A New Role for NATO

Posted in NATO | 13-Sep-04 | Author: Manuela Paraipan

NATO is a security alliance, which was founded after the Second World War to answer the demands of the Cold War. The end of the Cold War did not mark the end of the organisation; on the contrary, it is an alliance in expansion in the Central and Eastern Europe and is trying to find itself a new role in the post 9/11 world, although the treaty has not been modified since its ratification in 1949. NATO allows the member states the control of their individual forces and provides them with means of collective action. However, the changing role of NATO rises the question of what type of coordinated actions will be further taken by this military alliance.

As part of the changing process, NATO has embarked on the twin processes of enlargement and transformation. The first round of enlargement occurred in 1999, with the accesion of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. In the same period, NATO began its transformation when the alliance expanded its mission to include conflict prevention and conflict management throughout Europe, including areas outside the boundaries of the NATO treaty area. Both NATO's enlargement and its transformation have been driven primarily by political imperatives, that is, by an environment-shaping agenda of democratization and integration, rather than threat-based military rationale. On the 29 March 2004, there was the fifth and the largest, round of enlargement in the alliance’s history. The fifth round of NATO enlargement may not be the last. At present, three countries - Albania, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia - are members of NATO’s Membership Action Plan designed to assist aspiring partner countries meet NATO standards and prepare for possible future membership.

However, since the fall of the communist regime in Russia, NATO has plunged into something similar with an existential crisis. It looks more and more with a political club, than a serious military alliance. The fifth waves of enlargement reduced its military cohesion, therefore its capability to pursue the goal it was created for. After Afganistan, NATO was called to develop a new role in fighting terrorism in Iraq and in the region. The North Atlantic Treaty troops might succeed to stabilize the Middle East - if they will act within a frame previously established with the leaders of the Arab/Muslim countries. Observing the coalition’s experience in Iraq, it would be rather foolish to send NATO troops there, or anywhere else in the region, for that matter - without a general consent of those respective peoples. If NATO’s new role will be to bring safety in the region, then it may very well begin with Lebanon, instead of Iraq, or simultaneous in both countries.

Lebanon is a country known for its democratic political tradition, with people of different religions and ethnies that live side by side. Lebanon may become a model for the countries from the region. The economic energy of the Lebanese people could restore its former prosperity - a magnet for tourism and investment. Lebanon is like a patient in convalescence – it has to fight with its huge economical debt and to regain its political independence and stability. Syria has a 20,000 occupation force on the ground, but its domination relies also on the pervasive presence of Syrian military intelligence agents in Lebanon. Also, Syria counts on the loyalty of large segments of the ruling political class; some of them owe their power to Damascus, while others fear the Syrian retaliation if they will dare criticise Syria’s influence in Lebanon. The Lebanese political class is often criticised for its lack of unity when it comes to challenge the Syrian predominance in Lebanon, but it might prove to be risky challenging Syria. According to the Taif Accord, Syria was authorized to keep its military presence after the civil war, but not for an indefinite period of time - so, it is a half legally occupation, if I may express myself in this manner. From a helping neighbour, it has become a continuous presence in the country. When Syria will be compelled to withdraw its army from Lebanon, NATO can send its peace keeping units in Lebanon to prevent a possible second civil war started by the local militias. NATO's role inside Lebanon will be - not to fight to establish peace, but rather to help preserve it until a new, independent government will take full control of the country. If the Shiites, Sunnis, and Christians of Lebanon, helped by the international community through organizations like NATO, can cooperate to regain their independence, freedom and civil peace, their success will provide a powerful lesson to others in the Middle East, and first and foremost to the religious and ethnic communities in Iraq.

NATO can have an important role in the 21th century, once it will make clear what its aims are for the years to come. Terrorism has a global reach, therefore it needs an alliance of the international community to deal with this threat. President Bush and the neocons who have the power in Washington D.C are using NATO to push forward the war against terrorism. However, NATO might not be the right body to deal with the threat of terrorism.This fight requires the ability to move speedily, to keep the secret of the intelligence informations and this will just be impossible taken into acount the great number of the NATO country members and its bureaucratic apparatus. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation due to its experience and credibility is more suited for the peace keeping operations, rather than chasing the members of the terrorist organisations in the region and outside it.

It is in everyone’s interest to see a secure and prosperous Middle East. The Arab/Muslim leaders should work together with the U.S and EU to replace the region's pervasive repression, intolerance and stagnation with freedom, democracy and prosperity. In order to see these theoretical aims transformed in a daily reality, the region needs a long term strategy – a partnership between the Arab/Muslim leaders and the Western leaders.