Category Archives: Regional Studies

Terrorism in European Diasporas: Al-Qaeda, the Tamil Tigers, and the Importance of Ideology.

By Jessica Ward
Crowd Outside Kings Cross station from bombing

In his book, Leaderless Jihad, Marc Sageman presents a bottom up model for al-Qaeda terrorist radicalization, claiming that individual level social factors are responsible for radicalization, to the extent that “al Qaeda had no need for a separate recruitment program”1. He posits that European Muslims are particularly sensitive to radicalization because of an increased rate of failure to assimilate. This basis of this theory is that the logic behind radicalization doesn’t have a lot to do with ideology itself. It is instead connected to social factors such as the influence of family and friends, “it turns out that joining the global Islamist terrorism social movement was based to a great degree on friendship and kinship”2. Max Abrams supports this theory, claiming that “most individuals engage in a cost benefit analysis of whether to participate in an organization based on its personal inducements, which have little if any connection to the organization’s stated goals” and that “many terrorist foot soldiers and even their leaders never develop a basic understanding of their organization’s political purpose”3. Inherent to this model is the idea that ideology is unimportant, and what are important to the radicalization process are friends, family, and social networks. This is why diasporic populations in Europe are more vulnerable to radicalization then Muslims living in their home countries or America4: alienated, they hang out at mosques and join other young Muslim men, eventually going from ‘just a group of guys’ to terrorists.

This theory has been subject to harsh criticism, citing the continued strength of al-Qaeda central leadership, and claiming that what we need to fear is “the realization of strategic organizational decisions al Qaeda made at least a decade ago” and that al-Qaeda is dangerous because:

“Al Qaeda is much like a shark, which must keep moving forward, no matter how slowly or incrementally, or die. Al Qaeda must constantly adapt and adjust to its enemies’ efforts to stymie its plans while simultaneously identifying new targets. The group’s capacity to survive is also a direct reflection of both its resilience and the continued resonance of its ideology,” Hoffman 5.

The supporters of this “grassroots model” do not claim that it extends beyond al-Qaeda. Although Sageman mentions the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and Abrams does support his findings with those concerning the IRA, Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), the Red Brigades, and the Weather Underground amongst others, this model, which claims to be based on social scientific principles, makes no claim to be anything but very specific and not broadly applicable. But if this model of terrorist radicalization is correct, and “the link between a Diaspora and terrorism appears strong,”6 then what kind of evidence is there for radicalization of European diaspora populations for causes other than Islamist terrorism?

One group which offers a strong contrast to al-Qaeda’s patterns of radicalization in diasporic populations is the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an ethno-nationalist group based in Sri Lanka. They are listed on the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations7,  and in their own words, they claim to be “the heart and soul of the Tamil struggle for self-determination” and “ a political organisation as well as a military power, running a de-facto administration in the majority of areas in north-eastern Sri Lanka”8.  The group was largely responsible for the thirty year long Sri Lankan civil war and the deaths of 64,000 people9. It has been largely inactive since the death of its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran in May of 2009.  The LTTE is one of the most notorious terrorist groups in modern history, having been one of the first to use the tactic of suicide bombing on a large scale. Their “Black Tiger” division is responsible for the invention of the suicide belt, a device widely used by suicide bombers throughout the world today10. At their peak they had between 7,000 and 15,000 armed combatants, and were responsible for the assassinations of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993, as well as many prominent Sri Lankan politicians, and attacks on various important military and civilian targets including “naval ships, oil tankers, the airport in the country’s capital of Colombo, and Sri Lanka’s most sacred Buddhist relic, the Temple of the Tooth… Colombo’s World Trade Center and Central Bank.”11

The Tamil population, comprising about 66 million individuals in total12, is dwarfed in size when compared to the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims in the world13. However, like al-Qaeda, the potential diasporic population that could become radicalized is large. Most of the world’s Tamil population, approximately 61 million people, lives in India.  However, it is estimated that 150,000 people of Tamil descent live in the UK, of which 67,000 were born in Sri Lanka14. Unlike the Muslim population, there is little evidence of Tamils in Europe or North America becoming radicalized and joining the LTTE as fighters15.  Tamils in Europe, who primarily reside in the United Kingdom, face the same factors that are described as leading to radicalization and joining al-Qaeda. Many are refugees, low-income, living away from their families. The social experiences described by Sageman of Muslims in Europe who became al-Qaeda members, “They became separated from their families, friends, and culture, many started to feel homesick and lonely. They also felt marginalized and excluded from their immediate environment,”are just as applicable to Tamils as they are to Muslims16. This indicates that the simple of idea of radicalization as a product of alienation and socialization in diasporic populations is not broadly applicable, at least without other considerations.

