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Should NATO's new function be counter-terrorism?

Should NATO's new function be counter-terrorism? A debate with Daniel S. Hamilton and Sir Timothy Garden

Dear Tim,

I look forward to our exchange, because I believe it is time for an open and honest debate about NATO's future roles and missions.

Our vision of a Europe whole, free and at peace with itself is within reach. Decisions this autumn by the European Union and NATO to extend further their respective memberships could help secure stability and democracy from the Baltics to the Black Sea. The NATO-Russia Council and broader Russian cooperation with the West offer tremendous new opportunities.

We will continue to face challenges to our security in Europe and US engagement on the continent remains essential. The Balkans are still problematic, although there is progress. Russia's integration into the West is a challenge for a generation or more. Improving the European Union's ability to act quickly and effectively in crises abroad while incorporating new democratic members is critical. NATO's door must remain open beyond the Prague Summit. But, on balance, we are on the right track.

We can be proud of these accomplishments. But we cannot be complacent. Today our greatest unmet strategic challenge lies beyond the European continent. The danger is not just terrorism, but anti-Western terrorism linked to weapons of mass destruction. It is an existential threat to both America and Europe.

The United States may be the primary target today, but al Qaida also planned major operations in Europe. In fact, as my friend Simon Serfaty has noted, this age of catastrophic terrorism is an assault on the very idea of Europe - that is, the efforts by survivors of war, in the aftermath of war, to work together to prevent such massive human tragedy from happening again. Failing to deal with this challenge would mean abdicating this historic vision and leaving Americans and Europeans at the mercy of ruthless extremists intent not on changing our societies but on destroying them.

There is a greater probability today that millions of Americans and Europeans could be killed by terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction than by new conflicts in the Balkans or a Russian invasion. The likelihood is also higher today than during the Cold War. We are not yet equipped to deal with this challenge. Our Alliance is best prepared to deal with less likely threats and least prepared to deal with our greatest threats.

Addressing this threat is the strategic challenge of our time. It requires a multi-dimensional strategy that relies not just on military force but also on new forms of diplomatic, financial, economic, intelligence, customs and police cooperation. It means aligning national homeland-defence strategies with Alliance doctrine and civil-military emergency planning in defence of our "NATO homeland". It means new forms of cooperation between the European Union and NATO. It means strengthening international norms against terrorism. It means extending Nunn-Lugar programmes to safeguard mass-destruction weapons, materials and know-how. It means a determined transatlantic strategy to the vast region known as the Greater Middle East. It means working to develop economies and promote democracy to ameliorate conditions that create fertile ground for terrorists. It means increasing our foreign assistance. It means nation building.

The attacks of 11 September did

not change our vulnerability to catastrophic terrorism, but rather our understanding of it

This is a daunting set of challenges. Is it a bridge too far? Is this an exaggerated American response to what thus far has been a narrow, if horrific, set of attacks on the United States? My answer is no. The need for such a strategy existed on 10 September and in the last years of the Clinton Administration we sought to equip the Alliance with new tools to deal with weapons of mass destruction. But the sense of urgency among Allies was lacking.

The attacks of 11 September did not change our vulnerability to catastrophic terrorism, but rather our understanding of it. It was a horrific wake-up call. How many more thousands or millions of Americans or Europeans will have to die before we get our act together?

This comprehensive strategy is not for NATO alone, but NATO must become an important component of a broader effort. Senator Richard Lugar has put it succinctly: "In a world in which terrorist 'Article 5' attacks on our countries can be planned in Germany, financed in Asia, and carried out in the United States, old distinctions between 'in' and 'out of area' become meaningless... If 'Article 5' threats to our security can come from beyond Europe, NATO must be able to act beyond Europe to meet them if it is going to fulfil its classic mission today."

If we fail to defend our societies from a major terrorist attack using weapons of mass destruction, the Alliance will have failed in its most fundamental task. It will be marginalised and our security will be further diminished. Such failure is certain to have negative consequences for NATO's role in Europe as well.

Meeting the challenge of terrorism joined to weapons of mass destruction must be a focal point of the Prague Summit. Invitations to new members and a revitalised NATO-Russia partnership will be important elements of the agenda. But a bigger NATO must also be a better NATO committed to the campaign against terrorism.

