Thursday, 2 April 2009

New York Times on NATO and Dysfunction

Judy Dempsey has a thoughtful piece in the New York Times on NATO's current situation. Looking at the discussions on the appointment of the next NATO Secretary General she writes:

Contentious issues, in any case, have rarely been discussed at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Member states’ ambassadors have not broached the issue of the next secretary general. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the outgoing Dutch NATO chief, did not place it on the agenda of the weekly meeting, knowing full well that some of the big countries, Britain, Germany, France and the United States, would not be pleased. “The job of a secretary general is to cajole, placate, convince and broker,” said Tomas Valasek, a defense expert at the Center for European Reform in London.

Interestingly, it is the first time an acting prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, is seeking the job that in the past was given to bureaucrats or, at most, former foreign ministers. What a surprise then that in the days leading up to summit meeting, it is not clear that Rasmussen would win the race.

Turkey, which is a leading member of NATO, is opposing Mr. Rasmussen’s candidature. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Muslim countries had asked him to block Mr. Rasmussen’s appointment because of his refusal to apologize for Danish newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that provoked riots in several Muslim states in 2006. “Whether Erdogan is opposing Rasmussen’s appointment for domestic reasons is not clear,” said Karl-Heinz Kamp, director of Research at the NATO College in Rome. “But the more Erdogan talks publicly about it, the more it will be difficult for him to climb down.”

Turkey’s public objections have punctured NATO consensus. But by focusing on Mr. Rasmussen’s past, the Turks have lost a great opportunity to look toward the future and ask what kind of secretary general Mr. Rasmussen would make. ..

But the main reason why NATO is not prepared to have an open discussion about who should lead and modernize the alliance is that it is afraid: afraid of having its divisions exposed; afraid of the future; afraid of the possibility of failure in Afghanistan.

She is right in many ways. The consensus about NATO's role began to fracture with the end of the Cold War. Then, as NATO has expanded, it has brought in many players with differing opinions about what NATO is, and what its role should be in contributing to European security. And the more members there are, the harder it is to have the difficult discussions and take tough decisions. As a case in point, the debate on a new Strategic Concept would probably have begun in Riga in 2006, if only NATO member states had not so feared the outcome of opening up long-cherished principles to discussion.

Even today, NATO sources have often told the NATO Monitor that when the Strategic Concept is discussed, the nuclear paragraphs may remain untouched. Not because people think they are a true reflection of current needs, but because there is no consensus about what those needs are. So NATO may avoid a debate on the role of nuclear deterrence and whether it is still necessary for Alliance defence just because the debate will be difficult.

Whatever else NATO leaders decide in Strasbourg and Kehl, if the Alliance is to continue to operate into the long term, they need to end the dysfunction.

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