Monthly Archives: May 2012

NATO Partnerships at Chicago: Assessment

By Dr. Isabelle François
Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow
Center for Transatlantic Security Studies

 

The NATO summit in Chicago was organized around three key themes, including partnerships, and according to the Declaration by the twenty eight Heads of state and government agreed in Chicago, the North Atlantic Council gathered “to strengthen our wide range of partnerships” among other things.

The Summit certainly showcased partnerships in terms of the meetings that took place.  Three of those meetings involved NATO partners: the “expanded International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) meeting” and the meeting between Allies and 13 “core partners” (defined as those who “recently made particular political, operational and financial contributions to NATO-led operations”)[1], as well as the meeting at the level of Foreign Ministers with the 4 leaders of countries aspiring to join the Alliance (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Georgia.) The mere fact that these meetings took place delivered three strong messages.

First, it completed the work set in motion at the previous summit in Lisbon whereby a new partnership policy seeking increased flexibility and rationalization of the partnership frameworks was developed, agreed, and in Chicago demonstrated in action. The Alliance was able to have a meeting with 13 selected partners from different regional frameworks showing NATO’s flexibility in terms of who gets invited and in terms of the agenda setting. These leaders were gathered to talk about NATO-led operations as a testimony to their considerable contributions to the Alliance over the past few years.

Second, the meeting with aspirants ensured that the open door policy was not forgotten in what was publicized as “not an enlargement Summit.”  The point was brought home when Secretary Clinton indicated in Chicago that this was the last summit, which would not have enlargement on the agenda.

Third, the summit reiterated with the ISAF meeting that operational partnership is fundamental to the Alliance, and that NATO will continue to work with partners until and beyond 2014 in building an enduring partnership with Afghanistan. The meeting included the countries in the region from Central Asian countries to Russia and Pakistan, as well as Asian contributors from Japan to Australia and beyond.  The Declaration devoted a particular paragraph to the regional dimension recognizing “that security and stability in the “Heart of Asia” is interlinked across the region.”

That said for all the nice words and focus on partnerships there is not a single tasking in the communiqué, which pertains to partnerships.  There are some very timid efforts referring to partners in paragraphs dealing with emerging security challenges and smart defense and reiterating Allied commitment to engage with relevant partner nations on a case-by case basis as appropriate (i.e. with the usual qualifiers), which is nothing new and remains obviously sensitive within the Alliance.

Moreover, the partnership related paragraphs of the Declaration (26 paragraphs out of 65) are extensive. They cover everything one can possibly imagine from all the various frameworks (Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, Mediterranean Dialogue, Black Sea, Middle East and North Africa) to the specific relationships  (Russia, Ukraine) and the flexible meetings above-mentioned (meeting with 13 partners, and with 4 aspirants).  In addition, the Declaration refers to partners in almost all other paragraphs be it on Afghanistan, missile defense, smart defense, cyber defense to name but a few. Nonetheless, there is no tasking coming out of Chicago to guide work ahead in the area of partnerships.  In NATO terms, this means that work will not be required to prepare for the next high-level meetings, be it at ministerial or summit level.

Some might interpret this as marking a time for reflection given that partnership has been high on the agenda of the Lisbon summit and the Chicago summit.  It will no doubt be also welcome by those who prepare for further cuts at a time of austerity.  Others, however, have indicated that partnerships will be central to NATO’s work ahead and an area where a lot of creative thinking is and will be required.  Without any tasking, however, NATO as an institution has no mandate to get this work underway.  As a result the thinking and the political agenda will have to be initiated by nations, and serious leadership will be required to accompany any new idea to be developed in this field given the resistance encountered on the part of some nations within the Alliance on any new developments in the area of partnerships. Leadership and serious political pressure will also have to be devoted to enlargement if the Alliance is to have it on the agenda of the next summit.

