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The Alliance after Lisbon: Towards NATO 3.0?

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 167-196)

Karl-Heinz Kamp

Even those who cannot subscribe to the NATO Secretary General’s assessment of the Lisbon Summit as the most important event in the Alliance’s history have to admit that this gathering was a particular one. Many previous summits from Riga to Strasburg/Kehl either produced only limited content – at least from the meetings on the highest political level – or were characterised by bitter disputes inside and outside of NATO. Lisbon was an exception in the sense that it produced content without major arguments among the Allies or between NATO and Russia.

Moreover, the summit differed in another aspect from many of its predecessors; the atmosphere in the capital of Portugal was different. For the first time in many years participants felt a new sense of recommitment and new awareness of NATO as a

‘true alliance’ among the member states. This was probably not more than a nuance but is nevertheless a relevant detail.

One reason for the positive outcome of the summit – in its results as well as in the spirit of the meeting – was the fact that NATO had a long and open debate about its raison d’être, which led to a New Strategic Concept signed by all Heads of State and Government. Despite such a strategy being long overdue, it was far from sure that NATO would succeed in finding a rapid consensus on such a document, given the different historical, geographical and political backgrounds within the Alliance.

Developing a new strategy was particularly difficult as it was obvious right from the outset that a strategic guidance for the 21st century would have to meet at least four partly conflicting requirements:

• First and foremost, it had to clearly define NATO’s roles and missions. This has been attempted time and again in recent years but only resulted in a plethora of functions in order to prepare the Alliance for all foreseeable contingencies.

• Hence, the second necessity of the strategy was to set priorities which would bring demands into line with scarce resources, even if this implied painful choices.

• Third, by defining a common vision for NATO, the New Strategic Concept had to become a tool for re-engaging all NATO member states with the core principles of the Alliance. This was necessary to counter the trend of a re-nationalisation of security policy – as currently can be observed in Afghanistan, where the ‘we’ in NATO’s operations seems crucially missing.

• Fourth, NATO’s new strategy must contribute to winning the battle of narratives.

It has to be seen as a strategic communications tool vis-à-vis an increasingly critical public.

NATO’s New Strategic Concept

When Secretary General Rasmussen presented the Strategic Concept in Lisbon on the evening of the first summit day, the reactions were mixed. NATO representa-tives praised the paper as pathbreaking and forward oriented. Outside experts or the media were less convinced. “Way too general and nothing new in it” was one of the verdicts of op-ed columnists. Others asked whether these few pages could really be the blueprint for NATO’s role in the 21st century.

However, these critics missed the point that NATO’s agreement on its own future is not only determined by a NATO document alone but also by the pathway which led to that document. The Alliance has evolved its new strategy in a long, open and transparent process, involving diplomats, the military, experts, journalists and the public. This was an intricate and time-consuming procedure and some NATO experts quipped that this was not the right way to build consensus and would lead to nothing more than long debates.

Nonetheless, these long debates had a clear purpose. In recent years NATO has been too focused on its ongoing operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere and lost sight of its raison d’être. Since an agreement on these basics of the Alliance cannot be directed from the top, NATO needed an intense debate among all members about its future role in a changed security environment. In that sense, the process towards the strategic concept was at least as important as the document itself. Even if the new strategy is inevitably generic, NATO found clarity in at least ten points, although some of the substance can only be found between the lines:

1) NATO is a political–military defence alliance with Article 5 of the Washington treaty – the mutual defence commitment – at its core. This is not new but has sometimes been forgotten. NATO’s eastern members reminded their allies of these basics of solidarity and mutual assurance.

2) NATO’s defence mission does not exclude a close and trustful partnership with Russia – however not at the expense of the security of any NATO country.

Cooperation with Russia and reassurance from Russia are not contradictory.

Only if all 28 NATO members feel reassured is a true partnership possible.

3) NATO defends three things: its territory, the people living there and the vital interests of its members. NATO’s defence function is primarily directed toward armed attacks or threats such as 9/11, where terrorists used civil aircraft as weapons to cause mass casualties.

4) There are numerous risks such as cyber attacks or energy crises, which can become vital threats. However, since they hardly have any direct military dimension, NATO might only have a supportive role in dealing with them. In such cases, though, NATO must function as the key forum for transatlantic consultations on who is doing what – as stipulated in Article 4 of the Washington Treaty.

5) This one is also a no brainer: the insight that today’s security challenges and crisis management operations require a combination of military and non-military ef-forts. However, it is easy to request such a ‘comprehensive approach’ in papers and speeches but it is much more difficult to make it work on the ground, where civil and military actors sometimes just don’t want to cooperate. And even if they want to cooperate, figuring out how to integrate their efforts can be problematic.

