Review: NATO, In Search of a Vision.

Reviewed: Aybet, Gulnar, and Rebecca M. Moore. Eds. NATO: In Search of a Vision, (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press. 2010) 272 pages.

Helen Keller said that the most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but no vision. Gandhi said that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Somewhere in the continuum between these two ideological axioms, we struggle to understand one of the most critical and powerful socio-political-military institutions in all of human history. The North-Atlantic Treaty Organization is at once predicated upon the failed-concept of retaliation as deterrent, and bound by the inestimable limitations of human patience and understanding. As such, it would be dangerous if it lacked the viscosity which otherwise prevents it from being volatile. In practise, its potency at any given time is inversely proportional to its capacity for bureaucratic complexity. While it lords a hostile array of nuclear armaments over any and everyone it perceives as enemy, through most of its history it has operated with a perfect commitment not to use them. But with time, the mission begins to creep, as it always does. Like any good bureaucracy, its operatives yearn for organic growth, which creates a paradox. As NATO’s ambitious peace keeping and collaboration efforts proceed, ideally, those once marked in the enemy's column are gradually brought over into the allied camp, while other relationships with neutrals and collaborators evolve. All the while, the identity of the thing changes, and so too its concept of enemy, and of other. And so it casts a long diurnal shadow, in perpetual motion across the surface of the modern geopolitical sphere. As has been seen by all, the transition from the Communist to the Islamist front has not been seamless. Nor will be the coming procession from Islamism to Cyber war. But what then? And, perhaps more importantly, what else? To elucidate this foggy subject, dozens of professors and officials from around the world have collaborated in this thrifty, if dated, volume; each attempting to carve out a unique view of the implications of NATO expansion, opposition, cohesion, collaboration, innovation, and change. Together, they have assembled in narrow strokes a path of guideposts to aid the rest of us, supposedly the democratic bodies in being, to whom the mission of NATO is itself dedicated, however ambiguous its genuine allegiances may someday become.

The first essay commemorates the sixtieth anniversary of this organization, which was presumably the impetus for the publishing in the first place. True to form, Jamie Shea provides the obligatory historical overview off hand, from the maculate conception and the persuasion of a “skeptical” congress, through the aggressive theories of “massive retaliation” following the second World War, to the retrograde theories of Robert Mcnamara concerning alternative “non nuclear” capability. These, when taken together, provided a robust, “dual-track” arms race, which bestowed upon humanity the globalized capacity to precipitate full self-annihilation, as well as a full gradient of limited and intermediate warfare, in the interests, of course, of self preservation. (Pg. 12-15) The processes of self-actualization which become prominent during the Bosnian crisis following the collapse of the Soviet Union are a common theme to which many of the other essayists return in the book. The period (1991-1999) between this and the Kosovo Air campaign represent a kind of rebirth. In Shea’s words, the Balkans “were a proving ground where the Alliance could adapt to its major new post cold-war role: organizing peace support beyond its members’ territories and learning to specialize in the techniques of conflict termination.” (Pg. 17) The irony, as becomes evident later in these works, is that even these well-intentioned measures carried the risk of renewing the old conflicts, like parity, for instance, which then carried the ominous risk of awakening the sleeping giant: Russia.

In keeping with this fairy-tale allusion, what Gulnur Aybet consolidates under the heading of “non-security goals” are the branches of a beanstalk which Jack must climb. Principle among these, however, is “exporting the western security community to the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe.” (p.37) Aybet focuses on a central theme of this arrangement, which is adaptation. As a ‘collective’ security organization, by definition, consensus must be the agent of change. Therefore, adaptation in a Post-Cold War period must depend on the alignment of many individual visions. Diplomacy is easy with a gun pointed at one’s head, but in times of peace, nationalist tendencies are likely to be more divergent. Shea asks “What, then, are the big issues that NATO will need to debate when it starts to work on its new strategic concept?” (p.27) Writing at a time when the intractable complexities of the Afghanistan commitment were only dimly becoming apparent to the West, Shea explores high cost and inefficiency, homeland defense, and territorial defense. In the last, the vision of a complete circle becomes visible; Shea discusses the protection of the Baltic States and Poland in the context of “ a resurgent Russia.” (Pg. 30) At length, he concludes that upon “reaching the ripe old age of sixty…[NATO] cannot look forward to peace and quiet, nor to an early clarity about its future.” (Pg. 33)

