Il Report annuale NATO del 2021: i risultati raggiunti e le sfide future dell’Alleanza Atlantica

At the end of March, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced the publication of his Alliance Annual Report for the year 2021. This document has a twofold purpose; on the one hand to describe the diversified operational activities carried out and the results achieved during the past year (such as capabilities developed, exercises, international military missions, etc.), on the other hand to: 1) to illustrate the actions implemented to promote peace, security, and the interests of its partners; 2) to outline what are the emerging threats and the efforts made to adapt the armed forces; 3) to highlight future steps to conform the Alliance's strategy in light of new and changing security threats.

Its promulgation took place at a historical moment of great complexity. In his preface, Stoltenberg openly denounced the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, for the 'atrocities' committed in Ukraine, amounting to 'Putin's personal war', and announced that NATO had increased its deterrence capabilities. He was also critical of China, describing it as one of the "authoritarian powers that openly challenge the fundamental principles of our security, and seek to rewrite the entire international order on which our peace and prosperity depend"[1].

This focus will concentrate on and analyse in depth the most significant and innovative parts of the document, briefly referred to in the previous lines.


On the first point, many sections focus on achievements in the areas of deterrence, sustainment and adaptation of defence capabilities.

In terms of deterrence and defence, 2021 saw a steady increase in the deployment of combat-ready battle groups (encapsulated in the NATO Forward Presence), which, also in response to increased Russian military activity, conducted 15 exercises in the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. In order to further strengthen its presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, NATO has established the Response Force Network: a permanent governance and network management structure that supports the 40,000-strong Response Force, ready to deploy in a defence scenario alongside the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force of 5,000 troops. Space deterrence is attracting new interest, as it is one of the main environments that must be protected, safeguarded and made universally accessible. In this sense, the goal is to use space as an operational domain; in view of this, the plan to develop a Strategic Space Awareness System was announced, which will be based at NATO Headquarters (Brussels). The organisation established a roadmap for new studies and the implementation of NATO's operational domain policy in space, which is expected in the coming years. In addition, in 2021 for the first time, several operational space activities (such as Steadfast Jupiter) were integrated into various military exercises. With regard to cyber-security, defined as an 'evolving threat', the Alliance has implemented the Comprehensive Cyber Defence Policy, i.e. guidelines for defining the Coalition's defence and resilience approach against cyber attacks. Finally, air deterrence and response in the allied skies through the reinforcement of Safe Skies will be the subject of a further development: the NATO air policing mission. In addition, the defensive measures of the Air and Missile Defence System have undergone a new increase, through multiple multi-force exercises, to which is added the use of new sensors and C2 (Command and Control) systems.

Significant achievements have been made in the modernisation and adaptation of military forces. The Joint Force Command in Norfolk (the new command dedicated to the protection of Atlantic sea lanes) and the Joint Support and Enabling Command in Ulm (intended to support the movement of men and material to Europe) have reached full operational capability. 2021 also saw the launch of five new 'High Visibility' projects, such as the Surface Based Air and Missile Defence Command and Control Layer plan, for the development of an air defence management system to reduce the number of systems currently in use. Another objective reached is the achievement of the operational capability of Allied Ground Surveillance: a programme that includes the deployment of 375 operators and 5 remotely piloted aircraft for "ISR" (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) missions, for NATO exclusive use. The year 2021 sees major innovations underway, both in the naval sphere and on land; new autonomous robotic systems for submarine search and new operational procedures have been tested, in order to enhance the interoperability of soldiers. The implementation of strategies for new technologies is another point of considerable importance. In October, the first strategy on artificial intelligence was ratified, through the canonisation of ethical and technical principles for its development and subsequent responsible use in security and defence.

Ultimately, the introduction of climate change as a new security threat is an expected development. During the NATO Summit in Brussels, June 2020, allied governments approved the Climate Change and Security Action Plan; an action plan for the annual study of the impact of climate change on alliance security and strategy.


International missions are bringing concrete and appreciable results. Priority aim is the fight against terrorism. With the conclusion of the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan (April 2021) and its abandonment, the country fell victim to terrorist attacks by the Taliban, who found the country defenceless and internally unstable. The subsequent fall of the Afghan government and the terrorist group's return to power led to Operation Solace (August); a rapid air force deployment mechanism to evacuate more than 120,000 civilians, through the coordination of tactical transport aircraft. In December, NATO defence ministers met to take stock of the efficiency (or lack thereof) of crisis management in Afghanistan.

In Iraq, the Alliance acts as an adviser and trainer for Iraqi forces. In February 2021, Defence Ministers voted in favour of expanding the mission in Iraq, following a request from the Iraqi government, increasing the number of effective personnel (civilian and military) in the field to 500.

The last point of analysis is the Mediterranean. Its waters are the scene of a mission involving several navies: Operation Sea Guardian, a series of operations aimed at gathering information to identify marine activities that are potentially dangerous for the security of allied seas.


