Is NATO Ready for War?

An Assessment of Allies’ Efforts to Strengthen Defense and Deterrence since the 2022 Madrid Summit
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Executive Summary

Two years ago, NATO adopted a “back to the future” strategy of forward defense and deterrence following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. To implement it, allies committed to take various measures to strengthen their deterrence and defense at the 2022 Madrid Summit. As NATO leaders gather in Washington for the alliance’s 75th anniversary summit, this paper takes stock of allied efforts to strengthen collective defense. It finds they have made substantial progress on defense spending, forward defense, high-readiness forces, command and control, collective defense exercises, and integrating Finland and Sweden—achievements which should be recognized in Washington. However, while NATO might be ready for war, the question remains whether it is ready to fight—and thereby deter—a protracted war. To meet this goal, allies still need to spend more, boost industrial capacity, address critical capability gaps, and bolster national resilience.

Introduction

Si vis pacem, para bellum. If you want peace, prepare for war. If the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) did not already have a mottoanimus in consulendo liber, “in discussion a free mind”—this Latin adage would fit the alliance’s purpose quite well. The phrase conveys a piece of timeless deterrence logic: preparing for war might be the best way of averting it.

After Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, NATO adopted a new “back to the future” strategic concept which returned Russia to its Cold War status of adversary and put deterrence and defense back at the heart of alliance strategy. NATO revealed the concept at the 2022 Madrid Summit alongside a wide range of commitments which NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg described as amounting to a “fundamental shift to our deterrence and defence.” 

In less than a month, NATO leaders will gather in Washington for the alliance’s 75th anniversary summit. Ahead of that historic meeting, this paper takes stock of the progress NATO allies have made in implementing the commitments made two years ago in Madrid.

The paper comprises three sections. The first briefly recaps NATO’s efforts to strengthen defense and deterrence since 2014 and considers Russia’s current threat to NATO. The second assesses the progress made by NATO allies in implementing their Madrid commitments to strengthen deterrence and defense across the nine issue areas described in the Madrid Summit Declaration. The final section uses this assessment to gauge whether NATO is ready for war.

The Road to Washington

NATO’s journey toward stronger deterrence and defense began at the 2014 Wales Summit where allies responded to Russia’s annexation of Crimea by making long-term commitments to raise defense spending above 2 percent of GDP. Their near-term focus was on adapting NATO’s force posture. This started with the 2014 Readiness Action Plan, followed by establishing four Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) multinational battlegroups in the east in 2016. In 2018, the NATO Readiness Initiative improved the state of NATO’s high-readiness forces.

While the 2022 Strategic Concept garnered public attention, another NATO concept agreed upon in 2020 was already quietly revolutionizing deterrence and defense: the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area (DDA) concept. The DDA focuses on “force employment to deter and defend today.” Following Russia’s 2022 invasion, NATO activated its defense plans, making 40,000 troops—plus air, naval, and other assets—available to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). Four new EFP missions followed, alongside a strengthened maritime posture, air policing, air defense, and multinational exercises.

NATO planning was further transformed at last year’s Vilnius summit with the unveiling of new defense plans, another product of the DDA. “The DDA family of plans,” as SACEUR, U.S. general Christopher G. Cavoli, describes them, include three regional plans (covering northern, central, and southern Europe) alongside domain-specific plans (for land, air, maritime, cyber, and space forces) as well as plans for logistics and sustainment. As one recent analysis suggests: “None of this would have been possible without the DDA.”

Ready for War?

Russia’s actions in Ukraine confirmed the fears of many that Vladimir Putin would seek to continue the Stalinist subjugation of Russia’s near abroad. The war suggests that the worst-case thinking about Russia’s “maximum intentions” that historically guided NATO’s planning is warranted for the foreseeable future. Putin’s apparent propensity for aggression, risk taking, and strategic miscalculation makes him a dangerous adversary—and a difficult one to deter.

