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NATO’s Southern Exposure

The Real Threats to Europe—and the Alliance

A U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III from the 97th Air Mobility Wing (97 AMW) plane drops paratroopers during an exercise over the NATO airbase in Aviano, northern Italy, March 22, 2011. Alessandro Garofalo / Reuters

Ever since Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine, NATO has focused on bolstering its defense and deterrence capabilities in central Europe. These efforts look set to pay off; at the alliance’s July summit in Warsaw, NATO is expected to adopt significant new initiatives to protect its eastern flank.

But the alliance risks coming up dangerously short on the threats that matter most to most of Europe and thus to NATO: terrorism and the ongoing influx of migrants. Especially in the wake of the Brussels and Paris attacks, if NATO fails to define a strategy for its southern challenges, it could slip into strategic irrelevance. There is precious time left before the Warsaw Summit to outline such a strategy.

NATO’s record in the Middle East and North Africa is mixed. Its approach has focused on building partnerships with regional powers. Its Mediterranean Dialogue—a forum that brings together Algeria, Egypt

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