NATO & The Stress of Security Conceptions

Six months have elapsed since the tabling of NATO’s new Strategic Concept, and already we see, with the Arab Spring, the limits of the Alliance’s extra-territorial crisis-management capacity. By this I don’t mean the relative inability of the “Unified Protector” mission to decide the fate of Libya. In fact, NATO’s mission is determined by the clarity of the authorization granted it by UN Security Council Resolution 1973. It must be noted that UNSC 1973 authorizes NATO to use force to protect civilians. NOT to remove the Qaddafi regime, NOR to encourage the Rebels in their actions.

Rather, the limits of extra-territorial crisis management is demonstrated by the variance of the stated intent of the Alliance’s North African and Middle-Eastern partnerships and the results on the ground. Clearly, the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative and the Mediterranean Dialogue cannot have intended to trigger the current instability, where the flow of goods and natural resources through the Suez Canal and from Libya in particular are put into question. Yet, Allied Command Transformation’s (ACT) General Mieczyslaw Bieniek has not hesitated to qualify these partnership schemes as successes when he spoke at the Conference for Defence Association’s annual meeting in Ottawa, on 25 February 2011. On the other hand, if, like the NATO Secretary General has alluded to in a speech to the Georgia World Affairs Institute on May 9, this was the intention all along, and that Libya remains the “exception”, then the future of partnerships can be seriously be put in doubt when it comes to other venues. First, the “targeted” partners will feel ill at ease if the past experience has resulted in unwanted regime change. But I do not believe this is the actual intention from the part of the Alliance. One has to be careful with official rhetoric, and the desire to gloss over the inability of those partnership mechanisms to produce the required predictors for policy-makers. Second, and more likely, it is the members themselves who will be less attracted with the idea of rejuvenating partnerships, not because they have not produced the expected results (indeed, in many bureaucracies, the expected result is simply to pursue an activity regardless of whether it has the desired effects, or any effect at all).

Like a UN mission determines a NATO mission degree of effectiveness, the value of partnership schemes is wholly dependent upon the value perceived by the Allies, and depends on the enthusiasm displayed by members and partners alike in Committees and Board meetings. Absent this enthusiasm, the promises of partnership will remain hollow. If the North Atlantic Council and individual allies do not see a benefit, such initiatives are non-starters regardless of the rhetoric that gave them birth. There are reasons to doubt the validity of future partnership with countries geographically removed from NATO’s area of operations (such as Brazil or China) towards a “comprehensive partnership policy.”

First, there is the common fiscal pressure felt by all Allies, the very pressure that requires a “consolidation” alluded to in the Lisbon Summit Declaration (point 2). Also, many of the new Allies who had to compromise on the content of the actual Strategic Concept will not be keen on diverting the organization’s attention away from matters of crucial importance to them when the time will come to issue the sort of political guidance that makes the concept real in practice. Here, one can certainly read the Baltic States (and perhaps even Poland’s) insistence that the Alliance generate a real contingency plan reminiscent of the detailed documents aimed at preparing against and deterring the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and possibly elevating non-traditional security issues (such as cyber- and energy security) to the level of universal risks. This, the Alliance has already demonstrated it was not ready to do, but plans have been promised, and if anything, the States concerned are sure to provide their input within the Alliance structures. Hope springs eternal for small powers.

A third reason impeding enhanced partnerships has to do with organizational and bureaucratic change. There is a movement afoot set on rationalizing the organization’s manpower, and in addition, the current Secretary General has highlighted several transformation drivers; enlargement, France’s return to the integrated command structures, the standing up of new headquarters and the Secretary General’s own preference, that of a gender-balanced workforce. These drivers will significantly occupy the attention of the delegations, international and military staffs. With fewer spaces to fill, and with more stringent criteria to meet, the manning of the organization will represent a factor of contention, because multilateralism represents an opportunity for influence, if one is well represented in numbers and positions. The allotment of international and military staff positions, the negotiations over office space, all the while giving women their rightful presence in the HQ will create stress. A new trend will emerge where a greater balance will be achieved between the presence of founding member States and new member States, giving the former less influence. As several representatives of founding (or old) member States have lamented, some new members (especially the less powerful ones) are less interested in the good of the Alliance than in leveraging the organization and the more powerful allies for the benefit of their own national interests. This is at variance with the spirit of NATO which exists for the benefit of all members.

