What's Next For NATO: A 'Reboot Or Delete?'

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A C-130 cargo plane lands at the NATO airbase in Aviano, Italy in March. (AP)
A C-130 cargo plane lands at the NATO airbase in Aviano, Italy in March. (AP)

Here & Now Guest:

  • Sarwar Kashmeri, senior fellow in the Atlantic Council's International Security Program

The future of the Cold War alliance is very much up in the air as President Obama sketches out a plan for U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Congress debates Libya.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is blasting NATO as he goes out the door, but Ivo Daalder, the U.S. permanent representative for NATO, says the alliance is needed now more than ever.

Sarwar Kashmeri, a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council's International Security Program and author of "NATO 2.0: Reboot or Delete?" begs to differ. He told Here & Now's Robin Young, "It's time to recalibrate this European-American transatlantic security equations. We've transformed the G8 into the G20, why not NATO?"

Book Excerpt: "NATO 2.0: Reboot or Delete?"

By: Sarwar Kashmeri

NATO has been the world’s most successful military alliance. But what do we do with it now?

-  General Brent Scowcroft

Damon Wilson, Deputy Director of NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson’s Private Office at NATO headquarters in Brussels will never forget the frustration he felt that day as he saw the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 fly into the South Tower of the World Trade Center Buildings in New York.  It was 3.03 PM in Brussels, on September 11, 2001, in what had started out to be a quiet, uneventful day. Wilson remembers that Lord Robertson was in and out of the office attending a sequence of meetings, as his personal staff attended to the myriad of details that continuously find their way to NATO’s CEO.

News that that something highly unusual was taking place in New York began to filter into the office immediately after the North Tower of the World Trade Center was hit by the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11, some twenty minutes earlier. That is when Wilson and the rest of the staff moved into the private conference room attached to the Secretary General’s office and switched on the large television monitor.

The Secretary General’s office of the sprawling military alliance of eighteen (the alliance has since expanded to twenty eight countries) countries is a surprisingly small and tightly knit group. On September 11, 2001, besides Wilson, there was John Day, Director of the Private Office, Edgar Buckley, the Assistant Secretary General; and Steve Stern, the office Director: All Americans, glued to the unfolding horror of terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Wilson remembers being in shock as he watched the Towers collapse in a huge pall of smoke. “I have a lot of friends in Washington and New York, so I was immediately trying to get through to family members and close personal colleagues in government,” he says. “It was very difficult to get any connections and I remember feeling this sense of hopelessness…so far away from home…your country being attacked…what is to be done.”

NATO has a well oiled crisis management and security plan that had already been activated. Throughout Europe, NATO offices, military posts and command centers added layers of security and went into emergency operating mode. And in the Secretary General’s office the initial feeling of shock was giving way to a need to find a way to respond. “Here we were, sitting at NATO, the headquarters of a military alliance, whose leader has just been attacked. What can NATO do?”

And then a message popped up on Wilson’s computer screen: NATO should Invoke Article 5 of the NATO Treaty!

Article 5 of the alliance’s 1949 founding treaty is the pivot around which NATO’s power and mission revolves. It is the heart of the NATO alliance. This one for all and all for one declaration promises that an attack on any NATO member will be considered an attack on all its members. Never invoked, even in the darkest days of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, here finally was the opportunity for NATO to demonstrate its power, continuing relevance, and oiled decision making machinery. It was time for NATO to stand-shoulder-to shoulder with one of its members and give notice that in its response to the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, the United States would not fight alone. It would have the combined might of all the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization fighting with it.

But would the allies take this momentous step?

On the other side of the NATO headquarters building, Nick Burns, the American Ambassador to NATO was asking himself the same question. Burns recalls being at lunch when his driver brought word that an aircraft had crashed into one of the World Trade Center building. “We thought it was an accident or something,” Burns said. “But by the end of the lunch, as other information streamed in, we knew that a horrific crime had been committed.”

As the American delegation tried to put the pieces together to figure out who had perpetrated this horrific act, Burns recalled a telephone call from David Wright, the Canadian Ambassador to NATO.  Wright believed the Americans should request an invocation of Article 5, and he, Wright, felt there was a good chance the allies would get on board.

“I was the newcomer to NATO, having just arrived there,” Burns told me. “And Wright was the Dean of NATO’s diplomatic corps, having served there the longest, so we decided to go for it.”  Burns called Condoleeza Rice, Chairman of the White House National Security Council, to make sure the Bush Administration agreed with the plan.