Gulnur Aybet delves more deeply into an analyses and comparisons of the 1991 and 1999 strategic concepts, observing that in the end, “Nato had the right qualifications to reach out to the Central and Eastern European states and absorb them into its Euro-Atlantic structures.” The first “public” Strategic Concept, in 1991, implies the genesis of “nonmilitary” components, which, having grown proper teeth in Kosovo, remained unable to rapidly “deploy forces to distant places at times of crisis...up to and beyond its 2002 Prague Summit.” (Pg. 41) Once conceived, however, supply always generates demand. Aybet, quoting Ronald Asimus, refers to “an arc of crisis that stretches from northern Africa through the wider Middle East to Afghanistan and Pakistan to Central Asia.” (Pg. 43) Aybet presents a “catch-22 situation,” in which “a crucial challenge for NATO will be reengaging Russia in a pragmatic approach, not a ‘value-based’ one, while reassuring its Central and Eastern European and Baltic member states over Article 5 [the all-for-one provision upon which hinges the collectivist obligation] vis-a-vis their concerns about Russia.” (P. 47)

From here, Ryan Hendrickson appraises the retinue of Cold War and Post-Cold War Secretaries General whose own visions and persuasions have influenced the course of NATO’s evolution from general conservatism to consensus building and policy outreach. Of them all, he notes that Manfred Worner “stands out as a secretary-general who had a significant impact on shaping NATO’s broader strategic role in the world.” (Pg. 71) Hendrickson says that “his influence on the [North-Atlantic Council], coupled with his views on the appropriate strategic direction for NATO’s evolution in the Soviet Union’s Absence, were especially noteworthy. Rather than serving simply as a messenger for the Allies, he was a true policy entrepreneur who attempted to shape and define a new strategic direction for NATO. (Ibid) Under Worner’s tutelage, the “Rome Summit Agreement [1991]... permitted its member states to undertake non-Article 5 missions.” (Pg. 61)

Having established and embellished a “Comprehensive Approach,” under these auspices, hoping to “enable the collaborative engagement of all requisite civilian and military elements of international power to end hostilities, restore order, commence reconstruction, and begin to address a conflict’s root causes,” the grande concession finally came at the NATO Bucharest Summit [2008] which “declared that “many of today’s security challenges cannot be successfully met by NATO acting alone.” (Pg. 75, 76, 80)

Russia, with its vast and dormant nuclear complex, has regained its high status among such considerations. Martin Smith recounts the path from the failure of communism and the collapse of the SOviet Union, through the nineties, including the 1997 meeting between Boris Yeltsin and NATO leaders to establish the Founding Act on Mutual Relations and the establishment of the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint-Council, into the 21st century, which has seen a phenomenal return, on the part of that country, under the contentious leadership of Vladimir Putin, to the rank of global superpower. (Pg. 101) As Smith notes, however, “...the Founding Act did not provide for NATO’s members to precook positions among themselves before taking them to the Russians…[but] the adoption of pre-arranged common positions was not explicitly prohibited either.” So when Russia was deliberately excluded from deliberations concerning the Kosovo crisis, so began the regressive path of disagreement and mistrust between the two entities, leading the Putin administration to later conclude that the best outcome would be a “multi-polar” world. Hence, the immutable controversies arose over the distribution of missile defense systems, over Albanian independence, and eventually the crises surrounding Georgian and Ukrainian entry into NATO. The potential for conflicts, tensions, and opposition has therefore been institutionalized by diplomatic failure on both sides. Smith, rightly, observes that “States and governments that strive to maintain a high degree of central control over a significant period of time often rely in part on creating and maintaining the perception that their wider society is menaced by external enemies.” (Pg. 121) Presently, after eight years, it would seem that this prescient perspective could be applied to Russia, to the US, and to NATO; as each experiences the inevitable, if not always evenly comparable, consolidation of executive control. Smith, speaking on the history of this relationship, concludes that “it is much less clear that it will ever become firmly or definitively premised on a common vision of security goals and objectives, or shared underlying values. The ongoing Syrian conflagration and the dissolution of diplomatic cooperation between the US and Russia at the time of this review seems to have borne out this prediction.

Shifting theaters, Sean Kay examines the re-ascendance of nuclear weapon and missile defense considerations after this period [2008], especially in the context of Iranian belligerence. NATO members “achieved consensus” in 2008 to endorse the new programs in Poland and the Czech Republic, which have “damaged the NATO Russia relationship,” even though “the systems have not been tested or proven, and many European Allies are skeptical of the benefits.” (Pg. 132) Indeed, forty two attempts to test Ballistic Missile Defense interception systems conducted to that point, achieved less than an eighty percent success rate- hardly reassuring figures in advance of a nuclear war, in that it signifies (in theory) that Russia must expend no more than five ICBMs per target to guarantee lethality. (Pg. 133) But Smith also argues that “there is no element in this [proposed] array of radars and interceptor plans to defend against cruise missiles…” increasing the “incentive for adversaries to invest instead in cruise missile technology.” (Pg. 136)

