PreprintPDF Available

Beyond the emergency problematique: how do security IOs respond to crises—a case study of NATO response to COVID-19

Preprints and early-stage research may not have been peer reviewed yet.


Forthcoming in the Journal of Transatlantic Studies To cite: Baciu, Cornelia (Forthcoming, 2021) ‘Beyond the Emergency Problematique. How Do Security IOs Respond to Crises – A Case Study of NATO Response to COVID-19’, Journal of Transatlantic Studies 19 (3). Abstract: This article explores the discourses and strategies of security international organisations (IOs) during the COVID-19 pandemic, applying NATO as a case study. To build the argument, the article analyses speeches and public interventions by the SG and DSG coded in NVivo. First, the results of the empirical analysis suggest that during the crisis NATO discourse focused on its ability to perform core functions, on constructing identity, generating ‘positive’ legitimacy, or on increasing the relevance of military capital. Second, the findings show that the main elements of the organisation’s COVID-19 crisis management strategy are: pro-activeness, continuous review and planning ahead, stepping-up activities and efficiency, lessons learned, adaptability, solidarity and civil-military cooperation. Third, a logic of IO exceptionalism and ‘emergency problematique’, underpinned by mission creep, could not be conclusively confirmed based on the analysed sample. Keywords: Crisis Management; IOs; Legitimacy; COVID-19; NATO; Emergency Problematique
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
Beyond theemergency problematique: howdosecurity
IOs respond tocrises—a case study ofNATO response
Accepted: 25 May 2021 / Published online: 28 June 2021
© The Editor of the Journal 2021
This article explores the discourses and strategies of security international organisa-
tions (IOs) during the COVID-19 pandemic, applying NATO as a case study. To
build the argument, the article analyses speeches and public interventions by the
SG and DSG coded in NVivo. First, the results of the empirical analysis suggest
that during the crisis NATO discourse focussed on its ability to perform core func-
tions, on constructing identity, generating “positive” legitimacy, or on increasing
the relevance of military capital. Second, the findings show that the main elements
of the organisation’s COVID-19 crisis management strategy were: proactiveness,
continuous review and planning ahead, stepping-up activities and efficiency, les-
sons learned, adaptability, solidarity and civil-military cooperation. Third, a logic of
IO exceptionalism and ‘emergency problematique, underpinned by mission creep,
could not be conclusively confirmed based on the analysed sample.The article adds
a theoretical distinction to the literature on global governance in times of emergency.
It demonstrates that security IOs might not always seek explicit authority leaps
through lowering checks and balances (horizonal) or reducing thelegal protection of
subjects (vertical), due to risks of sanctioning.
Keywords Crisis management· International Organisations· Legitimacy·
COVID-19· NATO· Emergency problematique
“Can we talk about the Coronavirus?” a journalist asked NATO Secretary General
(SG), Jens Stoltenberg, during the doorstep statement a day before the Munich Secu-
rity Conference 2020. The question was lost in the multitude of queries and remained
* Cornelia Baciu
1 Institute forPeace Research andSecurity Policy attheUniversity ofHamburg, Beim Schlump
83, 20144Hamburg, Germany
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
unanswered. While NATO began implementing preventive measures in January
2020,1 it was not until 6 March 2020 that NATO took an official position towards
COVID-19. To find out what NATO has been doing during the pandemic, why it has
been doing so, and how it has fared in so doing, I examined all public interventions
by the NATO SG and Deputy Secretary General (DSG), in the period between 06
March and 06 May 2020,2 capturing the immediate NATO response to the COVID-
19 crisis. The statements and public intervention data are complemented by press
releases and other relevant strategic documents, announcements and reports. I coded
the transcripts of statements or talks in NVivo, applying an inductive methodological
approach and emerging coding.3 This involved a two-step analysis. First, paragraphs
or sentences (units) were coded, one by one, to themes, i.e. meaningful categories
that emerged during the coding process. Throughout the analysis, coding units were
assigned to those emerging themes, and new categories were established as needed.
In a second step, after having coded the entire material, the categories that emerged
were classified into meta-themes reflected in the next two sections.
The next two sections present the major thematic clusters as they emerged from
the data. The fourth section discusses the results from the perspective of the emer-
gency problematique theory and international organisations’ (IOs) exceptionalism4
in times of crises, and compares the findings to NATO responses to previous crises
such as in Ukraine or Kosovo. The fifth section concludes this article by gauging the
implications for the academic and policy communities and by suggesting avenues
for future research.
NATO ascrisis manager: ensuring continuity ofoperative core
responsibilities andperforming emergency‑specic tasks
One main meta-theme to emerge from the analysis of speeches and transcripts is
the dimension of NATO as a crisis manager, while simultaneously continuing the
implementation of core tasks, such as deterrence and collective defence and existing
missions. During public interventions and statements, both the SG Jens Stoltenberg
and DSG Mircea Geoana emphasised crisis management as the ontological purpose
of NATO. They also underscored the Alliance’s track record—in terms of institu-
tional shared command, control structure and operational capacity—for supporting,
coordinating and mobilising civilian efforts. “NATO was created to deal with cri-
ses”, it was said at a press conference,5 a statement reiterated on many subsequent
occasions. NATO as crisis manager was central in the analysed discourse. The IO’s
crisis management mandate thus deserves a closer look.
1 As mentioned by the SG during the launch of the Annual Report 2019.
2 The approx. size of the analysed sample was over 25,000 words.
3 Michael Laver, Kenneth Benoit and John Garry, ‘Extracting Policy Positions from Political Texts
Using Words as Data,Am. Pol. Sci. Rev. (American Political Science Review) 97, no. 2 (2003): 311–331.
4 Christian Kreuder-Sonnen, ‘International authority and the emergency problematique: IO empower-
ment through crises,’ International Theory 11, no. 2 (2019): 182–210.
5 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 174772. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
Crisis management is not mentioned per se in the Washington Treaty of 04 April
1949. However, Article 3 of the Treaty stipulates that member states shall “sepa-
rately and jointly, by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid,
… maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity”.6 Crisis manage-
ment is a core task of NATO, along with collective defence (Article 5) and coopera-
tive security, as defined in the 2010 Strategic Concept. The question is whether the
pandemic response fits within that framework and, if so, to what extent a logic of
exceptionalism was embraced. Article 5 was not invoked during the pandemic. Pub-
lic mentions of the scenario of invoking Article 5 to “combat the pandemic” were
rather isolated.7 In the press conference following the virtual meeting of the NATO
Ministers of Foreign Affairs on 03 April and the North Atlantic Council in Defence
Ministers’ session on 15 April 2020, Secretary General Stoltenberg provided a sum-
mary of the content discussed during those meetings. Article 5 was not mentioned in
his remarks delivered to the press. Neither was Article 4 invoked as a direct response
to the pandemic. When Article 4 (the consultation procedure)—which makes it pos-
sible for member states to table issues for debate at the North Atlantic Council—was
invoked during the pandemic, it was by Turkey on 28 February 2020 with regard
to developments in Syria not causally linked to COVID-19. Thus, as the analysed
transcripts demonstrated, during the period under consideration it was Article 3 that
emerged to be central to NATO’s COVID-19 narrative. Article 3 was repeatedly
cited in the context of NATO’s mandate to ensure resilience and civil preparedness
in times of crises.8
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the NATO SG and DSG highlighted the secu-
rity IO’s ability to perform “core” missions and activities to ensure the continuity of
ongoing operations and its capacity to take on new, crisis-related, emergent tasks,
such as the rapid transport and coordination of medical equipment, as one of their
chief messages. Nearly every public statement provides re-assurance of NATO’s
operational readiness and capacity to defend and perform its core responsibilities.
“[O]ur operational readiness remains undiminished. And our forces remain ready,
vigilant and prepared to respond to any threat… we can deploy troops, forces if
needed”, declared the SG.9 Delivery of operative core responsibilities was perceived
as a basic premise to maintain NATO posture and as a precondition for assuming
additional tasks (emergency-specific) in a credible manner. The delivery of opera-
tive core tasks was usually operationalized “to make sure that we deliver credible
6 See Washington Treaty 1949.
7 See: https:// www. atlan ticco uncil. org/ conte nt- series/ infle ction- points/ why- trump- should- trigg er- natos-
artic le-5- vs- covid- 19/.
