Frankfurter Rundschau
20 November 2002

NATO must violate its basic values

Angelika Beer & Otfried Nassauer
(English translation by Christopher Steinmetz)

The Prague Summit could radically change the Alliance / Otfried Nassauer and Angelika Beer on the new strategic concept and the command structures.

Big events cast their shadows. This holds true for the NATO Prague Summit on November 21st-22nd. Even the choice of place is symbolic. Here, in the capital of a new NATO member state, additional states will be invited to join the alliance. But one year after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. NATO-enlargement won't be on the center stage. Instead, the restructuring and repositioning of the Alliance will dominate the event. This summit could alter the transatlantic alliance in a much more fundamental sense than any previous summit. Here we document an analysis of the political risks involved. Authors are Otfried Nassauer, director of the Berlin Information-center on transatlantic security (BITS) and Angelika Beer (Bündnis90/Die Grünen), until recently defense spokesperson of the Green Faction in the German Bundestag. She currently works as senior consultant to BITS.

Presently, NATO is in the midst of a fundamental crisis. Pierre Lelouche, a prominent French security politician, sees NATO in its most fundamental crisis since its establishment. Months ago Lord Robertson, Secretary General of NATO, thought NATO to face the choice between "modernisation" and "marginalisation". Robertson believes the reason for the present crisis to lie in the widening gap between the U.S. and Europe regarding equipment, armament and technology. He fears that soon the armed forces of the allies will be unable to conduct joint operations.

Some commentators disagree. They believe the crisis to be more fundamental. They see a continental shift, a movement of tectonic plates. Depending on the point of view and origin of the observers, either the missing European will to exercise tough power politics is being identified as the primary reason for this shift; or it is being attributed to the American way of conducting power politics, which rests primarily on military means and only takes the allies into consideration, if they are willing to follow the American lead.

However, all observers agree on one aspect of the present crisis: NATO is historically a regional alliance for collective defense. For such an alliance it is difficult to suddenly think and act in categories of global military action – even more so, since many Europeans fear that a global NATO copying the American model and following its lead, will force them in the future to face all the problems which the U.S. has to deal with at present: using military force without mandate from the United Nations; preventive and pre-emptive military strikes, not easily discernible from offensive warfare; or – in this context - even a joint responsibility for the employment of weapons of mass destruction. In short, a fear of situations where NATO would violate its own set of basic values – which includes the rule of law.

New global tasks

Even though NATO invoked Art.5 of the Washington Treaty only one day after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, Washington demanded only some minor military contributions from Brussels. The U.S. avoided to involve the Alliance in the decision-making process on possible military reactions. NATO doesn't have a voice in strategic decisions. Instead, NATO is mostly kept informed and occasionally consulted.

Vigorously Lord Robertson is trying to fight the loss of relevance which NATO faces. According to him, NATO has to identify the fight against terrorism as one of its core activities. Countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is becoming increasingly important. Already progress has been achieved. His proof: the alliance has already dropped the "sterile 'out of area' debate" at the foreign ministers meeting in May 2002 and announced its willingness to conduct operations "as and where required" – i.e. globally. Robertson gave a very personal interpretation of the passages of the communique, which only states, that the alliance needs armed forces which can be quickly moved to "wherever they are needed".

While the German Foreign Ministry in September still considered such an interpretation as invalid, it meanwhile became common ground. A consensus emerged that NATO can act globally. And NATO will prove this: soon the Dutch-German Corps will take the lead of the ISAF-Mission in Afghanistan – a global precedent for the Alliance. According to Robertson, NATO could now take a lead role in fighting terrorism and could offer its military capabilities to other international organisations and coalitions on a case-by-case basis. A "Military Concept for the Defense against Terrorism", prepared by the Military Committee, is due for adoption. However, a new Strategic Concept is not being planned at present.

But things aren't that simple. During the last months the U.S. have changed their national strategy – latest through a new National Security Strategy. Regarding the fight against terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, pre-emptive military action is not ruled out anymore. This is illustrated by expressions like "pre-emptive strikes" and "defensive intervention" (in the sense of precautionary self-defense).

The American expression "pre-emptive strikes" has a twofold meaning. It contains preventive action, such as the destruction of enemy missile launchers immediately before these are about to be used aggressively. But it also means, launching a precautionary, pre-emptive attack to avoid the build-up of a long-term threat, like the construction of weapons of mass destruction. An example would be Israel's very controversial attack on the Iraqi nuclear power plant at Osirak in the 1980's. The Bush administration doesn't even rule out anymore the use of nuclear weapons in such strikes, which could be directed against both state and non-state actors.

NATO is about to face a serious dilemma. If NATO adapts its strategy to match the developments in the U.S., like NATO so often did in the past with a certain delay, it would face serious problems concerning the legitimacy of its plans in regard to international law. Neither pre-emptive attacks nor the use of nuclear weapons – possibly even with recourse to NATO's Nuclear Sharing arrangements, are covered by international law. NATO would run risk to actively weaken the United Nations monopoly on the use of force and to collaborate in the deregulation of international relations.