The LTTE differ in many ways from al-Qaeda. One of the most prominent of these differences is a stark contrast in ideology and scope. While the LTTE efforts are focused intensely on Sri Lanka, especially its Northern and Eastern Provinces (what they wish to be the nation of Tamil Eelam), al-Qaeda’s vision is for a global jihad an eventual world-wide caliphate. For al Qaeda, nothing is outside of their mandate, for the LTTE, their focus is targeted and intense. One difference is their ideology; al-Qaeda fights in the name of God and religion, which the LTTE is a secular movement which fighting in the name of ethnic nationalism.  This means that the appeal of their causes are disparate; al Qaeda’s message, despite the fact that it is widely regarded as too extreme even for other extremists, holds across national borders and has a global base. The LTTE was considered not as extreme by Sri Lankans, but is only fueled by Sri Lankan Tamils, which make up 9-18% of the population of Sri Lanka17. This results in recruiting a larger percentage of a smaller population.

This can also be classified as a difference in the scope of the goal promoted by the ideology. Without getting into the substantive details of their respective ideologies, it becomes apparent that al-Qaeda, a group that sees the world as its battlefield and every Muslim as a potential solider, could be considered an attractive group to join by a more diverse group of people than the LTTE, whose sole purpose is the promotion of nationalism in two provinces of one country. It is this wide-reaching vs. singular focus dichotomy that characterizes the scope of the ideology of al-Qaeda and the LTTE. Had the LTTE chosen to promote a goal with a wider reaching goal, they could have had a much larger reach. Secular ethnic nationalism is a limiting ideology.  Wider reaching goals could include an ethnic conflict narrative, as is seen in the Middle East in Kurdish movements in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. By branding the conflict as a struggle for nationhood instead of Tamil rights, the Sri Lankan Tamils excluded possible assistance from the 60 million Tamil people living in India18. Another potential framework for a wider reaching narrative could have been characterizing the conflict as a religious one. It would have been possible for the mainly Hindu Tamils to create an ideology based on religious struggle against the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority. A broader religiously based ideology, like the one built by al-Qaeda, could have drawn in Hindus from India and the Hindu Diaspora in Europe and North America19.

Another aspect of the scope dimension is how ideology is applied to territory. Both sides use similar terminology of to describe their conflict, with al-Qaeda declaring war against the United States in 1996 and arguing for jihad, which can be translated as holy war20. The LTTE youth organizations similarly use the term “punitha youtham, a “[pure] holy war” to describe the conflict in Sri Lanka21. However, despite this similar use of language, the realities of the conflict between al-Qaeda and America and the LTTE and Sri Lanka are very different. Despite being labeled a terrorist organization, the LTTE controlled large amounts of physical territory in Northeast Sri Lanka and had military capabilities, such as naval and air divisions, that were far beyond al-Qaeda’s. The conflict between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government is typically characterized as a civil war, and it has received enough international attention, such as attempts to negotiate ceasefires by India and Norway, to justify calling the conflict a full scale war. Al-Qaeda on the other hand, has never controlled significant amounts of physical territory, instead existing in training camps and hideouts in Afghanistan, cells spread across the world, and ever increasingly on the internet. This lack of physical base made al-Qaeda’s ‘war’ a global one, while the LTTE existed in a specific place in Sri Lanka.

One last differing factor between the LTTE and al-Qaeda which may have caused one to have the ability to recruit in Europe but the other to have no support from European populations is the domestic political conditions in their home bases. Despite a decreasing amount of civil rights for the Tamil minority, Sri Lanka was classified as “free” by the organization Freedom House until 1983 (it has been “partly free” since). In comparison, Saudi Arabia has never been classified as “free” or “partly free” since Freedom House began collected data in 1973. Egypt, the most populous Middle Eastern state, has been either “partly free” or “not free”, having been “not free” since 199322. This relative openness may be a pathway for supporters of the LTTE to stay within the country, making support from Europe unnecessary. The authoritarian societies of the Middle East inflict harsh punishments upon those who support terrorist groups, providing incentive for terrorist sympathizers to leave the country and disincentive for those within the country to support terrorism. The freedom of Europe allows al-Qaeda the ability to plan operations under conditions where the government has limits on its ability to imprison and conduct recognizance within its own borders. Additionally there is less potential cost for becoming radicalized in a European country; where there are strict rules on the justice system, than in the Middle East, where habeas corpus doesn’t necessarily exist23.

Overall, the differences between al-Qaeda and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam can be summarized as a difference in the scope of their ideologies. Al-Qaeda’s vague and unrealistic goals have the possibility of appealing to any Muslim in any country, while the LTTE’s specific goals are only likely to appeal to Tamil people in Sri Lanka itself. The idea of socialization being a pathway to radicalization is not necessarily precluded by this conclusion, but it shows that there are many other factors that lead to terrorism, and that it may not be possible to find a simple answer to the question of why people become terrorists. These differences show that ideology does matter in terrorist radicalization, and that the simple answer of alienated people who create social ties may not be so simple. Recognizing such restrictions may have counterterrorism implications, such as determining where to focus counterterrorism efforts. While it may be possible for a group like al-Qaeda to operate anywhere, and thus counterterrorism efforts should be done everywhere, it is unlikely that group like the LTTE that has a specifically focused ideology will have much of a foothold outside of its area of focus, thus making counterterrorism efforts against the LTTE in places like North America or Europe lower priority that efforts in South Asia. Additionally, as history has shown, this may be a reason why al-Qaeda has survived the death of many of its leaders and continues to be a threat after the death of Bin Laden, but why the LTTE has become essentially defeated after the death of its leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Jessica Ward is a Research Intern at the Conflict Records Research Center, Institute for National Strategic Studies.  Ms.Ward is a senior Political Science major with Interdisciplinary Honors in International Security Studies at Stanford University.


