The Role of NATO in Protecting our Supply Chains

You may understand how important NATO is to global peace, but do you know its importance to global supply chains?

In the aftermath of World War II, Europe faced a number of issues threatening the fragile peace in the region. Tens of millions of people had died, millions more were homeless. Rationing was still in full force and there were countless refugees who were either trying to get home, or had no home to go to.

In addition to this, the Soviet Union was on the rise and there were concerns of another invasion, or worse, another war. However, the peace that had been forged in Europe was hard won and was not going to be given up easily. The key to this was to ensure security in the region, which would facilitate the reopening of key trade routes, inter-country discussions and greater economic and political stability.

Bolstered by this belief, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in 1949, bringing together 12 founding members from both sides of the Atlantic.

What is NATO now?

Over the past 70 years, NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) has expanded and now has 30 members linked with the common goals of protecting the freedom of its members and stability of their regions. The Organisation is considered to be “principal security instrument of the transatlantic community and expression of its common democratic values.”

However, the goals of NATO go beyond a purely militaristic entity in which the collective defends the individual member in event of a war, invasion or acts by hostile states. It is this factor that many people believe is at the core of Russia’s drive for Ukraine not to become a NATO member, something that Ukraine has stepped away from as a result of the invasion.

NATO plays an active role in global peacekeeping, has built up the concept of co-operative security, and is a deterrent for illegal and terrorist activities. And it is in this role that we see the link between its activities and its importance to global supply chains.

Protecting the Supply Chain

Current events such as the war in Ukraine and global COVID restrictions, as well as the ongoing threat of terrorist activity has highlighted the importance of stability and continuity in the supply chain. For example, while Ukraine may not be a member of NATO, the NATO countries are using integrated logistics and supply routes to move arms, vehicles and aid into the war zone. 

Through its actions in the past, as well as actions it is taking now and for the future, NATO is providing support and protection for global supply chains. Here are three key ways that demonstrate the importance of the organisation to the global community:

1. Protection of Key Infrastructure – Energy Security

Energy and key utilities, such as oil and gas, are critical for almost every aspect of global supply chains. Disruption to sources or supplies of energy could easily undermine the security of countries and continents, leading to situations where global production is halted, and supply of everything from electronic components to food and drink is disrupted. 

Vulnerabilities exist not only in infrastructure (oil/gas pipelines; power stations), but also in the systems used to control and manage them, especially in light of the increasing threat of cyber attacks. NATO members have been working since 2008 on energy security programs to help protect key infrastructure and ensure continuity of supply for both nations and the military.

2. Counter Piracy Operations and Protection of Sea Lanes

Piracy continues to be a major threat to supply chains and freight in key shipping lanes around the world. While it would seem that the threat of piracy has lessened due to fewer serious incidents reported in the press in recent years, it remains a problem for shipping companies.

NATO has in the past assisted in operations such as Operation Shield, an international cooperation to combat piracy of the east coast of Africa. Though this operation has since ended, NATO continues to work with countries and global partners to assist further anti-piracy efforts. Without the protection that NATO affords in conjunction with national navies and governments, there is the potential for disruptions to ships and cargo that would have lasting impacts on global supply chains.

3. Crisis Management including Relief Supplies in event of Natural Disasters 

NATO plays a key role in crisis and disaster management, both within its member countries and outside of this region. For this, NATO actually forms part of the global supply chain, ensuring that aid, equipment and personnel are able to reach areas affected by natural disasters. This can take the form of physically shipping goods on behalf of its member nations, as well as ensuring that requests for assistance from members or other countries are conveyed to the correct areas of government.

While we may not see the work that NATO does as part of, or to support, global supply chains, its importance cannot be overemphasised. Without its efforts since its inception over 70 years ago, the global supply chain would look very different to how it does now.