IA-Forum speaks with Rebecca Moore, author of "NATO's New Mission: Projecting Stability in a Post-Cold War World," about changes in the organization. (07/04/2008)
International Affairs Forum: With the end of the Cold War, some believed NATO to be a relic of the past. How did NATO adapt and how would you assess its success since then?
Dr. Rebecca Moore: NATO's transformation beginning in the early 1990s from an anti-Soviet military alliance to an increasingly complex political/military organization focused on projecting stability throughout the whole of Europe and even beyond it has in many respects been a remarkably successful one. Early on, the effort to transform the alliance and ensure its survival in the face of a declining Soviet threat focused primarily on the enhancement of NATO's political dimension. As former U.S. President George H.W. Bush framed it, NATO's new mission was to be the creation of a "Europe whole and free." Indeed, during the 1990s, NATO developed a variety of essentially political tools, including new institutions, new partnerships, and even enlargement of the alliance itself as a means of assisting in the democratization of Central and Eastern Europe and the unification of Europe. In keeping with the vision of a Europe whole and free, the alliance also began to embrace some collective security tasks by taking on non-Article 5 military missions in the Balkans.
This initial effort to transform NATO was not sufficient, however. Rather, as the events of September 11 demonstrated, NATO had entered the twenty-first century ill-equipped for new security challenges, including terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Recognition of that reality prompted the United States to call during the 2002 Prague summit for a military transformation designed to equip NATO to respond rapidly to threats stemming from well beyond the borders of Europe. Security could no longer be conceived in a purely regional context. Indeed, NATO has since abandoned the essentially Euro-centric focus that prevailed during the 1990s as reflected in its military missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Darfur, Sudan.
I don't mean to suggest by this that there exists within NATO a unified view as to the strategic vision that should guide the alliance in the post-Cold War, post-September 11 era. Rather, the allies are to some degree divided over just how global NATO should be, including whether it should embrace as partners and potentially even as members democratic allies outside of Europe. Tensions also linger over the continuing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq and NATO's role in them.
So, while NATO's transformation since the end of the Cold War is in many respects a success story, it is also an unfinished one. Because the security context in which NATO must operate continues to evolve, the alliance must also continue to adapt to new challenges and opportunities.
IA-Forum: What were the major obstacles in reengineering the Alliance?
Dr. Moore: Among the most significant obstacles or challenges confronting NATO in the immediate post-Cold War era was the need to reinvent NATO as something other than an anti-Soviet or anti-Russia alliance. The notion that NATO should go "out-of-area" or focus on projecting stability outside of its traditional sphere of collective defense, however, initially met with resistance from some allies and colored debates even within the former Bush and Clinton administrations regarding the future of NATO. By the late 1990s, however, the so- called "out-of-area" debate had more to do with the proper scope of NATO's military activities, including whether NATO should act militarily outside of Europe.
Concerns about antagonizing Russia, however, influenced both of these debates. Indeed, members of the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations initially had resisted enlarging NATO out of fear that it would undermine democratic reforms in Russia and potentially even Central and Eastern Europe.
Notably, disagreement within the alliance during NATO's 2008 Bucharest summit over whether to admit Georgia and Ukraine to NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) and thereby set them on a course to full membership in the alliance, was also rooted in concern about Russia and the impact of a negative Russian reaction on an already tense NATO-Russia relationship.
As for the out-of-area debate, it's notable that it now has a new dimension: namely, whether to create formal partnerships with liberal democratic states outside of Europe and potentially even open the Alliance to non-European members that have been important contributors to NATO's military missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
IA-Forum: How has it acted effectively as an "agent of change" in Europe?
Dr. Moore: As I suggested earlier, NATO adopted a variety of essentially political tools with which to promote liberal democratic reforms in Central and Eastern Europe during the 1990s. The enlargement process, in particular, permitted NATO an opportunity to influence the pace of reform to its east. NATO's military missions in Bosnia and Kosovo were also ultimately part of a larger effort to project stability throughout the whole of Europe and to preserve political and economic reforms achieved in Central and Eastern Europe during the wake of the Cold War.
