by Prof. Dr. Rob de Wijk on NATO’s new Strategic Concept, MCCS Lisbon

  • 19 Sep. 2009
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  • Last updated: 04 Nov. 2009 14:31

Early 2007 I wrote in Europe’s World that NATO today faces a stark political choice: should it remain primarily a collective defense alliance or be transformed into a worldwide security provider? I argued that new geopolitical realities as well as NATO’s military operations in Afghanistan suggested that the pressure for change was becoming irresistible. For that reason I concluded that NATO leaders would have to re-write their 1999 SC. It is in this light that I am very happy with NATO’s decision to draft another Strategic Concept (SC).

Listening to NATO officials and reading internal documents I conclude that the SC will focus on the emerging strategic environment, the meaning of Article V, military transformation, the comprehensive approach and partnership, most importantly the NATO – Russia relationship. But aren’t these the issues we have been dealing with for two decades now. The key question therefore is why we didn’t solve those questions already?

The biggest challenge for NATO is to bridge divergent threat perceptions, and consequently different opinions about NATO’s role and mission in the world. Different threat perceptions, together with the lack of political will to deploy sufficient troops, for instance in Afghanistan, or to invest in sufficient expeditionary capabilities are symptoms of NATO’s current crisis.

The group of eminent personalities must find a way to bridge the gap between the different threat perceptions within NATO, which weakens the core principle of alliance solidarity. Put in blunt and oversimplified terms, it is simply unacceptable that some countries deploy forces in the risky areas of Afghanistan because they believe that their vital interests are at stake, while others reluctantly deploy and only to less risky areas or with limited numbers in the hope to minimally satisfy allied expectations. It is not only about national caveats. Countries not willing to carry out the most demanding away operations will not invest in expeditionary capabilities. Thus, a two tier Alliance is emerging. One part of the Alliance focuses on collective defense, another part on cooperative security. The new SC must bridge these two visions, for they are not unrelated.

Politicians must understand that NATO as a collective defense organization is weakened if the Alliance fails as a cooperative security organization in Afghanistan. They must see that a contribution to risky away operations is a prerequisite for NATO’s survival as a credible defense organization and that expeditionary capabilities can also be used for classical Article 5 operations. From a military operational perspective the deployment of Dutch troops for the defense of the Baltic States is an expeditionary operation. The same holds true for the Baltic States deploying troops to defend Turkey. Solidarity requires NATO to do both.

This discussion has important repercussions for our interpretation of the Washington treaty. It is a breakthrough that for the first time in NATO’s history there seems to be a willingness to discuss the meaning of Article 5. In 2006 Senator Lugar called on the alliance to come to the aid of any member whose energy sources are threatened by using the organization's Article 5 mutual defence clause. Some suggest that Article 5 must be invoked in case of a cyber attack. I fail to see how NATO could possibly respond to these very real threats. The post likely response is economic sanctions, which should be imposed by EU and US collectively.

It is political suicide to question the validity of Article 5 or discuss it beyond its traditional meaning. And it will kill the debate on the Strategic Concept. Nevertheless, Lugar raised an important point. The key issue is that future threats to Alliance security are not covered by Article 5 but are very real. The focus must no longer be the defense of territory, but the defense of common interests, one of which is territorial defense.

For that reason I suggest that the SC provide a new understanding of article 4 of the Washington Treaty. Article 4 or the Treaty says that “The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.”
The new SC should spell out the consequences of such a consultation. In case the vital interests of one or more member states are affected a NATO-coalition of the willing and able could be tasked to deal with it. This coalition should be able to use collective NATO assets and elements of NATO’s command structure and should not be hindered by the views of non-participating member states. In other words a core NAC and a core MC would take the lead without interference of member states that are either unwilling or unable. My second suggestion is that the Albright Group explores the idea of NATO as an enabler of coalitions of the willing and able.

This thinking has precedents, most notably in the European Union. Constructive abstention is the idea of allowing an EU Member State to abstain on a vote in the European Council under the common foreign and security policy (CFSP), without blocking a unanimous decision.