Russia has seen staggering losses in Ukraine but has “almost completely reconstituted militarily” to pre-war levels thanks to national mobilization and a war economy supported by China, Iran, and North Korea. Beyond Ukraine, Russia is making nuclear threats against NATO and stepping up hybrid threats across Europe. Several European leaders have warned that Russia could attack NATO allies within three, four, five, or eight years. Not only is China helping Russia’s military reconstitute, but the prospect of coordinated aggression between Moscow and Beijing has many implications for NATO—the most serious being the implications for U.S. force posture in Europe.

To paraphrase Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz, what kind of war should NATO prepare for?[1] Perhaps the most stressing scenario is a rapid territory seizure by Russian forces in the Baltic region. Variations of this scenario have been described, wargamed, and analyzed in recent years, almost becoming cliché, but it should not be dismissed.[2] In military planning jargon, it is the “most likely” and “most dangerous” course of action for Russia to take.

It is the likeliest scenario for any Russian conventional attack on NATO because the local force balance drastically favors Russia. This does not mean it is likely—a lot of things would have to go badly for Russia to consider this a good option—just that it might be the most likely NATO-Russia war scenario. Despite all the warnings from NATO leaders, the jury is still out on whether (and why) Russia would invade.

The consequences mean NATO planners must be prepared, as this kind of invasion risks nuclear escalation and is hard to reverse. Any NATO operation to regain lost ground would require establishing air superiority and control of the Baltic Sea before massing a significant local ground force. Even with NATO assurances, this situation is sufficiently threatening under Russian doctrine for Moscow to deploy non-strategic nuclear weapons for coercive or military purposes—forcing NATO to threaten nuclear use to compel withdrawal and reestablish deterrence.

This is why Baltic officials describe the best strategy as “repel, don’t expel.” It is also why NATO’s new strategic concept returned deterrence by denial and forward defense to the core of alliance strategy. As with the Cold War, deterrence by punishment—which relies primarily on the “sword” of U.S., UK, and French strategic nuclear forces—will continue to do most of the heavy lifting to deter the most serious threats to NATO allies. But just like in the Cold War, NATO allies will increasingly rely on forward-based “shield” forces to strengthen conventional deterrence and defense. This paper focuses on the commitments made by NATO allies in Madrid to do just this.[3] The next section analyzes these commitments in detail.

From Madrid to Washington: Assessing Commitments by NATO Allies to Strengthen Deterrence and Defense


Defense Spending

We reaffirm our commitment to the Defence Investment Pledge in its entirety. We will build on that pledge and decide next year on subsequent commitments beyond 2024

— Madrid Summit Declaration

The 2014 Defense Investment Pledge (DIP) required allies to invest at least 2 percent of GDP on defense—and at least 20 percent of that on modernization—by 2024. Last year in Vilnius, allies agreed that 2 percent would become “a minimum.” While in Wales only three allies met the target, this year 18 are projected to do so. NATO estimates that this year will be the first where European NATO allies invest 2 percent of their combined GDP. As Figure 1 shows, European allies have increased their investment by around a third since 2014, to a total of $380 billion.

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Recent announcements on spending included Norway’s “historic boost” to its spending, which will double over the next 12 years. The UK government recently announced a “fully funded plan” to reach 2.5 percent by 2030—an extra £75 billion ($96 billion). Meanwhile, despite announcing an additional funded CAD 8.1 billion ($5.9 billion) by 2030, Canada would still fall short at 1.76 percent of GDP.

Despite solid progress on defense spending since Madrid, three important questions remain for NATO allies. The first is whether the “2 percent as a minimum” target agreed to in Vilnius is enough to maintain a positive trajectory and deliver the capabilities required for a strong forward defense. The second is what they are spending money on. European allies need to address their known capability gaps and remove their reliance on the United States to conduct high-end collective defense missions. The final question is how the money is being spent. European allies have been spending more but cooperating less, making defense more expensive and inefficient than it needs to be.

Forward Defense Forces

Allies have committed to deploy additional robust in-place combat-ready forces on our eastern flank, to be scaled up from the existing battle groups to brigade-size units where and when required . . . [including] establishing division-level structures.