That said there seems to a positive assessment within U.S. official circles on partnerships at Chicago.  Asking a high-ranking official from the Obama administration a couple of days after the summit about U.S. expectations with regard to work ahead on partnerships in the absence of any tasking from the summit, I was told that President Obama indicated clear expectations that NATO would initiate further work towards getting countries like Australia to continue contributing to the Alliance beyond operational commitments and beyond the draw down of operations.  More specifically, expectations were that the NATO Secretary General would initiate such work.  While I have no doubt regarding U.S. intentions and the U.S. level of commitment to partnerships, my own assessment is that, in the absence of significant political pressure from key nations, such work cannot easily be initiated by the NATO Secretary General, irrespective of his own personal commitment to NATO partnerships over the past few years.  Leadership will be extremely important to go beyond Chicago.  New thinking will have to be done in capitals and Delegations in NATO will have to work it through the system, but this will be uphill in the absence of a formal tasking. There is of course always the option of inserting a tasking in future high-level meetings, and perhaps this is how it should be given that creative thinking has barely begun in Washington.


[1] The meeting was attended by the leaders of Australia, Austria, Finland, Georgia, Japan, Jordan, Republic of Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Qatar, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Featured News, NATO, Regional Studies, Strategic Studies

Is NATO being taken seriously in Europe?

By Marie-Theres Beumler

Is NATO being taken seriously in Europe? This is certainly a relevant question; but the analysis of European perceptions of NATO must go much deeper. Essentially, the question is not about whether NATO is being taken seriously, but whether it is being accepted. Indeed, many European allies find themselves in a situation where military and defense efforts of any sort receive very low acceptance among the population. The mindset of considerable segments of society in these countries is pacifist — and the causes thereof are manifold and require the analysis of history and society. Therefore, before debating Europeans’ perspective on NATO, it is necessary to take a look at what causes this perspective.

This year marks an important milestone for the US, as it will have been 200 years since the last major war with a foreign power on US territory started in 1812. Except for the tragic events in Pearl Harbor and 9/11, the US has not experienced major hostilities on its soil since its Civil War, let alone from an external actor. This is one of the main differences between the Americans and the Europeans. The latter remember very well the consequences of invasion, war, and dictatorship on their continent, their countries and their own homes and families. These experiences certainly help to explain the pacifist spirit we are now witnessing in large parts of Europe, and they do represent a challenge to NATO and European military engagement. While the generations who witnessed the Cold War in the main still see NATO as a defender of democracy and freedom, younger generations miss this historic link. Hence, large segments of European youth oppose military efforts of all natures, and this reflects upon NATO.

The attitude and perception of young Europeans towards NATO is one of the most important determinants of NATO’s future. In Germany, maybe the most important example, military-related efforts gain very low acceptance and virtually no approval among broad segments of society[1], maybe most notably among youth. The German contribution to the ISAF-mission in Afghanistan is as unpopular as was last year’s Operation Unified Protector in Libya[2]. Nor is this a recent development. Moreover, Germans do not only oppose deployment itself or military action in the name of NATO. Considerable segments of the German populace simply do not see much need for defense or even a military. This is due to numerous factors, all of which need to be addressed if change is desired.

For over almost seventy years now, Germany has prospered in stability, an exceptionally peaceful and comfortable period. Younger generations did not experience the Cold War, much less World War II, and the only threat they might be able to identify is a vague notion of “global terror.” This attitude goes hand-in-hand with a lack of information and engagement. In contrast to the Cold War period, security studies are today practically non-existent in Germany, and debates about matters of international security concentrate on topics outside the EU, such as the Palestinian-Israeli struggle, or on issues not immediately related to military engagement, such as cyber security.