Yours,

Dan

Dear Dan,

I just wish that all you hope for were possible. Time has moved on since NATO members had a common view of a common threat. The end of the Cold War was a great victory for the Alliance; but nostalgic dreams of the old and new members working together with a common perspective are unfortunately bound to end in disappointment. NATO has done well to continue to find useful roles for itself through the turbulent decade of the 1990s.

The Balkans have been a success story for NATO after an uncertain start by the major players on either side of the Atlantic. However, the experience of the Kosovo air campaign has shaped both American and European thinking about the future. The US irritation at having to provide 80 per cent of the useful capability, but also needing to negotiate a consensus with 18 other nations on operational method, has coloured subsequent thinking. I am afraid that Kosovo will go down in history as NATO's first and last war.

In the middle of the Kosovo campaign, the Alliance celebrated its 50th birthday, launched a new strategic concept and made lots of promises. The most important of these was the Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI). The European NATO members recognised their capability shortcomings and promised to do better in very specific ways. Nothing much has happened apart from further cuts in capability in the subsequent three years. In another attempt to do better, France and the United Kingdom launched an initiative to provide a modest, deployable European force. This at first alarmed those who saw it as being done at the expense of NATO. Now it alarms virtually everyone because no new capabilities, which NATO might call upon, are in early prospect.

The terrorist attacks on Washington and New York on 11 September 2001 were certainly a wake-up call to the Western world. Our modern societies provide new vulnerabilities that allow a small but dedicated enemy to reap large-scale destruction for low cost. The initial response by the US government to this appalling attack was measured and correct. NATO amazed itself by the speed with which the invocation of Article 5 was agreed. However, that speed and consensus for support was in retrospect another milestone in NATO's transition to impotence. President Bush was doubtless grateful for such unprecedented action, as he was when other friendly regions pledged support. But, when it came to real operations in Afghanistan, where was NATO? The United States, burned by the experience of Kosovo, chose to call on Allies on a bilateral basis where they had something useful to offer.

There is no common view among

Alliance members about the best means to tackle the longer-term threat of international terrorism

After the regime change in Afghanistan, there is no common view among Alliance members about the best means to tackle the longer-term threat of international terrorism. The Europeans, with considerable counter-terrorist experience, know that there are no simple short-term military answers. As you say, we need a multi-dimensional strategy that relies not just on military force but also on new forms of diplomatic, financial, economic, intelligence, customs and police cooperation. NATO is not the forum for such intricate and complex approaches.

Fortunately, Europe does have the beginnings of a supranational approach to these new security problems. The European Union provides the mechanism for shared justice and home affairs approaches. Despite the difficulties of pooling counter-terrorist intelligence, even between agencies within a nation, the European Union has much more prospect of achieving useful cooperation than NATO. Tackling the long-term causes of terrorism through conflict-prevention measures and overseas aid has been a strength of Europe, which currently spends three times as much as the United States on such activities. Only in the field of military capability does the European Union continue to fail, and NATO has had little success in moves to rectify this weakness.

If NATO decides to make the war on terrorism its focus, the transatlantic divide on both strategy and tactics will deepen. Better that we accept that NATO has a niche utility for some years to come. It makes it easier for military coalitions to form when needed. It provides reassurance to the new member nations, and a forum for grandiose gestures to old enemies. We are all comfortable with its continuing existence; but it would be foolish to think that its members would be prepared to sign a blank cheque to underwrite a US view of how to tackle terrorism. NATO was appropriate in an age of mutual deterrence. For today's global problems, which extend into many other areas than terrorism, the European Union and the United States need to cooperate and do so through a strengthened United Nations, rather than a regional military alliance.

Yours,

Tim

Dear Tim,

We agree that America and Europe, together with others and within many networks and institutions, must wage a broad multi-dimensional campaign against terrorism. Where we part company is that I believe that one of these institutions must be NATO. I am not saying that the campaign must be waged by NATO alone. I am saying that it should be waged by NATO as well. I am not saying that military force should be the first line of our defence. I am saying that military force and Alliance cooperation must be an integral part of that defence.

