Ronald Asmus: If the threats change, we must change how we defend ourselves against them Răspunde

Ronald Asmus (1957-2011)

How can you describe the present state of the transatlantic partnership? In early 2003, the notion used was the drift. Now, after president Bush’s second term it seems that we have a revived transatlantic alliance capable of projecting its power far beyond Europe and assuming global missions. On both sides of the Atlantic we have political elites with an advanced euro-Atlantic mindset. In this context, can NATO became once again a tool of first choice, a natural first choice since the alliance is the only interface between the euro-Atlantic societies and the threats of the XXI century? Or coalitions of the willing of NATO members (but not using NATO as a whole) would be a more realistically scenario because we are living in an article 4 world of discretionary commitments (Richard Haas)?

I agree with the premise of your question in terms of where NATO needs to go but am a bit more skeptical in terms of where we are today and what still needs to be done.  If I look at the list of problems we face, I think we need more not less trans-Atlantic cooperation.  But I also don’t think we have fully put the problems of the war in Iraq and the Bush years behind us either.

During the second term of the Bush Administration we have seen a real effort to repair trans-Atlantic relations. Living in Brussels, I see how hard they have worked on this through more and better consultations And part of that effort has been to drop notions of „coalitions of the willing” and to instead try to work through institutions like NATO or with the EU.

But the results have been mixed. That effort has improved relations at the elite level and with officials.  But it has had almost no impact in terms of turning around European public opinion, much of which remains very critical. And that affects NATO, too.  Support for NATO in many countries has plummeted and is at a historic low.  The alliance today remains weak and divided on many issues.  I suspect the real job of bring of forging a new and clear sense of common purpose and transcending the divisions of past years will fall to the next President.

Don’t misunderstand me: Bucharest is still a very important summit.  In deed the closer we get to it, the more interesting and potentially dramatic it is becoming. It will make decisions on some very important issues and lay a foundation for the future.  But we can also see just how divided and uncertain the Alliance is on these big issues of Afghanistan, the future of enlargement and how to deal with Russia.

Assuming that we are forced to operate in an age of global politics, is NATO capable to respond to this new post 9/11 security environment but also capable to wrap up the unfinished geopolitical issues of Europe? It seems that we have an alliance forced to respond to very different contexts: to operate in an age of global politics through a proactive profile and develop expeditionary power projection capabilities as NATO Response Force; to respond to an old European geopolitical problem in order to manage and to design the peace in the Balkans. How could we reconcile these different trends: the necessity to remain relevant in the new security environment through Afghanistan type operations and enlargement in the Balkans with states that have so little to offer in terms of power projection capabilities?

Well, I hope so.  If NATO fails to meet the challenge of learning how to operate better in this post-9/11 environment, the world will probably end up being a more risky and dangerous place.  In essence, we have two challenges.  The first is to finish the job of creating a new peace order in Europe.  That means working toward stability in the Western Balkans, it means reaching out to Ukraine and across the Black Sea to countries like Georgia and the Southern Caucasus.  It means working out a new strategy to deal with a more assertive Russia in Europe.

The other challenge is how NATO can address those challenges to our values, interests and territory that emanate from beyond Europe but which affect us – and which can actually be far more dangerous than the residual risks we face here in Europe.  That means NATO being able to help build stability in Afghanistan, potentially elsewhere in the Middle East, etc.  We need to be able to do both if NATO is to remain the premier military alliance of the West because both are critical to our future security.

You point to the challenge of new NATO members from central and Eastern Europe being able to participate in the second mission which often involves power projection capabilities.  This is a challenge not only of hardware but of political leadership.  I think the reality is that some countries are doing a better job than others in making this transition, Poland and Romania are among the former.  I was delighted when I visited Afghanistan last year to visit Romanians solders working with Americans in southern Afghanistan outside of Khandahar at Forward Operating Base Varna – or Camp Dracula as they call it.

How could you describe the current state and the future of the strategic partnership between NATO and the EU? In February 2008, Victoria Nuland, the US Ambassador to NATO, said there is a frozen conflict between these two pillars of euro-Atlantic security. Are future NATO-EU operations beyond Europe a feasible scenario in the framework of the Berlin Plus arrangement? Personally I think there is a security imperative to go beyond Berlin Plus arrangement and to define a Berlin Plus Plus one that will give NATO assured access to EU civil expertise and state building capabilities. At present, there is a unique window of opportunity since we have on both sides of the Atlantic political elites with an advanced euro-Atlantic mindset. We should use this moment to define a concerted and effective NATO-EU response beyond Europe’s unstable neighborhood.

One of the big differences between the Cold War and the conflicts that we face today is that NATO by itself is no longer the sole or primary tool for success.  In places like Afghanistan, NATO can do everything right and we can still lose the war because the key to winning the peace lies in the non-military realm of governance and civilian power. We as the West need a much larger strategy and framework which allows us to mobilize an d bring together our soft and hard power capabilities.

That does means we need a different NATO-EU relationship. I actually think the key to resolving this „frozen conflict” in part lies in the US-EU relationship.  We need a more strategic US-EU relationship which in turn will make it easier for us to open up the NATO-EU relationship.  That is another challenge I would put on the agenda of the next US President as it is not really on the agenda here in Bucharest.

We live in a world in which the classical pattern of aggression (article 5 territorial state-centered aggression as in the 1950s) seems almost unthinkable. What is today’s relevance of the commitments in article 5? Could the article 5 be extended in the area of energy security (senator Lugar said in November 2006 that energy aggression could be seen as an article 5 issue and we need an effective deterrence system against future aggressions of this kind)? What could be NATO’s added value in the area of energy security? 

I am actually moderating a debate at the GMF conference here in Bucharest on exactly that question – what does Article 5 mean today in the very different world in which we live?  I think it means solidarity and the commitment to act together to meet any threat that affects NATO members.  The Soviet threat in the Cold War was so massive and overwhelming that everyone understood it affected the. Today we not only have different threats but threats that sometimes affect one comer of the Alliance or one group of members more than others.  That is why the political commitment and solidarity are so key.

How can we define 21st century NATO? In the 1950s NATO was a pact of collective defense created to deter a potential Soviet aggression and to contain and reconstruct Germany inside Europe. What is NATO today and what should it be in the future?

Every time I reread the North Atlantic Treaty I am struck but how well it has survived the times.  It is still a pretty modern documents. And its message is clear – NATO is about us collectively defending our values, interests and territory against whatever threats may appear.  If the threats change, we must change how we defend ourselves against them.  But the underlying philosophy and principles guiding NATO have not changed at all.

Octavian Manea, April 2008

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