Munich Security Conference: "2010 should be a year of action and implementation- no more excuses for delays"
Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger welcomed more than 300 guests for the 46th Munich Security Conference (MSC). Many of the topics that had marked the discussions of the past few years were also present at this year's event: the still elusive Middle East Peace, Afghanistan's continued instability, the efforts of the EU to get its act together and become a relevant actor on global security issues. In the spotlight, though, was the nuclear issue with Iran's foreign minister appearing on a surprise visit and the discussions about nuclear disarmament that had gained new momentum after President Obama's proposals, as well as Russia's contentious initiative to build a wider European Security Architecture and NATO's search for a New Strategic Concept.
On all these issues, Ambassador Ischinger reminded participants that "2010 should be a year of action and implementation - there are no more excuses for delay. Words need to be followed up by deeds".
Iranian nukes: much ado about Tehran's latest nothing?
After the initial timeline of the end of 2009 set by the Obama Administration for Tehran to show its intentions had elapsed, President Ahmadinejad had just days before the Munich Security Conference vaguely hinted that Iran may be ready to take up the IAEA's compromise proposal of controlled nuclear enrichment outside of Iran. So, when it transpired that Iran's Foreign Minister Manukher Mottaki would put in a last-minute appearance in Munich, participants were eager to hear what the regime had to offer.
A late-night session of the surprise guest who shared the podium with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt brought mostly disillusionment, though. While Mottaki did offer optimism that a compromise could be reached and essentially all points of disagreement were down to technical details, Tehran did in fact not accede to the IAEA's proposal. Rather than enrichment of Iranian fissile material abroad, what Tehran suggests is an immediate exchange for enriched material with Tehran wanting to set conditions about the quantity and locations for such exchange.
Minister Mottaki followed this up with media statements to the same effect before a number of conference participants, among them Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov and the IAEA's new Director General Amano, took him into long private sessions to impress once more the demands of the international community on Tehran.
Patience with Tehran is running out
The most wide-spread reaction to Tehran's message was one of doubt, "nothing new" and "facts speak louder than words". Participants at the conference focused on Iran's alterations to and new conditions for the original IAEA compromise proposal and were inclined to interpret them as indications of a lack of honesty. German Foreign Minister Westerwelle and Defence Minister zu Guttenberg both suggested this may well be just another diversionary manoeuvre to gain time.
Remarkably, between the lines of the comments by Russia's representatives in Munich, WSN thinks one could read that Moscow's patience with Tehran may be running out, as well. Foreign Minister Lavrov stressed that the IAEA had set out clear questions and issues, it should not be too hard to answer these and thereby show of what mind Iran is. Former Defence Minister and now First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov (i.e. nominally the most important man after Medvedev and Putin) was just as clear that it is incumbent on Iran to restore the confidence of the international community, and only full compliance with IAEA demands counts. Both did note, however, that Russia ideally wants to see these efforts as part of a general strengthening of the non-proliferation regime and regional security architecture in the Middle East as Iran does have legitimate security concerns, and instability in the region continues to be a significant threat.
At two opposite poles of reactions to Tehran's overtures at the conference were China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi with a call on "the parties concerned, with the overall and long-term interests in mind, to step up diplomatic efforts, stay patient, and adopt more flexible, pragmatic and proactive policies"; and an interview that Senator Joseph Lieberman gave to media explicitly threatening Iran with military action.
The remarks by National Security Advisor General James L. Jones were probably more representative of the Obama Administration's agreed policy. He reiterated that despite Washington's original deadline having expired and Tehran's "puzzling defiance", the door for Iran remains open. At the same time, though, the US would now work with partners on increasing pressure on Iran, as "we have not seen a change of direction, yet".
Kremlinology in Tehran: what is behind Iran´s messages?
The topic is likely to keep making headlines over the next few months with new twists and turns: just as the MSC had drawn to a close, President Ahmadinejad called on Iranian television for the enrichment process to 20% uranium to be initiated in the country itself, while allegedly Tehran would remain ready for further negotiations to reach a compromise with the P5+1 Group of UN veto powers and Germany. At the very least, it appears as though Iran is sending mixed signals and may well need to urgently send some indications via diplomatic channels how all this is supposed to be deciphered by recipients abroad. For so far, this kind of communication appears to have irritated, baffled and angered Tehran's interlocutors.
Maybe most of these signals are indeed targeted at domestic consumption, as the proximity to the 31st anniversary of the 1979 Revolution on February 11 may suggest - an occasion when the regime might want to shift attention to the achievements of the country's scientists and renewed diplomatic moves and away from expected demonstrations by the Green Movement.
President Ahmadinejad certainly appears to enjoy the publicity provided by the nuclear program. Even though the nuclear efforts and military reside within the competencies of the Supreme Leader, Mr Ahmadinejad does not appear to miss any opportunity these days to announce new breakthroughs of Iranian sciences, command enrichment programs and play cat-and-mouse with the international community.
