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Mapping the future

Frank Boland examines how the Membership Action Plan is helping aspirant countries prepare for NATO membership.

Getting into shape for NATO: The MAP process ensures that countries understand what will be expected of them as future members (© NATO)

The attention of the nine countries aspiring to NATO membership is understandably focused on the Prague Summit in November. But in many respects their efforts to ensure that they receive an invitation to join the Alliance are the easy part of the road to NATO membership. Countries invited at Prague, or subsequently, will, following accession, take on both the rights and the responsibilities of Alliance membership. Ensuring that they are able to meet all these responsibilities in the most effective way will be a continuing challenge even after they join NATO. The Membership Action Plan, launched at the Washington Summit in 1999, aims to ensure that they can integrate into the Alliance as smoothly and as quickly as possible.

The Membership Action Plan, or MAP, is demanding. Each year, candidate countries have to submit to NATO an updated Annual National Programme. This covers all five so-called chapters of the MAP, which consist of political and economic issues; defence and military issues; resource aspects; issues related to security; and legal aspects. The programme is the subject of consultation between the Allies and each candidate country every autumn. This preliminary dialogue is followed by in-depth discussions in aspirants' capitals the following spring with a NATO team representing both the Alliance's civilian and military staffs. On the basis of these discussions, an individual progress report is produced on each of the aspirant countries. This in turn is the basis for further discussion between NATO ambassadors and a delegation, usually led by the foreign and defence ministers, of each aspirant country, in advance of the spring NATO ministerial meetings, at which an overall report on the MAP is provided to Alliance ministers.

This intensive process aims to ensure both that Allies have the best possible information about the preparations aspirants are making towards membership and — equally importantly — that the aspirant countries fully understand what will be expected of them as future NATO members. It also serves to highlight areas where either the Alliance, collectively, or individual Allies should increase assistance to aspirants to help them in their preparations for membership. In some of the areas covered by the MAP, such as legal and security issues, work is likely to be complete at, or shortly after, the Prague Summit. In others, particularly defence and military issues, aspirant countries invited to join the Alliance in November will need to continue their work to integrate into the Alliance for many years.

Defence matters

Management of the defence and military chapter of the MAP is based on the Partnership for Peace in which aspirants have participated for many years. These include the Planning and Review Process (PARP) and the Individual Partnership Programme (IPP). As part of the PARP, assessments are made of the state of each aspirant's defence plans and their progress in meeting agreed planning targets. These planning targets, or Partnership Goals, are negotiated with all aspirants to provide guidance on priority areas to ensure that forces are better able to operate with NATO militaries and to define capabilities that countries will be expected to provide as Alliance members. The IPP, which is tailored to the needs of each aspirant, provides guidance on which Partnership for Peace activities countries should concentrate on to focus efforts in becoming familiar with the way in which NATO operates.

The MAP has proved an extremely effective mechanism to allow Allies to monitor progress made by aspirants in a wide range of fields

The defence and military assessments are the central element of work on the defence and military issues dealt with in the MAP. They are based on individual aspirants' responses to the Survey of Overall Partnership for Peace Interoperability.

This document, which all countries participating in the PARP complete, is more comprehensive for NATO aspirants, since they are additionally obliged to fill out Part III, which is optional for non-MAP participants. The Survey is based on, and virtually identical to, NATO's Defence Planning Questionnaire that is completed annually by Allies taking part in collective defence planning.

The information sought in Part III of the Survey is extremely detailed. In addition to information on security and defence policy, it asks for detailed figures of defence spending (including forward projections); information on individual units (such as the number of personnel, numbers and types of equipment held and the amount of training conducted); modernisation plans (including projections of expenditure on different types of equipment year by year); the level of logistic stocks and the extent of logistic capabilities; progress in meeting agreed planning targets; and a number of other areas, such as command and control capabilities. Assembling so wide a range of information is extremely difficult for aspirants, as it is for Allies. However, it is vital to enable NATO members to determine the military capabilities that aspirants would be able to contribute in future to the Alliance. In addition, it is a useful discipline for aspirant nations to ensure that their internal defence planning and management processes are organised to meet the future demands of the NATO planning system and that, domestically, they operate in a transparent fashion, which is essential to ensure democratic control of armed forces.

