NATO’s Agenda and the Mediterranean Dialogue

Article by Nicola de Santis, Coordinator for Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative

  • 01 Apr. 2003 -
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  • Last updated: 08 Oct. 2014 17:25


During the last twelve years NATO has undergone a major adaptation process to the new Post-Cold war security realities, to continue providing security and stability to the Euro-Atlantic area. At its historic November 2002 Prague Summit NATO has pushed its transformation even further. In Prague the Alliance launched its second enlargement, it expanded its missions, enhanced its military capabilities and strengthened its partnerships. In an uncertain and fast changing security environment, NATO embodies the transatlantic link and remains the cornerstone of Euro- Atlantic security. This transatlantic alliance is a unique source of political-military capabilities to manage successfully unpredictable crises and to build new partnerships through a new cooperative approach to security, while continuing to provide for the security of its members. To do so, the Alliance has some key strategic priorities.

  • NATO must continue to meet the risks emanating from instability and unpredictable security developments likely to affect the security of its member countries by developing the defence capabilities needed to meet its new post-Cold War missions. 
  • The Alliance must continue to keep engaged its partners in the Euro-Atlantic area and in the Mediterranean, through the EAPC (European Atlantic Partnership Council), the PfP (Partnership for Peace) and the Mediterranean Dialogue. 
  • It must continue to intensify cooperation with Russia and the Ukraine.  
  • It should maintain an op en door for future members, helping those aspiring to join the Alliance to actively prepare for inclusion through the Membership Action Plan. 
  • NATO must continue to work to promote the complementarity of NATO’s ESDI (European Security and Defence Identity) and the EU’s ESDP (European Security and Defence Policy), avoiding unnecessary duplication with flexible arrangements to allow the European Allies to deal with military contingencies when NATO as such will decide not to act and without undermining the effectiveness of the Atlantic Alliance. 
  • The Alliance must enhance the Mediterranean Dialogue, moving from dialogue to partnership.

 I will analyse the main facets of this new NATO agenda and its Mediterranean Dialogue initiative.

Political-Military Capabilities to Manage Crises

In this fast changing and unpredictable security environment, the first priority for NATO is to continue to develop those defence capabilities needed to manage the full spectrum of its post-Cold War crisis management missions. At the 23 April 1999 Washington Summit, NATO launched the Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI), with an aim to achieve lasting improvements of capabilities and interoperability.

At the November 2002 Prague Summit NATO's Heads of State and Government adopted the Prague Capabilities Commitment (PCC), through which each nation took the firm commitment to develop critical capabilities in four main areas: chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defence : to protect our forces from new threats such as from weapons of mass destruction; command, communication and information superiority : to ensure that both sensitive deliberations and operational communication are timely, reliable, secure and inclusive and make the best of battlefield information of all kind; effective engagement : to enable our forces to engage effectively an adversary across the full spectrum of possible military circumstances; mobility, rapid deployment and sustainability of forces : to deploy rapidly our forces in a theatre of operations and to provide our deployed forces with the logistical support they need regardless of the environment. These 400 plus commitments, one-third of which will be implemented before 2005 , will significantly enhance NATO’s overall military capabilities, for example: quadrupling the current total of 4 outsize transport aircraft available nationally or collectively to non-US NATO countries, increasing by around 40 % the non-US holdings of precision guided weapons, increasing by 40 % the number of air tanker aircraft available nationally or collectively to NATO's European member countries, accelerating programmes to provide NATO with UAV’s and radar jamming pods and, last but not least, allowing nations to provide NATO with guaranteed access to sealift for all missions. NATO’s Prague Capabilities Commitment will also need to be mutually reinforcing with the EU’s Headline Goal, as the Alliance is working to promote the complementarity between NATO’s ESDI and the EU’s ESDP.

But all of the above will not be achieved if NATO countries do not spend more and better. The defence spending of NATO nations, taken as a share of the GDP, has fallen by nearly half during the last decade. Only 19 % of Alliance nations’ defence spending goes to procurement and new equipment, while 40 % of NATO defence budgets still goes to cover personnel and infrastructure costs.

To address this issue successfully will not only have positive effects on NATO but also on the EU, as the deadline to equip itself by 2003 with a 60,000 men and women rapid reaction force, with the Headline Goal, is not that far away. One thing should be clear: if the capabilities are available for NATO they will also be there for the EU. But if the capabilities are missing for NATO they will not be there for the EU.

NATO capabilities are the reason why: the Cold War is over; two major military crises such as Bosnia and Kosovo were managed successfully; Miloševic is before the ICTY; NATO continues to provide for a security environment in which the political, social and economic reconstruction of the Balkans can take place and why seven new countries decided to join the Alliance. NATO’s capabilities are crucial if the Alliance is to continue to guarantee security and stability for the years to come.