In addition, the EU Lisbon Treaty features Permanent Structured Cooperation, for ‘those Member States whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria and which have made more binding commitments to one another’. Member States willing to take part commit to common levels of defence investments; to “bring their defence apparatus into line with each other as far as possible”, by harmonizing military needs, pooling, and, “where appropriate”, specialization; and to enhance their forces’ availability, interoperability, flexibility and deployability, notably by setting “common objectives regarding the commitment of forces”.

Creating core groups with a shared mindset and military capabilities that fulfil higher military criteria must not be ruled out for NATO. The desire to join such a core group is a much stronger incentive to restructure one’s armed forces than continuous pledges by the Secretary General or the U.S. President. As a matter of fact unofficially such a core group already exists and is plain to see in the south of Afghanistan. Moreover, the NATO Special Operations Forces Transformation Initiative (NSTI) approaches the idea of a core group as well.

The reason why a discussion on a new interpretation of article 4 is needed is the emerging security situation. Over the past two decades, defence planners have gone from one paradigm to another. During the Cold War planners used the what I call ‘two block’ paradigm. After the Cold War the focus was on the ‘responsibility to protect’ and after 9/11 the ‘defence of interests’ paradigm has emerged. The issue at stake is that while America has adopted the defence of interests paradigm, most West European member states still think along the lines of the ‘Responsibility to Protect Paradigm’, and there are even those – some Central and Eastern European states-that still think in terms of the two block paradigm. As each paradigm guides force restructuring differently, divergent force structures have been developed in NATO.

My third suggestion is that the SC should reach agreement on a single force planning paradigm. Analyses of the security situation reveal that there is no other choice but to adopt the ‘defence of interests’ paradigm. This paradigm includes regime change operations, stabilization operations and deployments to protect common vital interests, including the defence of our territories, nor does it exclude operations to relieve human suffering or keep the peace in conflict areas. Operations in Afghanistan and Operation Allied Protector off the Somali coast are good examples. As a matter of fact counter piracy operations are in the tradition of the American military theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan who wrote in 1890 in The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 – 1783 that the protection of merchant fleets has been the determining factor for state power (?) in world history. Both Indian and Chinese strategists have recently come to the same conclusion.

The ‘defence of interests’ paradigm will guide defence planning for the next decade or two.
So doing, the new SC should focus on emerging threats. Discussing these threats is of great importance to create common understanding within the Alliance of the challenges ahead. Future challenges must be the starting point for defining future force structures and capabilities. In my view the new SC must focus on three interrelated security trends:

First, for the first time in centuries the geopolitics of power are shifting as US hegemony gives way to a multi-polar world where the US and Europe compete with China, India and Russia as centres of military, political and economic power. International Relations scholars maintain that a multipolar system is less stable than a unipolar or bipolar one:

  • In a multipolar world there is heightened risk of misperceptions, which undermines trust and stability. Moreover, emerging powers will reshape the geopolitical landscape because there are likely to be more assertive, casting a larger shadow on the region and the world.
  • A power struggle with the new centres of power could have important repercussions for international security, the efficacy of international law and the functioning of international institutions. The difficulties of reaching agreement within the Security Council on Iran and Sudan is a clear prelude to how this might work.
  • The trend is reinforced by the financial crisis. Some countries have huge currency reserves and sovereign wealth funds. Their willingness to invest these funds in the West has economic and political ramifications, increasing their influence over Western markets. Moreover these countries demand more influence in existing international organisations or create alternative insitutions.
  • Due to the relative decline of the West, its shaping power will decrease. This trend is reinforced by the difficulties encountered in COIN operations. As the shaping power of the West is weakened, it will be increasingly difficult to protect interests. This will make the West less reluctant to use its armed forces if vital interests are not affected.

Second, industrialized and industrializing nations demand unrestricted access to resources, particularly energy supplies and scarce minerals, as a prerequisite for continued economic growth and socio-political stability. It has become a question of security. This is now the key driver for China’s and India’s foreign policies and increasingly so for Europe, although many still consider the commodities-issue in terms of trade politics in stead of power politics.

