Preparing for NATO 2026

Shaping our NATO: Young Voices on the Warsaw SummitAt the Warsaw Summit in July, the NATO Heads of State and Government will "take new, important decisions, making sure NATO adapts when the world around us is changing" (Secretary General Stoltenberg).

Below you will find the best suggestions for these decisions from students and recent graduates participating in our policy competition for the Warsaw Summit. As part of our mission to empower young people in the transatlantic policy debate we asked them:

Today's decision-makers are preoccupied with the many contemporary threats and might not recognize the risks, enemies, weapons, tactics or other challenges that could threaten the Alliance in ten years.
Question: What could surprise NATO in 2026? What scenario is NATO currently insufficiently addressing? What can realistically be done to prepare?

We now need all members' help to take the debate to the next step. We encourage you to provide feedback and give counter-arguments, point out the articles' weaknesses and highlight strengths. If you are not yet a member, you can join for free with just a few clicks. By contributing to and enriching the discussion you will be extending a helping hand to young voices from the NATO Alliance and have the chance to influence the Atlantic Memo. After June 26, the shortlisted authors will write this joint policy paper to be presented to decision-makers.

The competition has been made possible by generous contributions from:

NATO     Konrad Adenauer Foundation     Foundation for German-Polish Cooperation

EuroAtlantic Institute

Future-Proofing NATO: A Forthcoming Decade of Change

Memo 50: NATO must adopt hybrid models of national defense, coordinate efforts on economic and electronic warfare, and secure its space-based infrastructure. The Alliance should also establish a partnership with China and strengthen its presence in the Arctic. View

If NATO Cannot Be a Lion, It Must Be a Fox

Imagine you are Vladimir Putin. If you wanted to invade a Baltic NATO ally, you could: you are certainly not deterred by NATO's defenses. Currently, Russia is capable of achieving a victory – albeit limited – against NATO: thus, NATO has failed to be a lion. It should raise the cost of a Russian invasion by being a fox. It should adopt hybrid defense; adapting policies such as the Swiss model of national service to counter the threat of Russia. View

NATO Should be Targeting the Financial Infrastructure of the Enemy

NATO is the most powerful military alliance on the globe; this will not change in 2026. Consequently, the future conflicts involving NATO will be asymmetric. Economic warfare is a tool to both address this changing environment, and respond effectively to future threats and imbalances. Targeting the elements of the financial infrastructure of the enemy will complement and increase the effectiveness of NATO’s regular military efforts. View

Identifying and Closing NATO's Arctic Capability Gap

In the Arctic, Russia is dominating. NATO is experiencing significant gaps in its security architecture in the Arctic, including a lack of icebreakers and reduced military presence. The Alliance can collectively address this common problem through building-up NATO's icebreaker fleets, establishing search-and-rescue bases, and most importantly, working together towards a shared goal. View

The Battle for Tallinngrad: New Ways to Fight an Old War

NATO is failing to respond to a revanchist Russia and must do much more to deter further aggression. An imbalance of force parity in the Baltics and a one-sided information war is sending all the wrong signals to Moscow. By examining a potential conflict ten years in the future, this article outlines the nightmare scenario facing NATO if steps are not taken now to win the goodwill of Estonia's Russian population, thereby thwarting Russian influence. View

NATO Must Keep Up with Opposing Force Research

Over the next ten years a series of revolutions stand to up-end the way wars are fought. To stay ahead of the curve NATO not only needs to invest in this research itself, but in comprehensive understanding of possible future opposing forces. Without such research, NATO's battlefield supremacy will be in serious jeopardy. Therefore, NATO needs an Opposing Force Office, and it needs one now, not in 2026, and not a day later. View

Shortfalls in Electronic Warfare Pose a Danger to NATO

Russia has demonstrated a tendency to destabilize neighboring countries as they near membership to both the EU and NATO. As EU enlargement progresses, this trend may well result in other border countries, such as energy rival Azerbaijan, being destabilized. Considering that current NATO electronic warfare capability is inferior to that of Russia, the Alliance must reduce this shortfall in order to ensure both regional stability, and the safety of NATO forces and future allies. View

The Biggest Threat to Geopolitical Stability: Climate Change

Climate change represents a threat to geopolitical stability that is present, tangible and crucially, preventable. It may be too late to avert all of the dangers posed by global warming, but it is not too late to prevent catastrophe. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions to a scientifically determined threshold must become a precondition of NATO membership. View

Partnering with China and Stifling ISIS's Funding

By 2026, the rise of China will result in a bipolar international system. NATO can be the vessel through which the US cooperates with China. China can be made a “partner” and the role of partners can be expanded. Meanwhile in 2016, NATO is insufficiently addressing ISIS. NATO should strive to stifle ISIS economically. By leveraging diplomatic and economic influence to deal with state and non-state threats, it can pursue its function of collective defense while preserving peace. View

