Saturday, November 24, 2012

NATO between Leadership and Decline




The main reason for the existence and continuity of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for 40 years is facing military threat by the Soviet Union the Socialist Warsaw Pact. However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, NATO has been searching for new strategy or role to face challenges and threats of the post-Soviet world.

To reconsider NATO strategic concept, which was ratified in 1999, a working group composed of 12 experts was formed to provide the Secretary-General of NATO, former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen perception he can build on to modernize the Alliance's strategic concept commensurate with the challenges of the twenty-first century.


Despite the fact that Western Europe and United States are strategic allies, during Bush administration their relationship had experienced significant political divergence that reached the stage of tension in a number of hot topics, particularly the Middle East, following the events of U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which caused a split within the European House and in transatlantic relations. Add to that the recent differences over the strategy of remaining in Afghanistan under the deadly attacks NATO forces are facing there. Also, there is the issue of cuts in EU defense budgets that worries the United States to the extent that Washington warned NATO members that these cuts will affect the alliance global ambitions[1].


The main issue that overshadows NATO’s future can be summarized in the following question: is NATO still appropriate for the current stage, or is it just the remnants of an ancient Pact?


Perhaps politically it is easy to say: that NATO is still reliable. But assuming that the Alliance has the same importance which it had in the past with regard to the security needs of Member States, it will not survive long in the shadow of failure in Afghanistan and the consequent fall of many European Governments and under global operations that NATO launches outside its traditional geographic sphere against enemies who do not have armies, naval forces, or air forces.

Under the current economic crisis affecting most European countries (Greece, Spain, Portugal, and possibly Italy) the issue of defense is no longer the first concern of NATO members. Therefore, NATO should resolve its differences over internal conflicting strategic perceptions that make it very difficult to reach a consensus among its members. The absence of a vital threat that all NATO members agree up on (such as the former Soviet Union) hamper to a great extent reaching unanimity among member states as a prerequisite for NATO decisions.


NATO’s new strategic perception must deal with the situation in Afghanistan after withdrawal. There are a range of options for this new perception; the alliance could ignores the situation there, postpone making a decision about it, face it, or go around it.

The main argument behind postponing dealing with the situation in Afghanistan is that NATO must go beyond Afghanistan when looking at the future, but the problem with this option is that NATO has staked its future on success in Afghanistan. Thus, ignoring the situation there has uncertain consequences.

Another option that might not face considerable resistance is to go around the situation in Afghanistan in the sense that NATO only accepts the lessons learned from the conflict there as an input to form a new strategic perception, and then NATO abandons making global role a central issue of the safety and security of NATO countries.

It seems that NATO currently stands at crossroads; NATO could deal directly with challenges in conjunction with deep differences among members on the future of the alliance, and it is also possible to ignore all that.

None of the options could weaken the coalition or renew it. To resolve this dilemma, the strong leadership among the heads of the governments of the Member States is essential in order to ensure the appropriate approach. Unless the new strategic perception respond to these challenges and convince all members of its new role in the world, the Alliance will enter the stage of dissolution and turns into a mere relic of the past.


NATO between Leadership and Decline


The military role played by NATO in Afghanistan currently is considered hot topic by many observers and analysts. For the first time the Alliance which was founded in the beginning of the second half of the twentieth century to protect Western Europe from a Communist threat of the Soviet troops, go beyond the boundaries of  Europe to play a substantial military role in the mountains of Afghanistan. Indeed, the United States invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban Government in late 2001 in the wake of September 11, 2001 attacks, but then it handed the bulk of military operations of the Allied Coalition forces in Afghanistan to NATO. Due to this role, NATO has suffered throughout 10 years of intense doubts on its role and purpose after the cold war. At the same time, the idea of NATO involvement in international conflicts outside the European continent was not easy, but the role of NATO in Afghanistan and talks about a role in Sudan's Darfur region, as well as in the Middle East refers to the success of the transition process in the Charter of the Alliance. Since that time, numerous analyses and reports discussed NATO's role in the post-cold war world order.


