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Making NATO’s partnerships more strategic: Sweden and Finland as partner models for development

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

NATO 2030: Towards a New Strategic Concept and Beyond, written by a diverse, multigenerational group of policymakers and academics from across Europe and the United States, provides new insights about NATO’s changing threat landscape, its shifting internal dynamics, and the evolution of warfare. The book was sponsored by the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs and the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), with the generous support of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).

Anna Wieslander’s and Kathrine Elgin Kjellström’s chapter “Making NATO’s partnerships more strategic: Sweden and Finland as partner models for development” proposes that NATO further develop an “interest-driven approach” that would define partnership objectives based on how partner nations’ interests would converge and contribute with NATO’s own interests and goals. An interest-driven approach is not only about NATO articulating its interests—it is also about partners expressing their national security interests in order to shape a common foundation of the partnership. The current “demand-driven” approach has tended to treat many partners as “security takers,” with non-member states driving the ambition of each partnership, pushing to get out of NATO what they wanted for their own security needs.

By being more pro-active and deliberate in its partnership developments, NATO will be in a better position to shape, rather than merely respond to, its security environment. To this end, NATO should:

  • Apply an approach to partnerships based on converging interests. Partners would define their national security interests and discuss with NATO how these relate to NATO’s strategic interests, shaping a common understanding of the degree of convergence of interests.

  • Consider additional partners based on NATO’s objectives. Analyze if there are potential partners of interest, including democracies in Africa, Latin America, the Indo-Pacific, and other regional organizations.

  • Adjust its structure and organization for partnerships to match the strategic setting of the coming decade. Development of partnerships has been hampered in the past by inadequate funding and over-reliance on voluntary trust funds. NATO should therefore increase its common funding and invest in adequate resources to encompass more partners and increased level of activities.

  • Determine the depth and intensity of the relationship between the partner and NATO by the degree of converging interests. The Enhanced Opportunity Partner (EOP) status should be kept and extended when suitable. Where the converging interest assessment has illustrated a lower match, partners would be given lower priority. This does not imply tiers of partnerships, but rather a recognition that each individual partner will offer different levels of converging interests.

  • Consider an engagement platform for China. NATO has an interest in establishing channels for communication, transparency, and exchange of information, as China is increasingly present and active on NATO territory.

  • NATO should also assess partner formats that might no longer be relevant. Given strained resources, NATO must give priority to those formats that give most strategic value.

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