The strategic environment and NATO itself has changed a lot since the current Strategic Concept was approved 10 years ago. Jan Petersen feels that NATO's links with development, its non-military elements and the areas it covers should all be clarified.
In 1999, terrorism barely warranted a mention, NATO had not even conceived of an out-of-area mission as ambitious as Afghanistan, and our enlargement process was only beginning.
But by 2001, the Alliance had invoked Article 5 for the first time, in response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September. By 2003, it had embarked on its most challenging out-of-area mission in Afghanistan. NATO has gone on to admit ten new members, create new structures, partnerships, and initiatives such as the NATO-Russia Council. NATO keeps an ‘open door’ to new members and partners, and its relationships with neighbours and other international organisations continue to evolve.
NATO is an alliance of democracies, and the parliaments of its members are primary communication channels between NATO member country citizens and NATO’s leadership. It is parliamentarians who must often explain to their constituents why devoting scarce resources to security and risking lives of soldiers in distant operations is so important.
For those reasons, I believe the new Strategic Concept should address some of the concerns of parliamentarians of NATO states. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is preparing its commentary on the new Strategic Concept and I have the privilege of serving as the Special Rapporteur for this project.
The new Strategic Concept will be a fundamental document that will guide the Alliance. At the same time, however, it must also be readable and express the values of the Alliance and the threats posed in clear language
It must also set out concepts that will make the Alliance a more flexible organisation, better able to cope with emerging challenges. My comments here do not necessarily reflect the views of all of the members of the Assembly, but I believe that many, if not most, of my colleagues would share them.
We cannot ask our citizens to support Alliance missions unless we are clear about the purpose of the Alliance. We owe it to the general public and especially our national militaries to be clear about the challenges we face and how we plan to mitigate the risks they pose.
Any survey of literature on strategic affairs will show that there is a wide array of issues that fall under the rubric of security. Environmental concerns, terrorism, proliferation, information security, energy security and others are all cited.
The new Strategic Concept should confirm the close link between security and development and draw the necessary consequences for planning and deployment of Alliance armed forces.
There is also a solid consensus that the strategic challenges we face do not lend themselves to purely military solutions. We see this in Afghanistan, where military aspects are a necessary but insufficient component of a comprehensive solution.
The new Strategic Concept should confirm the close link between security and development and draw the necessary consequences for planning and deployment of Alliance armed forces. This link calls for the closest possible cooperation between political and military authorities in planning and execution of overseas missions. It also means encouraging closer contacts and involvement with non-governmental organisations.
Yet, ultimately NATO is a political and military alliance; we should carefully assess what NATO’s role should be in addressing specific challenges. International terrorism, for example, is a major security concern – especially the potential for the combination of extremist organisations and weapons of mass destruction. It is not clear, however, that NATO is the proper organisation to address this threat.
But as an alliance composed of democracies, we should be willing to state openly that we will protect our citizens against those who violently oppose the principles and values of our societies. We should also use NATO as a forum for exchanging information and coordinating responses in the event of an attack.
It is easy to list all of the challenges that can impact on our mutual security. It is not easy, however, to determine the key areas where NATO should play a significant role.
But this is something a new Strategic Concept must do.
If we define everything as a security challenge that NATO should address, we risk spreading the resources of the Alliance too thinly across a wide range of issues. Security challenges are potentially boundless, but resources are finite.
One area where there should be no controversy is the development of military capabilities for the missions we face as an alliance
Parliamentarians are all too familiar with the limits on resources. Therefore, focusing NATO on what it can do well – planning, training and conducting military operations, as well as performing humanitarian and civil emergency response missions – will be an important task of the new Strategic Concept.
We need to appreciate that NATO cannot be all things to all people, but rather serve as an important cornerstone.
One area where there should be no controversy is the development of military capabilities for the missions we face as an alliance.
Some analysts have presented this as a trade-off between territorial defence and expeditionary capability. Yet, it is not necessarily true that being prepared to deter the use of military force in Europe and being prepared to manage security challenges in distant locations are missions in direct competition with each another.
Regardless of whether our forces are deployed 100 or 5,000 kilometres from their home base, they still need all of the most effective communications, surveillance and other equipment. They need the ability to move quickly and be protected against hostile fire. Perhaps most importantly, they must receive the training to cope with a wide variety of potential situations.
We should also consider making NATO decision making structures more flexible and responsive. The North Atlantic Council and the Military Committee are separate entities, but a merger could significantly streamline the decision making process.
At the same time, consensus is central in the Alliance decision making process, and it should remain at the core of how it makes big decisions. But is consensus necessary at every level and could we benefit from an alternate process on less significant matters? This issue will only become more salient as the Alliance grows, and as our interaction grows with other international actors such as the European Union and the United Nations.
The growth of the Alliance also deserves some consideration. In the near future we will welcome two new members: Albania and Croatia. At the Bucharest summit we collectively declared that Georgia and Ukraine would become members at some time in the future. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly has offered strong support for the rapid and broad enlargement of the Alliance.
The North Atlantic Council and the Military Committee are separate entities, but a merger could significantly streamline the decision making process.
Nevertheless, we must soon face the fact that the Alliance has treaty-based limits. Article 10 clearly states that any European state may join the Alliance, but there are increasingly few European states that are not members of the Alliance. At some point, we must decide if that geographic limit is still appropriate and, if not, what implications that has for the future of the Alliance.
The strategic environment has changed dramatically. It is time for a new Strategic Concept.
The key to NATO’s longevity is precisely that it has proven to be an adaptable organisation that maintains its relevance. To ensure that this continues, a new Strategic Concept needs to clearly state the purpose of the Alliance and guide it into the coming decades.
The key to NATO’s longevity is precisely that it has proven to be an adaptable organisation that maintains its relevance.