Speaking on 20 November after the NATO Foreign Ministers’ meeting during the previous two days, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stated that the ministers took important decisions for NATO’s continuing adaptation. “We have agreed that space should be a new operational domain for NATO – alongside air, land, sea and cyber.” He pointed out that, for instance, satellites can be jammed, hacked or weaponized; anti-satellite weapons can cripple communications and other services on which people rely every day, such as air travel, weather forecasting or banking.

Space is essential for NATO’s deterrence and defence posture, including the ability to navigate, to gather intelligence and to detect missile launches. Around 2,000 satellites currently orbit the Earth, about half of which are owned by NATO countries. “NATO has no intention to put weapons in space. We are a defensive Alliance. And our approach will remain fully in line with international law,” the Secretary General added, going on to point out that space has to become an operational domain because it will help the Alliance to ensure the success of future NATO missions. For instance, this can allow planners to request Allies to provide capabilities and services, such as hours of satellite communications or data for imagery.

The Foreign Ministers also agreed on recommendations to consolidate NATO’s role in energy security, as this plays an important role in the common security of member states. The recommendations aim to improve situational awareness and understand the risks; protect critical infrastructure; enhance resilience; and enable NATO forces to have the necessary energy resources at all times. Furthermore, Ministers discussed NATO’s role in the fight against international terrorism, and reviewed progress in strengthening the security in the Black Sea region. Addressing fairer burden-sharing in the Alliance, Mr. Stoltenberg noted that “the trend is up and it is unprecedented.”

In addition, the Ministers discussed NATO’s coordinated approach to three strategic issues: relations with Russia; the rise of China; and international arms control. “NATO is the only platform where Europe and North America engage every day on such strategic issues, which matter to our shared security,” the Secretary General stated.

When asked for a comment on the latest proposals from France and Germany about NATO's future, Mr Stoltenberg replied “The proposal from Minister Heiko Maas received support from many Allies and I think it has value and we will now look into it, as we prepare for the upcoming Leaders’ Meeting. And then we will decide what to do.”

As a reaction to the public criticism of French President Emmanuel Macron, who has pointed to the “brain-death” of NATO, Mr Maas proposed to establish a commission of experts to work on new ideas as to how the Atlantic Alliance can be reformed, both politically and conceptually. Arriving at the ministerial meeting, Mr Maas told reporters “What is important is that the political arm of NATO is strengthened.” The Alliance needs political rejuvenation, in a process which should focus on the current transatlantic issues. Sources within the German Foreign Ministry said that, after Macron’s criticism, “Business as usual” will not be acceptable. Otherwise, the current uncertainty among the 29 allies will be increased and could lead to a split in the Alliance.

Dr Theodor Benien

NATO Foreign Ministers decided to adapt the Alliance and to recognise space as a new operational domain alongside air, land, sea and cyber. (Photo: NATO)

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