“Condi told me she would brief the President and the Cabinet, but felt we should go ahead because it would be a huge psychological boost for the American people if they got up in the morning and found out that all eighteen NATO allies had thrown their support behind the United States. And that’s what we did.”

So many things were happening at once that afternoon that he cannot be sure, but Wilson believes it was Stern, the office Director who thought up the Article 5 idea in the Secretary General’s office.. “When I and the other members of the office saw Stern’s message on the screen, we knew that was what the response had to be, and it galvanized us into action.,” Damon says.

Lord Robertson, to his credit, immediately recognized the enormous importance of NATO showing solidarity with the America’s hour of peril and need. “He showed real leadership,” Damon says, “because we knew it would be virtually impossible to get through the normal State Department, Defense Department, White House, chain of command in this emergency.. If it was going to be done, Lord Robertson would have to drive it, and he did.” Damon, of course, had no way of knowing that Rice and Burns had already short-circuited the chain of command.

Later that evening, at a meeting of all the NATO ambassadors, Burns would formally table America’s request to invoke Article 5, with a request that the ambassadors return with a decision the next day.

Decisions in NATO are made by consensus, in the North Atlantic Council. The NAC (pronounced “Nack” by everyone in the alliance) is the alliance’s top decision making body and on it sit ambassadors representing every member nation. Each of them would have to consult their nation’s leader before giving their approval to the unprecedented step of invoking Article 5 for the very first time. Lord Robertson and his staff hit the telephones to start building consensus to insure every NATO country agreed with the Article 5 decision. The Secretary General set up an emergency meeting of the NAC for the evening of September 12, with a press conference to follow.

Wilson remembers the whirlwind of activity in the Secretary General’s office that followed. “We were on the phone to London, Germany, Paris, getting hold of presidents, prime ministers, defense ministers, anyone and everyone, to make sure each country’s representative would have the authority to say yes to the Article 5 decision,” Wilson recalls.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a bottleneck.

The Belgian government could not come to an agreement to join the decision. “It was potentially a catastrophe in the making,” Wilson remembers, “the Belgian cabinet was locked in fierce debate and could not agree on a course of action.” Finally, Robertson stepped in, telephoned Guy Verhofstadt, the Prime Minister of Belgium, and insisted his call be taken by the Prime Minister in the middle of the Cabinet debate. Robertson forcefully reminded the Belgians that NATO was founded to help protect countries like Belgium from Russian troops rolling over them, and now Belgium was refusing to stand by the United States, and breaking unanimity on invoking Article 5. It was disgraceful, the Secretary General told the Belgian Cabinet. The pressure worked, “…and we got the Belgians to shut down the debate and green-light the decision for the NAC meeting the next day,” Wilson says.

After its meeting the next day, the NAC began to draft its decision to invoke Article 5. It declared that in the United States time of need, “… America can rely on its eighteen Allies in North America and Europe for assistance and support. NATO solidarity remains the essence of our Alliance. Our message to the people of the United States is that we are with you. Our message to those who perpetrated these unspeakable crimes is equally clear: you will not get away with it.” After half a century of planning to respond to just such a moment, like a coiled spring, the gears of NATO’s military machine meshed into action, through the mechanism of Article 5 of its founding Treaty.

As the press release was being finalized for the world’s media, there arose another unexpected bottleneck.

NATO’s lawyers had discovered that a legal technicality needed resolution before this weighty clause could be invoked. The lawyers insisted that Article 5 only applied to aggression from outside the borders of the NATO countries, and pending a confirmation that it was an outside force that was responsible for the attacks on America, NATO could not invoke the mutual defense clause.  Robertson’s, press announcement would have to be held up.

But NATO members believed it was far too important to show their outrage at the terrorist acts committed against the United States, and the members’ solidarity with America to hold up the press conference.  They would invoke Article 5 conditionally pending confirmation of the source of the attacks. And so they did. NATO’s first ever Article 5 declaration bowed to the alliance’s lawyers with a final sentence that read, “If it is determined that this attack was directed from abroad against the United States, it shall be regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty…"  [1]

Don Murray, reporting for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation summed up the mood after the Article 5 announcement.  “…it won’t just be the United States looking to avenge Tuesday’s terror attacks,  behind the United States will be the eighteen other member nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization…NATO members now consider an attack against one of them to be an attack against all of them.” [2]

It was a milestone in NATO’s history. It was a historic decision for NATO, laden with existential consequences for the Alliance that were not then apparent. But on that fateful day, September 12, 2001, NATO stepped up to the plate and acted in the best tradition of the transatlantic Alliance.