— Madrid Summit Declaration

The main component of NATO’s revitalized forward defense is the eight EFP missions, including multinational forces from several allies led by a framework nation. The status of each mission is set out below, based on the latest available data. This analysis highlights progress against the two new Madrid commitments: to scale up each mission to “brigade-size units” (up to 5,000 personnel) and to establish “division-level structures.”

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NATO forward defense forces are also deployed in the air and at sea. Last year, NATO’s strengthened Air Policing mission conducted over 300 intercepts of Russian aircraft in Baltic airspace. Allied air forces also increased contributions to Air Policing and Air Shielding (air and missile defense). At sea, allied Standing Naval Forces came under SACEUR’s command for the first time in 2022, while a French navy carrier strike group operated under NATO command in the Mediterranean—another first.

Significant progress has been made to enhance NATO’s forward defense. Since Madrid, allies have proven the combat readiness of all eight EFP missions with battlegroup-level certification exercises. Four of the eight missions have been exercised at the brigade level to rehearse rapid reinforcement in a crisis. Meanwhile, all eight missions are integrated into NATO’s command structure at the division level. EFP Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland have plans to integrate with new national division-level structures. Meanwhile, NATO allies have strengthened existing missions in the air and at sea. However, only two EFP missions are planning to permanently scale up to brigade size. This is because the Madrid agreement leaves the decision to scale up to the host, framework, and contributing nations. The question remains as to whether even brigade-size missions would be sufficient to deter by denial, given the local force imbalance in Russia’s favor.

NATO Force Model

We welcome the initial offers by Allies to NATO’s new force model, which will strengthen and modernise the NATO Force Structure and will resource our new generation of military plans.

— Madrid Summit Declaration

In Madrid, allies agreed to transition to a new force model by 2023. The aim of the New NATO Force Model (NFM) is to boost deterrence and defense by providing a much larger pool of forces available to deploy quickly in a crisis. The NFM replaced the 40,000 strong NATO Response Force (NRF). As Figure 2 below shows, it contains three tiers of forces held at graduated readiness, from 10 to 180 days (the NRF’s readiness time was 15 days). The NFM presaged the regional plans agreed to a year later in Vilnius, stating forces “will be pre-assigned to specific plans.” The NFM also provides the high-readiness forces required for the new Allied Reaction Force, to which NATO will transitioned in mid-2024.

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Detailed allied contributions to the NFM remain classified, but public announcements suggest progress. Germany agreed to contribute 30,000 troops and a combination of 85 ships and aircraft mobilizable in 30 days (Tier 2). The United Kingdom offered combat aircraft, ships, aircraft carriers, and “brigade-sized land forces.” The United States has also placed much of its 80,000 strong forces in Europe under NATO command, the most connected it has been to NATO structures in decades.

Challenges remain regarding force generation and sustainment. Last year, NATO Military Committee leaders acknowledged the remaining work to meet 300,000 but emphasized the importance of knowing what is missing. Additionally, experts such as John R. Deni of the U.S. Army War College have raised concerns about readiness. Recruitment and retention challenges in Europe and the United States undermine readiness, while demand for enablers and logistics personnel is going up. Deni notes that NATO has established readiness verification processes for Tier 1 and Tier 2 forces, but these have revealed shortfalls.

The authorities for SACEUR to activate and deploy NFM forces pre-crisis will be essential for delivering the DDA. As SACEUR confirmed, these authorities support “NATO’s ability to execute its plans and helps influence Allies to contribute their own forces.” Yet, allies are not always willing to grant NATO commanders the “transfer of authority” required for optimization and efficiency.[4] This also highlights the significance of aligning NFM force composition with the regional plans, potentially different from the forces allies typically provide.

Command Structure

Allies have committed to . . . enhanced command and control.

— Madrid Summit Declaration[5]

NATO has steadily adapted its command structure since Madrid, vital for the implementation and execution of the regional plans. The NFM’s scale also underscores the need for an updated and modernized structure. Figure 3 shows critical command and control (C2) nodes and how they relate to NATO’s regional plans.

