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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.

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Floating Voters, “Couch Rebels,” and Political Participation

By Elena Johnson, Research Intern, University of Virginia, VA

 

Each evolution of communication in history has always been followed by a hoard of skeptics and optimists, from Socrates lamenting the advent of writing, to Nicholas Carr questioning centuries later: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

While it is unclear whether writing has made us unable to recall things from memory, or Google is making us dumber, there are skeptics who argue that the rapid advances in media are making us less politically active and knowledgeable.

One outspoken author is Markus Prior, who wrote “Post-Broadcast Democracy: How Media Choice Increases Inequality in Political Involvement and Polarizes Elections.” He claims that due to the wide range of media options available today more people are opting to ignore politics, leaving only partisan voters and an increasingly polarized system.

The argument hinges around the idea of a “floating voter” or those voters who are not strongly affiliated or persuaded by a particular party and “seldom approach an election with a firm sense of whom to vote for and do not always vote for the same party.” Some argue that it was the “floating” youth votes which swept Obama into office in 2008, but returned to their traditionally low participation rates during the 2010 elections when the Republican’s took back the House. 

The rise of new media sources allows people to selectively consume news that interests them or not watch news at all. In recent years the number of people tuning into the nightly news has declined greatly.

Figure 1: A decline in news consumption with the rise of internet sources allows people to selectively consume news that interests them or not watch news at all.

Prior explains that these voters tend to be less politically aware than their partisan peers, and as such they can be strongly influenced by elements like “candidate images or the controversy of the day.” Knowing about these controversies and seeing the images was inescapable back when a nation tuned into watch to the same newscast by Walter Cronkite each night. However, today we have a variety of options to distract ourselves from the news, be it a rerun of “Two and a Half Men” or the Facebook’s status updates on the daily trials and tribulations of your closest 423 friends.

Prior’s Washington Post article points out how “today’s media users seek out the content they really like. Unfortunately… few people really like the news.” This means that those uninformed citizens who are not invested in politics can remain removed from the political sphere. Prior argues that this detracts from the overall participation in an election— Why move your attention away from the most recent American Idol episode or your Twitter if you don’t really care about the elections at all?

This may not be a uniquely American phenomenon: a Washington Post article from June 13th reports that the media freedoms we’ve become so distracted by in the United States may be just as distracting in countries like Iran.

Thomas Erdbrink’s “In Iran, ‘couch rebels’ prefer Facebook” describes how the same people who led the infamous ‘Twitter’ Revolution in 2009 are now “playing internet games such as FarmVille, [and] peeking at remarkably candid photographs posted online by friends.” The YouTube video “Tehran Persian Nights” is a compilation of these photos, and illustrates the glamorous lives of this younger generation, with blonde women without headscarves shopping in high end boutiques, and young men and women going night-clubbing in high heels and fancy jeans.

Jinoos, a 39 year old Iranian artist, described her generation as “couch rebels,” and told Erdbrink that “our world online is like an endless party with no rules, and that keeps us very busy.” Some of  the reluctance to participate openly in politics may be attributed to the “ferocity of the government crackdown that followed the protests of 2009” which has had long standing effects, including curbing any real outcry from Iran during the recent wave of revolutions in the Middle East. Facebook continues to be the tool of distraction, despite the restrictions implemented by the Irani regime.

On a more positive note, there are many ‘techno-optimists’ today, especially on the tail end of the Arab Spring where social networks are given a lot of credit for organizing protests against authoritarian regimes. Undoubtedly, the tweets which organized protests and found their way to Al Jazeera, and to an even wider audience internationally, played a key role in the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions.

Studies in the United States are finding that social networks may even be improving our political activism. Pew Internet recently released a report on “Social Networking and Our Lives”, and discovered that Internet users on the whole are more politically engaged than similar demographics that did not use the internet. Beyond internet usage, they also found that using Facebook specifically increased political participation, concluding that:

“A Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day was an additional two and half times more likely to attend a political rally or meeting, 57% more likely to persuade someone on their vote, and an additional 43% more likely to have said they would vote.”

Perhaps the future of society with social media isn’t quite as bleak as we pictured it. People are rioting for freedom and democracy, and the youth of the United States has proven that they can and will mobilize for a candidate and cause they believe in. All good things, right? Maybe not. Voting and protesting are inherently different elements of political participation, and some wonder if perhaps social media is simply good for revolution, but bad for democracy.

While resident techno-optimist Clay Shirky certainly sees the benefit of social media for both, saying that social media tools overall “probably do not hurt in the short run, and might help in the long run,” there are a fair few skeptics who feel otherwise. Prior clearly outlines the potential drawbacks of new media for politics, and pundits like Dave Parry point out  that while social media can enable revolutions it “doesn’t necessarily mean that they enable the installation of stable power structure.” He also looks at how social networks are by nature unorganized and without a hierarchy and a clear leader there may be issues post-revolution with a power vacuum. Parry uses Egypt as an example of this, where citizens were concerned with the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood could come into power in the event of a quick election after Mubarak’s departure.

Overall, it remains to be seen what role social media is going to play in our lives. Some dispute the role it played in the Arab Spring; some argue that it caused the world to change with a hashtag. Whether or not you see it as a way for people to simply socialize or organize for lasting change, new media has had a lasting impact on the way people have come to communicate.

The trick is to sift through all the #nowplaying’s and #justinbeiber’s for the salient, world altering patterns and information.  No one saw the rise of Facebook, many still do not understand the nature of Twitter, and few could truly say how it will impact our lives in the years to come, but with the most recent events there may be hope for those techno-optimists yet. 

Elena Johnson is studying American Government and Media at the University of Virginia. She is currently researching social media and regimes at INSS and is also working for the Executive Office of the President. Last summer she worked at Women and the Environment Organization (WATEO) helping to organize educational programs for women in rural Iraq.

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Is It Time to Talk about Democracy Again?

 By Scott P. Cullinane, Center for Strategic Research

Two women after having voted.

Photo courtesy of Defense.mil

After 9/11 the United States support for democracy became a center piece of the counter-narrative strategy against Al-Qaeda and despotic regimes. 

However, because of differing definitions of democracy between the US and other countries the strategy went off track.  The US’s “Freedom Agenda” expressed the belief that citizens of pluralistic and democratic nations do not support terrorism or seek out Weapons of Mass Destruction. 

The US maintained that if people around the world were given the chance to vote they would pick leaders who were responsible, and who would uphold democratic ideals.   This precept was undercut by the 2006 Palestinian legislative election that was won by HAMAS. The election preceded the violent takeover of the Gaza strip in 2007 by HAMAS.  Due to the extremist and anti-Semitic nature of HAMAS, the US condemned the election results. This action made America look hypocritical and diminished the credibility of the freedom narrative.

Despite “elections” being held in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, American leaders have become wary of talking about freedom and democracy as they once did.   This is unfortunate because democracy is the foundation of America’s narrative and should not be abandoned. 

In Burma (Myanmar) the military junta is using so-called democracy to reinforce their power; Turkey just underwent a major debate about the nature of their democracy.  In many countries democracy is an immediate and vital political topic and America should not abrogate its leadership in this area. 

What America does need to do is to rephrase and better explain what is meant by “democracy.”   When American’s say “democracy”, they don’t just mean voting – they mean the freedoms and responsibilities that come with democracy.  They mean the involvement of interrelated and indispensable institutions, such as a free press, and a culture where the franchise is extended to all groups. Many nations and cultures misunderstand the connotations that are implied within the American lexicon.  

America would do better to articulate these points in its diplomatic and military engagements. If America can better explain this, our narrative of freedom would gain the traction and credibility it deserves.

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