At the same time, the very notion of “terrorism” bears a different connotation for most Europeans than it does in America, one that is closer to separatist movements of political struggles. It is hard to find a newspaper doing the simple math of when Iranian missiles might in the future be able to reach Munich or Rome, following a time when they could reach Tel-Aviv. With this being a striking scenario, the so-called “Arab Spring” and particularly the consequent questioning of seemingly settled notions of “stability” should have rung some bells. As Europe is ill- prepared to deal with the penetration of its borders, there is no telling how the member states might react to more serious threats to security if the occasion arises, perhaps of a nature not currently envisioned. Individual member states might have to step up their defense efforts in the long run, and this will only be possible if the mindset of the population supports this.

In the mind of Germans, asymmetric warfare is a theoretical concept that most people, even in the media and academia, rarely seem to bother investigating. Equally, when proposals are made for a unified European Defense Force, reactions vary between disbelief and lack of interest. The notion that “democracy is being defended at the Hindu Kush” is immensely unpopular; and media coverage which focuses on occasional failures of individual NATO soldiers in Afghanistan instead of on the slow but constant progress there adds to this phenomenon.

As public opinion often boils down to political opportunism, the population’s perception and understanding of the military and defense influences the defense policies of many European countries. As mentioned before, historical awareness goes deep and adds to the lack of military commitment. While NATO is subject neither to widespread public discussion nor widespread interest, German concerns go deeper. A wish for security and protection certainly exists. But there is little awareness of potential externally based threats and certainly no willingness to compromise on democratic ideals in return for unspecified security guarantees. And unwillingness to compromise democratic values is, that needs to be said, a good thing.

If NATO wants to win over the people’s “hearts and minds” in Germany and in Europe more generally, it needs to reform its structure and goals to bring them more into accord with today’s security environment. Awareness and outreach are an essential part of this effort, but they are not enough. The European people require well-argued and plausible answers before supporting military efforts. It is NATO’s task to deliver on the latter, and this requires building all members’ awareness of the evolving strategic environment as well as of the alliance’s future perspectives. And while security challenges are constantly evolving and changing, NATO should consider greater adaptation to these developments.

With its new Strategic Concept, NATO has already accelerated a “functional” evolution that is moving the Alliance from focusing on traditional and military-centric threats to addressing emerging and asymmetrical challenges. Geographically, as Operation Unified Protector has shown, the time has come for NATO to pay greater attention to the Middle East and North Africa, in an attempt to monitor and assist political developments there and to monitor possible sources of instability in the future. Further, deeper cooperation with Russia based on mutual understanding would certainly be a valuable goal for NATO, especially with regards to European energy security.

NATO has certainly proved to be of immense value in the past, and it can continue to do so in the future. The question now is whether NATO will be ready to deal with future threats and whether it will, together with the leaders of the member states, act to build the populace’s support that will be critical when the time comes.

Marie-Theres Beumler  is a research intern at the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies (CTSS). 


[1] www. Faz. de, Allensbach-Umfrage, 26.05.2010

[2] www.abendzeitung-muenchen.de, 5.10.2011; 26.05.2010

Leave a comment

Filed under Featured News, National Security Reform, NATO, Regional Studies, Strategic Studies

Focus Recommendations for NATO’s Summit in Chicago

Logo for NATO Summit meeting in Chicago

By Darren Ruch

As a general rule, wars are not fought unilaterally without the financial, political, and materiel assistance of other states.  Examples of historical, large-scale alliances include Allied (Entente) Powers and the Central Powers during World War I, the Allies versus the Axis during World War II, and the Cold War, involving a prolonged war between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members and the Warsaw Pact nations.  The commonality of alliances and multilateral action in conflicts remains today, such as in the Libya Civil War, in which the National Transitional Council, NATO, and other states formed an alliance to topple the Libyan regime.

