A new Strategic Concept

The growing opposition to military interventions amongst a majority of member states means that NATO’s new Strategic Concept must consider how the Alliance can and will pursue a stronger political and co-ordinating role.

By Dragan Bisenic

NATO is ready to lay down its arms. After the new NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, at a recent security conference in Munich (the so-called “security Davos”, given that it gathers the most important personalities dealing with security-related issues), said that NATO should become a “global security forum” – which is very far from being a superior military group that would be able to assume the role of a global military interventionist force – it seems that NATO no longer has an ambition to be based solely on “brotherhood in arms”; instead, it will seek its place in the political sphere, since armed interventions have become unacceptable to a majority of NATO members.

At this meeting, Serbia was represented by its foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, and Zdravko Ponos, Jeremic’s current assistant and former chief of staff. Jeremic stated that Belgrade will not take any steps leading towards closer alignment with NATO – or any other military alliance – but will instead cooperate with the Alliance and other security actors in the Western Balkans on preserving peace and stability.

Last autumn, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who is still the chief architect of Obama’s foreign policy, revealed his vision of NATO’s future and for the first time used the term “security network”, thus relativising the military component of the Alliance. He condemned American “arrogant unilateralism in Iraq” and the “demagogic Islamophobia” that has divided and weakened the West, and called for close cooperation with “post-imperialist Russia”, as a long-term interest of the United States and the EU, in the same way the U.S. worked together with Britain, France and Germany, this time, however, in a “new historical context”.

By rejecting those ideas which in the past few years have been developed within the scientific community – such as the Princeton Project on National Security, which suggests that NATO should be ideologically defined as a “global alliance of democracies” – Brzezinski estimates that they would cause great difficulties in relation to the issue of whom to include, and whom to exclude, and that in the end it would be “impossible to find a balance between doctrinary and strategic objectives”. Instead, Brzezinski concluded that NATO should be the “centre of the global network of cooperative security”.

As a “disciple” of Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former US secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who is now presiding over the working group tasked with drafting NATO’s new Strategic Concept, will almost certainly follow her mentor’s guidelines. NATO is no longer characterised by the unity and solidarity that it had had during the Cold War. Its members have different views about the nature and necessity of operations in Afghanistan. Disagreements arose on both sides of the Atlantic and within Europe on a number of issues, including future NATO enlargement, relations with the Russian Federation and the appropriate division of labour between NATO and the EU. These observations were noted down in an analysis, ‘Renewing the Atlantic Partnership’, written back in 2004 by Henry Kissinger and the current director of the U.S. National Economic Council, the former minister of finance, Larry Summers. The project director was a Georgetown University professor, Charles A. Kupchan, who even today claims that he can only additionally confirm and strengthen those observations.

At present, there are certain differences within the Alliance that can hardly be considered as sporadic. They are primarily different strategic visions for the future of the Alliance – the US would want NATO to be an instrument tackling global security challenges; members from Western Europe see the Alliance as a means of binding the US to Europe, and a means of stabilizing and expanding Europe together with the EU; whilst Central European members are focused on countering a potential Russian threat. “The Alliance will not be able to overcome such deep differences. Instead, its members have to learn to tolerate them and find reasonable compromises within NATO so that NATO would still remain effective in the absence of a clear strategic consensus”, said Kupchan for ‘Danas’.

America has already made quite visible gestures of yielding to concerns and issues that Russia considers vital to its own interests. The dispute over the “missile shield” was removed from Poland and the Czech Republic and moved away from Moscow to Romania and Bulgaria. The second issue is American influence in the former Soviet republics. The victory of pro-Russian Yanukovich in Ukraine’s presidential elections, who only a few years ago was defeated by the pro-Western Yushchenko, announces a lesser influence of the US in this country. After Yushchenko, the departure of Georgian leader Saakashvili is almost certain.

When in November last year Medvedev visited the US and spoke about all aspects of Russia’s internal and external politics, American analysts concluded that “Russia wants a new dialogue”. The Russian President was thus openly told that Russia’s assistance in solving the Iranian problem – i.e.  Iran’s ambitions concerning nuclear programs – is expected. It is fairly clear that there is a reciprocal offer which is undoubtedly related to NATO and its influence on Russia’s borders and in the former Soviet states. Asked whether he could imagine Russia as a NATO member, the Russian president, as reported by the U.S. media, diplomatically retorted, “never say never”.