The CBC’s Don Murray[3] did comment on the considerable historically irony of NATO’s first use of Article 5. “Originally, Article 5 was designed to bring the United States to the aid of Europe if it was attacked by the Soviet Empire,” he reported, “instead as the American  President talks about the first war of the twenty-first century, the Article is being invoked to bring Europe to the aid of the United States.”

Within days the United States had found out that the 9/11 attacks were committed by members of the global terrorist organization, al-Qaida, headquartered in Afghanistan and acting under the protection of the Taliban regime. That sealed the deal with NATO, and on October 2, 2009, at a special press conference, NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson announced that since it had been determined that the attacks had been directed from abroad, they were regarded as an action covered by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. He was careful to point out “…at present, it was premature to speculate on what military action would be taken by the alliance, be it individually or collectively.” But lest there be any doubt about the Alliance’s commitment, Robertson went on to “…reiterate that the United States of America can rely on the full support of its eighteen NATO allies in the campaign against terrorism.”[4]

On October 9, 2001, NATO “operationalized” Article 5 by agreeing to a number of specific actions including the provision of  blanket over-flight clearances for the aircraft of the United States and other allies, enhanced intelligence sharing and co-operation, increased security for facilities of the United States and other allies on European territory, and access for the United States and other allies to ports and airfields on the territory of NATO nations for operations against terrorism, including refueling.

By October 9, 2001, the first of five NATO Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft began deploying to the United States to free up American aircraft for the war against al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.[5]

Warships from nine NATO countries pooled together into the Standing Naval Force Mediterranean (STANAVFORMED), and steamed out to new battle stations in the eastern Mediterranean. The naval squadron provided a perfect example of how NATO combines assets from member countries to meet its defense responsibilities. STANAVFORMED’s flagship HMS Chatham, a Frigate, from the UK, led the German Frigate, FGS Bayern;  Greek Destroyer, HS Formion; the Italian Frigate, ITS Aliseo; Dutch Frigate, HNLMS Van Nes; the Spanish Frigate, SPS Santa Maria; the Turkish Frigate, TCG Giresun; the American Frigate, USS Elrod; backed up by an Auxiliary Oiler from German, FGS Rhoen.[6]

In the history of NATO the concept of Article 5 takes center stage. The economy and industry in most of continental Europe had been destroyed during the Second World War. Even the economy of Britain, part of the allied victory team, was on its knees. In this weakened position Western Europe now faced an existential threat from an aggressive Soviet Union that had begun to subjugate countries on its border and absorb them into the Soviet empire.

NATO was created to harness America’s might to help defend Western Europe against the Soviet empire’s aggressive ambitions. Article 5 raised the bar for any Soviet invasion of Europe to a virtually un-scalable level. In unambiguous terms, Article 5 warned any would be aggressor that NATO would consider an attack on any NATO member as though it was an attack on every member. An attack on tiny Luxembourg, for instance, would be treated as an attack on the territory of Germany, Britain, or the United States.

Article 5 directly connected America’s power and resources to the defense of Europe and was the fulcrum around which NATO would execute its defensive mission. It was the deterrent threat embodied in NATO’s Article 5, backed up by American power, that had ensured the Cold War remained cold.

The awesome industrial power of the United States and NATO’s Article 5 check-mated the aggressive designs of the Soviet Union. The Soviets simply could not take the risk of picking a war with the United States. In the end, thanks to the threat of Article 5, and structural weaknesses within the Soviet Union, the Communist state collapsed without NATO ever having fired a shot.

That Article 5 had never been used during the Cold War is why NATO’s invoking it after 9/11 had so much symbolism for the Euro-Atlantic countries. Just the act of invoking Article 5 sent a clear signal to the world that twenty-five years after the collapse of the Soviet Union the transatlantic alliance was still relevant and in good shape. The Europeans were ready to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with their American cousins. France’s popular daily, Le Monde, summed it up for the world to see, with its editorial on September 12, 2001. “In this tragic moment, when words seem so inadequate to express the shock people feel, the first thing that comes to mind is this: We are all Americans!,” the newspaper proclaimed.[7][1]