Maintaining well-established alliances is a smart investment because of their many benefits and military effects.  Coming into its 63rd anniversary, the NATO alliance has survived the end of the Cold War, the Balkan wars in the mid 1990s, and the Libya intervention in 2011.  As the 25th summit in Chicago approaches, NATO will need to reaffirm its mission and prepare for another decade of following its charter and continuing the strongest and oldest alliance still in effect.  Furthermore, it is in every member’s interest, especially the U.S., that NATO not only remain intact, but continue to be a strong alliance for the future.  This paper will argue that NATO is far from retirement or in need for a major overhaul, but rather should continue promoting its values and demand an equal contribution from all its members.  The paper will briefly touch on NATO’s values and ideals, identify some shortcomings of the alliance with lessons learned from the Libya campaign, and conclude with some recommendations for the upcoming Chicago Summit.

On April 4, 1949, NATO was founded on the foundation of “democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.”[1]  Within the first five articles of the treaty, the principles of joint negotiation, training, sovereignty, defense, and alliance are emphasized to promote defense stability and economic collaboration between its members.[2]  Successfully carrying out those ways and means is an important end for all the participating states: providing financial and materiel support to the military-strong states (US, UK, France, and Germany) and affording modernization and equipment to the members with smaller armed forces.[3]

NATO is an alliance for alliances; it rarely engages in operations solely with its own members.[4]  As of May 2012, NATO supports five operations: leading the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan (Operation ENDURING FREEDOM), NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR), detecting and deterring terrorist activity in the Mediterranean Sea (Operation ACTIVE ENDEAVOR), counter-piracy in the Horn of Africa (Operation OCEAN SHIELD), and supporting the African Union on the African continent, mostly focused in Somalia.[5]  Additionally, last year NATO completed its training mission in Iraq and, in October, concluded a successful four-month operation in Libya, Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR, which provided a no-fly zone over the country.  In all of those operations, past and current, NATO was just one alliance within a wider coalition force.

By continuously working in partnership with other nation states, NATO achieves a number of additional objectives and promotes core values aside from its military operations.  NATO requires its member states to maintain a democratic political system, operate a market economy, respect persons belonging to national minorities, resolve neighbor disputes, commit to peaceful dispute settlements, have the ability and willingness to make military contributions to alliances, and achieve interoperability with its member forces.[6]  All of these values are within the member states’ interest to promote, both within the alliance and abroad, because of the beneficial peaceful and economic partnerships they build.  For example, liberal peace theory hypothesizes that established democracies do not conduct war with one another.[7]  By requiring democratic governance to those wanting to join and maintain membership, NATO sends a clear message that its primary ways of conflict resolution is through peaceful means.  With regards to NATO’s desired economic ends, market economies tend to attract foreign investment and cause an increase in production and rapid development, which is likely to grow the global markets of those members with weaker economies.  Through its neighbor disputes clause, NATO ensures that its members maintain diplomatic channels of communication.  Therefore, there should always be a dialogue among the partnered nations regarding national security and strategic matters.  Maintaining open channels of communication is especially beneficial to those members who do not maintain strong diplomatic relations within the Organization, such as Turkey and Greece.

While NATO promotes peace and economic expansion, there are aspects that need to be strengthened.  After Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR, a number of deficiencies were brought to light, despite NATO’s long history, lessons learned, and best practices.  In his departing speech from NATO as Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates concluded NATO’s “military capabilities simply aren’t there.”[8]  His reasons for such a failure included a lack of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities; the inability of some nations to utilize their fighter aircraft effectively; insufficient targeting professionals; NATO’s failure to launch air sorties at over a 50% capacity; and a general shortage of munitions by member nations.[9]  To remedy these issues, the US military had to provide more ISR assets and targeting professionals than originally planned and had to front additional costs to replace the munitions stockpile.

