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Book Review : NATO and the use of force

Christopher Bennett reviews four recent publications on NATO

Diplomacy and War at NATO: The Secretary General and Military Action after the Cold War, Ryan C. Hendrickson (University of Missouri Press, 2006).

NATO Renewed: The Power and Purpose of Transatlantic Cooperation, Sten Rynning (Palgrave MacMillan, 2005).

Defending the West, James Gow (Polity, 2005).

NATO Divided, NATO United: The Evolution of an Alliance, Lawrence S. Kaplan (Praeger, 2004).

In January and February 2003 on the eve of the Iraq War, NATO suffered what then US Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns called a "near-death experience". At the time, the Alliance appeared paralysed and incapable even of providing modest defensive support to Turkey, the Ally sharing a long border with Iraq. After protracted discussions and public recriminations, the Allies did, nevertheless, manage to find a compromise. And in the following months, the Allies managed to patch up their differences to such an extent that NATO took charge of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan that summer.

NATO's first, 21st-century crisis manifested itself in terms of an intra-Alliance loan of a handful of Patriot missiles and AWACS aircraft. The issue that divided the Allies, however, was far more substantial, namely when force should be used in international politics. By blocking defensive support to Turkey, certain Allies were registering their opposition to preparations for the US-led campaign to invade Iraq. This stance reflected different thinking among Allies as to whether the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime and the occupation of Iraq was the most appropriate response in the spring of 2003 to the terrorist threat that had risen to the top of the security agenda since the attacks against New York and Washington of 11 September 2001.

While all Allies offered the United States support in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, notably by invoking Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, they had not signed up to the radical shift in security thinking that was evolving at that time into a doctrine in Washington. In the months following 9/11, US thinking on the use of force developed rapidly, culminating in the 2002 National Security Strategy that explicitly made the case for pre-emptive war, arguing: "The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction - and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act pre-emptively."

Such a position reflected a pro-active response to pervasive feelings of insecurity in the United States following the 9/11 attacks. However, it also went far beyond the NATO consensus that had been achieved just three years earlier when the Allies agreed a second post-Cold War Strategic Concept. The result has been an uncomfortable though generally productive few years for NATO as Allies have sought to find the common ground necessary to work together to address common security concerns. And it is the way in which the Alliance has come to terms with both the post-9/11 security environment and the winter 2003 crisis that permeates much of the recent literature on NATO.

In Diplomacy and War at NATO: The Secretary General and Military Action after the Cold War, Ryan C. Hendrickson examines the evolution of attitudes to the use of force at NATO through the prism of the Secretaries General who have guided the Alliance during this period with a chapter on each, in addition to a chapter on the Secretaries General who served during the Cold War. In what is a highly original analysis based largely on interviews with NATO officials, both civilian and military, and permanent representatives, Hendrickson, an associate professor of political science at Eastern Illinois University, also seeks to assess the performance of each, while making clear that the very different circumstances in which they served make direct comparisons impossible.

In his penultimate chapter, Hendrickson focuses on Lord Robertson's role during the discussions on providing defensive support to Turkey suggesting that the crisis could have been handled better. He considers Lord Robertson's inability to speak French to have been a major shortcoming and highlights criticism to the effect that the Secretary General pushed too aggressively and too quickly for a resolution before consensus had been reached. By using so-called "silence procedures" and obliging Allies publicly to reject the Secretary General's position, Hendrickson argues that Lord Robertson turned an internal disagreement into an open feud that made the Allies' political differences a news item throughout the world. He also questions the military value of what NATO was able to provide, since Germany had already offered to provide bilateral defensive assistance to Turkey by making Patriot missiles and AWACS aircraft available to the Netherlands, who could then assist Turkey.

