State of Denial? NATO at 60 and the War in Afghanistan

Aug 17, 2009

Introduction by David Speedie:

We publish today the second set of papers under the U.S.-Russia strand of our U.S. Global Engagement Program.

These papers—two from Americans, two from Russians—embrace an ambitiously broad spectrum of issues, covering U.S./NATO-Russia cooperation on Afghanistan and Central Asia. Four major points may be seen to emerge from the spirited discussion in the papers:

1. The United States/NATO and Russia have clear and urgent common interests in promoting long-term stability in Afghanistan. These include containing and defeating "radical extremist" forces, reversing the noxious effects of the opium trade from that country, and preventing instability in Afghanistan from impacting an extended region. Despite these shared interests, cooperation between Russia and the West is "episodic," rather than strategic or systematic.

2. Afghanistan must be seen, not in isolation, but in a broader regional (Central Asian) context. This is true both in terms of the importance of the region (strategic location, energy resources) and of the formidable challenges (instability, economic reversals). Russia and the West both see advantages and interests to be protected (thus the recent competition for a military presence in the otherwise marginal Kyrgyzstan), but should avoid a new "Great Game" of promoting self-interest over shared concerns.

3. Afghanistan is now, as one paper writer states, "Obama's War." From campaign pledge to return to the "right" war, the President has: appointed new military and diplomatic leadership in Kabul, including a special envoy; invested in an enhanced troop presence; and made strenuous, if incomplete, efforts to drum up international support for the military and reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.

4. The very future of NATO may be viewed through the Afghan lens. The (lack of) commitment of NATO partners, given military and economic constraints, exemplifies the strains and stresses on an alliance that has expanded both geographically and in terms of mission. While the American and Russian paper writers differ considerably in their views of NATO's continuing relevance and role, even the American view of NATO as the most "successful" and "durable" military alliance in history is tempered by the urging to revisit and reconsider the original NATO treaty, which current challenges may be rendering obsolete.

—David Speedie, Director, U.S. Global Engagement Program

The other three papers in this set are:

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) just celebrated its 60th birthday. To mark the significance of this milestone, President Obama echoed the assessment of countless heads of state before him, hailing the Alliance as "the most successful in modern history," at the recent NATO summit meeting in Strasbourg. However, a key question emerges from this important event: If NATO is indeed modern history's greatest success story, how will it adapt to guarantee that its storied past can endure an uncertain future?

As NATO enters its seventh decade, it confronts perhaps the most difficult set of issues that it has had to face since the end of the Cold War. In Afghanistan, NATO is proving itself the wrong alliance, fighting an enemy that defies precise definition in a war for which it is ill suited, being waged by member nations for which support at home is rapidly eroding, and for which purposes are generally poorly understood even by those member nations.

NATO has faced supposed existential crises in the past, and has always somehow managed to muddle through, usually by force of its well established principles.

However, this time it may be that these principles will not be the salvation. Instead, these principles could engender disagreement and disenchantment unless they are re-examined in light of the Alliance's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan.

In "Simpler" Days—the North Atlantic Treaty

The history of the Alliance's success in earlier, simpler times was reflected upon almost nostalgically at Strasbourg. The concluding official summary of agreements, the "Declaration on Alliance Security," is filled with references to the founding principles of NATO. In the very first paragraph of the statement there is specific mention made of the member nations' commitment to "(reaffirm) the values, objectives and obligations of the Washington Treaty which unite Europe with the United States and Canada, and have provided our transatlantic community with an unprecedented era of peace and stability." Though reading the text of the Washington Treaty now, one is hard pressed to imagine that the founders of the Alliance could have envisioned dealing with anything like the war in Afghanistan as a threat to that peace and stability.

