Quo vadis? NATO after the end of Cold War

Quo vadis? NATO after the end of Cold War

nato_775460217“I bear solemn witness to the fact that NATO heads of state and of government meet only to go through the tedious motions of reading speeches, drafted by others, with the principal objective of not rocking the boat.”

 The dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991 has left the North Atlantic Treaty Organization without an evenly matched opponent to deal with. This change was followed by a need of re-evaluating NATO’s nature, purposes and tasks. Hence, a gradual and still ongoing expansion of NATO to Eastern Europe was initiated. Moreover, plans were set and actions were developed to extend NATO’s activities to areas that had not formerly been its concerns until then. But challenges did not hesitate to appear. New threats requesting new ways to address them, as well as new changes in international system have caught NATO in a continuous process of reforming and adapting, with undesired consequences upon its effectiveness and efficiency. In this essay NATO will be approached from a multilateral perspective. In the first part of the paper the rationale for the enlargement of NATO after 1991 will be discussed, as well as the transformation of NATO’s Strategic Concept since 1991 until now. In the second part, the relationship between Russia and NATO will be considered, by focusing more attention on the missile defense issue and Moscow’s attitude towards enlargement of NATO to the East. And in the last part, NATO’s main post-Cold War missions and military operations will be analyzed especially in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, but also as challenges for the Alliance’s cohesion and sustainability. The aim of the essay is to briefly point out NATO’s main transformations since the end of Cold War and in the same time to question its raison d’être in a world of turmoil, ongoing change and insecurity.

The enlargement of NATO after 1991. Why?

The end of Cold War gave the opportunity to many people to predict that the North-Atlantic Alliance would fall apart. With no enemy to deal with, the very purpose of the organization, the basis of its legitimacy, the glue that kept the allied states together did no longer exist. Nevertheless, NATO persisted and is still considered nowadays by many as the strongest international security guarantee.

Since the beginning of the 90s and even earlier debates concerning enlargement of NATO kept busy the international security agenda. Some critics of NATO’s enlargement argued that NATO expansion would antagonize Russia, exacerbating its lingering distrust of the West and strengthening anti-Western elements in the Russian political system, which would in turn lead to lower levels of cooperation between Russia and the West. On the other hand, proponents of NATO enlargement argued that membership encouraged cooperation between the Eastern European states in spite of lingering mistrust, as NATO is actually a benign institution representing the Western “security community”, that serves to promote trust and foster cooperation among its members.

So called “constructivist” approaches to international relations tried to explain why NATO continued to exist despite the fact that the basis for cooperation was no longer there. Therefore, it was argued that NATO was never only a military alliance held together by a sense of a common external threat. Rather, it was and it still is a community of liberal democratic values and norms. This image of NATO appeared to be increasingly convincing as NATO gradually established close institutional links with its former enemies in the Warsaw Pact (including Russia), expanded its membership and redefined its security strategy.

From another point of view, NATO’s enlargement supporters believed that the development of democracies and market economies in central and Eastern Europe could create peace and prosperity there, as they considered that the prospect of membership in the West’s premier security institution would be a powerful incentive for elites to continue on the path to reform. Other supporters focused more on the need for stability along Germany’s Eastern border, fearing that unrest there might lead Germany to believe that it had to undertake unilateral security efforts in Eastern Europe. Still other enlargement supporters had not rid themselves of the specter of the threat from Moscow and saw the end of the cold war as providing an opportunity to extend NATO’s geostrategic reach should Russia ever again seek to dominate its European neighbors.

Others say that NATO’s enlargement became inevitable after 1994 Summit, as the American President was already stating publicly that “the question was no longer whether NATO will take in new members, but when and how”. A variety of factors including the persistent demands of the East Europeans to join the Alliance, the unstable situation in Russia, the disaster of Yugoslavia and the paucity of other alternatives, as well as personnel changes (particularly in the U.S. administration), all contributed to the final decision.

International affairs literature has provided all sorts of explanations (many of which were still left open for debates) trying to justify NATO’s continuity and enlargement. In order to avoid slipping into never ending discussions it will be wise now to leave the search for finding causes and reasons and focus on the effects and consequences of the North-Atlantic Alliance expansion.

The development of NATO as an institution throughout the 90s was a matter of permanent adaptation to external and internal challenges. We cannot identify a clear strategic purpose which was then implemented over successive years. Even though the Alliance has gone through European politics and security turmoil, it has resisted at the cost of becoming politically fragile.

This fragility is depicted by the challenges NATO has to deal with. First, even if NATO is plying a role in developing a zone of security in Europe, unwillingly the Alliance is facing the problem of inclusion (whom, how and when to admit) and, even more problematically of exclusion. This could cause NATO to inevitably play a key role in dividing the continent, despite all the contrary pledges by Western policy makers. Second, the so-called Europeanization of the Alliance is seen by many in Washington as the harbinger of transatlantic decoupling. Europe’s woeful contribution to military operations and decades of American badgering over burden-sharing have eventually opened debates over increasing military potential of the NATO members.Third, the military reform and the effectiveness of the Alliance strongly depend on the relationship between E.U. and NATO, and implicitly on the policy of military intensification persuasiveness among NATO members.

In conclusion, we can stress that NATO expansion involves both benefits and costs. Benefits include collective defense capability and security, improved burden-sharing and greater weapons sales in NATO. The costs of expansion embrace infrastructure in the new member-states, modernization of forces for the new members, enhanced reinforcement capabilities, the thinning of forces to defend longer borders and larger areas, and the increasing problems of decision-making in a larger NATO. But problems arise since force-thinning effects and expansion costs cannot be estimated, as they differ widely because of the nature of the threat, the type of equipment, the necessary manpower, and the interest groups providing the estimates.

NATO’s Strategic Concept – a brief history from 1991 to 2010

The strategic concept, as defined on NATO’s official website, is meant to outline NATO’s long-term purpose, its nature and main security tasks. Besides these, it identifies the core features of the security environment, defines Alliance’s approach to security and provides guidelines for military action.

The 1991 Strategic Concept was an innovation in NATO’s philosophy, being the first unclassified strategic concept. While collective defense was maintained as a fundamental purpose, it sought to improve and expand security for Europe as a whole through partnership and cooperation with former adversaries. It also reduced the use of nuclear forces to a minimum level, sufficient to preserve peace and stability.

After military interventions in Kosovo and Bosnia, NATO recognized it was dealing with a new security environment. In this respect, the Alliance Strategic Concept was adopted in 1999, emphasizing conflict prevention and crisis management. The document was based on a broad definition of security which recognized the importance of political, economic, social and environmental factors in addition to the defense dimension. New risks were identified that had emerged since the end of the Cold War, including terrorism, ethnic conflict, human rights abuses, political instability, economic fragility, and the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and their means of delivery. The Alliance’s fundamental tasks (security, consultation, deterrence and defense) fulfillment was considered a matter of continuing development of military capabilities needed for the full range of the Alliance’s missions, from collective defense to peace support and other crisis-response operations, by maintaining an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces.

A significant turning point in NATO’s history were the 9/11 terrorist attack against U.S. which brought the threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction to the fore. These were the incentives for NATO to continue deepening and extending its partnerships and, essentially, accelerate its transformation to develop new political relationships and stronger operational capabilities to respond to an increasingly global and more challenging world.

Since 2001, the deadly connection between technology and extremism proved that there is a need for reevaluating the Alliance’s mission. Over thirty countries have or are acquiring ballistic missile technology and some of those missiles can already reach Europe. In addition, the global nuclear non-proliferation regime is under increasing stress. Powerful cyber attacks can damage a country’s essential infrastructure, thereby threatening the fundamental security interests of Allies. Incidents of instability along Europe’s periphery have revived historic tensions. The security implications of piracy, energy supply risks and environmental neglect have become more evident. And a worldwide economic crisis has spawned widespread budgetary concerns. These are all reasons which justified the need for a new strategic concept.

Therefore, the 2010 Strategic Concept was issued in Lisbon, as an output of rethinking, reprioritizing and reforming NATO. While the Alliance deepened its shift from strictly territorial defense to expeditionary forces, by committing more and more troops beyond the Euro-Atlantic area (Afghanistan, Iraq, Gulf of Aden, Libya), NATO reached a membership of 28, enlarging both its capabilities and commitments. In the new document, the organization was described as “a unique community of values committed to the principles of individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law” while the three core tasks where set forth according to a broad and evolving set of challenges to the security of NATO’s members. First, through collective defense it was reminded that Article 5 of Washington Treaty is available to invoke against any threat of aggression. However, questions have been raised regarding when and under what conditions Article 5 should be invoked. Second, through crisis management NATO declared its capability to employ an appropriate mix of political and military tools in order to help manage developing crises, where they affect Alliance security, before, during and after conflicts. And third, cooperative security was defined as a way to enhance international security through partnership with relevant actors and by leaving the door open for potential members.

Russia versus NATO. The missile defense issue

Right from the beginning the newly born democratic Russia sought to cooperate with NATO. After the 1994 NATO Summit, Russia joined Partnership for Peace, a program meant to build trust between NATO and other European states. But the background for future NATO-Russia cooperation was established during the 1997 NATO Summit, where both sides signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security. The new relationship between NATO and Russia was considered a progress, but also a downgrade. Considered to fit Zhou en-Lai’s quote – “The Soviet Union and the United States sleep in the same bed, but they do not share the same dreams” – the cooperation between the two sides was deemed to be only a temporary compromise, in order for them to fulfill their so different interests. Following the basis of the Founding Act, the NATO-Russian Council was created during the 2002 NATO Summit, providing an institutional framework for consensus-building, consultations, joint decisions and joint actions.

Despite these seem-to-be relationship improvements, Russia has consistently shown disagreement on NATO’s enlargement, often by speculating a diplomatic misunderstanding and insisting that NATO expansion violated an explicit promise made by the first Bush administration. In 1993, shortly after President Yeltsin publicly declared no objection for Poland’s efforts of becoming a member of NATO, the same president secretly wrote to the major European governments and the U.S. that the relations between Russia and NATO should be several degrees warmer than the relations between the Alliance and Eastern Europe. Also, President Medvedev expressed discontent regarding NATO’s future enlargement plans for Ukraine and Georgia, declaring that no state can be pleased about having representatives of a military bloc to which it does not belong, coming close to its borders.  However, the relations between Russia and NATO became even worse in 2007, during the process of negotiation for a missile defense system in Czech Republic and Poland, following U.S.’s proposal. President Putin disapproved the nature of this project, threatening to suspend the 1991 arms control pact. During the last year of Bush administration, the agreement signed between U.S. and Poland was welcomed by Moscow with a nuclear threat on Poland by Russia if the building of the missile defenses will be put into action. And even worse, Russia sent words to Norway that it plans to freeze military ties with NATO.  The conflict was eventually quenched by the new Obama administration, which announced in 2009 the abandonment of the project for a more advantageous solution for Moscow. Therefore, Russia and NATO agreed to cooperate on the so-called European missile shield proposed during the NATO-Russia Council summit in 2010.

Overall, Russia’s position towards NATO can be best described by the Russian envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin who responded to several invitations for Russia to join NATO that “Great powers don’t join coalitions, they create coalitions. Russia considers itself a great power”, but even though “there is no such necessity at this moment, we cannot rule out this opportunity in the future”.

Fail or success? NATO’s missions and military operations. A lesson to learn

Since 1991, NATO’s activity on the field can be split over two periods of time: the interventions in Balkans and the outside Europe operations sustained after the 9/11 attacks.

The first important NATO “out of area” interventions began in 1993 during Bosnian War against Yugoslavia. But only after UN failed to prevent Srbrenica Massacre in 1995, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force, a bombing campaign against the Serbian army which played a crucial role in ending the Bosnian war.

In 1999, once again NATO was involved in the Balkans. This time the engagement was much deeper, as Operation Allied Force bombing campaign lasted almost 3 months in the attempt to stop Serbian-led repression of Albanians from Kosovo. But problems within the Alliance didn’t hesitate to appear, as members of the organization split in two camps, arguing about whether UN’s approval for NATO military strikes is needed or not.

Even though NATO’s interventions in the Balkans ended with bloodshed, they proved to be a success in bringing stability to the region.

However, the Alliance Strategic Concept adopted in 1999 showed that NATO is willing to go beyond and involve more in conflict prevention and crisis management. Moreover, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, NATO realized that its role became a global one, as it has to deal with new global threats in order to safeguard the freedom and security of all its members. As a response to the attacks, the Article 5 of the NATO Charter was invoked for the first time, triggering Operation Active Endeavour, a naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea meant to prevent the movement of terrorists or weapons of mass destructions. Furthermore, NATO intensified its activity outside the territory of NATO states focusing more on crisis management and non-Article 5 operations. In this respect, the Alliance has involved since 2003 in stabilisation and reconstruction operations in Afghanistan, has commenced a training mission in Iraq, and in 2009 has released Operation Ocean Shield in order to counter Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Recently, the relationship between the Afghan president and the international forces present in the country worsened, as NATO troops were condemned for mistakenly killing Afghan civilians.

However, the latest NATO intervention in Libyan Civil War has deepened the already tense relations within NATO members, especially concerning burden-sharing.

Under UN-Mandate, NATO has launched in March 2011 Operation Unified Protector, an operation enforcing UNSC 1970 and 1973 concerning Libya, which has resulted in several military interventions. The situation within NATO reached a high degree of friction when Germany considered that the Alliance has gone too far and decided to pull out of NATO operations in the Mediterranean. Moreover, in June, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged more NATO allies to join the air campaign against Libya, arguing that it was putting a strain on the seven members of the 28-nation alliance that are carrying the burden in a conflict that shows few signs of ending soon. But NATO European members’ lack of military capability that can be deployed and sustained in distant operations has proved to be true. Norway has announced its withdrawal in August, as the mission was extended until September; Danish air planes were reported to be running out of bombs, while the head of British Navy declared that Britain cannot keep up its role in Libya air war due to cuts.

Instead of conclusions

So far, NATO has proved to be a promising tool for maintaining peace and security even at a global scale. Yet, the Alliance is facing a variety of shortcoming, which makes it more difficult to achieve its goals.

Since 1991, the missions and operations developed by the Alliance were sure to reveal NATO’s main drawbacks. Even if NATO’s Strategic Concept was transformed in order to adapt to reality, the problems might not stem from the ideological structure of the organization, neither from any outside source. The cleavages within NATO, more deepened after its enlargement, are shaped after the conflict of interests between 28 economically, socially and politically different states, which make efforts to reach consensus over certain issues, showing different level of interest.

The main decisions taken within NATO are still hampered by military capability (especially expeditionary forces) imbalance between of the U.S. and the European Allies; shared opinion regarding cooperation between NATO and other organizations such as UN (e.g. U.S. and U.K. versus France in Kosovo War); unbalanced burden-sharing and will to engage in military actions (e.g. US versus Germany, Poland, Spain, Turkey and Netherlands in Libyan Civil War); different national spending and military planning; as well as by different foreign policy of EU and non-EU NATO members.

As for now, NATO has made compromises by leaving its doors open for potential members, sought to improve long-terms relations with Russia and cooperate with the international community, especially through UN.

However, in order to answer weather NATO has learned its lessons or not, requires a measurement of its success. And what do we mean by success it’s a question of how we should define NATO. But this question cannot be easily answered, as the Alliance experiences a process of ongoing change. Nevertheless, it can be certainly said that, after Cold War, NATO greatly improved.

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