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New headquarters include Headquarters Multinational Division North (MND N) in Ādaži, Latvia, which became fully operational in July 2023. In March 2024, Headquarters Multinational Division Northeast (HQ MND-NE) in Elbląg, Poland, followed suit. Both have a key role in coordinating EFP missions. In September 2023, the NATO Rapid Deployable Corps Italy (NRDC-ITA) became the interim headquarters of the Allied Reaction Force (ARF).

The addition of Finland and Sweden to NATO also required new C2 arrangements. JFC Norfolk (JFCNF), NATO’s newest strategic command, which oversees the northwest Europe regional plan (see Figure 3), became fully operational in July 2021 but significantly changed following Finland and Sweden’s accession, when a political consensus formed across the Nordic nations to gather under JFCNF. To meet this reconfiguration, the JFCNF is being upscaled, with full integration planned for 2025.[6] The JFCNF demonstrated its readiness by taking command of Steadfast Defender for one month while the exercise was in its area of responsibility.[7] A new corps-level land component command has been proposed in Mikkeli, Finland (about 140 km from the Russian border), likely vital for the JFCNF’s C2 infrastructure.

If created, Mikkeli would take the number of corps-level commands to the 11 deemed necessary by NATO to deliver on regional plans. Streamlining NATO’s C2 structures is crucial for robust deterrence and defense. Agile commands such as the German DEU MARFOR, capable of rapid scalability in crises or supporting DDA activities, are essential. Prioritizing C2 adaptation and exercising should address this need.

Integrate Finland and Sweden

We reaffirm our commitment to NATO’s Open Door Policy. Today, we have decided to invite Finland and Sweden to become members of NATO and agreed to sign the Accession Protocols.

— Madrid Summit Declaration

The most notable NATO achievement since the Madrid Summit has been Finland and Sweden joining as full NATO members. Following their formal invitation and after nearly two years of political drama, Ankara and Budapest eventually dropped their objections after extracting concessions from various allies, including the United States. This sent a resounding political signal to Moscow and added serious deterrent power to NATO’s ranks, gaining two highly capable members with the ability to severely constrain Russia’s freedom of maneuver in the Baltic Sea.

The process of fully integrating Finland and Sweden into NATO is ongoing, but substantial progress has been made. The integration is helped by the deep military cooperation between the two countries and NATO prior to accession. Both were Enhanced Opportunities Partners (under the Partnership Interoperability Initiative) which assessed Finland and Sweden as more interoperable with NATO than some existing allies. The integration of the “formidable” air power of the Nordic countries has been developing for decades, as the recent integration of Finnish and Swedish air forces into NATO illustrates.

Several challenges remain to fully integrate Finland and Sweden. These include developing adequate command structure arrangements, adjusting the regional plans and DDA, and taking account of both nations’ requirements for defense across domains, including logistics. Analysis suggests the critical role here of the United States and United Kingdom, given that the United States recently signed Nordic defense cooperation agreements and the United Kingdom leads the Joint Expeditionary Force, which has integrated Finnish and Swedish forces on operations for several years.

Collective Defense Exercises

We will enhance our collective defense exercises to be prepared for high intensity and multi-domain operations and ensure reinforcement of any ally on short notice.

— Madrid Summit Declaration

NATO has significantly delivered since Madrid on its promise to refocus its exercise program on collective defense. The recent Steadfast Defender was the largest NATO exercise since the Cold War, featuring 90,000 personnel from all allies across all domains. It included maritime and amphibious drills in the High North and multi-domain exercises across Europe, with a focus on military mobility. Steadfast Defender has been an important tool to test and validate other major lines of effort such as the NFM and regional plans.

NATO’s exercise program has focused on multi-domain operations. In the air, Germany hosted and led its largest edition of Air Defender, while Vigilant Falcon tested Baltic air policing this May. At sea, Neptune Strike 2024 included five carrier strike groups in the Mediterranean, and Dynamic Mongoose focused on anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare. The 2023 Baltops exercise was the first with Finland participating as an ally.

