NATO’s decision-making process : Putting the consensus to the test of new cyber challenges

The North Atlantic Council is the central body of political decision-making within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Its 28 member States gather together, in an egalitarian circle, in order to take consensus-based decisions regarding the key-challenges faced by the Alliance.

While NATO is mostly associated in our understanding as a Cold War alliance, it has survived the test of time and has found new relevance and missions in an ever-changing world.

However, in a globalised and interconnected world where new technologies shut down boundaries and transform war into an immaterial object, how can the Alliance build a common response?

This was the challenge proposed by YPFP team to participants of its second edition of the North Atlantic Council Simulation this december in Brussels, rounding up our Action Points Series, kindly sponsored by NATO.

Facing a catastrophic, fictional scenario of a large scale cyber attack on at least one of the allies, threatening its civil and military nuclear facility, the Alliance had to adapt and imagine new responses to bring on the table while the situation was deteriorating.

The Simulation aimed to immerse members in the trappings of decision-making of the Council and to confront them with the need to find effective measures to counter a crisis while developing a consensus and taking every single State's views into account.

This scenario gave the attendees a better understanding of how the North Atlantic Council operates, and how it is based on each Ally's ability to convince and find compromises in order to built up a joint decision.

The challenges remain particularly high when facing a cyber attack, a new operational domain just recently added to the scope of action of the Alliance. During the Warsaw Conference in June 2016, the allies agreed to include cyber defence as part of its core task of collective defence.

While the allies have agreed to work in this field together, the practical tools to respond to this type of unprecedented crisis remain to be defined, and participants questioned the possible relevance of Article 5 in such a case. If the reality of the threat represented by a cyberattack was not questioned by the participants, they however raised concerns over the difficulties to justly assess and evaluate it, and to find an adequate reply.

Putting the practice to the test, our participants chose to acknowledge the necessity to provide cyber assistance on a voluntary, bilateral basis in order to protect each country’s participation, collected information and tools, and optimize a rapid response.

At the same time, the council considered the need to also deploy military support on the ground in order to help secure the attacked ally, recognising that the consequences of a cyberattack were far beyond immaterial.

Such evening of discussion has brought our participants to enhance the new questions posed by cyberspace in terms of security and collective defense, confronting them with the need to evaluate unprecedented threats and find an effective response within the realm of the Alliance.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of their employer or Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

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  • published this page in Brussels Blog 2016-12-21 16:09:10 -0500