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Prof. Dr. Margarita Mathiopoulos

NATO Goes Global or Becomes Irrelevant

Partner and Managing Director, EAG European Advisory Group, Germany; Professor of US-Foreign Policy and International Security at the University of Braunschweig

The ruthless attack by totalitarian Islamic terrorists on the United States of America on the 11th of September 2001 reminded us of the enduring requirement for transatlantic co-operation and made it clear that the new strategic challenges are global in nature and need a collective response. Indeed, only hours after the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania took place NATO became a global actor. While during the Nineties the discussion about strategic implications of new asymmetric forms of terrorism in the Information Age was mainly an academic exercise, now it is on everybody's agenda: politicians, military planners and business people alike. The events of 11 September sent a rude shock to all those, especially in the West, who thought of globalization as representing nothing more than lower communication and transport costs and better-integrated economies, thereby neglecting the military-strategic implications of a globalized world.

NATO's prompt reaction had a powerful symbolic as well as practical impact. For the very first time the Alliance, that was created 52 years ago for the US to defend Europe from Soviet aggression, invoked its mutual defense clause, ironically for Europe to help defend the United States against terrorist aggression. Overnight did the 11th of September convince the European allies to accept the key-lesson of a New NATO, a lesson which had already been discussed right after the end of the Cold War in enlightened political and military circles: That either NATO goes out of area or out of business.

In the wake of the 11th of September there seems to be a growing consensus among Europeans and Americans alike that we need NATO now more than ever. The North Atlantic Alliance remains central to European security. After the end of the cold war NATO did not fall apart, but rather adapted to new requirements. NATO-opening admitted the new members Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. NATO’s open door policy will be admitting further new members.

NATO´s mission has gone beyond its core function of collective defense. Its structure and military capabilities are now challenged to match new tasks like conflict-prevention, crisis management, partnership and co-operation. NATO’s new Strategic Concept as of 24 April 1999 explicitly reflects the fact that "Alliance security interests can be affected by risks of a wider nature, including acts of terrorism, sabotage and organized crime, and by the disruption of the flow of vital resources".

It took only two years to prove the relevance of this farsighted mission statement. In decades of cold war and dangerous political as well as military confrontation it was never necessary to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. But in September 2001 NATO was able to show that the key to peace and security is decisiveness and solidarity and that Europe is willing to fulfil its NATO commitments in supporting the United States. By invoking Article 5 NATO made it clear to the outside world that the Alliance is faced with challenges of historical magnitude.

In order to meet the new global challenges NATO and its Allies may be well advised to pursue the following ten guidelines:


The Alliance must maintain a sound structure of Nuclear Forces. They will continue to fulfil an essential role by ensuring uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor about the nature of the Allies; response to military aggression. But with view to the new threat it would be absurd to consider the abortion of any "first use" option. The contrary is true. The Alliance must keep all options open.


The Alliance strategy does not include a chemical or biological warfare capability. For good reasons the Allies support universal adherence to the relevant disarmament regimes. But with view to the unpredictable biological and chemical threat that faces the Alliance NATO is well advised to bolster its defensive precautions.


Due to the rapidly growing threat by ballistic missiles armed with means of mass destruction the need for a functioning theatre missile defence is getting urgent. Neither NATO as whole nor one of the Allies should be brought into a position to choose between unreasonable strategic options when an intervention with conventional forces becomes necessary—either doing nothing because the risk emanating from the ballistic missile threat is too big or anticipating this risk by choosing pre-emptive strikes.


NATO should shift its strategic focus and resources southward. The front-line states are now Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain. That means in turn: The forces of the NATO allies, particularly in Central and Northern Europe must be better prepared for operations far away from home and for operations in defense of common interests outside the NATO treaty area. The European NATO members need to make substantial investments in strategic air- and sea-lift capabilities, in communication, strategic and operational reconnaissance, and their logistic assets must make their forces more capable of rapid deployment and sustained operations over long distances. The foreseeable shift of the Alliance´s strategic focus to the South and South East, already discussed at the NATO Summit in 1999, might also have an impact on the next round of NATO enlargement. NATO needs a land-bridge to Turkey and the geographically related possible fronts in the Near and Middle East.