8 See, for example, the remarks by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting
of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs on 02 April 2020: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_
174772. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
9 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 175087. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
deterrence and defence every day and that our forces stay ready and that we are able
to act if needed”.10 Other recurrent expressions attributed to NATO core responsi-
bilities were “to make sure that this health crisis does not become a security crisis”11
and to protect and preserve security for “almost one billion people”12 (mentioned by
both SG and DSG).
During speeches, public interventions and Q&A sessions in the studied period,
eight tasks were highlighted as referring to core NATO responsibilities ongoing at
the time of the COVID-19 crisis outbreak: (1) providing re-assurance in relation to
the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan; (2) continuing NATO counterterror-
ism training operations in Iraq; (3) providing re-assurance, support and commitment
to Turkey in response to the consultation procedure (Art. 4) that Turkey activated
in the aftermath of the Idlib escalation; (4) remaining committed to the partnership
with Georgia and Ukraine, both beneficiaries of international assistance under the
Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC); (5) upholding
operational readiness and vigilance through air policing, patrolling, maritime opera-
tions or an increased “presence in the Black Sea Region on land with the Tailored
Presence in Romania”13; (6) maintaining the four multinational battlegroups on
the Eastern flank in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland; (7) countering hybrid
warfare that has intensified with the exponential surge in disinformation and cyber-
attacks in Europe and the USA since the pandemic began14; and, (8) continuing the
NATO mission in Kosovo. The SG and DSG explained that all operative core tasks
continued and were successfully fulfilled during the crisis, albeit with some limita-
tions or at lower intensities. Arguably, a position of non-fulfilment of the mandate
could have had dramatic effects for NATO’s future existence. Maintaining all ele-
ments of the mandate was perceived as a precondition for the IO’s resilience and
for projecting effectiveness. As the DSG stated, it was “proof of the capability of
NATO to withstand any pressure, any stress, even in such a complicated moment
like this”.15
14 According to the INTERPOL Cybercrime Analysis Report of August 2020, the number of cyber
phishing, scam or fraud increased by 59%. The Report found that there was a “shift from individuals to
governments and critical infrastructure”, see: https:// www. inter pol. int/ en/ News- and- Events/ News/ 2020/
INTER POL- report- shows- alarm ing- rate- of- cyber attac ks- during- COVID- 19.
15 Mircea Geoana, ‘NATO Deputy Secretary General to speak on Allied response to COVID-19,’ Atlan-
tic Council, April 16, 2020, https:// atlan ticco uncil. org/ event/ allied- respo nse- to- covid- 19-a- conve rsati on-
with- mircea- geoana/.
10 See NATO SG statement on 19 March 2020: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 174389.
htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
11 This was also reiterated more recently, see for example, the speech of the NATO SG at the Riga Con-
ference on 13 November 2020: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 179489. htm.
12 Both expressions were mentioned numerous times during the pandemic, see for example: https://
www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 175085. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
13 This included a training exercise with the five Standing NATO Maritime Group Two ships on 30
March. See: https:// mc. nato. int/ media- centre/ news/ 2020/ stand ing- nato- marit ime- group-2- exerc ise- with-
roman ia- in- the- black- sea-.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
Emergency‑specic tasks: strategic airlift, crisis preparedness
andcountering disinformation
In addition to the eight operative core tasks ongoing at the beginning of the COVID-
19 crisis, NATO’s pandemic discourse was also related to its performance of two
other major emergency-specific tasks within its mandate of maintaining readiness
to respond to crises: strategic airlift and transport of essential medical equipment
or patients, and assistance to member states to enhance preparedness at whole-gov-
ernmental level. Resilience was perceived to be essential for the continuity of gov-
ernment and essential works, especially in the context of an unfolding geostrategic
environment. Article 3 of the 1949 Washington Treaty was invoked as pertaining
to NATO’s responsibility to maintain national resilience of members. When NATO
was established, in the context of the World War II, the major threat was that of an
armed attack by the USSR. As NATO continues to function on the legal foundation
of the 1949 Treaty, Article 3 does not mention the word “national resilience” per
se, but refers to the “continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid” and mainte-
nance and development of the collective capacity of members.16 In concrete terms,
as it was explained during the statements, this meant providing member states with
baseline requirements guidelines17 that NATO “developed over decades”18 related
to infrastructure, health, mass casualties, the ability to move, communication, deci-
sion-making and other critical areas. Crisis response constitutes an area in which
NATO has many years of demonstrable experience and training. As it was specified
by the SG in relation to the newest NATO member, North Macedonia: “over the last
few years, NATO has trained more than 500 first responders in North Macedonia
to improve their ability to respond to major incidents such as this”.19 In the past,
NATO has conducted major multinational medical exercises, for instance, Vigorous
Warrior organised by the NATO Military Medicine Centre of Excellence in 2019. In
the context of large-scale shocks and a rapidly evolving geostrategic environment,
resilience needs to be permanently evaluated and updated. One dimension often
mentioned in relation to ensuring Allies’ resilience was the necessity for permanent
review, as well as for updating and incorporating new dimensions linked to antici-
pated and evolving risks like the need to protect and assure critical infrastructure and
supply chains. Thus, resilience also pertained to the collective capacity to prevent
cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns carried out by actors aiming to destabi-
lise the society or the government apparatus to enhance their competitive advantage.
16 See the North Atlantic Treaty, Washington D.C., 4 April 1949.
17 As part of its civil preparedness portfolio, NATO members agreed on seven baseline requirements.
See Wolf-Diether Roepke and Hasit Thankey, ‘Resilience: the first line of defence,NATO Review, Feb-
ruary, 2019, https:// www. nato. int/ docu/ review/ artic les/ 2019/ 02/ 27/ resil ience- the- first- line- of- defen ce/
index. html.
18 Mircea Geoana, ‘Strategic conversation with Dan Mircea Geoana, Deputy Secretary-General of the
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO),’ Friends of Europe, April 27, 2020, https:// www. frien dsofe
urope. org/ events/ strat egic- conve rsati on- with- dan- mircea- geoana- deputy- secre tary- gener al- of- the- north-
atlan tic- treaty- organ isati on- nato/
19 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 174616. htm.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
A second crisis-specific dimension to emerge from the data is related to strate-
gic airlift of essential medical equipment such as masks, protective equipment and
other medical supplies. More than 100 missions of strategic airlift and transport of
patients and essential medical equipment, for example, from Italy to Germany, were
conducted based on requests by NATO member states or partner countries in the
period March–June 2020. This demonstrates the members and partners’ readiness
to participate in this solidarity and mutual help mechanism. As of 02 July 2020,
seven NATO members (Spain, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Italy, Albania, the Republic
of North Macedonia and Slovenia) and nine partner countries (Ukraine, Republic
of Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Colombia, Tunisia, Afghanistan,
Mongolia and Iraq) had requested international assistance via NATO EADRCC.20
In addition to strategic airlift, NATO also helped build more than 25 field hospi-
tals, and 4,000 military medical personnel joined the efforts of civilian medical staff.
Public communication and speeches emphasised that the COVID-19 pandemic was
at the top of the NATO agenda and that its focus was “to help the civilian authori-
ties, the healthcare systems to combat the virus, to deal with the consequences of the
COVID-19 crisis”.21 In their public speeches, the SG and DSG frequently spoke of
“saving lives”, an overarching goal also referred to in the NATO Foreign Ministers
Declaration of 2 April 2020. Strategic airlift, coordinated in conjunction with the
NATO Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC), was identified and highly prioritised as
a concrete solution to address specific needs on the ground. The NATO SAC was
established in 2008 to fill a defence capability gap. It comprises an operational unit,
the Heavy Airlift Wing (which is outside of the NATO Force Structure as opera-
tions are coordinated via NSPA, the NATO Support and Procurement Agency), and
the NATO Airlift Management Programme based in Hungary. Operationally, NATO
SAC relies on three Boeing C-17 Globemaster III (under the Hungarian flag) and
150 military, 60 civilian and 60 Boeing maintenance contractors.22 One drawback
of the SAC is that it relies on commercial suppliers, which raises the questions of
dependence and whether NATO states should acquire more C-17 aircrafts of their
own. SAC has already completed over 2,500 missions, for example, providing stra-
tegic airlift to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and to Pakistan during the 2010 flood-
ing, and logistical support in the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.23
To sum up, in its public COVID-19 discourse NATO highlighted as most impor-
tant the endurance of core tasks that were ongoing at the time of the pandemic out-
break, and the fulfilment of two additional emergency-specific tasks: strategic airlift,
and assisting states to maintain resilience by providing crisis preparedness guide-
lines and by countering disinformation in conjunction with the EU. NATO proved
its utility during the crisis by providing strategic assets that were urgently needed by
20 See: https:// www. nato. int/ nato_ static_ fl2014/ assets/ pdf/ 2020/7/ pdf/ 200702- EADRCC- 0107_ sitre p19.
21 See, for example, the mentions by NATO SG Jens Stoltenberg at the pre-ministerial press conference
on 02 April 2020: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 174770. htm? selec tedLo cale= ru.
