02 August 2018


Niculae Iancu

The topic regarding NATO’s members commitment to spend 2% from GDP for defence got the attention of last month’s security public agenda. The impact of some messages on this topic, coming especially from Washington, and the concerns in the European chanceries regarding the risks of installing the lack of trusts or, even worse, the disunity in the North Atlantic Alliance, reactivated the financial considerations dedicated to defence. Yet, getting the defence spending on the first line moves the accent of common defence definitions from motivation to methods, or, in other words, from vision to resources. What will the consequences of such movement be? We will have to see if this will have an impact over NATO’s cohesion or even over its architecture, but, clearly the lack of trust has been installed, with long term effects, especially regarding the unconditional support of the people on the two Atlantic coasts to defend democracy on the euro-Atlantic space, anywhere where this would be in danger.

Image source: Mediafax

The facade of a world where no major security threats exists

There are enough proofs that the decades after the Cold War damaged the competitive advantage of the western world’s military power- using a terminology liked by the American planners. On the first part of the 90’, from the previous century, creating a facade about a calm and prosper space, free of major conflicts and significant threats against the national sovereignty, territorial integrity and constitutional order, in essence, against the national security of the democratic states, led to budget priorities reorientation towards the powerful non-traditional domains specific to post-realistic world. The economy was integrated more than ever, the markets extended and diversified, and the informational technology exploded.  Democracy was ascending, despite the resistance coming from some conjectural movements, considered rightist, having local or regional character. Starting from its North-Atlantic epicenter, the liberal democracy extension seemed to quickly reach geographic spaces that, at that time, were blocked projects with apparently reformative accents, but with a strong nationalist touch. This process started from east and south of Europe, and it seemed to have enough power to get to Middle East and North Africa, and even further, in Central and South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The finality would have been the democracy junction from south and east to Southern Ocean, or with the new democratic world located on south extremity of African continent. Year after year, and revolution after revolution, the ex-soviet spaces, ex-Yugoslavian, east-Mediterranean and north African entered this fever of contesting the totalitarian regimes, promoting human rights and destroying the discrimination of any kind. There was this feeling that, despite any syncope, the success of installing world peace was just a matter of time. For West, it could not be any different, because the democratized process mortice forces have universal characters, the individual liberties and the emancipation right of the human being could not be to doubt of by any ideology of politic movement, focused on humanism. It seemed that, for the first time in history, people all over the world decided to decide their own fate.

Despite the instauration of an optimism almost generalized regarding the victory of liberal democracy, the North Atlantic Alliance continued to exist even after the falling of the Iron Curtain. Moreover, this started to extend towards center and east Europe and it seemed that nothing will stop it to get to Black Sea’s east coast or, why not, to Caspian Sea. The partnerships and the action plans were going amazing. The Alliance was about to fully accomplish its fate, by getting to assure peace instauration guarantee over the entire European continent. Actually, this was mentioned on Art. 10 of the Treaty text adopted in 1949: “Through unanimous agreement, the parts are able to invite to accession to this treaty any other European state that wants to adopt its principles and to contribute to North Atlantic’s space security.


Terrorism, the first big challenge

And because human being’s vocation is to cooperate, the dangers could not appear to anyone but to individuals with stupid and anomalous behaviors. That was actually what was about to happen. A decade after the Cold War, an extremism group, totally religious, called al- Qaida, was making a devastating attack over some objectives with symbolistic value for US’s economic and military power, the global ruler and world’s liberal democracy leader. The whole world had a major shock, and the biggest threat against the western civilization became terrorism. It was not something new. Terrorism methods and tacks were previously used by extremism movements, no matter their nature, during world’s history. But, this time, the violence was too much to even imagine, being supported by technological progresses and, especially, by security’s vulnerabilities of international architecture system’s, coming as a reverse of the liberation phenomenon of people, ideas and capital’s mobilization. The hatred and felines policy must have been counteracted with firmness, at its origin.  The things started in this direction, but the aircraft carriers, missiles and tanks proved to be insufficient against this new scourge. The old fight aircrafts were no longer viable. Forces mobility was reduced and the common military operations was strongly cumbered by national’s legislative limitations. Yet, maybe the biggest problem was the political decision incapacity to assure quick and appropriate reactions, aligned with the dynamic of the operational situation in the limitary operations theatres. It was the biggest sign that some atrophy of the strategy plan was being produced in the security and defence domain from the western space. The consequence was that the democratic states were caught, along with the US, under NATO’s aegis or other multilateral action formats, in long time wars, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq. The nature of these conflicts was different from what was meant until then, so new politics, strategies, doctrines and equipment were necessaries to have the fight, particularly to win it. Despite these trials and the debates, sometimes more intense, sometimes blunter, the allies remained solidary to defending and promoting the principles, values and common interests they brought together, over the years after the end of the Second World War.