Endnotes

1. Sageman, Marc, Leaderless Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008, 70

2.  ibid, 66

3. Abrahms, Max, “What Terrorists Really Want: Terrorist Motives and Counterterrorism Strategy”, International Security, Vol. 32, No.2, Spring 2008, 95, 99

4. There are many reasons why European immigrant populations are more prone to radicalization than American ones are. Possible explanations include harsher American visa requirements, and thus the ability to hand pick professionals and intellectuals for immigration and not allow in those who may be vulnerable, the relative weakness (or non-existence) of the American welfare system, which allows unemployed Europeans to spend their time on terrorist activities, but in America, “by the time American young Muslims sympathetic to the jihad get home from work, they are too exhausted to do much,” as well as the American national myth of the “melting pot,” which serves as a mechanism for assimilating immigrants, as opposed to the European national myths of a “national essence” (Sageman 90-102).

5. Hoffman, Bruce, “The Myth of Grassroots Terrorism”, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008

6. Sageman, 65

7. U.S. State Department, “List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” 27 January 2012, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm , accessed 25 July 2012

8. “About Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” http://www.eelam.com/ltte, accessed 25 July 2012

9. Hussain, Syed Rifat “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE): Failed Quest for a Homeland”, in eds. Mulaj, Kledja, Violent Non-State Actors in World Politics, Columbia University Press, New York, 2010. 381

10. Bhattacharji, Preeti “Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (aka Tamil Tigers) (Sri Lanka, Separatists),” http://www.cfr.org/terrorist-organizations/liberation-tigers-tamil-eelam-aka-tamil-tigers-sri-lanka-separatists/p9242 , 20 May 2009, Council on Foreign Relations, accessed 25 July 2012

11. Hussain, 384

12.  Ethnolouge, “Tamil,” http://www.ethnologue.com/15/show_language.asp?code=tam; accessed 25 July 2012. This defines a Tamil person as a speaker of the Tamil language. While there can be other definitions, this is the one with the most reliable data.

13. Pew Research Center, “Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population”, 7 October 2009, http://www.pewforum.org/Mapping-the-Global-Muslim-Population.aspx

14. Dissanayke, Samanthi, “UK Tamils Polarised by Powerful,” British Broadcasting Company, 8 December 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7742134.stm, accessed 25 July 2012. The United Kingdom does not keep data and race and ethnicity at the levels of the United States, but it does keep data on the country of birth of its citizens. 150,000 figure and estimate, 67,000 figure from the 2001 census.

15. There is evidence of some financial support from European and North American Tamils. “Members of the Tamil community abroad say the culture of fear that surrounds such tactics is enough to coerce them to fund the LTTE. The U.S. State Department says the LTTE has also used charitable groups, like the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization, as a front for fundraising. These forms of funding have made the LTTE one of the wealthiest militant organizations in the world.” Bajoria, Jayshree, “The Sri Lankan Conflict,” http://www.cfr.org/terrorist-organizations/sri-lankan-conflict/p11407 , Council on Foreign Relations, 18 May 2009, accessed 25 July 2012.

16. Sageman 68

17. 8.5% by ethnicity, 18% by language. CIA World Factbook, “Sri Lanka,” https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ce.html,  Central Intelligence Agency, 13 July 2012, accessed 25 July 2012.

18. India did support the LTTE early on in the conflict, with LTTE members being armed and trained by the Indian Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in the early 1970s. There were also alliances between the LTTE and secessionist groups in Tamil Nadu. Both of these withdrew support from the LTTE in the early 1980s. Bajoria

19. Despite Hinduism’s reputation in the West as being non-violent, there is substantial evidence of violence associated with Hinduism in modern India, including the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, the 2002 Gujarat riots, and growing anti-Christian and right wing Hindu extremist violence.

20. Bin Laden, Osama, “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” http://www.pbs.org/newshour/terrorism/international/fatwa_1996.html, PBS Newshour, August 1996, accessed 26 July 2012. A more literal translation of jihad is struggle, thus its use in Islamic religious rhetoric which argues for the promotion of “the greater jihad,” an internal struggle.

21. Wilson, A. Jegaratham, Sri Lankan Tamil Nationalism: Its Origins and Development in the 19th and 20th Centuries, 2000, London, C. Hurst Co.

22. Freedom House, “Freedom in the World, 1973-2012,” http://www.freedomhouse.org/report-types/freedom-world, accessed 25 July 2012. India and Western Europe are considered “free” for most years in this period.

