NATO 2020: Yet Another View


Military practitioners, academics and researches share the opinion, when speaking of NATO, that this is ‘the best functioning security organization’ – assessing highly NATO’s quick reaction and crisis response/management system which functions (relatively) well, and therefore serves as a good example for other security regional arrangements (global, too). There is no doubt that NATO is an organized military force, with integrated command structure, long experience in multilateral military cooperation, joint defence and force planning1: the same cannot be attributed to other IGOs whit the goal to preserve peace and security. But, the question is if that is (could be) enough for NATO and its Member States? Namely, will (could) NATO be satisfied with the peace-keeping, making, building, in other words just operational role, or it will have to seek for something more for its future? To finally establish itself as a political-military community of shared values, which will coincide with the new definition of security and defence in globalized world? From collective defence and security management to cooperative and collective security Organization? For this, constant transformation is needed, which will be in rooted into strategic approach for NATO future – a strategic thinking which will translate political wish into political will.

Three important elements have to be analysed as a context of that strategic transformation for future NATO. First element concerns wider picture, when NATO should not be distinguished from other International Governmental Organizations (IGOs); they are all in the period of “soul searching”. Second element is need for NATO transformation in the context of answering to global security challenges. Third element is partnership perspective of that transformation, and the role of partners in it.

So, what is going on with IGO’s in XXI Century? How come that in globalized, interdepended and internationalized world, which is ideal environment for them, they could not properly respond to changes since the end of Cold War? Most of international organizations were established in the period post II WW, and were founded by a small group of countries. Being a set of rules and regulations set forth by its member states and equipped for implementation of those rules, organizations are systems for itself and changes of international environment brings changes for them, too. This kind of reform, on the other hand, is not one-sided – it needs cooperation of all Member States and endorsement of most important one (or impetus streaming from them).

Severe economic and financial crisis hits IGOs in that respect that affects most of their budgets and many of their activities must be down-sized. On the other hand, resurrected role and importance of national state, which is one of side-effects of any crisis, created the situation in which importance of the IGOs become less visible and present, and national interest precedes international efforts. We are witnessing today existence of the crisis of global governance, or possibility to further transform the governance to another level. State centric approach bewilders complexity of world politics, and reduces it to the relative simplicity of the interactions of less than 200 supposedly similar units. But events in global policy making have to be understood in terms of complex systems. So, the role of IGOs as non-state actors has not to be neglected. Not only that they are present, and are numerous, but they are much more flexible and faster in their reaction on contemporary challenges.

This governance problem is, actually, problem of delegation of state authority to IGOs. It is noticeable that narrow delineated authority will make harder for them to respond to problems and change over time to address unanticipated one. But, the second part of that dilemma is constant fear of Member States that IGOs will be too unconstrained if states transfer more authority to them. That will better empowered  IGOs “…to make mistakes or act in ways contrary to the interests of some MS…IGOs that are too powerful and which exercise their power carelessly, can lose legitimacy among the nation states that created these institutions.”2

Why we are insisting on this aspect, and think it is so important to have in mind when thinking of NATO? Because, NATO is also IGO, and if UN, EU, OAS or African Union are facing problem with global governance, so why NATO will be different? This is, definitely, not excuse to sit and wait, but this perspective also has to be taken into consideration – strong states nowadays are reluctant to unleash developments in global governance.

Therefore, it might be a good massage for NATO that time is most suitable to think and use this opportunity of general IGOs transformation, and to place itself on the right place of international system. Because, “…mere survivor is not enough; what matters equally is how far and how well survivor reflects a more thoroughgoing adaptation to new circumstances.”3

The second important element to be aware of when giving the possible outlook for NATO in times to come, is to try to understand development of security challenges that globalized world and all actors are facing with. And this analysis must be mainly functional one, because the main feature of those challenges is that they transcendent, goes beyond any type of borders, including state borders. In globalized world exist numerous economic and social problems, regional conflicts (ethnic, religious, territorial, historic issues, problems with distribution of wealth and dominance); unlike the situation during 90’s, world is polycentric with the rise of regional (and no so regional, but tending to be global) powers, but also revisionism and revived nationalism. As we’ve mentioned, non-state actors have considerable role, and they are not only those with the positive impact (IGOs and NGOs), but also negative, like terrorist groups, liberation movements, organize crime groups (gangs, or mafia groups), to enlist only few of them. On top of that, emergence of new states with a bulk of economic and demographic problems, as well as great number of weak and fragile countries, whit governance problem, present the treat not only to national, but also (or, much more) to human security. Organized crime, trafficking, cyber-crime, proliferation of WMD, global terrorism, cannot be fought with military means but diplomacy would need military backbone (as ultimate instrument to be used, if necessary), and the need for deference remains.4

This different security landscape and the fact that there are also other foras for Trans-Atlantic consultations and coordination of strategic priorities, keeps the issue of NATO transformation still open. Gaps between Member States are becoming deeper, and they multiply with the economic crisis – can be noticed that there are much more ambitions than potentials, and often, no matching of political decisions with engagement of countries. Human security, which is epitomized as “freedom from want”, opens a new issue – where is the role of NATO in this situation? NATO core business is to respond to crisis when Allies judge their security interests are at stake (article 5 and 4 of the Washington Treaty). But, NATO is facing interesting situation, that there is no common sense of crisis, and it is becoming much more difficult to define what crisis in that respect is, and especially, lack of public support.

