to the safety and security of our populations. Therefore, we will: [The following is presented as a notional example, and would be reliant on risk assessments the author does not have access to]

  • Maintain and modernize our nuclear forces (within existing commitments to the NPT); enhance and modernize our conventional forces across all five domains; and aim to achieve strategic superiority and sovereignty in the sphere of Emerging and Disruptive Technologies.
  • Transform the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) into a Strategic Forward Presence, deploying no fewer than 10 Brigades/BCTs [subject to risk assessment by the military arm] to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland; and a further 3x Brigade/BCT sized Southern Rapid Reaction Force to Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey.
  • The deployed BCTs will form warfighting divisions.
  • Transform the Joint Expeditionary Force into a NATO-led Northern Rapid Reaction Force for the defence of the Arctic and Nordic regions.
  • Enlarge both Standing NATO Maritime Groups into forces capable of conducting strategic access operations.
  • Create an air/missile capability of at least 30 squadrons designed both for the defence of Euro-Atlantic airspace and the attrition/interdiction of Russian threats across all domains.
  • Continue to invest heavily in missile defence.
  • Create a Black Sea Littoral Defence force capable of significant A2/AD operations in the Western Black Sea.
  • Create a central offensive cyber capability.

The purpose of this new force structure is deterrence through overwhelming power.

Both the people and leadership of the Russian Federation must be left in no doubt that NATO will meet any attempt to seize NATO territory, or to deny freedom of navigation at sea, with the comprehensive destruction of any force that attacks us.

To achieve these goals, NATO countries commit at Madrid to increase defence spending to at least 3% of GDP by 2025.



Crises and conflicts beyond NATO’s borders can pose a direct threat to the security of Alliance territory and populations. NATO will therefore engage, when necessary, to prevent crises, manage crises, stabilize post-conflict situations and support reconstruction.

However, in the new circumstances of systemic competition and conflict, NATO’s crisis management function will be secondary to the core tasks of democratic resilience and deterring the Russian threat. For the forseeable future NATO’s crisis management functions will be focused on its immediate geographic periphery.


NATO’s interventions into Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq have failed. Each was a military success, at great human cost, but a geo-strategic failure. In the process, these interventions undermined the consent of Allied populations for military actions, and fuelled the ability of Russia and China to portray NATO as a global aggressor.

We commit to a comprehensive lesson-learning process from the out of area operations, both at military/intelligence level and in terms of human security, global stability and strategic decision making.

We will prove to the world, and to the Allied electorates, that NATO is a learning organisation.


The best way to manage conflicts is to prevent them from happening. NATO will continually monitor and analyse the international environment to anticipate crises and, where appropriate, take active steps to prevent them from becoming larger conflicts. We will conduct a lessons-learned study into the years 2014–22, during which NATO’s signalling to the Russian Federation did not produce stability in the Black Sea region.


NATO hereby rejects the concept of “conflict management” beyond its immediate periphery. The conflicts in Libya and Afghanistan were not effectively managed. All localised conflict is now, effectively, subsumed within the systemic conflict declared by Russia/China, and all interventions have to be calibrated against the core goals: deter Russia, contain China, enhance democratic resilience and Alliance cohesion.


When the Ukraine conflict comes to an end, the international community must often provide continued support, to create the conditions for lasting stability. NATO will contribute to stabilisation and reconstruction in Ukraine, in close cooperation and consultation wherever possible with the EU and United Nations.


NATO will develop a crisis management module consisting of

  • globally deployable rapid reaction force consisting of military, medical, crisis relief and humanitarian capability
  • enhanced intelligence sharing
  • an integrated doctrine for civilian, military and information operations drawing on the lessons of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya
  • a training capability for local forces in crisis zones, with the aim of handing control and ownership of crisis management to local forces as soon as the crisis is stabilized.



NATO seeks its security at the lowest possible level of forces. Arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation contribute to peace, security and stability, and should ensure undiminished security for all Alliance members.

However the declaration of systemic competition against the West by Russia and China, and the massive military and technological investments they have made since 2010, significantly alters the conditions under which these goals can be achieved.

We remain resolved to seek a safer world for all and to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in accordance with the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, in a way that promotes international stability, and is based on the principle of undiminished security for all.

As a contribution to that goal, despite the severe provocations of Russia, and its deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in the European theatre, NATO countries hereby commit to no first use of nuclear weapons.

In return, we demand that Russia re-enters all previously signed nuclear arms control agreements. We will work towards the mutual withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.

We will continue to play our part in reinforcing global arms control, nuclear non-proliferation and in promoting disarmament of both conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction, as well as non-proliferation efforts.

However, in response to the increased threat, we recognize that, for all member states conventional disarmament is currently off the agenda.

As NATO countries increase arms spending, and grow their armed forces, will take steps to ensure the need for increased resources does not conflict with the vital tasks of combating climate change and enhancing human security.