China: a message of harmony
As an illustration to the participants that the world at which the Munich Security Conference looks has dramatically changed, China´s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had been asked to give this year´s opening statement. China's growing role on the world stage has snowballed into new dimensions over the last decade, and has completed what Mr Yang described as "from a state of mutual estrangement with the rest of the world to one of close interactions".
At the same time Yang Jiechi underlined the tremendous challenges of uneven development and social disparities his country faces. While this is an evident fact, his motivation for not only highlighting China´s strength may have been twofold: limiting expectations of others regarding the burdens China is willing or capable of bearing internationally (be it climate change, humanitarian response or peacekeeping) or also allay wide-spread fears of China's hegemonic ambitions.
In his words, "China is a developing country and it will take the strenuous efforts of several and even a dozen generations before China can truly achieve modernization." Therefore, much of Beijing's energy and attention will be focused inward for the foreseeable future rather than being an unruly challenger of the global status quo. "We will seek a peaceful international environment to develop ourselves and at the same time contribute to the cause of world peace through our own development. This is a strategy choice that China has made."
In fact, Minister Yang proposed, China's historic experience and values preclude hegemonic aspirations or the active imposition of its values abroad but will be guided by the principle of equality. At the same time, China is willing to take more responsibility internationally commensurate with its capabilities, and has done so whether in resolving the global crisis or in peacekeeping and disaster recovery in Haiti.
From China's vantage point, Minister Yang highlighted several core concerns:
- North Korean nuclear weapons and peace and stability in Northeast Asia
- Afghanistan: China will support reconstruction and the "early realization of stability and development"
- Iran's nuclear program: "The parties concerned should, with the overall and long-term interests in mind, step up diplomatic efforts, stay patient, and adopt more flexible, pragmatic and proactive policies."
- Climate Change: "principle of common but differentiated responsibilities" (i.e. industrial countries have to bear brunt of the burden) and China committed to its -40-45% CO2 per unit of GDP by 2020 goal
After a recent history of diplomatic rows Yang underlined that relations with the EU are of major importance for China but both partners "must respect each other, treat each other as equals, and accommodate each other's core interests and major concerns."
"Global Zero": the way ahead or a dangerous detour?
The ongoing struggle to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capabilities was only one aspect of the wider attention that nuclear weapons commanded at this year's conference. This attention is certainly timely. 40 years after entering into force, the treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which was extended indefinitely in 1995, will see another five-yearly review conference in May 2010 in New York.
A new momentum for disarmament: security experts and leaders embrace "Global Zero"
Since last year's Munich Security Conference, the topic has taken on a whole new dynamic, though, which was very palpable in discussions at Munich this year: President Obama's Prague speech put the weight of his office behind abolishing nuclear weapons in the long run. A short time later, this objective received a positive response from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. And it was lent the credibility of a group of elder statesmen and former militaries like Henry Kissinger, George P. Shultz, Klaus Naumann, Zbigniew Brzezinski or Helmut Schmidt who are beyond any suspicion of being utopian peaceniks. Backing up the talks of the Russian and American heads of state, a group of experts has since tried to "operationalise" the objective of a world free of nuclear arms. The "Global Zero Action Plan" (www.globalzero.org) forsees a four-staged complete nuclear disarmament process until 2030.
Right before the MSC, at an event at Berlin's American Academy, Henry Kissinger, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Samuel Nunn, George Shultz, Helmut Schmidt, Richard von Weizsäcker, and William Perry, had underlined that the old Cold War calculus of nuclear arms no longer holds. Nuclear weapons states have multiplied - Pakistan, India, North Korea and Israel do not even adhere to the framework of the NPT - and threat assessments of all their offensive and defensive capabilities have become very complex. The A.Q. Khan network's bazaar of nuclear technology was a wake-up call that nuclear weapons expertise has become a commodity available for willing buyers. And with nuclear stockpiles scattered in more and more corners of the globe, the danger of these turning into 'loose nukes' and possibly finding their way into terrorist hands is ever more conceivable. All these developments have turned nuclear weapons from being parts of an arsenal and strategic posture into a security threat in and of themselves. Henry Kissinger therefore warned the Munich audience that "nuclear proliferation is the greatest threat facing the world, today".
Just a few years back, such initiatives would have been dismissed as utopian or even dangerous by proponents of the stability provided by Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). A stability that even then was not foolproof as the Cuban Missile Crisis certainly suggests. Any full nuclear disarmament initiative would most probably have been received with wide suspicion throughout NATO member states about the real intentions behind it had it first come from Moscow or Beijing or Paris. In Munich this year, though, things were very different. The question whether a "Global Zero" is a realistic goal was answered in the affirmative by a large number of discussants. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle even stated Germany's intention to help make this "a decade of disarmament".
Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and his Japanese counterpart Yoriko Kawaguchi pointed to their joint report on "Eliminating Nuclear Threats" (http://www.icnnd.org/reference/reports/ent/icnnd_synopsis.html) which outlines a pragmatic and hard-headed approach to this objective. In their minds, the goal is realistic but not something to be approached with fixed deadlines. For the process to gain any traction, though, the nuclear weapon states will have to get serious about their responsibilities on disarmament.
For Russia, the power with the world's largest nuclear stockpile, First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov sent positive signals, declaring his country's full commitment to strengthening the NPT regime, and work with the US on further disarmament. He also pointed out that Moscow and Washington will sometime hit a wall if the other nuclear powers do not join in the process whole-heartedly. The universality and synchrony required to move towards decommissioning of nuclear weapons globally is definitely a major challenge of the process.
Ivanov, though, also pointed out what Western discussants had forgotten to mention: that taking out nuclear weapons from countries' arsenals demands taking the broader strategic calculus into consideration. For states like Russia who still look to Washington as latent adversary, this means that the conventional arms in their arsenal must be able to ensure them with strategic deterrence. Moscow will therefore be unlikely to engage in drastic nuclear disarmament unless offensive and defensive capabilities are part of the discussion. Just like during the SALT and START negotiations in the past, anti-missile defence system upgrades by the US would be perceived as destabilizing the security balance and a threat.
The heavy economic strain of keeping their nuclear arsenal up-to-date, operational and secure may be a strong motivator for Moscow to be ready for massive cuts in the number of warheads. Ivanov, at least, called all partners to action: "Now in Munich we have an opportunity to give mankind a much awaited signal that the 'global zero' idea is not just an empty phrase. Let us meet the challenge."
US Senator John Kerry underlined the economic rationale to "Global Zero". Nuclear weapons may be a huge 'bang for the buck' in terms of production cost. But the accompanying costs of securing stockpiles, preventing escape of radiation, pollution, misuse or use by mishap, not even to speak of the immense damage of a potential detonation by error, are massive. Kerry mentioned that the US has so far spent $ 7.3 trillion on its nuclear arsenal - more than the annual GDP of all other countries taken together. The potential windfall for tight public budgets and defence spending is huge.
Ideas for scaling down nuclear arsenals
The discussion also set out some practical steps for nuclear disarmament. The principle of "trust but verify" that had already guided strategic arms reduction in the past, was espoused as essential by all participants. For India as a declared nuclear power outside of the NPT regime, former National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan suggested that this is a principle on which his country can participate in the process.
In addition, though, also the calculus of nuclear deterrence needs to be altered. Narayanan proposed 1) reaffirmation of goal of full disarmament by all nuclear powers, 2) de-alerting nuclear arms to avoid erroneous use, 3) agreement on no-first-use doctrine, and finally 4) a nuclear weapons convention for the prohibition of use, production and stockpiling backed-up by effective verification processes to check on agreed disarmament steps. For China, Foreign Minister Yang emphasized that China adheres to a strict no-first-use doctrine, and moreover will not use or threaten to use nuclear force against non-nuclear states or nuclear-free zones.
The need for objective assessment and neutral verification brings the IAEA in Vienna back into the spotlight. The organization's new Director General, Yukiya Amano, emphasized that his team has the relevant expertise and credibility with all parties. He offered that the IAEA assumes responsibility for effective and credible verification as the key to both non-proliferation and disarmament. Amano outlined the areas where he wants to see progress in the near-term: a successful conclusion of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, the follow-up to the START Treaty, the entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (still held up in the US ratification process) and the conclusion of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty.
Director General Amano also highlighted the other pillar of the NPT: the enduring and very concrete threat of nuclear proliferation. In order to tackle this challenge, Amano called for the universal adoption of tougher standards on transparency and control: essentially, all states would have to adhere to the so far only voluntary IAEA Additional Protocol. For only this process (allowing IAEA inspectors closer scrutiny) permits the organization to reliably assess the degree of compliance of member states. Multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle may also require serious consideration.
The wrong discussion at the wrong time?
The avowed or alleged efforts by North Korea, Iran and others to seek nuclear weapons capabilities were one of the focal points for critics of the "Global Zero" initiative. From among the capitals of nuclear powers, Paris has been a noted sceptic. It is being pointed out that ever since the major powers had engaged in reduction of their strategic arms, this example has not slowed down the efforts of states across the globe to join the club. Moreover, pointing to the relative quiet and stability among major powers during the Cold War, they point out that only the threat of assured nuclear destruction as ultimate tripwire can be an effective deterrence. When the expectation is that conflicts will be limited to conventional wars, even the Cold War became hot in many of the "proxy fights" that ravaged parts of Asia and Africa.