Also known as the North Atlantic Treaty, the Washington Treaty was signed by the United States and 11 European nations in 1949 at a time when all of Europe appeared to be under a direct threat posed by Soviet expansionism, and thus subject to coercion stemming from the credible threat of a Warsaw Pact attack. The purpose of the Alliance as viewed by the founding members was summed up clearly and succinctly in the preamble of the Treaty, to wit, "to unite (the member nations') efforts for collective defence and for the preservation of peace and security". The 14 Articles of the Treaty have become the foundation of the Alliance, and the principles outlined therein are meant to guide the security decisions and actions of member nations, now numbering 28. Reaffirmation of these principles at Strasbourg argues for a discussion of the most important of these principles. Three stand out:

1. Identification of an Area of Interest. Clearly, the primary concern of the signatories of the Washington Treaty was the Soviet (later Warsaw Pact) threat to Europe. The "iron curtain" predicted by Winston Churchill was descending, and the infamous Berlin Blockade made it clear that the Soviets would not be deterred by any single western military power on the continent. The designation of the "North Atlantic area" as NATO's area of interest was perfectly matched to the times. It was broad enough to clearly engage the military might of the United States (whose arsenal included the only deliverable nuclear weapons in the world at that time), and focused enough to make credible the prospect of commitment of North American and European forces in the event of an attack.

2. The "indivisibility" of Allied security. Article 5 contains perhaps the most famous language of the Treaty. It states in part that:

…the Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them…will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

While no specific actions are required by this Article (e.g., the language does not commit member nations to using force to resist aggression), the implications are clear: a threat to any member nation is to be considered a threat to the whole of the Alliance and a united response should be expected.

3. The requirement to maintain the capability to resist armed attack. Article 3 commits member states of NATO to programsprimarily military, but not so specifiedthat will ensure that "by means of continuous and effective self-help and mutual aid, (member nations) will maintain and develop their individual and collective capacity to resist armed attack." Of necessity, the framers of the Treaty left open the matter of how much or what type of capability each member nation would maintain or developthereafter the subject of ceaseless debate on burden sharing that has only occasionally ebbed, but mostly flowed throughout NATO's history.


President Obama's presence at the Summit Meeting of NATO heads of state and government pushed the levels of excitement and energy to heights not usually experienced at these somewhat pro forma sessions. The new president was in the process of working with his key national security advisers to formulate a new strategy for the United States' role in NATO's ongoing hot war in Afghanistanthe first and only such operation of its kind in the history of the Alliance. Other member nations fully expected that Obama would support the firm stand taken by US political and military leaders and NATO officials on an increased commitment from America's NATO partners to embrace the war effortand they were not disappointed. The issue took center stage at Strasbourg; the response to Obama's entreaties was, at best, mixed.

But the attention paid to the issue of burden sharing between nations contributing forces to ISAF seems to have overwhelmed careful analysis of a different set of more enduring issues, which could have yielded a clearer understanding of where the Alliance is now and where it might be headed. What do the outcomes of the discussions at Strasbourg, taken in light of ongoing operations in Afghanistan, reveal about fundamental principles that, at least in NATO's founding documents, have endured essentially unchanged throughout its 60-year history? Is there evidence of an awareness of the need to adapt or transform in light of current realities? And if not, what does that portend for future operations in Afghanistanor the future of the Alliance itself?

Three principal documents were issued at the conclusion of the summit: the aforementioned Declaration on Alliance security, the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit Declaration, and the Summit Declaration on Afghanistan. Examination of these hints at least some first order answers to these questionsand raises some others. The major conclusions included in these documents can be grouped into five categories:

1. The founding principles of NATO, as outlined in the Washington Treaty, were reaffirmed and judged to still be valid as underpinnings of the Alliance. The Declaration on Alliance Security put it succinctly and plainly:

We have reaffirmed the values, objectives and obligations of the Washington Treaty which unite Europe with the United States and Canada, and have provided our transatlantic community with an unprecedented era of peace and stability.

In that spirit, the Strasbourg-Kehl Summit Declaration noted: "The indivisibility of our security is a fundamental principle of the Alliance. We reaffirm our solidarity and our commitment to the cohesion of the Alliance."

