NATO after Istanbul - what's next? - written exclusively for WSN

Posted in NATO | 21-Jul-04 | Author: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Andrea K Riemer

Istanbul - the bridge between Europe and Asia
Istanbul - the bridge between Europe and Asia
“We the Heads of State and Government of the member countries of the North Atlantic Alliance, meet today in Istanbul to renew our commitment to collective defence, and to address together NATO’s response to the security challenges we face at the beginning of the 21st century.” This is the opening passage of the Istanbul Declaration: Our Security in a New Era, issued by the Heads of State and Government who participated in the NAC in Istanbul on June 28, 2004. The paragraph can be read as the Grand Agenda of the meeting: the reassurance of collective defense as the heart of the Alliance under a substantially changed threat theater. Despite those changes, the key principle of the Alliance has remained unchanged: unity and indivisibility of Allied security.

NATO summits have received a rather strange place among the member states and NATO officials. Too much was and still is hovering like a dark cloud over the Transatlantic Alliance: The unclear engagement in Iraq; the dissatisfying status of the Afghanistan mission; repeated failures to deliver promised equipment and capabilities etc.

On the other hand, the Alliance welcomed seven new members from the former Warsaw Pact (Slovakia, Slovenia, Rumania, Bulgarian and the three Baltic States Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania). It was the second enlargement of strategic importance, but time was not ready to celebrate.

Differences between the U.S., France and Germany were still not ironed out and prevailed in the summit. Members underlined the importance of completing the Afghanistan mission successful before entering into a new mission. Double tracking (i. e. Afghanistan and Iraq) seemed impossible, particularly for the Europeans.

Straddling the gap between the unchanged and the changed elements will be one of the key issues to be tackled with NATO in the near future. Straddling the gap is of highest strategic importance. This will include the strengthening of out-of-area contacts and it will include a thorough and rapid transformation of military capabilities in order to adapt to the changing strategic environment. As mentioned in the Declaration, transformation is a process and not a single-pointed event. For reason, time and political willingness will be crucial. Apart from much rambling about more or less tactics, the key question for NATO remained: Will it be an important and efficient institution which will be able to deal with the important strategic threats and theaters of the 21st century?

NATO's leaders in session
NATO's leaders in session
Istanbul – a summit of historical character?

NATO summit are part of NATO’s history as of the history many other international organizations. But sometimes there are historic summits, as the summit in 1990 (London: cooperation with non-members), 1994 (Brussels: first out-of-area actions), 1997 (Madrid: invitation for the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland to become members despite the Warsaw Pact past), 1999 (Washington: new strategic concept up-date), 2002 (Prague: transformation was agreed on, open door for new members), Istanbul marked the second enlargement round. NATO has now 26 members. They met in a city which could not have been chosen better as a symbol for meeting multifold challenges: At the Bosporus, Occident and Orient meet. This is the current challenge, no matter whether one believes in Huntington’s clashes theory or not. One will hardly find a summit agenda which was that molded by occidental and oriental issues than the Istanbul agenda.

Due to the many summits before the Istanbul Summit, the still strained transatlantic relations and the still very stiff French and German position on a second large NATO engagement expectations were rather low key for Istanbul. Much has been discussed already during the G-8 summit in Sea Island, the U.S.-EU summit in Shannon and the summit of the European heads of state in Brussels. On the other hand, many issues were far away from being settled satisfactorily. One may say that the NATO-summit in Istanbul provided a final chance to clarify open issues and to straddle some of the transatlantic divides. If this would have happened, the summit could have been called ‘historic’. As it showed, it might be labeled ‘half-historic’.

The agenda for the summit covered a broad-range and very ambitious program:

  • a possible engagement in Iraq (under the problematic auspices of a blockade by France and Germany as already indicated during the G-8 summit in Sea Island at the beginning of June 2004);
  • the enlargement of the troops stationed already in Afghanistan (particularly to secure the up-coming elections);
  • the Mediterranean Dialogue and the design of the Broader Middle East (in conjunction with the EU-Dialogue and the U.S.-launched Greater and later on named Broader Middle East Initiative; continuation of the Operation Active Endeavor, i. e. patrolling of ships in the Mediterranean, monitoring of shipping as an early warning activity in the fight against terrorism);
  • counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation activities (e. g. by providing full operational capability of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Deference battalion as agreed on in the Prague summit);
  • developments of the NATO-Russia Council (how to keep NATO-Russian relations on a level, which favors also NATO-EU-Caucasus-Central Asian-Ukrainian relations);
  • aspects of the Partnership for Peace program (as a launching pad for non-NATO-members to cooperate in addressing the challenges of the 21st century);
  • commitments in Kosovo;
  • finishing of the commitment in Bosnia (the engagement started in 1995 under the label of IFOR, was then transformed into SFOR); after nine years of peace keeping situation seemed to have stabilized and security tasks will be handed over to EUFOR.
  • NATO-EU relations (e. g. how to combine ESDP and prevent double structures, which the Europeans cannot afford anyhow; how to integrate securitization efforts in the network, which comprise also relations with Central Asia and Caucasus and Ukraine);
  • Force transformation (particularly the operationalisation of the new command structures, establishment of the NATO-Response Force, completion of the strategic air and sealift capability etc.; all those issues were already decided at the Prague summit and had to be put into operation).

