National perspectives on NATO's new Strategic Concept

On the day that the group of experts charged with leading the development of NATO’s new Strategic Concept presented their analysis and recommendations, TransConflict Serbia organized a conference in Belgrade, entitled ‘National perspectives on NATO’s new Strategic Concept’.

By Ian Bancroft

The aim of the conference – which gathered representatives of Embassies from both NATO and non-member states – was to present a variety of national perspectives on the development of NATO’s new Strategic Concept, in order to help stimulate further debate within Serbia about this issue of increasing pertinence.

In her opening remarks, Ms. Mirjana Kosic, the executive director of TransConflict Serbia, reiterated how the search for a new Strategic Concept will continue to intensify in the coming months. Mr. Kosic outlined how the report of the group of experts “confirms NATO’s commitment to providing and safeguarding the collective security of all of its members, in-line with Article 5 of the Washington Treaty; ensuring protection against unconventional threats, such as the use of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and cyber-attacks; and allowing a more frequent and constructive use of Article 4, which emphasises the role of the Alliance as a political community whose main purpose is to serve as a consultation forum”.

Ms. Kosic also pointed out that the report had called for “more intensive engagement with partners around the world, the establishment of a strong partnership with Russia, based on reciprocity and broad cooperation; continuation of the ‘open door’policy and a comprehensive approach to resolving security-related problems, by combining military and civilian elements”.

Mr. Jan Vlkovský, second secretary at the Czech Embassy, went on to emphasize the need to “find the right balance between the traditional territorial defence of NATO member countries and expeditionary operations…[plus] NATO’s role in countering non-conventional threats like terrorism, computer attacks, piracy and the spread of weapons of mass destruction”.

Mr. Vlkovský added that the Czech Republic does not think that there is a “need for major NATO overhaul…[instead] NATO must remain an action-capable alliance able to safeguard the security of its member states”. For the Czech Republic, what is most important is a “viable and reaffirmed Article 5, serving its traditional purpose in the new security environment…and the more frequent and dynamic use of Article 4, [which] can also be about more concrete defence-bolstering measures, not only consultations with a member state under threat”.

Ms. Deborah Mennuti and Mr. Kenneth Sooley, of the American and Canadian Embassies, respectively, provided a North American perspectives on NATO’s new Strategic Concept.

Ms. Mennuti began by emphasizing that the “inclusive consultative process is crucial for producing a Strategic Concept that reflects all the nuance and complexity that the twenty-first century security environment involves”. For the US, the first key issue is out-of-area operations, which are now “a major part of NATO’s work…[including] NATO ships combating piracy of the Horn of Africa…[the] NATO training mission in Iraq…efforts underway to counter the missile threat from the Middle East and broad allied participation in ISAF in Afghanistan”. According to Ms. Mennuti, “these missions demonstrate quite clearly that NATO has to be prepared to address threats the emanate from outside its own borders”.

The second key issue from an American perspective is for NATO to provide “certain civilian capabilities in the early stages of crises”. Though primarily a military alliance, “it must also have certain political tools at its disposal…the Alliance can’t accomplish all of its goals purely through military tools”. Non-traditional threats – such as piracy, cyber-attacks and energy supply disruptions – must also be addressed in the Strategic Concept, according to Ms. Mennuti, with NATO being prepared to “work with even the private sector to try to mitigate these threats”.

Ms. Mennuti insisted that NATO’s new Strategic Concept must ensure it can play a role in deterring and responding to terrorist attacks and preventing nuclear proliferation. Ms. Mennuti also added that, “NATO must develop its own missile defence architecture to protect the countries of Europe…with Russia as a partner in such an endeavour”.

In closing, Ms. Mennuti said that the US believes that the Strategic Concept should, “provide a framework for NATO to pursue new partnerships…[including] deeper partnerships with leading democracies beyond the Euro-Atlantic community”. Furthermore, Ms. Mennuti stated that “a serious process of institutional reform needs to proceed in parallel…[to address] the bloated committee structure at NATO, the disconnect between budgets and alliance priorities and the outdated command structure…[whilst] the Secretary-General also needs the power to manage the organization effectively”.

From a Canadian point of view, Mr. Sooley stated that limited military budgets of NATO members have to be taken into consideration and that more efficient mechanisms for the use of resources have to be devised. “NATO member countries can not expect ever increasing defence budgets”, according to Mr. Sooley. For Canada, the main issues are “the transformation of the Alliance, the development of a comprehensive approach, enhancing our partnerships and addressing emerging security challenges”.

Lieutenant Colonel Markus Widmer and Brigadier General Reinhard Schöberl, the defence attachés at the Swiss and Austrian Embassies, respectively, delivered the perspective of neutral countries in light of new security threats. Both underscored the fact that despite being militarily neutral, they still actively participate in the Partnership for Peace (PfP) Programme and have supported various peace support operations.

Lt. Col. Widmer emphasized that Switzerland’s participation in such operations requires either a UN or OSCE mandate, and parliamentary approval if it involves more then 100 people or exceeds three weeks in duration. Switzerland’s largest deployment is currently 220 troops to Kfor.

Brig. Gen. Schöberl stated that involvement in the PfP facilitates dialogue with 49 members and allows Austria to enjoy the benefits of the transatlantic link. Austria – who also contributes to NATO operations – has also benefited in terms of security sector reform and inter-operability.

In the final session, Colonel Pascal Hart, defence attaché at the French Embassy, and Mr. Serkan Gedik, the deputy head of mission at the Turkish Embassy, provided a European perspective on NATO’s new Strategic Concept.

Col. Hart summarized the evolving relationship of France and NATO, including its return to military command structures, and spoke about how the EU continues to become a stronger political entity which is complementary to NATO, and vice-versa. NATO is “fundamental for European and global security”, according to Col. Hart, and NATO’s evolution should therefore respect the need for “added value and subsidiarity”.

Col. Hart also stressed that “NATO is not an exclusive framework that has to intervene systematically…we have to be prepared to intervene on our own if necessary”. In the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of nuclear weapons, “NATO should only be in support; NATO should only be one actor amongst others”. In closing, Col. Hart called for “a more holistic approach to crisis management”.

From a Turkish perspective, Mr. Gedik encouraged the Alliance to seek the “preservation and further strengthening of the transatlantic link, further enhancement of its partnerships..[and] preservation of an open door policy for NATO’s enlargement”. For Mr. Gedik, NATO’s main purpose remains as relevant as ever, however, the Alliance should seek “increased partnership, co-operation and dialogue with non-members…[as] no actor can succeed alone in the current security environment”.

With discussions about the eventual content of NATO’s new Strategic Concept set to intensify in the run-up to November’s NATO summit in Lisbon, TransConflict Serbia – as part of its project, ‘Facilitating Serbia’s contribution to NATO’s new Strategic Concept’ (http://www.transconflict.com/Projects/Facilitating_Serbias_Contribution_to_NATOs_New_Strategic_Concept.php) – will continue to stimulate debate around the key recommendations contained within the report of the group of experts.

For photos and video from this event, please click here.

For media coverage (in Serbian), please click here or here.

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