Instauration of wariness and deceptions

A quarter century after creating the facade of a universal space of calm and prosperity, it was observed that the world had developed, mostly, in other meanings. Slowly, the wariness and the deception came in people’s insights, who started to look more and more critically the opportunity and the efficient of common plan and action. Particularly   because they have experienced also human loses, sacrifices and heroism acts, that the policymakers could not find enough rational and moral arguments for. In the democratic societies was harder and harder to explain why a tank must be achieved, intead of building a new school, or why to achieve a fight aircraft instead of building an emergency hospital for children. The world’s economic crisis and the lowness or inconsistency of the critic official reform systems, as well as the medical ones, social assistance or education, made the economic and social problems to become even more important that world’s security issues. Moreover, the dilemmas regarding security priorities were augmented by world’s disorder condition accretion, aligned to institutional architecture’s decay of the international order, established at the end of the biggest world conflagration.

All of these led to complexity’s and volatility’s accretion of security’s international medium, as well as to incertitude’s intensification regarding the behavior of some new actors willing to win dominant positions in international system’s level. They broke the status-quo of borders inviolability, directly or not, and started a strong campaign of planning the national interests in strategic interest areas, by creating pressures, unseen until the last century quarter, over the national sovereignty and constitutional order of the democratic states. The Russian federation became the main disputer world’s architecture security, particularly because felted affected by NATO’s extension in its traditional influence and control area. Shortly after that, Russia enclosed, or took under direct influence, entire regions from Georgia and Ukraine. On its turn, China even if it did not enclosed territories, started to create them artificially, to extend its influence on the most crowded navigable routes of international commerce. The competition between states was, this way, reborn, and the power accumulation, especially military, replaced the fight against terrorism, as a main security and defence strategy priority.

Although the North Atlantic Treaty says in Art. 1 that “the parts commit, according to United Nations Charters stipulations, to solve by any peaceful methods any international conflict they may be involved in, so that they do not disturb the peace, security and the international right, and to abstain threatening with force or using force in the international relations, by any incompatible way with United Nation’s objectives.”, the option of an interstate conflict ( in the context of using modern methods and tacks), was again on military strategist’s table in Brussels. The complex weaponry systems, no matter the carrier platform on land, air, water or underwater, reentered the complex equations of military force. Washington marked this time also the debates tone regarding the terms of these equations, and their Europeans allies already felt the pressure of endowment and technological difference, in the alliance, as well as against the “new revisionist powers, Russia and China”, as US’s National Security Strategy calls them. The Europeans, directly confronted with “Russia’s aggressive actions, including through threat and force for reaching its political objectives which undermine the euro-Atlantic security and international order”, as it is written in NATO’s Pledge from the 2018 Summit, in Brussels, July, carries this burden of wariness regarding the responsibility and assiduity in assuming the defence common effort, against the current administration in Washington.

Such breaches of North Atlantic’s solidarity block can have really unpredictable consequences. Recalling the vulnerabilities of the entire chain through the weakest link, the press across the ocean speculated a lot over a “third world war” breakout or over North Atlantic Alliance’s destruction as a consequence of “Moscow’s army incursion in Montenegro”, the newest ally, seen as Moscow’s interest strategic point in West Balkans. The evaluation starts the premise that Russia was behind a coup in Podgorica, especially to avoid this state’s accession to NATO. Following this scenario, “The US will not honor Art. 5 of the Treaty, by military entering to defend Montenegro”. Further, “without US’s intervention as a part of NATO’s response force, the Europeans allies will make a step back and will not answer the surprise attack, which came on sea and through air, as long as a land attack is less possible to make”. Finally, allies lack of intervention for defending Montenegro will be fatal for Alliance’s existence. To augment this scenario, a journalist from Fox News asked president Donald Trump a speculative question, “why should I send my own kid to defend Montenegro? The American president reflexively responded that “he asked himself also this question, but that was the way the Alliance’s plan worked” … actually saying… this is it, we have no option.

