Over the span of just two years, an unprecedented global health crisis – the COVID-19 pandemic – and Russia’s unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine have confirmed the critical importance of resilience in the face of different types of threats and crises. Resilience is not simply a popular concept, but a crucial pillar of any multi-faceted strategic planning process.
Undoubtedly, it will soon position itself as a critical enabler for international peace, in general, and for Euro-Atlantic security, in particular. Through enhanced cooperation, NATO and the European Union, as long-standing partners with shared strategic interests and an overlap in the majority of member nations, have a unique potential to play complementary and mutually reinforcing roles in strengthening resilience so as to build a safer, more future-proof Europe.
“Resilience is in NATO’s DNA”
Although it is only now reaching the height of its relevance within the transatlantic community, resilience has been a fundamental Allied commitment since NATO’s inception and an integral part of its founding document – the Washington Treaty of 1949. More than 70 years ago, the founding members of the North Atlantic Alliance had considered for the first time the principle of resilience and included it in the Article 3 of the Treaty, “In order more effectively to achieve the objectives of this Treaty, the Parties, separately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack.”
With resilience enshrined in “NATO’s DNA”, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg put it, the Allies have always had the duty to become more resilient and be able to bounce back from external shocks. In the Cold War era, NATO members designed policies meant to build resilience against an armed attack through civil preparedness, but the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union diluted the importance of this concept within the Alliance’s security policies.
Read also: Towards a reinvigorated West?
It was in the complex security landscape of the 2010s, namely after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the rise of ISIS, that NATO decided to embrace a broad governance approach to terrorist and hybrid threats and implement resilience beyond its military framework. To this end, resilience has been defined by the Alliance as a society’s ability to resist and recover from a major shock, such as a natural disaster, failure of critical infrastructure, or a hybrid or armed attack. Accordingly, the once faded notion of resilience was reassessed by experts and officials alike as “a core element of collective defence” and, later on, “the first line of defence.”
A key milestone in this evolution was the July 2016 Warsaw Summit, when NATO heads of state and government adopted a Commitment to Enhance Resilience. This political promise sought to bolster resilience against “the full spectrum of threats” by aiming to achieve a set of minimum standards for national resilience. Previously established at the level of Allied defense ministers, these seven “baseline requirements” were: 1) assured continuity of government and critical government services; 2) resilient energy supplies; 3) ability to deal effectively with uncontrolled movement of people; 4) resilient food and water resources; 5) ability to deal with mass casualties; 6) resilient civil communications systems; 7) resilient civil transportation systems.
In 2021, the Alliance endorsed the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept (NWCC), produced by the NATO Allied Command Transformation. Anticipating the changing character of war, this vision introduced the concept of layered resilience as one of the five “development imperatives” set out for dealing with current and future security challenges. NATO Resilience Symposium in May 2022 was a timely occasion for Allies to examine the Alliance’s Layered Resilience Concept and underline that, “to be successfully built, resilience requires successful collaboration between civilian and military stakeholders and must consider these two mutually reinforcing layers.”
Building on the 2016 Warsaw Summit outcome, at the Brussels Summit in June 2021, NATO leaders renewed and enhanced their resilience pledge by approving the Strengthened Resilience Commitment. The document describes resilience as a national responsibility and a collective commitment. It further details the measures the Alliance intends to adopt in this field in the future while noting the severe test posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of civil-military engagement and cooperation. In the framework of the NATO 2030 Agenda for a Stronger Alliance, NATO leaders also agreed to create a Resilience Committee at the NATO Headquarters, as a further step towards deepening focus on resilience. With the aim “to advance shared efforts into the future”, the Committee’s first meeting was scheduled to convene in mid-May 2022 under the chairmanship of NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană.
NATO and the EU: partners in resilience
As part of its cooperative security through partnership policy, NATO engages several partners in its efforts to enhance resilience. One of the main allies has been the European Union – an essential strategic partner since the early 2000s. Over the years, the NATO-EU cooperation has been stepped up to address vulnerabilities in light of common challenges. The field of resilience represented no exception, especially in the light of the two organizations’ unique complementarity and combined resources.
The practical roadmap for NATO-EU collaboration on resilience matters has been developed in the last decade. In parallel with NATO’s Warsaw commitment to resilience, in July 2016, NATO and EU leaders signed a Joint Declaration outlining multiple areas for strengthened cooperation, including enhancing resilience among partners. Some of the initial concrete measures to promote resilience included intensification of staff contacts on resilience requirements and promoting greater coherence between the EU Capability Development Plan and the NATO Defence Planning Process. These proposals for coordinated work streams with NATO were integrated in 2017 in the Strategic Approach to Resilience in the EU’s External Action, a document reflecting how resilience can sustain progress towards EU development, humanitarian, foreign and security policy objectives. In the margins of the July 2018 NATO Summit, the NATO-EU pledge for cooperation was renewed with a second NATO-EU Joint Declaration, which called for swift progress in the areas of military mobility, counter-terrorism, strengthening resilience to chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear-related risks, as well as promoting the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.
No other joint document has been signed since 2018, but at the 2021 NATO Summit, the Allies welcomed the “unprecedented levels” achieved in the NATO-EU collaboration. They also confirmed the intention to further deepen NATO-EU cooperation, highlighting how this partnership is indispensable in addressing current and evolving security challenges. NATO and the EU have maintained close contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, exchanging information on their responses to the crisis, and have been shown robust unity in condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and offering support to Ukraine.
NATO and the EU are currently cooperating on more than 70 measures, including actions to bolster resilience to hybrid threats, ranging from countering disinformation to civil preparedness. While many of these pledges have been transformed into real cooperation in recent years, it is difficult to assess the real scale and practical impact of NATO-EU interaction. At the same time, more work should be done to avoid overlapping resilience-building efforts. Nonetheless, NATO-EU cooperation provides invaluable means “to leverage the combined resources of both organizations” in the common cause of resilience.
Given the inherent challenge of how to generate common standards when resilience falls under the responsibility of individual NATO members, at the Madrid NATO Summit in June 2022, NATO is likely to outline clear operational steps to cultivate collective resilience. As a practical recommendation, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly has already proposed the establishment of a Centre of Excellence for Democratic Resilience within the NATO Headquarters to coordinate Allied efforts to strengthen resilience. It is expected that such an addition to NATO’s structure would focus on the internal operationalization of resilience while complementing the activity of the existing Euro-Atlantic Centre for Resilience (E-ACR) hosted by Romania. Inaugurated in May 2021, the E-ACR acts as a provider of expertise in the field of resilience, in support of NATO and EU member states, as well as partner states of the two organizations.
Some security experts have also urged Allied leadership to make comprehensive resilience NATO’s fourth core task in the next Strategic Concept, due to be adopted at the 2022 Summit. Whether resilience will join the list of NATO’s essential tasks, alongside collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security, remains to be revealed. However, resilience is at the heart of the reflection on the Alliance’s future and the review of the Strategic Concept. No cloud of uncertainty hovers over the fact that resilience will be extensively featured in NATO’s forthcoming guiding document, unlike the 2010 Strategic Concept where it was mentioned only once. In today’s new security reality, resilience has a clear potential to strengthen the Alliance and make it future-proof, building on years of civil-military cooperation across NATO.
In addition to being a central component of the Alliance’s permanent culture of adaptation, resilience has increasingly become a key dimension of NATO’s partnership policy. With this in mind, the 2022 NATO Summit should give momentum to a reinforced relationship between NATO and the EU. Underpinned by common democratic values and shared best practices, the NATO-EU partnership can benefit the resilience of the whole Euro-Atlantic area, whilst ultimately demonstrating its own endurance.