Could COVID-19 Be A Galvanizing Force NATO Needs?

COVID-19 or otherwise known as the Coronavirus, continues to spread across the world at an alarming rate. The global pandemic, as it was declared by the World Health Organization (WHO), has caused a monumental shift in the world economy, national border controls, healthcare, and way of life. NATO responded to these challenges by immediately supporting the needs of member countries through the transport of resources and personal protective equipment (PPE), border crossings, disinfection of public areas, and logistics coordination. The organization has many agencies and tools in place to respond to crises, including a global pandemic.

NATO is utilizing its Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC), the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), and Strategic Airlift International Solutions (SALIS) programs to respond to the needs of member countries facing PPE shortages, logistics support for key supplies, reinforcement of medical teams, and overall coordination of national responses to the COVID-19 crises. NATO’s response and the support shown by member countries will either highlight the cracks in the alliance or develop greater solidarity. 

The EADRCC, NSPA, and SALIS response units have been responding to national shortages and other needs of NATO members and are seeing an unprecedented amount of bi-lateral support. In this last month, Turkey has provided medical supplies and PPE to the United Kingdom; Luxembourg donated over 1,400 kilos of PPE to health personnel in Spain; Hungary and Slovenia provided 300,000 masks and protective suits to North Macedonia; The Netherlands transported PPE and supplies to Montenegro following their request for assistance through EADRCC; and Poland sent a medical mission to the United States to provide additional assistance.

Lieutenant General Rittiman from NATO commented on the solidarity shown between countries, ‘‘We are in this crisis together. By leveraging NATO’s experience conducting strategic coordination with multiple partners, we are enhancing the ongoing combined actions of our Allied forces.” In a further display of solidarity and force, NATO continues to conduct joint training exercises. Last week Belgian, German, Lithuanian, and Polish aircraft fighters and transport aircraft completed live training flights in international airspace over the Baltic Sea. Despite the amount of bilateral support, many experts have called into question the leadership issues and long term challenges NATO faces and will continue to face after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like all countries and alliance structures alike, NATO is facing unprecedented pressure resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. NATO relies heavily upon leadership from the U.S. as the world’s largest military power, however, U.S. President Donald Trump’s America first policies has led to a lack of leadership. Furthermore, the U.S. has been the hardest hit country by COVID-19 with nearly one million cases, which may further exacerbate nationalist sentiments.

Others worry smaller states will look to China rather than the U.S. for support, which may strengthen China’s economy and overall global presence further threatening the NATO global hegemony. Longer term effects may also include significantly reduced defense budgets as many domestic governments have to divert spending to support the many unemployed citizens and struggling economy. Will the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic galvanize NATO allies and create greater solidarity and cooperation or will the pressures face create irreparable damage in the alliance?