However, the alternative doesn't taste much better: How is NATO supposed to convince its strongest member state that a different set of rules from that in the U.S. national strategy are to be applied in the Alliance? An almost insoluble dilemma which can only be temporarily avoided through wordy and vague compromises or intellectual self-censorship. The seriousness of the problem was proven recently when CMX02 was terminated early in spring 2002 after political controversies. None of the public summit documents will provide a clear answer to this dilemma, since such sensitive questions usually aren't addressed publicly. More likely, those questions will be dealt with in confidential papers like that of the Military Committee. Therefore the planned "Concept for the Defense against Terrorism" deserves the highest political attention.

This is underpinned by a statement of Klaus Neumann, former Generalinspekteur of the Bundeswehr and chairman of the Military Committee of NATO. He believes that "NATO will therefore take at Prague the first steps towards a new strategic concept which has to include prevention and pre-emption as options but not as guiding principles". "NATO needs to decide at Prague on new ways to counter chemical, biological or nuclear attack on our armed forces and on our populations. This is more than homeland defense. This means to meet the threat where it emerges. It means that NATO has to be prepared to intervene where necessary without abandoning its general orientation to be a defensive alliance."

New military means

The military means and methods from the Cold War are not sufficient to master these tasks. Therefore a variety of proposals were made in order to identify a quick remedy.

In September U.S. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, launched the idea of NATO to create a rapid reaction force for world wide interventions – the NATO Response Force (NRF). This force of about 21.000 soldiers is supposed to include the best which NATO-states have to offer: army units at brigade level, fighter aircraft for up to 200 sorties per day and navy forces the size of one of NATO's Standing Fleets. They should be deployable within 30 days, specialised in high-intensity warfighting – a prerequisite for conducting such interventions like in Afghanistan. They should be capable to fight autonomously for up to 30 days. With units like this, NATO could then participate in U.S.-led operations. The NRF is supposed to be fully operational by 2006.

A second initiative is termed "Prague Capabilities Commitment" (PCC). Through this the European states are expected to make politically binding commitments to provide military capabilities in core areas such as strategic air and sea lift, defense against chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats and command&control systems at specified dates. Contrary to the broader earlier "Defense Capabilities Initiative" PCC is focused on NRF requirements and therefore on global military deployments for high-intensity warfare. Presently, working groups deal with increasing the individual capabilities.

Not every NATO-state is obliged to contribute to every capability. Division of labor and role-sharing are the magic words expected to bring future progress. For example, Germany chairs the working group on strategic air transport. It remains uncertain, if this primarily reflects the interest of the Bundeswehr to justify the procurement of 73 (or perhaps only 60) military transport aircraft A400M. But it is certain that already first, exorbitantly expensive offers to lease American C-17 air-lifters reached Berlin, with which Europe could bridge the time span until the beginning delivery of the A400M in 2009. A possible and much cheaper option would be to lease a sufficient amount of Antonow 124 air-lifters, presently used by the Bundeswehr to supply the troops in Afghanistan reliably and at very modest costs.

A third initiative introduced at the summit is supposed to strengthen the NATO capabilities against attacks on the armed forces and territories of the member states with biological, chemical, radiological and nuclear weapons. This proposal, which at a first glance seems like a logical response to the risks of terrorist attacks and behind which one envisages primarily a strengthening of the NBC-protection capabilities and civil defence planning, instead has a much broader thrust. Hidden underneath this summit initiative lurk further NATO plans regarding missile defense for deployed forces as well as for the protection of homeland territories, and additionally another facet of the discussions on preventive and pre-emptive military operations of the Alliance.

Furthermore, political guidance for a new command structure is scheduled to be adopted at the Prague Summit. A delicate task, since for every NATO state this question touches issues of influence, the share of representative positions and the future of NATO headquarters on its territory. The Military Committee will be commissioned to present a final proposal by summer 2003 for how NATO can achieve a significantly higher military flexibility with significantly fewer headquarters and command posts. The committee is not to be envied. Any reform of the existing command structures must also meet the demands of future NATO member states – running counter to the goal of trimming the structure. Furthermore, a reform of the U.S. national command structure has caused serious concerns in Brussels.

According to U.S. design NATO is supposed to abolish its most important headquarter on U.S. territory, SACLANT. SACLANT, being on the same level as SACEUR, commands the maritime forces in the Atlantic and additionally in times of war the NATO-assigned strategic nuclear submarines – the core of NATO's nuclear deterrence. Washington now argues, that one operational strategic command suffices. But: SACLANT is more than that. It is a symbol for NATO's commitment to defend the U.S.

Is this a sign, that NATO is no longer considered necessary for defending the U.S.? Washington has offered to turn SACLANT into a strategic "functional" HQ responsible for transformation and future NATO operational concepts and interoperability. Thus, the command would not have any operational tasks anymore. Some Europeans regard this as a Greek gift.

Europe's reservations

Even though the Europeans welcomed these American initiatives in principle, some substantial reservations persist. German Foreign Minister Fischer listed them in his statement last Thursday. Regarding the NRF he formulated three prerequisites: Firstly, the decision about force deployment should rest with the NATO-Council and therefore be made unanimously. Secondly, a German participation depends on a prior decision of the Bundestag. Thirdly, the initiative has to be compatible with the creation of European crisis response forces. Under these preconditions Germany would agree to develop a NRF-concept.