23. This argument can be found in Huckabey, Jessica M. and Mark E. Stout, “Al Qaida’s Views of Authoritarian Intelligence Services in the Middle East,” Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 25, No. 3, 327–349, June 2010

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Why Counter-Insurgency is Far from Over

Logo for CTSS

By Marie-Theres Beumler, Center for Transatlantic Security Studies

The notion that counter-insurgency (COIN) operations are no longer seen as the future of kinetic operations has recently been emphasized at numerous high level events in Washington, DC. This, however, might prove to be a hasty notion, and here is why:

There is no doubt that potential near-term events unfolding in Afghanistan have every possibility of further destabilizing neighbor countries or the entire region. Whilst this perspective is solely focused on Central Asia, it is widely acknowledged that Syria could play a similar role in the Middle East, and so could a conflict in the Caucasus (Russia just reinforced its 58th army), and manifold threat potentials emanating from countries in Africa and the Persian Gulf (Al-Qaeda affiliates being only one example).

Unfortunately, while the global economic situation remains unstable, the potential for conflict emanating from the globally disenfranchised increases, and structural State weakness increases as well. The international community will be confronted with a slowly, but consistently growing number of weak and failing States in the future. Examples could be the recently turmoiled situation in the Maghreb as well as numerous central African States affected by the presence of terrorist or insurgent groups – most notably along the corridor from the Niger delta to Egypt.[1] These States harbor relative deprivation and perceived grievances while leaving significant segments of the population with little to nothing to lose – the droves of young male pirates emanating from Somalia is a case in point. This is in part due to the global expansion of criminal (trade) networks, increasing activity on the part of spoilers who exploit safe havens, and the spillover effects from conflicted neighbor countries (bad neighborhoods). The rise in severity and occurrence of State weakness will be accompanied by a disproportionate rise in the occurrence of insurgent groups and insurgencies.[2] Insurgent groups profit from all the most prominent features of weak and failed states: low enforcement capacity, ungoverned / ungovernable territories, and the lack of political representation and social security provision.[3] If grievance and opportunity[4] develop in certain segments of the population, so will insurgent groups, thereby benefiting from the weakness of the host State.

If not an insurgency per se, the nature of many future conflicts will be asymmetric and hence of insurgent quality.  Asymmetry will grow – between segments of the population, warring fractions, and opposing political and military sides. Knowledge on improvised means of warfare, guerilla tactics, and strategy spreads steadily and terrorists and insurgents both are connected globally to profit from each other’s “lessons learned”. Conflicts will not only be fought with increasingly well-connected and prepared opponents, but the opponent might soon learn that it is in their best interest to keep the conflict asymmetric and to profit from this imbalance. After all, this is exactly what the Taliban in Afghanistan have been doing over the last years;[5] other prominent examples include the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)[6] and the Hezbollah in the Lebanon[7].

The only way to counter these developments apart from early monitoring (sadly, reaction continuously seems to be preferred to prevention) will ultimately be counterinsurgency. Not the COIN of today maybe, but a more comprehensive and more integrated approach between military, civilian and political efforts. But it will still be counter-insurgency.

The United States and its allies might be able to pick their battles to a certain extent, but they are unable to influence the nature of these battles. As more states suffer from increasing structural weaknesses, insurgencies will be on the rise. We might not want to engage in COIN, but it might well turn out inevitable in some cases.

After all, COIN might be the warfare of the future, not the past. Now is the time to benefit from our collective lessons learned and improve it, not to abandon it.

Marie Therese Beumler is a research intern with the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies.  The views expressed are her own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.


[1] Foreign Policy: The Failed States Index 2011

[2] Beumler, Marie-Theres: Exploring the Cause and Effect Relationship between State Weakness and Insurgencies: Investigating the causal Relationship using the Case Study of the Taliban Movements, EPU 2012

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lu, Lingy and Cameron, Thies: Economic Grievance and the Severity of Civil War, Civil Wars, 2011

[5] Gutierrez Sanin, Francisco and Giustozzi, Antonio: Networks and Armies: Structuring Rebellion in Colombia and Afghanistan, in: Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 2010; Stenersen, Anne: The Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan – Organization, Leadership and Worldview, Norwegian Defense Research  Establishment, Norway 2010

[6] Brittain, James J.: Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia: The Origin and Direction of the FARC-EP, Pluto Press, USA 2010; Leech, Garry: The FARC: The Longest Insurgency, Zed Books, London and NY 2011

[7] Azani, Eitan: The Story of the Party of God: From Revolution to Institutionalization, Palgrave Macmillan, USA 2009; Palmer Harik, Judith: Hezbollah: The changing Face of Terrorism, I.B. Tauris, London and NY 2007

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A More Political Alliance – Force of arms are not the only tools transforming NATO’s battlefield.

US Rep Mike Turner

By James Thomas Snyder and Brett Swaney

Headlines wouldn’t suggest it, but protestors and pundits were on common ground during the NATO Summit concluded last month in Chicago. Street demonstrators attacked the alliance for drone strikes while policy critics debated burden-sharing in an era of austerity, yet both agreed on one thing: NATO’s primary tool for dealing with threats and challenges today is primarily force of arms.

