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An Alliance for the 21st Century? Reviewing NATO’s New Strategic Concept

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 31-45)

Klaus Wittmann

Self-ascertainment of the 60-year-old North Atlantic Alliance; a modern definition of NATO’s purpose, character and role in the 21st century; recommitment and reas-surance of all Allies; answers to today’s and tomorrow’s security challenges; concrete goals for continuous reform and the rallying of public support: NATO’s New Strategic Concept, agreed by the November 2010 summit at Lisbon, has many functions to fulfil. How well does it succeed?

Needed: a new mission statement

The North Atlantic Treaty of 1949, NATO’s founding document, finds its concretisa-tion in the Alliance’s Strategic Concept, which is constantly reviewed and periodically updated. The Treaty itself, with its commitment to international peace, security and justice, remains valid to the freedom, common heritage and civilization of its peoples founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. It is still relevant to the purposes and principles of the United Nations and to the peace-ful settlement of disputes. The Washington Treaty’s main provisions also endure:

consultation (Article 4), mutual assistance in the case of armed attack (Article 5) and openness for new members (Article 10).

The first Strategic Concept was issued in 1991 after the end of the Cold War and revised in 1999. It stood outdated for quite some time, since it was agreed before the terror attacks of September 2001, NATO’s Afghanistan mission, the Iraq war and the Russo-Georgian conflict, but also prior to the growing awareness of globalised security challenges for which there are no military solutions. So the question that was posed was whether NATO, which had been so successful in protecting West-ern Europe during the East–West conflict, in helping to stabilise the developing

‘Europe whole and free’ and in pacifying the Western Balkans, would develop into an Alliance for the 21st century, and what that would require.

However, at NATO Headquarters and in member capitals there was, for some years, great reluctance to set about a revision of the 1999 document; some feared a ‘very divisive process’. The proponents of a new Strategic Concept countered this apprehen-sion with the suggestion that the Allies were so divided on several central issues that

a ‘uniting effort’ was urgently needed1 and that in order to document its continuing relevance in the diffuse security environment of the 21st century NATO was in need of a new and convincing mission statement.

A public and participatory process

That is what NATO finally embarked on during its 60th anniversary summit meet-ing at Strasbourg/Kehl in April 2009, when its Heads of State and Government commissioned a new Strategic Concept. The new Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, chose a procedure drastically different from the way in which the last two Strategic Concepts had been developed – namely through a process of year-long negotiations among the member nations over numerous drafts, outside the gaze of the broader public, which resulted in texts fraught with diplomatic formulae, com-promise language and ‘constructive ambiguities’.

This time particular difficulties had to be taken into account: first, NATO’s engagement in an ever more problematic mission in Afghanistan, where it has been left with the bulk of the tasks the international community has taken on. Second, the unwillingness of ‘post heroic’ societies, exacerbated by the financial and economic crisis, to sacrifice for security. Third, the disunity among NATO members about fundamental matters regarding its character, role, tasks and policy. Fourth, the impression that solidarity among allies was weakening. Fifth, with an Alliance membership now much more diverse, quite divergent threat perceptions among allies and, finally, NATO’s image – particularly in the Muslim world – of being an instrument of often problematic US policy or – in the perception of its own populations and media – of being a relic of the Cold War.

Since the questions of NATO’s continued relevance and its public support were so crucial the preparation of the New Strategic Concept was launched by the Secretary General adopting an ‘inclusive and participatory approach’ in an ‘interactive dialogue with the broader public’. A group of twelve experts was formed under the chairman-ship of former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, which in mid-May 2010 presented its Report after a dense series of seminars and consultations. The docu-ment ‘NATO 2020: Assured Security, Dynamic Engagedocu-ment’ reflected agreedocu-ment among the group members. This did not yet mean consensus among the 28 NATO governments and it can be argued that work on a draft cannot create consensus on controversial issues, but that, rather, the Concept should reflect the consensus built, or restored, in political consultations.

It must be recognised, however, that the Albright Group did a good job in ‘loosening the ground’ as it were, in preparing consensus, fuelling public debate and interest in NATO, getting the strategic community involved, providing transparency as well as inducing member states to clarify their positions and ‘show the colour of their cards’. And the Secretary General was probably right in keeping control of the draft developed by him and his closest collaborators, while taking on board comments from the nations and consulting discreetly about contentious aspects, thus avoiding negotiations proper, square brackets, involvement of several layers of the NATO bureaucracy, and many iterations of an ever more diluted text.

