|| Can NATO remain an
effective military and political alliance if it keeps growing?
Ronald D. Asmus is a senior fellow for
European studies at the Council on Foreign Relations
was deputy assistant secretary of state for European
affairs at the State Department between 1997 and 2000
where he was responsible for NATO and European security
issues. He is the author of Opening NATO's Door
(Columbia University Press), a diplomatic history of
NATO enlargement that will appear later this year.
Charles Grant is director of
the London-based Centre for European Reform
He is author of several CER publications,
including Europe 2010: an optimistic vision
of the future and Europe's Military
Revolution, which he co-wrote with Gilles
Andréani and Christoph Bertram.
I look forward to this exchange. As
a proponent of both enlargement and an effective NATO, I have
long felt that this issue must be addressed openly and honestly.
Of course NATO can remain effective as it gets larger.
Whether it will is an issue I will turn to in a second.
But first things first. Having pro-Atlanticist Allies is certainly
in principle a good thing. Past enlargements have made NATO
stronger, not weaker. And Central and Eastern European candidate
countries are often even more enthusiastic about NATO than
some existing members.
The strategic purpose behind NATO enlargement was to overcome
Europe's Cold War divide, consolidate democracy in Central
and Eastern Europe and make the Alliance a cornerstone of
a new pan-European security structure. This implied that the
Alliance would eventually embrace much, if not all, of the
eastern half of the continent. Individual countries would
remain outside because they failed to qualify or by choice
for their own historical reasons. But NATO's final contours
(like those of the European Union) will reflect today's Europe
- and will therefore eventually include between 25 and 30
But that does not fully answer the question posed to us: whether
today's NATO - as it currently exists and not in theory -
will get stronger as it enlarges, especially if we embrace
a large group of candidates at this year's Prague Summit.
My answer is that an Alliance of this size can function effectively
if we successfully tackle the following three challenges.
First, we need to discuss how to streamline
a bigger NATO. The Alliance's way of doing business may have
to be revamped - perhaps even radically. We should discuss
this openly and without taboos. It is striking that the European
Union is having a far-reaching debate about how it will function
as it enlarges, yet there is hardly a murmur about this in
NATO. I understand the sensitivities. But if we can't debate
this within NATO officialdom, then perhaps we should gather
a group of wise men to reflect on the issue - before Prague.
|NATO's future effectiveness will
depend first and foremost on the performance and capabilities
of its members - both old and new
Second, NATO's future effectiveness
will depend first and foremost on the performance and capabilities
of its members - both new and old. The reality is that the
performance of the first three new members has not been as
good as we had hoped. And many current candidate countries
are smaller and weaker. We need a better system to help new
members stay on track once they join the Alliance and the
pressure to perform starts to recede. But let's be honest.
We also need a better system of incentives for existing Allies
to ensure that they perform as well. Most of NATO's current
weaknesses are not due to new members, but the poor performance
of old members in recent years.
Third, the key question for the future is, in my view, not
NATO's numbers but its purpose. It is not roster but rationale.
In the 1990s, NATO went from being an alliance between the
United States and Western European countries designed to deter
a residual Russian threat to one between the United States
and Europe as a whole that reached out to its erstwhile Cold
War foe, Russia, and reoriented itself to face new threats.
Already at this time, several of us raised the question of
how NATO would evolve if and when we succeeded in stabilising
Central and Eastern Europe and putting relations with Russia
on a new cooperative basis.
That day may have arrived. We are close to succeeding in consolidating
peace and stability in the eastern half of the continent.
The danger of Russia re-emerging as a threat to its neighbours
continues to recede. While there are still sources of instability
in the Euro-Atlantic area, they no longer constitute major
or existential threats to our security. This is, of course,
all good news. At the same time, 11 September has shown us
that there are other existential threats to the security of
NATO members - but they come from beyond Europe and are threats
for which the Alliance is poorly prepared.
NATO therefore faces a fairly fundamental choice. It can continue
to focus on the diminishing threats within the Euro-Atlantic
area. Its mission would in essence be to continue to keep
an already pretty stable continent stable. Alternatively,
the Alliance could transform itself to confront the major
security threats of the day - nearly all of which come from
beyond Europe. In this case, NATO would remain a military
alliance but would focus on the new military threats facing
These are weighty issues. I look forward to debating them
I agree with you that NATO is a valuable
organisation that badly needs reform. I also agree that the
Alliance's enlargement into Central and Eastern Europe is
desirable. NATO, like the European Union, is helping to spread
peace, security and stability across the eastern half of the
continent. However, I doubt that the new, post-enlargement
NATO will be a strong military organisation.