22 See: https:// www. nspa. nato. int/ news/ 2019/ celeb rating- 10- years- of- the- strat egic- airli ft- capab ility.
23 Ibid.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
member states and partners, thus filling a vacuum that other actors or IOs would not
have had sufficient capabilities to fill to the same extent. NATO’s past experience in
crises and crisis-specific tasks, such as strategic airlift, proved beneficial. The fol-
lowing section discusses the main elements of NATO’s approach to the pandemic,
as they emerged from the data.
The main elements ofNATO’s discourse oncrisis management
The analysis of the NATO discourse unveiled seven major elements in the organisa-
tion’s COVID-19 pandemic strategy: proactiveness, continuous review and planning
ahead, stepping-up activities and efficiency, lessons learned, adaptability, solidarity
and civil-military cooperation.
Being proactive
As the public statements revealed, to enhance its effectiveness during the crisis,
NATO embraced a proactive approach. It was explained in numerous interventions
that the IO facilitated the identification of states that had a surplus of medical equip-
ment or capacity and matched the surplus stocks with existing requests by mem-
bers or partners via EADRCC. To better mobilise and coordinate this demand and
supply framework, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General
Tod Wolters, was tasked with coordinating the resources and, as the SG explained,
“to step up and speed up the way NATO Allies are supporting each other: mobi-
lise more resources, utilise NATO structures, mechanisms, even more, to continue
to provide critical support”.24 For this purpose, states were asked to notify the
SACEUR of any available resources. The transfer of resources based on a sup-
ply–demand logic worked well also due to the variation in the degree to which Euro-
pean states and the USA were impacted by the pandemic. The NATO capacity in
place, through the SAC and the NSPA, trained for this purpose, facilitated a speedy
response to requests by allies and partners. NATO has also been proactive in boost-
ing innovation. This was demonstrated by how it activated mechanisms involving
private actors or experts associated with the NATO Industry Forum (comprising
3,000 companies), the NATO Innovation Board or the NATO Science and Tech-
nology Organisation, all of which were mentioned in the public communication. In
this framework, start-ups, established companies, academia and think tanks in the
NATO databases were proactively asked for comments, contributions or criticism
“in order to do things even better in the future”.25 Other concrete examples of NATO
boosting innovation during the crisis included the cooperation between the NSPA
and ISINNOVA, a start-up firm from Italy, to produce 3D-printed connectors able
24 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 174925. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
25 Geoana, ‘Allied response to COVID-19.’.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
to convert snorkelling masks into emergency ventilators masks, which were donated
to the Italian Civil Protection Department for distribution and use in hospitals,26 and
the scientific project in the framework of NATO Science for Peace and Security Pro-
gramme “to develop new tools for a rapid and accurate diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2
Continuous review andplanning ahead
Continuous review of the NATO response to the COVID-19 crisis and the actions
taken, as well as planning ahead, were identified as further important components
of the crisis approach as revealed by the data. The transatlantic organisation started
to look into middle- and long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and
set up a mechanism of constant review of its actions, lessons learned and planning
ahead. It was highlighted that the COVID-19 crisis “will have far-reaching conse-
quences for how we think about security, and about national resilience”.28 Moreover,
it was stressed that the pandemic will deliver “severe shocks to the global world
order” with “geopolitical and geo-economic consequences”.29 The quicker the impli-
cations can be identified, the better it is from an anticipatory governance perspective.
Planning how to deal with the shocks and ensure continuity of government includes
endurance of telecommunications, energy supplies and other essential infrastructure
as well as insurance that “civilian and military cooperation is in place”.30 Getting
ready for a second wave of the pandemic and starting to plan a longer-term Pan-
demic Response Contingency Plan were examples of thinking and planning ahead.
An important implication identified by NATO in relation to the pandemic concerned
the allies’ capability to maintain possession of critical infrastructure in conditions of
anticipated (post-pandemic) economic downturn, with repercussions on long-term
security and the Alliance’s ability to manage crises. “Some”, the SG said, “may seek
to use the economic downturn as an opening to invest in our critical industries and
infrastructure”.31 As the SG and DSG both mentioned in their public communica-
tions, the pandemic revealed a series of dependencies, both by European countries
and the Unites States, on Chinese production that can rapidly lead to shortages, for
example, in essential medical equipment. This can have far-reaching strategic con-
sequences. In a counterfactual exercise, if China were to acquire stocks and subse-
quently decision-making agency in the civil and military firms that are part of the
NATO strategic airlift program, it follows that China could have an influence on
future NATO operations in times of crises.
26 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ news_ 174797. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
27 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ news_ 175619. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
28 Mentions by the NATO SG during the pre-ministerial press conference on 14 April 2020: https://
www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 175085. htm? selec tedLo cale= fr.
29 Geoana, ‘Allied response to COVID-19.’.
30 Ibid.
31 NATO SG following the virtual meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Defence Ministers’ session,
15 April 2020: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 175087. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
Step‑up activities andeciency, andprovide help “upon demand”
The analysed statements reveal that NATO has vigorously looked into how to
enhance efficiency and coordination. Stepping-up activities usually referred to
increasing the quantity of the provided assistance (“do more”) and efficiency (“with
higher speed”) by “identifying the airlift capacity”, coordinating surplus capacity or
stocks (“better matching requests for support with offers from Allies and partners”)
and implementing “simplified procedures for Rapid Air Mobility, in coordination
with Eurocontrol” to speed up the provided assistance.32 Providing re-assurance to
Turkey after the activation of Article 4 was also considered proactive leadership as
the SG affirmed: “I’m in constant dialogue with the Allied capitals to see whether
we can further step up our assurance measures for Turkey…I will continue to also
work with Allies on how we can further step up our support to Turkey”.33 The vision
of “doing more” was also expressed in relation to NATO efforts in the wider Mid-
dle East region and North Africa as seen by discussions on how to step-up train-
ing activities in Iraq, or how to do more for partner countries such as Tunisia or
Mauritania. Leadership and mission clarity were identified by the DSG as impor-
tant determinants of NATO efficiency. Precision in the mission and command struc-
ture and the absence of “fuzziness” proved to be important in the transfer of tasks
and implementation,34 which in substantive terms meant providing assistance at a
speedy level.
While NATO leaders aimed to increase their value added and utility by doing
more and increasing efficiency, they concomitantly stressed that help and assistance
were premised on formal requests by member states or partners. In relation to the
visions for Middle East and North Africa, it was specified that the concrete activi-
ties of possible future assistance were not yet known, and that assistance would only
be provided upon request: “we only do that if we are requested, or there’s a demand
for NATO activities in different forms”.35 Similarly, in relation to the strategic airlift
and other types of assistance in the COVID-19 context, it was underscored that the
NATO response is based on national requests and needs.36
Lessons learned—harnessing accumulated knowledge
Commitment to lessons learned emerged as another key element in the NATO
approach during the pandemic, based on the public statements in the analysed sam-
ple. NATO maintains a database of lessons learned through the Joint Analysis &
Lessons Learned Centre, which coordinates and provides systematic assessments
and trainings, and shares newly produced knowledge. The process to integrate
34 Geoana, ‘Allied response to COVID-19.’.
35 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 175085. htm? selec tedLo cale= fr.
36 See theNATO SG statement on 01 April 2020: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 174770.
htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
32 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 174772. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
33 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 175085. htm.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
lessons learned in relation to the pandemic commenced on 01 April, prior to the
NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting.
