The global balance of power has been shifting throughout the past decade and, faced with a changing security landscape, more countries across the NATO alliance and around the world have been compelled to reassess their defense and security strategies.
This book, NATO and the South: A Tale of Three Futures, presents a report based on a study conducted in the framework of a NATO SPS Multi-Year Project and designed to assess and explore key variables likely to impact the political environment of NATO’s southern neighborhood over the coming years. The book reiterates the importance of a ‘consistent, clear and coherent’ approach to the South with the aim of ensuring that NATO remains ready, strong, and united for a new era of increased global competition. It outlines possible sources of change and introduces additional perspectives, exploring ways in which the Alliance can continue to adapt. Conflict spillover from fragile or failing states, instability and terrorism in the Sahel and Iraq, transnational terrorist groups such as Daesh and Al Qaeda and illegal trafficking of small arms and light weapons are all covered, as are the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel, the growing terrorist threat, and the instability of several countries in the area which constitute serious concerns for the alliance.
The book and its recommendations provide a timely contribution to the reflection surrounding the development of the new NATO Strategic Concept in the context of preparations for the Madrid Summit, providing a useful basis to inform decision-makers from NATO member and partner countries.
When the world changes and becomes more competitive, NATO adapts and unites even strongly around its core principles. In the past decade, the global balance of power has been shifting and threats have become more complex. Faced with a changing security landscape more countries across the Alliance and around the world are compelled to reassess their defence and security strategies. In NATO’s Southern neighborhood, rising conventional challenges by state actors intersect with growing asymmetric threats. Known risks include conflict spillover from fragile or failing states; instability and terrorism in the Sahel and Iraq; transnational terrorist groups such as Daesh and Al Qaeda; and illegal trafficking, for example of small arms and light weapons. Beyond NATO’s immediate neighbours to the South, the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel, the growing terrorist threat, and the instability of several countries in the area constitute serious concerns for the Allies.
In this context, the South is increasingly becoming a strategic priority for the Alliance, NATO recognises the importance of engaging across the region through political dialogue, capacity building, and crisis management, in line with the NATO 2030 agenda. This ambitious agenda aims to substantially build the capacities of partner countries in key areas for security and stability, and to better fulfil the Alliance’s core tasks of crisis management and cooperative security. The NATO 2030 decisions complement and build on ongoing strands of work to enhance political dialogue and practical cooperation with partner countries, as highlighted in the 2021 Brussels Summit Communique. This initiative builds on achievements that have significantly bolstered NATO’s southern strategy over past years, in terms of deterrence and defence, cooperative security, and fight against terrorism. Cooperation with partners in Middle East and North Africa was substantially enhanced at the NATO Brussels Summit in 2018, which supported these accomplishments. Furthermore, the establishment of the HUB for the South in 2017 contributed to enhancing NATO’s understanding of threats and challenges in the region.
The NATO SPS Programme contributes to this engagement by bringing together NATO and partner nations to foster practical scientific cooperation and to engage in capacity building initiatives. In previous years, the Programme developed outstanding cooperation with partners in the South, particularly with Mediterranean Dialogue partners and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI) nations. As part of efforts coordinated through the Defence and related Security Capacity Building (DCB) initiative, SPS built capacity in Jordan and Tunisia in key areas such as the establishment of a dual use civil-military mobile chemical laboratory in Tunisia and a biological laboratory in Morocco, the improvement of demining capabilities in Egypt and Jordan, and the support to crisis management centres and medical emergency response for civil protection and public health in Mauritania. At the NATO-ICI Regional Centre in Kuwait, SPS activities have provided tailor-made training courses in the Cyber Defence, CBRN and critical energy infrastructure protection.
This study, conducted in the framework of a SPS Multi-Year Project, assessed and explored key variables that are likely to impact the South’s political environment over the coming years. It outlined possible sources of change in view of security dynamics and their implications, ultimately providing analytical foresight for strategic planning. The study of key variables that are likely to affect NATO’s southern neighbourhood through three strategic foresight scenarios is particularly informative and relevant, and reflects the Alliance comprehensive 360-degree approach to security. It brings additional perspectives and complements NATO’s continuous efforts towards a better understanding of political and security developments, and of how the Alliance can continue adapting to them.
