21 July 2014

For more than 60 years the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has played a critical role in enabling transatlantic security and leading crisis management operations. However, given the current climate of austerity, the imminent end of the Afghanistan operation and recent events in Ukraine, crucial questions are being raised regarding the Alliance’s future priorities.


Xenia Wickett

Head, US and the Americas Programme; Dean, The Queen Elizabeth II Academy for Leadership in International Affairs

Kathleen McInnis

Former Chatham House Expert


DOD photo by US Air Force Master Sgt Jerry Morrison / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.
DOD photo by US Air Force Master Sgt Jerry Morrison / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain.


Over the course of this year, Chatham House convened a series of expert roundtables to answer some of these questions. This report draws on the findings of those meetings and makes recommendations for NATO’s next steps in the lead-up to its 2014 Summit in Wales.

The paper suggests six principal actions for NATO:

  • Find ways to caucus smaller groups within NATO rather than requiring all 28 members to make all decisions. NATO’s 28 member states all have their own interests and appetites for risk and bring diverse capabilities to the table. Yet rather than being a source of weakness, these differences of opinion can become a strength if properly managed. 
  • Enhance interoperability. With operations in Afghanistan winding down, and in light of declining defence spending, NATO militaries must find new ways to improve their ability to work with one another on the ground, at sea and in the air. 
  • Improve planning and positioning of forces together. For meaningful joint defence planning, and to share the burden of resources and responsibilities, NATO needs to facilitate collaborative discussions on challenges and capabilities. 
  • Develop better acquisition systems. In the context of declining defence spending, bridging the gap between strategy and resources will require NATO members to streamline acquisition systems, make tough choices about national defence industries, and become more collaborative on procurement. 
  • Rebuild public understanding and support for NATO. Public support is vital if member-state politicians are to make hard internal decisions on resources and to demonstrate the will and resilience required for effective deterrence and reassurance. 
  • Build on NATO’s partnerships and differentiate them better. With defence budgets tightening, NATO needs to recognize and take advantage of the fact that many non-NATO states and other institutions have similar interests to those of members.