In this speech, Gates stressed another weakness in NATO – an uneven distribution of responsibility.  In addition to pointing at some failures, Gates highlighted a few countries in the same speech, including Norway and Denmark, as members who were contributing more than their allies.  He remarked, “[those two countries] provided 12 percent of allied strike aircraft yet [had] struck about one third of the targets.”[10]  His overall message was clear: “[in NATO, there are] those willing and able to pay the price and bear the burdens of alliance commitments, and those who enjoy the benefits of NATO membership – be they security guarantees or headquarters billets – but don’t want to share the risks and the costs.”[11]  When Secretary Gates left his position in the Department of Defense, he expressed his frustrations with the members of NATO, saying some countries primarily reap its benefits, while others contribute more than their fair share.  Along with a wide range of commentators, Gates pointed at the failures of the alliance and, more importantly, highlighted that those failures will not enable NATO to be successful in the future, should a larger conflict than Libya arise, unless improvements are made.

NATO must reaffirm its mission and improve its interoperability to overcome its shortcomings.  The upcoming Chicago summit is a venue where issues such as NATO’s overall lack of assets, training, certified personnel, and insufficient financial contributions should be addressed.  The core values of NATO and the positive impact on both its members and nonmembers are too important to abandon because of recoverable shortages.  The core values of democracy, market economy, and mutual respect promote peace and economic growth with its partners.  With NATO continuing its five operational missions – most notably in Afghanistan – in accord with other nations, promoting these values and demonstrating its successes are invaluable as a continuing model alliance for the international community.  With today’s economic and security challenges, nations subscribing to the values and benefits of NATO cannot place their obligations to their partner states as a last priority.  The hardships that states are facing will pass in time, but the treaty organization will persevere well into the future, and NATO members must make their commitment a top national priority.


[1] “The North Atlantic Treaty.” NATO. http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_ texts_17120.htm (accessed April 1, 2012).

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Chapter Four: Europe.” The Military Balance 112, no. 1 (07 Mar 2012): 71-76.

[4] ISAF maintains a force of over 130,000 troops from 50 countries, including 27 NATO countries, in Afghanistan.  KFOR is comprised of 29 countries, 22 NATO countries and seven supplemental state contributors.   Since 2004, Israel, Morocco, Russia, Ukraine, Finland, Sweden, and Georgia have augmented NATO’s Operation ACTIVE ENDEAVOR, through informal partnerships, liaison, or ship deployments or other physical assets.   12 Countries augment NATO in their other maritime operation, OCEAN SHIELD.   The African Union (AU) does not have a legal framework for their partnership with NATO, but the organization has been augmenting AU missions, mostly in Somalia, since 2005.

[5] “NATO operations and missions.” NATO. http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/ topics_52060.htm (accessed April 6, 2012).

[6] John Finney and Ivo Šlaus, Assessing the Threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Role of Independent Scientists (Northwestern University: IOS Press BV, 2010), 30.

[7] Doyle, Michael. Ways of War and Peace: Realism, Liberalism, and Socialism. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997.

[8] Robert, Gates. “The Security and Defense Agenda (future of Nato).” Speeches. http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1581 (accessed April 1, 2012).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Robert, Gates. “The Security and Defense Agenda (future of Nato).” Speeches. http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1581 (accessed April 1, 2012).

[11] Ibid.

Leave a comment

Filed under Featured News, NATO, Regional Studies, Strategic Studies

NATO: Misrepresented and Misunderstood

Chicago Lake View

By Mark Ducasse, Center for Transatlantic Security Studies

With NATO’s Chicago Summit just over two weeks away, the build-up has been both fascinating and disappointing. As a relative newbie to the workings of NATO, I have been amazed by the Alliance’s inability to convey its successes to the American public. If the American public does not realize the benefits of being part of NATO, the Alliance will be increasingly perceived as an unnecessary burden, a drain on U.S. resources in a time of scarcity, and could very easily become a target for cuts by U.S. politicians, even beyond the reduction of U.S. forces deployed in Europe announced by the Pentagon earlier this year.

The Alliance can no longer afford to ignore public opinion, especially during an American election year when foreign policy is relegated to a low priority. Both Democrats and Republicans are clambering over each other, utilizing wag-the-dog style politics in an effort to steal a minimal lead over their opponents. With the NATO Summit being held in President Barack Obama’s hometown of Chicago, Illinois, between the 20th and 21st of May, it is already overly politicized.