2. A common front against terrorism was announced. Both documents identify terrorism in terms that clearly categorize it as a threat to all member nations. From the Strasbourg-Kehl statement:

Our Alliance provides an essential transatlantic dimension to the response against terrorism. We condemn in the strongest terms all acts of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, irrespective of their motivations or manifestations, and are determined to fight this scourge, individually and collectively, as long as necessary and in accordance with international law and principles of the UN Charter... We reiterate our determination to protect against terrorist attacks against our populations, territories, infrastructure and forces, and to deal with the consequences of any such attacks.

3. A commitment to developing the capabilities to meet the threats facing the Alliance, with special emphasis on the range of "emerging threats," was agreed upon. The statements of the Strasbourg conference articulate an awareness of new threats that face Alliance members, and a commitment to developing the additional capabilities required to face those threats. Specific mention is made of the criticality of continuing an ongoing transformation of NATO forces which "underpins the Alliance's ability to conduct the full range of its missions, including collective defense and crisis response operations on and beyond Alliance territory". The ultimate goal of this transformation is described in both documents with words like these:

We must make our capabilities more flexible and deployable so we can respond quickly and effectively, wherever needed, as new crises emerge.

4. The imperative of a comprehensive civil-military approach was underscored. Just as US commanders in both Iraq and Afghanistan have noted, the NATO leaders concluded that modern wars cannot be won by military means alone. The Strasbourg-Kehl summit declaration is especially strong on what the implications of this are for NATO operations and activities. The statement outlines political goals, separate and apart from those that are the objective of military operations, that should be identified for operations like the one ISAF is currently conductingthe establishment of a basic regime of human rights including women's rights, establishment of a stable democratic system of government, and post-conflict reconstruction of institutions, infrastructure, and economy. These goals are to be the primary outcome of NATO efforts which will entail combining civil and military measures and coordination and whose "effective implementation requires all international actors to contribute in a concerted effort, in a shared sense of openness and determination, taking into account their respective strengths and mandates." These prescriptions are completely consistent with the principles of classic doctrinal writings on stability operations. Though acknowledging the requirements, passages in the statements coming out of the Strasbourg summit that address civil-military issues are remarkable for how carefully they have been worded, even for language in an official NATO document.

5. All summit declarations made specific mention of the importance of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan. Indicative of the degree to which current events were playing on the minds of the NATO heads of state and government, the final declarations make specific and fairly extensive mention of the ISAF operation in Afghanistan.

The war in Afghanistan is referenced repeatedly in such a way as to establish three significant conclusions:

  • There is a close tie between the security of Afghanistan and that of NATO, and the war is therefore currently the "key priority" of the Alliance.
  • NATO's purpose in Afghanistan goes beyond the elimination of al-Qaeda and other extremist groups; it entails the establishment of a "secure, stable, and democratic country."
  • The Alliance's commitment in general to develop the capabilities to support "stabilization and reconstruction in all phases of a conflict" will be a key part of the effort to find a long term solution for Afghanistan.

A Separate Reality?

A review of the declarations from the Strasbourg Summit leads one to the conclusion that the participating heads of state and government consider NATO's founding principles, as they are described in the Washington Treaty, to be a suitable match for the security situation that the Alliance faces today. Past summits have yielded similar outcomesusually the result of perceived or actual political necessityand the Alliance has gone on without any type of fundamental transformation, thereby avoiding any bitter or fractious debate and the accompanying risk of divisiveness.

However, the international security regime did change when NATO made the decision in September 2001 to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty in response to the terrorist attacks on the United Statesthe first time in its 60-year history that these provisions have been invoked. Now the Alliance is fully engaged in a war that is also the top national security priority of the United States. For better or worse, the war is producing expectations of the Alliance that will only grow as the conflict drags on. At this critical juncture, reluctance to view the fundamentals of the Alliance through the lens of the war in Afghanistan could potentially lead to overlooking distortions of the original treaty that have emerged from the conduct of that war. This oversight would be a dangerous form of denial, one that will hamper the need for necessary transformation of NATO, and for tamping down of unrealistic expectations that will stress the alliance.

