NATO needs a long-term political strategy

Posted in NATO | 01-Mar-04 | Author: Franco Frattini| Source: International Herald Tribune

The view from Italy

ROME - This June, at the NATO summit meeting in Istanbul, the time will be ripe for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to begin its next major phase of transformation in response to the pressing security challenges of our day. As the permanent forum for consultation among the allies, NATO must come together to define a comprehensive long-term political strategy to frame and complement its military capabilities. Italy has a vision of how this can happen.

The first phase of NATO's transformation started at the 2002 Prague summit meeting in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. In Prague, the alliance decided not only to admit seven new members and engage in strategic partnerships with Russia and other nonmembers, but also to reinvent NATO military capabilities with a rapid reaction force and a streamlined command structure. Militarily speaking, NATO had to make dramatic changes to be able to address the new web of threats including terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, failed and rogue states, illegal migration and trafficking, and humanitarian crises.

Italy believes that the next phase of transformation should take place in NATO's political dimension. The alliance prevailed in the cold war by employing a dual-track strategy of military deterrence and orchestrated political engagement. In today's security situation, NATO's political role has become - at least potentially - more important than ever. It will take a broad range of policies and initiatives to deal with the new threats.

NATO needs not only the military capacity to respond rapidly to crises once they arise, but also an overarching political strategy for the use of "soft power" tools in preventing such crises altogether. Such a strategy should bring together all the issues on NATO's radar screen - the unfinished business on its post-cold war agenda as well as the new challenges of the 21st century.

I am convinced that the allies are ready to accomplish this next phase of NATO's transformation. The disputes last year over the Iraq crisis should not lead us to forget the deep common ground already shared on both sides of the Atlantic. In their respective security strategies, the European Union and the United States continue to agree fully on the nature of today's threats. In almost all respects, too, we agree on how best to respond to them. And no one doubts NATO's premise: that Europe and North America must respond together.

Geopolitical reality strengthens the case for a concerted Euro-Atlantic political strategy. It is clear that the major challenges we face today, as well as those we are likely to face in the future, are consequences of problems in regions on Europe's southern and southeastern flanks. This vast area extends from the Balkans to Afghanistan, including the Mediterranean, the Greater Middle East, the Black Sea and Caucasus, and Central Asia.

To defeat terrorism and the threats associated with it, Europe and America have a powerful common interest in fostering democracy, stability and economic development in this entire region by means of a comprehensive approach. These goals can be reached only through positive dialogue and cooperation with all the countries in the region, not paternalistic imposed solutions. For such goals we need a shared vision. A successful Israeli-Palestinian peace process will continue to be the most important element of this vision.

No country - indeed, no multilateral organization - can deal with such a big project alone. The regions along Europe's southern and southeastern flanks cover enormous territory and include a wide variety of local predicaments. A strategy for promoting security and democratic development there would require a major long-term deployment of the resources of all relevant organizations and forums, including NATO, the European Union, the Group of Eight, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and the United Nations. It will take multilateralism of unprecedented effectiveness to do the job. NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue and the EU's Barcelona Process offer excellent starting points.

Italy believes that NATO, guided by a new political strategy, should play a central role in this effort. The alliance should find more ways to involve the countries on its southern and southeastern periphery in partnerships that will promote stability and security through democratic progress. Closer security relationships based on common goals are NATO's best long-term strategy against terror.

Security is a great motivator. Our own security now depends on improving our neighbors' lot. Recognizing this, Italy will encourage NATO to define a new political approach at the Istanbul summit meeting.

Franco Frattini is foreign minister of Italy.