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NATO: Shared or Divded Responsibilities?

By Mark D. Ducasse
Center for Transatlantic Security Studies

Libya illustrated that some NATO Allies are more willing to become involved in NATO operations than others. To some extent, this has always been a facet of Alliance operations, but never has such intra-Alliance discord been played out so overtly in the build-up to military operations. At the strategic-level, the North Atlantic Council sanctioned the Alliance’s actions in Libya by reaching – or rather not breaking – “consensus” of all 28 NATO nations. However, at the operational level, we witnessed a split between those nations willing to carry out their operational requirements and share mission responsibilities and those that were not. The subsequent operation in Libya inaugurated a new, more flexible approach to operations, closer to a “coalition of the willing,” composed of both NATO members and external partners. With this in mind, in an alliance based around the notion of political solidarity and shared responsibilities, is such an external division of Alliance responsibilities detrimental to the overall cohesion and longevity of NATO?

During the Cold War, NATO had one essential mission: to deter or – if need be – counter any possible attack emanating from the Soviet Union upon the territory of its members. NATO’s Cold War mission was full-spectrum in nature and would have required capabilities of all Alliance members as they simultaneously combined offensive, defensive, and continuity of civil society operations against aggression emanating from the Warsaw Pact. This mission was one borne out of “collective-defense” and the NATO Treaty’s Article 5. Today, NATO has moved away from its Cold War “collective-defense” attitude, implying a solely military posture, to an alliance based around the notion of “collective-security,” incorporating new mission sets, external partners and whole of government approaches to better and more flexibly fulfill the security requirements of its members. Such mission diversity, however, demands continued input and possible specialization by NATO members, in addition to a clearly-defined process for the institutionalization of operational lessons learnt.

Today, NATO’s areas of operation are more diversified than ever. The Alliance has moved away from a single mission tied almost entirely to the European continent during the Cold War, and is now potentially even farther afield than the area of operations used to redefine NATO’s role during the early post-Cold War era. NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept brought Alliance strategy up-to-date and addressed the Alliance’s ability to project globally. In this document, the Allies reiterated the centrality of the Alliance’s traditional Article 5 collective-defense mission. The Allies added crisis management and cooperative security to form three core-tasks for NATO in the twenty-first century. The Alliance today is performing such missions simultaneously on three separate continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia. These include stability and security assistance operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan; counter-piracy operations off the Gulf of Aden and East Africa; and offensive military operations and humanitarian protection/assistance in Libya.

It is these new missions that are raising potential political divisions among the various Allies. Nations are increasingly going “á la carte,” choosing which missions to be become involved with and which to avoid. Unsurprisingly, those missions which allied nations are choosing to participate in are closer to their own national interests rather than to a single unifying full-spectrum mission of the Cold War era (1).  This picking and choosing exacerbates existing capabilities gaps and interoperability issues faced by NATO at the operational level, in addition to damaging the overall notion of Alliance solidarity at the strategic level. NATO’s operational experiences in Libya, Afghanistan, and the former Yugoslavia highlight two clear and growing questions in relation to future NATO operations: First, how can a decision endorsed by multiple nations not include or imply the equal sharing of burdens towards the implementation of this consensus? And second, what effects will the discrepancy between strategic-level political consensus and tactical-level force and burden allocation have on the global projection of the Alliance and NATO’s fulfillment of its three core tasks?

I believe that NATO must project itself globally in order to truly address the international threat environment of today. Today, NATO must be capable of dealing with crisis management and its traditional Article 5 mission not only within Europe, but also abroad, with the countering of conventional and asymmetrical threats emanating from North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the wider Middle East. The Alliance must continue its post-Cold War mission of expansion and the external projection of power. The Alliance should also ensure adequate resources for non-Article 5 expeditionary operations. Such resources are not only dependent on political commitment, but require the physical allocation of capabilities to ensure that such operations are interoperable, flexible and, most importantly, rapidly deployable outside of NATO’s traditional European area of operations. This will enable the Alliance to better meet and protect its members from the new and dynamic security challenges they face today.

However, with this new global mission, Alliance members must share the risks at every level, as well as the burdens, responsibilities, and successes. If NATO is to maintain a viable and expeditionary alliance that fulfils the security requirements and cost-benefit analysis of all its members, then the Allies need to divide tasks and operations fairly among themselves based on relative capabilities and specialties. The Allies should not, however, divide the responsibility for Alliance goals, missions, or implementation of the 2010 Strategic Concept. Doing so will undermine the notion of shared responsibilities and ownership by all 28 nations of NATO operations. All Allies must make meaningful contributions to future joint operations, taking joint ownership and demonstrating their political solidarity to each other and the Alliance through the development, deployment and sustainment of these contributions. And though the Alliance structure creates a “pool” of standardization and interoperability from which coalitions of willing nations and external partners can easily form, the overall cohesion and direction of NATO is not something nations can pick and choose from when it suits their own individual interests. All Allies must bear a fair share of the burden towards the implementation of Alliance consensus.

