SP not alone in its scepticism as NATO sets to work on new strategic concept

18 February 2008

SP not alone in its scepticism as NATO sets to work on new strategic concept

NATO must have a new Strategic Concept, according to Jamie Shea, personal advisor to Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who spoke at this weekend's meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. ‘The world is changing and so NATO must change too,' Shea said. Shea wants a vision of NATO's future to be under construction by next year, which marks the organisation's 60th anniversary, so that the heads of government of the member states can put their signatures to it in 2010. The SP, represented in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly by, amongst others, its leader in the Dutch Senate, Tiny Kox, sees things rather differently.

Shea was one of the guest speakers at the gathering in Brussels this weekend of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. The "PA", as it is known, is indirectly elected, most member states in principle basing their choice on parties' relative strength in their parliaments. This gives the SP, which has one-sixth of the total number of MPs and roughly the same proportion of senators, the right to nominate delegates.

Shea acknowledges that there is a great deal of scepticism about the establishment of a new strategic concept for the alliance. More than a few of those involved fear that a thorough reflection process regarding future goals and strategies will open a Pandora's box. Shea's view, however, is that there is no avoiding such a procedure: the problems are there, he argues, and we must gives answers. What kind of global security structure do we want to see and how do we achieve it? How do we deal with new challenges and threats? What will be the role of our partners in Africa, in Asia, Russia, Japan, New Zealand, Korea and Australia? Should we enlarge the alliance further, and where do the limits to such a broadening lie? "We have to look at these fundamental questions whether we want to or not," Shea said.

Tiny KoxSP Senator Tiny Kox, one of the Netherlands' representatives in the PA, believes that discussion of NATO's future must not be confined to governments but rather that the subject of a broad public and parliamentary debate. He recalled an earlier pronouncement from De Hoop Scheffer in favour of such a debate. In response, Shea agreed that members of parliaments had a role to play in the debate, and that it was political leaders and representatives who would have the task of selling the new strategic plan to the public, a task which should not be left to 'the bureaucrats'.

This wasn't entirely what Senator Kox had in mind, and he warned Shea about 'one-way traffic'. "We should be careful that public diplomacy doesn't turn into public propaganda. Citizens are not simply consumers, they are more than that. Before you can sell something to the citizens, you have to involve them in the discussion over what we really need at this time if we're talking about global security. We should begin doing this right away. It's almost 2010.’

NATO recently established a special bureau for ‘public diplomacy’. The distance between what the alliance is doing and what the public thinks of it is much greater now than it was in the time of the Cold War, Shea noted, with more than 60% of Europeans opposed to NATO's operation in Afghanistan. Many cannot see the need for an alliance when there is no obvious and longstanding enemy. There are also many who, Shea says, are unconvinced one way or the other, what he called 'floating voters'. That's why, he said, the alliance can't manage any longer without public diplomacy – once more demonstrating that when it comes to communicating with the public, he sees things in terms of one-way traffic.

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