One lesson learned was on resilience. During the Defence Ministers Meeting
on 15 April 2020, it was agreed to integrate the identified lessons learned into the
baseline resilience requirements and to maintain regular updates.37 Moreover, an ini-
tiative was started to assess the medium- and long-term implications of the crisis,
including on how to strengthen resilience and enhance preparedness for future cri-
ses. Other lessons learned outlined in the public interventions related to the need to
re-think dependencies on essential supplies. The need to “ask questions whether we
are too dependent on production coming from outside, whether we need to produce
more of this equipment in our own countries” was emphasised by Jens Stoltenberg
during a pre-ministerial press conference.38 Another lesson learned highlighted in
the discourse was the “close link between the civilian efforts to fight a health crisis
and the ability of the military to support those efforts”, as the SG remarked.39
A “culture ofpermanent adaptability”
A fifth theme that emerged from the analysis was the focus on the continuity of gov-
ernment, the IO’s own operations and core responsibilities, and on adaptability as a
premise for the former. One way to enhance adaptability was through partnerships
and “opening”40 up to thousands of private actors, think tanks and academic experts
via a series of mechanisms in place. The Supreme Allied Commander Transforma-
tion (SACT), in Norfolk, Virginia—currently French General André Lanata—was
highlighted as part of this “ecosystem”. Being responsible for finding innovative
solutions and making recommendations for adjustments to the NATO posture, the
Allied Command Transformation plays a key role in the processes of strategic adap-
tation. NATO has, explained General Lanata during the Defence Ministers Meet-
ing on 15 April, “a vast network of military and civilian professionals from Centres
of Excellence, nations, scientists, medical professionals and military experts”41 that
allows it to keep pace with strategic evolutions. Adaptability is perceived as inher-
ent to NATO’s continuity as a security alliance able to provide working solutions to
emerging threats in an evolving strategic environment amidst the hybridisation and
unpredictability of threats. NATO has adapted after each critical juncture, explained
SG Jens Stoltenberg: “NATO has adapted after the end of the Cold War and […]
after 2014 when Russia illegally annexed Crimea”.42 Continuous adaptation is
seen to be part of the NATO raison d’être. The “culture of adaptation and lessons
37 Geoana, ‘Allied response to COVID-19.’.
38 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 175085. htm.
39 See: https:// www. defen se. gov/ Explo re/ News/ Artic le/ Artic le/ 21518 37/ nato- defen se- minis ters- discu ss-
allia nces- covid- 19- respo nse/.
40 Geoana, ‘Allied response to COVID-19.’.
41 See: http:// www. act. nato. int/ artic les/ nato- defen ce- minis ters- agree- next- steps- fight- again st- coron avirus.
42 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 175087. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
learned” constitutes a third dimension of NATO, along with its “culture of solidar-
ity” and “culture of vigilance”, as the DSG elaborated.43
The NATO Reflection Group, launched to coordinate the review process agreed
to during the 2019 NATO Leaders Meeting in London, is also linked to adapt-
ability.44 The Reflection Group was mandated to assess how to strengthen NATO’s
political unity, cohesiveness, solidarity and “responsiveness to new challenges”.45
The Group presented their first findings to the SG at the end of 2020. The Reflection
Group was not mandated with reviewing the Strategic Concept per se, but it will
nonetheless play a crucial role in NATO’s future adaptability and innovation.
Culture ofsolidarity embedded inArticle 5
The culture of solidarity, embedded in the Washington Treaty, was identified as
another major element of NATO’s discourse during the pandemic. The DSG stated
that “Art. 5 is the ultimate expression of solidarity and also in these very difficult
months and weeks of this pandemic, allies have shown solidarity”.46 The word “soli-
darity” was mentioned approximatively 27 times during public interactions by the
SG and DSG in the studied period. Over 100 strategic airlift missions during the
crisis, which required deliberate will in the capitals to share some of their medical
stocks and other types of essential crisis assistance, provide evidence of the solidar-
ity. Even in the absence of a common identity, the missions had implications at the
affect level which, as will be elaborated in a subsequent section of this article, can
be an important source of legitimacy.47 This was linked to previously unseen assis-
tance dynamics. Examples include Turkey delivering medical equipment to the UK,
US and Italy, and the US providing additional flying hours to Romania within the
framework of the strategic airlift programme. The proactive approach together with
the streamlining and acceleration of coordination and deliveries at the same time
enabled and stimulated the solidarity. The value added of cooperation, mutual help
and support in the context of increasing unpredictability and uncertainty, especially
in times of crises, was also often highlighted in the context of NATO solidarity.
43 Geoana, ‘Strategic Conversion.’.
44 For example, to adapt to a new constellation of threats, NATO declared space as one of its core
domains, see: Cornelia Baciu, ‘Collective Security and Art. 5 in Space: Jus Gentium, Oversight, Resil-
ience and the Role of NATO,’ Atlantic Forum, December 01, 2020, https:// www. atlan tic- forum. com/
conte nt/ colle ctive- secur ity- and- art-5- space- jus- genti um- overs ight- resil ience- and- role- nato.
45 Geoana, ‘Allied response to COVID-19.’.
46 Geoana, ‘Strategic Conversation.’.
47 Jan Aart Scholte and Jonas Tallberg, ‘Theorizing the Institutional Sources of Global Governance
Legitimacy,’ in Legitimacy in global governance, ed. Jonas Tallberg, Karin Bäckstrand and Jan Aart
Scholte. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018), 56–74. See also Allen Buchanan and Robert O. Keo-
hane, ‘The Legitimacy of Global Governance Institutions,’ in Legitimacy in International Law, ed. Rüdi-
ger Wolfrum and Volker Rüben (Berlin, Heidelberg: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wis-
senschaften e.V, 2008), 25–62.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
The importance ofcivil–military cooperation andtherole ofmilitaries inassisting
The importance of strong civil–military partnerships and the utility of the military
in the crisis was a seventh major element underscored in the NATO discourse dur-
ing the COVID-19 pandemic in the studied period. For example, the SG stated that
“by investing in our military, we also provide a capacity which has proven useful in
supporting the civil society, dealing with crises like the corona crisis”.48 The role
of militaries, which ranged from dealing with military threats to assisting civilians
in member countries to deal with the crisis, was often mentioned. The role of the
men in uniform during the COVID-19 was perceived as a supporting one to boost
civilian efforts. When asked whether global health risks should be considered when
planning the defence posture, the SG emphasised that NATO should not change its
core responsibilities to integrate pandemics. However, he elaborated, reviewing the
possibilities of strengthening civil-military cooperation and how military capabili-
ties could help sustain civilian efforts (in non-military operations) is worth looking
To sum up, the current and previous section presented the immediate results from
the empirical analysis. I now move on to critically discuss the findings from the con-
ceptual perspective of the emergency problematique and IO exceptionalism.
Discussion oftheconceptual implications: beyondtheemergency
This section adds to existing literature on the emergency problematique and IO
exceptionalism, by assessing the results from the perspective of legitimacy practices
in IOs and global governance. Six major conceptual implications can be derived
from the results.
First, as previous literature on global governance50 implied, considerable refer-
ences during the COVID-19 crisis were linked to participation, fairness, expertise,
effectiveness and tradition. Although broader NATO dynamics, including disputes
on burden-sharing and disruptive antagonisms, were not abandoned during the
pandemic, all NATO states and partners were invited to the pooling and sharing ad
hoc initiative for strategic airlift of essential equipment. Participation also involved
accountability and transparency, as all strategic airlift missions and crisis-related
operations were documented on the NATO website. The ad hoc pooling and shar-
ing procedure also revealed a certain degree of fairness, as all members were invited
and could participate in the missions, either on the supply or the demand side, as
per their needs and requests. There was no evidence of requests that could not be
48 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 174389. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
49 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 175087. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
50 Michael Zürn, A Theory of global governance. Authority, legitimacy, and contestation (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2018).
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
considered. While some NATO member states are assumed to have higher agency
and leverage than others despite NATO being an intergovernmental organisation
requiring consensus in decision-making, no particular discrimination of states was
found to be reflected in NATO statements or actions. The NATO strategic airlift
operations based on a supply–demand logic and shared coordination and command,
optimised under the guidance of the SACEUR and SACT, have revealed a further
dimension related to fairness. This mechanism can be seen as an IO innovation,
given that in the global governance system “authorities that have the capacity to sig-
nificantly redistribute opportunities and wealth…hardly exist”.51 The NATO norma-
tive narrative during the COVID-19 crisis also pertained to the IO’s expertise and
knowledge. Crisis management was presented as NATO’s raison d’être, and many
references were related to its previous experience in crises, including in strategic
airlift missions. NATO’s previous experiences in crises, and its trainings relevant
to crisis management, allowed the transatlantic organisation to quickly adapt to the
situation, put mechanisms in place to coordinate tangible help and implement it rap-
idly in a situation in which every minute and every mask mattered. This experience
proved valuable, for example, in providing states with baseline crisis pre-prepared-
ness guidelines and in employing a lessons learned mechanism. NATO’s Lessons
Learned department and the systematic assessments, reviews and updates it per-
forms demonstrate that for NATO lessons learned is already a highly institutional-
ised mechanism.