Reviewing the NATO declarations coming from Strasbourg, it is almost as if time has stood still for the Alliance for 60 yearsthat the wholesale changes in the strategic environment have required no fundamental review of the foundation of NATO that was laid in 1949. But, it is well known that countless times, the rugged mountains, vast desert expanses, and warlike peoples of Afghanistan, the "Graveyard of Empires," have destroyed the dreams of those with intentions based on their own separate reality who would have their way in that inhospitable country. What will be the effect of the collision of NATO's idealistic view of its own continued relevance to the war in Afghanistan with the realities of what is actually happening there?

Principles and Approach

1. Indivisibility and global threats. The indivisibility of Allied security first articulated in the Washington Treaty and reaffirmed in the Declaration of Alliance Security adopted at the Strasbourg meeting is based on collective deterrence and defensethe raison d'etre of NATO. The base assumption of the concept is the notion of shared threat. In the early days of the Cold War, it was the very real threat of a Soviet ground attack on the free nations of Western Europe, several of which had US and Canadian forces stationed on their soil. The threat of united action against such a threat was very credibleno Western European nation could be logically considered as safe in the event of an all out Warsaw Pact threat, and response to any Soviet nuclear attack against Europe or North America was very conceivable. The guarantee articulated in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty that an attack on one would be considered an attack on all had a powerful deterrent effect on Soviet decision making and Warsaw Pact actions.

The Declaration on Alliance Security from Strasbourg notes that NATO now faces a new set of "increasingly global threats." The declaration cites terrorism explicitly as one of these threats, and states that Allies must "share risks and responsibilities equitably." One might consider this language as an updating of the notion of the indivisibility of Allied security to account for new realities in the international security environment. The similarity between the logic expressed in the Washington Treaty and that of the Strasbourg statements suggests that the basic principles and concepts that were successful against a Warsaw Pact threat can be applied to modern threats. In short, the concept of the indivisibility of Alliance security has been reaffirmed at Strasbourg and the notion of a common threat is once again put forward as the underlying rationale.

2. Terrorism as a threat to the alliance. At the outset, the invoking of Article 5 in the wake of the 9-11 attacks was construed as validation of the durability of the founding principles of the Alliance. But as time has passed since 2001, the notion of terrorism as a global threat to the Alliance is proving as problematic for NATO as it has for policy makers in the United States. The identification of terrorism as a threat, as opposed to a method used by states and non-state entities to achieve certain ends, has proven troublesome for the United Statesit is largely for this reason that the term "Global War on Terrorism" has fallen into general disuse in Washington. The attempt to achieve conceptual clarity and consensus on terrorism as a threatequivalent to that of a Warsaw Pact attack of earlier daysin order to reaffirm the indivisibility of Alliance security will prove more and more difficult with each future act of terrorism committed within the boundaries of NATO nations. There has already been selective application of this modern interpretation of what constitutes the type of attack that will trigger a decision to invoke Article 5. The 2004 attacks in Madrid (committed by the so-called Moroccan Combat Group) and the 2005 bombings in London were deemed insufficient in nature to invoke Article 5, casting doubt on the Alliance's commitment to consider a terrorist attack on one Alliance nation to be an attack on NATO itself. This failure to invoke will no doubt be repeated after future attacks for many reasons, beginning with the fact that there is no consensus on which organizations should be categorized as international terrorist groups and worthy of being considered a threat to the whole of the Alliance. For example, Turkey lists 12 groups as terrorist organizations. Of those, the United States includes only two on the list maintained by the Department of State of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

Even in cases where there is no difference of opinion on the nature of the terrorist organization or the threat that it poses, there are other fundamental differences in views held by member nations about whether or not core Alliance principle can be applied to modern day threats in the way that they were to the threat of a Warsaw Pact attack. For example, there is no disagreement about the classification of al-Qaeda as an international terrorist organization. Yet, will all member nations take action against al-Qaeda based on the assumption of a shared threat such as the one that Alliance member nations faced when the principle was first conceived? Does anyone really believe that the people of Luxembourg or Croatia consider the risk of an al-Qaeda attack to be a threat to them in the same way that the United States or Great Britain does? When the government of a member nation is asked to send young men and women to fight a war against a group that realistically poses very little threat to the population of that nation, there is a limit to the amount of support that it will be able to lend to the cause.

