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The Future of NATO: Time to Break a Taboo

by Ulrich Weisser Wednesday, Apr. 08, 2009 at 9:46 AM

The European public is neither enthusiastic for the military engagement in Afghanistan nor for new expansions of NATO.. The alliance must energetically promote disarmament and arms control.


By Ulrich Weisser

[This article published on: ZEIT Online, 2/6/2009 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

Nato is in a terrible situation. Its strategic concept is outdated.

If the Atlantic alliance will have a future with strengthened transatlantic relations, breaking a taboo is in the basic interest of everyone. An unsparing analysis of the deficits and mistakes of recent days is now necessary. Only such an analysis can create the basis for a constructive dialogue about the future for a constructive dialogue about the future of the Atlantic alliance.

Nato did not have a good profile in the Georgia crisis and showed no determination. In the crisis, a deep tear clearly when through the alliance - between the new members who define their security against Russia and the old members who emphasize balance and partnership with Russia. Refusing dialogue further damaged the tense relation to Russia.

The alliance reprehensibly ignored arms control and disarmament for years. That is why the foundation of European stability erodes. The treaties that ensured nuclear stability between the world powers expire in 2009. The cancellation of the ABM treaty (anti-ballistic missile treaty) and the intention to station components of the US missile defense system in Poland and Chechnya strain relations to Russia. In 1999, the treaty on conventional armed forced in Europe was adjusted to the changed conditions but up to now has only been ratified by Russia, White Russia, Kazakhstan and the Ukraine. The Nato states have delayed ratification for years. Russia has finally lost patience and suspended the treaty.

The 1999 strategic concept of Nato is completely outmoded. It originated before September 11, 2001, before Nato’s great round of expansion, before its engagement in Afghanistan and in protecting sea routes in the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean and also before the Iraq war.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has already admonished several times that the alliance must find a new strategy and answer important questions. What strategic concepts result for the alliance from past experiences with asymmetrical threats and in the battle against transnational terrorism? What dangers arise from states that threaten to disintegrate? How can we counter dangers where they originate before their disastrous consequences reach our country? What can the alliance contribute to safeguarding important transport routes? How can the alliance act more intensively in arms control and disarmament?

Nothing happened although more potential crises become visible from day to day. No strategic genius is needed to recognize the extent of the dangers that we must face.

The battle against terrorism and radical Islam is not won. The danger of cultural conflicts grows. In Afghanistan, a tension is inescapable if the strategy is not essentially changed. The situation there increases the security risks in Pakistan and India.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is not under control. Even before Iran becomes a threat, a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is manifest. Israel is now threatened and tempted to find its salvation in a military solution.

Potential crises, conflicts and terrorist activities concentrate intensely in the Middle East, in the “Southern crisis arch” stretching from North Africa and the Middle East to central Asia – in a region with more than two-thirds of world energy reserves. In the next years and decades, the most likely dangers for western security and economic survival will come from this region.

Central Asia has all the ingredients for crises and conflicts: immense energy provisions, different ethnic oppositions, corrupt regimes, Islamic fundamentalists and oil-determined oppositions of the world powers. Whoever sets a fuse in this powder keg can only lose. Accepting Georgia in Nato means we have no vital interests that must be defended militarily.

How will Nato deal with these challenges? How will it face the Middle East problematic? What exit-strategy does it have for Afghanistan? How does the alliance judge India’s precarious security situation and what consequences result for Europe’s security? Why does Nato refuse dialogue about the Russian proposals for a new European security architecture?

The members of Nato were really uneasy about how the alliance should fulfill its tasks when no basic consensus exists about the mission of Nato and its raison d’etre. The European public is neither enthusiastic for the military engagement in Afghanistan nor for new expansions of Nato. No enlightening explanation will be given to citizens.

As a consequence of its lack of conceptions, the alliance drifts into a situation marked by many uncertainties where control threatens to slip away. The necessary answer to the precarious situation of the West is overdue. Thus the alliance needs a new conceptual and institutional beginning. The following steps are imperative:

- The character of the political alliance among partners with equal rights must be emphasized. The end of the East-West confrontation was the result of a politically guided strategy. Its highest goals were a just, peaceful and stable political order in Europe. A comparable political strategy must be developed for the new challenges. Russia must collaborate as a partner with equal rights. Therefore repairing relations to Russia is urgently commanded.

- The alliance must energetically promote disarmament and arms control and develop initiatives for safeguarding the KSE-regime and maintaining the nuclear balance. It would help European security and stability if the US missile defense project were not realized until the future security architecture for all Europe is addressed.

- The vital interest of the US
- In its peacekeeping measures, Nato should be essentially restricted to the European environment and not be dissipated in projects like assisting in natural disasters and protecting great sports events.

- With limited resources, the alliance should restrict itself to gaining a realistic and affordable balance between several quickly deployable highly modern, mobile, collective intervention armed forces and troops that ensure the peace in intervention areas for a certain time.

Ulrich Weisser, a Vice-Admiral, was a leader in the planning division of the German ministry for defense from 1992 to 1998.

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