NATO must be prepared for a direct threat scenario in the Gulf region. It is easily to imagine that the Alliance or one of its members is engaging in the Persian Gulf—and in response the Alliance may be faced with a threat involving armed terrorism and possibly even weapons of mass destruction. In this case NATO must be able to deter such threats, not to allow them to influence NATO’s resolve. That would need a prudent combination of deterrence, retaliation and defense.


Political violence, terrorism and political killings are and remain a serious threat and destabilizing factor in the Middle East. It is particularly worrisome around the Persian Gulf because this region is key to Western energy supplies. It is therefore advisable to embark on a comprehensive strategy that bundles all political, economic and strategic assets of NATO and the European Union.


NATO and Russia could deepen their cooperation—be it political or military. President Putin has offered to join the Alliance in the fight against international terrorism with all possible resources—be it territorial or economic, be it human or even defence resources.


Building a stronger bond between NATO and the European Union—one that improves the collective ability to respond to crises, remains imperative. NATO's Defense Capabilities Initiative, the EU's Headline Goal and the EU's Collective Capability Goals complement each other. Together, NATO and the EU can be the bedrock of European security for the next generation. Both are committed to promoting the same democratic values. As US-Ambassador to NATO Nick Burns pointed out last week in Berlin at an ASPEN-meeting Secretary General George Robertson and High Representative Javier Solana have given us the blueprint for the future through their efforts in Macedonia. Working together they have defused a dangerous crisis that might otherwise have led to a civil war threatening all the progress that has been made in the region in the past six years. This co-operation marks a new chapter in NATO-EU relations, he said. The 23 members of NATO and the EU—with 11 countries participating in both organizations—should follow the practical example set by Javier Solana and George Robertson and deepen the co-operation at all levels. The 3D-policy: no duplication, no de-coupling, no discrimination should still apply for both sides. And let us be clear: NATO and the EU have only one set of forces available to handle crises when needed. DCI, ESDI and ESDP are meant to enhance the capabilities of this common NATO and EU set of forces, in order to make NATO's global role militarily credible and relevant. Again, for the strategically-thinking community that Alliance-imperative was certainly clear also before the 11th of September. After the events of the 11th of September all NATO-allies have to be concerned in enhancing substantially their military capabilities, so that NATO can remain a relevant global organization and does not become a better peace-keeping-force or second OSCE. In that respect we should hope that todays "EU-Capabilities Improvement Conference" approves an actionplan which would reflect progress in that direction.


Already in NATO’s New Strategic Concept was the appeal included that NATO Allies must strengthen their own military capabilities as well as the request for a cooperation in infrastructure, defense, and logistics, and the need to create trans-atlantic synergies in procurement policies, and to develop further cooperation of the defense industries over the Atlantic in order to contribute to safeguarding inter-operability, scale advantages, competition, and innovation and to guarantee that NATO’s armament activities meet the developing military requirements.

Against this background, the transatlantic defense cooperation has political, military and technical-economic dimensions: with regard to security policy, the cooperation in armament and defense forms a cohesive element in the Alliance and promotes the inter-operability to stage joint military operations. As to the economic policy, a better co-operation in armament and defense is required as it would be a waste of resources to continue to develop and produce simultaneously some various types of combat aircraft, tanks or ships. Budget-wise, governments must jointly develop and harmonize procurement, if possible, due to common military demands in order to use scarce resources economically. It is after all important to concentrate the technological top know-how available in the nations and to jointly use it. This is the only way how within the Alliance a changed complex security environment after the Cold War, the Gulf War and the Kosovo Crisis can be met with the necessity of more multi-laterality, more balanced defense budgets, an increasing specialization and competition and rising cost pressures.

In many sectors, the operations of NATO in Kosovo signified painfully—now common knowledge—the technical and technological supremacy of the US in decisive sectors of military equipment, and revealed embarrassing military weaknesses among European nations, particularly in the areas of strategic lift, aerial surveillance and precision-guided weapons.