The Allies must reach consensus as to the future strategy of their out-of-area operations and the capabilities they – as an alliance – are lacking or are willing to share in this regard. I contend that more planning and research about future threats must also be done, including a study into the projected effects the end of ISAF in 2014 will have on the Alliance, and a clear strategy in relation to North Africa and external partnerships. This research will help mitigate the future creation of ad-hoc coalitions outside of the traditional NATO structure and will also serve to highlight the capabilities needed to deal with future scenarios, the cluster of Allies that possess these capabilities and any gaps in capabilities therein.

Worries about the individual capabilities of Allies has always been a problem of the Alliance, but now, with declining defense budgets and reevaluations of security requirements and political interests, this worry has now changed to concern over the future cohesion of the Alliance as a whole. Policymakers (particularly in Europe) must pay serious attention to this unfair division of responsibilities, keeping an open mind to notions such as burden-sharing and the pooling of Alliance resources in order to mitigate dependency on a single or cluster of nations and more fairly share the responsibilities across the whole Alliance. In particular, the United States must seek an answer to the question of how it can lessen the heavy reliance placed on it by its Allies and yet still remain a committed partner within the Alliance.

History – and circumstances – has shown that America needs partners and that these partners can be found in Europe. However, with the demise of the Soviet Union, the Alliance lost its “other;” the clear and unifying opponent that helped embolden the Allies in fulfillment of their shared responsibilities and roles. The post-Cold War era is witnessing a growing bifurcation in relation to the political interests of the Allies and the role they envisage for NATO in fulfillment of their respective security requirements. This discord ranges from tactical-level questions concerning how to conduct relations with Russia and China, missile defense and nuclear issues, relations with the Middle East and North Africa, the countering of international terrorism; to fundamental questions such as under what circumstances should the Alliance invoke Article 5 and whether nations will actually provide capabilities for Article 5 missions if it were invoked. Such bifurcation and uncertainty as to intra-Alliance solidarity and the overall direction of the Alliance is not to the betterment of NATO. The Allies need to play on the successes of the Alliance, using this time of global austerity and defense cuts to push forward and institutionalize the notion of burden-sharing, specialization, and resource-pooling to the Allies at the upcoming 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, IL. Only then will NATO serve as true toolbox to its members, one ready and adaptable and deployable to deal with current and future security challenges its members may face.

Mr. Mark D. Ducasse is the Principal Research Analyst for the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies (CTSS) at National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies (NDU-INSS). Mr. Ducasse may be contacted at (202) 685-0820 or mark.ducasse.ctr@ndu.edu.  


[1] Of course, even during the Cold War, not all the Allies would have been involved in all aspects of combat, had deterrence failed. The essential difference between then and now is that, in the Cold War, all the Allies were politically committed to the same key goal; on this, they did not divide, as is sometimes the case now.


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The Evolving Relevance of NATO’s Article 5 Ten Years After 9/11
By Mark Ducasse and Stefano Santamato

Ten years after 9/11, nine months before the NATO Summit in Chicago, and four weeks after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Tripoli, discussions over resources and capabilities are overshadowing the transformational nature of NATO’s new Strategic Concept and the operational successes of the Alliance. Lately, too much focus is being placed on a mercantile approach to NATO by which the value of the Alliance is seemingly measured, almost exclusively, in terms of input versus output. This approach, sound in accounting terms, does not bode well for statesmanship or international alliances. It is time to change the course and the discourse.

Even in these challenging times of financial pressures and operational fatigue, the debate over NATO’s role, relevance and resources needs to be, first and foremost, a political one. The history of NATO is one of solidarity, not of an internal balance of capabilities. Burden sharing has always been a feature of NATO’s compact, yet it has never defined the Alliance. The “transatlantic bargain” – if there ever was one – was political not financial. The universal message that Article 5 has sent to the world for more than sixty years is that “…an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all…”

It is mainly because of this message of unqualified solidarity that NATO continues to be the world’s most successful political-military alliance. During the Cold War, the essence of Article 5 laid in the double bluff of the United States’ nuclear umbrella – of its readiness to sacrifice “Chicago for Hamburg” – and of the misunderstanding that an “armed attack” would be countered by an equally, if not superior, purely armed response. In reality, as scholars and close observers know all too well, the three musketeer clause represented by Article 5 is more nuanced, and the Allied nations would stand all for one and one for all only to take such actions each of them would “deem necessary” to restore peace and security in the North Atlantic area. The use of armed force, while specifically mentioned by Article 5, only represents a possible option the Allies are ready to resort to.