The newest domains, cyber and space, were also tested. NATO held its dedicated space exercise Vulcan Guard in April. The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Centre of Excellence in Tallinn, Estonia, hosted the world’s largest cyber defense exercise, Locked Shields, last year. In June, the Coalition Warrior Interoperability Exercise will test interoperability across all domains and NATO C2 systems.

Defense Industry

To have the necessary capabilities, the Alliance requires a strong and capable defence industry, with resilient supply chains.

— Vilnius Communiqué[8]

Russia’s war in Ukraine revealed the critical state of NATO’s defense industrial base, as allies seek to supply Ukraine with munitions and replenish their stocks. At Vilnius, allies urged the removal of barriers to defense trade and investment among themselves to bolster resiliency. The Defence Production Action Plan (DPAP) was unveiled, “leveraging the Alliance’s role as a convener, standard-setter, requirement setter and aggregator, and delivery enabler.” Highlighted DPAP priority areas include aggregating demand across allies to accelerate joint procurement, increasing production capacity, and enhancing allied interoperability.

Varying progress has been evident in demand aggregation, interoperability, and procurement coordination and collaboration. Since July 2023, the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) has awarded contracts for munitions, joint procurement of Patriot missiles, and artillery shells. In addition, allies have improved multinational capability cooperation, evident in NATO’s MRTT-C air fleet achieving initial operational capability. As Figure 4 shows, traditional European producers have increased trade within Europe, but Poland’s all-source importation strategy has significantly boosted arms trade for the continent.

Synchronization efforts between the European Union and NATO could enhance NATO deterrence and defense, should such efforts be pursued. The European Union has allocated over €500 million ($544 million) to ramp up ammunition production and has provided aid to Ukraine through the European Peace Facility. Additionally, its first ever Defense Industrial Strategy (EDIS) was released this year, with the aim to boost capacity and intra-European collaboration. While some have seen EDIS as in competition with DPAP on standard setting, officials affirm that they are not in competition with each other. The European Union and NATO share the goal of increasing readiness, making enhanced coordination between them essential to avoid duplication.

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Unsurprisingly, significant defense industrial production challenges remain. Despite clear demand signals, barriers inhibiting production acceleration and NATO-EU tensions persist. Orders form only one input in the production equation, and delivery delays fail to convert into weapons stocks in reliable timeframes. Figure 4 shows incremental progress but demonstrates that longstanding pathologies hobbling European production are not easily overcome. To ensure NATO readiness, the United States should prioritize multilateral munitions production with member states over bilateral efforts. The European Union’s anticipated increased role raises NATO concerns, but it could positively transform the transatlantic defense industrial base, contingent on EU funding capacity. To effectively leverage NATO collective investments and build production capacity, the alliance would benefit from greater defense industrial integration and consolidation.

Defense Capabilities

Investing in our defence and key capabilities is essential.

— Madrid Summit Declaration

NATO’s cumulative capabilities far exceed Russia’s—even excluding the United States. This is shown below in Table 2, which uses two examples of critical capabilities to make the comparison. Two years of war in Ukraine have taken their toll on Russia’s armed forces, as its fleet of active main battle tanks has diminished by 41 percent since 2022 and active personnel have fallen by nearly 20 percent despite partial national mobilization. Moreover, non-U.S. NATO can field more modern equipment than Russia. Approximately 71 percent of non-U.S. NATO’s combat aircraft fleet was produced or modernized after 1990, compared to 53 percent of Russia’s inventory.[9]

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However, this advantage does not necessarily translate to the battlefield. NATO faces significant capability gaps and readiness challenges which undermine conventional deterrence. Allies may have more advanced combat aircraft, but they have struggled with magazine depth. During NATO’s 2011 air operations in Libya, non-U.S. NATO members began running out of precision munitions within a month—and this was a comparatively minor operation compared to defending the Baltics.