6) To say that NATO needs partnerships is to state the obvious. Equally important is that NATO needs close partnerships with politically likeminded countries like Australia, New Zealand and Japan among others. They are not only con-tributing to NATO’s mission, they also share NATO’s values. Thus, they need to be included in NATO decision-shaping processes as far as possible.

7) Notwithstanding its global activities, NATO is not a global institution and de-finitively not a world policeman or globo-cop. Rather, it is a regional institution which needs to take a global perspective given the realities of the 21st century.

8) If nuclear weapons remain a factor in international relations, nuclear deterrence remains relevant. Contrary to some popular views, the ultimate purpose of nuclear weapons is not that they should be scrapped. Instead, the function of nuclear weapons – like all other weapons – is to provide security. In cases where they don’t serve this purpose – and with respect to NATO’s nuclear weapons in Europe doubts are justified – they might be withdrawn and dismantled. Before scrapping, however, all NATO members have to agree upon how to provide sufficient deterrence without them.

9) The security toolbox contains not only diplomacy, arms control, deterrence and defence, but also protection from incoming ballistic missiles. Missile defence has always been contentious – some see it as a blessing, others as a curse. The fact is that the interception of missiles is possible and can save lives. Thus Mis-sile Defence is a task for the entire Alliance.

10) NATO has always been quick at announcing adaptations of its structures and decision-making processes but it has been slow in implementing them. Some of

its procedures are still based on the situation of the Cold War. It has proved just too alluring for NATO members to push for prestigious positions, command posts or a strong representation in committees and agencies regardless of actual requirements. The coming dramatic cuts in all NATO defence budgets will be a catalyst for a change that is long overdue.

How to proceed?

Of course, these ten points do not answer all open questions. Rather, they raise the issue of how to implement all the intentions and objectives: how will cooperation with Russia be organised concretely? What to do with NATO’s nuclear forces in Europe? How to cope with the realities of financial scarcity?

NATO has avoided all these difficulties in the Strategic Concept but has mentioned them in the Lisbon communiqué, the so-called Summit Declaration. Some said that the NATO nations took revenge on the Secretary General who had guided them so rigorously to a short and concise strategy by putting all their national preferences and traditional positions in the Summit Declaration, which has made it a rather cumber-some document.

However, NATO does not dodge the controversial topics but intends to take them on in the forthcoming months. In that sense the 54 paragraph long Summit Declaration is a novelty in itself. Instead of just mentioning the open questions, NATO’s Heads of State have prescribed NATO a strict working agenda with concrete assignments and strict deadlines. There is no previous summit document that contains so many orders and obligations, almost all linked to the forthcoming meetings of NATO’s foreign and defence ministers in spring 2011. Among other things, NATO has to:

• Develop a new political guidance for military planning,

• Draft a new concept for non-proliferation,

• Work out a new partnership concept,

• Come up with a common cyber defence policy, and

• Flesh out the details of a common missile defence posture.

The only assignment that is not bound to the tight deadline of 2011 is the obligation to develop a new nuclear strategy that brings the requirements of deterrence and arms control into a balance.

This extremely ambitious agenda raises the question of whether or not NATO will really make progress in all the disputed areas. The fact that a summit meeting orders the debate of open questions does not mean that 28 member states will find agreement by the deadline set by their political leaders. However, it at least provides NATO with a new dynamism by addressing those topics which had been papered over for a long time in order not to widen existing cracks in the fabric of the Alliance.

Still there are issues where an agreement is currently difficult to imagine, among them the nuclear question and the problem of how to deal with Russia.

In the nuclear realm, there seems to be confusion on all sides. The United States have initiated a process towards a nuclear free world, labelled ‘Global Zero’ and have won international praise for this initiative. At the same time, the Obama administration acts as if nuclear weapons will be around for a long time to come.

Russia supports the idea of a nuclear free world but at the same time regards its nuclear forces as compensation for a lack of conventional capabilities and particularly as a means to balance US military strength. Moreover, neither Iran nor North Korea seem terribly impressed by the global trend towards reducing the relevance of nuclear weapons and seem to be pursuing an exactly opposite course. Germany has pushed for the reduction of US nuclear weapons but has not specified yet how to deal with the need for deterrence expressed particularly by its eastern neighbours.

Confronted with all these inconsistencies, NATO will have to answer nothing less than the core nuclear question of how to deter whom with what?

With regard to Russia, the situation is not less difficult. Cooperation with Russia is a must but it still remains to be seen to what extent it will be possible and how it can be implemented. Whereas some allies still harbour concerns with regard to Moscow’s intentions, others seem to believe that cooperation with Russia could democratise or domesticate Russian policy. These ideas of a ‘change by coopera-tion’ ignore that Russia (legitimately) pursues its own national interests, which only partly overlap with those of NATO. Hence cooperation with Russia has to be guided more by political realities and less by wishful thinking. The already lurking debates on missile defence give a flavour of how difficult the relations with Russia might become.

Whither NATO?

