NATO’s Future: It’s Far from the North Atlantic
2014 Global Defense Burden Essay Contest Second-Place Winner, Sponsored by Finmeccanica North America As the old adage goes, there’s no truth in advertising, and the “North Atlantic Treaty Organization” is becoming a misnomer. Its member states are unified by their belief in “the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law,” not by an arbitrary body of water that its founding members happened to straddle 65 years ago. Recognizing globalization’s threats and seeking strategic depth in a fast-paced world, NATO now operates far afield, increasingly remote from the Atlantic. Founded in 1949 as a counterbalance to the Iron Curtain, NATO is traditionally concerned with the integrity and security of its now-28 member states. But as technology has increasingly interconnected the globe, NATO has shifted its focus to threats well beyond its traditional Europe–North America confines, engaging in anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean, military cooperation with the African Union, and, most strikingly, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan. Of equal concern, NATO will increasingly be dealing with internal and transnational threats such as cyber warfare, the Internet of things (the actual devices that are linked by the Internet’s infrastructure), and homegrown jihadists.Referring to the alliance as being European or North American is also misleading because non-members such as Australia, Mongolia, and South Korea contribute forces to ISAF. These allies have given substantial assistance in many forms, including manpower, technology, practices, funding, and legitimacy. Non-members in today’s multipolar world may find their values and fortunes so inexorably linked to NATO’s that they would benefit from closer, even formal ties, including full membership. Expanding the organization would enable effective sharing of missions, intelligence, technology, and risk, just as full members enjoy now.But to accomplish this will require significant time, understanding, and statecraft. There are no easy fixes. In these times of profound uncertainty, only all-encompassing strategic plans that explore multiple opportunities will suffice. As a few members join from areas remote from the North Atlantic, others will follow suit. The misnomer will matter less as global expectations of behavior solidify, and would-be aggressors, now literally beset on all sides by a reinvigorated alliance, will be reined in.NATO’s Article 5 assures collective defense of members against an armed attack, but, as many current or hopeful member states realize, it does not offer protection against “unarmed attacks” such as intellectual-property theft by proxies of China’s People’s Liberation Army, sectarian strife fomented by internal fundamentalists, or economic warfare waged by Russian kleptocracy. Although events in Ukraine and the concerns of Eastern European members have reinforced the organization’s raison d'être, the expanding array of threats demands careful consideration of corresponding countermeasures.More Than a Military AllianceNATO, through the North Atlantic Council, is also a political body. Through Article 12 of the North Atlantic Treaty, it can review and reconsider parts of its charter with “regard for the factors then affecting peace and security.” Like all living agreements, this can be adapted to the spirit of the times. Under North Atlantic Council guidance, NATO has expanded six times from 1952 to 2009. Through such instruments as the Partnership for Peace and the Membership Action Plan, the capabilities of applicant states and their relations with old-guard members can be brought in line with Article 10 requirements for full membership.Both the military and political concerns of NATO are increasingly undergirded (at times undermined) by economic realities: a global recession that ploughed a rift between northern and southern Europe; a reluctance of member states, decried by outgoing Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to pony up 2 percent of their gross domestic product as baseline funding; and of course, the expense of Afghanistan, the much-hackneyed “graveyard of empires” that has defeated outsiders not so much through organized military skill as through difficult terrain and the logistical expense of fielding armies. The benefits of the globalized economy—cost efficiency, innovation, nimble industrial infrastructure, improved competition, and easy technology transfer—are only one side of the coin. On the flip side are those thorny problems that asymmetrically bedevil NATO’s security posture: energy insecurity, porous borders, cyber attack, transnational crime and narcotics, tidal waves of immigration, and new ways to move and hide money. Securing itself against such threats becomes doubly difficult for NATO, which must communicate securely across borders and languages while also being held to the legal standards of nation-states that many new enemies have eschewed.The United States, which contributes 22 percent of NATO’s common costs for headquarters and infrastructure as well as 70 percent of real-world operational expenditures, is not immune to the pain of years of prolonged conflict and recession. With U.S. and NATO economic limitations growing more apparent, priorities must be reevaluated. Regardless of their political bent, U.S. leaders recognize that the United States cannot do it all, and that enhanced teamwork through networked regional agreements is necessary.Even a cursory review of current events demonstrates that NATO is still needed. Despite a few name changes, a recidivist Russia continues to threaten, cajole, and otherwise perturb its neighbors. NATO must heed the clarion call and transform itself in ways that will limit future crises by retooling its Response Force and shifting forces east.On another front, Europe, divested of many postcolonial obligations, now has a potent immigrant population with disparate values. The “face” of Europe has changed dramatically, while policy falls behind. It is time for NATO to catch up with the rest of the world, shrug off its “North Atlantic” mindset, and make an asset rather than a liability of its newfound diversity.Painfully interwoven with Europe is a shambles whose