Space Junk: The Biggest Threat to NATO Interoperability in 2026

Imagine a battlefield with no drones or precision-guided munitions, a lack of satellite phones or near-instantaneous intelligence reports. One would think I am talking about WWII or the Korean War. In reality, I am imagining a potentially not-too-distant future that NATO might face as a result of space junk threatening its coveted GPS, communications, and intelligence satellites. NATO must act now to safeguard against this threat. View

NATO Must Adapt to the Battlefields of Tomorrow

With the increasing use of the internet in cyber warfare, the premier Alliance of the West must focus strongly on its offensive cyber capabilities to deter potential enemies: after all, enemies would be more wary of attacking NATO if they knew the Alliance had the ability to fight back. Therefore, in order to become a formidable player in the cyber arena NATO must create dedicated task forces of cyber experts, and ensure they are structured into an effective military heirarchy. View

The Greatest Challenge for NATO Will Be Europe Itself

The biggest challenge for the next decade – and one that Russia and nonstate actors in the Middle East and North Africa region will seek to exploit – is maintaining the core identity of Europe. By the NATO Summit in 2026, the Atlantic community will have confronted many of the challenges that we face today, yet if NATO is to continue protecting peace and security in the Atlantic region, it must prioritize solidarity among its members. View

A Holistic Approach to Defeating the Islamic State

NATO and its allies are insufficiently addressing the Islamic State, which will significantly backlash in the next 10 years. In order to sufficiently tackle this huge threat, we need a more comprehensive approach that addresses not only the Islamic State, in Iraq and Syria, but worldwide. The key to a successful strategy lies in a holistic two-fold approach – using special forces and the establishment of non-democratic governments. View

Why NATO Should Cooperate with Fellow Regional Organizations

The main issue is not that something radical will surprise NATO in 2026. In fact, it is that what will occur should not surprise NATO, yet will still catch the organization unprepared. NATO must cooperate with other regional organizations if it is to address the agenda laid out at the Warsaw Summit. View

New Kids on the Block: How NATO Should Address Secessionist Movements

Over the next decade there is increasing likelihood that a NATO member state will experience a successful independence movement within its territory. As evidenced by the Scottish independence referendum, NATO has insufficiently addressed the path to membership for newly independent territories of member states. NATO should establish a policy that independent democratic states arising from members will automatically be offered inclusion in the Membership Action Plan program. View

Why NATO Should Get Involved with Bitcoin

Bitcoin has the potential to fundamentally transform the global financial system. It also poses a serious threat to international security. NATO needs to play a role in protecting the Bitcoin market economy from cyber-attacks, aggregate the human and technological capital necessary to thwart prevent Bitcoin from being used in the funding and orchestration of terror attacks, and proactively address potential privacy concerns. View

The Domino Effect of Environmental Threats

The necessity to focus NATO’s attention on climate change and environmental degradation at the 2016 Warsaw Summit is essential for preserving international security, as these threats will intensify interstate instability, terrorism, and modify the geopolitical board game. By establishing a clear energy-efficient active strategy, encouraging multilateral cooperation, and promoting open dialogue, NATO will be better prepared to tackle the irreversible environmental threats. View

The Hidden Threat of Corruption

NATO should take a “ground up” approach to addressing corruption, starting on the local level in order to shore up trust in the federal government. Without trust in the government, nations cannot strengthen themselves and sustain for the future. NATO then must address the roots of federal corruption by targeting capital gains of corrupt national leaders. View

Pakistan: the Islamic State’s Path Towards Nuclear Proliferation

As NATO shifts its focus towards Syria and ever-escalating tensions with Russia, NATO is blind to a new threat rising from a nuclear-armed Pakistan. By 2026 the country, and its nuclear arsenal, could be controlled and influenced by an expanding IS, a resurgent Taliban, or another extremist organization. We must take radical steps now to prevent further radicalization and the expansion of nuclear arsenals in Pakistan and across the globe. View

The Importance of Cyber-Security for NATO

In the probable event of an extensive cyber-attack in the next decade, it would be difficult to create a spontaneous and cohesive response. Therefore, it is absolutely crucial that NATO and its member states turn their attention in order to prioritize cyber-security policies – they cannot afford to waste time. View

A World Without NATO

Have you ever imagined what would happen if NATO would cease to exist? The world is currently facing several crises due to misunderstanding and mistrust. NATO has to face these conflicts in order to keep its leading role, but it has to undertake several reflections. View