In following, important issues will be analyzed in detail.

NATO Secretary General, Joop de Hoop Scheffer (The Netherlands), fighting for solidarity
NATO Secretary General, Joop de Hoop Scheffer (The Netherlands), fighting for solidarity
Double Tracking: Iraq as the make of break issue for the Alliance?

Iraq marked the top issue on the agenda. Not only that power to the Iraqi transformation government was handed over the day the summit started (June 28, 2004), but NATO-position on Iraq was seen a benchmark for NATO’s ability to tackle with stability building issues in areas outside Europe and outside ‘classical’ NATO-territory. Additionally, Iraq became a synonym for a parallel second large engagement of NATO-troops, and, therefore, was seen as some sort of a ‘make-or-break-issue’ within the Alliance.

It has become accepted common ground that security protection no longer will be possible without addressing threats, which emerge ‘out-of-area’. If those threats will not be tackled where they emerge, sooner or later they will emerge ‘inside-of-area’, or as mentioned frequently, ‘if we do not go the Afghanistan, Afghanistan will come to us’. The ‘outside-inside’ debate had a very divisive character and clearly molded the debate on engaging NATO-troops in Iraq.

In the Statement on Iraq, the members of the North Atlantic Council declared full support for the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Iraq; additionally the plead for strengthening of freedom, human rights, democracy, rule of law and security for all the Iraqi people. Additionally, UNSCR 1546 was warmly welcomed. The statement was done in a way to straddle many positions and took as many requests as possible into account:

  • the Iraqis who expected a clear position by NATO and who hoped for a NATO-led engagement which goes beyond the support of security force training;
  • the U.S. who also hoped that more NATO-members would join the Multinational Force under NATO-label;
  • France and Germany who were adverse of another NATO-engagement and who had to comply with their initial position of being against a war in Iraq.

Despite the fact that French and German officials mentioned several times, that they do not feel schadenfreude over the U.S. administration’s setback on Iraq, one cannot deny that they felt a little stronger after Istanbul. They maintained their position, and the U.S. had to give in to a certain extent, despite the situation was solved in a face-saving manner.

German and French officials claimed that they are very well aware that a failure of Iraq would have very negative setbacks for Europe and the U.S. – and, of course, for the Iraqis, too. Those claims could not dim suspicions brought forward by U.S.-representatives that Germany and France are still hoping to be vindicated by a failure of Washington in Iraq. Those suspicions unveil the cloud that overshadows the Alliance. Probably those suspicions and the strong believe on both sides of the Atlantic may prove wrong and counter-productive. Probably they even might complicate transatlantic relations further. One has to assume that Paris and Berlin strongly believe in what they say – NATO would do no good in Iraq. A direct engagement would damage the Alliance’s reputation in the long run. Additionally, it would be very difficult for political leaders in both countries to bring the engagement through, since the public anti-war mood is still prevailing. Giving in now would be interpreted as a kind of treason. Chirac and Schroeder would risk their political capital. Finally, while Paris and Berlin fear strategic consequences of a U.S. failure in Iraq, they do not seem unhappy in a short-term U.S. defeat, which would clearly be linked to the current administration. This defeat could end up for President Bush not to be re-elected. This raises at least a possibility for war opponents, that in case of a Kerry victory, war opponents would be more receptive towards a direct NATO engagement in Iraq. Evidence for this speculation is very thin. It might turn out as a mutual disillusion, if Kerry wins and the situation in Iraq continues to remain unstable. Disunity on Iraq is a result of real disagreements about the wisdom of going into this war. Hardly one of their pre-war arguments did not prove right. At the same time, both France and Iraq are strongly engaged in Afghanistan. One cannot claim that they are against any engagement at all. Iraq was some sort of a bargaining chip on the international chessboard.

For the time being, a minimum common denominator was found. Now it is time to put this denominator into operation and to overcome the cloud. It might turn out as a litmus test for the Alliance, and it may even force the Alliance to reconsider its rules for military intervention and reconstruction of failed states.

