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Imagining NATO 2011


Imagining NATO 2011

Michael Rhle gazes into his crystal ball and imagines how the Alliance and the Euro-Atlantic security environment might look in ten years.

Partnership conference

NATO is hosting an international conference to mark the tenth anniversary of the formation of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council and celebrate a decade of evercloser relations between Alliance members and Partners.

The conference, entitled Ten Years of Partnership and Cooperation, takes place on Friday 26 October at NATO headquarters and will be attended by participants from all 46 members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC).

In addition to reviewing key events in the formation of NATO's Partnership strategy and assessing achievements to date, the conference will examine the future evolution of relations between Alliance members and Partners and consider ways in which the EAPC might develop in the years to come.

NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson will use the event to make his major speech of the year on partnership and cooperation. That speech and those of other keynote speakers will be broadcast live on the NATO web site.

NATO's Office of Information and Press is also publishing a special, 20-page brochure to coincide with the conference. Entitled Partnership in Action, it looks back on the birth and development of the Partnership idea and examines how Partnership works in practice.

Further information on the conference, the webcast and the Partnership in Action brochure can be found on the Partnership in Action special webmodule.

In 1984, a famed Norwegian peace researcher came up with a list of what he considered to be Europe's most secure states. His choice of Switzerland as the number one was hardly surprising. By contrast, his choice of second and third seemed peculiar even at the time: Albania and Yugoslavia. His reasoning was as straightforward as it was worrying. Since NATO and the Warsaw Pact were undoubtedly going to war with one another, those countries furthest removed from the "military blocs" would have the rosiest future.

It may be tempting to belittle this unfortunate analysis as a typical "period piece" from the early 1980s. Yet, dire predictions about NATO's future have hardly fared better than predictions about the Balkans. Although NATO's current primacy in Euro-Atlantic security may suggest otherwise, only a decade ago the Alliance's future seemed bleak. Indeed, in the early 1990s, even staunch Atlanticists harboured doubts about the future of an organisation that seemed to have accomplished its mission. Had it been predicted then that, in 1999, NATO would admit three former Warsaw Pact members and conduct a protracted air operation in the Balkans, the likely reaction would have been disbelief or even derision.

Speculating about the future remains a hazardous undertaking, but one which is nonetheless useful. Even if not every prediction will come true, the very exercise of forecasting helps to concentrate the mind on the key issues. It forces thinking about a "preferred future", the means necessary to achieve this outcome, and the variables that could interfere.

This approach appears particularly appropriate in a security environment as conducive to shaping as today's post-Cold War Europe. In this fluid setting, institutions such as NATO are playing a major role in influencing the direction of Euro-Atlantic security. Put differently, institutions have become agenda-setters. Not only do they enable collective action in a crisis, they also foster new security relationships and thereby address questions of Europe's wider stability and even long-term political order.

This exercise in exploring NATO's potential to shape the Euro-Atlantic security environment of the next decade will proceed in three steps. It will outline a benevolent scenario for 2011; identify some major conditions and variables affecting that scenario; and make some suggestions as to what NATO must do now to help achieve the benevolent scenario.

A benevolent scenario 2011

Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of "NATO 2011" is that it will be larger. After several waves of enlargement, the Alliance will have grown to 25 or more members. It will therefore still have more members than an enlarging European Union. Even so, the overlap in memberships will remain close enough to enable both organisations to continue their institutional rapprochement. Fears that NATO's decision-making process will be unduly compromised by the growth of Alliance membership will have been put to rest. The unique political and military role of the United States in Euro-Atlantic security will remain and will continue to help ensure a pre-disposition among Allies to seek common solutions.

The European Union's ambition to develop a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) will have manifested itself in an even stronger European military role in the Balkans, as well as in more coherent foreign-policy initiatives regarding the Caucasus, the Middle East and Northern Africa. Mainly as a result of streamlining procurement practices and pooling European military assets, EU countries will have made some progress towards improving their defence capabilities. However, continuing shortfalls in capabilities critical for high-intensity conflict will remain, making it necessary to maintain close links between the European Union and NATO.

The EU-NATO relationship will have significantly broadened beyond ESDP to include regular consultations on southeastern Europe, the Mediterranean, Russia, terrorism and particularly crisis prevention. Regular back-to-back EU-NATO ministerial meetings will be held, underlining the will of Europe and North America to maintain coherence in institutions and policies.

NATO will still have troops deployed in the Balkans, but the scale of the Alliance's military presence will have been greatly reduced, as a result of political and economic progress in the region. Bosnia and Herzegovina and Yugoslavia will have long ago joined the Partnership for Peace and will both be formal aspirants for NATO membership.

