The NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept
The NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept (NWCC) was approved in 2021. It contributes to the Alliance’s efforts to strengthen its deterrence and defence posture and offers a vision in support of maintaining and further developing NATO’s decisive military advantage, and continuously adapting the military instrument of power through to 2040. It addresses in particular the newer aspects of great power competition, but Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine demonstrates that even as we prepare our militaries to the changing character of war, the traditional use of military force remains a feature of our security environment. Since the approval of the NWCC, the Alliance has made progress towards its implementation in numerous areas, including through broader political-level initiatives to maintain its strategic advantage. These efforts inform and are complemented by ongoing work under the framework of the NWCC.
What is the NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept?
The changing and evolving security environment puts the Alliance’s continued success at risk. While NATO remains a defensive alliance, the operating environment demands new ways of thinking, organising and acting. Russia and terrorist groups and organisations will continue to threaten the Alliance whilst the role and impact of China in particular will grow. Broader security challenges, including those related to demography, climate, resources and public health crises such as COVID-19 will persist.
The operating environment is widening beyond traditional military bounds, with competition among different actors becoming more persistent across all instruments of power. This environment also features more diverse actors, with new weapons and technologies employed in new ways. Successfully upholding NATO’s objectives in this operating environment requires a proactive mindset, effective connectivity and speed at scale. Success demands balancing the efforts of the Alliance military instrument of power (MIoP) across shaping, contesting and fighting contexts.
Some actors, such as the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU), partner nations, industry and open societies will continue to present opportunities to positively influence the operating environment, which is essential for NATO’s response to future security challenges. The NATO Warfighting Capstone Concept (NWCC) offers an aspirational North Star vision for warfare development initiatives and the opportunity for engagement with all those who share the values of the Alliance. The North Star vision is informed by the activities of potential adversaries, but is proactively driven by the MIoP’s own ambition for success in transitioning towards the 2040 operating environment. The ambition is necessarily high; however, the NWCC offers a realistic and agile path to realize it. The path ‘pulls’ forward the most important warfare development work. It provides a framework to focus and synchronize efforts to build military advantage, and proactively shape the operating environment to Allies’ strengths. It expands decision space for political authorities by focusing on the generation of military options including to create strategic, operational and tactical dilemmas for adversaries.
The NWCC is part of the coherent package of NATO Military Authorities best military thinking. Along with the 2020 Concept for Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area, the NWCC implements the 2019 NATO Military Strategy, a renewed approach setting out Alliance military-strategic objectives and the ways and means to implement them. Therefore, the NWCC provides a description of the 2040 operating environment and future warfighting to identify implications for the future MIoP. It offers a functional design to which the MIoP shall aspire for success. It provides five warfare development imperatives to focus and synchronize efforts to develop the MIoP. Finally, it puts forward an ambitious set of proposals, alongside an immediately usable realistic path to deliver improvements to the MIoP.
The warfare development imperatives provide an organising principle that promotes coherence across the breadth of warfare development efforts. They offer a new, forward- looking multi-domain (land, maritime, air, cyber, and space) and cross-instruments of power approach to military thinking, organising and acting. They are immediately usable and implementable through the lines of delivery developed with the support of Allies, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, operational commanders and NATO HQ staffs, and engagement with Allies’ academic communities.
Understanding the operating environment and potential adversaries relative to Alliance’s own capabilities, capacities and objectives.
Ability to absorb shocks and fight-on, across all layers, military, civil-military and military-civilian.
Influence and Power Projection
Shaping positively the environment to the Alliance’s strengths, including generating options and imposing dilemmas on adversaries.
Revitalizing and enabling commanders’ ability to understand the multi-domain operating environment and act rapidly and effectively.
Integrated Multi-Domain Defence
Protecting the Alliance’s integrity to decide and act against threats in any domain, regardless of their origin or nature.
FUNCTIONAL DESIGN 2040 – THE “SIX OUTS”
The Alliance’s ability to shape the widening operating environment to its favour enhances its abilities to demonstrably contest adversaries’ activities, building readiness to deter and if necessary defend against adversaries. The 2040 MIoP must be designed to build on its strengths, exploit opportunities as they emerge and guard its vulnerabilities. The Alliance warfare development approach must consider the adversary but shall pursue a MIoP design that aspires to out-think, out-excel, out-fight, out-pace, out-partner and out-last functions:
- OUT-THINK: the future Alliance MIoP must anticipate threats and understand the strategic environment better than potential adversaries
- OUT-EXCEL: the future Alliance MIoP must strive for excellence and agility, underpinned by NATO’s unique military ethos, culture and diversity and the will to take the initiative and win over any potential adversary under any circumstances
- OUT-FIGHT: the future Alliance MIoP must be able to decisively operate across domains, in concert with other instruments of power and actors and simultaneously conduct shaping, contesting and fighting activities
- OUT-PACE: the future Alliance MIoP must be able to recognize risks, seize opportunities, decide and act faster than potential adversaries
- OUT-PARTNER: the future Alliance MIoP must be able to foster and exploit mutually supportive and habitual relationships and partnership opportunities
- OUT-LAST: the future Alliance MIoP must be able to think, plan, operate and adapt with a long-term perspective in mind to be able to endure as long as it takes through strategic competition and any conflict situation