The most pressing issue is perhaps not energy, although it is widely discussed, but minerals. With static consumption the world reserve for Iodine is 13 years, silver 29 years, antimony 30 years, tin 40 years, lead 42 years and zinc 46 years. Static consumption is hardly likely. In case world consumption increases to 50 percent the rate of US consumption, the years of extraction for Iodine are 4 years, silver 9 years, antimony 13 years, tin 17 years, lead 8 years and zinc 34 years. Substitutes are available. But developing them may take years. Thus, scarcity could affect the economic performance of industrialized and emerging powers. Consequently, minerals could become a major source of geopolitical strive putting the stability of the entire system at risk.

Scarce resources could affect the security of NATO member states in a number of ways:

  • In resource rich countries resource nationalism and nationalistic appeals could, if they have gripped the populace, lead to emotional an irrational confrontational policies. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez threatened America with an oil boycott. Up until now he had no other logical choice but to provide the US with its heavy, sour oil because only American refineries can refine it. But Chavez may be able to strike a future deal with China now that Beijing decided to build similar power plants.
  • Resources are seen as a zero sum game causing instability. For the sake of domestic stability resource poor countries have no other choice but to defend their economic interests. China is already pursuing increased assertive policies in an attempt to gain access to raw materials in Africa, and according to Javier Santino, the chief economist of the OSCD, now in South America as well (May 2008). For that reason resource poor countries could acquire bases in resource rich countries and could transfer arms to resource rich or transit countries. In Pakistan China is building a naval base and a listening post in Gwadar, and a deep-water port in Pasni. On the southern Coast of Sri Lanka China is building a fuelling station and facilities are being built in Bangladesh and Myanmar as well. Finally, China is one of the biggest arms suppliers to resource rich African states such as Sudan and Zimbabwe.
  • Resource rich countries and big consumers like China could form blocks to advance geopolitical interests. The formation of new blocks will increase the negative effects of mulipolarity. In Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet, Michael T. Klare warned for the destabilizing effects of proto-blocks led by the U.S. and Japan, and Russia and China. As an example, in November 2008 Russian warships sailed into a Venezuelan port in the first deployment of its kind in the Caribbean since the end of the Cold War.
  • Gun boat diplomacy linked to boundary disputes, such as in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, the North Pole region and elsewhere, is more likely. In May 2008 US Defence Secretary Gates issued a set of warnings to China. Mr. Gates said that China could risk its share of further gains in Asia’s economic prosperity if it bullied its neighbours over natural resources in contested areas like the South China Sea.

There is a real danger that the resource poor western democracies will have to deal with stronger resource rich autocracies with a state capitalist economic system. China’s soft power could even replace America’s soft power.

This trend is reinforced by an issue raised by freedom house. There are real obstacles for political reforms in countries under authoritarian rule which are the worlds leading providers of oil, natural gas and other raw materials such as Russia, Venezuela, Iran, other states in the Middle East. A new oil windfall will tend to empower authoritarian rule further. The worrisome trend is that these countries could form, or are already forming alliances denying the west access to scarce resources. The Financial crisis reinforces this trend.

Finally, there is the issue of transit countries, the vulnerability of pipelines and the stability of the providers of energy and mineral. The world’s largest oil reserves, together with trans-national pipelines and major shipping routes, all lie within a “zone of instability” that encircles the globe. This zone of problem states and ungoverned territories now stretches from Central America to the Sahel in Africa, across the Middle East, through central Asia to the archipelagos of south east Asia. Nor should wet forget the Taiwan issue and North Korea. In this zone weapons of mass destruction are proliferating, along with their means of delivery and the risk of terrorism and organised crime, including piracy, is high. Instability is compounded in some parts by the destabilizing effect of youth bulges, competition for scarce drinking water and localised conflicts for regional domination.

In addition, besides the destabilizing effects of this zone, anti-western sentiment is growing in many parts of the world, with both states and non-state actors trying to undermine liberal democratic systems. A key issue is Russia. For new NATO members, Russia has always been the real threat. After the Gasprom crisis many west Europeans realized what energy dependence on Russia means in practice. Former NATO Chief de Hoop Scheffer argued that ‘You cannot deny that where you needed a tank division at the frontier of a nation only 25-30 years ago, it's now a gas lever which you close’. This is precisely the reason why we must on the one hand strive for a good relationship with Moscow, while on the other hand we must have options for counter coercion. Options we do not currently have as the Georgia crisis of August 2008 demonstrated.