An example of this bureaucratic change is the creation of the Emerging Security Challenges Division (ESCD) stood up in August 2010. Its launching seems to codify the Alliance’s acceptance of new risks and challenges as given. This is not untrue, as the Lisbon Summit Declaration made clear, but this does not necessarily mean that the North Atlantic Council will allow operations to be carried out in defence of energy security. NATO is careful to limit consideration of energy security to the impact it has on the supply of internal NATO forces in petroleum, oil and lubricants (and not on the supply of individual member States).

The ESCD exists because some allies find value in it, but this does not mean that the issues discussed therein will become politicized or militarized. Although new challenges do exist, the Alliance is not necessarily willing to consider a more muscular posture automatically. For one, certain threats are not State-based, or appear not to be State-based. Second, the inter-connectivity of issues, and interdependence more generally means that vulnerability is not always situated within the Alliance’s geographical (or legal) area of operation, and third, intervention further afield may mean that the particular interests of a member are adversely affected. For example, it is well known that Canada does not want to see NATO in the Arctic. The politicization of energy security may mean that the Beaufort Sea could become a NATO lake, with detrimental effects on Canadian-Russian relations.

The efforts at consolidation and rationalization at NATO will likely impact future enlargement prospects. One can expect future enlargement to South East European countries (Bosnia and Macedonia) to be delayed if not resisted in the mid-term. For one, the dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the latter’s name is still not resolved, and Greece may be able to trade a resolution to this dispute for further European goodwill to bail it out of its disastrous financial situation. But one should not count on this to happen any time soon. There is clearly enlargement fatigue. This will not prevent Macedonia, for one from offering forces to the ISAF mission in proportions far greater than is reasonable even for greater powers. This is a recognized tactic to earn NATO’s good will; deploy lots of troops in tough places to legitimize the mission, and trade this presence for future membership. In this way, NATO has lost control over the enlargement agenda. This explains the recent members’ heavy participation, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the approach is being reproduced by Macedonia in Afghanistan. Let us be clear then, that the deployment decisions of candidate countries have less to do with the desire to meet NATO’s mission objectives, and more to do with their own national objectives of NATO membership. This explains difficulties faced by the Alliance in Afghanistan; on the one hand certain countries offer caveats, and on the other, countries with limited capabilities, but with great enthusiasm, engage in theatre but for purely national reasons.

It would be logical then to expect the Alliance (especially founding members) to be hesitant to enlarge any further. Not only would this mean that they would lose more relative influence, but it would also dilute further the Alliance’s capabilities to respond, as a new batch of national interests is included in the planning and guidance of the organization.

In addition, the security and financial situation in Europe is conducive on the one hand to a certain degree of isolationism, and on the other to a desire to protect the European Union and the Eurozone’s integrity. In this light, any move to strengthen NATO’s part in a full spectrum of security activities (even disaster management) away from what the EU can support may meet with some measure of opposition. Enlargement fatigue is also attributable to the failure of integration (understood as the adoption of the norms of behaviour of the dominant group). Witness Hungary’s curbing of the freedom of the press, the Baltic States’ limitations of minority rights, Albania’s internal instability, and one sees that NATO has been unable to enforce the MAP conditions that were sine qua non to membership and shape the new membership’s “like-mindedness.”

Currently, the Alliance is a collection of countries negotiating their preferences and seeking agreement as to what proportion of effort will meet what category of threat, as if the failure to reach consensus was the biggest threat. If NATO is to maintain its relevance, it must not only establish its priorities straight, but they must be established against the commonly perceived and objectively perceived threats in evidence. It must furthermore re-open the debate on the funding of security guarantees and the Allies, old and new, must make their niche capabilities available to all.






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Lecturer, Ionian University
written by Dr.William Mallinson, May 24, 2011 

FYROM (not ‘Macedonia’, as the author calls it) has no right to statehood (particularly while it insists on stealing Greek history as part of its very shaky and partial identity), let alone membershiop of NATO. The only reason it is desperate for NATO membership is because it wants to be a US base and client state. Its politicians are even more corrupt than in Albania and the Greek neo-Ottoman cleptocracy. As for NATO enlargment, let us remember that the US’ and UK’s motive, apart from establishing themselves in the Balkans and making more billions for arms company shareholders, is to weaken putative European joint defence, i.e. the CFSP (not the NATO-dependent ESDP, or whatever the PR people are now calling it).Only a few years ago, the discredited UK Defence ‘minister’, Geoffrey Hoon, said that NATO would be the only defence organisation for Europe.Long live Dominique de Villepin’s plan to again leave the integrated military strufture of NATO!NATO is a big threat to world peace, because it CONSUMES security, rather than create it.