To be fair to Lord Robertson, Hendrickson also highlights other factors contributing to NATO's crisis, including Washington's misreading of the diplomatic mood among the Allies and Ankara's ambivalent tactics within the North Atlantic Council following an election that appeared to herald a policy change. Moreover, Hendrickson illustrates the forceful and positive role that Lord Robertson played in retooling the Alliance to take on the likely challenges that NATO was going to face in the coming years, as well as in heading off conflict in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.*

NATO's response to the threat of war in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia* in 2001 was indicative of how far the Alliance had moved since the end of the Cold War and how consensus had evolved during these years. In spite of the urging of NATO's first post-Cold War Secretary General Manfred Wörner, the Alliance failed to intervene to halt the bloodshed in either Croatia or Bosnia and Herzegovina during more than four years of fighting. Indeed, it was only in August and September 1995, following the summary execution of more than 7000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July and the second Sarajevo market place massacre, in which 38 people were killed on 28 August, that NATO intervened with Operation Deliberate Force, a phased air campaign against the Bosnian Serbs. In the case of Kosovo, NATO intervened in 1999 after one year of armed conflict, renewed and escalating fighting and Belgrade's rejection of a peace plan. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,* by contrast, the Alliance was prepared to intervene before the situation deteriorated into full-scale war.

Hendrickson illustrates Wörner's commitment to more forceful NATO involvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina by recounting how the ailing Secretary General came literally from his hospital bed to a meeting of the North Atlantic Council together with his physician on 23 April 1994 to argue that the Alliance should take on a broader military role against the Bosnian Serbs.

Hendrickson has a lot of time for the diplomatic skills and political judgement of Willy Claes, the Secretary General best known for having to resign as a result of a scandal in which he had been implicated during his earlier career in Belgian politics. Indeed, he credits Claes with an important role in promoting Alliance consensus and in moving NATO towards military action in the run-up to Operation Deliberate Force, the Alliance's first air campaign, at a time when NATO's credibility was on the line. Claes also cut short a cease-fire that had been negotiated with Bosnian Serb commander, Ratko Mladic, and then effectively authorised the use of Tomahawk missiles to escalate the campaign by not informing the North Atlantic Council of their imminent use.

While all Allies offered the United States support in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, they had not signed up to the radical shift in security thinking that was then evolving into a doctrine in Washington

Without doubt, the 1999 Kosovo campaign represented the greatest challenge to NATO's cohesion, given that it ran for 78 days and involved the use of force against a sovereign state in the absence of specific authorisation from the UN Security Council. It also coincided with and overshadowed the 50 anniversary of the Alliance's creation.

The NATO response to atrocities in Kosovo, a third ethnic-cleansing campaign orchestrated by Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade, was swifter and more decisive than in the cases of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the beginning of the 1990s. This was, as Hendrickson points out, both the result of the experience of dealing with Milosevic in the first half of the decade and of the evolution of attitudes to the use of force that had already taken place under Secretaries General Wörner and Claes. Hendrickson, nevertheless, gives Claes's successor, Javier Solana, enormous credit for the way he negotiated and maintained Allied consensus in the run-up to and during the campaign.

Hendrickson suggests that Solana was able to forge and maintain consensus in difficult circumstances in part because of his background as a prominent socialist politician and erstwhile anti-NATO campaigner. He was able to win potential waiverers over to the use of force more easily than a Secretary General with more conventional credentials. Described by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as the "master diplomat", Solana was also, according to Hendrickson, driven by a work ethic second to none.

Specifically, Hendrickson credits Solana with crafting in September and October 1998 a common legal position for the Alliance to authorise the use of force and subsequently of shielding Allies from the full consequences of this decision through effective use of silence procedures and by assuming an unprecedented leadership role. The NATO press release of 30 January 1999 recognised this, noting that: "The Council has therefore agreed today that the NATO Secretary General may authorise air strikes against targets on FRY territory." Moreover, after the air campaign had got under way and Milosevic refused to back down, Solana chose to escalate it with the tacit, rather than explicit, approval of the North Atlantic Council

In NATO Renewed: The Power and Purpose of Transatlantic Cooperation, Sten Rynning covers similar ground to Hendrickson. However, Rynning, who is an associate professor in international relations at the University of Southern Denmark, does so in far more detail. Moreover, he is trying at all times to find a theoretical construct into which NATO would fit.