With proliferation risks having ever-deepening significance, NATO Allies will have established a coordinated policy on preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction through diplomatic and economic means. The United States will have deployed a rudimentary defence against strategic missiles. Several European Allies will have fielded tactical missile defences within their armed forces. This new relationship between deterrence and defence will also be reflected in NATO's military strategy, which will feature counterproliferation elements and an increased emphasis on active defence and counterterrorism.

The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) will have developed formal links to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and will have become a steering organ for pan-European disaster relief. Exchanges on terrorism will have intensified. It will also have acquired a role as a facilitator of regional cooperation in the Caucasus and Central Asia, where it will serve as a framework for addressing issues such as border control and energy security.

The Partnership for Peace will have developed further as the hub of pan-European military cooperation and, together with the EAPC, serve as a means to keep Partners, particularly the remaining non-NATO EU members, closely associated with NATO. The Partnership will cover the full range of military cooperation between NATO and Partner nations, including defence planning and defence reform. It will feature a stronger focus on regional cooperation and on crisis prevention, for example, through targeted security cooperation programmes, confidence-building measures, preventive deployments and consultation mechanisms.

While repeated Russian overtures to join the Alliance will not yet have borne fruit, the NATO-Russia relationship will have significantly improved and will resemble a quasi-associate status. In the context of the Baltic states' accession to NATO, a satisfactory solution will have been found to Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave between Lithuania and Poland. The dialogue will have expanded to cover the full range of issues specified in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, such as non-proliferation, defence reform and civil-emergency planning. The relationship will also include serious military cooperation beyond the Balkans, inter alia in the framework of an experimental joint NATO-Russian peacekeeping brigade. It will also include armaments cooperation, for example, on tactical missile defence.

NATO's relations with the United Nations will have been consolidated both formally and conceptually. Formally, a permanent liaison office at UN Headquarters will underline NATO's role as an institution central to European crisis management. Conceptually, NATO's experience in the Balkans will form an important part of the United Nations' reform of its own approach to peacekeeping.

The rising strategic importance of the southern Mediterranean region will have elevated the Mediterranean Dialogue out of its role as the stepchild of NATO's outreach activities. It will have evolved along similar lines to the Partnership for Peace, with serious military cooperation, notably in the field of crisis management, and a strong focus on non-proliferation. Reflecting the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region, the bi-annual Japan-NATO conferences will have been superseded by a broader Asia-NATO Dialogue, modelled after the Mediterranean Dialogue.

This undoubtedly represents a benign scenario, with NATO playing a major, though far from singular, role in managing change. The major difference between 2011 and 2001 will be the fact that the ad hoc relationships between major institutions that developed out of necessity in the Balkans will have led to strong formal relationships, facilitating a comprehensive approach to crisis management and, hopefully, prevention. NATO's internal post-Cold War readjustment, which was largely completed by the late 1990s, will have been augmented by some additional mechanisms, in line with new challenges that will have emerged after 2000.

Essential conditions

It would be analytically questionable at best and outright useless at worst to sketch a benevolent scenario of the future without discussing at least the most important conditions for its realisation. Indeed, the conditions that need to be fulfilled in order for the benevolent scenario to materialise say as much about the way ahead as the scenario itself.

Clearly, Russia's positive evolution will be a decisive condition for a benevolent scenario. Should Russia's democratic experiment fail, or should Russia's very statehood be jeopardised by political and economic fragmentation, the attainment of the preferred future sketched above would seem impossible. To be sure, a Russia in decline need not necessarily precipitate a new Cold War. Yet, a crisis-ridden Russia would severely compromise the development of all Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Another condition is coherence in the enlargement processes of the European Union and NATO, Europe's key institutional actors. If the enlargement of one or both institutions were to stall and differences in memberships were to widen, the chances for developing coherent and effective policies — the potential of which has been recently demonstrated in the Balkans — would again diminish.

The sound development of a European Security and Defence Policy is another major variable. If ESDP remains within its current Atlanticist philosophy, it could address at least some of the burdensharing demands put forward by the United States. By contrast, should ESDP become an exercise in EU self-assertion or even in "counterbalancing" a unilateralist United States, it would become a liability rather than an asset for transatlantic relations.

Continued US interest in Europe will also be crucial. If US interest in European security remains high, possible adjustments within the transatlantic relationship, such as a stronger EU security role or a greater US focus on Asia, could be effected without tearing the transatlantic fabric. However, should US interest in Europe diminish — because of deteriorating transatlantic relations or other pressing global interests for the United States — NATO would be bereft of the leadership it requires to function as a meaningful agent of change.