In this uncertain security environment NATO may again need in the future to project military power outside the borders of its member countries, to deal with new threats such as, for example, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is vital therefore that NATO possesses the military capabilities to counter these new threats.

To this end, another important decision adopted at the Prague Summit to meet future threats has been the establishment of the NATO Response Force (NRF), to provide the Alliance with rapidly deployable, high capability cutting edge to deal with the full range of today's threats. The NRF will enable NATO to react immediately with robust, tailored forces wherever it is called upon. It will also serve as a mechanism for focusing and promoting capability improvements, thus reinforcing the Prague Capabilities Commitment.

At the January 1994 Brussels Summit NATO’s Heads of State and Government acknowledged the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery means. The North Atlantic Council established the Political Military Group on Proliferation to address the political dimension of this issue, while the Senior Defence Group on Proliferation was established to address the military dimension of the problem.

At the April 1999 Washington Summit, NATO leaders decided to build on the decisions of the Brussels Summit and established a Weapons of Mass Destruction Center within the International Staff to increase the quantity and quality of information and intelligence sharing among the Allies and, to increase the public awareness on the challenges deriving from WMD proliferation.

In June 2002 NATO’s Defence Ministers endorsed the NATO Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Initiatives, developed by the Senior Defence Group on Proliferation. These Initiatives were designed to serve as a first step in addressing the most critical deficiencies in NATO's NBC defences, emphasising multinational participation and the rapid fielding of enhanced defence capabilities. They comprise: a Disease Surveillance System, an NBC Event Response Team, a Deployable NBC Analytical Laboratory, a NATO NBC Defence Stockpile and expanded NBC Defence Training.

We are confronted today with a diverse group of states seeking weapons of mass destruction and longer-range ballistic missiles. These countries conceive these weapons as a useable military tool against neighbouring countries, and as a tool of coercive diplomacy NATO’s Agenda and the Mediterranean Dialogue 179 to: prevent the NATO Allies from coming to the assistance of friends, counter our conventional forces, break the cohesion of Allied coalitions. For example one can only imagine what would have happened if Miloševic had weapons of mass destruction at the time of the Operation Allied Force, and what military and political consequences this would have had.

NATO's New Partnerships

But NATO is not only about military capabilities. This is the only international security organisation able to mobilise not only military but also political and diplomatic capabilities, to build new partnerships in a cooperative approach to security, projecting stability through dialogue and cooperation in the security field. With the end of the Cold War, NATO extended the hand of friendship to all countries of Central and Eastern Europe, to the successor states of the former Soviet Union, and to Russia as well, opening an unprecedented new era of cooperation and partnership throughout the Euro-Atlantic area.

NATO’s new cooperative approach to security has been inclusive rather than exclusive. It has been aimed at not marginalising anyone in Europe but rather to include all in “variable geometry” partner- ships, going from the NACC, the Partnership for Peace, the EAPC, to the Mediterranean Dialogue with seven non-NATO Mediterranean Countries, to the NATO -Russia Council at 20 ; while at the same time including in NATO three new members in 1999 and seven more in 2004 , maintaining the door open for future invitations to join the Alliance through the Membership Action Plan. NATO also continues to intensify its cooperative ties with Russia and the Ukraine.

Through PfP and the EAPC, NATO has promoted a new culture of cooperation throughout the Euro-Atlantic area, aimed at achieving: the democratic control of the armed forces, the transparency of defence budgets and the interoperability necessary to allow our cooperation partners to participate together with NATO in crisis management and peace support operations. In Bosnia and Kosovo NATO has been able to organise under the unified command of its integrated military structure, the formidable response of the international community to the Bosnian and Kosovo crises, bringing peace and security to a very troubled region, while also preventing the outbreak of a third conflict in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, in concert with the EU.

The Mediterranean Region and NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue

An important facet of NATO’s external adaptation and of its cooperative approach to security is also re- presented by NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, which was launched at the December 1994 Brussels Ministerial meeting and currently involves seven non- NATO Mediterranean nations: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia. In today’s post-Cold War security environment, the Mediterranean is an area of central geo-strategic interest to NATO. Six of its member countries are Mediterranean nations, while all others have important and vital interests in the region. In addition, the Mediterranean has become the center of increased transatlantic cooperation in the security field within NATO and with non-NATO actors of the region.

NATO has always been a Mediterranean Alliance. Since its inception, one of its most important Region- al Commands: AFSOUTH was established in 1953 in Naples, directly in the Mediterranean. We all recognise today the importance of this choice, since the Commander in Chief of AFSOUTH has overall responsibility for the theatre of operations in which SFOR, KFOR and Operation Allied Harbour are deployed.