The New Strategic Concept was agreed at NATO’s Lisbon Summit by Heads of State and Government on 19 November 2010 under the title ‘Active Engagement, Modern Defence’. True, the eleven-page document, half the size of its predecessor, papers over some of the persisting divisions. But on the whole it is a credit to the Secretary General’s procedure and political energy. Analysts had always said that the process would be as important as the result: as significant as the outcome might be the fact that in the course of this work NATO member nations had to reflect about their own security policies, interests, priorities and the demands of Alliance solidar-ity. This resulted in many non-papers laying out national priorities, many of which the final draft has accommodated where appropriate. In sum, the New Strategic Concept is a good achievement in that it rallies the Allies behind NATO’s purpose, recommitting them to it and to Alliance solidarity. How solid that is will be discussed later in this chapter.

Ambitious content

The content of the document revolves around three core tasks: ‘defence and deter-rence’, ‘security through crisis management’ and ‘promoting international security through cooperation’. They are introduced by a statement of enduring principles:

that NATO’s purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members and that its character is one of being a unique community of values. The primary responsibility of the UN Security Council is affirmed, as is the critical importance of the political and military transatlantic link between Europe and North America. All of this is intended to ensure that ‘the Alliance remains an unparalleled community of freedom, peace, security and shared values’.

With regard to collective defence, the central character of Article 5 of the Washing-ton Treaty (mutual assistance in the case of armed attack) is restated unequivocally,

a commitment that ‘remains firm and binding’. This was important in the light of concerns expressed particularly by new allies who feared that this commitment could be diluted or taken less seriously by NATO members who, ‘surrounded by friends and allies’, might put out-of-area operations and harmony with Russia first.

In drawn-out discussions, reassurance of all NATO member states came to be seen as a precondition for everything else NATO does.2 So it is significant that the Stra-tegic Concept pledges to ‘carry out the necessary training, exercises, contingency planning and information exchange for assuring our defence against the full range of conventional and emerging security challenges, and provide appropriate visible assurance and reinforcement for all Allies’.

Not focusing this task too exclusively on NATO members’ territorial defence (‘The Euro-Atlantic area is at peace and the threat of a conventional attack against NATO territory is low’), the relevant section unfolds the array of security challenges of the present and the foreseeable future, including proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missiles, cyber attacks, international terrorism, threats to critical energy infrastructure, and emerging technologies. These are all seen as areas for Alliance solidarity, without implying that they can be countered mainly with military means or necessarily fall under Article 5. So the threat assessment is very broad, the security challenges are seen as diffuse, volatile and unpredictable, and possible NATO action will have to be decided on a case-by-case basis. The reference to climate change, whose long-term consequences can have heavy implications for global security, is remarkably vague, though.

The New Strategic Concept does not prioritise between defence and crisis man-agement tasks. Recognising that crises and conflicts beyond NATO’s borders can impact Alliance security, it declares prevention and management of crises as well as stabilisation of post-conflict situations and support of reconstruction as necessary NATO engagements. Monitoring and analysing the international environment as a contribution to prevention is part of this, and it leads to the need to broaden and intensify political consultations among allies and with partners to deal ‘with all stages of a crisis’.

However, the statement that “NATO will be prepared and capable to manage on-going hostilities” is a tall order, given the current Afghanistan experience. The one explicit lesson drawn from Afghanistan is that there is a need for a comprehensive political, civilian and military approach. In order to foster this, it was decided after controversial debates that NATO will create “an appropriate but modest civilian

management capability” as an ‘interface’ with civilian partners. Rightly, the training of local security forces is highlighted.

Characteristically, the elaboration of the third core task, ‘promoting international security through cooperation’, starts with arms control, but its commitment to “create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons” is limited to the goals of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Further reduction of nuclear weapons is linked to concomitant steps by Russia. On conventional arms control, the statement (“to strengthen the conventional arms control regime in Europe”) is rather bland and does not present the necessary novel ideas.

Partnerships (including, oddly, also cooperation with other institutions such as the UN and the EU) are emphasised, building on the existing formats (Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, Ukraine, Georgia) and seeking to enhance them.

Regarding other security-relevant institutions, only the United Nations (with the intent to give life to the 2008 UN–NATO Declaration) and the European Union are mentioned. Some space is devoted to the relationship with the latter, but for as long as that cooperation is blocked for political reasons, these statements remain largely declaratory.

