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Continuing to build security through partnership

Robert Weaver analyses the challenges that face NATO's partnerships ten years after the creation of the Partnership for Peace.

ISAF nations: Eight Partner countries have deployed

forces in the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in

Afghanistan (© ISAF)

The future development of NATO's relations with Partner countries will be a major agenda issue for the Alliance's Istanbul Summit at the end of June. The original objective of NATO's Partnership policy was to break down barriers between former adversaries and to build security through dialogue and cooperation. The objectives of today's Partnership are much more ambitious - for Partner nations are now engaged with NATO in tackling 21st century security challenges.

As NATO has transformed, Partnership has developed. In every area - whether undertaking challenging peacekeeping missions, or meeting the new threats to our common security such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction - Partners play an important role both in shaping and helping to implement NATO's responses to these new challenges. NATO's advice and assistance, provided through Partnership mechanisms, has also become indispensable in helping Partners tackle important reform issues.

NATO regularly consults with its Partners through the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC), which provides the overall political framework for relations with Partners. Each Partner is also able to build up an individual relationship with the Alliance through the Partnership for Peace, a programme of practical activities from which Partners can choose their own cooperation priorities. These two essential mechanisms of Partnership have turned into key fixtures of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture.

For Partnership to retain its dynamism and relevance to the Alliance, it needs to be constantly adapted to meet NATO's evolving priorities. As NATO is such an important security actor, it is natural that Partners wish to develop a close relationship with the Alliance. But Partnership also needs to remain an attractive proposition to Partners, and continue to help meet their aspirations. NATO and its Partners prepare for the Istanbul Summit at the end of June, several challenges need to be addressed.

First, the balance of the relationship between Allies and Partners has changed. On 29 March, seven former Partners - Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - became Allies. For the first time, NATO now has more members (26) than Partners (20). Allies must therefore be prepared to take an even more active role in ensuring that the Partnership remains vibrant. It also provides the occasion to re-examine what priorities we should pursue together through Partnership.

Second, the Partners are a very diverse group. They include both the strategically important countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia and the Western European non-aligned states. All of these countries have very different security needs and desires, with the result that their priorities and objectives in pursuit of Partnership will vary. Partnership has to be flexible enough to take this into account.

For the countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia, for example, Partnership tools must help them pursue their own reform initiatives. Given the Alliance's expertise in defence reform, and the experience gained with the new members through the Membership Action Plan, helping to reform defence and military structures will be a core part of this process.

But to respond best to reform needs, Partnership must also help tackle other important areas of domestic reform. To do so, NATO is offering Partners a mechanism known as the Individual Partnership Action Plan, or IPAP, which is designed to bring together all the various cooperation mechanisms through which a Partner interacts with the Alliance and to sharpen the focus on domestic reform. The IPAP should set out clearly the cooperation priorities of the individual Partner, and make sure that the various mechanisms in use correspond directly to these priorities.

To date, several countries have shown a keen interest in this initiative, and Georgia became the first to begin the process when its President, Mikhail Saakashvili, handed over his country's Presentation Document at NATO Headquarters on 6 April (for details of this and other mechanisms, see Understanding the PfP tool kit by Susan Pond in this issue of NATO Review).

While some Partners are developing their defence structures and capabilities, others are able to contribute significant forces to NATO-led operations. Swedish troops, for example, played an especially important role in restoring order in Kosovo after the outbreak of violence in March. For these Partners, it is of particular importance that NATO's Partnership mechanisms continue to give them a voice in NATO's decision-making process, so that they can influence the preparation and conduct of missions in which they participate, or might wish to play a role.