So, what’s the conclusion? All problems solved? Of course not. This is hardly possible in an alliance of 28 members with different histories, geographies and cultures. At least NATO has dared to admit that there are different interests within NATO that have to be harmonised time and again. Therefore, the new strategy is not the end of a debate but rather the beginning. Topics like arms control, missile defence or nuclear deterrence have to be further elaborated in the coming months and years. This will not always be harmonious and might lead to disputes and heated arguments. As a result, there will be those who predict a transatlantic divorce or the end of NATO.

However, the explanation for upcoming arguments is much simpler: NATO is about more than Afghanistan and remains a pretty agile and lively institution.

Still, NATO’s Litmus test will come in late spring 2011 when the first results of the Lisbon agenda have to be presented. Obviously, notwithstanding the strict dead-lines given by the Heads of State and Government in Lisbon, there will be no final consensus on all open questions. The positions among the Allies are too disparate and some of the issues too hazy to be discussed for that. For instance, whether or not the Obama administration will be able to build up its missile defence project in the foreseen manner is increasingly dependent on the budgetary developments in the United States. The issue of nuclear arms control and the future of nuclear weapons will be crucially affected by nuclear developments in Iran and North Korea – both currently unpredictable. The NATO–Russia relationship will always remain a func-tion of the US–Russia relafunc-tionship, which in turn will be affected by the domestic debate within the United States.

Despite these uncertainties though, NATO will have to present to the foreign and defence ministers a work in progress that shows that the Alliance has taken on the critical issues without trying to dodge the divisive questions or to escape by bury-ing itself in communiqué language. If the Alliance manages to present serious steps forward – albeit not fully fleshed out - it will rebut its critics and will confirm the position it already claims: that of the most successful political–military alliance in history.


NATO’s Strategic Concept – Active Engagement, Modern Defence


We, the Heads of State and Government of the NATO nations, are determined that NATO will continue to play its unique and essential role in ensuring our common defence and security. This Strategic Concept will guide the next phase in NATO’s evolution, so that it continues to be effective in a changing world, against new threats, with new capabilities and new partners:

• It reconfirms the bond between our nations to defend one another against attack, including against new threats to the safety of our citizens.

• It commits the Alliance to prevent crises, manage conflicts and stabilize post-conflict situations, including by working more closely with our international partners, most importantly the United Nations and the European Union.

• It offers our partners around the globe more political engagement with the Alli-ance, and a substantial role in shaping the NATO-led operations to which they contribute.

• It commits NATO to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons – but reconfirms that, as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance.

• It restates our firm commitment to keep the door to NATO open to all Euro-pean democracies that meet the standards of membership, because enlargement contributes to our goal of a Europe whole, free and at peace.

• It commits NATO to continuous reform towards a more effective, efficient and flexible Alliance, so that our taxpayers get the most security for the money they invest in defence.

The citizens of our countries rely on NATO to defend Allied nations, to deploy robust military forces where and when required for our security, and to help promote common security with our partners around the globe. While the world is changing, NATO’s essential mission will remain the same: to ensure that the Alliance remains an unparalleled community of freedom, peace, security and shared values.

Core Tasks and Principles

1. NATO’s fundamental and enduring purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members by political and military means. Today, the Alliance remains an essential source of stability in an unpredictable world.

2. NATO member states form a unique community of values, committed to the principles of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The Alliance is firmly committed to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and to the Washington Treaty, which affirms the primary responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security.

3. The political and military bonds between Europe and North America have been forged in NATO since the Alliance was founded in 1949; the transatlantic link remains as strong, and as important to the preservation of Euro-Atlantic peace and security, as ever. The security of NATO members on both sides of the Atlantic is indivisible. We will continue to defend it together, on the basis of solidarity, shared purpose and fair burden-sharing.

4. The modern security environment contains a broad and evolving set of challenges to the security of NATO’s territory and populations. In order to assure their security, the Alliance must and will continue fulfilling effectively three essential core tasks, all of which contribute to safeguarding Alliance members, and always in accordance with international law:

a. Collective defence. NATO members will always assist each other against attack, in accordance with Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. That commitment remains firm and binding. NATO will deter and defend against any threat of aggression, and against emerging security challenges where they threaten the fundamental security of individual Allies or the Alliance as a whole.

b. Crisis management. NATO has a unique and robust set of political and military capabilities to address the full spectrum of crises – before, during and after conflicts. NATO will actively employ an appropriate mix of those political and military tools to help manage developing crises that have the potential to affect Alliance security, before they escalate into conflicts;

to stop ongoing conflicts where they affect Alliance security; and to help consolidate stability in post-conflict situations where that contributes to Euro-Atlantic security.

c. Cooperative security. The Alliance is affected by, and can affect, political and security developments beyond its borders. The Alliance will engage actively to enhance international security, through partnership with relevant

In document DIIS REPORT (Page 167-196)