Complicating matters further, NATO members in Europe “have a high dependence on Russia for energy supplies can ill afford to overly provoke Russia so long as this persists. Such conditions only intensified western interest in the middle east, petroleum fields are abundant and rich. With many nuclear questions reaching a stand-still, the Iranian question lingers large. Smith notes that Iran, taking a page from McNamara and the Kennedy family “could also pursue more assertive conventional power in the Persian Gulf region with less fear of retaliation,” and that “an Iranian missile program could prompt Israel to preemptively attack Iran-or set of a chain reaction of nuclear weapons programs spreading to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey.” Smith proposes three courses to attenuate these risks, including diplomacy with Iran, a “refocus” on “theater missile defense systems,” and a “freeze of planned missile defenses for Poland and the Czech Republic.” (Pg. 145) To date, the US has made at least marginal progress with the first, has been distracted from the second by subsequent developments in Iraq and surrounding areas, and is the subject of many swirling rumors and adversarial conjecture concerning the third, though in recent months there have been buildups and wargames in highly sensitive areas such as Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, by NATO, with corresponding activity on the part of Russia.

The process is no longer two dimensional, or linear. Now it is very obviously cyclical. Antagonism of Russia is and will continue to be reliably reciprocated, which then engenders and reinforces ongoing support among NATO members for further antagonistic measures, such as enlargement and expansion. These are subjects which Gabriele Cascone pursues with reference to the Western Balkans. What was once a “grey zone between NATO and Russia” has become a complex of nationalist and multilateral aspirations which only exacerbate the existing paradigm. Philosophically, the decision to join NATO or remain independent ought rightly to fall under the heading of self-determination in each of the Balkan states, but for all parties concerned these questions are much more complicated. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland “were invited to join NATO in 1997,” and this spawned a coterie of new considerations regarding “membership criteria” and “seamless integration” into the NATO super-structure. (Pg. 177) In 2002, at the Prague Summit, “the other seven aspirants [including Albania and the now-defunct Yugoslav Republic] were invited to join it.” (Pg. 176) Formally, the Membership Action Plan, established in 1999, governed the process for becoming a NATO member. Cascone enumerates the five vectors- “political/economic, defense/military, resources, security, and legal” in which progress toward acceptance is weighed. But the first, “largely focusing on the requirements generally associated with NATO’s traditional values” brings into focus the original theme laid out in this review, and in the book itself. (Pg. 177) While the individual challenges and concerns of each aspirant are beyond the purview of this discussion, the notion that those concerns and challenges may someday have radical influence over the mission and direction of NATO is worthy of careful consideration.

If the addition of new members is accompanied by the potential for changes in the prospects for consensus, so too is the internal evolution of the existing member states a likely source for changing views and priorities. These demographic changes are closely examined by Jeffry Simon, who chronicles the gradual elimination of conscription among member states- which reduces the overall supply of warm bodies to fill the boots- as well as other problematic issues, such as declining populations, declining interest in the missions themselves, and dominance of rising Islamic extremism upon the global attention span. Simon predicts the need for a full-scale reevaluation and possible revisions to the NATO positions, specifically “transnational terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts and failed states, cybersecurity, illicit trafficking and criminal networks, energy, global warming, migration, or pandemics.”

Rebecca Moore caps these considerations by revisiting the question of the role of those states and nations beyond the borders of NATO membership, specifically Australia, South Korea, Japan, and those members of the Mediterranean Dialogue outlined in the Istanbul Summit [1994], such as “Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Mauritania, and Tunisia,” and also the “two diverse groups of non-members: the neutral European states, Austria, Finland, Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland...and the Central Asian and Caucasus States.” (Pg. 231) Again, there exists the overarching consideration of socio-political compatibility with the “liberal democratic values enshrined in the preamble to the original North-Atlantic Treaty: democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.” Moore highlights the changes in expectations following the attacks of September 11, 2001, upon the two World Trade Centers in New York, of members and non members to begin to “act not simple as consumers of [NATO’s] assistance but rather as security producers.” Factors such as the changing identity and composition of NATO, the changing security environment, and the transition to “interest based rather than values-based partnerships” are as relevant to the future of the organization in 2016 as they have ever been, if not profusely more so.

Aybet and Moore conclude, in much narrower terms than shall be presented here, that western ‘values’ have consistently drawn support from the international community in the past, with some exceptions of course, so it is reasonable to expect that so long as those values remain consistent, they should provide rational constraints to the process of transfiguration which NATO now endures. However, the questions of expansion, cohesion, and cooperation will likely continue to complicate the expression of those values moving forward. These are sure indications that the qualities of sight and vision will remain of paramount importance to this sprawling security organization’s growth and development.