When you talk of NATO being strong, you mean militarily strong.
I think the Alliance will remain politically significant,
but I think its military importance has diminished and will
diminish further. Of course, the Alliance has always had both
a military and a political purpose. And since the end of the
Cold War, NATO has taken on a new military task, that of peacekeeping
in the Balkans. Overall, however, the Alliance's political
role - as a pan-European security organisation - has become
important. In 1997, the United States pushed its Allies to
accept three new members, as it is pushing them to accept
several at November's Prague Summit, in order to bind them
into the Euro-Atlantic political space.
Yet, as you yourself acknowledge, the Czechs, Hungarians and
Poles subtract more than they add to the Alliance's military
effectiveness. The next round of enlargement, too, will weaken
the coherence and efficiency of the military organisation.
The current Bush administration, like the Clinton administration
in which you served, believes that the political gain from
enlargement is more important than the military loss. I agree.
What has happened since 11 September has surely reinforced
the long-term trend for NATO to become a political organisation.
The Bush administration did not want to use NATO to fight
the war in Afghanistan. This was partly for the perfectly
good reason that the Alliance did not have many of the military
capabilities that would be useful in the fight against the
Taliban and al-Qaida . But it was also because many
people in the Pentagon see NATO as a relatively marginal,
European organisation. They used it to run the air campaign
over Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, but they found its many committees
- which enabled individual countries, such as France, to veto
the bombing of certain targets - frustratingly slow to deal
|NATO's military tasks are
surely less important than its political roles
The United States is unlikely to want
to use NATO to run another serious shooting war. It would
rather manage a military operation itself, perhaps taking
just a few close allies into the command just a few close
allies into the command structure. Of course, the United States
is happy for NATO to run peacekeeping missions in the Balkans.
However, unless the European Union utterly fails to meet the
target of its "headline goal" - the ability to deploy and
sustain for a year a force of 60,000 troops by 2003 - the
European Union will start to take over some of that peacekeeping
role. Already there are plans for the European Union to replace
NATO as the body in charge of the 1,000 (all European) troops
in the former . If the European Union can meet
that challenge successfully, it may later take over the Bosnia
mission. The Bush administration has made it clear that Europeans
should take on responsibility for looking after their own
backyard, and that seems reasonable enough.
be left to run those peacekeeping missions which the European
Union regards as too difficult to manage, such as that in
Kosovo. Would NATO then be seen as a militarily strong organisation,
compared to the NATO which defended Europe from the Soviet
Union or fought the Kosovo air campaign?
I would certainly not argue that the peacekeeping role is
unimportant. I also value the role NATO plays in encouraging
its members to make their forces interoperable, so that they
can communicate and work together on common missions. If the
European Union is able to run a successful peacekeeping mission
in the Balkans, it will be making use of the skills of NATO's
operational planners, and profiting from the habit of collaboration
that NATO's integrated military structure has encouraged among
its members (and also with the countries, which are not part
of the integrated military structure but have taken part in
NATO-led Balkan operations, namely France and the neutral
However, NATO's military tasks - as a peacekeeping organisation
and godfather to the European Union's embryonic military ambitions
- are surely less important than its political roles: keeping
the United States engaged in European security; helping to
unify the two halves of the continent; and - in the future,
I hope - giving Russia a formal place in the management of
European security. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's idea of
a new council, consisting of the 19 members of NATO plus Russia,
in which they could discuss topics of common concern, is promising.
I am sad that conservative elements in the Pentagon have -
at least for now - delayed the implementation of this concept.
I see NATO becoming a pan-European security organisation that
would still have a military structure. That structure would
be focused principally on Europe and its near abroad. You
seem to want NATO to play an active, global role in the fight
against terrorism. Is NATO well placed to take on that task?
And how many people in the US defence establishment share
Whether a larger NATO remains
militarily strong or becomes weaker depends on the policies
we craft. There is no law of Alliance politics dictating that
NATO has to get militarily weaker as it enlarges. New members
have had a harder time integrating than we had hoped, but
they have not weakened NATO. They are making a real contribution
in the Balkans and elsewhere. That contribution will grow
over time. Having struggled to gain their freedom, these countries
understand the need to defend it.
But our real disagreement lies elsewhere. You suggest that
NATO's role will become more political because the military
threats in Europe are disappearing and because it is either
not desirable or too hard for NATO to tackle the new threats
from beyond Europe. I believe NATO must address these new
threats. The "political" NATO you sketch would, in my view,
quickly be reduced to a kind of housekeeping role on the continent.