We will encourage all NATO’s armed forces to maintain high levels of transparency, rule of law, accountability and demographic diversity, so that as we generate the forces and combat power required to deter Russia, Western society never again becomes home to politicized militarism or extremist paramilitarism.


NATO’s enlargement has contributed substantially to the security of Allies; the prospect of further enlargement and the spirit of cooperative security have advanced stability in Europe more broadly, but has been seized on by Russia and its proxies as the purported casus belli against Ukraine and potentially Georgia.

Today, the enlargement project is strategically challenged by Russia.

Our goal of a Europe whole and free, and sharing common values, would be best served by the eventual integration of all European countries that so desire into Euro-Atlantic structures.

However, we recognise that there are legitimate reservations among Alliance electorates about extending collective security guarantee into regions currently plagued by conflict, instability and anti-democratic forces.

Therefore we amend the open door formulation as follows. The door to NATO membership remains open to all European democracies which:

  • share the values of our alliance;
  • are willing to assume the responsibilities and obligations of membership;
  • whose territorial borders are not subject to conflict;
  • which are at peace;
  • which can demonstrate high standards of democratic resilience and
  • whose inclusion can contribute to common security and stability.

Each candidate country will be subject to an independent and rigorous risk analysis by a consortium of research groups and think tanks.

Further, we amend NATO’s statutes to allow the suspension of military co-operation, where a country stands flagrantly in breach of its obligations to uphold democracy and the rule of law.

This is a major change, and its intent is to express to the peoples of the Alliance that our commitment to democratic values, open-ness, the rule of law and the rules-based international order is non-selective.


The promotion of Euro-Atlantic security is best assured through a wide network of partner relationships with countries and organizations around the globe. These partnerships make a concrete and valued contribution to the success of NATO’s fundamental tasks.


Dialogue and cooperation with partners can make a concrete contribution to enhancing international security, to defending the values on which our Alliance is based, to NATO’s operations, and to preparing interested nations for membership of NATO. These relationships will be based on reciprocity, mutual benefit and mutual respect. In all relationships with partners, NATO will insist on progress towards democracy and the rule of law as a condition for further collaboration.


We will enhance our partnerships through flexible formats that bring NATO and partners together — across and beyond existing frameworks:

• We are prepared to develop political dialogue and practical cooperation with any nations and relevant organisations across the globe that share our interest in peaceful international relations and democracy.

• We will be open to consultation with any partner country on security issues of common concern.

• We will give our operational partners a structural role in shaping strategy and decisions on NATO-led missions to which they contribute.

• We will further develop our existing partnerships while preserving their specificity.


Cooperation between NATO and the United Nations continues to make a substantial contribution to security in operations around the world. The Alliance aims to deepen political dialogue and practical cooperation with the UN, as set out in the UN-NATO Declaration signed in 2008, including through:

  • enhanced liaison between the two Headquarters;
  • more regular political consultation; and
  • enhanced practical cooperation in managing crises where both organizations are engaged.


An active and effective European Union contributes to the overall security of the Euro- Atlantic area. Therefore the EU is a unique and essential partner for NATO. The two organisations share a majority of members, and all members of both organisations share common values. NATO recognizes the importance of a stronger and more capable European defence.

We welcome the durabilaty of the Lisbon Treaty, which provides a framework for strengthening the EU’s capacities to address common security challenges, and we welcome progress made to strengthen foreign and security policy since 2010.

We note the exit of the UK from the EU, and recognise that it will continute to make a significant contribution to these efforts, as will other non-EU allies.

NATO and the EU can play a mutually reinforcing and supporting role in restoring peace and security.

However we recognise the emergence of potentially divergent concepts of grand strategy, as the European Union pursues “strategic autonomy”.

In response we commit to the removal of all barriers to collaborative policymaking between NATO and the EU.

We resolve that the Council of the European Union shall have a permanent representative and delegation on the North Atlantic Council, co-equal with that of individual member states.


NATO will remain fully alert to deter aggression from Russia across all five domains of warfare, and in the hybrid space of democratic resilience, food and energy security.

NATO poses no threat to Russia. But it stands ready to deter further Russian aggression.

NATO’s overt aim in the Ukraine conflict, compliant with our duty to ensure the collective security of Alliance members, will remain as follows until a comprehensive peace agreement is reached with Ukraine:

  • To weaken Russia militarily and economically so that it cannot pose a future threat to any neighbouring country on the scale of the Ukraine operation.
  • To ensure Ukraine remains an independent, sovereign country capable of defending its own territory.
  • To build the capacity of the Russian people for a transition to democratic government and compliance with the rule of law

Once Russia returns to the norms and standards of international behaviour we want to see a strategic partnership between NATO and

Russia, based on the soveriegnty of every state, the observance of international law, and the prosecution of war crimes committed during the invasion of Ukraine.


