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How NATO Can Remain Relevant

Authors: Xenia Dormandy, Senior Fellow, U.S. Program, Chatham House Memduh Karakullukçu, Vice-Chairman and President, Global Relations Forum Oded Eran, Researcher, the Institute of National Security Studies, and former Israeli Ambassador to the European Union in the NATO-Mediterranean Dialogue Igor Yurgens, Chairman, Institute of Contemporary Development
May 17, 2012

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Editor's note: This roundup is a new monthly feature of the Council of Councils initiative, gathering opinions from global experts on major international developments.

The NATO summit in Chicago is expected to focus on the alliance's capacity to address twenty-first century threats. Four experts--two from NATO countries and one each from Israel and Russia, non-NATO countries--discuss how NATO can remain relevant as a force for international peace and security as it continues to evolve from its Cold War mission as a counter to Soviet threats.

Xenia Dormandy of Britain's Chatham House and Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to the European Union, say NATO should often use its weight and legitimacy to form the core of flexible ad hoc coalitions, including with countries outside of NATO, to deal with specific issues. Eran argues that in a time of limited resources, these ad hoc groups could potentially expand the NATO framework long-term, though Dormandy suggests that the willingness of these groups to disband can be an advantage.

Memduh Karakullukçu of the Global Relations Forum in Turkey says NATO's long-term role is likely to be linked to "its effectiveness in the protection of global commons, the preemption of global threats, and the management of global calamities." Meanwhile, Igor Yurgens of Russia's Institute of Contemporary Development says NATO should work on engaging Moscow in a non-confrontational way on issues Moscow is most concerned about, such as missile defense and more strategic cooperation on Afghanistan.

Xenia Dormandy, Senior Fellow, U.S. Program, Chatham House

The whole is greater than the parts: In addition to harnessing the capabilities and will of its members, NATO brings legitimacy to the activities it undertakes. But given the myriad of interests and priorities of its twenty-eight members, as with other multilateral institutions, it is becoming increasingly hard to act together and send a coherent message. As it is already beginning to do, NATO needs to recognize this diversity and, where possible, take advantage of it.

Some of the most successful multilateral actions in recent years have been led by ad hoc groups of the willing. The Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) has the flexibility to allow different states to act according to their own laws and regulations. The 2004 tsunami response group, which comprised the United States, India, Australia, and Japan, was the first responder after the Asian tsunami, acting until the UN was able to step in.

[G]iven the myriad of interests and priorities of its twenty-eight members, as with other multilateral institutions, it is becoming increasingly hard to act together and send a coherent message.

What these ad hoc groups have in common is their unitary focus, their inclusiveness, and their willingness (at least in the case of the tsunami response group) to disband when the job is done. They have the advantages of flexibility and speed that come with involving only those parties with the interests, will and capability to act on a particular issue. But in so doing, they lose some legitimacy and continuity.

As we are already beginning to see, NATO has the opportunity to bring together the advantages of an ad hoc group with the weight of an established, longstanding entity. The Libya operation took place under NATO's umbrella, but each member state participated as they saw fit, and other external partners were brought into the coalition. In Afghanistan, ISAF comprised NATO members plus many others, with each contributing what its interests and capabilities demand.

To remain relevant, to not be held back by bureaucracy and stymied by conflicting ideologies and priorities, NATO needs to move away from a position wherein all its members need to contribute equally, and toward one that recognizes the competitive advantages of each and builds on these, and where external parties and their capabilities are embraced.

Memduh Karakullukçu, Vice-Chairman and President, Global Relations Forum

NATO's future effectiveness and relevance will be determined by the ability of its leaders to dynamically adapt the Strategic Concept to the shifting weight and nature of security threats.

The crises in the Middle East and North Africa have already reshaped the security environment. Member states' threat perceptions related to these crises will inevitably vary, and each new episode will strain NATO's decision-making and policy execution capabilities. So as not to unduly burden its internal cohesion and to be more effective in confronting the regional security challenges, NATO should formulate a broader approach toward this region that utilizes its political as well as military competences. NATO's past emphasis on values and norms as part of its mission should again play a more explicit and constructive role in addressing the events in the Arab world.

If NATO can successfully develop effective mechanisms of persuasion and structures of cooperation to engage key players in jointly protecting global commons, it will remain the most significant international security organization for many decades to come.

The next decades in the region may be characterized by "intra-state/inter-state conflicts" or "gradual economic/political development." NATO's success and relevance in this part of the world should be measured by its ability to shift the trajectory in the latter direction, rather than in the episodic success of individual military operations. NATO's regional security approach should include building structures to facilitate cooperative regional interdependence, preventing the build-up of sectarian or ethnic tensions, and providing even-handed support to resolve local conflicts. The soft power of member states like Turkey can be leveraged in this process, keeping in mind that soft power in this part of the world is an elusive and easily depleted resource.

