NATO Strategic Concept 2022: Renewed Strategic Rivalry amongst Russia’s Increasing Aggression and China’s Rise

  • On June 29, 2022, in Madrid, NATO Heads of State and Government endorsed a redesigned Strategic Concept for the Alliance.

  • This Concept outlines the Alliance’s priorities, core tasks, and approaches for the following decade.

  • In this context, the concept note outlines the Alliance’s security environment, underlines NATO’s values, and puts forth the Alliance’s main objective of collective defense. It also summaries NATO’s three main tasks: deterrence and defense; crisis prevention and management; and cooperative security.

  • The Strategic Concept, NATO’s second most significant document, is updated every decade. It gives a common assessment of security concerns and directs the Alliance’s political and military operations.

  • The previous version was approved at the NATO Summit in Lisbon in 2010.

Collaborative Analysis by Research Assisstants of  EUNACR’s

Conflict, Peace and Security Unit

Unit Lead: Ayat Abdel Aziz 

Nesreen Mohamed Yehia – Rania El-Refaei – Eriny Girguis – Haya Hesham



Looking at past concept notes and documents, and how they differ from this one, is essential to understanding the change in the new concept and its implications. Since its inception, NATO’s strategic thinking has evolved across two major historical periods: the Cold War era and the post-Cold War period. Increasing geostrategic rivalry is a result of Russia’s hostile behavior and China’s growth.

As NATO’s policy evolved from 1949 to 1991, it became increasingly focused on communication and détente. Several strategic concepts were defined in supporting documents, including “Strategic Guidance,” “The Most Effective Pattern of NATO Military Strength for the Next Few Years,” and “Measures to Implement the Strategic Concept.”  NATO began taking a broader approach in 1991, supplementing the core principles of deterrence and defense with cooperation and security.

In response to 9/11, NATO countries agreed in 2002 that they needed to be more prepared for terrorist attacks. It was this resolution that led them to adopt a new Strategic Concept in 2010 and a new military command structure designed specifically for dealing with terrorism in 2013.

After the attack of 9/11, NATO has increased its focus on combating terrorism and terrorist networks. The members of NATO pledged to align their military doctrines for Europe with that of America’s and took concrete steps to increase intelligence sharing among themselves.

The Alliance also pledged soldiers to Afghanistan for 20 years beyond the Euro-Atlantic region. In the post-Cold War period, three non-classified Strategic Concepts were issued (1991, 1999, and 2010), which were supplemented by highly classified records (MC Directive for Military Implementation of the Alliance’s Strategic Concept, MC Guidance for Military Implementation of the Alliance Strategy, and MC Guidance MC 400/3).

Since 2010, and notably, since 2014, when Russia first invaded Ukraine and seized the Crimean Peninsula, the pattern of increasing Russian aggression, along with China’s development, has ushered in a new geostrategic environment marked by renewed strategic rivalry. NATO began redeploying troops on its eastern and southern flanks in 2017 and has pledged to  strengthen its deterrence and defense since Russia’s war against Ukraine in 2022.

Accordingly, the 2022 Strategic Concept note incorporates these significant advancements and defines the course for managing this changing and complex security environment.

Post-Cold War Strategic Concepts of 1991, 1999, and 2010 were influenced by relative strategic stability, as well as optimism regarding cooperative and constructive advances in global affairs. In the Concepts of 1991 and 1999, deterrence was still mentioned as a vital security objective for the Alliance, but in a far more sanguine manner than in the Concept of 1968.

NATO’s Strategic Concept note for 2010 outlined three key NATO tasks: collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security. Most NATO observers considered collective defense to be more important than the other two tasks, even though they were presented as equal in priority. Russia was identified as one of NATO’s prospective “strategic partners” in the document mentioned above, demonstrating optimism for the future. China was not mentioned.

Russian military incursions in 2014, however, sparked widespread belief that the 2010 concept needed revision. Migration crisis and hybrid threats like cyber-attacks have become critical issues for Alliance members. However, Donald Trump’s administration made it difficult to truly consider a new concept.

  • What’s New in 2022 NATO Strategic Concept?

    The Strategic Concept note for 2022 provides a pessimistic assessment of NATO’s deteriorating strategic environment. It states that allies will retain a global perspective on peace, security, and work closely with partners, other countries, and international organizations. Moreover, it reaffirms NATO’s indispensable role as a guarantee of peace, freedom, and prosperity in the Euro-Atlantic region. As a result, the Allies will continue to stand united in defense of their security, values, and democratic way of life.

The NATO Strategic Concept recognizes the interconnected security challenges posed by strategic competition and emerging threats. It also recognizes that these challenges are global in nature, and that they can have an impact on the stability of European nations.

The NATO Strategic Concept notes that the Russian Federation is viewed as “the greatest danger to Allied security” due to its aggression against Ukraine. Terrorism, conflicts and instabilities in the Middle East and Africa, prevalent instability and its impact on civilians, cultural property, and the environment are all identified as threats to peace and security.

The erosion of arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation architectures; cyberspace; emerging technologies; climate change; China’s asserted ambitions and forcible regulations; and weapons of mass destruction are all identified as challenges that need to be addressed.

The concept note mentions the following threats:

-Strategic competition, including “the Russian Federation, which destroyed European peace by launching an aggressive war against Ukraine.”

-Terrorism and conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.

