NATO’s response to COVID-19: Lessons for resilience and readiness

von Giovanna De Maio

Policy Brief by Giovanna De Maio, The Brookings Institution

Supported by the KAS Office USA in Washington D.C., this report by Brookings Institution’s Giovanna De Maio analyses NATO’s response to COVID-19. According to the author, “NATO was able to leverage its experience in crisis management and disaster relief to provide two kinds of responses.”


Dr. De Maio points out in her Executive Summary, “NATO focused on ensuring the continuity of its operations while protecting its personnel, to prevent the health crisis from impacting readiness. Most NATO missions were preserved, but some encountered temporary suspensions. Military drillings were redesigned, including the U.S.-led NATO exercise DEFENDER-Europe 20, to prevent further spread of the virus through movement of ground troops. In addition, NATO’s public diplomacy branch multiplied efforts to counter disinformation from China and Russia.

Second, amidst a low point for international cooperation, NATO set up a COVID-19 Task Force aimed at coordinating the delivery of medical aid across and beyond the territory of the alliance. Such actions, although performed through the means of NATO member states and relatively limited in scope, were an important testimony of the reactive capability of the alliance and of solidarity between member states. Yet, it is reasonable to imagine that more could have been done if the organization did not have to overcome political tensions across the Atlantic, and member states had cooperated from the beginning under the leadership of NATO’s strongest member.

From this experience NATO could draw important lessons, from improving resilience to external threats to investing in readiness for catastrophic scenarios like a global pandemic,” states the author. “The fact that COVID-19 will continue disrupting the global economy and supply chains will have a negative impact on countries’ defense spending and defense industries. However, given the resilience the alliance has shown so far, COVID-19 will not be the determining factor for the future of NATO. Instead, the chances for NATO to operate efficiently vis-à-vis growing global challenges will ultimately depend on a relaunch of trans-Atlantic relations.”

Giovanna De Maio The Brookings Institution
Giovanna De Maio

Giovanna De Maio is a visiting fellow at George Washington University, and a nonresident fellow and former visiting fellow at the Center for the United States and Europe (CUSE) at the Brookings Institution. She analyzes Italian domestic and foreign policy in its relations with the European Union and great powers, along with the impact of populism and nationalism on foreign policy. Prior to joining Brookings, she held positions as transatlantic post-doctoral fellow at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri) in Paris and at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in Washington, DC. De Maio holds a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Naples, L’Orientale. 




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