What NATO did not then know was that in its flurry of activity to invoke Article 5 it had already reached the limits of what it could do to help the United States. The supply of adrenalin that 9/11 had injected into NATO’s veins had just about run its course. America would soon make it clear that it had no interest in using NATO to dispense justice on the 9/11 perpetrators. All that trouble NATO’s members had gone through to invoke Article-5 within a day of 9/11 had been for naught

Three weeks later when the United States went to war in Afghanistan it did so by itself. NATO’s offer to execute an “Article 5” action, to send NATO forces to avenge the attack on a NATO member was cavalierly dismissed by the United States. Paul Wolfowitz, United States Deputy Secretary of Defense came down to a NAC meeting in September and brusquely told America’s allies that, thanks but no thanks, it is too hard to integrate the alliance’s forces, America is going into Afghanistan by itself. “We had a disastrous NAC,” Wilson says. I can’t imagine why!

But there was more to come. Wolfowitz’s boss, Donald Rumsfeld, the American Defense Secretary came to the NAC meeting in December 2001. To Robertson’s plea to let America’s NATO allies help the United States by going into Afghanistan as an alliance, Rumsfeld briskly announced that it really was not necessary, because America was going to be out of Afghanistan in three months, by March of the following year. To add insult to injury Rumsfeld said there might be a need for NATO to help America clean up after the fighting.

Robertson literally almost fell out his chair, Wilson recalls. “What unbelievable hubris,” Wilson remembers thinking to himself at the meeting, here we were in December of 2001, the Taliban had just been routed, and the Defense Secretary of the United States was saying American forces would be home by March of 2002.”

The message from the United States to its NATO allies could not have been clearer: that while it appreciated the alliance’s offers of support, and was grateful for the small naval flotilla in the Mediterranean and the AWACS airplanes, when there was real fighting to be done, America would go it alone. Going to war together with its allies America judged, would be more of a hindrance than a help. An incredible statement considering that alliance had been practicing to battle together as an integrated force for sixty years.

It was as though the famous motto of the Three Musketeers—one for all and all for one—had counted for naught. After practicing for years to fight together, at the first sign of danger, their leader d’Artagnan had waved to his fellow swordsmen, and then with a hearty “thanks but no thanks,” had taken off to do battle by himself.

It was a revealing glimpse into the real state of the transatlantic military alliance on which the members had spent billions of dollars and untold amounts of political capital. If NATO’s first ever invocation of Article 5 had suddenly yanked the military alliance back from obscurity and planted it on the world’s media headlines, America’s dismissal of the Alliance as unworkable sent a clear public message that America no longer considered NATO to be its premier platform for fighting today’s wars.

A fault line was now visible in NATO’s steely exterior. It was to widen in the lead-up to America’s invasion of Iraq two years later. This time it was NATO that would repay the compliment. Despite repeated please from its leader, the alliance would refuse to go to war in Iraq to support America.

During the United Nations debate on the reasons for invading Iraq, as differences appeared within NATO ranks about the justification for invading a sovereign country, the European members of NATO were startled to discover that the American Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, believed there really were two Europes: An old Europe, and a new Europe.

The “new Europe” as defined by the Americans, contained NATO members that agreed with the United States that the invasion of Iraq, a sovereign country, could proceed without the authorization of the United Nations or consensus among NATO members. All that was necessary was for America to say it was the right thing to do.

On the other hand, “old-Europe”, the United States explained, contained all the ancient, rusty European nations that lived in the backwaters of geopolitics, and cared more for United Nations mandates and NATO consensus, than for following the United States into war without any ifs, ands, or buts.

And so it came to pass, two years after overlooking NATO and invading Afghanistan by itself, the United States ignored the United Nations, and the advice of many of its NATO partners, and invaded Iraq.  The fact that some of NATO’s largest and most important members, such as Germany and France, had serious misgivings about the justification for the invasion, had not influenced America’s decision.

In the end NATO decided not to participate in the Iraq war. The United States went ahead with the campaign using individual NATO members who had decided to join the invasion. The open split in the alliance’s ranks was yet another sobering reminder about NATO’s fall from grace.

But the emergence of fault lines in NATO’s steely exterior was not yet over.

Part of America’s invasion strategy involved pouring troops into Iraq through Turkey, one of NATO’s oldest and most reliable members. The trouble was, no one on the invasion team had bothered to consult the Turks about using their country to invade one of its neighbors. It had simply not occurred to anyone to pave the way with the Turkish government and to seek permission from the Turkish Parliament. It was simply assumed that a military request from another NATO member, especially the United States, would never be turned down.