The former U.S. Assistant of the Secretary of Defence in the Clinton administration and Director of the German Marshall Fund, Ronald Asmus, believes that Russia is both a rival and partner at the same time. He points out that in Russian eyes, the European security system is “NATO-centric”, and suggests that the Russian initiative on a new European security system can not be responded to by a simple “net”, indicating that “the best way to establish relations with revisionist Russia is through its inclusion in the preservation of peace and security on the basis of democratic peace, rather than on archaic concept of spheres of influence”.

Having recently spoken before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US Senate, Kupchan opposed “remilitarisation of [the] eastern borders of NATO” and called for a toning down of the importance of “energy security” in relations between Russia and NATO. “Remilitarisation of NATO’s eastern borders would be both unnecessary and unduly provocative in light of the extremely low probability deterring Russian aggression against NATO territory. Looking ahead, NATO should pay attention to unconventional threats against its members, including cyber-attacks, terrorism and  the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Questions of energy security have their place on NATO’s agenda, although this issue should be primarily resolved through efforts of the European Union to formulate a coherent energy policy through EU–US consultations”, said Kupchan.

Madeleine Albright’s Working Group

At the aforementioned Munich Conference on Security Policy, Madeleine Albright said that NATO was an Alliance “against the Soviet Union, however, since the Soviet Union no longer exists, NATO is no longer against Russia”. Bearing in mind that Albright was the only U.S. State Secretary who led NATO into war – the war against Serbia – and that she is also the head of the working group currently drafting NATO’s new Strategic Concept, this shift in her attitude is significant, though it has a continuity with the previous concept of NATO.

The current Strategic Concept was adopted at the Washington Summit, in the midst of bombing of Serbia, when the celebration of a half-century of the North Atlantic Alliance’s existence was also complemented by its first major expansion. NATO at that time consisted of 19 member states, whereas now it has 28. The then Concept relied on Europe and the European periphery, on the countries of the former Eastern bloc and the former Soviet Union.

Members of the working group chaired by Madeleine Albright are Jeroen van der Veer, until recently the president and now a member of the management board of Royal Dutch Shell; the Italian ambassador to Great Britain, Giancarlo Aragona; the Canadian ambassador in Austria, Marie Gervais-Vidricaire; the former British defence minister, Geoff Hoon; the former Turkish Ambassador to NATO, Ümit Pamir; the secretary general of the Club of Madrid, Fernando Perpiñá-Robert Peyr; the German ambassador, Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz; president of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Bruno Racine; Lithuanian ambassador, Aivis Ronis, the former Polish foreign minister, Daniel Rotfeld and the Greek ambassador to Egypt, Yannis-Alexis Zepos.

Maurizio Molinari: Obama’s approach

The idea of NATO as a global security forum is the result of the Obama administration’s approach to international problems. Obama believes that the role of the US in the 21st century is to “build coalitions in order to find the best solutions to common problems”, as he stated during his first visit to Europe, which means to be able to include and to open the US up to its possible allies. When it comes to NATO, it is based on two already existing realities. The first is that the NATO of today has 17 partner countries in missions around the world – from Afghanistan to the Balkans – which are not in NATO. The second is that China, Russia, India and Pakistan share a common interest with NATO in stabilizing Afghanistan.

If, during the Cold War, the Alliance was only reserved for  Western countries, it opened to Eastern European countries after 1991 and, after the war with Afghanistan, applied the doctrine of operations outside the NATO area. Obama now sees the need and opportunity that at the NATO Summit 2010, NATO becomes a forum for coordination with the most powerful forces, starting with Russia and China. That is the approach to security that corresponds with Obama’s view on the world economy, which prompted him to promote the new importance of the G20 on global issues, to include Moscow, Beijing, New Delhi, as well as Jakarta, Brazil and Riyadh.

This does not mean that Obama wants to expand NATO to other continents. Not at all. He wants NATO to be a full partner great powers in dealing with common threats such as terrorism, failed states or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Dragan Bisenic is a commentator for the Serbian daily newspaper, Danas. He is a recipient of the Milena Jesenska Award of the Institute for Human Science in Vienna and the European Journalist Fellowship at Free University Berlin. He is the author of several books, including “From Torch to Stake – International Aspects of Yugoslav Crises” and “Bruno Krayski – A Biography” with Wolfgang Petritsch.

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