Indeed, the trend at the moment appears still to be rather in the direction of more than less a role for nuclear weapons. For despite the international efforts, North Korea continues to defy attempts to give up its nuclear weapons and continues to conduct tests and offensive manoeuvres, and Iran has not been convincing about the supposed peaceful purposes of its nuclear research. Senator Kerry, accordingly admitted that with Iran and North Korea not resolved, the basic agreement reached with the NPT decades ago is at risk of unravelling, not to speak of making any progress towards "Global Zero". In addition, China and Pakistan continue to build up their stockpiles, and Russia's nuclear doctrine appears to have been hardened with the most recent revisions. General Klaus Naumann, former Head of NATO's Military Committee, therefore, asked the Alliance's new Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Madeleine Albright, member of the group of experts advising the drafting of NATO´s strategic review, how NATO will reconcile this more offensive posture with NATO's commitment to a non-first use doctrine. The final answer will only be found in NATO's New Strategic Concept but for the time being, it became clear that while the new discussion about disarmament has already had a reflection in thinking about nuclear posture, nuclear deterrence is set to remain a key element of Alliance defence.
Global Zero: the journey is the reward
How realistic or remote the objective of a "Global Zero" indeed is, is not a question to be confidently answered now, anyway. Security threats, world order and power differentials are in constant change and their respective future set-up will determine how decision-makers think about this objective in five, ten and twenty years.
What is definitely important - and a potential "game changer" - though, is that finally the obligations of nuclear weapons states under the NPT to earnestly work towards disarmament are gaining new momentum.
This is of particular relevance, as the NPT enshrines what is in essence a system of "apartheid" in the realm of global security and arsenals. In order for the "have-nots" to acquiesce to such a situation over any extended period of time, there must be a perspective of eventually overcoming this unequal state of affairs. For, after all, they are really just "have-not-yets".
Accordingly, the prohibition of nuclear weapons for the "have-nots" was only one pillar of a deal that also rested on the reciprocal commitment by the nuclear "haves" "to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament", and the right to peaceful use of atomic energy. As with any international law, regulation and regime, all participants are adults enough to be aware that "might makes right", if it wants, but they can still be willing to submit to rules if they can reciprocally expect those rules not to be infringed on too often or too outrageously by the mighty.
Over the past few decades, the nuclear weapon states appeared to have completely given up on their part of the deal and the "good faith" efforts were nowhere to be found by any stretch of imagination. Nuclear arsenals were extended and enhanced, and coming up with new uses for nuclear weapons seemed to be the most urgent tasks of military planners in Moscow and Washington. Some proposals had a Dr Strangelovish feel of remaking the weapon of last resort into an all-purpose weapon for civilian and military leadership that placed avoidance of own troop losses above all else.
Senator Kerry openly admitted this all-around failure of nuclear powers to live up to the promises of the NPT. They need to take steps to build trust with the "have-nots" and fulfil their deal of the bargain, secure stockpiles and particularly stop talking about "new uses" of nukes. Russia and US can set the example and get START ratified, Kerry suggested.
It is in this respect, that the Obama Administration's new push has really altered the scene.
IAEA Director General Amano at least showed himself upbeat that if the international community can strengthen confidence and built momentum for nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation through such measures, ideas which today may be considered unrealistic or very difficult may in time appear to be practicable, including "Global Zero".
For the moment, though, the most pressing homework is to work on the nuclear hot-spots of North Korea and Iran. Only if the non-proliferation regime have "teeth", there may be a hope that the role of nuclear weapons in states´ strategic calculus can be diminished.
Iran becoming a nuclear weapons power would very likely trigger a very fast arms race in the Middle East, and banish all hopes for "Global Zero" for the foreseeable future.
Russia and a new European Security Architecture
Ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, there has been a lingering sense that the relationship to Russia is full of unresolved issues and continuing suspicions. Pushed into the background by the Yugoslav Wars, EU and NATO expansion, September 11, Afghanistan, the Iraq War, domestic politics and election cycles or the crisis-du-jour, a lot of "To Do's" have piled up at Europe's Eastern flank for the US and its European partners.
The publication of Russia's new Strategic Doctrine in late 2009 served as a reminder that there is still a long way to go for the relationship to deserve the word partnership that NATO, EU and German government representatives like to use in context to Moscow. The number of military threats listed in the document has been enlarged, to include another nation's ignoring of Russia's strategic security interests, attempts to tip the balance of power in the neighbourhood of Russia and her allies, and moves to change the balance in "nuclear and missile sphere", like deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system. The Doctrine goes on to list interference with Russia's internal policies, territorial disputes, arms race and undermining of international measures on arms limitation and reduction, possible deployment of weapons in space, and military conflicts near Russian border. In short: a list of the grievances and charges that Moscow has been airing for years at Brussels and Washington.