It was the wrong assumption to make.

Rebuffing the heavy-handed pressure to simply accept America’s war plans, the Turkish parliament denied the use of Turkish soil for the invasion.[8] Another major fault line had opened up in NATO. But this fault line is only the visible part of a number of related issues with potentially dangerous implications for NATO and the wider transatlantic alliance.

Turkey is a republic in which the vast majority of citizens are Muslims. The governing party, now reelected twice, is openly Islamist, meaning it draws its inspiration from the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. However, Islam is not, and under Turkey’s secular constitution, cannot be, the official state religion. Turkey serves as a powerful model for Muslim countries of the Middle East. After all, for six hundred years, the Ottoman Empire was the largest in the world, and its ruler, was the Caliph of the world’s Muslims. The Ottoman Empire is now long gone, but Turkey is the inheritor of that history, and the cache. Its very name has a special meaning for Muslims around the world.

Turkey is in the process of joining the European Union. It was invited to join the European Union 11 years ago, but lately the Europeans have been sending strong signals that they are rethinking their invitation to Turkey. Why? Because, the countries opposed to membership (they include France and Germany), claim Turkey is “not suited for EU membership”[9]. The change in opinion used to be phrased more subtly, but has lately become much more overt. If Turkey is refused membership into the European Union, how will this play out in the halls of NATO?  Will the Turks ask why if they are good enough to lay their lives on the line for NATO are they not good enough to join the European Union? Will another fault line appear in NATO’s structure?

And what about growing number of Europeans of Turkish descent? How will they react to NATO’s long war in Muslim lands? On the other hand, Europe, as we shall see in Chapter 6, has around 3 million Turkish immigrants, [10] and as this voting constituency increases in importance, Europe’s elected officials will need to give its sensitivities growing attention. What might the impact of this constituency be on the alliance’s future?

In the nineteen-nineties, under strong pressure from the United States, NATO decided to become involved in Bosnia and Kosovo, the alliance’s first military missions outside the territory of NATO members. Although controversial, these missions did succeed in restoring stability to problems in NATO’s backyard. More importantly, the Bosnia and Kosovo missions helped NATO take the first steps in recognizing that it could move beyond its historical defensive mission, and become a force for crisis management operations. This out-of-area role was formally adopted by NATO in 1999, and made a part of its New Strategic Concept, a mission statement that the alliance re-calibrates every ten years.

The adoption of its out-of-area role is what led NATO to Afghanistan, where the alliance leads the International Security Assistance Force set up the United Nations to stabilize Afghanistan. NATO asked for and received command of the ISAF in 2003. Though NATO had It is the alliance’s first attempt at deploying thousands of miles away from Europe, and it is not going well. NATO has struggled to perform the Afghanistan mission has revealed serious structural problems that were largely invisible during NATO’s Cold War period. In spite of the bravery and sacrifice shown by individual soldiers from NATO countries, the performance of the alliance as a whole has been far from inspiring. “Most European nations are spending less on defense than they promised and are avoiding the main battles in Afghanistan,” R. Nicholas Burns, the former American ambassador to NATO and now a professor at Harvard says[11]. Afghanistan may yet be the end of NATO’s global crisis management aspirations.

As an illustration, on September 5, 2009, two fuel trucks hijacked by the Taliban were stuck knee-deep in mud four miles south of Kunduz. From his intelligence sources, Colonel Georg Klein, Commanding Officer of NATO’s German troops deployed in Afghanistan, knew that in a matter of hours the trucks would be converted into gigantic bombs capable of blowing up thousands of troops under his command. For now, fortuitously, the trucks were mired in the river.

At his direction, a United States Air Force F-15 E strike fighter circling the tankers began to relay live video feed, and on their glowing screens Colonel Klein and his officers could see the trucks surrounded by scores of people. The Colonel’s intelligence on the ground confirmed they were Taliban, trying to free the trucks. Trusting his battlefield instincts and his intelligence, Colonel Klein ordered the jet fighter to attack. Within seconds a precision guided 500 pound bomb hit each tanker.

The resulting firestorm could be seen for miles. The trucks and the dots disappeared from the Colonel’s radar screen. It was an awesome demonstration of modern war, and NATO’s interoperability—the ability of troops from many countries to act as one integrated fighting machine.  What the Colonel could not then see was another firestorm that would hit him broadside within hours. This one would come from his own country.

