NATO seeks new strategy, but so far fails to find one

15 February 2010

NATO seeks new strategy, but so far fails to find one

In November NATO’s member states will meet in Lisbon to agree a new strategic concept for the world’s most powerful military alliance. What must be determined at that meeting is for what purpose NATO exists and where and under what future circumstances the alliance will wish to intervene. That there long been a lack of clarity over these questions was evident this weekend at the NATO parliamentary assembly in Brussels. SP Senator Tiny Kox, a member of the assembly, used the opportunity presented by the meeting in Belgium’s capital to call on the parliamentarians of the twenty-eight member states to ensure that not only governments but also MPs are involved in debate over where, in relation to NATO, we should be heading.

Tiny KoxThe Dutch delegation in the NATO assembly decided on Sunday in Brussels that they would for their part call on the two houses of the country’s parliament to invite, as soon as possible, the so-called Expert Group to The Hague for talks. This group, chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, is working on a proposal concerning the New Strategic Concept. On 1st May NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will be presented with this proposal, after which it will be discussed by the NATO member state governments. According to Jamie Shea, the director of policy planning for NATO’s Secretariat General, parliaments are free to invite the Expert Group and avail themselves of its advice, and in Brussels he called on them to take the opportunity to do so. Shea promised that after 1st May the advice from Albright and her colleagues would be made public, and that it would indeed have the status of advice, rather than being a binding document. Parliaments would also be able to debate with their governments over the direction they would like NATO to take during the coming decade.

The question is whether member states' governments and parliaments can indeed come to a common position. There are major differences regarding what NATO should and should not do. New, eastern European member states want above all an alliance which will protect them militarily from a possible threat from the Russian federation. Western European countries see it more in terms of a global role for NATO on the world stage, a role carried out in cooperation with partners such as Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The United States has committed itself under President Obama to improved cooperation with the other allies, but continue also to see an alternative in a ‘Coalition of the willing’, for which former President Bush was such an enthusiast. There are, furthermore, serious differences of opinion over the means and extent of cooperation between NATO and the European Union. Via the Lisbon Treaty the EU has given itself more potentialities for a common foreign and defence policy and for a common defence. There is open discord between the Brussels headquarters of the EU and NATO regarding their mutual relations. The French governments wants primarily to pursue the enlargement of the EU’s military capacities, Great Britain on the other hand wants military matters to continue to take place under the NATO flag. In addition the French, Germans and Italians want better relations with Russia, while the British and eastern Europeans are attached above all to the idea of a strong alliance with the Americans.

In Brussels Senator Kox posed the question of to what extent within NATO there had already been consideration of a possible future security architecture in which NATO and Russia might cooperate instead of continuing to work against each other. Recently Konstantin Kosachev presented the same argument during the symposium convened by the SP in the Dutch Senate on the question of NATO’s future. Kosachev is the influential chair of the Committee on International Affairs of the Duma, the Russian parliament. In Brussels Jamie Shea announced that Kosachev had put this issue on the agenda during Madeleine Albright’s visit to Moscow. In answer to Kox’s question Shea stated that suggestions from the Russian President Medvedev regarding a new European security architecture should be taken more seriously than they had previously been. Shea said that it would be dangerous and short-sighted to “shove Medvedev’s proposals to one side as not being relevant or to see this as a conspiracy on the part of the Russians to divide NATO.”

Shea added that “We think that this sort of proposal, which in itself is well considered, misses the point. They lay it before us and NATO is expected to go along. We are justified in wanting the Russians to be more open and transparent regarding their proposals, so that we can judge these proposals. In which case they can from their side demand more openness and transparency from us.”

Whether the alliance will succeed in November in achieving a practical agreement on a new strategic concept remains to be seen. According to policy planning chief Jamie Shea, 90% of all discussion within the alliance currently concerns Afghanistan and there is very little time to confer on other important matters. Nevertheless, NATO must get beyond this, said Shea. “In the last ten or fifteen years the thought seems to have been ‘We intervene therefore we exist’. But what if these interventions were all in the past, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan? Is there still life for NATO after the end of these intervention missions? To these question we must find answers, however differently we may think about them at the moment.”

Kox thanked Shea for his openness: “Our governments are often a little more reticent," he said. "A few years back the Dutch foreign minister still denied the need for a new strategic concept. Now we have discussed it openly and in November we must see the result. That makes it still more important that national parliaments involve themselves in this. If we leave it to our governments, we’ll soon see things brought forward that will please nobody.”

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