Second, the endogenous normative projection was less about “international respon-
sibility”52 as it had been in previous crises53 (example, in the Ukraine54) and more
about crisis responsibility, i.e. the obligation and authority to provide help during cri-
ses as one of NATO’s core tasks, as agreed by members in the 2010 Strategic Con-
cept.55 As the pandemic narrative demonstrated, specific attention has been dedicated
to the crisis preparedness requirements, which have been made available to states and
were continually reviewed and updated. In contrast to the NATO discourses during
previous crises, no reference was found to be made that explicitly stated NATO as a
“legitimate authority” to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. As the Alliance came under
stress in recent times in relation to burden-sharing, expressed by both US President
Trump and French President Macron,56 the pandemic constituted a situation for NATO
to illustrate its utility and reinforce legitimacy. By proactively identifying areas in
51 Zürn, A Theory of Global Governance, 74.
52 Tal Dingott Alkopher, ‘From Kosovo to Syria: the transformation of NATO Secretaries General’s dis-
course on military humanitarian intervention,’ European Security 25, no. 1 (2016): 49–71.
53 While acknowledging that crises are in principle genuinely different and can be driven by various
54 Florian Böller, ‘“Guardian of the international order”? NATO’s contested identity, the discourses of
Secretaries General, and the Ukraine crisis,’ East European Politics 34, no. 2 (2018): 217–237.
55 In addition, a recent study shows that crisis management constitutes one area of strategic overlap in
the national security strategies of most NATO and EU countries, see Cornelia Baciu, ‘Collaborative
security regimes post-Brexit—estimating the potential for convergence based on the overlap in national
strategic documents. A comparative study of EU27 + 1 and the US,’ Comparative Strategy 39, no. 6
(2020): 549–564.
56 US President Donald Trump upended the July 2018 Brussels Summit, requesting an increase in
defence budgets by European allies and threatening that contrary, he “will do its own thing”. In 2019,
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
which it can have a value added in the context of the pandemic, and by seeking to
increase efficiency in providing speedy assistance in emergency-specific tasks, NATO
has made use of its strategic airlift capabilities and shared command and control coor-
dination structure, two areas in which the IO has longstanding experience and training
in. The perception of a global alliance, with missions in different parts of the world,
persisted only to a certain extent. Notwithstanding, the definition of a global NATO
in contemporary times is quite different from early 2000s, not least because of the
“dynamics in the transatlantic relationship”.57
Third, existing crisis management protocols and lessons learned database allowed
the Euro-Atlantic alliance to respond in a speedy manner. The pandemic took the
entire world by surprise, even its most advanced states like the USA, Germany and
the UK. To cope with the pandemic, most states refocussed inwardly and declared
states of emergency, which amplified the lack of leadership at both IOs and global
level. This might have initially weakened supranational responses, for example, by
the EU. Overall, the EU has made an enormous effort to cope with the pandemic.
After lengthy negotiations, initially overshadowed by the Frugals’ antagonistic posi-
tion, the European Central Bank handed out 1.3 trillion EUR in a historical bond-
buying package, deemed as relief for the European economy. The EU also coordi-
nated the joint re-patriation of EU citizens abroad and, under the EU Civil Protection
Mechanism and other relevant institutional structures, the IO has coordinated and
financed the delivery of medical equipment within Europe and internationally.58
While the question may not be about who helped who first, the speed of the first
response can play a significant role in an emergency. Lack of proper crisis manage-
ment capacity, for example, meant that initial help requests from Italy did not receive
an appropriate response. The President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen
publicly apologised to Italy, admitting it had “not been by its side since the begin-
ning of the crisis”.59 The World Health Organization (WHO) has also performed a
substantial role in managing the pandemic although its actions were overshadowed
by massive contestation and the US notification of withdrawal. A comprehensive
comparison of the responses of the three IOs (NATO, EU, WHO), while beyond the
scope of this study, can make an interesting subject for a future paper. From a prag-
matic perspective, a corollary of this discussion is the delicate normative puzzle per-
taining to the question of who has legitimacy to help, and who can help in times of a
global shock. NATO’s overall response was materially significantly lower than that
of the EU, but it proved to have the capacity to speedily coordinate and take action
and be a first responder while other intergovernmental organisations might have
needed some time to organise and react. One possible explanation for the speedy
NATO response might be the IO’s assets in terms of crisis SOPs and protocols and a
lesson learned database that enabled it to quickly respond to the crisis.
Footnote 56 (continued)
ahead of the NATO London High-Level Meeting, French President Emmanuel Macron stated twice that
NATO is “brain-death”, prompting the allies to become indignant.
57 Personal communication, 04 October 2020, Magdeburg.
58 For an overview on the EU response to COVID-19, see: https:// ec. europa. eu/ info/ live- work- travel- eu/
health/ coron avirus- respo nse/ crisis- manag ement- and- solid arity_ en.
59 See: https:// www. euron ews. com/ 2020/ 04/ 16/ eu- commi ssion- presi dent- offers- heart felt- apolo gy- to- italy.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
Fourth, no strong evidence was found for a “relative gains” legitimation narra-
tive—i.e. the attempt to legitimise (mandate-exceeding) action by building “on gains
relative to others”.60 Instead, references to IO-inner dynamics of cooperation and
solidarity, identity, efficiency and “collective gains”61 were found to be central in
SG and DSG public statements. The evidence presented corroborated previous stud-
ies that pointed out the “discursive construction of NATO’s identity” in times of
crisis.62 During the pandemic, many references pertained to NATO’s “culture of
solidarity”, embedded in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. Mentions of solidar-
ity and of the need for cooperation both during and after the pandemic, as well as
the re-assurance of allies and partner countries of NATO’s ability to perform core
responsibilities and take on additional (emergency-specific) tasks, can be inter-
preted as sources of “positive” legitimacy.63 Positive legitimacy can optimise IOs’
internal structures and affect power relations. It can also energise implementation
and thus institutional performance and identity. Recognition and support by allies
are essential in light64 of the anticipated post-crisis economic downturn that might
shrink domestic defence budgets which were already low before the crisis. The eco-
nomic repercussions were acknowledged on many occasions during NATO’s pub-
lic interventions. Simultaneously, the COVID-19 narrative underscored the need for
continuation of security as a precondition of trade, stability and peace. The crisis
turned into an anchor point for the Alliance to show relevance, utility and ability to
meet the presumed normative expectations that its member states, 42 partners and
the larger public have of a collective defence organisation during a health crisis. The
crisis management capacity, commitment and professionality demonstrated during
the pandemic could boost perceptions of the IO’s legitimacy, increase support and
help avoid a potential legitimacy crisis. NATO’s high level of commitment during
a health crisis may have raised questions for some. A “shape-shifting” NATO was
also seen during the Kosovo crisis, when the Alliance turned into a humanitarian
agency and articulated a more value-orientated strategy, in which “military capital”
was “made directly politically relevant”.65 This approach can be conceptually drawn
from notions of “active engagement” and “modern defence” that are addressed in the
2010 Strategic Concept. Furthermore, while the current Concept is ripe for renewal,
the allies were for a long time somewhat nervous about opening up the discussion
60 Zürn, A Theory of Global Governance.
61 Scholte and Tallberg, ‘Theorizing the Institutional Sources.’.
62 Böller, ‘“Guardian of the international order”?’.
63 Jennifer, Gronau and Henning Schmidtke, ‘The quest for legitimacy in world politics—international
institutions’ legitimation strategies,Review of International Studies 42, no. 3 (2016): 535–557. See
also Jonas Tallberg and Michael Zürn. ‘The legitimacy and legitimation of international organizations:
introduction and framework,The Review of International Organizations 14, no. 4 (2019): 581–606,
and Hideaki Shinoda, ‘The Politics of Legitimacy in International Relations: A Critical Examination of
NATO’s Intervention in Kosovo,’ Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 25, no. 4 (2000): 515–36.
64 Sungjoon Cho, ‘Toward an Identity Theory of International Organizations,’ American Society of Inter-
national Law 101, (2007): 157–160. See also Andrea Oelsner, ‘The Institutional Identity of Regional
Organizations, Or Mercosur’s Identity Crisis,’ International Studies Quarterly 57, no. 1 (2013): 115–127.