Among the 125 people killed by the bombs were dozens of civilians. As NATO began an investigation into the Colonel’s bombing decision, prosecutors in Potsdam—headquarters for the German Army—began their own investigation: to determine whether Colonel Klein should be charged with homicide. Under German law its forces can only be deployed for peace-keeping; America might be at war in Afghanistan, but Germany is not. Now a German Colonel had violated the condition under which German troops were sent to Afghanistan. Colonel Klein had forgotten that he may parade with a NATO army but not fight with it.

Germany is not the only country that sets strict conditions on its NATO troops. Half of the allied forces in Afghanistan operate under restricted battlefield conditions. General Eisenhower stormed the beaches of Normandy with an allied army that followed his every command. In Afghanistan, General McChrystal must consult a checklist for each mission to figure out with which allied soldiers he can fight.

Differences between NATO members that are not part of the European Union add another fault line to the alliance’s Afghan force. Take the case of Turkey, a NATO member but not in the European Union; and (Greek) Cyprus, a European Union member but not in NATO. The European Union is in charge of training Afghanistan’s police. Turkey refuses to let NATO provide protection, against Taliban attacks, to the European Union’s police training mission because Cyprus has blocked Turkey’s path to European Union membership.

NATO’s internal disagreements have also introduced an element of instability into Euro-Atlantic relations. Within days of the Kunduz airstrike, German ambassadors fanned out in important NATO and European Union member states to stop fellow NATO nations from criticizing the controversial airstrike. The disagreement between NATO members played out publicly and embarrassingly in media reports.

A spokesman for the German foreign ministry, Jens Ploetner, told the Financial Times in Berlin that in the face of public criticism of Germany by its NATO partners, German ambassadors in important NATO and EU member states had launched diplomatic protests with the governments of those countries. The errant members were quick to retort. “What should a minister say if such an attack kills 80 and there are civilians among them? Nothing?” The German government also confirmed reports that it would send its own investigation team to "accompany" the NATO probe into the airstrike. He rejected speculation that the team would try to correct NATO's review of what actually happened in Kunduz. "You don't need to correct anything when there's nothing to be corrected," Raabe said at a press conference.[12]

Against this backdrop of a misfiring alliance, the people in NATO countries have become increasingly skeptical about the nine-year old, seemingly endless, war in Afghanistan. Fierce opposition to NATO’s request to extend the deployment of two thousand Dutch troops beyond 2010 led to the collapse of the Dutch government on February 19, 2010, dooming the fourth largest Allied troop commitment in Afghanistan. Even as NATO’s Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen promises that the alliance will be in Afghanistan for as long as it takes, over sixty percent of America’s NATO allies now want their forces in Afghanistan severely reduced or removed altogether.

The truth, which remains buried under shining uniforms and grand military titles, is that NATO today is an increasingly dysfunctional shadow of what it used to be before the Cold War—when it was rightly called the world’s most formidable military alliance. Today, NATO is “…faltering…its being hollowed out and not performing up to par,” Burns says[13]. No wonder then, the alliance’s  dreams of adopting an “out of area” mission are withering in the mountains of Afghanistan.

Colonel Klein had inadvertently cracked open a window into the house of NATO. And the view inside was not pretty. With Western economies in financial freefall, as more people understand its diminished status, how long can NATO dodge tough questions from the taxpayer? Especially considering a younger generation for whom the phrases “Cold War” and “Soviet Union” are a distant memory, and who are now witnessing the evolution of the European Union’s own military arm, the Common Security and Defense Policy, or CSDP.

CSDP arrived on the scene a decade ago and in spite of its infancy sent shockwaves through the NATO establishment. Alarm bells went off in the United States about the new comer into the Euro-Atlantic security sand box, NATO circled the wagons and fenced off the playground.

As Chapter 5 recounts, the newcomer, under strong American pressure, had to agreed to strict rules about when and how it could deploy its missions. NATO had first rights of refusal on missions, and CSDP was prohibited from setting up its own planning and control staffs, lest it go off on its own and become an even more serious competitor to its older brother. The paranoia at NATO was so intense that when CSDP deployed a small French peacekeeping mission to the Congo, without consulting NATO and under the European Union flag, it caused the alliance to panic and cancel another well publicized collaborative mission between the two organizations.

Nevertheless, as Chapter 5 will explain, even though it is not the smoothest of relationships, ESDP and NATO have now coexisted for over a decade. During this time, even though CSDP is far smaller with relatively minimal funding, it has made significant progress. For example a CSDP naval flotilla patrols the coast of Somalia to offer protection against pirates. And ESDP has already deployed 24 missions over its short lifetime, including a 3,700 person military mission to Chad, no small undertaking.

