NATO role of public diplomacy: migration from North Africa due to climate change

Joanna Sozańska


Diplomacy in international relations theories

Diplomacy as a critical foreign policy tool represents the priorities and strategies implemented by the actors of the international arena. From the classical approach, the actors of diplomacy in international relations are states. Julian Sutor indicates that the institution of diplomacy appeared in antiquity, with the beginning and expansion of relations between the states of the ancient world. Sutor defines modern diplomacy in classical terms, as:

"the specific activity of certain state authorities, particularly the head of state, the head of state and cabinet members, especially the foreign minister and their subordinate diplomatic staff, the headquarters of the foreign ministry and foreign missions - authorized under international law and domestic law to implement the foreign policy of the state (...)"(Sutor, 2019).

The term of diplomacy has evolved simultaneously with the development of international relations theory. According to Niccolo Machiavelli, a philosopher of political realism, the state' goal included the preservation of stability and security, without regard to the morality and ethics of conducting foreign policy. The philosophy of Machiavelli maintained that diplomacy is not an essential instrument of a state's foreign policy. The philosopher viewed foreign policy as a rivalry, a struggle to increase the power of the state, which he argued is consequently in a permanent state of war. Machiavelli presented diplomats as political advisors to sovereigns, which could influence the decisions of the sovereigns by means of power, material resources, or armaments (Berridge, Keens-Soper, Otte, 2001). The idea of diplomacy, conceived as political advice, referred, therefore, to ensuring the raison d’état through all available methods, using techniques and means opposed to the principles of morality.

The roots of modern diplomacy, in classical terms (state-to-state relationship), is the aftermath of the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 and the adopted treaties that terminated the Thirty Years' War in Europe. The Westphalian system was based on the principle of independence, equality, and sovereignty of states as exclusive entities of international relations. The primary goal of the Westphalian system was to maintain the balance of power in Europe through the tools of diplomacy. The fundamentals of the Westphalian framework may be found in the philosophy of Hugo Grotius, a scholar of the ideas of humanism and rationalism in international relations. Grotius' theory of international law is rooted in convention, custom and practice. As the father of public international law, Grotius places international society at the heart of transnational relations. Diplomacy appears in Grotius' thought as rules and institutions that systematize the functioning of international society (Berridge, Keens-Soper, Otte, 2001).

A significant regulatory act of international diplomacy was the Congress of Vienna of 1815, which systematized the principles of state sovereignty and procedure, democratizing relations between states. The Congress of Vienna introduced new rules of diplomacy, which fundamentally changed the previous rules of interstate relations. The resolutions of the Congress of Vienna provide the basis for the organization of modern diplomacy in classical (state-to-state) terms (Sutor, 2019).

The turn of the 19th and 20th centuries mark not only the heyday of international cooperation on the basis of diplomacy and the negotiation of long-term multilateral treaties, but also especially a time of nationalism, the domination of empires, colonialism, and the rivalry of states in dependent regions of the world. European and North American superpowers demonstrated ambitions to expand their territories, promoting the doctrine of terra nullius as a justification for conquering and colonizing Africa. International law and diplomacy served in this capacity, as political, economic, and racial imperialism.

The period of colonialism was one of the most horrific justifications for European and North American policies that used international law and diplomacy as tools of repression and violation of basic human rights.


NATO as an important actor in the new public diplomacy

Since the 1990s, international organizations and non-governmental organizations have transformed from regional or intra-state actors to global actors in international relations. The participation of international organizations and non-governmental organizations in transnational relations has become a response to political, social, and economic changes, as well as the development of technology. International and non-governmental organizations have transformed into a space for the implementation of public diplomacy, which is a tool of international relations. The presence of international organizations and non-governmental organizations in the international arena refers to the concept of new public diplomacy (Melissen, 2007).

Nancy Snow defines the new public diplomacy as a bidirectional, symmetrical, debate-oriented tool, relationship theory and networks. In contrast to classical public diplomacy, the new public diplomacy is characterized by a public-society communication model, the presence of non-state actors (including international organizations and non-governmental organizations), and an active society (Snow, 2010).

The new public diplomacy is progressively adopting the role of public diplomacy in the classical sense, moving state administration away and thus emphasizing the importance of the actions of non-state actors.

In view of the demands and challenges of the new public diplomacy, NATO established the Public Diplomacy Division (PDD) in 2003 (Tomescu-Hatto, 2014). The NATO the Public Diplomacy Division aims to strengthen the organization's profile, as well as improve the quality of public debate behind the alliance's security, peace, and defense issues. An important pillar of the department’s activities is the co-sponsorship of conferences, seminars, workshops, public events, and other relevant public diplomacy activities. Grantees of these grants are non-governmental organizations, universities, think tanks, civil society organizations.


NATO’s public diplomacy efforts on migration from North Africa due to climate changes

The subject of migration and migrants is one of the most comprehensive legal aspects for NATO. The peculiarity of this issue is not only due to the economic-social-political connections of migration, but to the diversity of legal sources of international, regional, and national character.

