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

    Video Rubio Looks to Surge in New Hampshire

    Republican presidential candidate has moved into second place in several recent surveys and appears to be gaining ground on longtime frontrunner Donald Trump

    UN Calls for Global Ban on Female Genital Mutilation

    Recent UNICEF report finds at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries

    UN Pilots New Peace Approach in CAR

    Approach launched in northern town of Kaga Bandoro, where former combatants of mainly Muslim Seleka armed group and Christian and animist anti-Balaka movement are being paid to do community work

    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.
    German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibiti
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 05, 2016 4:30 PM
    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video Former Drug CEO Martin Shkreli Angers US Lawmakers

    A former U.S. pharmaceutical business executive has angered lawmakers by refusing to explain why he raised the price of a life-saving pill by 5,000 percent. Martin Shkreli was removed from a congressional hearing on Thursday after citing his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Super Bowl TV Commercials are Super Business for Advertisers

    The Super Bowl, the championship clash between the two top teams in American Football, is the most-watched sporting event of the year, and advertisers are lining up and paying big bucks to get their commercials on the air. In fact, the TV commercials during the Super Bowl have become one of the most anticipated and popular features of the event. VOA's Brian Allen has a sneak peek of what you can expect to see when the big game goes to commercial break, and the real entertainment begins.
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.
    Video

    Video Microcephaly's Connection to Zika: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

    The Zika virus rarely causes problems for the people who get it, but it seems to be having a devastating impact on babies whose mothers are infected with Zika. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
    Video

    Video Solar Innovation Provides Cheap, Clean Energy to Kenya Residents

    In Kenya, a company called M-Kopa Solar is providing clean energy to more than 300,000 homes across East Africa by allowing customers to "pay-as-you-go" via their cell phones. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from Kangemi, customers pay a small deposit for a solar unit and then pay less than a dollar a day to get clean energy to light up their homes or businesses.
    Video

    Video Stunning Artworks Attract Record Crowds, Thanks to Social Media

    A new exhibit at the oldest art museum in America is shattering attendance records. Thousands of visitors are lining up to see nine giant works of art that have gotten a much-deserved shot of viral marketing. The 150-year-old Smithsonian American Art Museum has never had a response quite like this. VOA's Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Apprenticeships Put Americans on Path Back to Work

    Trying to get more people into the U.S. workforce, the Obama administration last year announced $175 million in grants towards apprenticeship programs. VOA White House correspondent Aru Pande went inside one training center outside of Washington that has gained national recognition for helping put people on the path to employment.
    Video

    Video New Material May Reduce Concussion Effects

    As the 2016 National Football League season reaches its summit at the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (2/7), scientists are trying to learn how to more effectively protect football players from dangerous and damaging concussions. Researchers at Cardiff and Cambridge Universities say their origami-based material may solve the problem. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Saudi Arabian Women's Sports Chip Away at Stereotypes

    Saudi Arabian female athletes say that sports are on the front line of busting traditions that quash women’s voices, both locally and internationally. In their hometown of Jeddah, a group of basketball players say that by connecting sports to health issues, they are encouraging women and girls to get out of their homes and participate in public life. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
    Video

    Video A Year Later, Fortunes Mixed for Syrians Forging New Lives in Berlin

    In April of last year, VOA followed the progress of six young Syrian refugees -- four brothers and their two friends -- as they made their way from Libya to Italy by boat, and eventually to Germany. Reporter Henry Ridgwell caught up with the refugees again in Berlin, as they struggle to forge new lives amid the turmoil of Europe's refugee crisis.
    Video

    Video Zika Virus May be Hard to Stop

    With the Zika virus spreading rapidly, the World Health Organization Monday declared Zika a global health emergency. As Alberto Pimienta reports, for many governments and experts, the worst is yet to come.