Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General, is currently working on a new strategic concept for the alliance, to be issued in September. Recently former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has put the question of the future of NATO in the following way: “How does an alliance that unifies peoples and values under a common defense, created to defend against a threat that no longer exists, find relevance against a whole new set of threats?”
The predicament NATO faces in the coming decade boils down to one simple truth: it is not enough to share values; you must share the will to fight for and defend those values. Two decades after the end of the Cold War, the moment of truth has finally arrived for NATO: it must demonstrate that it can adapt to the security challenges of the 21st century.
The alliance must begin by identifying these challenges, and defining the role it can play in tackling them. From the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation to terrorism and cyber-warfare, NATO needs to pick its issues. It is only then, when the alliance faces the task of shaping its capabilities according to these threats, that the real work will begin.
NATO members are ill-equipped to deal with the emerging threats of the 21st century. The United States, for example, is wholly unprepared to respond to cyber-threats, while Europe can barely deploy 30 percent of its troops, few of whom are equipped or trained for modern warfare and training missions.
Finally, a 21st century NATO must be prepared to reach out to other regional and multilateral organizations. This would necessarily involve other organizations, such as the United Nations, improving their own effectiveness, but would make interventions in complex theatres like Afghanistan as comprehensive and legitimate as possible. Ultimately, the early 21st century is a time when NATO needs to fight for both effectiveness and relevance.
This article first appeared in Global Europe.