Third, Partnership needs to keep pace with NATO's own transformation. The fight against terrorism is now one of the Alliance's major priorities. The attacks of 11 September 2001 on the United States led to the first ever invocation by NATO of Article 5. The very next day, the 46 members of the EAPC unconditionally condemned the attacks on New York and Washington DC and pledged to undertake all efforts to combat the scourge of terrorism. As Partners themselves have become victims of terrorist attacks, they share NATO's ambition to enhance cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

Practical work in this area will continue through the Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism. This is designed to promote and facilitate cooperation among EAPC states through political consultation and practical programmes under the auspices of the EAPC and the Partnership for Peace (for more on the Partnership Action Plan against Terrorism, see Working with Partners to fight terrorism by Osman Yavuzalp in the spring 2003 issue of NATO Review).

To tackle the new threats, and to carry out the full range of its missions, NATO leaders have committed themselves to enhancing the Alliance's military capabilities. Allied forces must be able to move quickly to wherever they are needed and to sustain operations over distance and time, including in an environment where they might be faced with nuclear, biological and chemical threats.

If Partners wish to contribute to the most challenging NATO-led missions, then they too must field forces that are able to meet these requirements. The Planning and Review Process (PARP) has long been the vehicle for preparing Partner contributions to missions through the development of the appropriate capabilities based on NATO standards. This process has come to closely resemble NATO's own Defence Planning Process, and needs to continue to do so to ensure that Partners are able to contribute to missions in the most efficient manner possible.

Perhaps the most powerful example of the way NATO has evolved in recent years is the Alliance's involvement in Afghanistan. The Alliance has been leading the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) since August 2003 to help bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and ensure that the country is never again used as a base for terrorists.

Operating in Afghanistan, far away from NATO's traditional perimeter, highlights the reasons why Partnership is so important for the Alliance, and also why the Alliance needs to pay more attention to the needs of its Central Asian Partners. At present, eight Partners are represented in the mission, many providing valuable specialised forces such as military police and de-mining teams. These capabilities are generally in short supply, but are an important part of the balanced force structure that is key to the success of any operation.

Partner nations in Central Asia have been instrumental in ensuring the logistic supply of ISAF forces as equipment must cross several Partner countries before arriving in Afghanistan. Relationships developed through the Partnership for Peace have laid the basis for Allies to draw up bilateral agreements for the transit of material across these states and the basing of forces and supplies on their territory.

Given the diverse ethnic make-up of Afghanistan, several Central Asian Partners also have influence on important local actors, which they can use in support of ISAF objectives. As a result of these various factors, the states of Central Asia, once considered as being on the periphery of the Euro-Atlantic area, are now an important neighbouring region of the Alliance - and Partnership should reflect that enhanced importance.

Partnership needs to be constantly adapted to meet NATO's evolving priorities

Fourth, the Partnership needs to stay open for new members. Both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro have made clear their desire to join. NATO has made clear that to achieve this they will have to meet established NATO conditions, foremost among which is full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Fifth, Partnership needs to continue to fulfil its original function, and provide a forum for consultations with Partners on the issues that are at the forefront of current security concerns. Partnership has at its disposal a range of mechanisms available for meetings among all Allies and Partners, or in smaller but open-ended groups depending upon the subjects under discussion. The attractiveness of those various mechanisms - to Partners and to Allies - must be maintained.

The most recent series of EAPC Ambassadorial meetings held this year have addressed a host of issues that are of critical importance to Allies and Partners alike, including the evolution of the Balkans, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the fight against terrorism. The EAPC has also just agreed to institute a new EAPC Security Forum, which will meet once a year at high-level to discuss important security issues, and how NATO and its Partners can best address them together.

The Alliance's evolving policy of Partnership has been enormously successful in helping to alter the strategic environment in the Euro-Atlantic area. By promoting political and military interoperability, Partnership has helped to create a true Euro-Atlantic security culture - a strong determination to work together in tackling critical security challenges, within and beyond the Euro-Atlantic community of nations. As the 26 Allies and 20 Partners continue to grow together, they will increase their ability to meet these common challenges with common responses. The Istanbul Summit will confirm this trend and point the way ahead.

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