September 24, 2023


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Human Security and the 2022 NATO Strategic Concept: Knowledge, Insights and Lessons Learned.

5 min read


The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is set to adopt its new Strategic Concept on 29-30 June 2022 at the Summit in Madrid. The Alliance’s second most important document after its founding Treaty, the Strategic Concept reaffirms NATO’s values and purpose, and provides a collective assessment of the security environment. The Strategic Concept is foundational in driving NATO’s strategic adaptation and guides its future political and military development. Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has undertaken a consultation phase to explore and inform key issue areas within the new Strategic Concept. While human security has long been a priority for NATO, ongoing events in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Western forces and the Russian invasion of Ukraine have provoked further consideration of the role human security plays in NATOs activities.

The intent of the seminar, titled ‘Human Security and the 2022 NATO Strategic Concept: Knowledge, Insights, and Lessons Learned’ was to provoke discussions and gather expert insights concerning NATO’s approach to Human Security and its five underpinning areas (the protection of civilians; children and armed conflict; countering trafficking in human beings; preventing and responding to conflict-related sexual violence; and protecting cultural property), and explore how the future security environment will impact its conceptualisation and applications out to 2030 and beyond.

In support of these requirements, RAND Europe’s Centre for Human Security, in collaboration with the NATO Policy Planning Unit and the NATO Human Security Unit, and with the generous support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, organised a seminar bringing together over forty experts from across military, government, academia, think tanks, and civil society to explore the concept of Human Security and its applications at NATO now and in the future. The findings from the seminar will be used by the NATO Policy Planning Unit and Human Security Unit to inform the development of the 2022 Strategic Concept and subsequent Human Security work for the Alliance.

Key Findings

The conceptualisation of Human Security within NATO must reflect the changing character of war.

The security environment and the nature of conflict have profoundly changed since the last iteration of the Strategic Concept in 2010. NATO’s understanding of Human Security should reflect these changes, including the rise of non-state actors, hybrid warfare, and the rise of mis- and dis-information.

In this context, the role of militaries — including NATO forces — has changed considerably.

NATO forces should expect and continue to prepare for roles that include significant human security tasks. Stabilisation and building resilience, rather than traditional conceptualisations of military victory, may need to be the end goal of military engagement, and human security is vital condition of achieving that end-state.

Proactive, preventative and resilience-based action should be at the core of NATO’s Human Security approach as well as NATO’s core tasks.

NATO’s conceptualisation should distinguish Human Security from the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and realign the narrative away from a strong focus on military intervention to prevention, de-escalation, and resilience. The ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine which has illustrated in real time the equal strategic importance of territorial integrity and human security, particularly the protection of civilians. In other words, the invasion poignantly demonstrates that in contemporary conflict, the ends do not justify the means.

NATO’s PoC commitments sit at the heart of NATO’s core tasks and is vital in translating strategic-level values-based intent into operational- and tactical-level action. Mainstreaming PoC (including CAAC and CRSV) as a core competency into all doctrine and training and implementing it into national and NATO exercises is vital to ensure it is holistically embedded in NATO forces practice. In particular, participants noted that operationalising Human Security and POC requirements within planning structures should be a priority for translating the commitments of the Strategic Concept into the military domain.

Issues highly relevant to Human Security, such as Culture Property Protection (CPP) or the fight against human trafficking, have often been deprioritized compared to more traditional POC tasks, when in fact, these issues are substantially interlinked. Progress to place these issues higher on NATO’s agenda has remained slow. The current conflict in Ukraine and the call for the protection of Russian speakers in eastern parts of Ukraine suggests the inclusion of intellectual property within CPP.

Participants noted that some key issue areas currently fall outside of the current NATO conceptualisation of Human Security and need to be included under the Human Security approach, such as the implications of climate and environmental change and corruption. If not included in the wider conceptualisation of Human Security, such efforts will not be effective, particularly when Human Security tasks often require efforts to address root causes.


  • An explicit reference to NATO’s values, and particularly its commitment to upholding human-rights and a rules-based international order should be included in the introduction of the Strategic Concept.
  • The Strategic Concept should make the linkage between Human Security and its three core tasks clear at the outset.
  • Proactivity and preventative action should be reflected in the Strategic Concept’s Human Security commitments.
  • NATO’s conceptualisation of Human Security should be expanded, but protection of civilians needs to be prioritised for inclusion in the Strategic Concept in particular.
  • Committing to protecting Human Security is essential for achieving operational effectiveness and mission success.
  • The strategic guidance for Human Security that is included in the Strategic Concept must be something that NATO forces can operationalise and implement.


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