But hard power, to borrow a tired phrase, is not the totality of NATO’s character. NATO remains unique for its collective defense provision, but its political aspect is too-often overlooked.  And it is the political NATO that has done far more to spread peace, trust and security across Europe and beyond than through force.

The political NATO is defined not by the military operations and capacities of the Alliance, but rather by the ability to negotiate, consult, and reconcile with friends and, where possible and appropriate, also with adversaries.  This remarkable ability is recounted again and again by NATO member ambassadors to the United States in an interview project the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies at National Defense University produced for the NATO Summit, “A More Perfect Alliance”, which can be viewed online.

NATO’s ability to reconcile goes back surprisingly far, even to the time of the Cold War.  During the mid-1980s, the NATO states negotiated with the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union through the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe  and also concluded the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). The former helped to promote the end of the Cold War.  The latter landmark arms control framework still limits the means to make war on the European continent.

Peter Taksøe-Jensen, the Danish ambassador to the United States, participated in the CFE negotiations and saw how the two sides, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, came together to build the future.  “We saw the Warsaw pact falling apart during negotiations,” he told us, “but we managed to nail a negotiation and a result that… helped in shaping the Europe we know today.”

NATO similarly engaged in high-stakes trading during the waning days of the Cold War as the United States and the Soviet Union wrote the breakthrough treaty on intermediate nuclear forces in Europe. Member states negotiated among themselves in a little-known process to reduce tactical nuclear weapons in Europe by more than 90 percent.  Claudio Bisogniero, the Italian Ambassador to the United States and former NATO Deputy Secretary General, recalled his service at NATO in the late 1980s as an exciting time of remarkable change. “We signed a treaty or memorandum at NATO once a month … with the Russians or among us allies,” he told us.

Today NATO is often accused of aggravating tensions with its former adversary.  Less understood is how NATO has helped ease and reconcile relations between its member states and Russia.  The Latvian ambassador to the United States, Andrejs Pildegovics, remarked on how his country has improved relations with its great neighbor. “Since we have joined NATO, the climate in the region has improved dramatically,” he told us. “This is due to the fact that the borders are clear, the structures are there, and there are no temptations for any changes.”

NATO’s ability to reconcile former adversaries is not limited to the ties between former Soviet republics.  Croatia joined NATO in 2009, barely 15 years after the wars of succession in the former Yugoslavia.  Today with Slovenia, Croatia champions expanded NATO membership in the Balkans to include its former warring neighbors.  Joško Paro, the Croatian Ambassador to the United States, explained why.  “We believe if our neighbors join us in NATO,” he told us, “then our neighborhood is going to be better.”

NATO’s political power is significant now because it may be the final way out of Afghanistan, the Chicago Summit’s signature issue.  Special forces, drone strikes and the persistent effort of allied soldiers have greatly diminished the Taliban and affiliated groups.  But counterinsurgency doctrine suggests the lasting way to break the back of an insurgency is to co-opt reconcilable elements through a political process.  As the allies committed themselves to the future of Afghanistan for their own security, they assumed responsibility to end the insurgency by force or by politics.  Thankfully they have the experience and means to do it.

NATO has been critical to resolving long-standing disputes with old adversaries and new.  Whether ending the Cold War and expanding the area of peace and stability in Europe or dismantling the Taliban, NATO has more than just weapons in its toolkit.  Not only through force of arms but through the political power of democratic states acting in concert will NATO continue to resolve the threats that challenge us, in Afghanistan and beyond.


James Snyder served on NATO’s International Staff in Brussels from 2005 to 2011. Brett Swaney is a research assistant in the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies at the National Defense University, Washington, D.C.

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NATO: Chicago Summit – A Vision of Success, or a Missed Opportunity?

Successes and failures are often in the eye of the beholder; the following two blogs offer contrasting views on the outcomes of the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago.  We call it “Dueling Blogs”…….

Image of a fencing foil

NATO Summit: A Swing and a Miss
by Brett Swaney
Edited by Mr. Mark Ducasse

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that the Chicago Summit was an outright success, declaring: “We [NATO] have focused on the future of Afghanistan; we have decided to invest smartly in our defense, even in times of austerity; and we have engaged with our partners around the world to address the challenges we all face in the 21st century.”[i]  Yet on all counts, the Summit was a shadow of what could have been a critical moment in the history of the organization.  This was a failed opportunity to provide a desperately needed vision of the future for the world’s premier security alliance.

The headline grabbing issue for the Chicago Summit was Afghanistan.  While milestones in the Afghan conflict were announced and leaders “took stock” of their progress, they were little more than a rehash of financial and military commitments, as well as agreement on a timetable for withdrawal.

Critical issues were left unaddressed. Almost all of the closest U.S. allies failed to commit specific amounts of funds to help finance Afghanistan’s military forces through 2024.  The long term funding question is vital to the future of security in Afghanistan.

Further, allies agreed to a plan that would see Afghan security forces shrink by 120,000 men – but how do you demobilize those soldiers and remove their not insignificant spending power when the Afghan economy is already in shambles?