Most members of NATO are also part of the European Union, and that results in another fault line. The European Union has brought European nations together into an ever closer political, financial, and economic union. But the same members act with like separate countries within NATO. They un-integrate themselves for NATO decision making. It was part of the rules established by NATO for ESDP to play on the Euro-Atlantic playground that used to belong totally to NATO.

This arrangement to force the European Union states to un-integrate themselves when wearing their NATO hats is the only way America can control the direction of NATO. Otherwise it would always be outvoted by the EU block.[14]

For a number of reasons, however, the clock is running out on these archaic arrangements in which two security establishments vie for primacy to provide security for the Euro-Atlantic.

First, unlike NATO’s first foray outside Europe, none of the missions launched by ESDP has encountered the skepticism and disillusionment in Europe that NATO has engendered by its Afghan deployment. The Afghan mission is vastly different in size from the ESDP missions, but in terms of cohesion, public support, and lack of infighting, CSDP is very successful.

Second, America’s leadership of NATO took a big hit after its perceived unilateral approach to Iraq and the attempts to divide Europeans and disregard the United Nations, as well as the subsequent revelations of secret prisons and accusations of torture. Europeans seem less interested in taking directions from America now.

Last, faced with the global financial meltdown and the deepest economic recession since 1929, the United States will soon have to review its huge and growing global commitments. “Set thine house in order,” Professor Andrew Bacevich of Boston University, advises America quoting from the Bible.[15] This sentiment would find its way to President Obama’s speech delivered on November 25, 2009, at the United States Military Academy, West Point. “As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means, or our interests,” the President said. “Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry.[16]

In other words, the day of reconciling objectives to reality is around the corner for the Euro-Atlantic allies. And in the reconciliation it is inconceivable that the need for the permanent existence of two European security organizations, with potential duplication of resources and assets, will not be questioned.

It will not be sufficient, in my opinion, to simply say that NATO has kept Europe and North America safe for sixty years and so should go on. After all, NATO’s threat for most of those sixty years—the Soviet Union—is no more. And the broken and shattered Europe of the 1940s is now the European Union, arguably the most successful geopolitical project of the last century. The European Union feels it needs a diplomatic and security arm of its own.

The European Union is not exempt from the laws of economics either. Though the role envisaged for CSDP by the Europeans is more limited in scope, the financial and manpower pressures weigh also on the European Union’s plans.

CSDP, however, continues to grow and successfully execute its tasks. The recently passed Lisbon Treaty gives even greater powers to CSDP, not only to deploy missions, but also to follow through with nation building and security projects. The real differentiator is that CSDP is embedded in a political entity—the European Union. That gives it a diplomatic clout on the world stage that NATO cannot match. This clout will continue to grow as the European Union grows and makes its presence increasingly felt in the corridors of power around the world.

So where does all this leave NATO? It is a question that will be asked throughout this book.

In spite of its fault lines, NATO is a full service organization with numerous tested and ready to use competencies. One of these competencies, the ability to organize and respond to a crisis thousands of miles from its headquarters was on full display during NATO’s speedy response to the calamitous earthquake that hit Pakistan on October 8, 2005. Over 80,000 people were killed in the tragedy that was located in an inhospitable mountainous region. Another three million were left without food or water. NATO responded to the tragedy within 3 days of being asked for help by the Pakistani Government, and did a magnificent job saving lives, rebuilding, and tending to the wounded.

Air bridges were set up from Germany and Turkey to ferry relief goods and supplies. Under Spanish command, NATO’s boots on the ground included Spanish and Polish engineer units, an Italian heavy construction equipment unit, British engineers that specialized in high-altitude relief work, a NATO field hospital led by the Dutch Army and including Czech, French, Portuguese and British personnel, three Lithuanian and one Spanish water purification teams, two civil-military cooperation teams from Slovenia and France. Ultimately some 1000 NATO personnel and over 200 medical specialists worked in Pakistan during the operation. [17]

Complex operations like these do not just happen, they require training, field deployment exercises, detailed contingency planning, and an officer corps that is able to work easily with unites from a number of countries—a NATO core competency because of its multinational membership.