Interconnected to the defence and security system of its members, NATO has a dense network of partnership 'missions' with other non-member states. As of 2021, there are 18 of them in Brussels. Russia has decided both to suspend its own and to request the termination of NATO's Military Liaison Mission in Moscow.

Depending on their status, partner countries can enter into new agreements on projects, joint exercises, implementation of policies and achievement of common goals. In 2021, 6 non-member countries (Austria, Finland, Georgia, Jordan, Sweden and Ukraine) were awarded the status of 'best opportunities', which will give them a preferential route to more advantageous cooperation agreements between the parties. Worthy of mention are the partnerships with Ukraine, Sweden and Finland through the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Partnership for Peace cooperation mechanism.

Cooperation with Ukraine increased significantly in 2021, mainly as a response to growing Russian military tensions along its borders, a conflict that NATO and EU member states cannot ignore. The Alliance has drawn up 16 practical assistance programmes (advice, training, leadership and public diplomacy) specific to Ukraine, as part of the 'Comprehensive Assistance Package'. In addition, in September 2021, one of the largest joint exercises (Coherent Resilience 20) in the country's history was held with the organisation and others as partners, aimed at improving its resilience capabilities against 'hybrid' attacks.

In contrast, the partnerships with Sweden and Finland show significant political and institutional deepening. Between February and December 2021, the Defence Ministers of these countries took part in several conferences with their NATO counterparts. In addition, in October, the North Atlantic Council visited Scandinavia's leading institutional figures for the first time in its history. Considering their such deep ties to the organisation and the growing tensions with Russia, it is not surprising that these days they are about to discuss their potential membership in NATO[2].


Another relevant issue addressed by the document is the innovative project launched by the Secretary General: NATO Agenda 2030 (January 2020), whose aim is to outline the future challenges and priorities of the organisation, ensure that the operational and response capabilities of allied forces are maintained in light of new and growing global challenges. To achieve this, Stoltenberg has compiled a list of proposals. One example? Redefining the organisation's Strategic Concept in view of new global challenges, such as China's shifting geopolitical balance, or the phenomenon of climate change, or even the growing threat from "hybrid" attacks[3].


[1] “The Secretary General’s Annual Report 2021”, NATO, 2021, p. 6

[2] Al Jazeera, “Finland: MPs to debate whether to join NATO”, 20 aprile, 2022:; Al Jazeera, “Sweden’s ruling party launches debate on NATO membership”, 11 aprile, 2022:

[3] NATO 2030 Factsheet, giugno 2021: Secretary General’s Annual Report 2021", NATO, 2021:

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  • L'Autore

    Francesco Ancona

    Francesco Ancona nasce a Milano il 2 Dicembre 1996. Nel 2018 ha conseguito la laurea triennale presso l'Università degli Studi di Milano in Scienze Internazionali e Istituzioni Europee con focus sulle organizzazioni internazionali. Nel marzo 2021, ha conseguito la laurea magistrale in Relazioni Internazionali, con curriculum in "International Politics and Regional Dynamics" sempre presso l'Università degli Studi di Milano. Parla fluentemente la lingua inglese, conosce in maniera approfondita il francese e il tedesco, e ha frequentato un corso di russo in università.

    Da sempre appassionato di storia militare, geopolitica dell'estremo oriente, diritto e organizzazioni internazionali, ha scritto una tesi magistrale incentrata sul crescente utilizzo da parte degli eserciti delle armi autonome, e sulle loro conseguenze legali. Ha inoltre partecipato al programma "Erasmus Exchange+" che lo ha portato a studiare un semestre in Repubblica Ceca, dove ha approfondito diverse tematiche relative al ruolo della Cina nel Sud Est Asiatico.

    Il suo sogno è quello di poter lavorare in futuro presso la NATO o l'EDA.

    Da Aprile 2021 collabora con Mondo Internazionale come autore dell' area Asia Pacifico e Organizzazioni Internazionali in Framing the World

    Francesco Ancona was born in Milan on December 2, 1996. In 2018, he obtained his Bachelor's degree from the University of Milan in Political Science and European Institutions, with a focus on international organizations. In March 2021, he obtained a master degree in International Relations, with specializing in "International Politics and Regional Dynamics". He is fluent in English, has a thorough knowledge of French and German, and attended a Russian course at the university.

    He has always been interested in military history, geopolitics of the Far East, law and international organizations. He wrote a master thesis focusing on the increasing use of autonomous weapons by states' armies, while reviewing their legal impact. He also took part in the "Erasmus Exchange+" program, which brought him to study for a semester in the Czech Republic, where he delved into several issues related to China's role in Southeast Asia.

    His dream and hope is to be able to work at NATO or EDA in the future.

    Since April 2021 he collaborates with Mondo Internazionale as author of Asia Pacific area and International Organizations in Framing the World.


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