Monitoring military reform

Full integration into the Alliance's military structures and development of the capabilities needed to become effective Allies, will likely take many years. As a result, defence and military assessments have focused on how aspirants are planning to develop their armed forces and whether they will be in the best possible shape for future NATO membership. This approach has two essential components. The first is examining the ways in which aspirants plan to ensure that their forces are being prepared to contribute to the full range of NATO missions — from collective defence to peace-support operations — within the future framework of Alliance membership. The second, closely linked to the first, is examining aspirants' defence plans — in particular, their plans to develop or restructure their armed forces and to develop future capabilities — to ensure that they are realistic, achievable and affordable.

In some respects, aspirants have been obliged to change their mindset. Before the MAP was launched at the Washington Summit, efforts to develop interoperability with NATO were concentrated on forces made available for NATO-led peace-support operations, such as the Stabilisation Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has been important to ensure that they understand that such missions are only one of the circumstances where in future they would also participate in military operations. Collective defence, both of national territory and the ability to deploy forces abroad for operations in defence of other Allies, is a fundamental task for NATO and it is vital that aspirants' plans should reflect the necessity to develop capabilities required for this task. The military action in Afghanistan, in which Allies supported US forces in the framework of Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, is a salutary reminder that, although the security environment has improved during the past decade, the world is not a safe place and that NATO's collective defence role remains as relevant now as it was when the Alliance was created.

It is in nobody's interest for aspirants to devote time and effort attempting to implement plans that are over-ambitious and not realisable. NATO needs to have the best possible assessment of how far aspirants will have progressed by the time of the Prague Summit and how much further progress they can realistically have achieved, say, five years after that. In examining aspirants' plans, therefore, Allies have concentrated on determining whether they are based on a clear national assessment of each country's security goals; whether the intended future force structure and capabilities are best designed to meet those goals; and whether, in terms of the organisational effort required and the human and financial resources likely to be available, these plans stand a good chance of being brought to fruition.

During this process — formalised in a Partnership Goal asking all aspirants to review their planned force structures in consultation with the Alliance — all aspirant countries have examined what they had hoped to achieve compared to the resources available now and in the future. In this way, they have all revised their plans to bring ambitions into line with resources. Allies are scrutinising these changed plans during the course of this spring's work on the MAP. The conclusions they reach will contribute to the decisions to be made in Prague on who should be invited to join the Alliance.

It should be emphasised that NATO is not seeking to provide aspirant countries with a blueprint of how they should organise their defence structures. Each country has its own characteristics and traditions. Some are in the process of building their armed forces from scratch. Others are working to modernise structures that they inherited from the Cold War. In each case, the challenges are different and the solutions have to be adapted to fit the precise circumstances. However, the dialogue with NATO, conducted through the MAP, will ensure that the ways in which they develop their armed forces is coherent with their future responsibilities as Alliance members.

Aiding aspirants

As aspirant countries address the development of their capabilities, they benefit from assistance from a number of sources. Participation as Partners in many areas of Alliance work gives them an opportunity to align their own efforts with those of Allies and prepare for their future role as NATO members. Personnel from these nations, along with those of other Partners, already serve at NATO headquarters and in the various NATO commands, which gives them hands-on, practical experience of how the Alliance operates. The NATO command structure at all levels is heavily engaged in providing advice on a range of military issues and providing training, including, for example, through the NATO School at Oberammergau, Germany.

Even more important, however, is the assistance provided bilaterally by individual Allies. This includes help in providing defence assessments as a basis for future work on developing force structures and capabilities; language training and the development of air surveillance capabilities; and the provision of advisers on issues such as military education and training, the development of cadres of non-commissioned officers, the reorganisation of logistic structures, operational planning methodology, personnel management, and financial management and budgeting. This assistance has allowed these countries to accelerate progress in specific areas. That said, bringing this work to completion will, in many cases, be a long-term process.

The MAP has proved an extremely effective mechanism to allow Allies to monitor progress made by aspirants in a wide range of fields. It has challenged aspirants to examine fundamental assumptions and has been a powerful engine for military reform, providing a means for NATO to give feedback on the ways in which Allies would wish this progress to be continued. In this respect, therefore, it has been of great assistance to aspirants in helping guide their preparations for NATO membership.

Completion of the third MAP cycle will coincide with this spring's ministerial meetings. The MAP will, nevertheless, continue in the run-up to the Prague Summit and aspirants will be expected to provide an updated Annual National Programme this autumn. At the same time, the Alliance will need to consider future refinements to the MAP and how it is to be applied after the Prague Summit, including for new aspirants. Decisions will also need to be taken on how the accession of aspirants invited at Prague is to be handled. While much will depend on the detail of the decisions taken at Prague, many of the lessons learned from the MAP will undoubtedly influence the shape of future arrangements for the admission of new members to the Alliance.

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