The blue-print of the future NATO strategic concept: organizational and political issues 1

Three months a go I have published on this blog an analysis of the experts’ report concerning the future NATO strategic concept to be adopted in Lisbon, in late 2010. That analysis dealt mainly with general comments and observations concerning the threat environment, NATO’s core tasks and partnerships. The second installment of the analysis of the experts’ report on the future NATO’s strategic concept will deal with political and organizational issues.

Organizational issues are divided in the report into operational issues and administrative and decision-making issues. At the operational level the future strategic concept should make clear that missions outside NATO’s main responsibility area are an exception not the rule. However any decision concerning a deployment outside NATO’s area of responsibility should be taken on a case by case basis. In taken a decision to deploy forces outside NATO’s main area of responsibility the following factors should be considered: the extent and imminence of danger to Alliance members, the exhaustion or apparent ineffectiveness of alternative steps, the ability and willingness of NATO members to provide the means required for success, the involvement of partners in helping to ensure an effective and timely remedy to the problem at hand, the degree of domestic and international public support, conformity with international law and the foreseeable consequences of inaction. There are two further qualifications concerning missions outside NATO’s area of responsibility: NATO’s commitments should never exceed what the alliance can do, but what NATO can do should never be outpaced by NATO’s security needs.

NATO’s experience in Afghanistan should be used in order to plan future missions the Alliance will undertake. In future missions NATO forces should act under a unified chain of command, there should be very few national caveats and they should be stated from the beginning by member states in order that their overall impact on force generation to be adequately estimated. Furthermore civilian casualties should be avoided or otherwise kept at a minimum as well as communicating clearly the purpose of NATO’s mission. Prisoners as well as detainees should be treated according to the rules and norms of international law. The most important lesson however that has been learned in Afghanistan is the requirement of a combined and unified civil-military effort to deal with insurgencies and nation-building missions. It is however doubtful if NATO will ever undertake a mission that requires extensive nation building or confronting an insurgency. Future defense planning undertaken within the Alliance should come up with a series of defense priorities that include the defense of the NATO’s main area of responsibility as well as interventions outside it, in response to contingencies and emergencies.

Concerning administrative issues the experts’ report emphasizes the need for streamlining the International Secretariat, financial rules should be reviewed, the cost of operating headquarters should be reduced and the number of committees and agencies should be reduced. Furthermore the Secretary General should be given full authority to implement his reform agenda.  Member states should establish savings targets for administrative costs that will be later be reinvested in new capabilities.

As for the decision-making process this is a far more complicated issue given the fact that NATO is made up of 28 member states and all decisions must be taken unanimously. Creating a consensus with such a great number of actors is a challenge in itself. According to the report the current security requires in some situations rapid almost instantaneous decision-making.  It is recommended that all departures from the consensus rule must be approved by the North Atlantic Council, the consensus rule should be employed in cases concerning Article 5 commitments, budget issues, new missions or new members, identify means on less vital questions for Allies to register concerns short of a veto and establish the principle that the implementation of decisions arrived at by consensus should not be delayed by efforts to review those decisions at lower levels before they are carried out. Furthermore in order to ensure a rapid response the Secretary General or NATO’s military leaders should have certain pre-delegated authorities to respond in crises such as a cyber or missile attack against Alliance members. Although the consensus rule will probably remain the cornerstone of NATO decision-making process, limited departures from this rule will be controversial and politically problematic, even if necessary in some situations. The pre-delegated authorities given possibly to the Secretary General and NATO military leadership might be difficult to enact politically, although they would prove quite useful for the contingencies indicated.

The experts’ report recommends that the open door policy regarding future members should be kept in place, provided that the states interested in becoming NATO members respect the principles established in 1995: democratic values, military reform, respecting the rights of minorities, peaceful resolution of domestic and international conflicts, domestic political support for NATO membership and the ability to contribute to the overall security of the alliance. The report does not mention any future member by name and is very general. It seems unlikely that the alliance will enlarge further in the near future. Furthermore NATO expansion is a divisive issue within the Alliance and outside it. Within the Alliance Germany, along with Italy and France, have opposed NATO’s expansion within the former Soviet space, partly in order not to compromise their relations with Moscow, partly because Ukraine and Georgia did not meet the requirements for expansion set in 1995. Moreover Germany and France did not necessarily want any new members with excessively pro-American stances in international relations, as it might have diminished their weight within NATO. The current political developments in Ukraine preclude NATO accession, while the Georgian-Russian War of 2008 has made Georgia’s accession a moot issue.

Conventional weapons control should also be taken into consideration by the new strategic concept, although this area has been traditionally the purview of individual member states. This is new area of interest for the Alliance, but one of some importance given the fact that Russia has suspended its participation in the CFE treaty in the 2007. It is recommended that the Alliance must contribute to the revival of the CFE treaty and express a willingness to engage in constructive dialogue with all CFE states.

The Achilles’ heel of this section is its general terms of its recommendations, despite providing a very good analysis of the current trends in security. Although some ambiguity is necessary in order for the delicate political negotiations on the future strategic concept of the Alliance more clear language was necessary concerning future members. The most difficult negotiations will be those concerning the definitions of the situations in which NATO will act outside its main area of responsibility, given the Afghan experience. The Afghan war has been traumatic in military terms for important US allies such as Britain and Germany, the latter’s experience being quite embarrassing. I expect that European member states will avoid any future open-ended commitments outside NATO’s area of responsibility similar with the current ISAF mission. There is also no mention of an operation or mission similar with Operation Allied Force in Kosovo, when NATO acted without prior sanction from the United Nations and was not an Article 5 mission.

George VIŞAN

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