NATO at Bucharest
30 March 2008
NATO’s post-Cold War accomplishments are legion and have confounded those who in the early 1990s predicted the Alliance’s demise. Key achievements include the Alliance’s expansion and its Balkan operations, which extended the Euro-Atlantic community’s reach and created a ‘zone of peace’ across the European continent.
But as NATO leaders prepare to meet in Bucharest, considerable challenges remain. Two immediate operational tests stand out: First, NATO’s Afghan operation; second the KFOR mission in Kosovo. Beyond operations, NATO needs to rescue its enlargement strategy – initially towards the Western Balkans and Ukraine – and launch a new approach towards its partners, notably Australia and Japan but also the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries.
For Afghanistan, in the next three years, ISAF needs to build the Afghan army and even the Afghan police’s capabilities, expand security across the southern and eastern provinces and develop a modus operandi not only with the Afghan government but also with international organizations such as the UN and EU, so that a truly “comprehensive approach” can be brought to bear.
From now to spring 2009, the key challenge will be to hold the alliance together, ensure enough additional troops to guarantee that Canadian and Dutch contingents remain and to prevent a spring offensive by the Taliban.
With the Germany reluctant to move south, NATO needs to find ways of “alternative burden-sharing” e.g. support for NATO’s southern mission by partners with troops deployed in the north. This might include establishing an Afghan Army Fund to pay for the army’s development.
For many European countries, however, counter-insurgency is not a politically palatable narrative. But democracy-promotion might well prove potent (even post-Iraq). NATO should therefore use the Afghan elections in 2009 as the catalyst for continued allied commitment.
From spring 2009 onwards, when a new U.S president is likely to surge additional troops to the south, it will be vital to ensure that while NATO’s southern operation becomes “Americanized”, other allies do not withdraw. Here it will be key to examine new ways of collaborating with the EU. One idea would be for the EU to take charge of reconstruction in Afghanistan’s 12 largest cities, with NATO providing security inside and U.S forces operating in the provincial hinterland. A “Kabul Security and Development Plan” could be a first step; another, could be for European gendarmerie forces – either through NATO or the EU – to help build the Afghan police.
In addition, NATO should look for ways to contribute to a regional solution, involving Pakistan and India, possibly by examining the scope for an external Baker-Hamilton-style commission to review current policies.
Risks abound, not least that the U.S will come to see the decision to hand ISAF over to NATO in 2003 as a mistake and will again favour a “coalitions-of-the-willing” policy, with consequences for intra-NATO solidarity and, at the tactical level, an increased gap between a U.S-led “RC South caucus” and the rest of the Alliance.
NATO’s second immediate challenge will be to maintain its credibility in Kosovo, to ensure peace throughout the territory of the newly-independent state, and assist the EU’s police-and-justice mission in tackling Kosovo’s major problem: organized crime.
An early priority will be to ensure institutions such as the police and EULEX gain access to Mitrovica while, at the same time, giving neither side the opportunity for further violence. In time – if the political decision is made – NATO should plan handing over security responsibilities to the Kosovo government, perhaps aided by an EU force.
Both the Afghan and Kosovo missions will necessitate better integration of civilian and military assets and increased NATO-EU and NATO-UN cooperation.
NATO-EU relations remain famously difficult and reliant on the EU’s relationship with Turkey and the status of peace talks on Cyprus. But there may be scope for increased tactical cooperation, especially in-theatre, which could exploit a strategic rapprochement between NATO and the EU should one occur.
Practical areas for EU-NATO collaboration, including in-theatre ISAF support to EUPOL, joint training and pre-deployment preparation for PRT staff and joined-up civil-military exercises.
Outside current commitments, two long-term operational challenges for NATO are likely to emerge. The first is NATO’s potential role in any Israeli-Palestinian settlement including peacekeeping tasks and assistance in building Palestine’s security institutions. The second, longer-term challenge, is how to deal with Africa.
NATO has yet to find an effective way to assist the African Union (AU) in building its capabilities. Meanwhile, US plans for Africom risk marginalizing NATO as a security player in Africa. NATO should examine how it might operate with Africom and the AU as they stand or explore the possibilities for a new hybrid construct, such as an AU/NATO set-up – perhaps even involving the UN or EU – which could have a permanent presence in Africa, become a long-term partner for security assistance and work to prevent conflict.
Reforms are needed to improve both current and future operations including, adjustments to NATO’s command structures so that greater authority can be delegated to military commanders and in-theatre integration with partners like UN can be improved, without, of course, compromising the role of the NAC and the Secretary-General. Changes in the way NATO missions are financed should also be explored, perhaps through the development a commonly-financed NATO operations budget or, initially, joint financing for parts of NATO operations.
Unforeseen challenges will doubtless emerge. And both current and future operations will vie for attention with the “new” threats such as cyber attack, weapons proliferation and energy security.
NATO’s 60th anniversary in 2009 presents an opportunity to revitalize the world’s premier security organization and following this year’s US presidential election, to re-build a consensus on Euro-Atlantic security, including ways to improve NATO-EU cooperation.
As the NATO Secretary-General recently stated, this may include “updating” the Atlantic Charter and clarifying the meaning of Article V in an “age of terror”. This weeks’ Bucharest Summit should lay the groundwork for next year’s re-affirmation of the world’s most important alliance.