The Western Mediterranean route is the stretch of the Mediterranean between the coast of Morocco, Algeria, and the coast of Spain. In recent years, the number of illegal migrant crossings along this route has increased significantly, reaching a record of more than 56,000 registered detections in 2018. The route is also one of the main routes used for smuggling activities. According to analysis by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, attempts to illegally cross the border from January to June 2022 via the Western Mediterranean migration route amounted to 4 816. Top five countries of origin of migrants from January to June 2022 are Algeria (1 918). Morocco (1 334), Sudan (397), Mali (367), Syria (228).

Increased migration processes caused by Russia's aggression in Ukraine forced the NATO alliance to evaluate and revise its migration policy at the NATO Summit in Madrid, held June 28-30, 2022. Moreover, climate-related migration could result in triple challenges for the NATO alliance. Irregular and dynamic migration could contribute to instability resulting from overstretched administrations in countries where NATO may deploy training or support forces. Moreover, climate-related migration could increase the risk of destabilizing, reactionary responses from Europe (Hugh, Sikorsky, 2022). In addition, political forces with a nationalist and far-right perspective in some countries could use this opportunity to spread the chaos and instrumentalize migration. As emphasized by Hugh and Sikorsky, while populist and far-right parties in Europe have in the past strongly disputed the human influence on climate crisis, their narrative on climate has shifted from denial to selective use of migration as evidence to supposedly justify strengthening ideological and politically racist stands.


NATO 2022 Strategic Concept: North Africa region

The Madrid Summit, held on June 28-30, 2022, was a crucial meeting of member and partner countries representatives. Facing the start of the Madrid Summit, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg highlighted key areas that will be addressed at the NATO meeting.  Specifically, as key areas, Stoltenberg listed "strengthening deterrence and defense; support for Ukraine and other partners at risk; NATO's new strategic concept; better burden and resource sharing; and historic membership applications from Finland and Sweden" (NATO, 2022). The key issues of the discussion focused on the future of the Alliance's security related to Russia's aggression in Ukraine, energy security and the integration of Finland and Sweden into NATO. However, on the Summit's agenda appeared topics related to migration processes in the North African region, the Alliance's relations with the region and the future of regional security.

The prepared NATO 2022 Strategic Concept at the Madrid Summit already refers in the Strategic Environment section (point 11) to due to climate change, the North Africa, West Asia and Sahel region will be facing economic and political security threats. In the section on Crisis Prevention and Management (point 39), indicates the importance of strengthening the Alliance's cooperation with the African Union in the context of protecting civilians at the risk of security threats and crises. Considering common security threats, NATO committed to strengthening dialogue and cooperation with strategic regions including North Africa and West Asia. In the Cooperative Security section (point 45), there is indication that the unstable situation in the region could affect Euro-Atlantic security. In the same section (point 46), NATO emphasizes that the Alliance should become a key organization that leads the direction in countering the deepening of climate change by improving energy efficiency (NATO 2022 Strategic Concept, 2022).



  • NATO, as an actor in the new public diplomacy, has the potential to use its expertise and standing to foster policy solutions to non-traditional security challenges, such as climate-related migration.
  • The challenge of NATO diplomacy is to build a comprehensive approach to migration management that is based on cooperation between states, non-profit organizations, and humanitarian organizations.
  • The important role of NATO diplomacy is related also to avoiding the repeating of negative practices such as migration double standards, which include the state's response to migratory movements from Syria, Iraq and Libya and the response to migratory movements from Ukraine.
  • The NATO 2022 Strategic Concept is an important statement that could contribute to strengthening the Alliance's relations with the North African region in terms of political, climate economic and energy security.
  • The NATO 2022 Strategic Concept document indicates the risk of deepening climate change: Alliance considers its role as a key organization countering the negative consequences of climate catastrophe.



Abdallah S., Jeffrey K., Wheatley H. (2016) The Happy Planet Index 2016. A global index of sustainable wellbeing, New Economics Foundation

Berridge G.R., Keens-Soper M., Otte T.G. (2001) Diplomatic Theory from Machiavelli to Kissinger, Studies in Diplomacy, Palgrave Macmillan

Hugh B., Sikorsky E. (2022) W stronę bezpieczeństwa - przygotowanie NATO do migracji związanych z klimatem,

Melissen J. (2007) The New Public Diplomacy: Between Theory and Practice. Soft Power in International Relations, Palgrave Macmillan


Pocar F. (2009). Migration and international law, [in:] International Migration Law and Policies in the Mediterranean Context, International Organization for Migration

Snow N. (2010) Public Diplomacy: New Dimensions and Implications [in:] Global Communication: Theories, Stakeholders and Trends, Thomas, L. McPhail, 3rd ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell

Sutor J. (2019) Prawo dyplomatyczne i konsularne, Wolters Kluwer


Tomescu-Hatto O. (2014) Self-Presentation and Impression Management: NATO’s New Public Diplomacy, NATO’s Post-Cold War Politics


Official press information on NATO website,


NATO 2022 Strategic Concept, Adopted by Heads of State and Government at the NATO Summit in Madrid 29 June 2022