A Comprehensive Analysis of Narratives within NATO’s Doctrines





information warfare, NATO, strategic narratives, narrative strategies, qualitative research


The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine reshaped global security norms, challenging the West with a strategy known as hybrid warfare. Rooted in Russia's military doctrine, this approach integrates both military and non-military means, labelled hybrid warfare in the West and non-linear warfare in Russia. Prioritizing psychological and cognitive influence, the New Generation Warfare emphasizes soft power. NATO responded by investing in strategic communications and exploring cognitive warfare as a potential sixth domain of war. Adversaries use intricate methods to manipulate civilian cognitive processes, relying on persuasive narratives. Like business corporations, nation-states now craft strategic narratives to shape political and military thinking, employing various narrative levels in information and cognitive warfare, including counter-narratives against hostile stories.

This article provides a comprehensive review of the different perspectives on the role of narratives within defence and security strategies and doctrines of NATO. The qualitative methodology employed in this study focuses on understanding how narratives are perceived within the strategies of the alliance. The approach involves a comprehensive examination and comparison of narrative practices to uncover the evolution of NATO’s narrative concepts. The sources for this study encompass a range of materials, including official NATO strategy and doctrine papers.

This article reveals that, over the period spanning from the 2003 to 2024, narratives have gained increasing significance for NATO. Initially regarded merely as a means to depict events in a preferred manner, narratives have evolved to play a pivotal role in shaping the alliance's strategy. They have transcended their initial role, now exerting influence on military operations and taking precedence at every level of NATO, from headquarters to the boots on the ground. It is highlighted in this article that NATO endeavours to align its actions with its values, aiming to establish credibility and legitimacy. NATO perceives a robust, multi-levelled, and ever-evolving narrative as an effective safeguard against hostile information and cognitive warfare.

Author Biographies

Dominic Saari, University of Jyväskylä

Dominic Saari is a PhD student at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. His upcoming PhD thesis will delve into the role of narratives in information and cognitive warfare.

Teemu Häkkinen, University of Jyväskylä

Teemu Häkkinen is a postdoctoral researcher at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Finland. His research interests include parliamentary history and political decision-making. He has published in journals such as European Review of History / revue européenne d histoire and Journal of Political and Military Sociology.

Panu Moilanen, University of Jyväskylä

Dr. Sc. Panu Moilanen is a senior lecturer and degree program manager for the Security and Strategic Analysis MDP at the Faculty of Information Technology, University of Jyväskylä (Finland). His teaching and research interests are the role of technology as part of the security of today's increasingly complex societies, information influence and warfare, cyber security, and resilience. He also works for the National Defence University (Finland) and National Defence Training Association of Finland.