Last year, Russian President Medvedev called for establishing a new, comprehensive European Security Architecture - and now that the dust of the War in Georgia has settled down, 2010 in Munich finally provided another occasion for sitting both sides down for a therapy of their mutual obsessions, as Madeleine Albright described the situation. With one speaker or panel discussant on each of the conference's three days, Russia and its security interests were prominently featured.
20 years of missed opportunities and broken promises by the West?
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov and Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the International Affairs Committee of the State Duma (Russian Parliament) were all on-message. They repeated their President's assessment of a pressing need for building a new security architecture in the "Euroatlantic Sphere" (whether this includes all of Asian Russia and the North American landmass has not been explicitly stated).
They all made clear that from Moscow's point of view, the original sin that set Russia, Europe and the US right back on the confrontation course their were on during the Cold War was the choice to expand NATO rather than increase the role and capacities of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) after 1989.
To Russia, the history of the last twenty years reads as one of broken promises, and of gleefully smiling "winners" of the Cold War who in the hubris of a 'unilateral moment' kept stepping across Russia's red lines, using the pretext of universal values to expand their sphere of influence and forward-position their forces at the cost of Moscow. The sense of indignation was palpable when Foreign Minister Lavrov said that the promise of no new NATO troops beyond the Alliance's cold war borders for the USSR's Gorbachev and Shevardnadse agreeing to Germany unification and NATO membership had at least only be oral - but the 1997 NATO-Russia Council's Founding Out had set out in writing that no "substantial combat forces" were to be deployed on the territory of any new NATO member states. Apparently "substantial" finally needs to be defined. Lavrov said that Russia was just not convinced by the idea that NATO expansion actually enhances Russia's security: "how do new bases in Romania and Bulgaria, the stationing of war ships in the Black Sea and Patriot rockets just 60km from Kaliningrad enhance Russia's security?!" Russia, he claimed, had meanwhile already cut its forces in Europe massively - not least in the Kaliningrad exclave. Kosachev added that during the past 20 years, Russia has taken back its troops from across the globe and closed bases internationally, respecting all their obligations under international treaties, ratified and adopted START II and CFE, and only used force once: in Georgia. And in return it got NATO as a neighbour, new bases on its doorstep and the ABM Treaty thrown out.
This, Lavrov summed up, was an evident mockery of the lofty principle of indivisibility of security proclaimed by the West. If such a notion was to underlie security in Europe, what was needed was an all-encompassing structure with "clear, legally binding processes" - for which an upgraded OSCE could serve as foundation. "Russia wants to see OSCE as a strong and efficient organization based on international law." Just like the binding conventions of the Council of Europe have created "a common legal space in humanitarian issues", the OSCE's Helsinki Principles should be revived and extended, Russia's Foreign Minister suggested, making the principles legally binding. Then everyone could see if all players are really honest about the security of one party not having to come at the expense of others rather than moving towards a separation of the Euro-Atlantic space into spheres of influence where double standards are applied.
Responses or Reflexes?
It is probably fair to say that the responses in audience and on the podium were not as enthusiastic as about "Global Zero". Since the atmosphere between Russia and the West is still one of mutual obsessions about the threat constituted by the other side, respectively, as Secretary Albright had diagnosed, most reactions were marked by suspicions of a Russian plot against NATO. Accordingly, for the EU's Baroness Ashton, German Defence Minister zu Guttenberg or US National Security Advisor James Jones, OSCE was not even an issue - NATO is the indispensable cornerstone of European security and well, yes, the NATO-Russia Council should really be improved. For the rest, they were quick to remind the Russian representatives that all nations are free to choose their allies and NATO would stick to its "Open Door Policy".
These reactions are not all that surprising given that much of the present leadership on both sides is still marked by Cold War experiences, and it is hard to have missed the latent bellicosity of many of Russia's dealings with the outside world: in the Estonian cyberattacks, the Ukrainian gas dispute and election cycles, Arctic claims or Putin's threatening of a new Cold War at the 2008 Security Conference. Georgia's Foreign Minister probably spoke the minds of many by asking when Russia would finally learn to behave in civilized manner rather than just be a bully who cries foul when others try to work for their security.
Moreover, Russia itself has repeatedly undermined the institutions it now champions when they became inconvenient. Since the days of the Helsinki Final Act, Moscow has from time to time criticized and curtailed the role or responsibilities of OSCE, and can hardly expect anyone to seriously attest that domestic affairs in Russia are in full compliance with spirit and letter of the Helsinki principles.
These, strategists from the "realist school" would be quick to remind us, are classical liberal fallacies, bringing issues of domestic political systems into international security affairs where interests reign supreme.