Coping with the evolution of military technology will be another condition for a benign scenario. Missile defence, for example, could go a long way to offer protection against the challenge of proliferation — and should therefore be an organic part of "NATO 2011". However, if mishandled politically, it could also move Europe and the United States out of step with each other. A widening transatlantic technology gap would diminish the importance of European Allies for the United States and fuel the burden-sharing debate. It could also reinforce unilateralist tendencies in the United States, which, in turn, would lead to increasing resentment in Europe.

Sufficient resources are another condition for an optimistic scenario for 2011. Devoting insufficient funds to defence would restrain the potential security roles of the European Union and NATO and hamper the benevolent scenario. In the context of a more heated burden-sharing debate, failure to fund adequately programmes such as the European Union's Headline Goal or NATO's Defence Capabilities Initiative could have political ramifications far beyond these programmes' immediate military value. In a similar vein, European defence industry consolidation and/or restrictive US policies on defence industry cooperation could lead to a "Fortress Europe" and a "Fortress America", which would seriously damage transatlantic relations.

Finally, there is the evolution of risks and threats in and around Europe. This is, of course, the greatest variable with potentially the furthest- reaching consequences, as demonstrated by the terrorist attacks against New York and Washington of 11 September. Assuming that the security evolution in and around Europe remains essentially benign, some US isolationists as well as some "Europhiles" might feel tempted to declare the end of a need for US military engagement in Europe. Yet, one should not conclude from this that NATO can only thrive in a volatile environment, nor that it would necessarily do so. Disagreements among Allies on how to address another war in the Balkans, for example, could even provoke strategic realignments among Allies and weaken NATO. Shaping European security by peaceful means clearly remains NATO's preferred option.

What NATO must do now for the benevolent scenario to come true

Stay in business: The current European security architecture is far from perfect, but it features a strong cooperative momentum that offers many built-in disincentives against rogue action or the reckless pursuit of national interests. By contrast, if NATO were to disappear, some countries would fear being marginalised. This could lead to a heightened sense of insecurity throughout Europe and may lead to policies that would reverse the positive evolution the continent has witnessed over the past decade. While the NATO framework has clear limitations, there is no viable institutional alternative to it for the foreseeable future.

Stay the course: Whether the issue is NATO enlargement, engaging Russia, ESDP or the Balkans, there is currently no need for any radical policy change. Indeed, as the NATO-minded reader will have already guessed, if the Alliance's current agenda were implemented to the full, it could essentially lead to the benevolent scenario sketched above, give or take a new initiative or two. By contrast, a sudden U-turn on any of these issues would simply re-open battles that were fought in the mid-1990s. NATO will continue to develop new mechanisms to address a changing security landscape, not least intensifying its coordination efforts to deal with international terrorism, but the basic parameters are already set.

Get the basics right: The hysterical overtones in the current transatlantic debate may sometimes suggest otherwise, but a transatlantic divorce due to "irreconcilable differences" over greenhouse gases and genetically modified food is not in the offing. A look at the fundamentals of transatlantic security puts things in perspective. These demonstrate, for example, that the United States will not deny Europeans a distinct security policy, just as Europe will not impose a policy of strategic vulnerability on the United States by opposing the development of a missile defence. They also indicate that NATO has made the case of the Balkans irreversibly its own — and that succumbing to the temptation of disengagement would only re-invite the transatlantic discord experienced in the first half of the 1990s. Finally, they show that Europe and North America share many other strategic interests, such as preventing proliferation, combating terrorism and maintaining open markets. Pursuing these interests will require continued transatlantic cooperation. As the Alliance's decision to invoke its collective defence commitment in response to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington confirmed, NATO is too valuable strategically to allow it to be damaged by squabbles over tactical issues.

The implicit theme of this essay is that NATO is changing. Compared to the Alliance of today, "NATO 2011" will be bigger, somewhat more "European" and perhaps somewhat more "southern" in its strategic focus. In addition, the Alliance's evolution will be increasingly dependent on external developments in the Balkans, the European Union, the Mediterranean and Russia. None of these changes, however, would deprive "NATO 2011" of the fundamental characteristics that have made it both valuable and durable, particularly its strong transatlantic dimension and unique military competence. Marlene Dietrich once observed that: "Most women set out to change a man, and when they have changed him, they do not like him any more." By contrast, despite many changes, "NATO 2011" should remain an Alliance that Allies and Partners will still like, and very much approve of.

This essay is based on a popular lecture Michael Rhle gives regularly at the NATO School in Oberammergau, Germany. It is a personal view, but he wishes to thank Rad van den Akker, James Appathurai and Nick Williams for comments and suggestions.

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