NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept defined three objectives for the Atlantic Alliance: a continuing commitment to collective defence; the ability to prevent and manage crises beyond its shores whose effects risk undermining members’ security; and deepening security cooperation with neighbours and more distant partners on challenges of common concern.
Just four years later, the risks that these three objectives were designed to confront have revealed themselves. Peace and stability in Europe are being challenged by a revisionist Russian government; political order in the Middle East, North Africa and across the Sahel is under threat; and territorial disputes in Asia pose risks to the economic interests of all members of the Alliance and challenge the security commitments of others. The emergence of a more dangerous world in the second decade of the 21st century poses a historic test for the governments of the transatlantic community.Leaders must show the political will to confront today’s security challenges today, not tomorrow. They must convince citizens that they cannot take their security for granted. Even as the scars of the economic crisis and the siren call of populist politicians tempt them to turn inwards, governments must reaffirm the value of the Atlantic Alliance. They must also acquire and deploy the necessary resources, even though this will mean making tough choices. Following its withdrawal from Afghanistan, NATO needs to reaffirm its value around the twin objectives of collective defence and common security.
The transatlantic bond reflects a shared belief in Canada, the United States and their European allies that international peace and prosperity are best delivered through the combination of democratic institutions, open economies and the rule of law. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commits its members to ensure that their citizens can live by these principles, in freedom, and without fear of external threat.
After its creation in 1949, NATO defended the transatlantic community successfully against totalitarianism for forty years and then welcomed new European democracies into its family over the next 25. Today, this community reflects not only shared and deeply held principles, but also common strategic interests and the largest economic relationship in the world.
For much of the period since the end of the Cold War, the underlying assumption in capitals in North America and Europe has been that the world was moving in the West’s direction. In 2010, there were no clear and immediate threats to European security. Countries in the Middle East were considered stable. The United States sought to rebalance its international focus towards the Asia-Pacific, where growing economic opportunities coexisted with political tensions. International terrorism persisted, but did not evolve into an existential threat. The direct impacts of new security risks, including pandemics and the dislocating effects of climate change, appeared distant.
Today, there can be no faith in the continuation of a relatively benign security context. Nor can there be confidence that the principles uniting the transatlantic community will spread either through Europe’s neighbourhood or across the wider world. As a result, NATO members can no longer delay in committing the political will and resources to the Alliance’s two core objectives for the 21st century.
These are to provide the collective defence that will uphold peace and stability in Europe and to adopt common approaches to international security that will help the transatlantic community confront the growing risks beyond its borders.
Russia’s current policy of coercively building a sphere of exclusive interests in the post-Soviet space poses risks for the transatlantic community that are unprecedented since 1989.
Since his return to the Kremlin in May 2012, President Vladimir Putin has imposed an ever more authoritarian form of leadership over the Russian Federation, while undertaking a significant military modernization programme. At the same time, he has established a Russia-dominated Eurasian Union, designed to involve most of its immediate neighbours, which would buffer Russia’s centralized political economy from the open-market and rules-based principles of the transatlantic community.
The Russian government has had no compunction about using economic and political coercion to achieve its vision. This was the case with Ukraine as it considered the EU’s offer of an association agreement. The ouster of President Yanukovych at the end of February 2014 provoked Russia to take all steps it deemed necessary to ensure that it did not ‘lose’ Ukraine to the West.
In so doing, Russia has chosen to undermine the basic tenets of international law and peaceful order in Europe. It challenges rather than respects the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of its neighbours by giving itself the right to defend Russian-speaking peoples and ‘compatriots’ wherever they may live. It annexed Crimea in the immediate aftermath of a flawed referendum. It has imposed arbitrary economic sanctions on Ukraine and is providing human, operational and material support to armed separatists. In sum, President Putin has adopted a revisionist position that threatens to replace a rules-based order in Europe with one governed by the application of military power and economic coercion, all in defiance of the Helsinki Final Act.
This does not presage a return to a new Cold War. Russia and the West are not engaged in a global ideological contest for influence, nor are their differences the organizing principles of international politics. To the contrary, Russia and the West share common interests on a range of international issues from nuclear proliferation to terrorism. Moreover, the transatlantic community would benefit from a true partnership with Russia, with a pan-European and Euro-Atlantic space of common security as outlined in the OSCE Charter of Paris.
However, there can be no return to a ‘strategic partnership’ between NATO and Russia so long as Russia’s leadership carries out actions that threaten European security and are the antithesis of all that the transatlantic community believes in. Nor should NATO members trade their core commitment to collective defence in return for national economic benefits or international cooperation with Russia. Instead, NATO should adopt a more robust and coherent defensive stance designed to deter any opportunistic extension of Russian actions in other European countries.
Maintaining European security is critical for the transatlantic community. But it is also essential that the transatlantic community responds to the emergence of a more dangerous world beyond its borders by strengthening its capacities for crisis management and the ability to draw partners into common security responses.
The imminent withdrawal of most Western forces from Afghanistan is bringing to a close a period of atypical, large-scale military intervention by NATO beyond its members’ shores. The near-term results of this and other recent interventions have been mixed, and their long-term effects are uncertain. What cannot be doubted is the extent to which they have sapped public support on both sides of the Atlantic for future military interventions.
