01 April 2019

Because NATO existed, it was able to be reformed and reinforced - The 70th anniversary since North-Atlantic’s Alliance foundation - Documentary for Defence and Security Monitor

Ştefan Oprea

Image source: Mediafax

NATO was created to “keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in and the Germans down” (Lord Ismay- the first NATO General Secretary)

Once with the fall of the Eastern bloc and URSS, NATO lost its main rival, hence it had to find a new reason for its existence. After 1989, Europe’s security landscape changed drastically. However, NATO continues to firmly follow and achieve its initial objectives. The Alliance remains the key tool for the US interference in Europe, concerned about Russia’s influence and it is determined to upkeep Germany in the security alliance, this way decreasing neighbor countries’ concerns about this state’s increased power after reunification. Even if there were alternatives, including NATO’s end in the detriment of some European security structures, like OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), with a strong American support, the solution they chose was Alliance’s reformation.

This solution, adopted at the NATO summit from London, July 1990, it was necessary and demanded by the danger the Soviet Union was still representing, by the possibility of some demonstrations in the states whose political regime was changed and by the existence of some threats against the European security, coming from areas outside the Alliance (North Africa and Middle East).

Maintained in order to prevent the nationalism, the ethnical conflicts and to establish the foundation of pan-European security, NATO adopts a new implementation strategy, by which decides to get associated with some of the former opponents. Hence, it is offering a cooperation platform, the Partnership for Peace, to bring Central and East Europe countries closer to the Alliance.

One of the elements of the strategy implemented in 1991 was NATO’s approach in operations. It highlighted the need of usable capabilities in the intervention operations in case of crisis and peace maintenance.

Therefore, NATO transforms from an Alliance whose purpose was to encourage enemies’ deterrence, into an alliance with a strategy to use its capabilities for imposing and maintaining peace, prevent international frauds, as well as to develop humanitarian, training and instructing missions. However, nuclear and conventional deterrence remains the basis of the defence strategy.

Albeit more and more voices were presenting NATO as a useless and governmental money-consuming organization, the reality proved that those voices did not get neither the true NATO effort, nor the help the organization gave to countries which showed their determination to enter the NATO partnership. Even if not all of them wanted to become a member state, these countries have received and are still receiving the same quantitative and qualitative help. With this process, the Alliance has fundamentally contributed at building mutual trust between NATO and East Europe’s states or the former components of the Soviet Union, at their armies’ transformation process, but also at accomplishing the accession criteria, if they have showed their will to become members.

Also, this organization has contributed to conflicts’ stabilization in the Balkans and Middle East. Furthermore, NATO continues to work, even today, for any threat or possible threat against NATO to be analyzed and, with the consensus of all member states, to the found and to be adopted the best solution to solve the crisis.

As for the Peace Partnership, it was officially launched at the NATO summit from Brussels, 10-11th of January 1994. Overwhelmed by the anti-communist revolutions and realizing that regional security alliances solution cannot be viable, the countries of the former Warsaw Treaty had to redefine their national defence and security policy. It was becoming more and more obvious that the alternative for them was to get close to the collective defense system of the western democracies.

Fifteen years later, Romania was becoming the first Peace Partnership member state (26th of January). Until the end of the year, other 21 states, including Russia and Ukraine, are signing the accession documents. The accession process continued in the following years also, incorporating other cooperation formats as well: the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Cooperation Initiative from Istanbul.

The first mission led by NATO outside its borders, to impose peace and whereat have participated a series of partner countries, took place in 1996, in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The remarkable results of this cooperation was the completion of the accession process to NATO of the countries which have actually proposed to do it and which have accomplished the imposed criteria. However, ulterior, the NATO extension was becoming a controversial decision regarding the dimension of the process and the financial costs. About Russia’s possible position on this matter, at that time, the analyses were quite profound.

The first integration wave takes place in March 1999, when Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary are becoming Alliance’s members. Although Russia is a PFP partner, it is firmly opposing NATO’s extension. Moreover, it is suggesting that if the extension will include also the Baltic countries and Ukraine, it will fight these measures.

The crisis in Kosovo overlaps with these statements, and NATO, with the final document from the Washington summit, April 1999, thinks that diplomacy must be supported, again, by force. The military intervention took place and results are already well-known.

The formal inclusion of the operations which were not included in art. 5 (an attack against a member) in NATO’s main activity was the next logic step in the gradual transformation of NATO into a global military organization. At the same time, the term global was inadequate, actions being limited to the contribution to “Euro-Atlantic’s region stability and peace”.

The terrorist attack from September 2001 shocked the entire world, and NATO faced an unexampled situation. The activation of art. 5 has asked for the launch of some debates, the real situation highlighting  the limits of this provision about territory’s defence, on one hand, and the military operations outside the border, on the other. Afghanistan’s attack by the US, initially as a coalition was getting the shape of a NATO stabilization mission, in 2003, when, under its leadership, the members and partners were entering the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) format. As the time was going by, “defence against an attack” was becoming a long-term war. NATO was heading towards the global approach.