65 Jef Huysmans, ‘Shape-Shifting NATO: Humanitarian Action and the Kosovo Refugee Crisis,’ Review
of International Studies, 28, no. 3 (2002): 599–618.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
for fear of what Trump might do.66 Military capital and professionalism in assisting
civilians can be expected to remain central to NATO’s future political identity.
Fifth, the rhetoric in the studied timeframe did not seek to justify decisions based
on a “state of exception which requires quick decisions which are without alterna-
tive”.67 Rather, it sought to do so on the basis of delivering support for shared goods
and speedy outcomes (output legitimacy) along procedural patterns (input legiti-
macy) established on the foundation of accumulated experience. As the DSG stated,
“[O]ur DNA is crisis management, our DNA is command and control, [it] is effi-
ciency in logistics and putting together in critical moments the pieces that can make
in this stress a nation and alliance work”.68 NATO’s supporting role under civilian
oversight and democratic control was often underscored: under the civilian com-
mand “we are here with decades of experience”.69 Health crises are not specified
as being within the NATO mandate as defined in the Washington Treaty, although
resilience and civil preparedness—including in a health context—was subsumed to
NATO’s portfolio more recently under Article 3.70 Applying the “IO exceptional-
ism” argument in the global governance literature, NATO practice during the pan-
demic would be seen as a source of “authority leap”.71 However, the logic of excep-
tionalism could not be confirmed based on the data employed in this article: the
examined IO has neither sought to lower checks and balances (horizontal dimension)
nor to reduce the legal protection of the subjects (vertical dimension). To expedite
delivery of medical equipment, a NATO call sign was used to simplify the standard
procedure for military relief and speed up the Air Traffic Control clearances72 in
conjunction with the Eurocontrol. This, however, did not endanger subjects as most
passenger flights were suspended during the pandemicin thestudied period. As the
strategic and threat environment evolved with the end of the Cold War, NATO stead-
ily adapted and became a multi-domain IO. Nonetheless, when asked by a reporter
whether pandemics should receive more attention when “calculating defensive pos-
ture”, the SG replied that NATO should not become “the first responder” or change
its core responsibilities. But, he added, the role of militaries in civilian efforts during
health crises could be further explored.
This appears a refutation of the “normalisation” thesis73 when applied to security
IOs in times of pandemics. It might seem counter intuitive, especially in light of
66 Personal Communication, June 2020, Washington D.C.
67 Zürn, A Theory of Global Governance.
68 Geoana, ‘Allied response to COVID-19.’.
69 Ibid.
70 NATO leaders agreed to enhance national resilience and develop capacity to boost civil preparedness,
“including in the health sector”, drawing on the Commitment to enhance resilience issued by Heads of
State and Government at the 2016 Summit in Warsaw: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ topics_ 49158.
htm. See also: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ topics_ 132722. htm; https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/
natohq/ offic ial_ texts_ 133180. htm? selec tedLo cale= en.
71 Kreuder-Sonnen, ‘International authority and the emergency problematique.’.
72 See: https:// shape. nato. int/ news- archi ve/ 2020/ nato- exped ites- deliv ery- of- covid 19- suppl ies- betwe en- allies.
73 Kreuder-Sonnen, ‘International authority and the emergency problematique.’.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
the growing securitisation literature74 and notwithstanding that crisis management
is part of the core mandate of NATO. While the Alliance proactively assessed and
communicated ongoing and anticipated risks, based on the analysed public interven-
tions, there was no significant tangible evidence of “strategic reorientation”.75 From
a procedural perspective, the SG could not have made that determination as member
states would have to agree to expand NATO’s remit. Such a procedure usually takes
place at the head of state level, but there have been no meetings at that level during
the studied time frame. Ordinarily, such questions would be discussed during the
review of the Strategic Concept which, in 2020, had been put off until after the US
elections.76 The SG has nonetheless agreed upon the possibility of reviewing the
role of NATO in such crises, especially from the perspective of strengthening civil-
military cooperation.
Sixth, taken together, the empirical analysis in this article reveals interesting
insights into the interplay between input and output legitimacy and how they relate
to the emergency problematique. As it was pointed out numerous times in the public
interventions, help and assistance to both Allies and partner countries was prem-
ised by formal demands or requests and needs on the ground. The expertise and
knowledge (output legitimacy) aspect fed to a certain extent into the dimension of
invoking tradition and the status quo77 as a legitimation practice. Past experience
and tradition (sources of input legitimacy) in crisis management were emphasised in
the statements. However, contrary to expectations derived from propositions in the
specialist literature on legitimation practices in global governance, the studied nar-
rative did not involve arguments sticking to beliefs that “something that has worked
for a long time is good”—as the COVID-19 response was continually reviewed and
adjusted—or that improvements can produce side-effects.78 Rather, the opposite was
the case. Through the lessons learned paradigm, continuous reviewing and active
monitoring of possible new intervening factors and risks, the studied IO sought to
permanently update guidelines, optimise procedures and relentlessly adapt, in a
rather Kuhnian dynamic of transformation and innovation. Overall, it can be said
that the IO sought to transcend the emergency problematique. The evidence could
not conclusively demonstrate an active counterbalancing between functional “last
resort” measures and loosening constitutionalism or democratic control for the
examined case. Notwithstanding this finding, the expertise that NATO demonstrated
during the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to prompt future debates on NATO’s role,
given that, in the context of an evolving risk environment, “collective defence is
74 James Sperling and Mark Webber, ‘NATO and the Ukraine crisis: Collective securitisation,European
Journal of International Security 2, no. 1 (2017): 19–46.
75 Sperling and Webber, ‘NATO and the Ukraine crisis.’.
76 Personal Communication, June 2020, Washington, D.C.
77 Glen Herald Snyder and Paul Diesing, Conflict Among Nations: Bargaining, Decision Making, and
System Structure in International Crises, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015). See also Zürn, A
Theory of Global Governance.
78 Zürn, A Theory of Global Governance, 75.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
being re-interpreted to mean solidarity in upholding domestic order and resilience
rather than mainly protecting external borders”.79
This article examined NATO’s discourses and strategy during the COVID-19 crisis.
Drawing on all SG and DSG public interventions in the period March–May 2020
coded in NVivo, as well as on additional documentary sources, the article revealed
a series of original findings that have significant implications for theory and policy.
They showed that during the pandemic, NATO actions were targeted towards con-
tinuity of ongoing operative missions and taking on additional emergency-specific
operations, such as strategic airlift of essential medical equipment. The IO’s crisis
management strategic approach during the pandemic comprised seven key elements:
proactiveness; continuous review and planning ahead; stepping-up activities and
efficiency and providing assistance “upon demand”; lessons learned logic; adapt-
ability; projecting solidarity; and strengthening civil-military cooperation.
These findings make manifold contributions to the academic community. The
results add a conceptual distinction to theories of global governance and IO legitimacy,
specifically in relation to sources and strategies of legitimation and the exceptionalism
problematique. Effectiveness as a source of IO legitimation in times of shocks can
conceptually consist of elements such as proactive coordination and fair inclusion of
member states, an institutional lessons learned logic, continuous review of processes
and potential risks, and planning ahead. When IOs employ intensive adaptation, their
ontological purpose transcends survival, and instead is concerned with developing
evolutionary stable strategies,80 i.e. strategies that can remain stable over time. As
rational actors, security IOs might not always seek explicit authority leaps through
lowering checks and balances (horizonal) or reducing legal protection of subjects (ver-
tical), due to risks of sanctioning—e.g. by member states principals, citizens or wider
public opinion, including media and think tanks. In times of crises, IOs can transcend
the emergency problematique by complying to procedural patterns and distributive
justice principles (input legitimacy) and demonstrating utility and value added (out-
put legitimacy). In order to avoid a legitimacy deficit, IOs might refrain from mission
expansion beyond the scope of their mandate during a crisis. As the case under inves-
tigation demonstrated, all operations in this case were premised by formal requests
and demands by receivers of assistance or hosts of operations. The concrete response,
steps and actions were accurately documented on theNATO official website, which
can re-enforce transparency and accountability. While deviation from procedural pat-
terns might be possible, as the change in the flying procedure in coordination with
79 Jamie Shea, ‘Never waste a good crisis: are pandemics NATO’s new security challenge?’ Friends of
Europe, April 06, 2020, https:// www. frien dsofe urope. org/ insig hts/ never- waste-a- good- crisis- are- pande
mics- natos- new- secur ity- chall enge/. See also Gabrielle Marceau, ‘IGOs in Crisis? Or New Opportunities
to Demonstrate Responsibility?’ International Organizations Law Review 8, no. 1 (2011): 1–13.
