Rede­fine NATO for a new era

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Next year will see the 60th an­niver­sary of the sign­ing of the Wash­ing­ton Treaty that cre­ated NATO. As with all sig­nif­i­cant an­niver­saries, it will be a time of re­flec­tion on past achieve­ments and an op­por­tu­nity to take stock of the fu­ture.

NATO has be­come part of the fab­ric of in­ter­na­tional af­fairs. Its core val­ues — faith in the prin­ci­ples of the United Na­tions, a de­sire to live in peace with all peo­ples and gov­ern­ments and the will to work col­lec­tively for peace and se­cu­rity in the trans-At­lantic area — have served it well.

Th­ese val­ues are as rel­e­vant now as they were in 1949, but to­day’s NATO is very dif­fer­ent. Many for­mer War­saw Pact mem­bers are now Al­lies and other na­tions are on the path to mem­ber­ship.

NATO’s en­dur­ing suc­cess has re­flected a re­mark­able abil­ity to bend with the wind of chang­ing strate­gic cir­cum­stances. As the Berlin Wall fell, few could have fore­seen the scale, di­ver­sity and un­re­lent­ing pace of the global chal­lenges that would emerge in the wake of the Cold War.

Th­ese threats were com­pli­cated by the need to pro­tect mil­lions around the world from vi­o­lence and con­flict; to pro­vide hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to fur­ther mil­lions of peo­ple; and the need to face up to the in­ter­na­tional con­se­quences of poverty, in­equal­ity and de­mo­graphic change.

Th­ese chal­lenges have tested an Al­liance closely as­so­ci­ated with col­lec­tive ter­ri­to­rial de­fense, but in­duced adap­ta­tion as well. NATO played a decisive role in the Balkans and to­day it is busier than ever, with more than 50,000 per­son­nel de­ployed on five mis­sions on three dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents, from Kosovo to Iraq. In ISAF in Afghanistan, NATO is con­duct­ing by far its big­gest and most com­plex op­er­a­tion.

NATO’s im­pend­ing an­niver­sary pro­vides the op­por­tu­nity to start re­defin­ing its de­vel­op­ing role in this new world or­der. This is an op­por­tu­nity to reaf­firm the vi­tal­ity of the trans-At­lantic link, whilst forg­ing new part­ner­ships and work­ing bet­ter and more closely with other in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions. It is an op­por­tu­nity to de­velop a new strate­gic con­cept that un­der­scores the al­liance’s con­tri­bu­tion to meet­ing the evolv- ing se­cu­rity chal­lenges of the 21st cen­tury. This con­cept would rec­og­nize that, in to­day’s in­creas­ingly in­ter­con­nected world, col­lec­tive de­fense re­quires NATO also to en­gage out­side its core area to con­trib­ute to in­ter­na­tional sta­bil­ity.

Clearly, ex­pe­di­tionary op­er­a­tions and ca­pa­bil­i­ties con­trib­ute di­rectly to our own de­fense and se­cu­rity. Many have yet to un­der­stand this fully. NATO is in Afghanistan tak­ing on ex­trem­ism and the roots of that ex­trem­ism pre­cisely be­cause it is a di­rect — and proven — threat to ev­ery ci­ti­zen in ev­ery NATO coun­try. The ten­ta­cles of this ex­trem­ism have spread far and wide, but its roots have been in the Tal­iban-pro­tected train­ing camps and safe havens of Afghanistan.

But as well as re­fresh­ing our vi­sion for NATO, we need to en­sure it is prop­erly equipped and struc­tured to de­liver. This is im­por­tant to both the United King­dom and Hun­gary. And to help give fur­ther im­pe­tus to NATO’s trans­for­ma­tion we are each host­ing key meet­ings of de­fense min­is­ters — in Lon­don last week and in Bu­dapest in Oc­to­ber.

