Going Strong At 65
An agent of positive change for 65 years, NATO continues to face emerging challenges in the realm of international relations.
NATO continues to strive to remain relevant in the geopolitical arena as an evolving, vibrant and committed organization.
“Our strength and capabilities are inherently based on forming, sustaining, equip¬ping, and training an adaptive force in which the only constant in the geopolitical terrain is change.” (General Philip Breedlove,
The international community today is constantly under threat from terrorism and economic challenges that affect and endanger so many nations. As individual countries struggle to find solutions, often more success is seen through formation of alliances. The most successful of these alliances utilize analyses from diverse perspectives and combine resources to accelerate processes of change for desired outcomes. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been one such force of positive change throughout its 65 year history and has proved itself to be the most durable alliance in history.
Signed into existence in Washington, DC on April 4, 1949, with 12 members, today this robust 28-member alliance is a unique model of cooperation and strength. Achieving substantial success in its missions over the years, NATO has actively worked with its member states and partnered with 41 countries and individual stakeholders from across the globe, impacting strategic decisions and providing informed global perspectives.
The first Secretary General of NATO, Lord Ismay, had famously stated – what would appear very short-sighted and naïve now – that the organization's goal was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down." Needless to say,
the perspectives on partnerships and priorities have changed significantly since then, and adapted to shifting geopolitical realities. NATO has formed strong bonds with Russia through the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) since 2002 and both have worked together on many fronts. As Gen Breedlove recently observed in the Turkish Policy Quarterly, 2014: “While NATO has different views with Russia in certain areas such as missile defense, there are many other areas in which we are working together in order to achieve the goals set out at the NATO-Russia Council summit in Lisbon in 2010.” Areas of cooperation include counternarcotics and piracy, scientific and technical fields, civil emergency response, nuclear weapons issues and crisis management, etc. Since 2008, Russia has also provided land transit routes to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan across Russian territory.
Taking up the cause of women and children suffering the repercussions of living in current or previously active war zones, NATO also supports the UN in implementing its Women, Peace and Security agenda, outlined in the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325. This and other similar UN resolutions, “call for full and equal participation of women at all levels in issues ranging from early conflict prevention to post-conflict reconstruction, peace and security.”
Over the years, NATO has evolved into a vibrant organization, focused on resolving conflict and supporting the cause of peace, drawing ever more strength from adapting to changing times. It has been actively involved in supporting the cause of peace in countries around the world.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, which heralded the end of the Cold War, the focus on active crises brought NATO into Bosnia in the 1994 Bosnian war and then into Afghanistan as part of the security and training force working with the Afghan government, starting 2003 to date, and into Iraq for technical assistance and training from the operational phase spanning 2004 to 2011, to a sustaining role during 2012 and 2013. Since 2008, NATO has also successfully conducted counter-piracy operations around the Horn of Africa to protect the busy sea route, especially for international humanitarian vessels, including those of the UN World Food Program. NATO also participated in the 2011 air campaign in Libya to implement the UN Resolution, UNSCR 1973.
Of all the missions, however, NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan remains its longest and perhaps toughest combat commitment to date. Since 2003, working in active conflict areas, NATO has supported peace initiatives in Afghanistan “to enable the Afghan authorities to provide effective security across the country and ensure that the country can never again be a safe haven for terrorists”. This objective seems to have been achieved in that the core leadership of Al-Qaeda has been rendered largely ineffective and the ISAF continues to train the Afghan National Security Forces to manage their country’s security. After 2014, a smaller number of NATO troops - between 10,000 to 12,000 - will take on training and advisory roles for as long as mutually agreed upon by NATO and the Afghan government.
Pakistan has long been a major non-NATO partner. In 1994, the UN requested Pakistan to become part of the NATO mission in Bosnia. Since 2001, fully acknowledging the value of peace in Afghanistan as being directly linked to its own security, Pakistan has provided extensive contribution to Afghanistan in military cooperation and logistical support which has been widely appreciated as being instrumental in the fight against terrorism. In 2007, the Pakistan Military and NATO jointly established the Joint Intelligence Operations Centre (JIOC) to improve coordination between NATO, ISAF and Pakistan. However, the tragic Salala incident in 2011 was a major setback in their relations. Controversially attributed to operational miscommunication between the Pakistan Army and the NATO-led ISAF troops, it resulted in the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers and created significant tension between the partners. Pakistan blocked NATO supply routes through its territory until a formal apology was delivered by the U.S. Nonetheless, Pakistan continues to work in close cooperation with NATO, terming the relationship to be largely one of mutual cooperation and geared towards upholding peace and security in the region.
Going forward, if a lesson from Afghanistan has been most consistent, it is the high cost of war in terms of precious lives lost that will always bear down heavily on our collective conscience. Hence, the most important future challenge for NATO will be to stay pro-active and non-reactive, and engage politically to find solutions to security threats before full blown conflicts develop.
Secondary to that, and yet equally significant, is the economic challenge due to the global recession. As NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen acknowledged in a joint press conference with the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Martin Raykov, in March 2013, “I am concerned about the declining defence budgets. It is a matter of concern because we will need sufficient investments in defence if we are to address future security challenges effectively and continue to protect our populations effectively against new threats, like missile threats, like cyber threats, like terrorism.” Hence, as Mr. Rasmussen went on to observe, pooling of resources, also known as Smart Defence, would offer a practical solution for NATO to tap into.
General Philip M. Breedlove, the Commander of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) in the Turkish Policy Quarterly, 2014, also provides some astute analysis and insight regarding NATO’s role: “Throughout the last 65 years of NATO history, the focus of the Alliance has evolved and adapted to its geopolitical environment; this is no different today. NATO’s strength and capabilities are inherently based on forming, sustaining, equipping and training an adaptive force where the only constant in the geopolitical terrain is change. The global security climate continues to shift and evolve around us, demanding our constant vigilance”.
In conclusion, at 65 years of age, NATO continues to strive to remain relevant in the geopolitical arena as an evolving, vibrant and committed organization. The NATO leadership clearly understands, and is fully committed to, the value of timely engagement, adaptability and preparedness in order to effectively manage emerging challenges in the realm of international relations.
The writer is a freelance columnist. She lives in Massachusetts, USA. Her writings and volunteer work focus extensively on socio-economic issues, interfaith dialogue and US-Muslim relations post 9/11.