This is not to say that NATO cannot or should not take a unified stand against terrorism or extremist groups. However, doing so within the context of provisions of the Washington Treaty (especially Article 5) as they were restated at Strasbourg is conceptually problematic and could ultimately be a source of divisiveness as opposed to unity, due to differing interpretations.

3. Out-of-area operations. There is also the matter of the nature of the war that NATO has chosen to fight, and the accompanying implications for future similar operations. First, it is an out-of-area operation. The original purpose of NATO as described in the Washington Treaty was clearly tied to the defense of NATO's area of interest, that is, the territories of NATO nations. Over time, and especially since the demise of the Soviet Union, that area of interest has been extended. NATO operations in Bosnia, though close to home, are technically classified as out of area. The rationale for these types of operations is now stated expressly in documents from Strasbourg that cite the need for NATO to focus on defense of security interests as well as defense of territory. The final Declaration mentions threats that "emerge at strategic distances," make clear reference to the need to prepare for out-of-area missions.

Nonetheless, the fact that the governments of NATO nations have embraced in words the notion of out-of-area operations does not mean that the populations of those nations will continue to accept as compelling NATO's explanation for why they are being undertaken, especially as more numerous and distant deployments are undertaken, or as ongoing operations such as the ISAF mission drag on and become more costly and deadly. Additionally, an out-of-area operation of the magnitude of the war in Afghanistan places enormous demands on the capabilities of virtually all NATO nations to provide necessary logistical support. NATO systems of wartime sustainment were originally designed to support relatively close-in operations in defense of Western Europe. The transformation and modification of these systems to accommodate demanding out-of-area operations has not kept pace with the related requirements; only the major contributing nations are able to meet them. The armed forces of smaller, less capable nations participating in ISAF must rely on the larger nations for much of what they need for their forces to operate, which places an additional strain on the forces of the larger nations and exacerbates the debate over burden sharing.

4. The nature of the war: counterterrorist operations or a counterinsurgency. Closely related to a common understanding of the nature of the war is a shared vision among member nations of ISAF of who the enemy in Afghanistan is and how he is to be understood. The plain fact is that the war in Afghanistan has transformed from an operation to defeat al-Qaeda to a counterinsurgency to defeat the "Taliban," a label that is applied to a supposed group better characterized as a movement that is highly differentiated and poorly understood.

Certainly, there are elements of the Taliban that espouse extremist ideology, support, are closely aligned with al-Qaeda, and use terror as a means to their ends. But making the case that even these elements pose a global or international threat requiring a NATO response is difficult. Other groups within the Taliban are better described as a resistance that is mostly local in nature. Such groups oppose the Kabul government and the foreign occupation forces who support it, but are not necessarily motivated by any form of radical Islam nor are they interested in the establishment of a system of governance or rule of law guided by Sharia.

There are those who are called Taliban who are motivated by the ill-gotten gains that can be had from various types of illegal activity. They will fight any force that threatens to get in the way of their livelihood. NATO forces are currently fighting all of these flavors of Taliban and will continue to do so as long as the ISAF mission goes on. As the memories of the original justification for invoking Article 5 begin to fade, and the costs and casualties continue to mount, it will become increasingly difficult to garner support in cases where ISAF can be said to be doing the Karzai government's "dirty work." The argument that failing to defeat the Taliban could lead to the collapse of the central government, enabling the kind of anarchy that supports the resurgence of al-Qaeda within the borders of Afghanistan, will invite the realistic criticism that NATO cannot take on stability and reconstruction operations everywhere that a state is failing.