The details of future NATO engagement in Afghanistan also remained opaque.  Will it be only advising and training?  Will there be special operations units in place to aid Afghan forces in trouble?  And no one was willing to even broach the topic of Afghan political reform – the real threat to democracy in the war-torn country.

Yet, the greater question of NATO’s future after Afghanistan remained the unaddressed elephant in the room, and that the future of the Alliance will rely-in part- on expanding global partnerships.  Yet, according to Foreign Policy’s Josh Rogin, this summit “is the first in decades to make little or no progress on the enlargement of the organization.”[ii] For aspirants such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia the path to membership has been significantly delayed.

The last round of NATO enlargement occurred in 2004 with the accession of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia. The accession of the Baltic States was a success and the Alliance became stronger as a result, demonstrating that NATO can play a key role in reconciliation between former adversaries.  Estonia in particular is making significant contributions as the host of the NATO Cyber Defense Center of Excellence, and is a strong advocate for cyber defense.

Will NATO wait for another Kosovo or Bosnia before pursuing a similar process in the Balkans?  In this light, the Summit was another missed opportunity to resolve unfinished business in Europe.

The Summit was also an important opportunity to mend ties, and shore up the often-cantankerous relationship with Pakistan.  Pakistan’s closure of NATO supply routes, and the exorbitant fees demanded to reopen them are in protest to drone attacks and a U.S. air strike that killed two-dozen Pakistani troops in November of last year.

Yet after being invited to the Summit at the last minute, President Obama refused to meet with Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari face-to-face.[iii]  This very public snub will certainly fail to convince Pakistan to acquiesce and re-open its supply routes for NATO, and it is unlikely that this diplomatic sleight will further U.S., or NATO goals in the region.

The Summit also focused on capabilities.   The ongoing fiscal challenges in the United States, and the continuing Eurozone crisis catapulted the Secretary General’s personal initiative “Smart Defense” to the top of the list at the Summit.  Smart defense is a good idea in an economically challenging context, when a system for coordinating and pooling defense resources to mitigate duplication and cost is needed.  Leaders at the summit announced twenty-two projects under the Smart Defense initiative, including the extension of Baltic air policing, and improving the Alliance’s ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) capabilities by signing a contract to buy five Global Hawk Drones from Northrop Grumman.[iv]

While these are no doubt needed capabilities and important symbolic operations, none of the projects will significantly impact the course of the Alliance in the future.  In fact, a plurality of experts surveyed by the Atlantic Council and Foreign Policy magazine believed that smart defense would only “mask NATO’s inability to make major necessary reforms.”[v]

The Summit in Chicago was an unrealized opportunity to lay concrete foundations for the future of the Alliance and reaffirm U.S. leadership therein.  A set of rather modest successes at best does not mask the larger questions plaguing the Alliance.  Missed opportunities to answer critical questions about Afghanistan, Smart Defense, and Pakistan leave the impression of an alliance struggling with current crises, and unable to get its head above water.  With some continuing to debate the relevance of NATO, an uninspired, unambitious summit of missed opportunities does not portend a hopeful outlook for the future.

Brett Swaney is a research intern at the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies.


[i] Parrish, Karen.  “NATO Secretary General Terms Summit a Success.” U.S. Department of Defense.  21 May 2012.  Retrieved May 28, 2012.  http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=116436

[ii] Rogin, Josh.  “The NATO non-enlargement Summit. ”Foreign Policy.  May 21st, 2012.  Retrieved May 25, 2012.  http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/05/21/the_nato_non_enlargement_summit

[iii] MacAskill, Ewen.  “US-Pakistan Tensions Deepen as Obama Snubs Zardari at NATO Summit.”  The Guardian.  May 21, 2012.  Retrieved on May 26, 2012.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/21/us-pakistan-tensions-deepen-nato

[iv] Daalder, Ivo, Gideon Rose, Rachel Bronson.  “Ivo Daalder Discusses the Chicago NATO Summit.” May 23, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2012.  http://www.foreignaffairs.com/discussions/news-and-events/ivo-daalder-discusses-the-chicago-nato-summit?cid=rss-rss_xml-ivo_daalder_discusses_the_chic-000000

[v] “Atlantic Council/ Foreign Policy Survey: The Future of NATO.”  May 14, 2012.  Retrieved May 28, 2012.  http://www.acus.org/event/atlantic-councilforeign-policy-survey-future-nato

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reverse image of fencing foil

NATO Summit:  Mission Accomplished.
By StephanieChristel
Edited by Mr. Mark Ducasse

“We came to Chicago with three goals. And we have met them,”[i] were the words of NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the two-day series of meetings focused on Afghanistan, Alliance capabilities, and global partnerships. Luckily, this summit avoided being one for the history books—in a negative sense.

Significant issues, such as newly elected French President Francois Hollande’s announcement of the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, sour relations between the Alliance and Pakistan, or security concerns in Chicago could have easily derailed the Summit.  But they did not and clear decisions were taken on each item of the agenda.

