Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Let the Strategic Concept Debate Begin

There have been some thought-provoking comments recently on the need for a new Strategic Concept debate within NATO. Notably, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking to the Bundestag on March 26, made some good points.

Chancellor Merkel said that as the new concept is developed NATO should try "as much prevention as possible, so that we don't reach the point where only military assistance helps.” She also said that NATO’s decade-old strategy needs rewriting to reflect the impact of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the expansion of the alliance’s mission beyond its historic role of defending Europe during the Cold War. Merkel added that the work should be finished inside a year.

NATO sources have indicated that if NATO heads of State and Government do order a Strategic Concept revision, that it will probably be finished in time for the next Summit, currently projected for late 2010 or early 2011.

Importantly, with many people talking about NATO as a ‘global security provider’, Merkel said that "I don't see a global NATO." This reflects German reluctance to engage fully in Afghanistan, where their troops have been relegated to a non-combat role in relatively peaceful areas of the country.

NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, echoed this call for a new Strategic Concept during his recent trip to Washington DC, saying that:

NATO's future will be discussed, as well. The question: Is NATO going to have a new strategic concept, which brings to the surface a number of questions President Obama already spoke about - NATO's expeditionary capabilities, never forgetting NATO's core function, the integrity of the NATO territory, NATO's relations with Russia. We have many things on which we disagree, but NATO needs Russia and Russia needs NATO, so let's work on the things we agree on, and let's not hide our disagreements and let us realize that also this relationship can and in my opinion should be - should be strengthened.

De Hoop Scheffer and Merkel’s views on relations with Russia are, however, anathema to new NATO members. For example, Poland has a much harder line on their Eastern neighbours, and a much more traditional view of NATO’s raison d’ĂȘtre. Witold Waszczykowski, deputy head of Poland's National Security Bureau, recently told Reuters:

There is a discussion about the possibility of NATO dealing with climate change, but not about real problems. In Western Europe, a number of countries prefer to discuss the attacks in Mumbai and have a tendency to forget about other issues, for example Russia and Georgia.

This attitude is common in the East. Many of the newer NATO members joined the old NATO of common defence, not the new NATO of power projection and humanitarian intervention.

Still, it is clear now that the debate will be joined. As British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the House of Commons on March 31. Answering Mike Gapes MP, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he told the Commons:

The summit on Friday and Saturday marks the 60th anniversary of the foundation of NATO, and it is an important chance to look forward. One of the foundations of NATO's future, whatever the debates about how it should combine the defence of its members with operations beyond its borders, is that it must embody the transatlantic alliance that has served Europe and North America so well over the past 60 years. I hope that the meeting on Friday and Saturday can be more than a "celebration". First, it needs to be a chance to chart the future in respect of Afghanistan, the biggest and most important NATO mission currently under way. It should also start the debate about how NATO can look forward, in the next 10 or 20 years, to working in a very different context from that in which it was created.

Now we await the formal decision of the Summit to begin the Strategic Concept review.

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