This work needs to fo­cus rig­or­ously on three key pri­or­ity ar­eas: on well-planned, well-man­aged and well-ex­e­cuted op­er­a­tions; on de­liv­er­ing the key ca­pa­bil­i­ties needed to sup­port them, now and in the fu­ture; and on a frame­work of part­ner­ships that al­low us to work with all those who share our in­ter­ests and can con­trib­ute to them as part of a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach.

We have al­ready come a long way in rec­og­niz­ing the im­por­tance of ex­pe­di­tionary ca­pa­bil­i­ties in deal­ing with the broad range of threats the Al­liance is likely to face. Where we fall short is the con­tin­u­ing mis­match be­tween NATO’s col­lec­tive as­pi­ra­tions and what in­di­vid­ual al­lies ac­tu­ally de­liver.

Too of­ten we find our­selves want­ing in key ar­eas, such as strate­gic and in­tra-the­ater lift; ca­pa­bil­i­ties which af­fect our abil­ity to con­duct cur­rent and fu­ture op­er­a­tions in the way we might want. This is partly a ques­tion of proper in­vest­ment in de­fense; partly a lack of rigor in pri­or­i­tiz­ing the things we, as an Al­liance, need most. Things are im­prov­ing, but not as quickly as we would want.

The United King­dom, along with other al­lies such as France, has tried to work through a se­ries of ini­tia­tives to make more of th­ese key ca­pa­bil­i­ties avail­able for op­er­a­tions. Hun­gary has re­sponded by join­ing oth­ers in a Strate­gic Air­lift Ca­pa­bil­ity pro­gram, and by of­fer­ing up more of its own he­li­copters for NATO op­er­a­tions if other al­lies can help it carry out the up­grades and train­ing they re­quire to de­ploy. We hope oth­ers soon will fol­low Hun­gary’s lead.

The smooth-func­tion­ing of any re­la­tion­ship re­lies on com­mon ef­fort as well as com­mon val­ues. NATO is no dif­fer­ent. It is im­por­tant there­fore, that the Euro­pean Al­lies and the United States equally re­main com­mit­ted to NATO, and equally en­gaged in its de­ci­sion-mak­ing. To achieve this, the costs of pre­serv­ing the trans- At­lantic link need to be borne ac­cord­ing to the al­lies’ gen­uine abil­i­ties and par­tic­i­pa­tion in NATO mis­sions should be car­ried out with joint and pro­por­tion­ate bur­den-shar­ing.

Without this, NATO risks be­com­ing a coali­tion of the able or the will­ing, with the United States grad­u­ally, but in­evitably, reap­prais­ing its role. This can­not be in the in­ter­ests of Europe, and with time would have his­toric con­se­quences for smaller Al­lied na­tions — es­pe­cially those on NATO’s east­ern bor­ders.

It is in the strate­gic na­tional in­ter­est of the new mem­ber na­tions to en­sure that, never again, oth­ers could make de­ci­sions about them, and without them. Also, older mem­bers’ strate­gic in­ter­ests will only be re­al­ized in the long term if NATO stays a strong, un­di­vided or­ga­ni­za­tion, with the United States’ ac­tive com­mit­ment and pres­ence in Europe.

Driv­ing change in a con­sen­sus-based or­ga­ni­za­tion is no­to­ri­ously hard, but that is the chal­lenge that we, as de­fense min­is­ters of our re­spec­tive na­tions, have set our­selves.

A trans­formed NATO is most cer­tainly not about try­ing to do less with less, or some­how scal­ing back our am­bi­tion. It is about help­ing the al­liance do what it is we have said we need to do. It is about a re­newed trans-At­lantic Al­liance, a NATO truly greater than the sum of its parts. And in host­ing our re­spec­tive meet­ings this au­tumn, we hope to be lead­ing agents for that change.

Des Browne and Imre Szek­eres are the de­fense min­is­ters, re­spec­tively, of the United King­dom and the Repub­lic of Hun­gary.

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