The analysis outlined potential implications for the Alliance’s political and military adaptation, in particular in the fields of counter-terrorism, climate change, and non-proliferation. NATO remains committed to the international community’s fight against terrorism and has contributed to global efforts through awareness and analysis, preparedness and responsiveness, capabilities, capacity building, and operations. NATO provides substantial support to its Southern partners in addressing these challenges, in areas such as C-IED, border security, and resilience. With regard to climate change, NATO leaders endorsed an ambitious Action Plan on Climate Change and Security, with the aim to approach this threat-multiplying challenge through awareness, adaptation, and mitigation.
Building on this study, the report ‘NATO and the South: A Tale of Three Futures’ provides a useful basis to inform decision-makers within NATO, Allied and partner countries. This publication reiterates the importance of a ‘consistent, clear and coherent’ approach to the South as outlined in the NATO 2030 report. The timeframe of these three scenarios – 2030 – is also very meaningful for the Alliance, coinciding with its strategic reflection and the NATO 2030 agenda aiming to make sure that NATO remains ready, strong, and united for a new era of increased global competition.
Drawing upon the knowledge and insights highlighted in the findings of this Multi-Year Project, NATO and its allies will be better equipped to evolve, adapt, and prepare to the future security environment in the South and the challenges ahead that arise from various strategic directions. This publication and all its recommendations are a timely contribution to the reflection surrounding the development of the new NATO Strategic Concept and the preparation of the Madrid Summit.
Mr. David van Weel
Assistant Secretary General, Emerging Security Challenges Division, NATO
The geopolitical evolution of the MENA region has created a favourable environment for relative stability and sustainable growth, characterised by a moderately stable balance of power. The Covid-19 pandemic triggered a series of reforms: regional powers opt for self-restraint to reduce conflict risks, the MENA region reduces its dependence on fossil fuels, new growth models based on scientific innovation emerge and the Maghreb is united through the creation of a single market. However, stability in the region is still a dilemma for NATO. The economic boom has provided the governments of the region with the means to increase their military arsenals and offered extra-regional powers such as China and Russia the opportunity to acquire a stronger role in terms of arms sales and FDI.
This development may pose a threat to the security of the southern allies due to increased military capabilities and the risk of inter-state conflicts. For other countries bordering the Mediterranean, the modernisation and development of naval capabilities could be seen as a threat to NATO’s southern neighbourhood, but ultimately NATO should welcome the strengthening of its partners’ military and security capabilities, with the aim of turning partners into security providers rather than security consumers.
In the second scenario, the lingering effects of the pandemic and the flatlining prices for fossil fuels lead to a ‘third wave’ of Arab revolts with the epicentre being in the gulf region. Monarchs in the Gulf states are forced into exile after social unrest, but the royals regroup while in exile to promote an ultraconservative agenda in the region. The desire to return to power in the region gives way to prolonged instability and it draws in third powers to the region. China takes advantage of the unrest in the area to establish a comprehensive strategic alliance with Iran and the GCC, especially when it comes to raw materials. What is more, as a result of the economic downturn and social instability, many countries now prioritize domestic matters over their overt engagement in the conflicts in Yemen and Syria. This inward-looking mindset encourages the importation of drones, surveillance, and digital technologies to flourish.
Irene Martínez, Jassar Al-Tahat, Nicolás de Pedro, Zaid Eyadat
36 - 45
The third future sketched in this study is the ‘nightmare scenario’ with a number of countries in the south falling prey to third-state influence or collapsing outright. It implies that several interconnected crises from the fall of the regime in Saudi Arabia to the end of Khamenei’s rule in Iran provide a smokescreen for China and Russia’s expansion in the region. The first major question facing NATO is whether the Alliance would have the political and resource base to deal with multiple crises simultaneously. Secondly, given the role of hostile third powers in the scenario, NATO would have to consider how it could deter the creation of new naval bases or other military installations. Such a situation would necessitate early warning analyses by the Alliance and requires a strong focus on the interconnectivity of security, political, economic and environmental pressures in the region is certainly required.
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