In the same year, NATO skimmed over one of the most remarkable adaptation of the command structure. Hence, in order to match the realities of the Cold War period, the structure with over 22.000 people of the 33 commission, was transforming into a command and control system with 7 commission, with a total of 7.000 people. This new structure was showing NATO’s capacity to answer to the new security threats and challenges of the 21 century. Across the force structure, the NATO Response Force-NRF was becoming operational and able to reach quickly to the entire series of security challenges, from crisis management to collective defence.

In April 2008, Albania and Croatia have received the invitation to access NATO and have become members in the following year. Coincidence or not, the Russian Federation attacked Georgia in August. Lasting 6 days and having dramatic consequences for Georgia, the war was seen as the first European conflict of the 21 century. After this violent intervention of Russia and Georgia, the international community reacted, which has created a certain discomfort to Moscow.

Russia’s relations with NATO and the West got improved for quite some time, probably also to take down this situation. Across the cooperation program with NATO, the number of common activities was increasing a lot, from 12 to 84. We must notice the full integration and participation, for the first time, of a Russian submarine (Aloros) in the exercise led by NATO, “Bold Monarch 2011”. The photos with General Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the Staff of the Russian Army, together with Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, the president of the NATO Military Committee, at the board of the Russian submarine, 100 meters depth, watching its functioning along the international rescue systems, have drawn world’s attention.

Along with a “reset the relations with Russia” policy that the US announced, what followed was a new START agreement and the development of common antiterrorist exercises. A promising perspective, which was about to get to an end soon.

At the NATO summit from Lisbon (2010) it was being adopted a new Strategic Concept which was approaching the new challenges against the Alliance like terrorism and cyber-attacks. Also, even if there was a certain enthusiasm in Europe to invest in such a capability, members have agreed that NATO should develop a collective anti-missile system.

In a “restful” atmosphere, it was increasing the consensus over the common European security and defence policies. Since 2009, the NATO General Secretary, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, was stating that he does not see the development of a European security and defenses policy to be in a competition with NATO, but rather complementary with it. EU is a unique and essential partner for NATO. However, when discussions about the need to increase the military spending budget have been intensified, the European enthusiasm stopped. As there were raising concerns, which were actually legit, that across the Alliance there has been a stratification of the member states regarding the participation to missions across NATO (some especially on humanitarians, development, peace maintenance missions, etc., meanwhile other were actually doing all the job), the Trans-Atlantic relation started to be “weakened”. The concerns along with griefs did not last too much, because a new challenge came across the Alliance.

Crimea’s annexation by Russia and the launch of a hybrid war in Ukraine 2014 have worsen the relations. The Alliance has stated that Russia’s actions were undermining the foundations of international security and the principles peace in Europe was built upon.  The West has imposed sanctions against Russia, and NATO reinforced its Eastern flank forces. Moreover, NATO was underlining that the military measures were not guaranteeing the safety and that the deterrence of the current challenges need the cooperation of the international community, which should join forces and be consequent  in order to prevent the conflicts. The experiences from the Middle East and the Balkans are showing that crisis’ prevention need a common implementation of some political, military and civil measures, as well as the cooperation with other international actors like UN, OSCE and EU.

 Although it has irritated Moscow, Republic of Montenegro becomes a NATO member state in 2017, and a year later, Republic of North Macedonia is invited to access the organization as well.

All these evolutions were imposing NATO to show that the version of the 21 century Alliance can be as effective as the Cold War period. Nowadays NATO is not as the one it was at its foundation. At its 70 years of existence, the Alliance is facing many challenges against our stability, a moment when it is needed a strategic review, in order to face Russia’s aggressive nuclear posture and to guarantee the defence of our countries.

During its history, NATO, although it had many internal crisis: Suez (1956), the French withdrawal from the command structure (1966), the debates on cruise missiles from the 1980, Iraq (2003), today, it is simultaneous facing more situation and an increased complexity.

Unfortunately, the return of a foreign strategic threat finds NATO in difficult timse, when Russia wants to weaken the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, president Trump expresses his controversial positions against NATO, the East-European states have different opinions against the Eastern flank threat and the Southern one, and Turkey expresses its unilateral position.

From this point of view, NATO will continue to fight to balance the interests of its member states security from East and South Europe, even if the Eastern challenges will continue to dominate its efforts to consolidate the deterrence and defence position.

Also, an extension and a cooperation with EU in defence, without competition’s emergence, will, definitely, contribute to Alliance’s reinforcement.

A military alliance which was composed of 12 members, at its foundation, today, after 70 years, has 29 member states. It shows that NATO was always the common denominator of the common strategic interest to maintain the “West” together, against the Soviet threat, through collective defence efforts.

Although NATO and the Trans-Atlantic relation will face multiple challenges, NATO’s internal political cohesion, which now is quite weakened, will be the key element of Alliance’s revival.

From this point of view, the fundamental changes of international order will determine the member state to find their tempo.

This thesis is supported also by the fact that, even if there are doubts about NATO’s future, its 70 years of remarkable achievements will have the power to take them away.

The collective responses of the member states to these urgent challenges will play an essential role in shaping Alliance’s vision and perspectives.