As the title suggests, Rynning is optimistic about NATO's future, arguing that it has successfully evolved from a collective-defence alliance in the Cold War, through several identity crises, into an organisation focused on building coalitions to address challenges facing the West. NATO Renewed stands out among recent publications on NATO in the space and significance that Rynning devotes to force planning. This makes the book original, but also a difficult read for anyone new to what is a relatively dry area. In Rynning's final chapter, he concludes that NATO will be on solid ground as long as Allies are Western status-quo powers. He argues that the West is the region in the world most committed to the global status quo, since this is "the logical culmination of the political history of the West". He warns, however, that status-quo powers will constantly be challenged to shape responses to risks and "NATO will prosper only if efforts are continuously made to bridge the desire for the status quo with specific interests related to specific risks."

The concept of the West and the importance of its defence is the theme of James Gow's Defending the West. While two out of seven chapters are largely devoted to NATO, the book is not primarily about the Alliance. Given that a 1986 book by William Park with the same title was a history of NATO, this is indicative of how far the security environment has evolved during the past 20 years.

Gow, a professor of international peace and security at King's College, London, defines the West not in terms of geography, but of values predicated on openness. Moreover, even people who do not inhabit Western countries have, he believes, a vested interest in the defence of these values. Arguing from what he describes as a constructive realist position, Gow makes the case for a more proactive approach to defence. He believes that defending the West today requires a change in the rules, akin to the redefinition of the term "threat to international peace and security" by the first ever Summit of Heads of State and Government of the UN Security Council in 1992. Indeed, he argues that the logical corollary to that decision and the US response to the 9/11 attacks is a reinterpretation of the concept of self-defence to include pre-emption.

Gow recognises the difficulty involved in changing the rules without losing values, such as respect for law in a law-based society, but is so convinced that pre-emptive self-defence is both necessary and inevitable he concludes that: "The challenge is to work out the best possible terms for its emergence and satisfactory adoption." Moreover, he believes that it would be possible to achieve a consensus on this issue via another Summit of Heads of State and Government of the UN Security Council.

Consensus-building at NATO is one of the themes running throughout Lawrence S. Kaplan's NATO Divided, NATO United: The Evolution of an Alliance, arguably the best book written on the Alliance. Kaplan, the doyen of NATO writers and still prolific into his 80s, skilfully illustrates how throughout NATO's history, the Alliance has faced and dealt with periodic crises. Beginning and ending with a discussion of Article 5 and the controversies surrounding both its creation and its invocation, he examines NATO's history through the events and issues that have divided the Alliance from Suez to Iraq.

Much of NATO Divided, NATO United is devoted to the Cold War and includes perceptive analysis of the frustrations of both the United Kingdom and the smaller countries in NATO with the United States, in addition to the better-known French grievances, as well as US complaints against the European Allies. Kaplan's analysis of this period is a useful reminder of the complexity of holding together an alliance on two continents even when there is a clear enemy and provides insight into the many strategic choices the Allies had to make.

In the post-Cold War era, Kaplan traces the evolution of strategic thinking in NATO through the Alliance's experience in the former Yugoslavia and negotiations on both the 1991 and 1999 Strategic Concepts. He also highlights issues emerging out of the 9/11 attacks and the Alliance's historic invocation of Article 5, including divisions over the use of force in Iraq, without succumbing to pessimism about NATO's future. Tension and friction were built into NATO, he writes, by virtue of the fact that it was a free association of its constituent parts. However, it has a capacity to evolve and no Ally has ever exercised its right under Article 13 of the Washington Treaty to terminate its membership. Indeed, as NATO takes on an ever-greater role involving increased risk in Afghanistan, attitudes are clearly evolving rapidly.

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