It seems that NATO reputation had risen after the fall of the regime of Qadhafi and allied forces assisted 17 February revolutionary movements to progress in various areas, in particular to enter Libyan capital of Tripoli. NATO’s operation in Libya intensified talks about the NATO’s new role of intervening to resolve international disputes in particular and in international relations generally. The military intervention of NATO forces were under international and Arabic legitimacy. It did not take the form of direct military intervention on the ground, but was due to UN Security Council delegation on the bases of the principle of humanitarian intervention. Consequently, this intervention attracted many debates in Arabic and international political circles about its legitimacy, its nature, and its usefulness.


            To perform a new role on the global stage, NATO must undergo many transformations. The first step in these transformations was the expansion of NATO’s membership to include countries from Eastern and Central Europe which were at one time a member of the Warsaw Pact. The Alliance believes that the expansion meets the following ends:


A. Establishing relationships with neighboring countries in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, these partners will share responsibility with NATO in maintaining the security of NATO countries and its geographical surroundings.


B-Establishing functional partnership with countries in Africa and Asia, especially that these partners have provided effective contributions to the Alliance, such as Japan (money), South Korea, Australia and Indonesia (troops and experts)


C. Establishing partnership with international organizations such as the United Nations and its institutions or with non-governmental organizations such as human rights commissions to contain disasters, genocides, and conflict resolution.


D. Expand the strategic concept to counter potential threats such as terrorism, the threat of maritime and energy security, Cyber wars, distortion of democratic values, the oppression of women, racial discrimination, and genocide.


E. NATO leaving operations in South America to the United States on the basis that it is considered its backyard.


F. Reaching an understanding with Russia and assuring them that NATO does not target its national security and its strategic deterrence forces and involving the Russians in the process of strategic deterrence, the fight against terrorism, crisis management, and especially after the mistrust of Russia's actions in Georgian-Russian war.


H. Concentrating on the great importance of war in Afghanistan, and working to end the war without NATO being defeated by withdrawing and leaving security tasks to Afghanis from 2011 to 2014.


The next step is reconsidering its strategic concept. There are many factors[2] that require considering when reassessing NATO’s strategic concept and role in the current circumstances including:


Firstly: there will always be the need for an international force to ensure security and stability. It is not expected that conflicts, massacres, or civil and inter-state wars that call for the intervention of the international community will seize to occur. There were many different projects that tried to deal with this reality, among which the proposal to organize “peace army”[3] under the leadership of the United Nations — the Security Council — to implement the decisions taken within the framework of maintaining peace and security. Strong opposition emerged from many States which considered that suggestion gives the United Nations leadership and sovereignty over all States of the world through combining legislative, executive, and judicial authorities in the hands of one institution that is supposed to be independent of all influences. Also the adoption of the United Nations Commissions on the processing and use of troops from countries willing to deal with a crisis such as African conflicts and Israeli- Arab wars were not always effective and successful models for dealing with crises.


Secondly:  the military structure of NATO, despite its success in some areas, has not been able to achieve decisive results in other areas, not because of weakness in NATO forces or lack of modern weaponry and advanced combat mechanisms, but because of unforeseen external factors. The most important issue facing the Alliance in the present circumstances is a question of developing the Alliance's military and political role.


Thirdly: there is no doubt that the evolution of NATO's role and the expansion of its operations to the entire world simply indicate the Alliance commitment to global stability, security, and peace; in short, it indicates the creation of a new world order. To do so require the United States and European Union to accept active participation in developing and supporting NATO not from the alliance members only, but all states who are eager to build a world of peace, security, and stability for all the nations on Earth including Russia and China of course. On the other hand, it will become mandatory on NATO members not to consider others participation in the alliance should be coupled with getting special privileges or illegal gains since such consideration would lead naturally to abort all sincere efforts to establish peace on firm foundations. Failure to specify precise and clear duties of the new Alliance will transfer current international conflicts inside NATO and destroy it.


Fourthly: the reorganization of NATO’s role and strategic concept to become globally and carries a new operations and new content lifts military burdens which many nations cannot bear, particularly in underdeveloped countries. It will become the duty of the new NATO to protect such nations.


Fifthly: NATO has unique abilities compared to other international organizations. NATO remains the most structured entity to undertake multilateral military operations aimed at keeping peace, and NATO is still the only player on the international stage so far.