80 See Cornelia-Adriana Baciu and Alexandra M Friede, ‘The EU’s CFSP/CSDP in 2030: Towards an
alternative vision of power?’ New Perspectives 28, no. 3 (2020): 398–412.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
Eurocontrol demonstrated, these shall not be automatically equated with horizontal or
vertical authority leaps. Precisely, ad hoc operational innovations might be meaningful
rather than harmful to the IO’s authority boundaries or subjects.
At policy level, the findings suggested both continuity and change in NATO dis-
course during pervasive shocks. The IO’s strategy was found to be focussed on core
responsibilities, NATO identity and the importance of military capital. In contrast
to the narrative during previous crises, the endogenous normative themes pertained
less to “international responsibility” than it did to crisis responsibility. The results
showed that one lesson learned for NATO alludes to the NSPA and the Heavy Airlift
Wing of the Strategic Airlift Capability. In light of the enormous costs it involves
for civilian and military contractors and the risk that strategic players may aim to
acquire military assets in Europe, the prospect of decreasing a possible dependency
by, for example, working with national assets,81 might be due for assessment.
Little was known before about the strategy and legitimacy practices of security IOs,
such as NATO, in times of large-scale health shocks. Thanks to its empirical approach,
the article made a series of significant contributions in terms of theoretical innovations
and additions to existing literature on global governance legitimacy in disruptive times.
Future research on IOs and legitimacy in times of crises and in emerging geopolitical
turbulences should take into account the importance of distinguishing between the IO’s
ongoing operative responsibilities and its emergency-specific operations. Strategies
of legitimation in global governance in times of crises can be shaped by awareness of
power relations and authority boundaries. Upcoming studies could apply a comparative
design by examining further cases such as the EU or the WHO. They could also seek
to unpack the conceptual implications and possible overlap between different elements
of the IOs’ crisis discourse and how they help to maintain a good equilibrium between
mandate limitations and genuine needs on the ground. From the perspective of the emer-
gency problematique, future research should elaborate on the trade-off between pragma-
tism as a source of normative legitimacy (morality) and boundaries of constitutionalism
(legality) in relation to utility and societal needs on the ground.
Acknowledgements The author would like to thank to Dr. Daniel Hamilton, Austrian Marshall Plan
Foundation Senior Fellow at the Henry A. Kissinger Center for Global Affairs, Johns Hopkins University
and Director of the Global Europe Program at the Wilson Center, Washington, D.C., for substantive com-
ments and ideas provided to a previous version of this article. The author would also like to extend her
gratitude to the two anonymous reviewers for the provided comments, which were extremely beneficial to
advance the argument made in this article. Tremendous thanks to the Editor of the Journal of Transatlan-
tic Studies, for the kind patience throughout the review process.
Funding This article was conceived and submitted while the author was a postdoctoral researcher at the
School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. on a fellowship
sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD).
Conflict of interest The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.
81 See: https:// www. nato. int/ cps/ en/ natohq/ opini ons_ 175087. htm.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
Baciu, Cornelia. 2020a. Collaborative security regimes post-Brexit—estimating the potential for conver-
gence based on the overlap in national strategic documents. A comparative study of EU27 + 1 and
the US. Comparative Strategy 39 (6): 549–564. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1080/ 01495 933. 2020. 18268 45.
Baciu, Cornelia-Adriana, and Alexandra M. Friede. 2020. The EU’s CFSP/CSDP in 2030: Towards
an alternative vision of power? New Perspectives 28 (3): 398–412. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1177/ 23368
25X20 935245.
Baciu, Cornelia. Collective Security and Art. 5 in Space: Jus Gentium, Oversight, Resilience and the Role
of NATO, Atlantic Forum, December 2020. Accessed 05 March 2021. https:// www. atlan tic- forum.
com/ conte nt/ colle ctive- secur ity- and- art-5- space- jus- genti um- overs ight- resil ience- and- role- nato.
Bäckstrand, Karin and Fredrik Söderbaum. Legitimation and delegitimation in global governance: Dis-
cursive, institutional, and behavioral practices. In Legitimacy in global governance:Sources, pro-
cesses, and consequences, eds. Jonas Tallberg, Karin Bäckstrand and Jan A. Scholte, 101–18.
Oxford, United Kingdom:Oxford University Press, 2018.
Böller, Florian. 2018. “Guardian of the international order”? NATO’s contested identity, the discourses of
Secretaries General, and the Ukraine crisis. East European Politics 34 (2): 217–237. https:// doi. org/
10. 1080/ 21599 165. 2018. 14586 16.
Buchanan, Allen and Robert O. Keohane. The legitimacy of global governance institutions. In Legitimacy
in International Law, ed. Rüdiger Wolfrum and Volker Roeben, 25–62. Berlin, Heidelberg: Max-
Planck-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Wissenschaften e.V., 2008.
Cho, Sungjoon. 2007. Toward an Identity Theory of International Organizations. Proceedings of the
Annual Meeting (American Society of International Law) 101: 157–160.
Dingott Alkopher, Tal. 2016. From Kosovo to Syria: The transformation of NATO Secretaries General’s
discourse on military humanitarian intervention. European Security 25 (1): 49–71. https:// doi. org/
10. 1080/ 09662 839. 2015. 10821 28.
Marceau, Gabrielle. 2011. IGOs in crisis? Or new opportunities to demonstrate responsibility? Interna-
tional Organizations Law Review 8 (1): 1–13. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1163/ 15723 7411X 594218.
Geoana, Mircea. NATO Deputy Secretary General to speak on Allied response to COVID-19, Atlantic
Council, 16 April 2020. Accessed 07 May 2020. https:// atlan ticco uncil. org/ event/ allied- respo nse- to-
covid- 19-a- conve rsati on- with- mircea- geoana/.
Geoana, Mircea. Strategic conversation with Dan Mircea Geoana, Deputy Secretary-General of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Friends of Europe, 27 April 2020. Accessed 07 May 2020.
https:// www. frien dsofe urope. org/ events/ strat egic- conve rsati on- wit h- dan- mircea- geoana- deputy-
secre tary- gener al- of- the- north- atlan tic- treaty- organ isati on- nato/.
Gronau, Jennifer, and Henning Schmidtke. 2016. The quest for legitimacy in world politics—Interna-
tional institutions’ legitimation strategies. Review of International Studies 42 (3): 535–557. https://
doi. org/ 10. 1017/ S0260 21051 50004 92.
Huysmans, Jef. 2002. Shape-Shifting NATO: Humanitarian action and the Kosovo refugee crisis. Review
of International Studies 28 (3): 599–618.
Jonas Tallberg and Michael Zürn. 2019. The legitimacy and legitimation of international organizations:
Introduction and framework. The Review of International Organizations 14 (4): 581–606. https://
doi. org/ 10. 1007/ s11558- 018- 9330-7.
Kreuder-Sonnen, Christian. 2019. International authority and the emergency problematique: IO empow-
erment through crises. International Theory 11 (2): 182–210. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1017/ S1752 97191
90000 10.
Laver, Michael, Kenneth Benoit, and John Garry. 2003. Extracting policy positions from political texts
using words as data. American Political Science Review 97 (02): 311–331. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1017/
S0003 05540 30006 98.
Marceau, Gabrielle. 2011. IGOs in crisis? Or new opportunities to demonstrate responsibility? Interna-
tional Organizations Law Review 8 (1): 1–13. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1163/ 15723 7411X 594218.
Oelsner, Andrea. 2013. The institutional identity of regional organizations, or Mercosur’s identity crisis.
International Studies Quarterly 57 (1): 115–127. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1111/ isqu. 12033.
Roepke, Wolf-Diether and Hasit Thankey, Resilience: The first line of defence, NATO Review, February
2019. Accessed 12 March 2021. https:// www. nato. int/ docu/ review/ artic les/ 2019/ 02/ 27/ resil ience-
the- first- line- of- defen ce/ index. html.
Journal of Transatlantic Studies (2021) 19:261–281
Scholte, Jan A. and Jonas Tallberg. Theorizing the institutional sources of global governance legitimacy.
In Legitimacy in global governance:Sources, processes, and consequences, eds. Jonas Tallberg,
Karin Bäckstrand and Jan A. Scholte, 56–74. Oxford, United Kingdom:Oxford University Press,
Shea, Jamie. Never waste a good crisis: Are pandemics NATO’s new security challenge? Friends of
Europe, 6 April 2020. Accessed 05 March 2021. https:// www. frien dsofe urope. org/ insig hts/ never-
waste-a- good- crisis- are- pande mics- natos- new- secur ity- chall enge/.