Given this situation, three key questions have continued to boggle my mind. First, why did NATO agree to hold its biggest political event in Chicago during a U.S. election year? Second, why did NATO agree to hold its Summit back-to-back with the G-8 Summit and potentially link itself to the mass protests of the anti-globalization and Occupy crowds such G-8 events always attract?[*] And third, why hasn’t NATO been bombarding the American public with non-technocratic information about the Alliance and its successes, instead of wasting its limited resources preaching to the converted about “capability gaps” and “Smart Defense”? If your head were being placed under the guillotine, you would not talk to your executioner about wood and metal care products; you would be loudly professing your innocence and calling every available witness to testify to your high moral standing.

The Alliance should distance itself from the quagmire that is domestic U.S. politics, and demonstrate its strategic importance to the citizens it protects instead of becoming a pawn for politicians who have their own agendas, decidedly different from promoting transatlantic relations. NATO especially requires the support of the American public. After all, the United States is the world’s only remaining superpower. The United States is key to everything that NATO does. In short, no American support, no NATO. But to garner this critical body of American support, NATO’s public relations machine needs to be spreading the good word of the Alliance’s continued relevance in maintaining the national security and international standing of the United States.

As a European living in the United States and working in the realm of policy, I have realized that public diplomacy, strategic vision, and concise justifications are scantily held skill-sets among Europeans. Perhaps this stems from the differences in working cultures, political systems, or simple confidence? Who knows? The point is that NATO’s public relations machine has done little in the build-up to Chicago to counter with fact and logic the plethora of thumb-sucking articles from shortsighted political commentators with banal titles such as, “Whither NATO,” or “The End of the Alliance.”

Memories are also short, too short. Not many Americans recall the first and only time that NATO’s Article 5 commitment was invoked – the famous three-musketeer clause of the NATO’s founding Washington Treaty that reads, “…an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all…” happened the day following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and Article 5 was not invoked by the United States to support Europe – as was originally foreseen – but the other way around: Europeans and Canadians coming to America’s aid!

Every one of the NATO’s members rallied to the aid of their stricken ally, which included the active securing of U.S. airspace against the possibility of another attack. Under the auspices of Operation Eagle Assist, NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft flew more than 360 operational sorties over the United States between October 2001 and May 2002, ready to identify and if need be to summon fighter aircraft to America’s rescue if there were any follow-on threats.

Then there was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. NATO and its partner countries responded to the United States’ request for assistance with offers of food, medical supplies, and equipment following the hurricane’s devastation. Every single allied nation is also fighting in Afghanistan, not necessarily out of national interest or priorities, but out of allied solidarity and their nations’ desire to engage and partner with the United States.

In short, NATO is a force multiplier – and indeed, a security multiplier – as well as a forum for international legitimation the United States cannot do without.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Alliance has continued to play an essential role in transatlantic security. It has intervened in conflicts to bring an end to ethnic violence and genocide, enforced United Nations Security Council resolutions, stabilized and rehabilitated nations, fought against terrorism, brought former adversaries into the flock of Western democratic States, and allowed for security and stability to be taken as a given, a necessary underpinning to development and prosperity.

We cannot and must not let such an alliance be misrepresented and misunderstood any longer. That is NATO’s real task between now and 20thMay in Chicago.


[*] The G-8 Summit was originally proposed to be held back-to-back with the NATO Summit in Chicago. The G-8 Summit has now been moved to Camp David, in part to avoid the risk of popular demonstrations in Chicago and the media’s memories of the 1968 Chicago riots during the Democratic National Convention.

Leave a comment

Filed under NATO

The United States “Pivot to Asia”: It’s NATO way or the highway

Logo for the Chicago 2012 NATO Summit

By Stefano Santamato, Center for Transatlantic Security Studies

The closer we get to the NATO Summit in Chicago, next May 20 and 21, the more European Allies and Atlanticists become worried about the United States “pivot to Asia.”  This is producing a degree of questioning in Europe about US steadfastness that has few if any precedents.

