The London Declaration in 1990 was the starting point for NATO’s ongoing transformation. It paved the way for NATO to undertake new roles and develop the capabilities to underpin them. The Prague Summit in 2002 maintained this process and ensured NATO’s continued commitment to transformation in the face of the new, global threats from terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction that became apparent in the wake of 9/11. The transformational initiatives set in train by the London Declaration and sustained at Prague will be worthless, however, if Allies cannot reach a common sense of purpose. The most pressing issue on NATO's transformational agenda is, therefore, to transform itself to promote greater political dialogue within the Alliance. Allies must be prepared to confront the challenge of debating controversial security and political issues. If they fail to do this, an alternative forum will be found.
The need for change
The emergence of non-traditional threats since the end of the Cold War has made it harder for Allies to reach consensus on a common strategic vision. At the same time, addressing these threats has demanded greater flexibility in Allied strategic planning. In these circumstances, NATO has adopted a dual approach to transformation by which it has sought, on the one hand, to develop rapidly deployable forces, and, on the other, to promote political stability and transparency in crisis regions. To date, however, the transformation agenda has failed to overcome divisions among Allies. NATO is not the only security organisation requiring reform. Both the European Union and the United Nations also need to adapt to the new security environment. The rapid development of a European Security and Defence Policy has contributed to NATO’s transformation. The future shape and effectiveness of the United Nations is also important to NATO’s transformation because a UN mandate is, in many cases, a necessary precondition for most European Allies to consider the use of force. Close cooperation between NATO and the United Nations, when it comes to the deployment of the NATO Response Force, would also strengthen the political basis needed to underpin the Alliance’s transformation.
NATO’s transformation scorecard
Today, NATO faces not one, but three transformation agendas: the Prague Agenda initiated by former Secretary General Lord Robertson and focused on changes in capabilities, missions and structures; the Norfolk Agenda initiated by current Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, aimed at promoting change in defence planning, force generation and common funding; and the Munich Agenda initiated by German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and concerned with enhancing NATO’s role as a forum for transatlantic strategic consultation. Implementation of the Prague Agenda has been generally positive and has led to the creation of the NATO Response Force and a reorganisation of the NATO Command Structure. The picture is less favourable, however, in the area of capabilities. Concerning the Norfolk Agenda, options for improving the defence-planning and force-generation processes are currently being explored by Allies. It is too early, however, to assess progress, although initial discussions suggest tough going ahead. This also applies to the Munich Agenda. Allies may have agreed to task the Secretary General with producing a plan for a more political role for NATO, but achieving consensus on the actual terms for expanding political debate will be more difficult.
Rethinking NATO’s force transformation
Since the first Gulf War, NATO has sought to transform its military forces into rapidly deployable, interoperable and sustainable forces along US lines. Progress has been slow, and today only a tiny fraction of NATO’s total manpower is deployable beyond national borders. At the same time, transatlantic disagreements remain strong. It seems that NATO is now an alliance where member states will form ad hoc coalitions
in reaction to given crises and contingencies more
often than they act together. Before one starts mourning
the death of NATO, however, one should consider that
much criticism of NATO’s force transformation may be
based on wrong strategic assumptions and priorities.
The Iraq War has shown that existing weapons systems
can be adapted to new missions. More importantly, the
Afghan and Iraq conflicts have shown the importance
of capabilities in areas where Europe has as much or
more to offer as the United States. It is also worth
noting that transatlantic differences and transatlantic
cooperation based on ad hoc coalitions of American and European forces are nothing new.
Taking the transformation agenda forward
By keeping the NATO Response Force on track for full operational capability in 2006, cajoling Allies to honour the commitments they made at the Prague Summit, and bolstering NATO’s presence in Afghanistan, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has taken forward the reforms initiated by his predecessor Lord George Robertson. He has also moved significantly beyond his predecessor’s legacy by coupling reforms of Alliance capabilities with a renewed call for a more political Alliance and by accelerating NATO’s ongoing military transformation. Calls for a transformational political strategy have long been implicit in NATO military reforms, but it is only recently that NATO has been given an opportunity to position itself as the channel for common strategic activism, as Europeans have started to articulate their own version of pre-emptive, transformational engagement. Similarly, the opportunity for military transformation has improved due to broader transformational currents. Experiences in Iraq have shifted the focus of US force transformation bringing it closer to a vision which Europe is comfortable with and can contribute to.
The transformation challenge
Transformation is a continuous process undertaken to create or sustain competitive advantage when incremental changes are insufficient to deal with new challenges. It aims at enhancing existing capabilities or enabling new ones through synchronised innovations of processes, people, organisation and technology. This applies in both a business and a military context. Looking at the strategic environment today, the need for NATO to transform itself is clear. The fluid and complex post-Cold War security environment, which includes the threat posed by transnational and non-state competitors, led Allies to agree at Prague in 2002 on the need for deployable, integrated and sustainable forces. The NATO Response Force (NRF) is the primary engine for this transformation. Making the NRF function effectively requires technology change, for instance in the form of strategic airlift. It also necessitates people innovation in the form of personnel who can be deployed outside their national borders. And it demands process and organisation change, in particular in the form of investment in network-enabled capabilities.
Matching capabilities to commitments
relevance is increasingly measured in terms of its
ability to conduct crisis-response operations. As a
result, the Alliance is continually seeking to improve
its operational effectiveness. In particular, Allies
need to address the gap between political commitments
to launch operations and the provision of the forces
that the operations require. Efforts are currently
being made to improve NATO's force-generation process,
as well as to increase the usability of Allied forces.
Since the Istanbul Summit, NATO has been preparing
a Comprehensive Political Guidance document to provide
direction to the development of future Alliance military
forces and capabilities, planning and intelligence.
These initiatives are important elements in matching
Allied capabilities to commitments, but will require
political will to succeed.