The Atlantic Alliance Transformed

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From Brent Scowcroft, the New Atlanticist: NATO’s tradition of operating by consensus has become more complex as the Alliance has expanded its membership and as it faces an array of nontraditional security challenges that do not threaten all members equally.

The Alliance should change the way it addresses crises at the North Atlantic Council to avoid paralysis in the face of complex and fast-moving security challenges. When faced with a crisis, the North Atlantic Council should consider the following alternatives:

  • NATO acts as twenty-eight. In situations where the Alliance invokes Article 5, or where all members otherwise feel compelled to act for reasons of solidarity, such as in Afghanistan, NATO can decide that it wishes to act as twenty-eight, as envisioned by the Washington Treaty.
  • NATO as a coalition of the willing. In crises that have disparate impacts on Alliance members, NATO can decide that the crisis is of interest to the Alliance, but not all allies wish to participate in the operation. In this case, NATO command and control and assets can be used in the operation, as was the case in Libya. This means of operating is likely to be the future template for action for the Alliance in crisis management operations.
  • NATO declines to act. In situations where several key NATO members object to military action, the Alliance can decline to act as an Alliance to address the crisis. That would not preclude individual members, including the United States, from acting unilaterally or in conjunction with other willing NATO states.

If the United States leads NATO to undertake these important efforts, then your entire foreign and security policy agenda can become easier to accomplish. 

Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft is chairman of the Atlantic Council International Advisory Board and president and founder of The Scowcroft Group. A former two-time national security advisor to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, Scowcroft also served in the United States Air Force. This piece is taken from the Atlantic Council publication The Task Ahead: Memos for the Winner of the 2012 Presidential Election. 

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