News / Europe

NATO Seeks to Redefine Role, Again

Multimedia

Al Pessin

In the more than 20 years since the Cold War ended, the Atlantic Alliance, NATO, has been struggling to redefine itself through expansion and by taking on new missions.  Now, the 28-nation organization's identity crisis is entering a new phase, as officials work to finalize a Strategic Concept to guide the alliance into the new decade.

When the West saw the Soviet Union as a threat to its way of life, NATO had a natural role in balancing that threat.  But when the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union dissolved in 1989, the western alliance's main reason for being disappeared.

It quickly became an organization dedicated to solidifying the end of Russian domination of Central and Eastern Europe.  It has admitted 13 former Soviet allies over the years, and has plans to admit several more.  NATO found new missions, sending troops to the Balkans in the 1990s, and to Afghanistan a decade later.  But that did not help it prove its continuing relevance to skeptical West European populations.

"Relevant or relic might be a question if NATO was still camped in Europe waiting to defend the borders.  But we're anything but that," said U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis, the top NATO military officer.  

He told a gathering in Washington recently the alliance is doing important things to ensure its security from conventional threats and from new ones like terrorism, piracy and cyber attacks.  He says its troops are ensuring stability in Kosovo, working to defend Europe against missile attacks and fighting every day to ensure Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.  

But Admiral Stavridis admits there is one thing NATO is not very good at. "We're very good at launching missiles.  We need to get better at launching ideas," he said.

The problem for the admiral, and for the alliance as a whole, is convincing the people in member countries, particularly in Western Europe, that what NATO does is important for their future.  That is why European defense spending is below the alliance target of two per cent of GDP, and why members can not come up with enough combat troops for Afghanistan, or even enough other resources like aircraft and trainers.  

The new Strategic Concept, due to be approved by NATO leaders at a summit in November, is supposed to help inspire support for alliance missions.  Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has just finished chairing a team that did a first draft of the Concept, and presented it to NATO officials in May.  

"The onus on this does rest on all of us.  I think we have to explain why this alliance that was started 60 years ago for a totally different reason is something that's important now.  And we determined that we were living in the world's most unpredictable time.  And here was this amazing tool that needed to be versatile and agile in this time of unpredictability, and that there was a lot of bang (value) for the buck.  But we have to keep making that case," she said.

Albright says making the case is important because NATO is an alliance of democracies.  For years now, many of its member governments have had a lot of trouble convincing their parliaments, and their people, to spend money on defense during what seems like a peaceful time in Europe -- a job made even more difficult by the current economic crunch.

Damon Wilson of the Atlantic Council says the new Strategic Concept itself will not likely do that convincing, any more than the first post-Cold War NATO strategy did ten years ago, before the September 11 attacks, the invasion of Afghanistan and a series of terror incidents in Europe.

"This is not going to be a paper that grips the European publics and seizes the imagination of the American people.  No, it's not going to be that.  But it does need to basically provide the common talking points so that allied leaders, allied presidents and prime ministers, have on one sheet of paper, one page, a set of common talking points that they can speak from to their people to explain why the alliance matters, what it's about, what it's mission is and that they've got their common set of arguments," he said.

But Wilson says the process of defining NATO's role is important.

The Albright report calls NATO "an essential source of stability in an uncertain and unpredictable world," and says it must have the capability to respond quickly to new and complex challenges.  It says that means better planning, more intelligence sharing and strong focus on today's security issues, such as missile defense.  But the draft also acknowledges that "although NATO is busier than it has ever been, its value is less obvious to many" of its people than it was when the Soviet Union was a constant and very obvious threat.

At the Heritage Foundation, European security expert Sally McNamara does not disagree with that, but she says a year of consultation is not what NATO needs to develop a consensus. "I don't think a document or a process creates that.  I think consensus is something that you have to work at and it's something that will happen by action," she said.

McNamara says rather than talk about concepts most members already agree on, officials should focus on taking action to demonstrate the alliance's relevance, like spending more on defense and providing the troops, trainers and equipment needed to succeed in Afghanistan.

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs