Thursday, June 24, 2004

# Posted 7:42 AM by Patrick Belton  

NATO AT 55: Next week, on 28 and 29 June, the North Atlantic Council governing the NATO alliance will meet in Istanbul at the heads of state and government level. (As a bit of Nato trivia, Nato's supreme body - which represents the equality and consensus that characterised the U.S.'s Cold War relations with its allies, and treats equally the votes of Luxembourg and the United States - can meet at the level of permanent representative, defence or foreign ministers, or heads of government. It's the same committee, the NAC, which meets in all three instances - only the bodies seated behind the names of countries change.)

I'm quite fond of Nato, having served in the American mission at its headquarters several years ago, and I'll be looking forward to taking the opportunity afforded by the Istanbul Summit to examine where Nato is, where it's going, and where it could stand to do things differently or take a different tack. Here's my first take.

There's been progress (beginning with the 2002 Prague Summit) toward the creation of a Nato Response Force capable of sophisticated counterterror missions. There's also been progress toward the drafting (which has been done) and implementation (which hasn't) of a military concept for counterterrorism. But allies still strongly disagree about whether counterterrorism should even be one of Nato's primary missions - so the principal task of the US at the moment lies in the area of creating political will among allies to adopt counterterrorism as a Nato responsibility. That we have not done so is at least in part our fault - Allies felt rebuffed after they gave the US unconditional political support through invoking Article 5, and then were not consulted in the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. For their part, the civilian leadership of the Pentagon believed Kosovo had been an unacceptable example of 'war by committee', and political interference from allies would prevent a quick and decisive Afghanistan campaign. Perhaps it might have, but now at Nato we're facing the consequences in the form of less enthusiasm for counterterror missions.

At the moment, the alliance is very strongly split between New and Old Europe (with France, Germany, and Belgium being most opposed to adopting counterterror as a Nato mission). The US had encouraged adoption of counterterror as a core alliance task since the Clinton administration, and particularly during the runup to the Washington Summit in April 1999. France led opposition to its adoption even then, preferring to see the EU built up as a pillar of European security and Nato reduced in importance (it also overlaps with France's opposition to out-of-area missions, which counterterror operations would largely be, and which would also expand Nato's role). On the other hand, under the leadership of recently retired (and admirable) SecGen Lord Robertson, Nato at the staff level established an internal terrorism task force to coordinate the work of different Nato staff offices touching on the issue, launched a new capabilities initiative, and made some staff-level progress on civil-military emergency planning and consequence management. The military concept (Military Concept for Combating Terrorism) began with the December 2001 defence ministerial as a tasking to the SACEUR and SACLANT and was approved at the November 2002 Prague summit - it includes proposals for a standard threat-warning system, establishing standing forces dedicated to post-attack consequence management, creating standing joint and combined forces for counterterror operations, and creating civil assistance capabilities which could be used after a WMD attack. On a separate front, the operational inadequacies of Nato (which in turn create an incentive for the US to act outside it, and reinforcing transatlantic drift...) were the subject of the Defence Capabilities Initiative (DCI) launched at the April 1999 Washington Summit, but the DCI is widely regarded as having been too broad and unfocused. The Prague Capabilities Commitment (PCC) grew out of the November 2002 Prague Summit and suggests individual allies tailor their contributions by focusing on specific capabilities (i.e., Germany and strategic lift, Canada/France/Italy/Spain/Turkey/Holland and unmanned aerial vehicles, Spain and aerial tankers, Polish special forces, etc.) The Nato Response Force (NRF) was adopted by the Prague Summit, which called for initial operating capacity by October 2004 and full operational capacity by October 2006.

This would indeed be a useful tool in countering terrorist threats around the world, but political support is currently inadequate among allies, and these capabilities will not be fielded until before the end of the decade, if at all. Another unfulfilled promise of the Prague Summit was the launching of a Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical analytical lab and event response team, which remain unimplemented - among other things, Nato's Weapons of Mass Destruction Centre has a current staff of only 12 people. Also, France has successfully hindered efforts to give the Civil-Military Planning Directorate operational capabilities for post-terrorist attack consequence management, preferring to see the EU take up the policy area.

In general, the task facing the US - and the Bush administration - at Istanbul is twofold: to try to build political will (playing mostly against the French) to actually implement these paper programs, which would do a great deal to improve both US and allied security; and to show domestic voters that it can play well with others, and bring home tangible results for American national security from multilateral fora. For the Kerry campaign, its task will be to stay clear of the easy temptation to claim France would be an enthusiastic Nato ally today if it weren't for the Bush administration. It wouldn't (repeated invocations of 'nous sommes tous Américains' to the contrary), and claims it would are likely to come across as partisan. The Kerry camp, like the Bush administration, will also have a two-fold task: first, to recognise US presidents can't command Nato allies to do anything, they can only convince - and then try to sell to voters the more nuanced, correct claim the present administration hasn't succeeded terribly well to date in that task; second, it will have as well to show voters that Kerry and his aides can grapple creatively with complex political and strategic issues of national security, in an election which promises to be decided on precisely national security. It's a crucial moment for both the president and the senator from Massachusetts. To the extent the Kerry camp deals in a creative and nuanced way with complex questions facing the alliance, rather than falling back on the temptation to use Istanbul as just one more occasion to lob easy criticisms at the administration for its unilateralism, then it can contribute to a constructive national security debate where partisan competition helps overcome bureaucratic inertia and produce better ideas about how to promote national interests. And for the Bush administration, the Istanbul Summit represents a chance to show its critics that it can indeed work creatively in multilateral fora, and more importantly, produce results there. And at the NAC and on the margins, its task will be to work against Francophone and German opponents of Nato to win the vote of sensible Old European countries (Netherlands, Portugal, Italy) and create a consensus for orienting Nato to the war on terror, which its efforts are badly needed.

Oddly, the website of the US Committee on Nato, www.expandNATO.org, in which there was substantial bipartisan participation (PPI president Will Marshall, for instance), now points to 'discount vitamins'.
(0) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments: Post a Comment