However, this reinforces the view that no matter what the Allies’ response to a possible attack on one or more of them would have been, Article 5 would be the right answer, as it had been after the 9/11 attacks on the United States. The speed with which the Allies then agreed, unanimously, to invoke Article 5 stands as a monument to the transatlantic relationship. Against this definitive show of solidarity the discussion over the nature of the attack – armed or not – and on the level of individual or collective response, becomes less relevant.

With its new Strategic Concept, agreed at its Lisbon summit in 2010, NATO has redefined its mandate, vis-à-vis collective defense, crisis management, and cooperative security. The Alliance also reaffirmed its core values of individual liberty, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Between the two, the core of the Alliance’s strength is still represented by the recognition of the centrality of the Allies’ unchanging bond of solidarity. However, as demonstrated by the Allies’ reaction to the 9/11 attacks, this bond has both evolved in nature and acquired new relevance in the post-Cold War world.

NATO’s primary challenge remains one of political unity rather than one of burden sharing. Alliance members face a plethora of unconventional, asymmetrical, and transnational threats to their security. These threats include, among others, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, cyber attacks, disruptions to energy supplies, and mass migration. The perceived threat posed by these examples varies among the Allies, together with their understanding of the role NATO should play in dealing with them.

The new Strategic Concept has very ably mastered the ensuing centrifugal forces by identifying NATO’s three essential tasks to allow all of its members to recognize that, in the Alliance’s mandate, the best way to address their vital security interests is through either collective defense, crisis management, or promoting international security through cooperation.

Equally skillful has been the way the drafters of the new Strategic Concept have ensured the continuity of the solidarity bond by re-framing the essence of Article 5 in its Preface and by redefining the scope of collective defense. By introducing the concept of threat to the “fundamental security” of an individual Ally or of the Alliance as a whole, NATO members have underscored their commitment to the spirit of Article 5 and recognized that a threat to the fundamental security of an individual Ally “rests in the eye of the beholder” and need not necessarily entail exclusively an “armed attack.”

As Operation Unified Protector in Libya demonstrated, NATO remains the only viable and effective political-military organization. Through this operations, the Allies’ capability shortfalls have become visible to a considerable degree because people have started writing more often about them, not because they did not exist before; whilst concurrently, the operational flexibility of and success of the Alliance have quietly increased. Article 5 however, remains the cornerstone that holds NATO together and ensures that democracy, security, flexibility, and mutual understanding continue to spread even if the original threat this alliance was envisioned to counter has long since receded.

During the Cold War, the prevailing threat perception, like a light shining through a lens, was clear and focused in one direction: the Soviet Union. In today’s threat environment, the light is shining through a prism, displaying multiple threats with differing levels of complexity, emanating from and ending at various points, all requiring tailored reactions. What is and is not an Article 5 threat may be more confusing than ever, and deciding that point will require significant consultation and discussion, in order to create consensus among the Alliance’s members.

NATO has evolved from an organization embodying largely military goals conceived in relation to a single threat, and become an alliance regarded as a community of countries sharing common values with the promotion of good governance at its core. The Alliance is moving away from the “collective defense” doctrine of deterring potential aggression with military force alone, to one of “collective security,” involving active conflict prevention via increased cooperation, flexibility and solidarity among members and non-members alike. Article 5 has transformed itself into a conduit through which a new understanding of solidarity can flourish. In these uncertain times, the continuation of a proven alliance that acts as a forum for dialogue and as a tool for crisis management will remain of key importance to the security requirements of its members well into the twenty-first century.

Mr. Mark Ducasse is the Principal Research Analyst for the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies (CTSS) at National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies (NDU-INSS); Mr. Stefano Santamato is a Senior Visiting Research Fellow also at CTSS. Mr. Ducasse may be contacted at (202) 685-0820 or mark.ducasse.ctr@ndu.edu. Mr. Santamato may be contacted on (202) 433-9661 or s.santamato.ctr@ndu.edu.      

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone.

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Arab Shocks, Transatlantic Dialogue, and the Right Side of History
By Stefano Santamato

 Recently, as I watched on television the parallel breaking news of Washington’s earthquake and of the attack to Kaddafi’s compound in Tripoli, my mind was drawn to the obvious analogy.

History’s tectonic plates are moving under and throughout the Arab world. The earthquake is provoking the largest socio-political shock-wave since the fall of the Soviet Union. Long-standing regimes built on the quick sands of corruption and oppression have crumbled rapidly and we do not yet know – no one knows – the eventual outcome.

For years, governments, academics and social scientists have monitored the North Africa and Middle East, an area well known for its “seismic” risk, without being able to anticipate where or when the earth would shake under the feet of its autocrats and dictators. Even today, they are unable to predict the number and magnitude of the aftershocks across the region. It will be years before the dust settles and the Arab world rebuilds its long-stagnant societies.