NATO also has an enviable record when it comes to creating networks of military officers from dozens of countries, in creating standardized operating procedures, provide collaborative training and deployment exercises, and sharing intelligence. Armies from Canada to Estonia create field instructions using NATO standard forms to ensure that multinational forces that might have to be deployed together can operate together

NATO’s Allied Command Transformation, based in Norfolk, Virginia has become the Alliance’s network to absorb lessons learnt, improve equipment and procedures, and respond to commanders in the field as they seek practical solutions to battlefield problems.

“I have attended many NATO-organized meetings, and they are full of knowledgeable, important people, diplomats, political leaders, military officers,” one of Turkey’s best known foreign policy professionals, Professor Ersin Onunduran of Istanbul University told me. “Every body talks about common problems, shares knowledge, discusses deficiencies. I would say it NATO did not exist they would have to invent one.”

As the German Marshall Fund has documented over and over again, citizens of Europe and of North America continue to have warm feelings for NATO—the embodiment of the transatlantic security relationship. This trend continues in the Fund’s annual publication, Transatlantic Trends 2009, NATO was seen as essential by 58% of respondents in the European Union and Turkey and 62% of Americans. So the question about NATO’s future is ultimately linked to the health of the wider transatlantic alliance that encompasses that dense network of business, cultural, emotional, and security links between Europe and the United States.

The wider transatlantic alliance is more necessary than ever in a rapidly changing and interconnected world, with dramatically different security threats, and emerging challenges from countries that will soon become global economic behemoths. These rapidly emerging power centers may or may not share the entire spectrum of liberal beliefs in democracy, human rights, and the place of the individual in society that underpin the values and principles of America and European countries. Nor should they, seeing that each comes to the world stage inspired by its own history and experience. It is as guides, mentors, and influencers, that the United States and Europe can help smooth the rise of these emerging economic and political powerhouses by sharing their own experiences.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke eloquently about this continuing relevance of, and need for, the transatlantic alliance in Washington, DC during the summer of 2009 when she said,

“For me, the special feature of this transatlantic partnership is our sharing of the same fundamental values, meaning we do not have to endlessly debate our interpretation of human rights and respect for the dignity of the person. Our common ground is the sharing of these fundamental values – something that goes for every partnership between German Federal Chancellors and American Presidents, and likewise for partnerships all the way down to the level of members of parliament and local politicians in the states of the Union and the German Länder. The dignity of every individual human being is our benchmark.[18]

It is for the overriding reason that NATO is still an important part of the structure that holds the transatlantic alliance together, that the alliance must reinvent itself to serve the needs of a new millennium. It is an imperative for leaders in North America and Europe. But this will not be achievable unless the wider public, on both sides of the Atlantic, understands what ails NATO today, and agrees on steps to recalibrate the alliance for the twenty-first century.

That is the purpose for which this book was written.

Copyright Potomac Books Inc. (April 11, 2011)


[1] Statement by the North Atlantic Council, September 12, 2001.

[2] Article 5 and 9/11 by Don Murray.  CBC Archives.

[3] Ibid

[4] Statement by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson, October 2, 2001.

[5] NATO Early Warning Aircraft Begin Deploying To The United States. NATO/SHAPE News Release.

[6] NATO Naval Force Deploys To Eastern Mediterranean. AFSouth Press Release.

[7] We Are All Americans, by Jean-Marie Colombani, Le Monde (liberal), Paris, France, Sept. 12, 2001.

[8] The New Turkish Republic by Graham E. Fuller. United States Institute for Peace, Press, Washington, D.C. 2008

[9] Turkey's EU bid overshadows Angela Merkel visit, BBC News, Monday, March 29, 2010.

[10] Turks in Europe, Ural Manco, CIE, Brussels

[11] European Woo U.S. Promising Relevance, by Steven Erlanger, International Herald Tribune, March 28, 2010.

[12] Deutsche Welle,, November 9, 2009.,,4678671,00.html

[13] European Woo U.S. Promising Relevance, by Steven Erlanger, International Herald Tribune, March 28, 2010.

[14] Last Alliance Standing? NATO after 9/11, by John R. Schmidt. The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2006-7.

[15] The Limits of Power; The End of American Eceptionalism, by Andrew J. Baceich. Metropolitan Books, New York, 2008.

[16] Full Transcript: President Obama’s Speech on Afghanistan. ABC News/Politics.

[17] NATO Relief Operatons, NATO website.

[18] Speech by German Chancellor Merkel on receiving the Eric M. Warburg Award in Washington, DC. July 15, 2009. eGov Monitor, London, UK.

This segment aired on June 23, 2011.


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