With the end of the Cold War, NATO has better defined its Area of Responsibility (AOR) and also its Area of Strategic Interest (AOSI), encompassing to- day a broader area which includes the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean, as well as South-Eastern Europe up to the Caucasus.

Increasingly NATO must factor in developments in contiguous and adjacent territories surrounding the Alliance, which are likely to affect its security. It is also evident that the Mediterranean region is today the centre of interaction of socio-economic imbalances, as well as of security-related issues, and that tensions and conflicts are often a consequence of the in- stability produced by turbulent political and social change in the region.

Moreover, the old distinction between European and Mediterranean security has also disappeared due to the grown volume of interaction between the two shores of the Mediterranean in all sectors. Security in the area has taken a different shape as a consequence of the end of the Cold War. The “Southern periphery” of the Alliance has also been the centre of two conflicts, in which we have seen NATO intervene in Bosnia and Kosovo. NATO’s strategic realities have evolved to the point that the Mediterranean and South-Eastern Europe can no longer be considered “out of area”, as security developments there directly affect the security of NATO member countries. Consequently, our governments and peoples will need to refine periodically their definition of what constitutes risks to national and international security. NATO through AFSOUTH has monitored for fifty years security and military developments in the Mediterranean in the context of its defence dimension.

The Mediterranean Dialogue’s Rationale

The defence dimension of NATO however must not be confused with the goal and rationale of the Mediterranean Dialogue, which is indeed, primarily a political dialogue initiative with clear goals. The Dialogue reflects the Allies’ view that security in Europe is closely linked to security in the Mediterranean region. The aim of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue is to promote better mutual understanding and confidence, as well as good and friendly relations across the Mediterranean. In addition, the Dialogue helps correct misperceptions in non-NATO Mediterranean countries of NATO’s policies, thus representing its contribution to Mediterranean stability and security.

The Alliance’s Mediterranean Dialogue also complements other international initiatives, primarily the EU’s Barcelona Process which aims at tackling the socio-economic imbalances of the region that often are the root causes of tensions and conflict in the area. The EU certainly has the lead in addressing this socio-economic dimension, while NATO can complement such an effort in the security field.

The Dialogue is a phased approach: In early 1995 NATO invited five countries to participate; Jordan was invited in late 1995 and Algeria in 2000. The Dialogue is therefore open to the participation of other non-NATO countries willing and able to contribute to security and stability in the Mediterranean Region, to be chosen by consensus. Through the Mediterranean Cooperation Group (MCG), established at the July 1997 Madrid Summit, NATO nations are directly involved in the political discussions with representatives of the Mediterranean Dialogue countries, through the 19 + 1 and 19 + 7 format of multi-bilateral meetings, taking place on a regular basis.

At the April 1999 Washington Summit NATO’s Heads of State and Government decided to enhance the Mediterranean Dialogue. An annual Work Programme now covers a wide range of cooperative activities: Information and Press, Science and the Environment, Civil Emergency Planning, Crisis Management and Military activities. Since October 2001, periodical 19 + 7 multilateral Ambassadorial meetings also take place, between the North Atlantic Council and the Brussels based Ambassadors of the 7 Mediterranean Dialogue countries, under the chairmanship of the Secretary General of NATO. Occasionally, high level representatives from capitals of the 7 Mediterranean Dialogue countries, also join their Brussels based Ambassadors at these NAC or MCG meetings.

At their May 2002 meeting in Reykjavik, NATO Foreign Ministers decided to upgrade the political and practical dimensions of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue, by introducing a number of new items including consultation on security matters of common concern, including terrorism-related issues. In July 2002, the North Atlantic Council decided that the strengthening and deepening of NATO’s relations with Mediterranean Dialogue countries is among the highest priorities of the Alliance. At their November 2002 Prague Summit, NATO’s Heads of State and Government adopted an inventory of possible areas of cooperation to upgrade the political and practical dimensions of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue.

A particular effort is made in order to provide informed opinions on NATO’s current policies and goals. NATO is not always well perceived in Mediterranean Dialogue countries. The situation there is different from the positive public perception the Alliance has in Central and Eastern European Countries. Through NATO’s Information activities, the Alliance aims at overcoming misunderstanding and to confirm or realign perceptions in the civil society of Mediterranean Dialogue countries. This is why we are also, through our information programmes, engaging academics, parliamentarians, policy makers, the media and other representatives of the civil society from Mediterranean Dialogue countries, as well as co-sponsoring international conferences and seminars such as this one in Canterbury to promote mutual understanding and trust, and to discuss issues of common concern.

The very positive response of our Mediterranean Dialogue partners encourages us to continue this effort to intensify our partnership in the interest of the stability and security of the Mediterranean region as a whole.

The author's views are expressed on a personal basis and do not therefore necessarily represent the official view of NATO and its member