NATO under the new strategy aims to turns into a global Alliance which scope includes the entire world and intervenes in all kinds of conflicts. In addition, NATO is trying to develop its combat doctrine and the equipment and training of forces, to establish Special Forces to intervene in crisis areas, to stimulate partners to support and aid the alliance, to initiated its operations through the United Nations, and NATO calls for restructuring to provide funds under the current global financial crisis


However, there are many current realities that tend to void NATO’s attempt to expand its global role. It seems that the U.S.-European strategic partnership through NATO started cracking as evident in acute remarks by U.S. officials against Europe as a unified bloc and against Europe as separate States.

Among the issue of conflict is NATO’s military spending on its activities and the lack of political will. The U.S. former Defense Minister Robert Gates criticized strongly the EU governments at a meeting of NATO in Brussels in June 2011 as he said that “the blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense,”[4]. The U.S.-EU partnership which proved to be successful during the cold war no longer energetic and the European role in global affairs will be decline in the coming years if the attitude of EU states did not change to meet the twenty-first century challenges and demands.

According to Gates, European members’ behavior contributed to the marginalization of NATO’s role in the world. The reason behind this is not lack in European forces number in the Alliance, there are more than two million European soldier, but it relates to the extent of European spending on defense, as they declared significant cuts to defense budgets especially the UK, as well as the way EU forces are organize and the way in which the available funds are spent. Political and economic changes within Europe and within the United States confirm that the trans-Atlantic Alliance would lose its luster and reputation will continue to suffer. The United States itself has declined economically and no longer able to continue playing the role of world policeman and bear the expenses of global leadership. Therefore, Washington demands Europeans real participation in leadership burdens and not just relying on them as in the past.

Surviving the Afghani Legacy


NATO officials felt that the alliance transformation from European role to global role is not yet complete.  There are still a number of challenges awaiting NATO; challenges ranging from NATO capacity of rapid emergency intervention, to members efficiency and commitment to fulfilling their tasks and their financial obligations. Many observers show concerns about the growing demands and tasks of NATO that might hamper its transformation, especially since such demands exceed the actual capacity and potential of the Alliance.


During this month, the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defense of NATO held meeting in Brussels to discuss the future of NATO forces in Afghanistan, and plan the withdrawal of 130,000 troops over the next two years. The meeting came in preparation for the Summit hosted by President Barack Obama in the twentieth and the twenty-first of next month in Chicago. NATO leaders agreed in November 2010 to handover security tasks to Afghan forces gradually by the end of 2014, but they disagreed about how to finance the costs of the Afghan forces which will reach about four billion and 100 million dollars a year. NATO expects to increase the number of Afghan troops, reaching 352 thousand this year, but the number of these forces still under study in the future. Panetta said he worried constantly about the attacks because it indicates that the Taliban still enjoy flexibility and resolve.


In this month as well, four French soldiers were killed by Afghan soldiers trained served under NATO in Afghanistan. President Sarkozy froze military activity of French soldiers in Afghanistan, and reconsidered his country’s participation in ISAF forces. His resolution to leave the battle in Afghanistan would be problematic in terms of President Obama and perhaps also the first Domino's stone that falls in Western fragile presence on the territory of this country.

Generally, an early withdrawal will only serve Taliban. This is exactly what they want: the evacuation of foreign troops from Afghanistan, regains control of the country, and imposes extreme religious system, which affect human rights and women in particular. The problem is that nobody believes today that things will be better in Afghanistan after three years from now. In the best case, Afghanistan would be divided into regions under Taliban’s control and others under the rule of a corrupt and inefficient government.  In the worst case scenario, all of Afghanistan will be once again under the Taliban.

Nonetheless, early withdrawal from Afghanistan would ease the U.S. burden as well as relieve NATO. Obama’s approval rate will not suffer in election year, it is always useful to receive soldiers returning home marching on foot. Yet, no matter how beneficial the withdrawal will be to U.S. and NATO troops, someone will always say that the withdrawal was a successful result of the Taliban’s attrition war, and this would be inaccurate, but the price of this attrition after three years would be much more expensive.