Democracies - even if they are the most militarily advanced states in the world running the globe's largest military budgets - share a tendency to view themselves as essentially peaceful, just and trustworthy. Steeped in the experience of the peaceful political processes in their domestic spheres, it is hard for many democratic politicians to imagine that anyone - unless in bad faith - could understand their actions as aggressive. Especially not when all they are really doing is work to improve their defences and security.
Well, to say the least, Moscow, Beijing and others would quite regularly disagree. To them the talk of values looks mostly as a PR shroud for hard-headed security interests. And when one military alliance - with democratic values or not - expands they see no reason to not look negatively at that movie through the zero-sum lens.
In this respect, Konstantin Kosachev held the mirror to NATO's face: what would the West say if Moscow was to claim that its security starts well beyond Russian borders? To Moscow, Beijing, and a good deal of other powers, the move out-of-area avowed almost unanimously by NATO representatives like Germany's Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg that "if we want to secure our interests, we must leave our borders behind" may just sound very much like a call for unilateral global interventionism.
Not all roads lead to Brussels: European Security needs more than just NATO
There are certainly good reasons to not only be caught up in old reflexes. German security policy expert, Prof. Karl Kaiser and Ukraine's Foreign Minister Petroshenko agreed that guided by obsessive reflexes from the past, the West would be about to miss another chance to improve its relationship with Russia.
First of all, do not deny proposals just because in the extreme they may appear to want to replace NATO. Any ploy by Moscow to do this is sure to backfire, anyway, in light of the persisting suspicions and fears of Russia among NATO's Eastern European members. Moreover, a self-assured West should not fear anyone wanting to take away NATO, for the Alliance will endure as long as its members consider it relevant, worthwhile and effective.
Secondly, Russia does have legitimate security interests which NATO and EU need to acknowledge and enter into their calculus. Russia's list of grievances have at their heart one common feature: not having been consulted and not having been taken serious in its interests, NATO decided and Russia had to suffer the results. Over the past decade, Moscows moves on the international stages seem often to have been motivated by a desire to have Washington accept Russia as equal partner. As such it would seek direct bilateral dealings. Now, the avowed willingness to work through multilateral institutions may suggest that Russia's situation has deteriorated relatively and it seeks reassurance and defined processes for conflict resolution. The country has a tremendous demographic problem, decrepit infrastructure, deteriorating military materiel, dysfunctional bureaucracies, an uncompetitive economy (it's too big to just be an oil emirate in the snow), and on top, the intrusion of NATO, the EU, the US, Turkey, China and other players from all sides into Moscow's "near abroad" has eaten into one of the sources of Russia's position as major power. Reassurance that it can at least relax on some fronts, count on peaceful modes of conflict resolution and focus its energies would be very welcome in such a situation.
And lastly, NATO is in fact no panacea for European Security.
The Alliance has a set of purposes for which it was established. Resolving simmering or open conflicts between its members, between members and non-NATO European countries and even more so among several non-NATO member states is certainly not among them. NATO has no respective expertise, processes or mandate. The wars of Yugoslav Secession, the status of Kosovo, the "frozen" conflicts in Transnistria, Abkhazia or Ossetia as well as the unresolved territorial issues between Armenia and Azerbaijan are just a few examples that such conflicts are still a reality in Europe.
Sure, NATO has helped contribute to building confidence among former adversaries and reassuring them about the non-aggressive nature of their defence measures (the mission sometimes referred to as "keeping the Germans down"). But it can do so most effectively only among those states that fully partake in its structures (witness the latent suspicion of Gaullist French intentions among the US and many Europeans). Neither NATO nor the EU have sufficiently comprehensive membership to do this among all states on the European landmass. Nor are they likely to want to have it in the near to mid-term.
NATO is an instrument for European Security in so far as regards the defence against external threats. It is no instrument for intra-European Security. Even the relative benign examples of reunifying Cyprus or integrating democratic Macedonia show that if the constellation is one of insiders (Greek Cypriotes and Greece, respectively) of a powerful institution that wants to help resolve the issue (the EU) against outsiders (Turkish Cypriotes, Turkey, and Macedonia), then the insiders as interested party are likely to hijack that institution, push for maximum goals and derail compromise.
So Russia does have a point when it wants to see comprehensive membership, defined processes and principles that apply to all. Maybe the OSCE is not the right forum for that. Maybe its past and talking-shop image has discredited it beyond repair. But that would be no reason to not build something more effective on its wreckage. After all, leadership is also about finding novel solutions. It should in any case be feasible to come up with processes that facilitate relations with Russia and safeguard NATO member states security interests.
One part of doing that, would also include taking stock of what the EU's capacities and the OSCE's or any successor institution's tasks. For as former US Ambassador to Germany, John Kornblum warned: there is a latent conflict of mission as the EU keeps expanding its objectives and ambitions to new fields of responsibility. So there is homework waiting for Baroness Ashton and her team.