American leadership in Istanbul
American leadership in Istanbul
Afghanistan – NATO’s current home turf

Afghanistan has to be assessed together with numerous other issues. It goes far beyond double tracking. Afghanistan is considered as the choke-point to get terrorism and terrorist sanctuaries under control. It is a long-term project, which has been and will be full of small success stories and set-backs. NATO decided to increase force numbers from 6500 to 10000 to guarantee secure and democratic elections (which had to be postponed several times for lack of security). ISAF (International Security Assistance Force, which is NATO-led) will provide the necessary security cushion. Additionally, the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams will be increased. Thereby, Afghanistan will stay on the top of NATO-priority. After a period of supporting minimum stability, Operation Enduring Freedom will support free elections, which are hopefully a key element in the long and winding road to democracy for Afghanistan. Currently, ISAF is supporting the voters’ registration process and provides support to the Afghan authorities to secure the election period. ISAF was already very supportive in disarming militias and securing weapons. Those activities contributed to the stabilization of the country. After the elections, the Afghan government will have to develop a plan to comply with the Bonn Agreement. NATO assistance, together with help from the EU and UN will be required. Experience leads to the assumption, that NATO will be engaged for a considerable time in Afghanistan. The challenges in Afghanistan made very clear, how difficult it is to stabilize a failed state and bring back on the road to sustained stability. This should serve as a benchmark for future activities. Additionally, it should encourage an improved and enhanced early warning. Afghanistan may turn out the litmus test for the international community. It should be the ‘worse case example’. A second Afghanistan should be avoided by any means. This a task which goes far beyond NATO responsibilities.

The Balkans – still not settled and stabilized

So far, Bosnia seems to be peaceful, and Istanbul marked a milestone, when NATO’s SFOR formally handed over its peacekeeping responsibilities to EUFOR. Since many of the troops in Bosnia are European troops, practically it will be a matter of changing shoulder flashes. EU will assume command of the operation, but through the chain-of-command running up to the European general who is also NATO deputy commander. It will be the first litmus test of the Berlin-Plus arrangements, by which EU conducts autonomous operations (despite cooperation with NATO).

Despite the fact that the NATO engagement in Bosnia will end after almost 9 years, situation still remains fragile. It is not only Bosnia, which will remain volatile, but also the Kosovo, which will stay part of NATO’s concern. Territorial integrity and sovereignty of all entities in the Balkans are of top priority. NATO requires from all of them fully fledged reforms and serious efforts to join the road of integration of all Balkan countries into Euro-Atlantic structures. Additionally, NATO urges regional cooperation among the states to promote stability, peace, mutual understanding, reconciliation and prosperity.

EUFOR will act under a new and distinct UN-mandate (under Chapter VII), based on the Berlin-plus arrangements (agreed on by NATO and EU in March 2003). NATO will not withdraw completely from Bosnia, but will continue to maintain a residual military presence (NATO HQ Sarajevo) and will undertake supportive operational tasks, such as counterterrorism and force protection. Additionally, it will support the International Criminal Tribunal of Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in detaining persons indicted for war crimes; additionally, intelligence sharing with EU will also be part of engagement. Finally, the Paris-Dayton Accords will remain the key basis for further activities.

Despite NATO will finish the most important ones of its activities, it will remain an influential player in the Balkans, since the area is one of the key regions of concern for the Alliance. Kosovo still is far away from a solution. The volatility was clearly displayed last spring when the situation exploded within a very brief period of time with a very brief lead warning time. Interethnic clashes may evolve any moment. The commitment to a stable, secure and multi-ethnic Kosovo needs NATO-support. NATO is one of several ‘security providers’ (next to EU, UN, OSCE, Contact group). As part of this network, NATO may provide the necessary security environment for the different ethnicities to start reconciliation and cooperation, but it cannot take away the difficult task of finding a common ground from the ethnicities.

The Broader Middle East: The strategic choke point of global dimension

Due to the examples of Afghanistan and Iraq, the issue if state and society building has reached top priority on NATO’s agenda. Preventive concepts which support long-term developments were highly welcomed. The Broader Middle East Initiative can be seen as one possible strategic option to introduce the western state model, to fix societies and to manage the consequences of failing, dysfunct or even failed states. It covers all aspects state and society building (not only after wars, but per se) requires. The Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI) was launched in December 2002 under the title Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI). The origins of the Initiative date back to the Clinton era. Clinton’s democracy program (at least a decade back) was proclaimed under the label ‘enlargement of democracy’ and was far more ambitious as compared to its successor. President Bush’s ‘forward strategy for freedom’ seemed to promise something rather different. One might have expected high-level political emphasis, direct links to the fundamental U.S. foreign policy and security interests, and even a broader geographical range.