The Russian Federation has violated the principles and commitments of the NATO-Russia Founding Act. It has reversed the democratization of society; its security doctrine is based on aggression; it has escalated both its conventional and nuclear capabilities, while waging an overt hybrid offensive against the West; it has broken every pledge to reduce nuclear and conventional forces; it has destroyed the biggest OSCE monitoring mission. It has issued two unilateral draft treaties demanding the reversal of democratization and sovereignty in Eastern Europe and a veto over all future developments in the security of Europe.

It has illegally annexed Crimea, unlawfully supported the breakaway Republics in Donbas and on 24 February 2022 committed the crime of aggression by invading Ukraine, followed by numerous well documented war crimes, crimes against humanity and possible genocide.

Any future common security arrangement between NATO and Russia lies at the other side of a comprehensive reversal of these behaviors. Having ended formal co-operation in 2014, NATO hereby states that it regards Russia in breach of the NATO-Russia Founding Act.


The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and Partnership for Peace are central to our vision of Europe whole, free and in peace.

We are firmly committed to the development of friendly and cooperative relations with all countries of the Mediterranean, and we intend to further develop the Mediterranean Dialogue in the coming years.

We attach great importance to peace and stability in the Gulf region, and we intend to strengthen our cooperation in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. We will aim to:

· Enhance consultations and practical military cooperation with our partners in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council;

· Broker an agreement for multilateral security guarantees for Ukraine, once an interim peace agreement has been reached with Russia; maintain the long-term offer of membership action plans for Ukraine and Georgia subject to the new conditionality outlined above.

· Facilitate the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Western Balkans, with the aim to ensure lasting peace and stability based on democratic values, regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations;

· Deepen the cooperation with current members of the Mediterranean Dialogue and be open to the inclusion in the Mediterranean Dialogue of other countries of the region;

· Develop a deeper security partnership with our Gulf partners and remain ready to welcome new partners in the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative.

[NB This section needsto be updated with an inventory of current collaboration and partnership agreements.]


Unique in history, NATO is a security Alliance that fields military forces able to operate together in any environment; that can control operations anywhere through its integrated military command structure; and that has at its disposal core capabilities that few Allies could afford individually.

In future this unique capability will develop command structures integrated across all five domains, together with a co-ordination funciton for national counter-hybrid strategies.

Having regard to this unique geostrategic power, NATO pledges to use it for the common good of all humanity.


NATO must have sufficient resources — financial, military and human — to carry out its missions, which are essential to the security of Alliance populations and territory. Those resources must, however, be used in the most efficient and effective way possible. We will:

· Commit to at least 3% of GDP defence spending by 2025, with common standards as to the measurement of the defence contribution.

· Maximize the readiness of our forces, and their capacity to sustain operations in the field, including by undertaking focused efforts to meet specific force contribution targets specified in a revised Readiness Action Plan [TBC]

· Ensure the maximum cohesion in defence industrial strategy, research and force design, to reduce unnecessary duplication, and to focus our capability development on modern requirements;

· Develop and operate capabilities jointly, for reasons of cost-effectiveness and as a manifestation of solidarity;

· Preserve and strengthen the common capabilities, standards, structures and funding that bind us together;

· Engage in a process of continual reform, to streamline structures, improve working methods and maximise efficiency.


We, the political leaders of NATO, are determined to continue renewal of our Alliance so that it is fit for purpose in addressing the 21st Century security challenges, namely:

  • the defence of democracy, the rule of law and the rules-based international order
  • mitigating climate change and the challenges to economic stability and human security it is creating

Our Alliance thrives as a source of hope because it is based on common values of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and because our common essential and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members. These values and objectives are universal and perpetual, and we are determined to defend them through rigorous self-criticism, reflection, and continuous progress against commonly accepted scorecards on freedom, democracy and tolerance.

In addition to five-domain deterrence, we recognize that counter-hybrid strategies must be formulated at national level, balancing the urgent need to counter Russian and Chinese disinformation and other hybrid threats, with the need for democratic scrutiny and oversight.

We remain committed to the widest forms of political freedom, freedom of speech and association.

Our express purpose is to maintain and defend politically heterogenous societies and thriving multiparty democracies.

We reject the division of the world into “multiple modernities”, in which rights regarded as universal since 1948 are cancelled in the name of cultural or political relativism.

We pledge to the Alliance populations that we will uphold the highest standards of democracy in all member states, making the workings of NATO itself as transparent as possible to the diverse actors within civil society, and maintaining strong peer pressure on each other to maintain democratic standards.

NATO will act as a defensive shield against the rise of totalitarianism globally. We will defend every citizen of the Allied states against totalitarianism and aggression. We regard every human being as having inalienable, universal rights as enshrined in the UN Declaration of Human Rights.


Ford and Hoskins: Radical War: Data, Attention and Control in the Twenty-First Century (2022)

Barber and Harrison: The Soviet Home Front 1914–1945: A Social and Economic History of the USSR in World War (1991)



Paul Mason

Journalist, writer and film-maker. Author of How To Stop Fascism.