NATO’s response to terrorism
Although NATO’s 1999 Strategic Concept recognised terrorism as a new challenge in the post-Cold War era, it was not until 11 September 2001 that the scale and scope of the threat was appreciated. Within 24 hours of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Allies invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the collective-defence clause, for the first time. Since then, nearly every aspect of work at NATO has been reconsidered in the light of the terrorist threat, which has been factored into the development of policies, concepts, capabilities and partnerships. NATO’s contributions to what is certain to be a long and difficult struggle reflect the Alliance’s comparative advantages and build on its existing expertise. At the same time, given the nature of the threat, cooperation with Partner countries and other international organisations has become a key aspect of NATO’s approach. Continuing terrorist attacks stand as a reminder of the gravity of the threat.
NATO-Russia cooperation to counter terrorism
After July’s London underground bombings, Russian President Vladimir Putin lamented how little international cooperation in combating terrorism takes place, given the nature of the threat and the extent of the atrocities. This is, nevertheless, a priority area for the NATO-Russia Council. Russia, for its part, has a lot to offer, especially in the field of anti-terrorism, including intelligence capabilities and political influence in important regions of the world. In the NATO-Russia Council, cooperation extends from developing joint terrorist threat assessments through preparing joint studies of best practice to meet the challenge to conducting joint exercises to prepare effective responses. Russia has also confirmed that it will begin participating in Active Endeavour, NATO’s counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean, early next year. Although NATO and Russia have made considerable progress in developing cooperation in recent years, this cooperation is still in its early days and its practical dimension in particular needs to be enhanced.
Combating WMD proliferation
If it is to remain credible as a security institution, NATO must play a part, and be seen to play a part, in addressing challenges such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Even if one agrees that NATO’s military capabilities represent the key, distinctive contribution the Alliance can make to dealing with future WMD threats, an agreed strategic vision of how or whether to use force to pre-empt WMD threats is lacking. The rise of “new threats” generally, and the Iraq intervention specifically, have raised serious questions about the current meaning and utility of basic concepts, such as prevention, pre-emption and deterrence. Actions and policies that seem to break established paradigms, such as what is often stereotyped as US unilateralism, can come as a shock. But a simple, unexamined attachment to continuity is not a viable alternative. The initiative currently under way in NATO to improve the quality of political dialogue is of vital importance. Success in making NATO more strategically effective depends on the political will of individual member states to share information and analysis, but even more importantly to create and sustain an atmosphere where Allies talk to each other, not at each other.
Combating terrorism in the Mediterranean
In the course of the past four years, Active Endeavour, NATO’s first Article-5, collective-defence operation, has evolved from a small-scale deployment providing a modest military presence in an important stretch of sea into a comprehensive, continuously adapting counter-terrorism operation throughout the Mediterranean. In the process, the Alliance has helped maintain peace, stability and security in a strategic region, obtained invaluable experience of maritime interdiction operations and developed increasingly effective intelligence-gathering and information-sharing procedures relevant to the wider struggle against international terrorism. Active Endeavour is currently involved in four areas. It is helping deter and disrupt terrorism at or from sea; controlling “choke” points in the Mediterranean; providing escorts for merchant shipping through the Straits of Gibraltar when necessary; and enhancing NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue programme. With cooperation from both military and civilian agencies in all Mediterranean countries, the day will come when NATO is only required to provide the coordination for a more holistic approach to countering terrorism, and more generally illegal activity in the area.
Crossing the Rubicon
Deliberate Force, NATO’s first air campaign that lasted two-and-a-half weeks in August and September 1995, ushered in a new era for the Alliance. Although controversial at the time, a decade on it is clear that the operation was critical to bringing the Bosnian War to an end with enormous political consequences and obvious benefits for Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, though subsequently overshadowed by Operation Allied Force, the Alliance’s Kosovo air campaign in 1999, Deliberate Force may have contributed more to NATO’s post-Cold War transformation than any other single event. Deliberate Force helped pave the way for the Dayton Peace Agreement, which succeeded in establishing the governing framework for Bosnia and Herzegovina that remains in place to this day. It also helped set the foundation for the much larger range of non-Article 5 missions that the Alliance is involved in today, moving NATO decisively beyond the sole maintenance of its own collective defence.
NATO’s overflowing policy agenda is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the Alliance is no longer held back by its “out-of-area” debate. On the other, it seems that today no security challenge falls outside NATO’s remit. NATO is not only boldly going beyond Allied territory, it is increasingly expected to take on everything from fighting international terrorism, through dealing with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, contributing to the democratisation of the Greater Middle East, training Iraqi security forces and supporting the African Union’s peacekeeping operation in Darfur. The many initiatives, activities and operations on the NATO agenda reflect Alliance efforts to meet the challenges of a changing strategic environment and are critical to keeping the Alliance relevant in terms of US foreign policy. The Alliance has initiated an ambitious transformation process. But the spirit of transformation has yet to impact NATO’s Strategic Concept, which remains unchanged since April 1999. Although the Allies have to date chosen not to open this potential can of worms, developing a new Strategic Concept may, nevertheless, be the transatlantic catharsis the Alliance requires.