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There is broad agreement that the Sixtieth Anniversary Summit should launch on a new Strategic Concept for the Alliance. The present Concept was agreed in 1999 and predates the 11 September 2001 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It predecessor of 1990 addressed the fall of the Berlin Wall and dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, replacing MC 14/3, which was the Strategic Concept of Forward Defence and Flexible Response for most of the second half of the Cold War. It bears mention that this earlier Concept was a Military Committee document and expressed a military strategy. The subsequent Concepts were agreed by Heads of State and Government and were North Atlantic Council documents presenting ‘grand strategy’ such as it was.
There has been a great deal of discussion amongst analysts about the content of a new Concept. The present security situation is characterised by uncertainty, in particular political uncertainty and implications of strategic shocks of which the economic crisis is the most immediate. It is especially difficult to define short- and medium-term trends based on post-Cold War history (Climate change is long-term albeit with near-term consequences). The purpose of this analysis is therefore to give a view as to the issues at stake that is deliberately naïve in that it is unfettered by recent history.
First and foremost, NATO is a military as well as a political alliance and its defining feature is its unique military purpose and structure. Whatever the origins of the Concept, it must contain a military strategy that relates policy ends to military means through ways. A problem for the 1990 and 1999 Concepts has been that uncertainty, instability and the lack of a need for specific territorial defence has spawned a capability-led ‘tool kit’ approach to defining military means in which members have the option of dipping in-and-out -of choosing their military contributions to Alliance force structures whether these are the ACE Rapid Reaction Corps, Combined Joint Task Forces or NATO Response Forces. Moreover contributions to non-Article V (defence of the NATO area) operations are by their nature matters of choice for members. NATO does not provide defence ministries with arguments to secure and increase defence budgets or to commit forces where national security is not directly threatened nor national interest at stake.
Of course for many members, in particular new East European recruits, there are still concerns about territorial defence which have been exacerbated and extended by Russian military action in Georgia and air and naval deployments, its vision of its ‘near abroad’, and increasingly authoritarian government. However a NATO strategy that refocused on Russia would be self-defeating in that it would reinforce polarity when co-operative security is more important than ever vis-à-vis nuclear arms reduction and non-proliferation, countering terrorism, coping with Iran and other common security concerns.
Clearly parallel European Union developments would be needed. There is now the opportunity. France intends to rejoin the Integrated Military Structure. The new American Administration is more internationalist and a positive approach towards the EU and strengthening European military capabilities for ‘US minus’ scenarios would permit rationalisation of European military capability and greater cost-effectiveness if not substantial increases in European defence budgets. Strong political leadership is the key. It is a pity that the United Kingdom is at present in a state of defence policy and planning blight.
(Needless to say, the view from Venus would be rather different – but if it were heeded, NATO might as well close down.)
The views expressed above are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of RUSI.