Third, climate change is a threat catalyst. The conflict in Darfur is seen by some experts as the first climate war. Climate change could lead to migration undermining social and consequently political stability of industrialized liberal democracies. In August 2009 the IHT revealed that U.S. war games and intelligence studies had concluded that over the next 20 – 30 years, vulnerable regions –particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and South East Asia will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding that could demand humanitarian relief or a military response.

Climate change could also lead to new resource conflicts. It is estimated that the Arctic region contains 13 % of the world’s unproven oil reserves and 30% of the world’s unproven gas reserves. Melting ice caps makes these reserves more accessible. Outgoing NATO Chief De Hoop Scheffer argued that "You cannot deny that the melting of the polar cap, the ice cap on the North Pole is having a lot of security consequences," and that NATO has to play a role in this new great game.

Together, these global concerns have huge implications for western security and will require NATO leaders to redefine the alliance’s underlying political and defence objectives, its geographic reach and the military mechanisms they are prepared to employ. The shift in emphasis from protecting territory to defending strategic interests requires NATO to do more than prepare for large-scale war.

I agree with the U.S. Marine Corps Vision and Strategy 2025 that the Indian Ocean and its adjacent waters will be the central theatre of competition and conflict this century. Today, the protection of interests and stabilization operations is more important than classical Article 5 operations since on-going political instability in oil producing regions, for example, is a prerequisite for our economic survival.

As this is the case for all democratic countries sharing NATO’s values and security interests the Alliance finds natural partners for a global security partnership. Australia, Brazil, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Japan and other contact countries can greatly contribute to NATO’s efforts by providing additional forces or logistical support to respond to global threats and challenges. For example, Australia, South Korea and Japan have sent troops in support of stabilization operations by NATO-members in Iraq and Afghanistan. Former NATO Chief De Hoop Scheffer argued that since NATO operates over a strategic distance, it means that there is a need for dialogue with other interested countries. I add that NATO should also seek cooperation with existing regional organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Council (SCO) and the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in order to deal with implications of the zone of instability.

What is happening in other parts of the world determines the future of Europe, both in economic and security terms. In other words, there is an urgent need for NATO to fill its mutual acceptable slot in the Asian Security Environment, where China is extending its sphere of influence with military bases in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Pakistan.

This suggests that Combined Task Force 150/151 based in Djibouti should become a permanent fixture. It should extend its mission from piracy to the defense of the member states’ interests in that region.

What does this mean for defense and operational planning? My fourth suggestion is that the new SC should provide new defense planning guidance based on a shift from classical territorial defense to defense of interests requiring expeditionary combat operations and sustained complex stabilization missions. It should emphasize that there is no contradiction between capabilities needed for collective defense and expeditionary means for cooperative security. Therefore, the new SC must emphasize deployable combat power for short, high intensity away operations. We must invest in quickly deployable power projection capabilities, including strategic lift and C4ISR. But we must also have the stamina to undertake complex stabilization missions such as in Afghanistan today. Interoperability, also with contact countries such as Australia, is a prerequisite for success.

The process leading to a new SC is as important as the final document. The process must forge a common understanding of the challenges ahead and the military requirements for dealing with it. Due to the different historical experiences of member states and consequently different political and strategic cultures, and the devastating effects of the financial crisis this will not be an easy task. But the historical geopolitical changes caused by the rise of Asia and the relative decline of the West, leaves us no other chose. If we do not act together, America will act alone. This will be the end of NATO.

Iodine: cancer medicine, disinfectant, dye
Silver: electronics, nuclear reactors, medicine
Antimony: used in batteries, ceramics, paints, flame-retardent materials
Tin: coating, solder, tinplate, preservative
Lead; batteries, Construction, radiation shield, ceramics, glass, coating, firearms, semiconductor
Zinc: anti-corrosion coating, fire-retardant material, nuclear weapon, pesticide, medicine