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NATO has to adapt to be able to rise to current security problems
More than two decades after the end of the Cold War in 1989/90, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is still alive and well. It has grown from 16 member states then to 28 now, while its former adversary, the Warsaw Pact, is history. NATO helped end the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, and this engagement provided the Allies with valuable lessons: Not how to win a war, but how to stop one; and how to best use the organization in a post-conflict environment to secure peace.
Today, NATO is engaged in keeping the peace in Kosovo. Its ships patrol the Mediterranean in an anti-terrorist naval operation and the Indian Ocean on an anti-piracy mission. Most importantly, NATO leads the "International Security Assistance Force" in Afghanistan, and, after a difficult course of adapting to changing circumstances, has now started the process of transferring responsibility to the Afghan authorities. NATO is also engaged in "Operation Unified Protector", mandated by the UN Security Council, in Libya. Here again, NATO is responding to demands from the international community, who is calling for a military mission in line with the "responsibility to protect" – an emerging principle of international law.
Thus far, NATO has accomplished all its missions – and yet, it has never celebrated a victory. Transition in Afghanistan is still very fragile. The future of Libya remains uncertain. And NATO is struggling: For sufficient resources, for adequate political support, for political and military cohesion, with the size and scope of its organization. This struggle has become more complicated as the Alliance prepares for the new challenges of the 21st Century.
The title of the New Strategic Concept, adopted by the Heads of State and Government in Lisbon in November 2010, sums it up quite well: "Active Engagement, Modern Defence". The future of the alliance lies in the right combination of these two strategic requirements. But what exactly does this entail?
NATO is a democratic Alliance based on the values laid down in the Washington Treaty and the Charter of the UN. It unites North America and Europe, two regions that share a sense of responsibility for contributing to a more secure world. This is the basis upon which NATO has to reinvent itself – by better connecting with the broader international community, and enhancing its ability to deliver on its three core activities:
As a military alliance with an integrated military structure at its disposal, NATO is, above all, a coalition designed to protect its members against any threat of aggression. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty puts it well: An attack on any of the Allies is considered to be an attack on all, triggering a response from all. The hope is that this commitment will deter any potential aggressor. But while many "old" NATO allies feel the threat of aggression has almost vanished, some new member states, such as those who emerged from the former Soviet Empire, have joined NATO precisely for this reason: to be protected by Article 5. However, as long as there is lingering mistrust between some NATO allies and Russia, NATO as a whole will not be able to develop a relationship of complete trust and sustained cooperation with its most powerful neighbour. Managing the NATO-Russia relationship will therefore be a continuing and important challenge for NATO's future.
But "collective defence" also applies to "emerging security challenges" as defined by the New Strategic Concept. This refers instead to Article 4 in which NATO allies pledge to consider any security issue that any member brings to the table: cyber attacks, international terrorist activities, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or the interruption of energy supplies. NATO has created a new division in its International Staff to cope with these emerging challenges because they transcend the traditional scope of staff work. The organisation needs to invent new types of cooperation – with government agencies outside the diplomatic or defence worlds, with non-governmental organisations and with private business. Among all these actors in the field of security, NATO will most likely not even play a leading role. This will change the way in which NATO does business. "Deterrence and defence" will remain key words for this military alliance, yet since the emerging challenges do not fit into this framework, "prevention and resilience" will have to be added to NATO's future agenda.
NATO and individual NATO allies, for example, are under constant cyber attack. The most prominent attack was the one on Estonia in 2007, when, over a period of three weeks, the servers of Parliament, ministries, banks and media had been infiltrated through servers from over 100 countries. Here deterrence and defence become meaningless. On the other hand, such attacks, like the one on the Pentagon that same year, can do a lot of harm, put lives at risk, and serve as a means for blackmailing the political or military leadership of a country. The best way to meet this sort of challenge is to try to prevent such attacks, either through technical means or cooperation with other actors, and to create resilience, the capability to minimise the damage and to maximise and to maximise means of resisting and rebuilding the networks. This is what NATO has set out in its Cyber Defence Policy, recently adopted by defence ministers. Since the cyber world is developing fast, and complete control of this process is impossible, making "prevention and resilience" against cyber attacks will be a continuing concern for NATO in the future.
The same applies to coping with terrorist attacks, piracy, or threats against energy supply lines. These threats can be initiated by hostile governments and resemble a war-like scenario, but can also be criminal acts as such the purview of law enforcement. The line between external and internal security, between military force and law enforcement are becoming blurred. While it is not clear that NATO will need to take the lead in meeting these emerging challenges to our security, the Alliance cannot ignore any of these challenges since they can potentially impact international security – and the ways and means of securing peace.
The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is another real and growing threat to the security of NATO Allies. "During the next decade, proliferation will be most acute in some of the world's most volatile regions", according to the New Strategic Concept. One of these regions is close to Europe (the Middle East, notably Iran); another is within striking distance of North America (North Korea). While deterrence remains a crucial element in coping with these challenges, there is serious doubt as to the rationality and reliability of the behaviour of the military and political leaderships of some of those countries. This is why missile defence has become a collective NATO mission. Again new approaches have become indispensable.
Ever since NATO got involved in diverse crises since the end of the Cold War, it has struggled with the complexity and differing requirements of various crises before, during or after a conflict. It was soon clear that NATO's military forces were not the solution to the problems that caused a particular conflict, but just one of several elements useful in facilitating a solution to conflict. True progress requires that military force be employed in tandem with economic and other civilian means. That is why the Alliance agreed on a "comprehensive approach" that calls for effective cooperation between military and civilian, political and economic, governmental and non-governmental actors. The different characters, aims and working methods of international organisations and non-governmental organisations make this cooperation hard to organise. Moreover, NATO is not likely to play a leading role. If NATO's unique military assets are to be made available to the broader international community, however, the need for closer cooperation and coordination with other – civilian – actors is indispensable.
Cooperative security is the third core activity which will shape NATO's future structure and working methods. Cooperative security aims far beyond NATO's role as a pure defence alliance. Instead, it emphasises a different role for the Alliance: that of an indispensable instrument in support of a more comprehensive security policy approach. This approach includes active engagement in global efforts for arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, as well as active engagement with partner countries, in particular in the Euro-Atlantic area, the Middle East and the Gulf, but also with global partners such as Australia or Japan who share the same democratic values and security concerns. This is a particularly important challenge for NATO, as it means a profound transformation of the Alliance – from an alliance focussed on defending against an attack to a more subtle security alliance to secure peace in a comprehensive manner.
NATO is at a crossroads. Its traditional tools - a well established political consultation framework and an integrated military structure - remain indispensable, but they need to be complemented by other elements; Political, diplomatic, economic, even cultural aspects need to be part of NATO's approach to securing peace. This means that NATO will have to widen its focus and get involved in issues that it has kept at a distance until recently. In short, NATO's agenda will become even more complex, and the Allies will have to make a considerable effort to maintain the cohesion that is essential if the Alliance is to perform. In the end, only a useful NATO can continue its success story.