-“Pervasive instability in many regions of the world”

-China’s asserted ambitions and forcible regulations.


-Emerging and destructive technologies.

-The erosion of arms control, disarmament, and non-proliferation architectures.

-The security implications of climate change.


Russia and China

The new NATO strategic concept note has been escalated in its wording and language, showing a lot in their intentions for all other counterparts. In 2010, NATO emphasized that the Euro-Atlantic area is at peace and the threat of a conventional attack against NATO is an excluded option. Meanwhile, in 2022’s concept notes, the Euro-Atlantic area is not at peace, as there is an increasing possibility of an attack against allies, from any rising power, especially the threat facing NATO due to the Russian-Ukrainian war. Regarding the international world and their relations with their ultimate enemy, Russia.

The document identifies Russia as the “most significant and direct threat” to the Allies’ security while for the first-time mentioning China and the difficulties Beijing poses to the Allies’ security, objectives, and values. Previously, China was not a matter of concern as seen in 2010 documents and earlier documents, but now after being one of the rising powers, it is described as a systematic challenge to Euro Atlantic security. NATO accuses the country of “malicious hybrid and cyber operations,” seeking to exert control over critical infrastructure and supply chains and using “economic leverage to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence”. Moreover, it claims that China is attempting to reshape, alter, and redefine components of the current system to better suit its views and interests.

This change in attitude towards China is likely due to several factors: increased Chinese military spending; its territorial disputes with its neighbors; continued support from Russia; efforts by Beijing to modernize its armed forces; growing economic ties between Europe and China; Chinese investments in key infrastructure projects around Europe; increasing technological cooperation between China and Russia; development of new military capabilities by both countries (such as hypersonic missiles); development of new weapons systems such as fifth generation aircrafts; increased military presence.

China has a different vision of the world order and is not only striving to achieve a prominent position on the international stage that matches its economic and military power. China’s vision is still developing and may be in this state for only a short time. A partial order could be the first step towards full hegemony if China’s material situation allows it and no countervailing forces emerge. While not currently seen as a significant tool for achieving strategic objectives, the use of force and coercion may become another option as China’s capabilities within the system become unchallenged. China’s rise is upsetting the international balance of power and calling into question Western ideas about the regional and global order.

NATO also faces the need to meet China’s challenges. This has been reflected in various NATO statements since 2019. According to Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, China “does not share our values” and “uses modern technology, social media and facial recognition to monitor its population like never before. “All of this makes it important for NATO to strengthen its policy toward China.” This new concept represents a major shift in NATO’s official perception of China. The rhetoric about China’s growing power, interdependence through force, and threats to the rules-based international order is resolute and direct, but combined with a willingness to engage constructively.

The document also refers to the developing Sino-Russian strategic partnership as an attempt to “undermine the rules-based international order.” Moreover, the Sino-Russian partnership is described as a threat to the Alliance.



Deterrence and Defense

NATO adopted new strategic concepts, enhanced deterrence and defense capabilities, increased support for Ukraine, and Finland and Sweden were invited to join. NATO has opted for a “fundamental shift in deterrence and defense capabilities” underpinned by increased defense investment and funding sharing, as well as longer-term assistance to Ukraine. The essential and enduring purpose of NATO is to protect the liberty and security of all its members through political and military means. Collective defense is at the heart of the alliance as enshrined in Article 5 of the treaty.

NATO’s greatest responsibility is to protect and defend Allied territory and populations against attack in a world where peace and security cannot be taken for granted. Deterrence is a core element of NATO’s overall strategy: preventing conflict and war, protecting Allies, maintaining freedom of decision and action, and upholding the principles and values it stands for – individual liberty, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Free societies and the rules-based international order need to be backed by the credible transatlantic defense. At the Madrid Summit, NATO set a new baseline for its deterrence and defense posture in line with its 360-degree approach, across the land, air, maritime, cyber, and space domains, and against all threats and challenges. NATO’s capacity to deter and defend is supported by an appropriate mix of nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities, complemented by space and cyber capabilities. NATO also maintains the freedom of action and flexibility to respond to the full spectrum of challenges with an appropriate and tailored approach.

In light of the changing and evolving security environment, the Alliance continues to strengthen its deterrence and defense posture. The alliance must be able to maintain peace today, but must be prepared for the increasingly unpredictable security environment of the future. has always been an important factor in the ability to defend against Artificial intelligence, autonomous weapons systems, big data and biotechnology innovations are transforming warfare. To maintain its technological superiority, NATO has agreed on a strategy to implement emerging disruptive technologies. In Strategic Concept 2022, NATO reaffirms its founding purpose by returning to its pre-2010 tradition of placing collective defense as the alliance’s primary mission. Her three main tasks for NATO are deterrence and defense, crisis prevention and management, and cooperative security.


NATO and Europe 

The concept paper also includes a strong reaffirmation of NATO’s view that the EU is an important strategic partner. At the same time, major European powers continue to clash over the division of labor between the two organisations.

This concept has a positive impact on Norway and Norwegian security interests. The transatlantic link and the far north are presented as important, and freedom of navigation is an important part of NATO’s priorities. Moreover, the concept represents a balanced approach to nuclear weapons, recognizing both their vital role in deterrence and the lofty goals of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation.



Climate change

Climate change was also described as “a defining challenge of our time” in the documents.