In the situation like this, it has been suggested that NATO has “…to shift from operational engagement to operational readiness, from campaign to contingency, from deployed to prepared NATO”.5 In order that the Alliance remains an essential source of stability, it “…must solidify the political cohesion and shared capabilities”.6 Even this capacity to deterrence, in order to keep operational edge has not to be overstretched, which will mean to develop all parts of forces, but focused on Missile Defence, cyber defence and Special Forces. Additionally, the emphasize will be put on NATO Response Force, in order to build multinational units which can be deployed quickly when necessary, and be “engine of NATO readiness”. NRF has been used, up to now, only in non-combat situation, and it has been assessed by analysts as an icon of transformation which becomes a symbol of the Alliance’s difficulties for transforming itself.7 This seeks more integrated and coordinated strategy for NATO, employment of more comprehensive approach “…for working together, employing the full range of the tools at our disposal, including our military”.8

But let’s go back to the issue if that preparedness is enough for future of NATO, or can this have public support? For, this is a consolidation, tightening up of already existing things, which somehow, up to now did not manage to win harts of people in Member States. Lack of public interest and support raises the doubt of its relevance, so the need for redefinition of its role, restate of its relevance, re-explanation of its contribution and recommitment of Member States is still relevant and vividly present.9

For this, public diplomacy is necessary, because the absence of acute threat, predominate economic concerns, limited public attention, and the very fact that we are living in “one-issue” societies, divert the attention from the fact that “security matters”. At the same time, the role of citizens becoming more and more important in contemporary international relations – people do not only want just to know but to participate in developing those relations. Transparency, accountability, leverage are concepts which are applicable not only to national but also foreign policy and politics. For NATO, as well as for other IGOs, that raises the issue of public diplomacy, which is political instrument of soft power, not only element of diplomatic activity.10

The information revolution empowered citizens, including a large and growing global middle class, and they want a greater say in their future than previous generations. But the emergence of a “global public” is also bound to generate increased expectations, a gap between what citizens’ want not only from their national governments, but also from International Organizations in which they are members. If those governing structures, both national and international, are not able to deliver, this may become a source of friction, conflict and even revolt. So, for future of NATO, not only that ‘defence matters’ but also, and every day more and more ‘people matters’.

And that is how we logically come to the third issue, NATO partnership policy, or possible answer to the question how NATO will fulfill its goals in the future. But, in this equation two elements are missing: neither NATO knows what it would like to be, nor partners know how to help. Much more, the huge problem is the starting point – no “uniform” model for partners, and they all have different interests (there are partners and “partners”).11 Some are aspirant for membership status or are expressed that wish, some share the same values but not willing to join, some not willing to join in foreseeable future but prepared to incorporate NATO standards, some still build their institution; then, those which are not interested for interoperability but willing for cooperation, countries with the idea of global reach which are interested in political cooperation with NATO, and those with not so clear institutional relations with the Alliance, and finally, those which commitment to partnership must be questioned.

Together with its partners, which was proved in ISAF and Libya, it has been demonstrated “…that a politically cohesive NATO can tackle increasingly complex, and increasingly global security challenges.”12 Not only for burden sharing, which is immanence for the success, but also for the legitimacy and leverage of any activity which NATO pursues, it needs support of its partners.

In its new Strategic Concept, adopted at the Lisbon Summit in 2010, NATO took a pledge to enhance partnership by “…developing political dialogue and practical cooperation with any nation and relevant organizations across the globe that share interest n peaceful international relations.”13 It also placed partnership as a key component, one of three essential core tasks, which should be achieved through wide network of partner relationships. This is, mainly, continuation of the establishment of liberal security order that NATO seeks to establish since the end of the Cold War.14 In April 2011 “A Berlin Package” has been approved, as a basic document of partnership reform. Its aim was to make this policy more efficient and flexible, to introduce one partnership tool box and to make more clarification of force contribution of partners in NATO led missions.15 But, this reform of partnership can hardly be called reform of partnership policy, because it is “…above all a reform of the management of partnership structures, set up in such a way as to avoid ‘hurting anybody’.”16

Quite contrary that making needed clear differentiation between partners, the new partnership policy moves the Alliance further from this. Some authors noticed that it can be argued that “…enhanced commitment to cooperative security reflects not the value based conception of security that prevailed during the 90s”.17 It is more rationalistic approach in which shared interest are more important that shared values, and that makes clear distinction between partners – that is why when speaking of partners, the term ‘operational partner’ is the synonym for that. While that was not the case for PfP, democratic values was never a core for the partnership relations with both Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), but the focus was on dialogue and military cooperation.