Afghanistan headlined the Summit agenda.  With all eyes on the Alliance and its partners, the Summit produced concrete decisions among leaders and assurances to both ISAF-contributing nations and the Afghani people.  To the citizens and soldiers of Allied and partner nations, leaders emphasized the “irreversible transition of full security responsibility”[ii] to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and signaled the official closure of what will be a thirteen-year combat mission.

The concerns of Afghan citizens were not ignored, and the pledge of some $4.1 billion per year in support of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), 87.5% of which will come in the form of foreign donations, codifies the Alliance’s commitment to the State and people of Afghanistan, long after our troops have left.[iii]

While some will be disappointed by the lack of public monetary promises made to the fund, it was never intended for this summit to be a donors’ conference.  From the outset, the discussion of this summit was focused on security issues related to Afghanistan.

In July, the Tokyo Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan will delve into the non-security, mainly financial and developmental aspects, of support during the “Transformation Decade.”[iv]  The United States is confident that the international community will be able to obtain full funding.[v] Tokyo will be an extension of the NATO Summit’s commitment to a sustainable Afghanistan and it’s fledgling security forces.

The continuance of the Eurozone crisis and reality of declining U.S. defense budgets brought credence to the decisions taken at the Summit on Alliance capabilities.  Leaders approved twenty-two projects under the “Smart Defense” banner.  These projects include extending the Baltic air policing mission and improving the Alliance’s intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities (an area in which the organization lacks an independent capability, as was highlighted in Libya – where the allies relied heavily on the U.S. to fill this role).[vi]  In addition, leaders declared interim missile defense capability, a major feat when considering the significant political and military capital needed to make this system a reality.  The Atlantic Council’s Barry Pavel describes this as “a good start” but noted, “more needs to be done.”[vii] It is essential to view this Summit as the first of many that bring new perspectives to Alliance capabilities.

The Deterrence and Defense Posture Review (DDPR), mandated at the previous NATO Summit in Lisbon, stated that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance,” reassuring concerned NATO allies and demonstrating to potential adversaries that nuclear weapons would remain a core component of the Alliance’s deterrent and defense capabilities.

After the wave of concern that the U.S. “pivot” to Asia set off, this strong stance quelled the concerns of some member States and, in part, reinforced the transatlantic relationship.

The least noted of agenda topics, partnerships, was an extremely successful component of the Summit.  This summit was the largest ever, with 63 nations in attendance plus representatives from the European Union and United Nations.

With the approval of the other 27 nations, President Obama asked Secretary General Rasmussen to begin a process that will allow highly involved partners, those with both the political will and military capability, to engage significantly, and to be integrated into the planning and training discussions of the Alliance.[viii]

Support of NATO aspirant nations by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her statement that Chicago should be “the last summit that is not an enlargement summit,”[ix] indicated the necessity of spreading the linkages of stability and security NATO provides for its members. This statement has already marked an important agenda item for the next summit, a date and location for which have yet to be determined.

Focusing on the “what could have been” is not enough to condemn efforts in Chicago as “unsuccessful.”  This summit emphasized NATO as a hub of global security—out-of-area operations, working with an expanding network of partners around the world, and efficient operator of pooled capacities—and reiterated the steps being taken to continually transform the Alliance.  This Summit made tangible contributions to global security, and highlighted the Alliance’s continuing relevance to its members, partners, and the rest of the world.

Stephanie Christel is a research intern for the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies.


[i] “NATO-News: NATO Chicago summit meets its goals.” May 21, 2012. Retrieved May 25, 2012. http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/news_87603.htm

[ii] “Chicago Summit Declaration” May 20, 2012.  Retrieved May 22, 2012.  http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/official_texts_87593.htm

[iii] “Chicago Summit Declaration on Afghanistan.”  May 21, 2012.  Retrieved May 25, 2012.  http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-8E723D85-B8AC5902/natolive/official_texts_87595.htm

[iv] Ibid; “NATO Chicago Summit: Afghanistan.” UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  Retrieved May 25, 2012.  http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/global-issues/afghanistan/chicago-summit-2012/,

[v] Daalder, Ivo, Gideon Rose, Rachel Bronson.  “Ivo Daalder Discusses the Chicago NATO Summit.” May 23, 2012. Retrieved May 26, 2012.  http://www.foreignaffairs.com/discussions/news-and-events/ivo-daalder-discusses-the-chicago-nato-summit?cid=rss-rss_xml-ivo_daalder_discusses_the_chic-000000

[vi] “The NATO Chicago Summit: Outcomes and the Way Ahead” Conference. Atlantic Council. May 24, 2012.

[vii] Bennett, John T.  “Grading Obama’s NATO Summit Performance.” U.S. News.  May 22, 2012.  Retrieved May 24, 2012.  http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/dotmil/2012/05/22/grading-obamas-nato-summit-performance

[viii] “The NATO Chicago Summit: Outcomes and the Way Ahead” Conference. Atlantic Council. May 24, 2012.