5. Member nation military capabilities. NATO leadership has adopted a counterinsurgency strategy to guide operations in Afghanistan. The tactics, techniques and principles associated with a counterinsurgency fight are the most demanding of any class of operation in military doctrine. There are virtually no armies of member nations who are capable of or have embraced the need to train and otherwise prepare their forces to undertake such a mission. So, it falls to the few nations that have transformed their militaries into counterinsurgency forces, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, to take on the bulk of the fighting. Even if other NATO nations accepted the need to reshape their militaries from vastly scaled down versions of the armies that they maintained to fight the Warsaw Pact, the effort and expense entailed would be enormous and time consuming. The Strasbourg-Kehl declaration commits Alliance members to transformation of forces that:

…is crucial (because) it underpins the Alliance's ability to conduct the full range of its missions, including collective defence and crisis response operations on and beyond Alliance territory. Against this background we must continue to work individually and collectively to improve, both in quality and quantity, the capabilities needed to meet the priorities we set in the Comprehensive Political Guidance.

Suffice to say that, if the Alliance intends to include counterinsurgency in its "range of missions," this represents an enormous commitment for most member states, one that almost certainly will not be met.

6. The civilian effort: reconstruction. Modern doctrine on counterinsurgency recognizes the need for poltico-military solutions. The oft-heard refrain repeated by defense officials, both military and civilian, is that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won by military measures alone. The need for an integrated civil-military effort is a major point of emphasis in all three Strasbourg documents, referred to therein as the "comprehensive approach." In these documents, reconstruction is correctly construed to encompass a full range of programs and projects, to include building infrastructure, establishing effective national and local instruments of governance, and economic revitalization.

It is probably true that a strong reconstruction effort could assist in winning over the Afghan population, and in turn help to address the problems of instability in the country. Mounting an effective reconstruction effort in Afghanistan is, however, a very daunting prospect. The deteriorating security situation and the increasing violence will put hard limits on what types of activities can take place and where. In some areas, the undertaking of any reconstruction activities by civilian agencies—coalition and international (NGOs, IOs, etc.)—is a practical impossibility. Moreover, as General David Petraeus has said in his discussions of such efforts, the use of the term reconstruction is inaccurate; construction is a more fitting description of what will need to occur for the population to detect any difference at all in their quality of life or the ability of their government to provide for them. Afghanistan is one of the least developed nations in the world in every aspect, and the prospect for sustained improvement without a massive infusion of resources is extremely grim.

Even if the Alliance could get commitments for the necessary resources, the management of a large scale NATO reconstruction program would be difficult. Such a program would consist of multiple national effortsundertaken by both public and private entitiesand the work of international organizations of all types. All these activities would then have to be coordinated with Afghan programs and receive the blessing of key political leaders and ministers in Kabul, along with the support of local leaders (official and not) who often are at odds with the national government. Making all of this come together requires organizations and structures well beyond the capabilities of any military alliance; even the most advanced like NATO will be overwhelmed. The result could be raised expectations amongst the people of Afghanistan as plans are made and resources begin to flow, followed by disappointment and disillusionment as the execution of these plans bogs down in the complexities of reconstruction in a third world nation wracked by war and suffering from a weak, corruption-plagued, and ineffective central government.

What Will Be Learned in Afghanistan?

In sum, the Alliance as a whole and most member nations individually lack the capabilities, military and civilian, to fight the kind of war that is being waged in Afghanistanthe one they committed to after 9/11 in the spirit of solidarity that has been the center of gravity of the Alliance, and the one that they hoped would establish the continuing relevance of NATO's enduring principles into the 21st century. It is clear that ISAF commanders and forces on the ground recognize the difficulties that are being encountered. Military men and women and civilian reconstruction experts from various contributing members who come to Afghanistan as part of ISAF are clearly unevenly prepared for operations there. As a result of this and the increasingly dire security situation, the capabilities that are contributed are done so with an ever increasing number of caveats on their use. Limits imposed by nations on the use of their forces and civilian experts that restrict where they can go and what they can do once there make the implementation of a coherent, unified effort almost impossible.

Two related questions are being asked more and more often these days. The nature of the first question is perennial in the Alliance, and has been heard over and over again throughout NATO's history in different engagementsthe discussion being more energetic during times like the Cuban missile crisis in the 60s, the Vietnam war in the late 60s and 70s, the decision to deploy medium range nuclear missiles in non-nuclear nations in the 80s, among many other events and time periods: "Will the war in Afghanistan bring down the Alliance?"