Yet, there are reasons to remain optimistic. In all their tragedy, earthquakes show the resilience of people and societies, their determination to move on and their resolve to extract – with bare hands if necessary – their neighbors and their dignity from the ruins. Fragile structures are built stronger. Fraudulent “engineers” brought to justice. The Arab world’s new edifice need not look like those in Washington or Brussels. As long as they are held together by the cement of democracy and local participation, the new houses of the emerging Arab society will outlast their occupants. Of this, I am hopeful.

For the Transatlantic Community of North America and Europe, these are events with lessons and opportunities that require our attention. First and foremost, in the case of Libya, the Transatlantic Community. As in the case of natural disasters, external actors need to be ready to help while avoiding the temptation to overburden the stricken nation’s ability to absorb foreign assistance. There is no point in piling up needless debts or misguided projects that the population cannot sustain.

Sure, the United States and Europe need to be prepared to face the current humanitarian and security crisis unfolding on the near shores of the south Mediterranean. But, equally, they need to look beyond the immediate emergency to the region as a whole and be ready to contribute to the reconstruction of a stable and prosperous North Africa and Middle East.

Equally, it would be counterproductive – dangerous even – to impose social models and values on people that are risking their lives to re-assert their dignity and free will.  All the more the case when there is a widespread perception that past “assistance” helped the outgoing regime to establish itself and to stay in power.

By learning its Iraq and Afghanistan lessons, the Transatlantic Community knows it came together too late to offer a coherent and comprehensive response to the transitional challenges of these two countries. There, the national and regional interests of the Transatlantic Community hindered progress, narrowed windows of opportunity, and emboldened oppositions.

The current struggle in the Arab world is a substantially bigger challenge than parochial Transatlantic national agendas can address and that fact alone should reinvigorate the Transatlantic dialogue. Furthermore, the challenge aligns with the very values upon which the Transatlantic relationship was built 60-plus years ago: human rights; rule of law; collective security, democracy and resistance to totalitarian power. If there ever was a time, since September 11, 2001, for Europe and North America to be and to act united, that time is now.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for the exercise of “smart power” in the coherent use of foreign policy and the pragmatic use of the three pillars of international engagement: diplomacy; defense and development. It is clear that the ongoing changes in the Arab world will redefine the 21st Century and to face this reality, the Transatlantic Community needs to be even smarter and add a fourth “D” – Dialogue – to this equation.  Europe and North America need to set aside their respective inner focused realpolitik agendas and discuss how to pool their foreign policy tools in an open and coordinated way.

This dialogue should take place where the Transatlantic cooperation is most operational and can be most effective, that is, between the European Union (EU) and NATO.  It is, I believe, only through an unconditional cooperation between these two organizations that a genuine security, realistic stability, and sustainable development of the Mediterranean coast of North Africa and of the Middle East can be ensured.

Further, I advocate a Transatlantic cooperation revolving around three joint activities.

First – coordination. The EU and NATO should call – sooner rather than later – for a joint ministerial meeting that would go beyond the recent Paris meeting on Libya, to establish unity of intent and define the operational framework for the two organizations in the face of the turmoil in the North African and Middle East regions. This will send an important message to those sitting in the UN Security Council. In addition, it will signal to the regimes and non-state actors brandishing threats of terrorism, religious fundamentalism and energy instability that they will not split the Transatlantic Community or divide its commitment to democratic transitions.

Second – jointness. The EU and NATO should develop joint civil-military plans to address the humanitarian situation, the risk of mass illegal immigration, and forward looking political and economic development. It is time for NATO’s Comprehensive Approach to become less political and more operational and emphasize cooperation against extremist infiltrations, weapons smuggling and proliferation, and drug/human trafficking.

Third – security sector reform. In the longer term, NATO should extend to the Transatlantic Community effort its expertise and experience in security sector reform. By focusing, in particular, on the democratic control of armed forces, NATO would make a substantial contribution to ongoing security, stability, and economic growth across North Africa and the Middle East. On the other hand, the EU could enhance NATO’s capacity building efforts in the area of counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation in the Mediterranean region.

These proposals may be labeled as naïve or unfeasible. Many will even dismiss them on the basis of decades of competitive European and American policies. The truth is that – to return to the earthquake metaphor – we do not know yet how deep the political faults in the Arab world reach and how dramatic the surface destruction will be. Clearly, however, the magnitude of the event is such that reinforced Transatlantic Cooperation is essential to provide the civilian/military leadership and resources required to place it on the right side of history.

Mr. Stefano Santamato is a Senior Visiting Research Fellow for the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies (CTSS) at National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies (NDU-INSS). Mr. Santamato may be contacted at s.santamato.ctr@ndu.edu.      

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.


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