The real business of NATO


Risto E.J. Penttila International Herald Tribune

TUESDAY, MAY 16, 2006

Let’s face it: NATO has already become a global policeman. The question now is whether it will turn out to be a good cop or a bad cop.

If NATO wants to be a good cop, it must work out principles and decision- making procedures for the most likely crises of the future – even if those crises are a far cry from the war games played during the Cold War.

If NATO continues to deny that it has become a global policeman, it will act without legitimacy and without a moral compass. In other words, it will be a bad cop.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary general of NATO, likes to say ”NATO is not a global policeman.” In a typical speech he repeats the sentence two or three times. To make sure that the point is not lost on more skeptical audiences he throws in a bit of French: ”L’OTAN n’est pas le gendarme du monde.”

The sound bite sends a clear signal. Yet, it does not stand up to closer scrutiny. NATO provides law and order to the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It patrols sea-lanes in the Mediterranean. It provides assistance to victims of hurricanes and earthquakes. It escorts children to school in Afghanistan. It educates officers in post-socialist states in the virtues of democracy. It provides logistical support for the African Union. It incarcerates war criminals. It fights terrorism.

These are not war-fighting operations. They cannot even be classified as hardcore crisis management. They are low-tech and low-casualty. Their objective is to bring order to weak states and to help the inhabitants get back to living normal lives. And what is more: There is a growing demand for these kinds of law-and-order operations.

The African Union would love to have NATO help bring order to Darfur and other killing fields in Africa. At some point the Israelis and Palestinians are going to be ready for an international peacekeeping force. At that point NATO forces – most likely operating under the United Nations flag – could become a stabilizing element. And, of course, the Americans would be delighted to see NATO troops in Iraq.

Law-and-order operations are not the only kind of task NATO has to confront in the future. Looking forward, the alliance is likely to be involved in two types of operations.

The first category, let’s call it traditional operations, is both more dangerous and less likely. It consists of using military force to defend the vital interests of one or more member states. The operations could vary from the defense of the territorial integrity of a member state to an improbable (but imaginable) intervention to secure Western energy supplies. Decision- making in these situations will not be easy but there is a process for it. After all, NATO was created for these kinds of existential crises.

The second category of future operations is both more likely and less dangerous (at least, it is less dangerous for the populations and vital interests of NATO member states). Let’s call these operations policing operations. They consist of stopping genocide, patrolling borders, securing sea-lanes and thwarting warlords. Some of the operations in this category are nasty, others are easier to manage. For NATO, the key issue is to make the correct decision about whether or not to engage.

The problem is that most NATO member states and most of its civil servants think that genocides and civil wars are none of NATO’s business.

Whose business are they then? The United Nations peacekeepers are suffering from too many engagements and too few resources. The EU military forces are being developed but they will certainly not be able to shoulder difficult operations without the help of the United States for years to come. African peacekeepers are being trained but they are not ready yet. The only show in town is NATO.

It seems quite natural for NATO to pay attention to conflicts, whatever their cause, that have or potentially have an important military content. It also seems natural that the alliance would get involved when something has to be done but no one else is up to the task.

NATO claims to defend freedom, democracy and liberty. Well, freedom, democracy and liberty are at stake when people are being slaughtered in Darfur. The same principles are also at stake when war-torn countries are trying to rebuild themselves.

No one is suggesting that NATO should get involved in all the trouble spots of the world. What I am suggesting is that the alliance recognize what it has become and begin to act accordingly.

Article was published in International Herald Tribune
TUESDAY, MAY 16, 2006


Sähköpostiosoitettasi ei julkaista. Pakolliset kentät on merkitty *