It is a different story for NATO European partners, particularly for new states established after the break-up of former Yugoslavia – their need to develop security and defence institutions, and to make them sustainable was, and still is challenging for NATO. As being an area of insecurity inside Europe, Balkan countries, for the first time, have common goal – European Integration (if not Euro-Atlantic Integration) which is a mighty tool for their development. Partnership activities have contributed to NATO’s strategic vision, because most PfP activities available to those countries have included the export of political values, and focused strongly on democratisation and the establishment of democratic and civilian control of the armed forces, including parliamentary oversight.18

Look an example of Republic of Serbia, a country which was object of usage of NATO operational capacity, but since 2006 member of the PfP. Even with proclaimed military neutrality, Serbia, supported and guided by NATO, is continuing with its Security Sector and Defence Reform, codification and standardization in accordance with NATO standards, and working more and more on the interoperability of Serbian Armed Forces (SAF). True, there are no Serbian soldiers or officers in ISAF or other NATO led missions, but each and every year, thanks to these changes in military mentality and interoperability, more and more of them are in UN or EU missions. Even if emotions and remembering of 1999 is still very present, there are no negative ideas regarding building the SAF to resemble and function as armies of the NATO countries, and to work with them in future. This is the result of partnership policy which is also important, and which can be translated, jointly, to other areas and other countries which are in need.

NATO has yet to resolve what is the fundamental purpose of its partnership policy, because cooperation cannot be an end of itself. Disagreement over the form and function of partnership is the result, or reflection of an absence of consensus regarding core function for NATO and its reach (global or regional). Participating together in missions and sharing responsibilities is not enough, if NATO is shifting is posture to be more prepared then deployed? What will be with partners when current missions are ended? For answer on that question it will be necessary to speak with partners. But “…before a strategic dialogue of substance can take place with partners; NATO must itself decide its role … over what it can do, and what it cannot.”19

And, we are now back from our starting point – for answering to the question of NATO in 2020, strategic thinking is necessary…strategy and bold decisions, lots of patience, diplomacy and understanding. This is not easy, but it is result what is counts.

1 Klaus Wittmann, Towards a new Strategic Concept for NATO, NDC Forum Paper, No 10, September 2009, p. 25.

2 Cary Coglianese, Globalization and the Design of International Institutions, in Joseph S Nye Jr. and John D Donahue, ed, Governance in a Globalizing World, Brookings Institutional Press, 2000, pp. 315.

3 James Sperling, Mark Webber, NATO: From Kosovo to Kabul, International Affairs, No. 85, 2009, pp. 491.

4 NATO Secretary General’s Annual Report 2012,

5 NATO after ISAF – Staying Successful Together, remarks by NATO SecGen Andres Fogh Rasmussen at the Munich Security Conference, February 2 2013,

6 Ivo Daalder, James Stavrdis, Foreign Affairs, Volume 91, Issue 2, March 2012, pp. 27.

7 On NRF see more: Guillaume Lasconjarias, The NRF: From a Key Driver of Transformation to a Laboratory of the Connected Forces Initiative, NDC Research Paper, Rome, No. 88, January 2013.

8 Joseph Biden, US Vice President, Speech at the Munich Security Conference, January 2013.

9 Klaus Wittmann, Towards a new Strategic Concept for NATO, NDC Forum Paper, No 10, September 2009, p. 20.

10 ESPAS Report Global Trends 2030 – Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World, Ed. Álvaro de Vasconcelos, 27 April 2012

11 Carlo Masala, Katariina Saariluoma, Renewing NATO’s Partnerships: Towards a Coherent and Efficient Framework, Forum Paper No. 1, NDC Research Branch, Rome, May 2006, p.28

12 Ivo Daalder, James Stavridis, NATO’s Victory in Libya, Foreign Affairs, Volume 91, Issue 2, March 2012, pp. 31.

13 Active Engagement, Modern Defence, Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Lisbon, November 2010,

14 Rebecca R. Moor, Lisbon and the Evolution of NATO’s New Partnership Policy, PERCEPTIONS, Spring 2012, Volume XVII, No. 1, p. 57.

15 Active Engagement in Cooperative Security: A more Efficient and Flexible Partnership Policy,

16 Heidi Reisinger, Rearranging Family Life and a Large Circle of Friends: Reforming NATO’s Partnership Programmes, Research Paper, NATO Defence College, Rome, No.72, January 2012, p. 1.

17 Rebecca R. Moor, Lisbon and the Evolution of NATO’s New Partnership Policy, p. 69.

18 Heidi Reisinger, Rearranging Family Life and a Large Circle of Friends…, p. 2.

19 NATO partnerships in a shifting strategic landscape, Wilton Park, Conference Report, October 2012,