[ix] Clinton, Hillary.  “Remarks at the North Atlantic Council Meeting.”  May 21, 2012.  Retrieved May 29, 2012.  http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2012/05/190466.htm

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Murky Waters: Implications of a Syrian No-Fly Zone

Syrian Flag

by Dylan Maguire, Research Intern
Edited by Dr. Denise Natali, Minerva Chair

As the events in Syria continue to unfold and new accounts of atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad’s regime against the Syrian people are reported, calls for the international community to take decisive action will grow stronger.

At a recent panel held at the Rethink Institute in Washington, DC, an affiliate of the Turkic American Alliance, senior staff from the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies as well as the Syrian Expatriates Organization called for the imposition of a no-fly zone to create and maintain a humanitarian corridor inside Syria proper. All of us who are following the events transpiring in Syria want to encourage policy options that will stop the killing and lead to a transfer of power from the dictatorial regime to one that reflects the true aspirations of the Syrian people. However, before the legitimate use of military power can be employed in a responsible manner it is important that all of the possible consequences of such a policy are explored. Recent history provides us with two interesting case studies, Iraq and Libya. When examining these cases it is important to remember that the stated goal in Libya was Qaddafi’s departure while in Iraq it was population protection and humanitarian relief.

After Operation Desert Storm and the surrender of the Iraqi Army, the Kurds in the North and the Shia’s in the South revolted against Saddam’s regime. The international coalition decided to impose a no-fly zone over portions of the north and south of Iraq to prevent Saddam from using his air force to put down these rebellions. In addition to preventing Iraqi over-flight in the north, coalition ground forces also began distributing humanitarian aid among the Kurds. While Saddam was unable to use fixed-wing aircraft to suppress those in revolt, he made effective use of helicopters, artillery, and ground troops. The coalition air assets could have expanded their target options to include these ground forces, but they did not. In fact, there were almost no Iraqi planes for coalition pilots to engage as Saddam largely respected the no-fly zone knowing that his ground forces were more than capable against the lightly armed resistance. There are three lessons to be learned from this episode. First, no-fly zones are only effective against other aircraft, when ground force is used as the means of oppression, then what is called for is a no-drive zone, or in effect a conventional air campaign. Second, lightly armed resistance movements will not be able to mount decisive counter-regime operations unless they are supported by conventional air power. Third, dictators like Saddam and Assad are well aware of the capabilities of all parties involved and will play their cards as effectively as possible. They will do so by limiting their exposure to overwhelming air-power while using their conventional ground forces to demolish the local opposition.

A good example of a no-fly zone expanding into a no-drive zone is the recent NATO air campaign in Libya. The limited operation to prevent Qaddafi from using his air force against the resistance quickly turned into a conventional air campaign as Qaddafi made use of his armor and artillery to pound revolutionary cities into submission. When allied airplanes began to attack these formations Qaddafi ordered his forces to shed their uniforms and heavier equipment. They changed their dress to appear like the opposition forces in order to confuse NATO pilots. This in turn led to the need for on-the-ground coordination between Libyan revolutionary forces and NATO command and control to prevent friendly fire casualties. What had begun as a limited no-fly zone quickly morphed into NATO acting as the air force for the Libyan revolutionary forces. Again there are three main lessons that can be taken away from this case. First, in these types of operations mission creep is not a possibility but a certainty. Second, dictators like Qaddafi and Assad will not hesitate to change their ground strategies to realize the full potential of their own forces, even if that means breaking all of the recognized laws of war, such as wearing uniforms and driving marked vehicles. Finally, by wedding allied airpower to local opposition forces, western nations will be taking ownership of the conflict and all that entails. When non-combatants are unintentionally killed by allied air strikes it could potentially help to further entrench the dictator’s base, or possibly turn locals against allied forces.

In addition to the lessons that can be learned from these two cases there are other questions that must be answered before the US military engages in any operations in Syria. In the Iraq case, only certain areas of the country were protected by the no-fly zone. In Syria how will the no-fly zone and the humanitarian corridor be defined? Will the no-fly zone only protect a few of the varied ethnic communities in Syria? If coalition forces choose only to protect certain communities, this would have an effect on the domestic balance of power once Assad was ousted. How long will the no-fly zone be established for and who will pay for its upkeep and enforcement? If the Assad regime falls, will the US become responsible for the creation of a new government in Syria? By taking on these responsibilities the US would be committing itself to a new round of nation building in the Middle East.

The killing taking place in Syria at the hands of the Assad regime is unconscionable and must be recognized as such by the full international community. Yet, beginning an air campaign to limit Assad’s military capabilities could turn into a full-fledged conventional battle between allied power and the hardcore elements of the regime. Leaving aside issues concerning UN Security Council resolutions and Russian intransigence, the US must realize that in committing to a no-fly zone policy it will be in effect declaring war on Assad’s regime. If that is truly the desired policy, then a real war plan making use of the full capability of the US military must be employed. However, it appears that this is precisely what the Obama administration is seeking to avoid. Thus, it must refrain from taking actions, such as imposing a no-fly zone, which will inevitably lead it to the same place.


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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.

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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

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