January 29, 2018

There Is No NATO without the North Atlantic

To fulfill its mission of collective security, NATO must pay attention to geography

By Jerry Hendrix

NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has a problem in the North Atlantic. It is not prepared for Russian aggression, at either the strategic or the tactical level. This can be seen in the nonchalant way the alliance regards key strategic choke points in the Atlantic, in particular the waters around the island nation of Iceland in the north Atlantic and Portugal’s Azores islands in the mid-Atlantic. It can also be seen in the individual fiscal commitments towards defense by individual NATO nations. For instance, Germany currently spends only about 1.2 percent of its GDP on its defense and Iceland spends only about 0.1 percent of its GDP. This is troubling, given the Russian threat that looms on the horizon.

NATO may soon find itself at risk because of its inattention to the key geographical feature that dominates its structure. To be clear, this is not the European continent, with 27 countries that make up the preponderance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The nations that belong to the alliance in Europe are contiguous to one another and largely integrated in their mutual defense, such as it is in an era when defense spending amounts to 2 percent of GDP or less. No, the area of risk for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is in the moat that separates Europe from its large, defense-minded neighbor, the United States, in North America. It’s the Atlantic Ocean that presents the alliance’s highest risk — or, rather, the alliance’s lack of focus on the critical task of maintaining access to it, and NATO’s shaky awareness of the critical importance of the key geographic features in Iceland and the Azores.

Read the full op-ed in National Review.

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