How is NATO Dealing with Emerging Security Challenges? by Jamie Shea

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Jamie Shea is NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges. He has previously held a number of high NATO positions, including Deputy Assistant Secretary General for External Relations, Public Diplomacy Division and Spokesman of NATO and Deputy Director of Information and Press. He holds a PhD in Modern History from Oxford University and has held a number of academic positions, int. al. Associate Professor of International Relations, American University, Washington DC.The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone. They do not represent an official position of NATO.

"Too much protection would constrain people’s liberties and freedom of movement and seriously undermine the way of life that NATO defends..."
"Modern security challenges are much more multifaceted and complicated than what we have seen in the past..."

For most of human history, states have seen their primary role in the field of security as the defence of their borders and their territories against the predations of other states. Though populations faced other threats, such as famine, major epidemics or starvation, governments felt no need to intervene unless there was an immediate threat to the state or social order.

Today, states have taken on the responsibility to cope with a much broader spectrum of threats because of voters’ increased expectations of protection and the impact of globalization, which has made states much more vulnerable to non-traditional security threats. These can be easily transmitted across borders and can originate virtually everywhere: local and international terrorism, cyber threats to public and private networks, the spread of diseases and pandemics, vulnerabilities to critical infrastructure and energy grids, dependency on globalized supply chains, extreme weather conditions, uncontrolled immigration, organized criminal networks, and the proliferation of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) devices with greater use of delivery vehicles such as missiles. The national security strategies of most NATO countries today prioritize these non-traditional threats before the more traditional threats from rising and rival powers or collapsing states. Although most of these non-traditional threats have existed for some time, NATO has only recently focused its attention on them.

However, the Alliance is still associated with more classical military operations that take place outside its territory and emphasize flexible and deployable forces capable of cooperating with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), election observers, police trainers and democratic institution builders.

The “Responsibility to Protect” is partly responsible for NATO’s shift away from the defence of states to the defence of populations. Simultaneously, NATO linked its interventions to traditional security interests. Thus, despite the frequent portrayal of interventions as part and parcel of a new international morality to uphold human rights in foreign lands, in reality NATO has not strayed far from its traditional focus on the security of its member states.

Given this focus on defending and protecting interests, NATO has recently had to consider the new spectrum of threats which are not classically military in nature but which will undoubtedly be frequent sources of disruption in the years ahead. Moreover, these threats can originate just as easily from within our borders as from outside. Malicious individuals may easily gain access to modern technologies (int. al. malware, drones, robotics and bioengineering), giving them the disruptive power that used to be the preserve of states. We could live in a future in which anyone could be targeted, anywhere, and at any time. These non-conventional threats cannot be deterred by the threat of military retaliation in the way that nuclear weapons could maintain a balance of power and peace, albeit uneasy, throughout the Cold War. Cyber attacks, for instance, have been a daily occurrence almost everywhere and most can still be carried out with relative impunity. The gain from espionage or financial crime greatly outweighs the risk of being caught or even the current legal penalties. Thus there is yet no significant incentives for the attackers to desist other than that they may damage and degrade information and communications infrastructure on which they also depend. It would be good if this “deterrence through interdependence” would eventually take hold, but we are clearly still a long way from it... (purchase article...)