The task of improving relations with Russia will remain a challenging one, in any case. As Tomas Valasek, Director of Foreign Policy and Defence at the Centre for European, London, had remarked, "Reset and Reassurance" faces major hurdles: how much reassurance can be done without freaking Eastern European member states out and can NATO really change minds in Moscow with that. The past record on both counts has not been too impressive.
NATO and its New Strategic Concept
During the discussions about Russia's proposal to upgrade alternative forums as adequate tools for an encompassing way to address security threats within the Euroatlantic sphere, it had become clear, that NATO still occupied center-stage in the minds of participants from its member states. This might not only be due to the Alliance's undoubted effectiveness in preventing aggression from outside, and its recent anniversary but also due to the heavy labour of drafting a New Strategic Concept that is currently keeping capitals from Ottawa to Ankara busy.
So that is a time of reflection for NATO. And this reflection is institutionalized: a circle of experts holds consultations within the institutions and in members states, with four key areas covered, so far: 1) NATO's purpose and core tasks, 2) Lessons learned and new missions, 3) NATO partnerships (open door policy and Russia), 4) Military capabilities (including nuclear weapons) and transformation. Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is one the former diplomats, politicians and militaries and reported who this week, the group will also be in Moscow for exchange with senior defence experts. Even, though, the impression conveyed by Kosachev is that there still is too little active involvement, especially when it comes to Afghanistan were Russia and Central Asian states had repeatedly offered their expertise and support to ISAF but were allegedly brusquely rebuked.
General James Jones, National Security Advisor in the Obama Administration, and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) claimed that at least the United States continues to not lecture but "really listen", reassured Europeans that Europe is at the heart of US shared security, even as the US extends its relationships with emerging players on the global scale. The urgent challenges that he identified, in any case, had global scale. From Afghanistan/Pakistan to emerging Al-Qaeda safe havens, ensuring non-proliferation, Mideast Peace ("an independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory") to humanitarian responses and reconstruction as in Haiti. He did not clarify, though, where in this broad scope of challenges, NATO comes into the picture.
In need of a clearer picture: NATO and its responsibilites
The 46th Munich Security Conference illustrated that more and more Alliance leaders are taking an expansive view of what NATO should do. The tenet that "territorial defence begins beyond NATO´s border" - justified by the long reach of terrorism, cybersecurity nuclear proliferation, piracy and conflicts likely to be intensified by climate change - was also cited by NATO´s new Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "Heavy-metal armies are not the response to these challenges but active engagement, possibly far beyond our borders." He claimed that NATO has the plan, the intention and the capabilities to defend its members - also against these threats.
The question, though, really is whether a long list of threats already translates into a significantly clear mission for the Alliance to act on. Are they all of equal importance or equally prone to NATO responses? Not to mention that terrorism, cybersecurity and non-proliferation may indeed be in better hands with police forces, secret services and intelligence or diplomats and expert institutions like the IAEA. At least regarding cyber-threats Admiral James Stavridis, new Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) attested a need for NATO to urgently upgrade its thinking and capabilities.
Given these doubts, security analyst Tomas Valasek pointed out that NATO may really need to use the current drafting of the New Strategic to define and operationalize what Alliance´s common purpose (Article 5) means to its members. The notions currently are very diverse, indeed. To some extent this is just natural as geopolitical location defines perception of security issues to some degree. The question is only if this difference in threat assessment could erode Alliance solidarity if not addressed openly. So far, there seems to be an assumption that reciprocity will work its wonders: member states should be willing to contribute on missions that are important for others in order to count on their assistance when own interests are at stake. In times of dramatically squeezed public budgets, such sense of empathy and hope for future solidarity may suffer.
It may have also been this challenge that conflicting interests may become more pronounced that motivated German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg to suggest that seeking consensus about objectives among NATO members does not have to mean unanimity. He underlined that consensus, consultations and frank discussions are of key importance for a shared sense of purpose and respect among members. "Coalitions of the willing" are no substitute for that. But the consultative process needs to be entered with the clear objective of reaching timely resolutions.
It may not have been a coincidence that forsaking the principle of unanimity and stressing the need to ensure NATO is not all talk but also action, comes at a time when France is just fully returning to NATO´s military decision-making structures. Bad memories of France as grandstanding blockader on many committees may lend new relevance and urgency to reviewing the principle of unanimous decision-making for representatives at NATO HQ.
