Renaissance of NATO?

Posted in NATO | 30-Jan-04 | Author: Dieter Farwick

BrigGen(ret.) Dieter Farwick is former Director of Germany’s "Federal Armed Forces Intelligence Office" and
Global Editor-in-Chief of
After the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, there were a lot of pundits announcing the death of NATO. The events in the Balkans, the successful Partnership for Peace programme and the demand of many countries from Eastern Europe to join NATO gave the Alliance a new life.

September 11, 2001 led to another existential crisis of NATO. After NATO invoked Article 5 – common defence – for the first time in its existence as a signal of solidarity with the USA, there followed a period of “disuse”. In its war against terrorism and the Taliban regime, the USA used NATO as a toolbox. It picked and chose special capabilities from various NATO member-nations. “The coalition of the willing” replaced NATO with the slogan “The mission determines the coalition”.

NATO seemed to be dead. Yet recently, the Alliance has been reanimated under the pressure of facts. One reason is the “imperial overstretch” of the USA. After the commitment in Iraq, the USA has been experiencing the limits of the only left superpower.

There are three positive signals for the renaissance of NATO: the commitment in Afghanistan from August 2003, the first live exercise of NATO Response Force in Turkey in the fall of 2003, and the political preparations for a NATO commitment in Iraq in the summer. Is this back to business as usual? By no means, but it is a chance to come together again: USA and “old Europe”; “old” and “new” Europe. Judging from the various levels of contribution to the Alliance, it is clear that NATO still has a long way to regain its former cohesion.

What caused the rift in the first place was not the dissent over Iraq. The different perceptions of future threats and risks and the respective response, the European uneasiness with the only superpower acting as “hard power,” the willingness of “old” Europe to act on moral high ground as “soft power,” the discussion of almost autonomous European military capabilities, and the trade disputes all contributed to a deepening divide in the transatlantic relations. Both sides of the Atlantic need to do more now to make NATO a strong global player in the world of risks and instability.

USA has to demonstrate by actions that it is returning to the “coalition of good sense and common values”. It should ensure the Europeans that USA will commit itself, if and when vital European interest come under stress and risk, as it did repeatedly in the past. Europe and especially “old Europe” should give up the illusions of competing with USA militarily. It should try to come to a prudent division of labour. That division, however, should not be along the lines of USA and UK being “hard powers” and “old Europe” acting as a “soft power.”

Europe should seek to develop limited military capabilities for limited operations such as evacuation or disaster relief with not more than 3 to 5 thousand soldiers involved. There should be no competition with the NATO Response Force. Any military operation should follow the principle “NATO first.” NATO should discuss the situations under which the UN Security Council asks the Alliance for support. Only if NATO decides not to act as an Alliance, there should be the possibility of forming a “coalition of the willing” supported by strategic assets of NATO, similar to the “Berlin plus” accord between NATO and EU. This approach can only be implemented in an atmosphere of trust, confidence and common objectives. These values are currently at display and test in Afghanistan and Iraq. NATO can not be stronger than its member-nations. All members should take advantage of the new chances and opportunities to strengthen the Alliance.