NATO's strategic concept in flux

22 March 2006

NATO's strategic concept in flux

'Whether it is because or in spite of all of the protests of the past history will decide, but we appear to be in agreement over one thing: the old NATO is disappearing and a new NATO is revealing itself. We are, however, unable to see clearly just what form the warp and weft of the new world-wide security system will take. If we want to avoid a situation in which public and parliament are presented, in the near future, with a fait accompli, we must decide together what sort of regional and global structures of security are desirable."

Tiny KoxSuch was the proposal presented by SP Senator Tiny Kox in the annual debate on defence and NATO in the 'Eerste Kamer' – literally 'First Chamber', the upper house or Senate of the Dutch national parliament in The Hague. Senator Kox pointed to a speech delivered earlier this month by NATO Secretary General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer in which he also spoke about "a new NATO", saying that by "new" he meant "legitimate and fitting" and describing NATO as an "organisation undergoing massive change". Kox agreed. "The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is in the process of becoming a world-wide security organisation," the SP Senator said, "since the task laid down for it in its treaty – the common protection of its own members' – has to a large extent become empty of content."

Senator Kox sketched out what he saw as the "globalisation of security structures", pointing out that "there are NATO missions in the former Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan, in Iraq. There is a NATO Rapid Reaction Force which is capable of deployment anywhere in the world. There are military cooperation links with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea. A total of 30,000 soldiers from forty two countries is now taking part in military operations under the flag of NATO. Australia will be delivering troops to the NATO mission in the Afghan province of Uruzgan, under Dutch command. New military relations are being established with Russia, whose representatives are already continually to be found at NATO's headquarters in Brussels and whose ships participate in NATO's surveillance of the Mediterranean. For the first time, NATO's territory, given its presence in Afghanistan, now shares a border with China. NATO staff now hold meetings with their Chinese counterparts on, amongst other things, military relations. There is cooperation between NATO and African and Asian countries around the Mediterranean. The United Nations and the African Union are seeking, in a number of instances, NATO's support. And meanwhile NATO is in competition with other international organisations such as the UN, the European Union and American-led ad hoc coalitions."

Kox argues that all of this shows that NATO's existing strategic concept is changing and that the NATO treaty is nothing more than an old dress that no longer fits. Foreign Affairs Minister Ben Bot is not yet willing to go so far, though he said that he would do all that he could to enable the organisation's new 'political guidelines', which remain secret, to be made publicly available. "That would be apt for a transparent organisation," he said, adding, however, that "amendment of the 1949 NATO treaty is as yet not on the agenda," though he recognised that one consideration was simply that a new treaty would demand a great deal of work if it were to be accepted in all of the organisation's twenty-six member states. Senator Kox acknowledged this but insisted that involving the people in determining NATO's future would be sensible as well as democratic, offering "a unique chance for a debate over a new security architecture for the world."

The SP's political group in the Senate voted, along with half of a divided Green Left, against the defence budget, on the grounds that the money demanded would bring about "too little that's good and too much that's bad." Minister Kamp said that he regretted the decision to vote against, noting – in a clear reference to the party's doubling of its vote at the recent local elections, as well as its consistently high standing in the polls - that the SP was becoming an increasingly important political force and one whose support he would welcome. Senator Kox responded by inviting the minister to take steps which would make it possible for his party to support him in the future. "You have it in your own hands," Kox said.. The obstacles at present were, however, too great, one example being the way Dutch soldiers were being used in Afghanistan. "In our opinion war and reconstruction don't go hand-in-hand. The impression was created that our soldiers would be armed principally with spades and trowels, that they were there to sink wells and build schools. But they have gone into Uruzgan more heavily armed than ever, which is hardly surprising given that the region is a natural, political and military wilderness, where it's impossible to say whether we have any friends at all – there 's a great chance that everyone will see themselves as our soldiers' enemies". Kox concluded that it would be better if the Afghan people were finally, after all of these foreign interventions, able to take their own fate into their own hands. Kamp replied that, while he agreed, the situation in the country was not yet ripe for this to happen.

Despite the fundamental criticism of his policies which the SP presented, the minister expressed his heartfelt appreciation of the constructive contribution of the SP's Senators. Senator Kox replied by expressing the hope that "all of our concerns will turn out to have been unnecessary. And if that doesn't happen, we won't say 'we told you so!' We shall continue to seek with the government means by which we can better help the people of Afghanistan. Because if ever a people had the tight to a better life, then it is they."

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