Agreement was unanimous, though, on NATO´s need to reach out to partners: like-minded partner countries as with Japan, Australia, New Zealand with whom a history of joint missions exist (i.e. adding a "Trans-Pacific" angle to the existing Transatlantic one) but also important regional powers like India or Brazil or even the African Union with whom the security dialogue should be institutionalized to undertake common threat assessments and scout out possibilities for joint action. Admiral Stavridis emphasised that militaries seek lasting responses from politicians about the interfaces with outside partners to facilitate future successes as in "Operation Atalanta" off the coast of Somalia (e.g. Danish special forces supported by Indian, Russian and French ships).
Secretary General Rasmussen went so far as to suggest turning NATO into a framework for global security consultation beyond NATO members, on an ad-hoc basis, as is partly already done for non-NATO partners in the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. He was quick to underline that these activities are not meant for NATO to compete with the UN but should be thought of as a group of countries consulting and cooperating, to be more resolved, influential and effective when working at the global level through the UN.
At the current moment, though, NATO first needs to get its own house in order. Rasmussen admitted that the member states forces are not yet really joined up together in the field, and especially when it comes to civil-military collaboration as urgently needed in Afghanistan they also do not plan together. Also, frictions between EU and NATO continue to linger and hamper operational cooperation, and many NGOs still resent working with military counterparts. NATO needs to work towards overcoming this to deliver better results in its theatre of operations. Most urgently, to be able to transfer responsibilities to Afghan forces, as soon as conditions permit - a process to be initiated this year, according to Secretary-General Rasmussen.
The extended notion of security has highlighted the need to think in a wider context about security challenges. But as has become increasingly clear in the discussions at Munich against the backdrop of mounting budget deficits in NATO countries, there is an even more pressing requirement to not overburden NATO with demands on solving all these challenges. It remains an institution with a mission and capabilities centered on the military sphere, and all players need to remain cognizant of this when formulating their demands for the Alliance. NATO definitely must develop its interfaces with institutions covering other responsibilities like the EU, the UN or civilian NGOs. However, taking action on economic development and security, energy infrastructure or civilian reconstruction will have to remain within the scope of action of these players. Indeed, it is incumbent upon these organizations to scale up their institutional capabilities with expert staffs, adequate budgets and a habit of coordination and collaboration. NATO meanwhile must work to reform, refocus and strengthen its "core competencies".
"Mission creep" holds the threat of destroying faith in the Alliance abilities and continued relevance. At best, NATO may assume the role of a sort of "clearing house" for all kinds of security issues - but wanting to make it the core agent to tackle these issues is a recipe for disaster.
With demands on the Alliance multiplying, and expectations - and thereby the possibility to create many disappointed members - high, deciding what not to do is ever more important for NATO.
Conclusion: 2010 - a year of daunting challenges
Despite Ambassador Ischinger's laudable call to action, few of the concepts and ideas discussed actually promised to lend themselves to actionable follow-ups. On nuclear disarmament, the new positive spirit is encouraging but the difficulties immense, Russia´s proposals for a comprehensive European Security Architecture got caught up in a net of suspicions, and the glimpses of hope over new flexibility in Tehran´s position quickly vanished.
In the assessment of WSN's team on site in Munich, most participants agreed that 2010 holds serious challenges for NATO and its partners in Afghanistan and Iran. At the same time, NATO has to shoulder an enormous amount of "housekeeping" regarding its strategies, processes and capabilities. How the Alliance lives up to the expectations directed at it will be a harsh test for NATO's integrity and outlook.
On a final note, WSN would like to commend the efforts by the Munich Security Conference's Chairman Ambassador Wolfgang Ischinger for bringing the future leaders of the field into the fray. WSN shares this objective, and attempts to provide itself a platform for this purpose of "Networking a safer world". At this year's conference, there was a separate program for Munich Young Leaders ahead of the main event. 25 participants from 17 countries had been selected by MSC and the Körber Foundation which funds these efforts. In discussion rounds, presentations and informal gatherings, these emerging leaders in the foreign and security field from across the globe are more closely introduced to the established policy community.
But what about the large number of mid-level experts who are often the real content-providers and leaders behind the many activities making up NATO and other security institutions? The interaction and networking that the organisers want to make a hallmark of the Munich Young Leaders program provides an example. More informal meetings, dinner settings and evening events rather than the relatively scripted and passive receptions and dinners that now fill the evening program could provide the right environment for this purpose.
Just like large companies foster team-building and informal ties among young executives, the MSC is a huge opportunity for NATO and its outside partners to do the same - building confidence, establishing quick lines of communication and eventually enhancing the effectiveness of global security policy.
This WSN Newsletter is dedicated to our friend Ruediger Moniac. He was a long-time correspondent for defence and security affairs of Germany's "Die Welt" newspaper and Colonel of the Reserve, living in Bonn. For two decades, Mr Moniac promoted a strong NATO, was a reliable friend of the Bundeswehr and acted as the respected mentor of the defence journalist corps in Bonn, always aiming to help the public understand defence issues better by well-researched journalism.