Your objection is not that this is undesirable, but that it is unachievable - mainly because unilateralist Americans don't like wars by committee and insular Europeans are incapable of fighting alongside their US Ally. Let me address those points.

We share frustration with the Bush Administration's initial rejection of Allied offers of assistance in Afghanistan. What a blunder! The broader benefits of joint participation would have been enormous and would have exceeded whatever mutual adjustments might have been necessary. The rejection also weakened NATO in the eyes of the American public and in the Congress. This could come back to haunt the Administration during Senate ratification of NATO enlargement. At least some in the Administration seem to have recognised this, and they have welcomed subsequent Allied assistance.

We also share frustration with European sluggishness in improving capabilities. But just because European forces cannot do everything doesn't mean they cannot do anything. Instead of rejigging old initiatives, we should seize the opportunity provided by 11 September to tailor European forces to new challenges. An elite NATO strike force capable of expeditionary missions and high-intensity conflict could be a priority of such an effort. One can start small but build over time.

We should seize the opportunity provided by 11 September to tailor European forces to new challenges

Confronting the terrorist-WMD threat doesn't only mean projecting force. It also means better security at home. To my mind, Article 5 means we have a "NATO Homeland" and we should plan our respective homeland security efforts with the transatlantic dimension in mind. NATO is moving ahead with a minimalist effort; it could be much stronger. We both agree that any such effort must rely first and foremost on cooperation in a wide range of other areas.

Historically, US defences have been built around power projection, not territorial security. European forces have been oriented the other way. In this new era, each of us must do more precisely in the area in which the other has capability and experience. This presents potential synergies.

You argue that we should be content to have NATO, including US forces, focus on sustaining the peace in Europe. I don't believe we can insulate our role in Europe from our role beyond Europe, particularly since European peace could be shattered by threats emanating from the Greater Middle East. If the US presence in Europe is not related to our most urgent unmet security challenge, and if our European Allies tell us they are now, through the European Union, able to manage European security, a growing number of Americans will ask why major US combat formations should be based on the European continent at all.

Our leaders face a simple choice at Prague. They can either refocus the greatest alliance in history on the strategic challenge of our time, or they can preside over its demise. You are right to wonder whether current governments are ready for - or even want - such a partnership. Our greatest difference is that I believe the first choice is still possible, whereas you believe the second choice has already been made.

Yours,

Dan

Dear Dan,

I am afraid that the way you characterise the debate shows how painful such a discussion would be within NATO, set as it always is on achieving consensus. It may be true that the United States doesn't like fighting wars by committee - who does? But it is not true that: "European Allies are incapable of fighting alongside their US Allies". Indeed the difference in view about the nature of the war on terrorism makes it much more difficult for the United States to accommodate the views of its NATO Allies. In Europe, this is not now seen as a question of "fighting alongside", but more one of being prepared to be subordinate to the wishes of the United States, and certainly not questioning the overall strategy.

The fact that we share frustration over the US Administration's failure to engage NATO from the start in its war on terrorism does not change the facts. NATO is both weaker and less relevant as a result. An elite NATO strike force may be seen as a priority in the United States, but who decides where and when it strikes? The United States can isolate Iran with Iraq and North Korea as part of an "Axis of Evil"; but has NATO analysed this concept and signed up to it? Many Europeans (and some Americans) think that there has been a major strategic error in rejecting Iran, which could be very helpful in a number of ways. Would this NATO strike force be available to help Israel put down Palestinians? These are just a couple of examples of the wide differences across the Atlantic on approaches to international relations.

Yes, countering terrorism is about taking measures to protect the homeland. Indeed, I would argue that the United States has taken this aspect of defence more seriously than European governments. On the other hand, there is much more to be done in North America after so long without a large-scale terrorist threat. But homeland security is about police work, intelligence gathering, border guards, emergency services and internal government coordination. Despite the use of NATO AWACs after 11 September, I doubt that the United States would welcome greater NATO involvement in these internal matters, any more than other national governments would. The military dimension is important, but relatively minor in this important security area.

An elite strike force may be seen as a priority in the United States, but who decides where and when it strikes?