NATO’s issues go beyond airpower. According to a study by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the number of combat battalions, in-service main battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored reconnaissance vehicles, and self-propelled artillery in European armies has remained static or fallen between 2014 and 2023. More broadly, European nations are carrying significant gaps in naval forces, air enablers, air defense, and “battle-decisive ammunition” (artillery munitions and missiles). Any major combat operation in Europe would rely on U.S. forces to make up for European shortfalls in the land, maritime, and air forces required to deliver a range of warfighting missions. These issues have not yet been addressed by the significant increases in defense investment by NATO allies since 2014. NATO allies clearly face an important conversion challenge in translating their wealth into combat capabilities.

Resilience

Resilience is a national responsibility and a collective commitment.

— Madrid Summit Declaration

Resilience—incorporating military capacity, civil preparedness, and emergency planning—was NATO’s first line of defense against the Soviet Union. The same is true again today. Since Madrid, allies have launched several new initiatives to enhance resilience. In October 2022, NATO established a Resilience Committee which met twice prior to Vilnius. In March 2023, the NATO-EU Task Force on the Resilience of Critical Infrastructure was established to examine four key sectors: energy, transport, digital infrastructure, and space. Its final report in June 2023 recommended 14 actions to leverage NATO-EU cooperation on critical infrastructure. This was picked up at the Vilnius Summit in July, when NATO launched a new Maritime Centre for the Security of Critical Underwater Infrastructure within NATO’s Allied Maritime Command. The summit communiqué also emphasized societal resilience, health systems, supply chains, and energy security. Allies also agreed to resilience objectives and a new baseline for allied resilience planning—which remains a national responsibility, guided by NATO authorities.

Resilience is a complex issue that demands persistence, investment, and cooperation, requiring a more coordinated and collective approach. Building on progress to date, NATO’s Resilience Committee should consider new ideas such as a NATO resilience fund, a resilience advisory group, and a NATO-wide Security Risk Assessment (NSRA) to identify key resilience risks. The European Union’s renewed focus on resilience and the unique levers it possesses—from financial instruments to regulatory powers—make it well placed to act boldly, in continued close cooperation with NATO. These efforts also boost allies’ responses to generational challenges in NATO’s Strategic Concept, such as green energy and the digital transition.

Enhancing military resilience through NATO is not enough; each ally must confront the societal challenge of war preparedness based on its own strategic culture. New allies Finland and Sweden offer a new wave of expertise based on their advanced approaches to whole-of-society resilience and civil preparedness. Above all, NATO allies must find the “will to fight,” which—as Ukraine has shown—remains the foundation of defense.

Is NATO Ready for War?

The detailed assessments above are summarized in Table 3 and discussed below. A simple rating of “on track” or “off track” is used because the commitments made by NATO allies in Madrid were not scheduled for completion in Washington. As one analysis put it: “the alliance’s journey toward stronger defense and deterrence has only just begun.”[10]

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What does this assessment tell us about NATO’s readiness for war? The answer to this question depends on the kind of war that emerges from any crisis. It seems clear that NATO is ready to “fight tonight.” The transition to the DDA and the regional plans adopted in Vilnius have driven a step change in the scale of NATO’s forces which are combat ready, deployed forward, and under SACEUR’s direct command.

Expanding to eight EFP missions and reinforcing air and maritime presence has empowered NATO to swiftly assemble a significant fighting force along the eastern front in crises, fostering a cultural shift among allies.[11] Meanwhile, NATO’s C2 has evolved quickly and demonstrated readiness through large-scale exercises. The NFM has led to a revolution in apportioning high-readiness national forces to NATO at a scale 10 times greater than before. Above all, NATO has successfully integrated Finland and Sweden, adding significant air, naval, and land combat power and removing any uncertainty over their contribution to an Article 5 scenario.

