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Revitalizing NATO’s Collective Defense: Navigating National Commitments

Executive Summary

NATO's 2023 Vilnius summit marked a pivotal step towards re-establishing collective defense, a focus not seen for over three decades. This shift, driven by the perceived Russian threat, underscores the seriousness with which NATO leaders view the situation. The new regional defense plans are complex and demanding, likely requiring financial commitments beyond the current 2% of GDP, and perhaps even beyond the proposed 2.5%. These plans have yet to undergo thorough public and parliamentary scrutiny, raising concerns about their affordability, military oversight, and compatibility with European defense capabilities. Detailed national parliamentary scrutiny is essential to ensure that the commitments made are aligned with national resources and political goals. Key points include:

  1. Identifying the true costs of implementing NATO’s regional defense plans.

  2. Examining the feasibility of a separable European military pillar within NATO, especially in light of potential political shifts in the US.

  3. Ensuring that the system for securing national military commitments does not overly empower NATO’s military authorities, such as the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).


At the Vilnius summit, NATO leaders approved regional defense plans, marking a return to collective defense after years of focusing on crisis management in places like the Balkans, Libya, and Afghanistan. This shift has not garnered significant attention because defense planning is assumed to be NATO's core function. However, the reality is that NATO has not prioritized collective defense for nearly three decades.


The necessity of these plans became evident after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, which prompted NATO to start rebuilding its collective defense capabilities. The Readiness Action Plan adopted at the 2016 Warsaw Summit was an initial step, though it primarily aimed to reassure Eastern European allies rather than provide immediate defense capabilities. The establishment of a rotational military presence in the Baltic states and Poland in 2014 was another significant measure, serving as a symbolic commitment to defend these nations.

A Serious Return to Collective Defense

The 2023 Vilnius Summit represents a significant shift towards re-prioritizing collective defense. This decision follows years of preliminary steps, including the 2019 NATO Military Strategy that identified Russia as a "strategic competitor" and the 2020 strategic plan developed by SACEUR. The 2022 Strategic Concept further solidified this shift, formally recognizing Russia as the most significant threat to allied security.

Challenges and Considerations

The regional defense plans are extensive and complex, comprising 4,500 pages and demanding substantial financial and political commitments. There are significant challenges ahead:

  1. Affordability: Implementing these plans will be expensive, likely requiring defense spending beyond the current 2% of GDP target. The exact costs are unclear, necessitating detailed parliamentary scrutiny to ensure transparency and feasibility.

  2. National Military Commitments: SACEUR will need to secure commitments from allies to provide the necessary forces and capabilities. This process should be subject to rigorous public and parliamentary oversight to maintain political control and prevent excessive demands from NATO's military authorities.

  3. European Defense Capability: The approval of NATO's regional defense plans raises questions about the feasibility of an autonomous European defense capability. The intense demands of NATO's plans might render a separate EU defense force impractical, especially if European military resources are heavily committed to NATO.

2024 NATO Summit: Marking 75 Years of the Alliance

Seventy-five years ago, 12 countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington, D.C., to ensure their collective defense in an unpredictable world. This year, 32 NATO Allies will meet again in Washington, D.C., from July 9-11, 2024, to make key decisions on how to continue protecting their one billion citizens as the world faces the most dangerous security environment since the Cold War.

Key Topics on the Agenda

At the Washington Summit, NATO leaders will address a wide variety of issues facing the Alliance and ensure that NATO remains ready to respond to any challenge. The discussions will revolve around several key topics, including:

  • Demonstrating NATO’s unity and strength in support of Ukraine.

  • Addressing the current security environment and strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defense capabilities.

  • Evaluating the implementation progress of the regional defense plans approved in Vilnius.

  • Ensuring that NATO's commitments are aligned with the financial and political capabilities of member states.


NATO's revival of collective defense is a critical step towards addressing the Russian threat, but it comes with significant challenges. The financial and political implications of the regional defense plans must be thoroughly examined by national parliaments to ensure they are sustainable and aligned with national interests. As NATO leaders prepare to review progress at the July 2024 summit in Washington, it is crucial that public and parliamentary scrutiny of these plans is enhanced to ensure effective oversight and control. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg emphasized the importance of unity and strength in these efforts, stating, "At the Washington Summit, we will demonstrate NATO’s unity and strength once again – in support of Ukraine, and to keep all our people and values safe."


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