boundaries Europeans drew and that Europeans named the Middle East. Syria continues its slow-motion implosion, its leader surviving by juxtaposing himself with the slightly more abhorrent alternative of the Islamic State. Many IS fighters hail from the Islamic European diaspora and may easily return home to clone their virulence. Extreme forms of Islam are far from being in remission, having metastasized stealthily to the Philippines and flamboyantly to West Africa. Governance, health issues, and human-rights abuses continue to emanate from Africa, while gains in Afghanistan remain shaky.China, Iran, and North Korea all have hegemonic aspirations and anti-Western agendas. What was once a predictable South and Central American narcotics trade challenge, with associated guerilla and gang flavors, has reached full boil in U.S. border debates and humanitarian crises. Sprinkle in the cyber attack, insecurity about weapons of mass destruction, and energy dependence on Russia and the Middle East, and NATO is left with a truly nauseating dish. Operating under a torpid recovery from the worst economic recession in memory, NATO faces the conundrum of increased demand and decreased supply. Defense as a service has become an exceedingly precious commodity.Effective responses to such perplexing problems will be logical, efficient, and all-encompassing. Stovepiped partnerships must give way to networked, matrixed, tailorable arrangements. Parochialism must be supplanted by inclusiveness. Again, NATO is bound by shared belief, not limited by geography. One does not dissuade adversaries by stubborn occupation of the same land in perpetuity, but by maneuver, surprise, and envelopment. Throwing money at the problem is only a partial solution.Rasmussen asked for 2 percent of each member’s GDP, adding that some should contribute more. “NATO is an insurance policy,” he said, and “members must pay their premiums.”1 The defense that NATO supplies is a public good that goes far beyond its members’ borders; it is a common defense of the global commons.But NATO is more than an insurance policy. It is a club, in both senses of the word: a cudgel and a cabal. And because its members are countries, it is not a stretch to consider NATO a “country club” in the sense of being a select, highly sought-after society that many wish to join. Like organizations such as this, NATO has its foibles, biases, and prejudices. Financially, country clubs generally have three simple options when they run into trouble: they close, increase dues (Rasmussen’s approach), or increase membership, often to the consternation of some “gray-haired” members. Application fees may be adjusted within reason. Depending on the demand to get into the NATO club, it would be reasonable to institute a new-member fee of 3 percent for ten years, or until capability requirements have been met, whichever comes first. This would either fill NATO coffers or encourage members to meet interoperability goals faster, either of which would be wins.Such a program must balance political goals, projected needs, fiscal plans, and applicant capabilities, including the option to contribute “in kind,” whether through money, manpower, or (as demonstrated by unarmed Iceland) strategic access. Because European demographics and expansive U.S. military personnel costs have resulted in a largely outsourced labor pool of contractors and third-country nationals, the ability of new member states to pay dues through well-regulated manpower may yield ethical, economical alternatives to guest-worker militaries or a contractor force akin to mercenaries.A Coherent, Multifaceted PlanWhat are NATO’s core tenets? The basis upon which the club’s charter is written is simple: us versus them, that is, democracy versus those who would threaten it. ISAF operations encompassed combat and support elements from nearly 50 countries, some, like the extremely dependable Australia, coming from as far away from Europe as can be. Because NATO is already regional in name only, adopting a more diverse membership will enhance it in ways beyond simple troop numbers and geographic access. It will further distance members from colonialism, racism, classism, and isolationism, while better incorporating their immigrant diaspora populations, most of whom would do good for their adopted homelands if they were allowed into the machinery of national security.Membership growth is established through Article 10 and has taken place on six occasions previously: in 1952, 1955, 1982, 1999, 2004, and 2009. Simple deletion of the word “European” under an Article 12 periodic review would be appropriate, if only symbolic, as discussions with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have already occurred. An expansion plan that accommodates three rough levels of applicants’ potentials—three tiers—will enhance alliance access and capabilities, freeing NATO of its archaic addiction to location, location, location.Tier 1 allows fast-track admission for “no-brainers”: established democracies already in the pipeline, any interested non-NATO EU members, and geographically remote nations inextricably linked to the West through history, trade, and cooperation. Some, such as Australia and New Zealand, are already de facto. Others— Japan, Singapore, South Korea—are regionally contentious, but the associated risks are manageable. These countries can satisfy full-membership responsibilities on day one: deployable forces, interoperability, adequate education, advanced technology, personnel exchange, intelligence, health care.Tier 2 are the emerging economies of Brazil, India, South Africa, and stable Middle Eastern states amenable to governance reform. Existing capability gaps between them and current members are becoming easier to bridge every day. Maximizing technological advances that have taken root in these nations can bring them along quickly; they may even take the lead in updating NATO School and Partnership for Peace online training with multi-language massive open online courses through vendors such as Coursera, edX, the Khan Academy, and TED. Strategically, these nations are diamonds-in-the-rough, and NATO would indeed be fortunate to have a stable South American partner or a democratic exemplar anywhere in Africa. With certain assurances, our mercurial “ally” Pakistan could be convinced to “shape up” in both Afghanistan and contested Kashmir—were India to suddenly have more friends encouraging regional serenity. In all cases, cultural ties must be strongly stressed to assuage lingering anticolonial concerns.Tier 3 is represented by strategic opportunities. Their histories and concerns are complex, and NATO emissaries should rely on regional experts to avoid unforeseen policy landmines. As in Tier 2, these nations often have underused strategic potential, and their courting by NATO may be strongly protested. However, with careful management, the scales of historical influence and economic interest will balance out in favor of NATO collaboration. Nepal’s historic ties to Britain and strategic location make it an attractive partner. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s recent visit to Mongolia, another geographically enticing friend, shows great promise. Thailand, an ally with reasonable governance compared with its neighbors, regularly hosts U.S. forces. Stronger collaboration in Latin America could significantly improve the narcotic, crime, and humanitarian crises emanating across the U.S.-Mexico border. Indeed, the case to admit Mexico has several significant advantages, not least is the comparable ease of securing its 680 mile southern border rather than its 1,930 mile northern one.Israel is a hot-button Tier 3 candidate given its unpopularity in its neighborhood, but it has a demonstrated willingness to collaborate with the West. It is a modern, technologically advanced powerhouse whose vibrant business culture rivals that of Silicon Valley. Its security assets, from Mossad to El Al, are universally respected. And it is no farther from the Atlantic than Turkey.Liabilities and LimitationsOf course, there will difficulties in implementing these proposals beyond those already mentioned. Russia will continue to back farther into its corner. Perhaps this is not so much a diplomatic failure as a sign that the North Atlantic Treaty is doing what it was designed to do. Russia’s strategic missteps (Crimean annexation, complicity in the Malaysian Airlines tragedy) might lead to a more-than-welcome regime change. In his opaque criticism of NATO, Putin duplicitously stated that “a country which is part of an alliance gives away a share of its sovereignty . . . and it does not always reflect the national interests of a given country.”2 This blithely belittles both the Soviet Union (the fall of which was, in his words, “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century”) and his own expansionist predilections. Economically, the stability fostered by tiered expansion could help wean Europe off its Gazprom habit, making grudging Russian compliance a possibility.Closer ties with Israel will be troubling for many Middle Eastern nations, but problems likely will be predictable and manageable. Moderate, secular leaders in the region will be strengthened by the example, while those trending toward force and terrorism will be chastened by the stronger alliance. Moreover, close relations with Israel likely cannot make fundamentalists hate the West any more than they already do. The multitude of Western-born Islamists now occupying much of Iraq and Syria should concern NATO. New, uncontrolled mujahideen are being grown, and when the current phase of their war is over, they will look to fly home to Britain, France, or the United States. When that day comes, NATO will be strengthened if Israel stands with it.The “rise of the rest” has brought considerable fluctuation in NATO’s stock. Economic incentives, ghosts of colonialism, a Western habit of abandoning friends, reliance on or fear of Russia or China, alternative views of governance in Venezuela or economic practice in Argentina, and a wish for continued neutrality may all coalesce to dissuade potential members. NATO must regain and jealously shepherd its reputation, stand by its convictions, honor obligations, and oppose present tyranny. Special allowances such as France’s withdrawal from military participation (1966–2009) and Iceland’s lack of standing forces can easily be accommodated.Buyer’s remorse is always possible. Article 13 outlines the ability to quit after 20 years of membership (even this is negotiable, given France’s four-decade fugue that began in its 17th year). If nothing more, NATO can give leaders in new member states much-needed top cover: join for the benefits, steel a vacillating electorate by explaining that “we must participate due to our obligation,” and use membership as a justification for long-term stability projects.As NATO leaders debate new crises, they should not neglect the long view, the interconnectedness that globalization has engendered (or inflicted) upon all military, political, and economic matters. NATO was built as a shield against the Soviet hammer and sickle. Over the years, the organization has itself come to be viewed as a hammer of forward presence, offensive action, and deterrence. Despite this heavy-handed reputation, technological advances, economic stagnation, a globalized world population, and political realities demand that NATO collaborate widely. Through a widened membership, NATO can develop the nuanced approach demanded by the times. It can become any tool it needs to be, from the hammer of military force to the shield of diplomacy. Further, by fully harnessing the potential of new, geographically dispersed members, NATO can even become the sickle—of agriculture, business, and finance—to reach its goals. As history and current events demonstrate, a solution that neglects any of these aspects will falter, and perhaps fail.Notes:Marcus Weisgerber, “Rasmussen to Push Readiness Action Plan at NATO Summit,” Defense News, 7 July 2014.“Putin Warns of Strengthening NATO Forces,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 22 July 2014.Andrew Osborn, “Putin: Collapse of the Soviet Union Was ‘Catastrophe of the Century,’” The Independent, 26 April 2005.BioCommander Kucik is a physician and futures planner who recently served at the NATO hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He is a life member of the U.S. Naval Institute and a 2014–15 USNI Leadership Fellow.
By Commander Corry J. Kucik, Medical Corps, U.S. Navy