I do not fully agree with your view that: "Historically, US defences have been built around power projection, not territorial security. European forces have been oriented the other way." It depends what period of history and which European nations you are looking at. But it is a fair assessment of the state of the military capabilities on each side of the Atlantic today. I see little hope for your aspiration for synergy: that the United States will look to Europe for help over territorial defence, while Europe follows America in the pursuit of high-cost, high-technology power projection, which it does not believe will solve the problems of the disenchanted have-nots of the world.

So what does this mean for Prague? The choices are not simple. Too great an effort at refocusing the Alliance in a new and divisive direction will put one more nail in the coffin. Doubtless, leaders will sign up to some grand statement that means different things to each of them. This will be a cause for more disappointments and further disillusionment on both sides of the Atlantic. Why not use Prague to celebrate the real post-Cold War achievements of NATO in the Balkans? Draw on this experience to show how NATO can use its military expertise to address some of the long-term causes of terrorism through stabilising anarchic regions. But, if NATO is to be a stick for the United States to beat the Europeans into submitting to an American view of the world, then the Alliance really is doomed.

Yours,

Tim

Dear Tim,

Transatlantic differences are nothing new. NATO's founders did not have a common vision of how to deal with the Soviet Union when the Alliance was born. Allies had regular rows over how to deal with Moscow during the Cold War, and differences over the Balkans nearly destroyed the Alliance after the Cold War. For those who worry about NATO in disarray, the old quip still applies: "When has NATO ever truly been in array?" The test of allies is not the absence of differences, but the ability to manage them in ways that pull our respective strengths and perspectives together and point them in a common direction. No one says this is easy. But neither was winning the Cold War, intervening in the wars of Yugoslav dissolution, or securing the peace thereafter.

I agree that this will not work if the Bush Administration sees NATO as a stick to beat Allies into compliance with its view of the world. I agree that some in the Administration have lost sight of this today. I agree that if we continue to talk past each other, then not only NATO but also our entire transatlantic partnership will be less effective.

The test of allies is not the absence of differences, but the ability to manage them in ways that pull our respective strengths and perspectives together and point them in a common direction

But I do not agree that the way we get the Alliance relationship back on track is to celebrate a nostalgic view of NATO's past. If that is all the Prague Summit is about, then our leaders should just stay home. Prague must be about meeting future threats, not savouring past glories. Those threats are posed by weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists. Fortunately, I believe there is more common ground than you suggest. Ministers have already agreed that NATO must be ready to help deter, defend, disrupt and protect against terrorist attacks, or threat of attacks, directed from abroad against our populations, territory, infrastructure and forces, particularly where these involve chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons. Perhaps most importantly, they have agreed that NATO should be ready to deploy its forces "as and where required" to carry out such missions.

These are important first steps. But we can, and must, do more - together. Tough? Yes. Impossible? No.

Yours,

Dan

Dear Dan,

Like NATO's members, we agree on so much, but arrive at such different conclusions. I said in our first exchange that nostalgic dreams were bound to end in disappointment. But that does not mean that we should ignore the Alliance's recent experience. From the Balkans, we know what NATO does well. Such stabilising tasks have not gone away. Indeed, they have assumed even greater importance. Failed states are the breeding grounds for terrorism. NATO can help to bring order and the rule of law.

There remains a different transatlantic appreciation of the nature of the threat. You reflect the degree of alarm about the long-term terrorist threat, which is felt so strongly in the United States. Europe is certainly concerned, as it has been for many years. But too narrow a focus on this one potential problem risks unbalancing our overall approach to security.

Failed states are the breeding grounds for terrorism. NATO can help to bring order and the rule of law

The current US Administration seems to be set on waging its war on terrorism by attacking distant countries in pre-emptive mode. A series of military adventures in Iraq, Iran and beyond may in the end increase the threat of terrorism, and at the same time damage democracy in our own societies. Europe sees the current strategic situation as needing a much more complex approach. Making NATO act like Roman legions tasked with enforcing a Western empire will not appeal.

Perhaps we should not worry too much about the difficulties of Prague. Our diplomats will do their usual magnificent work. The next round of members will be reassured. Russia will feel important and wanted. The Europeans will feel that they have been able to put their moderating influence on the Americans. And most importantly, the United States will feel that it remains in charge of global security policy. Something for everyone: business as usual.

Yours,

Tim

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