When asked why NATO was strategically important, British Gen. Hastings Ismay wryly answered, “To keep America in, the Soviets out and the Germans down.” Today, more than punchy slogans are needed as the centerpiece for strategy.

The United States just completed its congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review. NATO is midway through producing a new alliance strategic concept. And sometime after the British general election May 7, the United Kingdom will undertake a Strategic Defense Review of its own.

Each effort will have been conducted independently from the others with little effort made to integrate or coordinate the findings in part because of the different calendars and completion dates. And NATO faces a further complication. As a military alliance, collective defense has been the aim but strategic white papers written over the past two years by Britain, France and Germany arrive at strikingly opposite conclusions.

Each paper concluded that defense of the realm is no longer about protecting the state and sovereignty against military attack. Instead, defense and security most cope with protecting the people and individuals from threats and dangers largely outside traditional military boundaries in which armies, navies and air forces will not be the principal enemies. But if protecting sovereignty and the nation is not the raison d’etre for the alliance, what is the case for needing strong collective security – a dilemma strategy must resolve?

Strategy often follows one of two approaches. It can be “threat-based” as it was for much of the 20th century. Countering or deterring a potential adversary’s military power was the principal strategic determinant. The Soviet Union filled that role admirably for NATO’s first 40 years.

After the Soviet Union imploded, strategy became “capabilities” oriented. Without an obvious or central adversary, nations determined what range of capability might be needed for an uncertain future and strategy as well as specific forces followed. The limitation of a capabilities approach is in its subjectivity and thus difficulty in obtaining any sort of analytical rigor.

Conversely, threat-based strategies usually did not account enough for the adversary’s interests, how it viewed the world and how it might actually use its forces in crisis or battle. Hence, mirror imaging and assuming the enemy had similar operational views were often too common and wrong. And a further set of complications and complexities make the strategic process in the 21st century far more difficult.

First, today’s geopolitical-economic security structure is still largely one created after World War II. The United Nations, Bretton Woods, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and NATO to name just a few are well into their 60s. Yet the 21st century is so vastly different that the value of this old structure may have been reached or surpassed. At the same time, the primary danger is not nuclear or conventional war between two or more like states fought by armies. The danger is from small groups and individuals seeking to disrupt rather than to destroy and relying on terror and technology and not large armies.

Finally, the current economic and financial pictures are bleak. Defense spending must decline and could do so precipitously if conditions do not improve. Hence, the notion of doing more with less is almost certainly going to become a reality.

What is needed? Since capabilities and threat-based thinking are really inapplicable, we need to exercise our intellects. Without dismissing the quality of past planning, what is needed today is a “brains-based” strategy. In other words, the driving features of subsequent strategy must be qualities that make this strategy not merely clever and smart but in some ways brilliant. And there must be public recognition of this standard.

Clearly, strategic documents are not best sellers and are unread by publics. Nothing the QDR, SDR or SC says will change that. Instead, it is the genius or brilliance that strategy can convey, if it is perceived in that light, that attracts attention. And it may well be that this aim is unachievable – an idea in the mists that remains outside our reach.

That said, brilliance should be our objective. For NATO’s strategic concept, genius or brilliance might be found in how we coordinate, integrate and mix and match our forces based on mission specialization and the absolute need for interdependence to assure all the necessary support, lift, intelligence, logistics, medical capacity will be on call and ready to answer – doing more with less. This would be the practical application of a virtual force that can be brought together on very short notice with the necessary training and skill sets to be effective. We have of course experimented with these types of concepts before and have not always been successful.

Finally, NATO’s SC needs an elevator speech. With deference to Ismay, how about “Europe up, Russia with, America in and danger out”?

Harlan Ullman is an Atlantic Council Senior Advisor and chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business.  This column was syndicated by UPI.