The Lisbon Summit was widely interpreted as a breakthrough in NATO’s cooperation with Russia and as a contribution “to creating a common space of peace, stability and security”. A ‘strategic partnership’ is sought with the expectation of reciprocity from Russia. Convinced that “the security of NATO and Russia is intertwined”, NATO proposes the enhancement of political consultations and practical cooperation in areas of shared interest, such as missile defence, counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics and counter-piracy as well as using the full potential of the NATO–Russia Council for dialogue and joint action. A cautious agreement to ‘exploring’ missile defence cooperation by the Russian President who came to Lisbon was also seen as an im-portant advance in this regard. In turn, NATO did not overly emphasise its Open Door policy, limiting itself in the Strategic Concept to conventional statements of principle.

Finally, on ‘reform and transformation’, the Concept limits itself to stating intentions seen before: sufficient resources, deployability and sustainability of forces, coherent defence planning, interoperability, commonality of capabilities, standards, structures

and funding. Continual reform “to streamline structures, improve working methods and maximise efficiency” is pledged, once again.

A courageous document

The New Strategic Concept is a courageous document because it contrasts with the zeitgeist in several regards: first, in spite of the vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world it emphasises the need for nuclear deterrence as long as such weapons exist. Second, although many global security challenges are not of a predominantly military nature, NATO enlarges its ambition as a security provider. Third, while it remains a regional organisation, it avoids an insular, euro-centric perspective and looks towards the global horizon. Fourth, in spite of recent problems with the enlargement process and Russian indignation about it, the Alliance maintains its Open Door policy for European countries fit for accession and able to make their contribution to European security; and, finally, without antagonising Russia, it takes the concerns of Central and Eastern European allies seriously.

The development of the New Strategic Concept ran counter to the general rule that such basic documents are neither particularly visionary nor forward-looking. Rather, they tend to codify previous decisions: theory follows events, concepts come after reality, as was the case with the 1999 Strategic Concept. The 1991 document was another exception because of the revolutionarily novel situation. It is to the credit of the Expert Group and the Secretary General that the Lisbon Strategic Concept is impressively programmatic and future-oriented.

Not all that shines is gold

A number of small but not unimportant flaws should have been avoided. The extension of the term ‘partnership’ to include cooperation with international organisations (e.g. the UN and the EU) dilutes and devalues NATO’s successful concept of ‘Partnership’ (with a capital P). Also, at a time when conflict prevention appears ever more important, it is difficult to understand why the Strategic Concept makes no mention of the OSCE, let alone the African Union. Furthermore, although the staunch stand on nuclear weapons is commendable, NATO’s characterisation as a ‘nuclear alliance’ goes somewhat over the top and might prove counterproductive. In addition, the document is weak on lessons from Afghanistan – lessons pertaining to the larger international community – which leaves many responsibilities to NATO, and internal lessons regarding command and control, coordination, multinationality, national caveats etc unaddressed. Finally, since

NATO’s much broader involvement with global security challenges proclaimed by the Strategic Concept will have to happen through a rigorous activation of Article 4 (consultation) of the Washington Treaty, it would have been logical to add ‘consulta-tion’ as a fourth ‘essential core task’ to the triad proclaimed (collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security).

Moreover, it must be stated that the elegant text conceals that there is no really solid unity on a number of issues: namely whether NATO is a regional or a global organi-sation, predominantly political or military, how it must balance collective defence and expeditionary orientation, how it must assess certain security challenges and their emphasis in the view of individual allies, the NATO–EU relationship and its political ‘blockage’, the UN mandate issue, the approach to Russia, nuclear weapons policy etc. In some of these areas, the verbal consensus may quickly collapse in light of concrete tasks, requirements and challenges.

On NATO’s reach and character, one would like to be able to read from the Stra-tegic Concept that NATO continues to regard itself as a regional organisation, but one with a global perspective, which brings emphasis to consultation among allies as envisaged in Article 4 of the Washington Treaty. And the perennial debate on whether NATO is a military or a political organisation should at last be put to rest.

It is a politico-military security organisation that puts its unique capabilities at the service of international security. These capabilities are its military forces, the inte-grated command structure, common defence and force planning, its experience in multinational military cooperation and its expertise in training. But to regard it as the ‘hub’ of the international system would be counter-productive, and its place in that system appears to require better explanation.

The real task: implementation

The New Strategic Concept will be only as good as its implementation. In the Lisbon Summit Declaration this is recognised with many quite urgent taskings to Foreign and Defence Ministers as well as to the Permanent Council. So the Strategic Concept must be read alongside the Summit Declaration and, for that matter, the NATO–Russia Council Joint Statement.