At a more global level, NATO's long-term role is likely to be linked to its effectiveness in the protection of the global commons, the preemption of global threats, and the management of global calamities. This agenda will serve both internal cohesiveness and the nurturing of trust with non-members. The interdependence of national interests and national competences in addressing global security threats provides an obvious opportunity for security cooperation that could bridge rifts of trust around the world.

The difficulty is likely to arise in credibly signaling that NATO's intent is protecting the global commons rather than controlling the global commons. If NATO can successfully develop effective mechanisms of persuasion and structures of cooperation to engage key players in jointly protecting global commons, it will remain the most significant international security organization for many decades to come.

Oded Eran, Researcher, the Institute of National Security Studies, and former Israeli Ambassador to the European Union in the NATO-Mediterranean Dialogue

The conflict between the social and economic needs of our democratic societies and the need to defend these societies against threats make decisions of resource allocation as painful as ever. The most recent evidence of this dilemma includes the European economic crisis on the one hand and the Libyan operation on the other.

Yet NATO should not be eulogized because of these stark realities. It should continue the process of transformation upon which it embarked ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union, adapting to changing global circumstances. That means abandoning the territorial base of the alliance for the purpose of expanding and creating ad hoc coalitions. It may mean reconsideration of Article V in the Treaty and finding a new concept.

There is a group of nations that is willing to cooperate and coordinate with NATO, as they all face similar threats and concerns. Among them are Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, India, the Gulf Cooperation Council members, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and several states in central Asia and Latin America. NATO should become the security and defense agora for these nations in their search for new ideas, methods, and tools for their defense and for the implementation of actions mandated by the international community.

NATO should become the security and defense agora for these nations in their search for new ideas, methods, and tools for their defense and for the implementation of actions mandated by the international community.

NATO should become the security and defense agora for these nations in their search for new ideas, methods, and tools for their defense and for the implementation of actions mandated by the international community.

Implementing any idea of expanding NATO's framework will take time. Nations jealously guard their capabilities, and many tend to rely exclusively on these capabilities. In recent decades, though, conflicts and threats have proven this self-reliance to be only a partial and not always optimal choice. Combating current and future threats requires greater cooperation and intelligence sharing, joint development of methods and equipment, and, given economic constraints, a larger degree of standardization and joint production.

Finding flexible formulae for the different tasks should be made a NATO priority. It will allow the maximization of resources that currently are not available to NATO, allowing it to take upon itself missions that it could not today perform. It will thus keep NATO as a relevant and vital part of the democratic world.

Israel has expressed its wish to be associated with NATO's effort to improve and expand capabilities. Forced by the environment in which it finds itself, Israel has been in the forefront of the search for the best answers to the defense and security challenges with which NATO wrestles. It shares its experience with NATO and stands ready to deepen this cooperation.

Igor Yurgens, Chairman, Institute of Contemporary Development

There are distinct features of the Chicago NATO summit that matter to Russian public opinion. First, there will be no Russia-NATO Council (RNC) session, and newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be attending the event. Consequently, U.S. President Obama moved the G8 summit from Chicago to Camp David in order not to embarrass his Russian colleague. The gesture was regarded as a conciliatory one in Moscow. Sending Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the summit and to Washington beforehand also signals a continuity of the Russian position on U.S.-Russia relations.

The immediate reason for skipping the RNC session in Chicago--the deadlock over the anti-ballistic missile shield in Europe--is being discussed in Moscow in a more nuanced way. The high-level American and NATO visitors, including NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, brought about more arguments, valid for those in Moscow, who finally want to try to find a mutually acceptable solution.

One of the problems of great interest to Russia and its allies is the announced retreat of NATO forces from Afghanistan. We are worried about the consequences, with the Taliban showing renewed energy and strength.

One of the problems of great interest to Russia and its allies is the announced retreat of NATO forces from Afghanistan. We are worried about the consequences, with the Taliban showing renewed energy and strength. The leadership of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which unites seven post-Soviet countries in the defensive block in this area, calls for cooperation with NATO in the process of Afghan stabilization. So far, CSTO advances were rejected by NATO. The real reason behind it is the unwillingness to recognize the allegedly growing Russian influence in the area. Such attitude might prove to be short-sighted—twenty thousand well-trained and armed peacekeepers of CSTO could be a very important reinforcement. Their joint involvement with NATO colleagues would give comfort to Russia and Central Asian leaders during the difficult time of NATO pullout.

Moscow realizes that the results of the Chicago summit will be highly influenced by the forthcoming U.S. election. One does not expect much in terms of substance at a time like that. But if what really concerns Russia--missile defense, Afghanistan, nuclear proliferation and so on--is discussed in a way regarded by Moscow as non-confrontational, that already would be a step forward.

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