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Research Report

The Naval Alliance: Preparing NATO for a Maritime Century

Magnus Nordenman
Copyright Date: Jun. 1, 2015
Published by: Atlantic Council
Pages: 24
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 1-1)

    NATO and the militaries of its member states have taken on a decidedly ground-centric character over the last decade. The Alliance undertook a protracted counterinsurgency and reconstruction campaign in Afghanistan, and many NATO members participated in European Union (EU) and coalition operations in places such as Mali, Iraq, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This small war and ground-centric focus has influenced training, exercises, planning, and procurement across the Alliance—as well as the strategic mindset, culture, and priorities of the Alliance and its political and military leaders. Indeed, this ground-centric approach has been continued into the Alliance’s reassurance efforts...

  2. (pp. 2-2)

    The global maritime domain is easy to ignore for nonmariners, yet it is absolutely vital for global prosperity and communications. More than 90 percent of raw materials, components, finished goods, and energy supplies travel between supplier and consumer via the maritime domain.¹ The maritime domain is vitally important in the twenty-first century, as globalization has spread and economies have become increasingly interconnected. Global maritime trade has quadrupled over the past four decades, and is projected to double again over the next fifteen years, on the keels of more than one hundred thousand merchant vessels.² Furthermore, the sea is a key...

  3. (pp. 3-3)

    NATO has a strong heritage as a maritime alliance. During the Cold War, naval forces played a major role in deterring a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, and the unfettered use of the Atlantic Ocean was absolutely vital to the ability of the United States to reinforce Europe in a war scenario. Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has embarked on a wide range of crisis-management operations, stretching from the Balkans to Afghanistan. While operations such as the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) effort in Afghanistan and Operation Unified Protector over Libya have garnered headlines and have been...

  4. (pp. 4-8)

    The global maritime domain is set for considerable change over the coming decades, which will impact global and transatlantic security, as well as future naval requirements and missions.⁷ Outlined below are some of the global trends—first outlined by the United States, UK, and other governments—that will make the maritime domain more crowded, competitive, and turbulent.

    The rapid economic growth of developing nations will have a wide range of effects on the global maritime domain. Global maritime trade patterns will change as countries such as China, Indonesia, and Brazil become ever larger exporters of raw materials, components, and finished...

  5. (pp. 9-11)

    In recent years, the discussion and attention surrounding NATO’s maritime role have focused on nonstate challenges, such as piracy and seaborne terrorism. These are important challenges, and they are threats that the international community will have to manage and suppress for a long time to come. However, the future maritime domain will feature a number of different challenges from both nonstate and state actors. The future maritime domain will be more congested with actors and activities than ever before. Emerging powers will increasingly cast doubt on the supremacy of the current model of governance at sea, which today is underpinned...

  6. (pp. 12-14)

    NATO’s AMS, rolled out in 2011, garnered little attention, nor did it gain much traction among NATO’s members. It was developed at a time when the Alliance was still strongly focused on the war in Afghanistan and nonstate challenges such as piracy and terrorism at sea. The AMS is a good starting point, and the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales further advanced this notion, but NATO must now update its strategy to operationalize and strengthen Alliance responses to a changing security environment, and to plan for the long-term trajectory of the global maritime domain.

    Defense austerity across Europe has certainly...

  7. (pp. 15-15)

    NATO will always need a full spectrum of air, ground, and naval capabilities in order to remain militarily and politically credible to both its members and potential adversaries. However, the last decade has skewed the Alliance toward ground-centric and expeditionary operations. This is an understandable development given the bloody, costly, and protracted campaign in Afghanistan and the peacekeeping missions in the Balkans. In the future, however, the global maritime domain will again be increasingly important as an arena for collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security. And the domain’s importance as the global conveyer belt of goods, components, raw materials,...