But turning inwards after 2014 is not an option for NATO. Much of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as parts of the Sahel, are facing at least a decade of turmoil. The Arab Spring unfolded very differently from the way many inside and outside the region had hoped. Extremists are taking advantage of the chaos in Syria, with dangerous consequences for already fragile Iraq and Lebanon and placing huge pressure on parts of Jordan and Turkey. Libya is struggling with the most basic fundamentals of state-building. The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and subsequent crackdown have derailed the prospect for a more democratic political system based on an inclusive social contract. Interconnections between the Sahel and Algeria and between Somalia and Yemen could pose new dangers.
The transatlantic community cannot ignore the rising and likely persistent instability in Europe’s southern and south-eastern neighbourhood. Radicalized fighters are returning to European cities, where some may turn on their own societies or plot attacks to be carried out in the United States and Canada. Migration into Europe will grow, adding fuel to popular grievances and prejudices. And, successful or not, the wider impact of the negotiations under way to put Iran’s civil nuclear programme onto an acceptable footing may add to the instability.
The rebalancing of economic power from West to East and North to South has been accompanied by the desire of rising countries to reassert their sovereign prerogatives, especially in Asia, and most notably by China. Unresolved territorial disputes, historical animosities and the lack of an institutionalized security architecture have come together to drive dramatic rises in defence spending across the region, including investment in offensive capabilities from fighter jets to submarines. In 2012, defence spending in Asia overtook that by European states. These developments serve as a reminder that the Pacific Ocean is the western flank of NATO. European governments need to consider how best to collaborate with the United States and Canada in protecting their shared interests in this vital region.
Rising tensions in Asia coincide with an increasingly strained international security system. Even before the crisis in Ukraine, Russia and China blocked efforts in the UN Security Council to impose tougher sanctions on Syria. And, after the Libya experience, rising democracies such as India, Brazil and South Africa are also more cautious about supporting UN-mandated military intervention. The UN Security Council will find it increasingly difficult to agree on how to address future crises.
On the other hand, this more competitive international environment coexists with deepening economic interdependence between all nations and societies. The growth of international trade in goods, services and essential commodities continues to outpace and, to a large extent, drive global growth. Rising levels of foreign direct investment tie companies and their customers into global supply chains. The transatlantic community relies upon these flows, even as they impose painful challenges of domestic structural economic adjustment.
These international challenges will have direct and indirect effects on all members of the transatlantic community. While they cannot expect to resolve each problem, allied nations should ensure that they are as prepared as possible to confront them, including by using the Alliance’s capability to stabilize crisis situations. Consequently:
The challenge of protecting the transatlantic community is not one of design. The 2010 NATO Strategic Concept laid out a set of strategic objectives that remain a good benchmark for NATO’s ambition. But whereas the critical risks to transatlantic security four years ago appeared either to be abating or to lie in the future, their imminence now makes action urgent. The challenge is to come to agreement and to implement.
In the absence of a major crisis, it is always difficult to rally public opinion and political leadership around investing in security. Developments in Ukraine are a great source of concern for many in the transatlantic community, but not to all and not to most North American or European citizens. They evoke neither the existential danger and drama of the Cold War nor the fear and horror of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States and those that followed in Europe.
As a first step, therefore, political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic will need to make the time to communicate to their publics the deterioration of the security situation in Europe. They must be clear and united about the undeniable risks that Russia’s recent actions pose to the principles upon which the transatlantic community and European security are built. At present, NATO is not the best vehicle to strengthen the transatlantic community’s relationship with Russia. But unless the transatlantic community uses NATO to reassure all members about their security, it will find it difficult to build a new relationship with Russia when the opportunity arises.
Second, political leaders must also raise the awareness of this and the next generation about the importance of a stable neighbourhood and a secure international environment to the future welfare and prosperity of the transatlantic community. Having returned from an extended period of major international deployment, NATO members must reconcile themselves to their new dual mission; to assure the security of their own transatlantic community and to contribute to the security of the wider world. This will mean acquiring the right mix of defence capabilities; deepening cooperation between NATO and the EU; and reaching out to a wide variety of countries and organizations to manage complex international crises.
Finally, political leaders should remind their publics of the values that underpin the Alliance. NATO is not simply a mutual defence arrangement; it is a community of nations that share a deep commitment to democratic institutions, open economies and the rule of law. These shared beliefs have long defined the transatlantic bond. They are all the more important as the world becomes less secure. Members now need to invest the appropriate resources and political will to protect them.
Martin Butora, Head, Institute of Public Affairs, Bratislava
Ivo Daalder, President, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Chicago
Camille Grand, Director, Foundation for Strategic Research, Paris
Robin Niblett (Chair), Director, Chatham House, London
Ana Palacio, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain and Member of the Council of State, Madrid
Roland Paris, Director, Centre for International Policy Studies, Ottawa
Volker Perthes, Director, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, Berlin
Nathalie Tocci, Deputy Director, Institute of International Affairs, Rome
Sinan Ülgen, Director, Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, Istanbul
Marcin Zaborowski, Director, The Polish Institute of International Affairs, Warsaw
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