However, a closer look at the longer-term measures agreed upon in Madrid reveals a slightly different question: NATO might be ready for war, but is it ready for protracted war?[12] Any permutation of a serious Russia-NATO conflict that does not end quickly will become a clash of not just armies, but societies. This becomes a competition in resilience and preparedness, industrial capacity and supply chains, magazine depth, logistics, mass, resources, and especially the “will to fight.” The halting progress and ongoing challenges to increase defense spending, transform defense industrial capacity, address critical capability gaps, and bolster national resilience—all required to strengthen deterrence and defense—must be acknowledged, addressed, and overcome. As SACEUR Cavoli recently clarified, the key question for NATO is not about Russian reconstitution per se, but relative to the alliance’s own deterrence and defense reconstitution. As Clausewitz reminds us in his “two wrestlers” metaphor, all strategy is dynamic and relative.

In reconstituting their forces, NATO allies face the perennial challenge of balancing the “iron triangle” of trade-offs between readiness, modernization, and force structure. For NATO, this might be adjusted as shown in Figure 5. In essence, allies must balance short-term force increases (“fight tonight”) and long-term modernization efforts (“fight tomorrow”), all while preparing for protraction. For example, compare Poland’s efforts to soon field the biggest army in Europe with the United Kingdom’s focus on becoming a “Science and Tech Superpower” by 2030. This trade-off is neither new nor binary, but the nature of the Russian threat makes it critical. The answer will depend on the judgment of NATO allies as to when Russia might be able and willing to attack. The diverse range of assessments and inherent uncertainty of this task make it challenging, but NATO’s war readiness will depend on the type of conflict that arises. It seems clear that NATO is ready to “fight tonight.”

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A final question raised by this analysis is the paradigm within which NATO allies are planning to meet their Madrid commitments. The 2022 Strategic Concept put forward defense back on NATO’s agenda, but for all its qualities, allied forward presence is “still a tripwire.”[13] Even if the Madrid commitments were fulfilled completely, NATO’s forward presence would likely still fall short of the denial standard required to make a Russian fait accompli untenable.[14] The strategy would then be “expel, not repel,” when the reverse is far preferable. The alliance would be placing all of its eggs in the basket of nuclear deterrence, with all the catastrophic associated risks.

As NATO leaders gather in Washington this summer, they should celebrate their significant progress in fulfilling the commitments made in Madrid to bolster allied deterrence and defense. They should also push for improvements in key areas underpinning NATO’s readiness for a protracted war: defense spending, industrial capacity, critical capability gaps, and national resilience. Furthermore, they should reconsider whether the level of ambition they set in Madrid is high enough. In the Cold War, NATO’s strategy rested just as much on a robust forward defense “shield” as it did on its “sword” of nuclear deterrence. Times have changed, but not that much. Si vis pacem, para bellum.

Sean Monaghan is a visiting fellow in the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Eskil Jakobsen is the Stuart Center visiting fellow in the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at CSIS. Sissy Martinez is a program manager and research associate for the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at CSIS. Mathieu Droin is a visiting fellow in the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at CSIS. Gregory Sanders is deputy director and fellow with the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at CSIS. Nicholas Velazquez is a research assistant with the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at CSIS. Cynthia Cook is director of the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group and a senior fellow in the International Security Program at CSIS. Anna Dowd is an adjunct fellow (non-resident) with the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at CSIS. Maeve Sockwell is an intern with the Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group at CSIS.

This white paper is made possible by general support to CSIS.

Please consult the PDF for references.

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Sean Monaghan
Visiting Fellow, Europe, Russia and Eurasia Program
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Eskil Jakobsen

Eskil Jakobsen

Former Stuart Center Visiting Fellow, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program
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Sissy Martinez
Program Manager and Research Associate, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program
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Mathieu Droin
Visiting Fellow, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program
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Gregory Sanders
Deputy Director and Fellow, Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group
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Nicholas Velazquez

Nicholas Velazquez

Former Research Assistant, Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group
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Cynthia Cook
Director, Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group and Senior Fellow, International Security Program
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Anna Dowd
Adjunct Fellow (Non-resident), Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group

Maeve Sockwell

Intern, Defense-Industrial Initiatives Group, CSIS