NATO Strategic Concept must tackle cyber challenges, climate-related security issues

30 May 2022

Cyberattacks represent a growing security menace that must be given high priority when NATO leaders meet next month to update the Alliance’s Strategic Concept, lawmakers from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly insisted on Sunday.

“Member states and NATO (must) ensure that the protection of critical infrastructures against cyberattacks is at the very core of their  approaches to security and resilience, not least within the scope of the forthcoming review of the Strategic Concept,” said French Senator Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, in her draft report Strengthening the Protection of Critical Infrastructure against Cyber Threats for the Assembly.

She warned that the Allies faced a “rising and unprecedented wave of cyberattacks with destabilising and devastating consequences.” Such attacks target “public and private entities indispensable to the functioning, well-being and cohesion of Allied societies.”

In a separate draft report on Offence-Defence: NATO’s Cyber Challenge, Italian Senator Roberta Pinotti noted that Russia and China “engage in near constant efforts to compromise Allies’ systems to pilfer intellectual property and steal state secrets, put critical infrastructure at risk, and subvert and undermine democratic institutions.”

In response to this array of challenges, NATO was urged to “regularly reiterate that a cyberattack, particularly against critical infrastructures, may be considered an armed attack warranting a military response under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty,” which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all. The Strategic Concept should “explicitly endorse this principle,” Garriaud-Maylam said.

Allies should expand  intelligence pooling on cyberattacks and work closer with the private sector in building up cyber defences. Legal frameworks should be bolstered to allow for fast, effective and coordinated responses to cyber incidents. More resources should be allocated to cyber and work with partner nations intensified.

Pinotti noted that NATO’s outreach programmes with Ukraine had helped it thwart “significant” Russian cyber operations. “Together with continued financial, diplomatic, humanitarian and military support, increased flow of cyber support to Ukraine will go a long way to helping the Ukrainian people overcome Russia’s savage and unprovoked attack,” she concluded. 

Although the Strategic Concept is expected to refocus on NATO’s core collective defence role, lawmakers from the 30-member Alliance said the review should cover other key security issues, including climate change, terrorism and humanitarian protection.

“NATO must reaffirm in its next Strategic Concept that climate change is a major threat for the Alliance, not just from a military standpoint, but also from a civil security perspective,” US Congresswoman Linda Sanchez said in her draft report on Understanding, Adapting to, and Limiting the Impact of Climate Change an Allied Civil Security. “Efforts to counter the impact of climate change must be fully integrated into NATO’s three core tasks of collective defence, crisis management, and cooperative security.”

She warned that climate change was producing “devastating effects” on security by rendering critical infrastructure vulnerable, triggering forced migration, widening inequality and fuelling conflict.  

Sanchez called on Allied governments to allocate adequate human and financial resources to meeting climate-change objectives; to boost research on climate technology; and conduct frequent assessments of critical infrastructures’ vulnerability to extreme weather.

Although Allied countries have achieved major success in degrading the risk of terrorism, the threat remains.

“There is no doubt Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the principal challenge to Euro-Atlantic security today. Terrorism, however, remains the principal asymmetrical challenge”, said French lawmaker Jean-Charles Larsonneur in his draft report The Evolving Threat of Terrorism: Adapting the Allied Response. “While Allies focus on […] their collective defence and deterrence posture today, they maintain a constant vigilance regarding the evolution of the terrorist threat.”

Larsonneur urged increased intelligence sharing, including among Allies’ homeland security agencies; continued support for kinetic counterterrorism operations such as those run by France and the United States; and backing for efforts by United Nations, European Union, African Union and other organisations to address the roots of terrorism. 

In an era increasingly focussed on global power competition, an effective counterterrorism policy can strengthen NATO, Larsonneur concluded. 

“Building reliable and stable partners in counterterrorism […] will only serve to bolster Allies’ broader efforts to strengthen the rules-based international order,” he said, by building trust in democratic institutions, fostering diplomatic partnerships, increasing respect for human rights and promoting mutually beneficial trade regimes.

Preserving a space for humanitarian action is another area where NATO can enhance security, argued Anissa Khedher, a fellow French parliamentarian. 

“By coming to the aid of civilian populations in need, and thereby helping stabilise countries in conflict, humanitarian action also contributes to the security of the Alliance,” Khedher wrote in a draft report on Acting to Preserve the Humanitarian Space: What Role for the Allies and for NATO?. “Allied governments and NATO must do all they can to push back against the shrinking of humanitarian space by supporting the missions of aid workers, strengthening their security and working to remove any obstacles they face.”

She pressed the Alliance to give a more prominent place in the next Strategic Concept to preserving humanitarian space, promoting international humanitarian law, protecting civilians and reinforcing human security.

The Assembly also heard from Irene Fellin, the NATO Secretary General’s Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security, who explained how greater participation of women builds stronger, more resilient societies. 

NATO “must continue to mainstream gender across his core tasks […] not only because it is, as we know, the smartest thing and right thing to do, but also because this is who we are. This represents our core values as democratic societies.”