Europe is not yet the strategic actor it wants to be, neither the globally thinking and active partner the Americans would like to have. There is a serious trans-atlantic capability gap. Only half of the 58 DCI measures decided on in Washington have been initiated by the Allies, thus reads the meager result.

Cornerstone of real compatibility will be the development of a trans-atlantic defense industry as a supporting pillar on which the future of NATO will rest. One of the initiators of DTSI (US-Defense Trade and Security Initiative), former US-Deputy Secretary of Defense, Rudy de Leon, was right, when he pointed out at a NATO-workshop in Berlin in June 2000: "If the Alliance is going to train and fight together, then we are going to have to build our military capabilities together. Indeed, the collaboration of the trans-atlantic defense industry is one of the critical pillars upon which the very future cohesion of the Alliance will rest."

The US-initiative was supposed to be based on the idea of a new understanding that a fair industrial, technological, and defense-related political cooperation between the Europeans and the Americans is the precondition for an equal and strong NATO partnership. As the cohesion of NATO in the future will depend very much indeed on transatlantic defense consolidation it will be crucial that the Bush-administration makes this issue a key-point on its agenda! Meeting our defense need can't be confused with our desire to support domestic industries. Our policy shouldn't be "buy American" or "buy European". Rather we must create the conditions so that we can all "buy transatlantic". We must champion the kind of industrial collaboration that produces the most advanced systems at the lowest cost. The lessons of the Gulf War, the Balkan operations, and, now, of the 11th of September is this: All of us, Americans and Europeans, have to invest more in defense to be prepared for the new and alarming threats to peace and stability. For sure: neither America nor Europe can be interested in a transatlantic two-class society as it has developed in the wake of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA).


My last point is that the Atlantic Alliance is not suffering from too much America, but from not enough Europe; Europeans are facing today a unique historic opportunity, which is worthwhile not to miss: The EU summit in Nice was the beginning of the end of a special Franco-German relationship: therefore the road to a strong trilateral partnership between London, Paris and Berlin must be the strategic achievement for the first decade of the 21st century. Meeting the challenges of the 21. century, Europe needs a new and credible Grand Design if it wants to become a mature partner of the US and a global player.

To be sure: Paris belongs into NATO, London into EMU and Berlin is urged to do its homework, setting its strategic priorities, defining its foreign policy goals and drawing the respective military, technological and security-related consequences.

Germany is clearly at a cross-road with regard to its future role in and for Europe as well within the Atlantic Alliance. We are in a defining moment for the future of sound transatlantic partnership and co-operation. The times are over in which Germany could afford to be viewed at as a free rider. If Germany would not act in this moment as a reliable and decisive partner the already existing credibility and capability gap with Washington, Paris and London would grow beyond all proportions. Now is the time to make choices. But even if those choices are difficult they cannot be avoided, since too much is at stake.

Strengthened by fulfilling such an agenda, a trilateral partnership between London, Paris and Berlin could become the turbo engine of European Integration. Europe, which sees itself rightfully as the cradle of democracy, in the 21st century has all the potential to stay a relevant factor in global affairs. To achieve this, however, all European states must be ready to accept and conduct in a common effort the role of a global power.

With the European Monetary Union in place the economic precondition for that role has been laid. If the Europeans make an effort to act coherently together politically, economically, and militarily, the markets will react positively. Given new global risks and conflicts of interest, though, it will not suffice to position Europe as a worldpower only economically—it also has to seriously develop its military capabilities to strengthen the European pillar within the Alliance.

However, this European pillar will only be strong enough if Europeans are ready to underpin their political claim both strategically and in military and technological terms.

In the 21st century the call for a European political will to assume the role of a global power is all but an imperial reflex. Rather Europe has to become a global player in order to prevent European civilization from becoming second class. Europe has given decisive impulses to a democratic global culture. Preserving and further developing this heritage is a challenge to European policy. The political will to exercise a global power-role is the prerequisite for a competitive Europe in political, economic and military terms, and for a Europe which cares to preserve its cultural identity, and the prerequisite for a mature partnership with the United States and a strong and balanced Atlantic Alliance able to meet the new challenges anytime-anywhere.

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