By way of an example, successful implementation of the principles and intentions is crucial in the following fields, and in some respects also requires more conceptual work. Regarding the first core task, deterrence and defence, definition is needed of

the added value that NATO can offer in combating the ‘new’ security challenges of terrorism, cyber threats, energy security, piracy, organised crime and trafficking in human beings. It is no secret that there continues to be great variance among allies concerning NATO’s role and the function of the military in these fields. With regard to the ‘assurance of all Allies’, it remains to be seen to what extent preparatory meas-ures and contingency planning will be implemented, and how visible (and thereby effective) they will be. Wikileaks’ publication of documents regarding contingency planning for the defence of Poland and the Baltic countries has already sparked protest from Russia’s Ambassador at NATO.

This is one of the aspects where the relationship with Russia appears fragile. The inter-pretation of the NATO–Russia Summit in Lisbon is derived from the ‘breakthrough’

on missile defence (but the agreement ‘to discuss pursuing missile defence cooperation’

sounds rather cautious), on plans for concrete cooperation in various practical fields including a ‘Joint Review of 21st Century Common Security Challenges’, and on a very positive statement of intent about further use of the NATO–Russia Council.

Is that sufficient and sustainable? This author has thought for a long time that the term

‘reset’ of relations with Russia is a bad metaphor. It is not only a new start that is needed, but also an improved ‘programme’. That would include, on the Alliance’s side, the explicit acknowledgement of NATO’s share of responsibility for the worsening of the relationship with Russia: it failed to understand Russian political psychology and fear of marginalisation, it orchestrated the last enlargement push poorly, paid no attention to Russian proposals for the adaptation of the CFE Treaty, failed to present the missile defence issue as a truly common cause and has not contributed sufficiently to making optimal use of the NRC, particularly when it was most needed in the Georgia crisis.

In turn, Russia should cease to see NATO as a ‘danger’ or even a ‘threat’, and not aim to constrain or split it but rather to share the same values, respect the principles of the Charter of Paris, overcome old geopolitical and geostrategic categories, abandon Cold War clichés about NATO, give up the idea of a ‘special sphere of influence’, not instrumentalise ‘Russians abroad’, renounce revisionism and fully support the sovereignty and independence of its neighbours and contribute itself to their ‘reas-surance’, fully embrace cooperative (as opposed to confrontational) security, follow up first positive steps in its ‘history policy’ vis-à-vis Poland (and, in future, also oth-ers), and realise that Russia can only ‘isolate itself ’. Together NATO and Russia must overcome zero-sum thinking in security policy, where one side can allegedly only gain at the expense of the other. In turn, a substantial NATO response to the Medvedev

proposals is overdue, given the awareness that Russia’s place in the European security order is still insufficiently defined.

On nuclear weapons policy, it is clear that the remit contained in the Summit Declara-tion to ‘review NATO’s overall posture’ points to the need for a fundamental debate about the role of nuclear weapons, about extended deterrence and forward stationing, about the shift from ‘deterrence by punishment’ to ‘deterrence by denial’ (of options), and about the future of ‘nuclear sharing’. The task for NATO and its member govern-ments remains to reconcile public expectations for ‘global zero’ with the explanation of deterrence requirements in the (presumably very long) transition period. Conspicuously, the debate about a nuclear free world has until now been a Western soliloquy.

Conventional arms control is given importance in the Strategic Concept including, in the Summit Declaration, a revival of the High Level Task Force (HLTF) that ac-companied the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) negotiations in the nineties. But there are no new ideas and “work to strengthen the conventional arms control regime in Europe” is not enough. The CFE Treaty, suspended by Russia, is all but dead and its confidence-building instruments of verification and transparency are corroding.

Therefore a new departure in conventional arms control is required, which means broad talks among all European states, most prominently including Russia, about conventional military forces, their potential linkage to tactical nuclear weapons, threat perceptions, doctrines, force levels, weapon holdings – talks leading to negotiations about numerical limitations, regional constraints and transparency measures. Such a new approach would enhance confidence in the strictly defensive orientation of military postures, would advance cooperative security among the nations of Europe, and might support nuclear disarmament and missile defence cooperation.

Since the new security challenges are not amenable to mainly military responses NATO is not the sole actor and Alliance solidarity in this field does not automatically invoke Article 5; the ‘broadened and intensified’ consultation pledged by the Strategic Concept is of the essence. But is it realised that this will mean a genuine cultural shift in NATO? Until now many obvious security issues have never reached the Council table; not least for fear that disagreements would be interpreted as an internal crisis.

Also, to bring about a qualitative improvement in consultation a much-improved analysis and assessment capacity is needed at NATO HQ. This appears to have been recognised through the establishment in the International Staff of a new ‘Emerging Security Challenges’ division. However, the extent to which it will produce valid political-military analysis or deal with all relevant issues (including the long-term

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 31-45)