The Initiative gained public attention in early 2004 despite it has been introduced already months before. It neither leaked nor was an ‘official government paper’ handed over to media (as claimed by some editorials). The Initiative was known, but simply no one reacted. The Initiative, which was later on renamed to GMEI is a comprehensive plan to democratize the Greater Middle East. The region the Initiative would cover, from Morocco to Pakistan, is marked by both political unrest and economic sluggishness, with each feeding on the other. A program links political and economic reform, to enhance democracy and stimulate market economies. The American proposals are new, but they have the same objective as the “Barcelona process” launched by the European Union in 1995 to enhance political and economic development round the Mediterranean. This program is still in being, though it has made only very slow progress.

The official launch was intended to take place during the G-8 summit in early June 2004, at Sea Island, Georgia. The GMEI, now renamed to Broader Middle East Initiative (BMEI) and Middle East Peace Plan (MEPP) were both on top of the agenda.

With international support, the United States hoped to gain commitments of action from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries. The core of the Initiative is clear: The U.S. would call the states in the Greater Middle East to adopt far reaching political and economic reforms. At the NATO-summit, the U.S. repeated the call and achieved support from NATO-members. It quickly became clear that the Initiative would be able to prevent a second Afghanistan and a second Iraq. Despite its flaws it has to be taken serious and was taken seriously by NATO.

Additional to the BMEI of the U.S., NATO launched the ‘Istanbul Cooperation Initiative’ (ICI), which offers a cooperation option to countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (as starting point). The ICI is a supplement to the BMEI. The ICI and NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue (including the enhanced version) are to be regards as a network of complementary, progressive and individualized processes.

We agree to disagree
We agree to disagree
A comprehensive approach to fight terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction

NATO’s activities on fighting terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are based on the implementation of UNSCR 1373. NATO agreed on a multifaceted approach, which comprises political, economic, diplomatic and, if necessary, military means.

The set of activities covers

  • improved intelligence sharing,
  • the set up of a NATO Multination CBRN Defense Battalion,
  • assistance to protect major events (e. g. the Olympic Games in Athens, summits etc.),
  • enhanced contributions to Operation Active Endeavor,
  • the creation of conditions of stability in which there is no incentive for terrorist activities,
  • enhanced cooperation to implement the Civil Emergency Plan and the Partnership Action Plan on Terrorism,
  • the reinforcement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and
  • the support of UNSCR 1540 (establishment of an effective national export control, adoption and enforcement of laws to criminalize proliferation etc.).

Force transformation, new military capabilities, enhanced interoperability

Due to the new threat theater, NATO was forced to launch a far-reaching force transformation program. During the Prague Summit (2002), numerous very ambitious targets were agreed on. Some of them could be realized and presented in Istanbul.

The NATO Multinational CBRN Defense Battalion had become operational. This has to be considered as success. NATO Response Force will reach its initial operational capability later this year. The command restructure process is on track.

The Prague Capabilities Commitments (referring to strategic sealift, airlift and air-to-air refueling) are work in progress; missile defense is a project which is still in the phase of consideration. The key lack is the gap between political statements and actually available capabilities (particularly in terms of budgets).

Additionally, NATO is confronted with a deficit in willingness and readiness of members to provide adequate forces and capabilities. National caveats i. e. how troops will be used, has turned out as a key obstacle. German troops, for example, have some troubles with controlling crowds, because they are legally prohibited from using tear gas. Similar national caveats seemed to have hampered some of the NATO troops in Kosovo last March when a pogrom against Serbs erupted in Kosovo. During the two days lasting riots, some of the KFOR units remained in their barracks. These flaws have to be amended immediately otherwise NATO will not be able to act quickly and efficiently.

A View ahead

“Today’s complex strategic environment demands a broad approach to security, comprising political, economic and military elements. We are united in our commitment to such an approach,” the Istanbul Declaration states.

The NATO summit was molded by the situation in Iraq, by a single situation with comprehensive consequences. The result of the meeting is a compromise, as it is the case of big summits. This is not necessarily bad, as long as those compromises are put into operation and are improved on and on.

Certainly, it will be much more difficult to do those improvements in a quire of 26. Voices might deviate, lines might be confused, and different opinions on interpretation might emerge. Additionally, different attitudes on contributions could arise.

All those flaws and difficulties will not overshadow that very basic need of organizations such as NATO. NATO has proven as the functional and institutional framework and force-generating engine. If NATO did not exist, it might be worth inventing it.