Navigating NATO's Midlife Crisis

If NATO is to face the new threats of the 21st century, it must operate according to two policies: legitimacy and decentralization. Instead of operating solely as a strong military deterrent, it must take a more active role in crafting its image as a legitimate protector of its member states, and as an ally in the unique struggles they face. Therefore, it must expand its counter-terrorism policies, and discourage the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe. View

Adapting NATO to a Changing Face of Global Insecurity

Terrorism is our biggest threat, and NATO must adapt to deal with it. NATO was designed to combat the uncertainty of a post-WWII world, and to deter aggression from the USSR under a bipolar world order. But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and increasing global terrorism, NATO has become outdated and under-equipped to suit contemporary security needs. Thus, NATO should increase membership and develop a common intelligence-sharing community. View

Cultural Diversity vs. NATO's Capacity to Act

Our society is trending towards a multicultural population. This leads to differentiated, mostly historically based world views, and moral concepts that make an objective search for consensus about national and international threads difficult. Eventually, these subjective conflicts of interest reduce NATO´s capacity to act, and can only be avoided by a reoriented and independent information policy. View

NATO Must React to the Immaterial Threats of the Future

Despite the ongoing discussion on including cyber-attacks in Article 5, NATO still talks about armed aggressions on tangible defense structures, such as forces, vessels, or aircrafts. However, NATO should not make a differentiation between material or immaterial weapons: cyber-security is one of the biggest challenges NATO will encounter in the future. View

NATO and the Asia-Pacific: Preparing for Conflict in 2026

The NATO of 2026, whether or not willingly, will be forced to act as a global Alliance and address challenges in the Asia-Pacific. Now is the time for the Alliance to consider its roles and responsibilities in the event of a regional conflict. Should it choose today to prioritize the short- over the long-term, NATO will find itself woefully unprepared for the future. View

Interoperability on the Urban Battlefield: Refocusing on a Modern Mission

NATO is faced with an ever-changing hostile threat environment. The key to combatting uncertainty lies within the tactical data networks of today, and understanding the urban battle space of tomorrow and how best to assimilate these factors. View

Extraterrestrials: Are We Ready?

Imagine if a threat from another world were to engage in an act of aggression against our planet. NATO is not prepared to deal with this, particularly in its current form. Thus, it is now time to bring together the planet under one treaty. It is time for us to imagine an attack against any nation is an attack against the entire planet, by joining together in a Global Treaty of Union. The only way to guarantee our survival is to fight united. View

The Emergence of a New Biological Weapons Threat

CRISPR technology represents a breakthrough technology in the field of genetic engineering, which will have significant effects in the field of Biological Weapons development. NATO must react to, and prepare for, this situation. It should do this by providing a forum for the discussion of CRISPR-related security issues for member-states, as well as promoting diologue on CRISPR technology with non-NATO states such as China. View

Determination and Unity as Cornerstones of the Alliance in the Present and Future

In 2026 there will be continued confrontation between NATO and Russia over the underlying principles of European security. To face this challenge, NATO needs to build on the progress made in Wales and Warsaw to increase defense spending and improve deterrence. Simultaneously, dialogue needs to be maintained with Russia so as to avoid accidents or misunderstandings. The coming decade will test NATO’s resolve, but with determination and unity that resolve can and will prevail. View

The Whole of NATO Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

NATO needs to develop more than just the "collective defense" core task, as it is currently doing. In order to exist to the world of 2026, NATO must adapt. In order to ensure that NATO will not be surprised by major threats in 2026, it must ensure closer cooperation with the EU, increased investment in cyber-defense programs, and an effort to court positive public opinion in NATO member and partner nations, because the whole of NATO is greater than the sum of its parts. View

The EU and NATO Must Cooperate Even More Closely

Due to the amount of shared members, NATO and the European Union must solve their common problems together. At the same time, however, both organizations must specify and distinguish their competencies and fields of action. The phrase “armed aggression” should be replaced by a more accurate term to be applicable in contemporary gun-less conflict, such as the use of propaganda in Russia. Without its consolidation and modernization, the Alliance could become powerless over the next decade. View

The Internationalization of Far-Right Terrorism in Europe and NATO's Future Role

Out of Ukraine we can see indications of a future threat. It is not the Russian government, it is right-wing extremism. Right-wing terrorism is becoming increasingly international, and hence requires international action through NATO. To mitigate this threat more intelligence cooperation is required and NATO stands as a perfect institution to facilitate this in Europe. View

Shaping our NATO: Young Voices on the Warsaw Summit 2016

Our new policy workshop competition gives students and recent graduates the opportunity to reflect on the most pressing issues facing NATO today and to shape the future of the Alliance. Five winners will receive a trip to Berlin to present the collective ideas to decision-makers. View