The strategic environment is becoming increasingly unstable and unpredictable. NATO’s strategy needs to adapt accordingly to account for this. The revisionist nature of actors like Russia and China, as well as the previously mentioned ‘two-peer problem,’ were highlighted as important drivers of instability. One proposal for addressing this changing and increasingly unstable environment was coming to a consensus on what the Alliance means by strategic stability, or what outcomes the Alliance is trying to work towards in the international system. There was debate on the various meanings of strategic stability and the desirability of attempting to form an Allied consensus. It was generally agreed that the concept of ‘strategic predictability’ provides a useful starting point.
There was also discussion of the current strategic balance between Russia and NATO and how to maintain stability. One assessment emphasised that the military balance was shifting in favour of Russia in the nuclear domain, and in several key technologies. The Chinese nuclear development is also an important aspect to consider in assessing the strategic balance. NATO’s nuclear posture has largely been static, with preference to pursue arms control and risk reductions and neglecting nuclear deterrence. It was noted that arms control should not replace deterrence, and that strengthening deterrence can be a risk reduction measure. It was suggested that there were three imbalances vis-a-vis Russia in the nuclear domain that needed to be addressed by NATO: 1) imbalances in modernisation and production; 2) imbalances in high level attention and rhetoric; 3) imbalances in strategic thought. Whilst there have been recent progresses in NATO’s nuclear planning and rhetoric, more work needs to be done to address these imbalances. Measures in the nuclear domain to address this could include: nuclear hardware and software updates, improving conventional/nuclear integration, and increasing participation in NATO nuclear sharing—however, many of these measures could be politically difficult. Non-nuclear measures could include improving or developing: cyber capabilities and resilience, multilateral cooperation in space resilience, and coordinated deterrence campaign planning, missile defence capabilities, deep precision strike capabilities.
There was discussion about how Russia’s performance in the war in Ukraine could affect assessments of the strategic balance, with some sceptical that the balance was shifting in favour of Russia. Some participants noted that NATO should avoid ‘mirroring’ Russian nuclear posture, and questioned whether the nuclear domain was the appropriate place to start to achieve strategic advantage. When pursuing ‘balance’, state actors should take into account that this may trigger further instability through adversary reaction.