The Need for a New NATO Force Planning Exercise

NATO countries have already provided massive amounts of military aid to Ukraine, deployed additional forces to support the NATO countries that share a border with Russia, improved the Alliance’s ability to rapidly deploy forces forward in a crisis, and worked with key powers like Poland to strengthen its capabilities. NATO has accepted Finland and Sweden as future members of the Alliance, and it has made numerous other short-term adjustments to its force posture that enhance its deterrence and defense capabilities.

NATO faces a future, however, where it cannot predict how much territory Ukraine will lose and where it must now view Russia as an ongoing major threat at virtually every level from the limited conventional threats Russia poses to the NATO countries on its border to the major increases in its threat of strategic nuclear forces. NATO cannot continue to treat Russia as a potential partner, and that seems to be an unlikely path forward so long as Putin or anyone like him is in power. NATO also cannot ignore the rise in China’s military and economic power or the prospects of closer Russian and Chinese strategic cooperation.

The challenge NATO faces goes far beyond Ukraine. The days in which NATO countries could keep taking peace dividends by cutting their forces, failing to modernize, and failing to adopt new forces of tactics and interoperability are over. NATO cannot deal with the Russian threat in terms of half-measures or by continuing to focus on empty and virtually meaningless force goals like spending 2% of national GDP on defense and 20% of defense expenditure on equipment.

NATO needs to act now to look far beyond the short-term priorities of the Ukraine conflict. It needs to revitalize its entire force planning progress. It needs to create effective levels of deterrence and defense capability, while it modernizes its forces to deal with radically new requirements like joint all-domain operations (JADO), emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs), new precision-strike capabilities, changes in air and missile warfare and defense, and the revival of Russian naval power and the growth of a Chinese blue-water navy.

The Emeritus Chair in Strategy has prepared a report, entitled, The Need for a New NATO Force Planning Exercise, that examines how NATO must approach an effective force planning exercise that can give its new strategy real meaning. This report documents the pointless character of NATO’s present emphasis on burdensharing, and it examines the real-world shifts in spending and forces in NATO since 2014, as well as how these changes have affected the national forces in given sectors of Europe.

The report is entitled, The Need for a New NATO Force Planning Exercise, and is available on the CSIS website at

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy

Grace Hwang