Shinoda, Hideaki. 2000. The politics of legitimacy in international relations: A critical examination of
NATO’s intervention in Kosovo. Alternatives Global, Local, Political 25 (4): 515–536. https:// doi.
org/ 10. 1177/ 03043 75400 02500 405.
Snyder, G.H., and P. Diesing. 2015. Conflict among nations: Bargaining, decision making, and system
structure in international crises. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Sperling, James, and Mark Webber. 2017. NATO and the Ukraine crisis: Collective securitisation. Euro-
pean Journal of International Security 2 (1): 19–46. https:// doi. org/ 10. 1017/ eis. 2016. 17.
Tallberg, Jonas, K. Bäckstrand and J. Aart Scholte, eds. 2018. Legitimacy in global governance: Sources,
processes, and consequences. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Zürn, Michael. 2018. A theory of global governance: Authority, legitimacy, and contestation. Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Publisher’s Note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published
maps and institutional affiliations.
Cornelia Baciu is a Postdoctoral Researcher in European Security at the Institute for Peace Research and
Security Policy at the University of Hamburg, Germany, and was 2019–2020 DAAD-Postdoctoral Fellow
in the programme ‘United States, Europe, and World Order’ at the Foreign Policy Instituteand Henry
A.Kissinger Center forGlobal Affairs, Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. She researches US
and EU security and foreign policy, international security organisations (UN, EU, NATO), civil-military
relations, risk management, and comparative peace strategy. She has a PhD from the School of Law and
Government,Dublin City University and was visiting researcher at the Center for War Studies, University
of Southern Denmark. Dr. Baciu published two books: Peace, Security and Defence Cooperation in Post-
Brexit Europe. Risks and Opportunities (co-edited with John Doyle, Springer, 2019), and Civil-Military
Relations and Global Security Governance. Strategy, Hybrid Orders and the Case of Pakistan (Rout-
ledge, 2021). She is Deputy Convenor of the BISA Foreign Policy Working Group and founding Direc-
tor of the Research Network ‘European Security and Strategy’. She was awarded with BISA, LSRS and
VEUK prizes for her research and teaching.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
This article argues that the lack of an effective, coherent and progressive EU grand strategy that is able to streamline efforts and produce collective goods, both at home and in the world, is culpable for the EU’s gradual decline until 2030. The lack of European-wide strategic thinking creates the conditions for an existential crisis of the EU. The EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy/Common Security and Defence Policy is the most striking example: it fails to manage the EU27 expectations, build up sufficient military and civilian capabilities, deliver tangible results and, consequently, lacks credibility. This has repercussions for the EU’s level of ambition. Until 2030, more and more states drop out of EU initiatives and search for alternative fora to make their voices heard in international politics. The powerlessness of the EU also weakens its most important allies: the United States and NATO. This creates a power vacuum to be filled by more ambitious players, such as China or Russia, which seek to diffuse their view of global (dis)order. To avoid this future, we argue that the EU should (1) embrace an alternative vision of power, (2) strengthen the legitimacy of its internal and external policymaking and (3) engage strategically in global affairs on the basis of a firm commitment to NATO-EU cooperation.
Full-text available
This paper applies the concept of emergency powers to the crisis politics of international organizations (IOs). In the recent past, IOs like the UN Security Council, the WHO, and the EU have reacted to large-scale crises by resorting to assertive governance modes bending the limits of their competence and infringing on the rights of the rule-addressees. In contrast to rational and sociological institutionalist notions of mission creep, this paper submits that this practice constitutes ‘authority leaps’ which follow a distinct logic of exceptionalism: the expansion of executive discretion in both the horizontal (lowering of checks and balances) and the vertical (reduction of legal protection of subjects) dimension, justified by reference to political necessity. This ‘IO exceptionalism’, as argued here, represents a class of events which is observable across fundamentally different international institutions and issue areas. It is important not least because emergency politics tend to leave longer-term imprints on a polity’s authority structures. This article shows that the emergency powers of IOs have a tendency to normalize and become permanent features of the institution. Thus IO exceptionalism and its ratcheting up represent a mechanism of abrupt but sustainable authority expansion at the level of IOs.
Full-text available
While legitimacy dynamics are paramount in global governance, they have been insufficiently recognized, conceptualized, and explained in standard accounts of international cooperation. This special issue aims to advance the empirical study of legitimacy and legitimation in global governance. It engages with the question of when, how, and why international organizations (IOs) gain, sustain, and lose legitimacy in world politics. In this introduction, we first conceptualize legitimacy as the belief that an IO’s authority is appropriately exercised, and legitimation and delegitimation as processes of justification and contestation intended to shape such beliefs. We then discuss sources of variation in legitimation processes and legitimacy beliefs, with a particular focus on the authority, procedures, and performances of IOs. Finally, we describe the methods used to empirically study legitimacy and legitimation, preview the articles of the special issue, and chart next steps for this research agenda.
Drawing on theories of international regimes and game theoretical approaches this article analyzes the level of overlap in national security strategies, seeking to explore the potential of convergence in security and defense cooperation in Europe post Brexit. It investigates two research questions: 1. What is the potential for future security cooperation in the Euro-Atlantic space post-Brexit? and 2. What areas are more prone to collaboration? The paper applies cluster analysis and a comparative design, using national security strategies as units of study. It finds that there is potential for future convergence between EU27 and the UK at the industrial level, in internal security matters and EU missions.
The liberal international order, erected after the Cold War, was crumbling by 2019. It was flawed from the start and thus destined to fail. The spread of liberal democracy around the globe-essential for building that order-faced strong resistance because of nationalism, which emphasizes self-determination. Some targeted states also resisted U.S. efforts to promote liberal democracy for security-related reasons. Additionally, problems arose because a liberal order calls for states to delegate substantial decisionmaking authority to international institutions and to allow refugees and immigrants to move easily across borders. Modern nation-states privilege sovereignty and national identity, however, which guarantees trouble when institutions become powerful and borders porous. Furthermore, the hyperglobalization that is integral to the liberal order creates economic problems among the lower and middle classes within the liberal democracies, fueling a backlash against that order. Finally, the liberal order accelerated China's rise, which helped transform the system from unipolar to multipolar. A liberal international order is possible only in unipolarity. The new multipolar world will feature three realist orders: a thin international order that facilitates cooperation, and two bounded orders-one dominated by China, the other by the United States-poised for waging security competition between them. © 2019 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Toward an Identity Theory of International Organizations - Volume 101 - Sungjoon Cho
This article examines the role of NATO Secretaries General within the transatlantic security community in the wake of the 2014 Ukraine crisis. Drawing on a social constructivist perspective, the comparative discourse analysis of Rasmussen and Stoltenberg offers important insights regarding the role of a non-governmental actor in transatlantic relations. So far, research on transatlantic relations rarely investigated the discourses of NATO Secretaries General. The analysis shows that despite increased attention toward collective defence, both Secretaries General argued for an alliance, which is engaged not only in regional but also global affairs. As Eastern European NATO allies, especially Poland and the Baltic states, embrace divisive notions of the alliance’s self and perceived threats, the security community’s collective identity remains contested.
This book offers a major new theory of global governance, explaining both its rise and what many see as its current crisis. The author suggests that world politics is now embedded in a normative and institutional structure dominated by hierarchies and power inequalities and therefore inherently creates contestation, resistance, and distributional struggles. Within an ambitious and systematic new conceptual framework, the theory makes four key contributions. Firstly, it reconstructs global governance as a political system which builds on normative principles and reflexive authorities. Second, it identifies the central legitimation problems of the global governance system with a constitutionalist setting in mind. Third, it explains the rise of state and societal contestation by identifying key endogenous dynamics and probing the causal mechanisms that produced them. Finally, it identifies the conditions under which struggles in the global governance system lead to decline or deepening. Rich with propositions, insights, and evidence, the book promises to be the most important and comprehensive theoretical argument about world politics of the 21st century.
How do nations act in a crisis? This book seeks to answer that question both theoretically and historically. It tests and synthesizes theories of political behavior by comparing them with the historical record. The authors apply theories of bargaining, game theory, information processing, decision-making, and international systems to case histories of sixteen crises that occurred during a seventy-five year period. The result is a revision and integration of diverse concepts and the development of a new empirical theory of international conflict.