NATO will come out of Afghanistan carrying seeds of vulnerability. The alliance failed to seriously engage in Afghanistan. In the agreed upon informal outline of the alliance, the United States is supposed to launch wars for freedom and then Europeans will take care of post-war nation building operations. But what happened in Afghanistan, is that Taliban took advantage of the U.S. full engagement in Iraq, and was able to return to the country again, putting NATO units in reactive position. NATO was forced to enter into the Afghani quagmire after the United States lifted its hands and reached the conviction that it will not be able to bring stability to Afghanistan alone, therefore, exerted pressure on NATO to be its substitute, despite the opposition of France and Germany for the troops involvement in this devastating task. The United States forced NATO to carry on its first military mission outside its geographic boundaries in a land and against a combat doctrine that were quite different from what the armies of member states were used to. Thus, NATO forces did not have an opportunity to do what they were supposed to do according to the agreed outline. NATO carried out its mission but in diverse method as was expected, especially after all governments of Alliance member countries selected different definitions of military units’ functions there. Some fought in battles like the Canadians, while others concentrated on building schools and training Afghani forces. NATO members felt they were sinking alone in the Afghani quicksand while U.S. troops were often geographically remote and isolated from the place where other NATO units operated. In addition, the U.S. forces were fully involved in chasing after the leader of the Al-Qaeda and other whom the former U.S. Defense Secretary Ronald Rumsfeld likes to call the "bad guys".


The ISAF weakness was exemplified in member states evasion of fulfilling their combat tasks. British, Canadians, and Dutch soldiers suffered a lot in the bitter war in southern Afghanistan more than other states and French and German forces are reluctant to send troops to southern Afghanistan (the most dangerous of all regions). Member States did not respond efficiently to the demands of the Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan in forming rapid intervention force of about 2,500 soldiers and providing combat equipment for the necessary protection of the soldiers.


Under such circumstances, Taliban forces regained strength with time and were capable of widening its popular support and expanding its relationships with strong regional opposition forces who disapproved of NATO and U.S. forces presence in Afghanistan. The Afghani government, on the other hand, was unable to earn the confidence and support of the people especially with the widespread of corruption which made NATO’s mission in responding to this corruption and fending the strong opposition very difficult. Furthermore, the military performance of NATO forces was not better than that of U.S. forces in not taking precautions to avoid killing innocent civilians, destroying their homes, or insulting their holy beliefs. Amnesty International has demanded a change in NATO's military conduct in Afghanistan, which is incompatible with the human rights organization. The organization criticized the bombing of populated areas and the destruction of houses by aircraft that caused an increased influx of refugees.





In general, conflicting views among NATO members (mainly U.S. verses EU) about the nature of global threats, the extent and mechanisms to face these threats, the limits of intervention, and Low military budgets of NATO all constitute obstacles in the way of NATO restructuring.

It was not wise to turn NATO forces (ISAF) that was formed in 2001 to maintain security in Kabul and assist in the reconstruction operations, into combat troops involved in bloody battles with significant number of civilian casualties. This made Afghans view NATO forces as invaders and made the Taliban in the eyes of the Afghan people a national liberation movement, regardless of their orientations. NATO failed to assist the Afghanis and convince them of the purpose of their presence and failed to fulfill its original purpose. Things are already getting harder day by day for NATO, and it cannot withdraw for the time being from the Afghani territory, because such decision will have devastating consequences on NATO as a whole and on its ambitions in playing a global role. The Way NATO managed war in Afghanistan will affect its future interventions as well as its reputation as strong and capable organization that will ensure global security and stability.

NATO Secretary General comments stressed that there will be no early withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and that the exit will be only after achieving the goals set by NATO although there are no features of those goals so far.

NATO is already the victim of the United States unilateral crusades, but will the alliance member states continue supporting their troops’ presence in Afghanistan and try as much as possible to succeed in their mission, or they will announce their mutiny soon, cut their losses and save their economies, accept their failure, retreat back to the comfort of their European continent and lick their wounds?

[1] Toby Vogel “Clinton warns Europeans against defense cuts”,, October 15, 2010
[2] Ernie Regehr, “NATO’s Strategic Concept, the NPT, and Global Zero”, briefing: Project Ploughshares, February 2010
[3] Matt Kohn, “The Peace Army”, The Huffington Post, November 29, 2010 <>
[4] THOM SHANKER, “Defense Secretary Warns NATO of ‘Dim’ Future”, the New York Times, June 10, 2011

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