The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is the guarantor of the security
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is the guarantor of the security and therefore the guarantor of the prosperity of the countries that make up the transatlantic community. The current situation in Ukraine, resulting from Russia's invasion of the country, should make incongruous any discussion of the Alliance's current usefulness and any discussion of what threat NATO should focus on in developing its new Strategic Concept.
But while it is true that Russia currently represents the only existential threat to some of the Alliance's member states and that this requires a posture of force that translates into an explicit deterrent message, it is also true that from the Mediterranean and especially from North Africa and the Middle East emanates a situation of instability that creates enormous challenges, whose basis is the jihadist terrorism.
All of this makes NATO's deterrence capacity and that of its member states all more important.
There is one fact that is not often taken into account, and that is that an organisation, whatever its nature, is only as weak as the weakest of its members. In other words, the stronger the individual members are, the stronger the organisation will be.
When talking about collective defence, reference is usually made to Article 5, with which we are all too familiar from recent events. But article 3 is just as important, if not more so, as it states that each member country must maintain and develop minimum capabilities in accordance with its capabilities to enable it to respond to an armed aggression. This paragraph alone could be the subject of a detailed study.
From the Arctic region to the western Mediterranean, Russia today poses a real and credible threat to the interests of NATO countries. In the East, it is clearly a potential existential threat, forcing the alliance to strengthen its deterrence measures along this flank.
But in the Mediterranean region the threat is much more subtle. Much more related to the destabilising capacity of the Alliance's southern flank. However, Russia's presence in the Mediterranean, which has increased significantly in recent times, also has much to do with what is happening in Eastern Europe.
The presence of numerous Russian naval units in the Mare Nostrum, as well as the permanent base in the Syrian port of Tartus and the agreement with Cyprus to use its ports as points of support and maintenance not only indicate Russia's determination to exert its influence in the area, but in the current context it is also a clear warning of its ability to attack targets deeply within NATO territory and, at a specific moment, to contribute to the isolation of Ukraine by controlling the SLOCs (Sea Lines of Communications).
NATO's role in the Middle East and North Africa, a politically and operationally complex theatre, is indispensable. However, NATO's presence and impact in this region has often been limited by elements of prioritisation and feasibility. This has meant that member states have disagreed over whether the alliance should engage on its southern flank. Clearly, each partner's geographic location shapes its priorities and its perception of threats, and this has affected its ability to provide responses to the wide range of problems in the region, limiting it on many occasions.
The security environment in NATO's southern periphery is a challenge. The region stretching from Libya to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf concentrates a wide range of threats, from regional conflicts to failed states, terrorism and the phenomenon of transnational organised crime that often goes hand in hand with terrorism itself.
The security of the Alliance and the societies of its member nations also faces other direct and indirect risks: uncontrolled migration, insecurity, and climate change. Similarly, the increased presence of both Russia and China, particularly in Africa and the Sahel countries, makes NATO's role in the region more relevant and necessary.
So far, NATO's role in the Mediterranean, which is the same as talking about the Middle East and North Africa, can be considered secondary within its Strategic Concept. It is hoped that after the next meeting in Madrid and with the updating of the Strategic Concept, it will clearly reflect and highlight the need to deepen the concept of cooperative security in order for NATO to become involved with the aim of having weight in the overall stability of the region. It should not be forgotten that other external powers seem to have clear ideas about the importance of the region and their goals to be achieved there. Any disengagement by NATO or Western powers from the region is likely to carry enormous risks.
The overwhelming current events force us to focus on the Eastern flank, but it should not be forgotten that, in the South, a situation is slowly and subtly developing whose evolution may pose a greater risk than Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Phenomena such as Jihadist terrorism and the huge migratory flows it has provoked have demonstrated their capacity to generate a situation of instability that could endanger the very unity of the Alliance. Just as from this corner of the continent it is sometimes difficult to understand the threat posed by a conflict in the East, the nations of central and northern Europe find it hard to visualise and take ownership of the threats emanating from the South. However, both should not be approached and measured as direct threats to the integrity or the existence of nations, but rather in terms of their consequences. Just as the consequences of the war in Ukraine are and will be felt in every corner of Europe and affect all NATO members equally, a destabilisation of the countries bordering the Mediterranean and even the Sahel would have economic and humanitarian consequences just as far-reaching as the current ones.