At the root lie concrete German worries. Fischer wants to prevent NATO-troops from being deployed too quickly and without the sometimes time consuming decision-making mechanisms of NATO after receiving a request by the U.S. or another NATO state. He wants to preclude any circumvention of the German parliamentary provisions. At the same time though he indirectly increases the pressure on the German government to pass a "deployment law" in order to create a greater flexibility for governmental decision-making.

Finally there is the compatibility with the European Crisis Response Forces (ECRF): If a NRF would really be put into place, it would need at least 60.000 of the best soldiers – due to the necessary rotation. Soldiers, which are envisaged to be part of the ECRF. This would touch the core of the future ECRF. If the NRF were in great demand by NATO, fewer and less capable forces for EU-missions would be available. Furthermore, to guarantee the interoperability with US troops, the NRF forces would need to be modernised along U.S. standards. In other words: to remain deployable as part of the ECRF, all other ECRF units (aside from the NRF units) would have to be modernised along these standards too. NATO's future Strategic Command for Transformation pushes developments in the same direction as does the Prague Capabilities Commitments, already in mockery coined BAC: Buy American Commitments.

The establishment of autonomous European capabilities would at least become more expensive, the process potentially even becoming completely absorbed by NATO. Still, all these concessions to American desires would not buy any guarantee, that the U.S. will take its European NATO-partners more serious regarding the core question for them: A guarantee, that Washington will give Europe a strategic say in how to handle future crisis situations.

NATO enlargement

NATO enlargement – the original main issue of the summit. Ten candidate states stand at the NATO doorstep. Seven will receive the invitation to join the Alliance: the Baltic republics Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Balkan states Slovenia, Bulgaria and Romania. Croatia, Albania and Macedonia will remain at the doorstep for the moment. The "big bang", the large version of NATO expansion will be executed. In spring 2004 the new admissions will become full members at another summit in Washington – at about the same time as the expansion of the EU.

It is surprising, how smooth the second enlargement of the alliance progresses. No extended argument with Russia, no public discussion on the question, whether the Baltic states could actually be defended, no strategic debate on giving perhaps too many or too weak candidates a territorial defense assurance.

Some major reasons can be found in Washington. The Bush administration ascribes NATO a changing role. NATO’s relevance for European security is increasingly defined by politics and less and less by military issues. It is becoming more and more unlikely that alliance territory has to be defended in a classical war. Even though on a global scale the Alliance can offer Washington some limited support, it is not the strategic partner, which the U.S. would allow a voice on how to handle crisis situations.

NATO will not give up the principle of taking decisions unanimously. If need be, cooperation among important partners can be conducted on a bilateral level and with less frictions.

In the future NATO will be instrumental to safeguard the final integration of Central-, South Eastern and Eastern European nations into Western institutions and to prohibit renewed open hostilities in the Balkans. In addition, NATO will secure U.S. influence on European security politics in a much wider geography.

Especially Romania and Bulgaria possess strategic significance, because their integration would be a sign for all of the Balkans that stabilising South-Eastern Europe is a common task for the Alliance. Likewise Bulgarian and Romanian membership improves NATO's options to safeguard Western interests in the Black Sea area. The admission of seven new member states in a single move also secures Washington's influence, since their new elites often have been trained in the U.S.

And finally, it is obvious after this second larger round of enlargement that no further expansion will be scheduled in the near future, which could have caused controversies and tensions in the relationship with Russia. Thus, it will not be necessary to again think about a compensatory deepening of cooperation with Russia. The Permanent Joint Council, established in 1997 for consultations, was remodelled and upgraded as the NATO-Russia Council in 2002. Now it can take joint decisions – with consent of all 20 states, for example in respect to fighting terrorism. Commentators already hold - partly joking, partly in earnest - that the next step could only be to offer Russia full membership – a step which should be considered only at a much later date.

NATO will remain open for new members. But specific measures to bring other states into NATO are loosing some of their urgency. Instead, the cooperation in the fight against terrorism will be broadened and intensified. Many states for whom a NATO membership is presently out of reach still play an important role as host nations for NATO forces during military interventions – like the states in Central Asia.

Iraq, an item on the agenda?

Summits follow their own logic. Frequently, the most controversial issue can't even be found on the agenda. They will be discussed during lunch or dinner - when there will be no official record. Prague will be no exception. Top item on the agenda is Iraq. The electoral campaigns in Germany, Turkey and the U.S. have been waged. Now could be the time for real politics, even for unpopular measures. Despite the question, if an attack on Iraq strives to dismantle Iraqi weapons of mass destruction or to eliminate the regime of Saddam Hussein: Will the Alliance play a relevant role during this attack, and if so, which? Will there be a UN mandate or not?

This involves some delicate issues for NATO: Can NATO remain credible as an Alliance based on common values if it ignores present international law and supports a war of aggression? Will the Alliance commit itself to the American idea of division of labor: Washington decides which conflict will be fought militarily and how, NATO will do the cleaning up? Will NATO participate in the reconstruction of Iraq?