If NATO is not involved in the central strategic issues facing
our countries, it will cease to be central in our policies.
A "political" NATO is a halfway house for the Alliance's demise.
The administration I served was working toward a vision of
NATO in which, having stabilised Central and Eastern Europe
and locked in a new cooperative relationship with Russia,
the Alliance's natural evolution was to embrace new missions
further afield because that was where future threats would
come from. We tried to lay a foundation for NATO to move in
this direction in the run-up to the 1999 Washington Summit,
but made limited progress because most European Allies preferred
to restrict NATO's role to crisis-management operations in
Europe's near abroad.
But hasn't 11 September demonstrated
that we were not visionary enough? Article 5 threats to our
security do not come only or even primarily from Europe's near
abroad. They can come from beyond Europe - from terrorism and
countries with weapons of mass destruction. In a world where
terrorist attacks are planned in Europe, financed in Asia and
carried out in the United States, it hardly makes sense to talk
about limiting NATO to Europe's near abroad. What will Europe
do if and when terrorists strike at a major European city with
weapons of mass destruction?
|There is no law of Alliance politics
dictating that NATO has to get militarily weaker as it
I hope 11 September was a wake-up
call. Shortly after the terrorist attacks, I attended a dinner
in Washington with a leading European foreign minister. He
asked whether future historians would not criticise our leaders
for their complacency in letting our defences atrophy at a
time when a new totalitarian threat was emerging. He may have
been right. At the Washington Summit, NATO heads of state
and government committed themselves to building an Alliance
as effective in dealing with the threats of the 21st century
as it had been in winning the Cold War. If we are serious
about that commitment, we must make NATO a better tool to
deal with the threats of our time.
How many people in Washington share my view? More than supported
NATO enlargement when others and I first advocated it. On
a serious note, I remain hopeful that the Bush administration
will build on the foundation it inherited and make new missions
a central theme of the Prague Summit. It would be a mistake
to abandon that policy precisely when Europeans are accepting
its necessity. For decades, the United States has encouraged
European Allies to play a more active out-of-area role. Our
need for allies and alliances has increased, not decreased,
since 11 September.
I believe the Bush administration missed an opportunity after
11 September to consolidate a consensus in NATO on new missions.
But the problem is not only this administration's unilateralist
instincts. It is Europe's repeated failure to invest in defence
or to take new threats seriously. One depressing part of my
State Department job was reading reports on how, year in year
out, European Allies failed to achieve NATO force goals and
how little European governments and publics cared. The more
serious Europeans are about defence, the more seriously they
will be taken in Washington.
You want to give NATO a global military
role in tackling the new threats to security. My difference
with you is not, in the main, over the desirability of NATO
evolving in the way you suggest. But I have strong doubts
about the feasibility. Let's think first about NATO's geographical
scope. You are right that modern security threats are global.
Americans often accuse Europeans of being introverted and
worrying only about their own backyard. It is true that many
Europeans lack the global vision of the US foreign policy
elite - and, let's be frank, the over-concentration on Europe's
near abroad is a particular problem in some of the smaller
|NATO may not need the extravagant
Convention that the European Union has established to
rethink its institutions, but a group of wise persons
should consider the fundamentals of how NATO operates
Nevertheless the Europeans, but not
the Americans, sent troops to East Timor. There are British
and French soldiers in Africa, but no Americans. And even
in Kabul, the International Security Assistance Force is largely
European. So let's not exaggerate Europe's introspection.
That said, the Europeans do have to prioritise when they plan
for using their too-scarce military capabilities. When considering
where to use their "headline goal" forces, they think of the
Balkans and Africa. Given the United States' lack of interest
in Africa, and its desire to cut back involvement in the Balkans,
those European priorities probably make sense. And since the
Europeans lack the resources to develop separate forces and
planning capabilities for EU and for NATO missions, there
is not much sense in NATO - an organisation whose members,
with two exceptions, are European - focusing its plans on
flashpoints such as Kashmir, Korea or Taiwan.
Now, if the Bush administration was keen for NATO to engage
in military operations in places such as Afghanistan, this
argument would change. But, as far as I know, the administration
wants NATO to "look after" Europe while unilateral operations,
or coalitions of the willing, sort out the new security threats.