The second question is somewhat sui generis, tied as it is to an operation flowing from NATO's first Article 5 campaign: "Will NATO/ISAF participation in operations in Afghanistan impede the war effort to the extent that mission accomplishment is threatened?"

The answer to both questions is, "probably not;" but there are certain realities that must be faced and corresponding introspection that must take place within accepted forums of the Alliance lest the war in Afghanistan contribute increasingly to disharmony and discord between Alliance members, and this discord be reflected back on ISAF's efforts in Afghanistan.

First, it is time to revisit, reaffirm, and strengthen the essential elements of NATO's purpose that have stood the test of time. Transatlantic dialog has had a positive effect on international order in good times and in bad. Maintaining a strong bond between North America and Europe in the face of a mutually perceived threat has been both cause and effect of this dialog. Additionally, cooperation within NATO has long complemented the contributions of other Western organizations established by democratic nations to strengthen security, political, economic, cultural, and other relations between them. These organizations have been a major factor in maintaining a healthy international regime in a crucial region, which has now chalked up six decades of mostly harmonious relationships between nations whose history up until World War II was notable mostly for the wars that were fought between them. Now that the Warsaw Pact is gone, former Eastern European members have been brought into the Alliance, thus expanding this effect. (It is worth noting that some of these former Warsaw Pact nations are among the largest contributors to ISAF.) Though the road has been at times rocky, the Alliance has even become a key means by which the West is able to engage Russia on issues where cooperation is deemed helpful, such as the curtailing of the spread of nuclear weapons, through dialog in forums such as the NATO/Russia Council.

Second, NATO must undertake a fundamental review of its approach to countering the spread of terrorism, and actions that will (or will not) result from terrorist attacks against or within Alliance nations. The founding principles of the Alliance (to include Article 5) must be the basis of this review, but fundamentals that have been in place for 60 years cannot be stubbornly embraced in the face of a security environment that is changing dramatically. Plainly stated, the review must consider and establish parameters that will make it clear what type of military operations cannot or will not be undertaken as an Alliance given the mission and capabilities of NATO. A hard, realistic look at the lessons already learned in Afghanistan must guide this review, and it must be followed by new discussions of the types of capabilities that NATO nations should strive to develop going forward.

Third, and as part of the preceding review, there is a need for an effort to identify and commit to developing increased capability to conduct those types of military operations that might be more suited to NATO's capabilities and the inclinations of member states and that are becoming noticeably more important in an increasingly unstable world. Since the end of the Cold War, many Western European nations have reshaped their militaries, moving away from formations optimized for high intensity combat defense and towards forces with capabilities for other missions that they consider more relevant and within their reachpeace building, nation building, post-crisis relief and reconstruction, and humanitarian relief. To the degree that NATO intends to fulfill commitments like the ones described in its most recent declarations coming from Strasbourg to place emphasis on addressing the root causes of terrorism and extremism (as opposed to reacting to attacks), this trend ought to be encouraged.

Last, there must be serious discussion given to specifically how to develop approaches and capabilities—military and otherwise—to face the new set of other identified emerging threats. As the 21st century progresses, the credibility and relevance of NATO and other security alliances will increasingly be judged based upon their analysis of and ability to react to a wide range of emerging threats beyond just the ones arising from extremismpandemics, humanitarian crises, natural disasters, the consequences of environmental threats, and the like.


Sixty years is a long time. Besides being history's most successful alliance, NATO can also be said to be one of the most durable, especially given its size and the complexity of its composition. Certainly, a solid set of founding principles has contributed to that success.

That said, given the pace of change in recent decades, it is unrealistic to expect that the basic principles of any organization will be as valid now as they were six decades ago. It is good to embrace the fundamental values and precepts of any alliancegood for cohesion, a sense of heritage, and to build and preserve a common culture, voice, and philosophy. It is necessary to account for current realities, not deny them. For NATO, to become wed to its founding principles in a way that impedes necessary consideration of transformation, undermines its credibility and effectiveness and risks losing the support for the Alliance from its member nations, let alone the world beyond.

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