Every speech, every statement, every policy memo by U.S. government officials is finely combed in search of references to NATO or to Europe. As regularly happens on the eve of every major NATO event, the “relevance” debate is dusted off the shelves of transatlantic opinion makers and think tanks. Word counts are run to calculate how many times the Alliance or the Old Continent are mentioned in US official documents and in the US media as if the sheer articulation of these names would equal interest, regard or significance. In doing so, however, we confuse relevance with visibility, substance with narrative, demonstrating an Atlanto-centric vision of the strategic environment that is no more.

To begin with, let us be clear on the difference between policy and slogans. While “pivot to Asia” is an effective and evocative catchphrase, it is not accurate in describing the evolution of the United States defense policy. The Strategic Guidance Review unveiled last January specifically refers to the necessity to “re-balance” towards the Asia-Pacific region. Webster dictionary’s definition of (re)balance is to “arrange so that one set of elements equals another”. Equals, not overtakes or replaces. Coincidentally, NATO is also the only alliance mentioned in a document that refers heavily to working with partners and allies. Hardly a verdict of irrelevance.

Truth to be told, many European Allies are more concerned about the risk of reduced U.S. leadership in NATO than of a reduced U.S. military presence on the Continent, itself now underway. After all, when it comes to wider security issues, the United States still remains the glue that keeps Europeans together. And make no mistake: the President of the United States is doubtless well aware of this fact, and in Chicago he will surely reiterate the U.S. commitment to Europe and the importance of NATO in substantive and no uncertain terms.

But Europeans should also realize that what the “pivot to Asia” may mean in terms of Europe’s lost geographical prominence could be more than compensated of in terms of relative weigh in the transatlantic relationship. There are at least four reasons why the United States’ increasing focus on the Asia-Pacific region is an opportunity for Europe to redefine the North Atlantic Alliance on the basis of shared missions and shared responsibilities, without renouncing the transatlantic security bond.

First, between failed North Korean missiles launches and the long-term military growth of China, most of the immediate geo-strategic challenges to the United States are still well-anchored to the arch spanning East Africa through the Middle-East to Central Asia. The only way that the United States can afford to pivot to Asia is to make sure that its European allies remain closer and more engaged than ever in these areas that remain of critical importance to the U.S.

Second, coalition operations in the past twenty years, from Desert Storm to Operation Unified Protector in Libya, demonstrate that the only way the United States and its partners – including from the Middle East and Asia – can operate together, is by following NATO doctrines, procedures, and standards. To move away from this template would be like trying to switch from digital to analog communications. It is always a feasible alternative, but at what cost in terms of efficiency and effectiveness?

Third, in an age of fiscal austerity, NATO’s education, training and exercise facilities and programs have the unique potential for maintaining, improving, and expanding allies’ and partners’ ability to work together, while minimizing or even zeroing new investment costs.

Fourth and possibly most important, Afghanistan teaches us that NATO is the only alliance in modern history that has demonstrated the capability for enduring over ten years of military conflict without falling apart politically – indeed, while and even attracting new partners.

For these and other reasons, NATO and its European members should not worry overmuch about the narrative of the United States’ pivot to Asia. Rather, they should welcome the substance of a strategic shift that will guarantee NATO’s continued relevance for years to come, not because of its geography or its place in the pecking order of U.S. priorities, but because of its ultimate proven value. After all, unless the United States adopts a doctrine of strict isolationism and military unilateralism, meeting its strategic needs indeed means the “NATO way or the highway;” — never mind if the Alliance is not a big topic in speeches or the media. Maybe, in fact, this quiet reality of its critical importance to the United States is exactly what NATO needs.

Leave a comment

Filed under NATO, Regional Studies, South Asia, Strategic Studies