IA-Forum: NATO expansion has recently come to the fore again, especially as the possibility exists for Georgia and Ukraine. What have been the benefits and issues associated with NATO expansion not only for new members but the Alliance and surrounding regions as well?
Dr. Moore: The principal obstacle surrounding the decision at Bucharest not to admit Georgia and Ukraine to NATO's Membership Action Plan--at least not at this time--was once again driven by concern about NATO relations with Russia. Indeed, concerns about Russia's reaction to enlargement have influenced each of NATO's post-Cold War rounds of enlargement. This time the United States, which supported the admission of the two states, found itself at odds with key European allies who argued that the timing was not right given increased tension between Russia and NATO on a variety of fronts.
As long as Ukraine and Georgia continue to desire NATO membership, however, the allies do have an opportunity to influence political developments in both states in ways that pull them closer to Europe and the United States, rather than permitting the Soviet Union to reassert its influence over the region.
Indeed, as evidenced by NATO's decision at Bucharest to extend membership invitations to Croatia and Albania, the mission of Europe whole and free remains incomplete. NATO has repeatedly asserted that it remains committed to fulfilling this goal by assisting those states who have made clear commitments to the necessary political, economic, and military reforms.
I would also suggest that the enlargement process set in motion in the mid-1990s has brought into the alliance states such as Poland and the Czech Republic, which because of their own historical experience, have perhaps evinced a greater appreciation of the importance of the transatlantic link to the United States than is perhaps demonstrated by many long-time NATO members.
Moreover, particularly in the wake of September 11, NATO made clear to prospective members that they were expected to behave as producers and not just consumers of security. And one means of demonstrating that capacity has been a willingness to contribute troops or other resources to NATO's on-going military missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
IA-Forum: How do you see the NATO-Russian relationship evolving?
Dr. Moore: Few would dispute that tensions in NATO-Russia relations have grown in recent years. However, NATO has recently taken up two issues that will likely prove central to the evolution of this relationship; namely, missile defense and energy security. Whether the allies can successfully engage Russia on these issues in the coming years will, not only influence the future of NATO-Russia relations, but also tell us something about the relevance of NATO in meeting the challenges of a post-September 11 world.
Certainly, NATO's relations with Russia will also likely hinge on the direction of Russia's domestic politics and whether its political situation evolves in a direction that is at odds with the liberal democratic values on which NATO has sought to construct a new European security order.
IA-Forum: Where do you see the future of NATO heading?
Dr. Moore: Despite NATO's considerable successes in transforming itself to meet the challenges of the post-Cold War/post-September 11 world, I believe the future of the alliance today remains somewhat uncertain. Tensions over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq still linger, and many of the issues that have dominated the debates about NATO's future since the 1990s remain, including how to balance further enlargement with concerns about Russia, the need for new military capabilities to address new challenges, and the extent to which NATO should go global -- in terms of both its military missions and its membership. Although NATO's military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Darfur region of Sudan suggests at least some agreement on the notion that security can no longer be achieved within a purely regional context, NATO is to some degree currently experiencing an identity crisis. Is the alliance a purely Euro-Atlantic alliance whose chief purpose should be limited to the defense of the Euro-Atlantic area, or is it the case that the security of the allies will depend on a willingness to project stability (understood at least partly in terms of liberal democratic values) well beyond the borders of Europe?
I have also suggested that NATO suffers today from the absence of a comprehensive strategic vision or consensus to guide its activities in what the current secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, has termed a world of "globalized insecurity." In fact, pressure has been growing, both within and outside of the alliance, for the adoption of a new Strategic Concept to articulate both a common vision of the world to which NATO aspires and a consensus as to the challenges and threats that will need to be addressed in pursuit of that vision. Whether the allies are able to reach such a consensus is likely to be a pivotal factor in determining whether NATO will remain relevant in the 21st century.
Rebecca R. Moore is the author of "NATO's New Mission: Projecting Stability in a Post-Cold War World." She received her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in Foreign Affairs and currently serves as associate professor of political science at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. In addition to her work on NATO, Moore has published on U.S. human rights/democracy promotion policy and efforts to promote civil society in China. She held a NATO-EAPC fellowship from 2001-2003.
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