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NATO at 60: the way forward

Even getting to age 60 may have been a challenge. But there are more ahead.

As NATO celebrates its 60th anniversary, it is in greater demand than ever before.

The Alliance is keeping the peace in Kosovo, it is engaged in both stabilisation tasks and combat operations in Afghanistan, runs an anti-terrorist naval operation in the Mediterranean, assists defence reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, trains Iraqi security forces, and provides support to the African Union.

NATO is at the heart of a vast and expanding network of partnerships with countries from across the globe and is developing closer cooperation with key civilian institutions. And the Alliance’s enlargement process remains a strong incentive for aspirant countries to get their house in order.

In short, at age 60, NATO has become such an indispensable part of the international security environment that it is hard to imagine that it ever could have been otherwise. And yet it was. The initial duration of the 1949 Washington Treaty was modestly set at 20 years, by which time, it was assumed, the post-war recovery of Western Europe would have been completed and the transatlantic defence pact become obsolete.

Few of the people who were present at NATO’s creation would have dared to hope that this Alliance would not only outlast the Cold War conditions that brought it into being, but indeed thrive in a radically different security environment.

The reason why NATO turned from a temporary project into a permanent one is not difficult to fathom. It is because the logic of transatlantic security cooperation is timeless. The need for Europe and North America to tackle security challenges together remains as pressing today as it was 60 years ago.

So does the need for a transatlantic institutional framework which allows for political consultation, joint decisions, and common action. Only NATO can provide this framework.

As NATO enters its seventh decade, it needs to overcome a series of challenges that are more difficult and complex than anything it has ever faced before.

When our Heads of State and Government meet at NATO’s 60th Anniversary Summit in Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, on 3 and 4 April, they will no doubt highlight the Alliance’s historic achievements. Indeed, the Summit venue itself testifies to NATO’s success in facilitating Europe’s post-war reconciliation.

But while past achievements may inspire confidence for the future, they cannot substitute for new thinking and new policies. As NATO enters its seventh decade, it needs to overcome a series of challenges that are more difficult and complex than anything it has ever faced before. The Strasbourg/Kehl Summit must therefore not be confined to self-congratulatory statements. On the contrary, this Summit is a key opportunity to move NATO’s evolution another major step forward.

Three challenges stand out.

The first challenge is Afghanistan. To make a success of our engagement there, we need to better match our ambitions with the means that we are willing to deploy. I sincerely hope that all Allies would be able to step up their contributions. We have had considerable success in training and equipping the Afghan National Army, and we must build on that progress. The ability of the Afghan Police to play its role in providing security and stability is essential.

There is a lot more that we – and the international community as a whole – can do on the civilian side – in helping the Afghans to build functioning institutions, to fight crime and corruption, and get a better grip of the narcotics problem. What we must guard against at all cost is individual nations taking a narrow view of their specific role in a particular geographical or functional area. It is vital that we all keep our eyes on the overall picture, and continue our engagement in Afghanistan as a common, transatlantic endeavour.

The overall picture stretches well beyond Afghanistan. It includes the wider region, and especially Pakistan, with which we must deepen our engagement. Moreover, we must get our military and civilian institutions to co-operate much more closely and more effectively. In other words, we need to further instrumentalise a truly comprehensive approach – and not just in Afghanistan, but also in response to other urgent, transnational challenges. The UN-NATO Joint Declaration which UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and I signed last September should help us to move in that direction.

The second major challenge is our relationship with Russia. The conflict in Georgia last August has invited many different interpretations. It has also raised some serious questions about Russia’s commitment to a positive relationship not only with its own neighbours, but also with our Alliance.

Clearly, we are not going to let Russia derail NATO enlargement. That process is central to our aim of consolidating Europe as an undivided and democratic security space and, hence, it is not negotiable. But the NATO-Russia relationship is too valuable to be stuck in arguments over enlargement or, for that matter, over missile defence or Kosovo.

We need a positive agenda that befits the great importance of both Russia and NATO to European and indeed global security. Afghanistan is one key area where we have obvious common interests and a greater chance of meeting those interests when we work together. But there are other areas as well, like the fight against terrorism and piracy, and the need to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In other words, the time has clearly come to give a fresh impetus to our relationship, and our next NATO Summit offers an excellent opportunity for the Allies to underline their commitment in this regard.

The third challenge is dealing with new threats. We have seen these past few years that cyber attacks or the interruption of energy supplies can devastate a country without a single shot being fired. We are also witnessing the return of piracy as a serious security challenge, as well as the first “hard” security implications of climate change, notably in the High North. At the same time, Iran’s nuclear programme highlights the pressing challenge of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

We need to better define NATO’s role in meeting these challenges. NATO may not provide all the answers, but that should not serve as excuse for inaction. We must make the best possible use of the Alliance’s unique value as a forum for transatlantic political dialogue, and as an instrument for translating political decisions into concrete action. After all, threats don’t wait until we feel that we are ready for them.

a new Strategic Concept will need to reconcile the Alliance’s core purpose of collective defence with the many requirements associated with out-of-area operations.

The Strasbourg/Kehl Summit is an opportunity to demonstrate that the Allies are able to muster the necessary political will, imagination and solidarity to meet these various challenges. But the Summit must do even more. With a new US Administration settling in office, and with the prospect of France taking its full place in NATO’s integrated military structures, the Summit is also the perfect moment to launch an update of the Alliance’s Strategic Concept.

Based on the “Declaration on Alliance Security” which is to be agreed at the Summit, a new Strategic Concept will need to reconcile the Alliance’s core purpose of collective defence with the many requirements associated with out-of-area operations. It will need to emphasise NATO’s role as a unique community of common values and interests, and avoid the temptation to push regional or national agendas at the expense of our common purpose and objectives. And it will need to make clear NATO’s strong desire to engage with the UN, the EU and other international actors, as partners, in a comprehensive approach to the security challenges of our time.

These challenges are fundamentally different from those that brought NATO into being 60 years ago. But as long a there is a solid transatlantic relationship, and as long as this relationship rests on strong institutional foundations such as NATO, we will be able to shape events and not be their victims. The Alliance’s 60th Anniversary Summit is a perfect opportunity to reaffirm this timeless logic.

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