NATO:  Problems with No Solutions?


NATO risks becoming a relic of the Cold War unless it finds a renewed sense of solidarity and political will while framing its new Strategic Concept.  That’s the central message of  STRATCON 2010: An Alliance for a Global Century, a report by the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Advisors Group.

The project, co-chaired by General Brent Scowcroft, Dr. Thomas Enders, and Senator Chuck Hagel, provides a blueprint for avoiding this outcome, offering concrete recommendations for how the Alliance must be transformed in order to meet the global threats and challenges of the 21st Century.  The report was co-authored by SAG members Dr. Julian Lindley-French and Dr. Yves Boyer.

Below are some key quotes from the report and my brief reaction to them:

"What NATO is for is the question that Strategic Concept 2010 must answer."

This is exactly right.  It’s truly remarkable that, nearly two decades after the collapse of the Soviet threat that brought the Alliance into being, its members have yet to coalesce on a vision for its future.  We all agree that NATO should continue to exist but not on what it should do, how it should be organized, and how it should be resourced.

Is it merely a defensive alliance to protect against military attacks in Europe and North America?  If so, it’s hard to justify its continued existence given the minimal nature of said threat.  And, certainly, it makes no sense for the United States to continue being not only a member but carrying the lion’s share of the financial and military burden.

If it’s to be a flexible expeditionary force, then it makes no sense to allow so many Members to shirk their responsibilities.  Or, at very least, it’s time to do away with the unanimity requirement that holds the Allies who want to get something done and are willing to put their blood and treasure on the line to achieve it to be held hostage to the demands of the weak sisters who aren’t.

"We fear that NATO lacks the necessary political will to ensure that it is as effective this century as it was in the last."

I fear that this goes beyond fear into the realm of hard fact. 

"The Strategic Concept will fail if it does not represent a renewed sense of commitment and purpose among Alliance leaders."

I’d only add:  If the Strategic Concept fails, the Alliance itself will follow.

" Strategic Concept 2010 must once and for all end the post-Cold War strategic vacation of many Members."

"Strategic vacation" is a wonderful turn of phrase, pithily capturing the problem.  I see no sign, however, that those currently on holiday have any intentions of returning to work.

 "For the first time NATO’s purpose, principles and partnerships must necessarily be considered in a global context."

In theory, the Alliance reached this conclusion during the 1990s.  And, in fairness, it has undertaken the remarkably demanding mission in Afghanistan, which it has more-or-less sustained for the better part of a decade.

All-in-all, Lindley-French and Boyer have done a fantastic job of outlining the problems and the way of head.  But, as  Shimon Peres noted and Donald Rumsfeld popularized,  "If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact, not to be solved, but to be coped with over time. "  I’m not at all confident the authors haven’t identified just such a case.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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