Divisions of labour are not only geographical. I share your
frustration that European efforts to develop useful military
capabilities are impaired by insufficient budgets and, importantly,
inadequate military reform. This does mean that the United
States finds it increasingly difficult to work with European
forces in a high-intensity conflict. I agree with you that
this damages Alliance cohesion, but the reality is that European
capabilities are not going to improve dramatically in the
foreseeable future. Perhaps we should accept that a great
deal of division of labour is inevitable, and make the best
of it. Each side of the Atlantic can do something that the
other side does not want to do: the Europeans are happy to
provide large numbers of peacekeepers, while the United States
is happy to spend money on high-tech military equipment. Therefore
they both need each other. That could be good for Alliance
Finally, you want the Alliance to focus on the new security
threats, like terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
Of course NATO should do what it can against such threats,
but how well suited is it to play a leading role? The fight
against terrorism surely requires the sharing of intelligence
and speedy decision-taking. A large multinational bureaucracy
with - soon, perhaps - 25 members may not be well suited to
such a struggle. The same argument applies to WMD. Is not
NATO too leaky and slow-moving to manage an offensive operation
that would, for example, destroy biological weapons factories?
I suspect that the Pentagon would rather fight terrorism and
WMD on its own, or with a small group of allies that can be
trusted to keep a secret, provide skilled forces and accept
If we agree that the United States
and Europe should elevate dealing with the new threats to
our common security - nearly all of which come from beyond
Europe - to a centrepiece of future transatlantic strategic
cooperation, then we have found important common ground. This
need not mean that NATO has to "go global" (not even I see
a NATO role in the Spratly Islands). But it does mean that
NATO must have the capability to act in Central Asia, the
Middle East and the Gulf. That is, after all, where the greatest
threats to our future common security probably lie.
|The strategic issue we face
is whether the West can reorganise itself to confront
a world in which terrorism and weapons of mass destruction
pose a new, potentially existential threat
Is it feasible? I am not sure. But
we must try. The questions you raise are legitimate and must
be answered.But they are also the kind of issues that sceptics
raised in 1949 when NATO was being created, and in the early
1990s when NATO enlargement was first discussed. I am glad
our leaders at the time ordered their aides to find a way
to make this work and didn't follow the advice of the naysayers.
We need the same approach and level of commitment today. The
strategic issue we face is whether the West can reorganise
itself to confront a world in which terrorism and weapons
of mass destruction pose a new, potentially existential threat.
If the most advanced and wealthy countries of the transatlantic
community cannot figure out how to do this, then something
is surely wrong. I hope we don't have to wait until the next
attacks, potentially killing far greater numbers of Americans
or Europeans, before we decide to get our act together.
Let's also not give up on the Bush administration. Its policies
are still evolving. On NATO enlargement and NATO-Russia, it
has embraced continuity with its predecessor. It has yet to
decide whether it wants to embrace new missions as a major
NATO priority at the Prague Summit. I hope it does. Otherwise,
it could preside over the marginalisation and eventual demise
of the United States' most important alliance.
You are certainly right that NATO
should prepare to operate in Central Asia, the Middle East
and the Gulf. I agree that NATO should develop its military
organisation, as best it can, to cope with new missions. Even
if the results are not brilliant, NATO will be a useful tool
for its members if it tries hard to re-tool itself for new
challenges in new areas. And you were right to signal, in
your opening letter, that NATO needs institutional reform.
NATO may not need the extravagant Convention that the European
Union has established to rethink its institutions, but a group
of wise persons should consider the fundamentals of how NATO
|If American and European
governments continue to talk past each other, NATO cannot
be an effective organisation
However, my big worry is not whether
NATO can evolve into a effective organisation. It is rather
that political leaders on the two sides of the Atlantic are
finding it increasingly difficult to find common ground in
their views of the world. Europeans are concerned that the
United States seems interested only in military solutions
to terrorist threats; that it seems relatively oblivious to
the economic, political and cultural roots of terrorism; that
it spends so little on development assistance to the world's
poorest countries; and that it appears to have a phobia of
international treaties. Americans, for their part, are frustrated
by Europe's inability to improve its military capabilities;
by its slow-moving and often ineffective institutions; by
its desire to trade with rather than isolate and threaten
rogue states; and by its tendency to sanctify international
treaties and organisations.
If American and European governments continue to talk past
each other, as they seem to have done in the first two months
of this year, NATO cannot be an effective organisation. But
if they can make more of an effort to understand each others'
concerns, and thus speak and act in a manner which takes those
concerns into account, Americans and Europeans will be able
to renew their common purpose. And then a new and transformed
NATO has a future, as an instrument of that common purpose.
I am sure you agree.
* Turkey recognises the
Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.