Starting from such an analyze, Stephen Walt, who was the representative of the realist dogmatism school of international relations and security studies, makes in Foreign Policy a critic analyzes of NATO’s past, present and especially future, where he also refers to how should Art.5 of the Treaty be interpreted if an aggression over a member of the Alliance would happen. The premise is Art. 5 text’s which says that: “The parts agree that an army attack against one or various of them, in Europe or in North America, will be considered an attack against all of them and, in consequence, they agree that, if such attack will happen, each of them […]will support the attacked Part or Parts through the immediate performance, individually or in common with the other parts, of any action considered necessary, including using armed force, to re-establish and maintain the security of north Atlantic’s security area”. Walt focuses on two aspect from the provisions of this crucial article for NATO’s functioning. On one side, the treaty’s provisions do not apply if a conflict is initiated by a member state. On the other hand, and maybe the most important, Art. 5 does not force any of the member states to use military force to defend an ally. In other words, any action considered necessary refers also to military force’s neutralization by resuming, for example, to a public statement to condemn the aggression or by offering financial support to the aggressed state. Hence, the action method is just a matter of option, depends a lot on the context and cannot be placed outside the promoting area of national interest of each member state.

All of this aside, we do not have to forget that Art. 5 was invoked only once in NATO’s history. This happened on 12th of September 2001, 24 hours after the terrorist attacks against US. According to Edgar Buckley’s statements, ex-general assistant secretary in planning the defence and operations during 1999-2003, the “allies -collectively and individually- did al US asked for and they were ready to do more”. Moreover, in the following years, Washington admitted more and more NATO’s importance and the ally’s, generally, and learned a lot from their experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, I would say that the European allies did not think for a moment about the financial costs. Contrary, after signing the North Atlantic Council’s Pledge, “we were a bit euphoric because the allies have reacted so promptly”, says Buckley.

Why is NATO sill important?

Edgar Buckley’s thoughts, made after the context of the only moment when Art. 5 was used, consolidates the idea that the common values were always first in assuming strategic decision with major implications for world’s security. For the North Atlantic Alliance, “stronger together” meant, in all its history, the definitive reference point in vision. The principles meant more than the capacities. The people meant more than budgets, and the consensus made it each time to balance the part’s will.

Even so, it is true that “security costs”. Security’s costs were and will be very big. This is why the topic of “sharing the financial burden” between the allies to assure the security was constantly timelessness and even if the message was harsh, it was, doubtless, very correct. In the actual security context, a debate on this topic seems more necessary than ever, at least for the period of Alliance’s recent history. Yet, probably the basis of this debate should not be represented through numbers. The budget’s arithmetic did not offer ever the most intelligible language to understand the sense of a public investment, even for defence. Seeing security’s senses through such a perspective make it impossible for the policymakers to explain why they should spend 2% of GDP for defence and why not, for example, 4%. Or why 4% and not 10%. More, why the 2%, when Germany’s GDP is almost with 2, 5 bigger and US’s GDP is 16 times bigger than Russia’s. Also, it will be hard to explain NATO’s member states citizens why 2% of GDP means a commitment equally strong from Germany and Croatia, considering that, in absolute values, Germany’s contribution should be almost 70 times bigger than Croatia’s. Yet if establishing common endowment objectives, it will not be easy to argument why are still X fight aircrafts necessaries, and Y tanks for any of the member states, or how will these aircrafts and tanks avoid the apparition of a security scenario as the Russian invasion in Montenegro.

Becomes clear that the security investments benefits cannot be measured as it is measuring the profit of a corporation or a business. Security’s benefits are permanent and are present everywhere in our lives. Are more extended and complex than the pragmatic references point of cost-benefit reports. The actual threats do not consider geographic borders or national juridical bindings. Terrorism, destruction guns proliferations, cyber-attacks, propaganda and misinformation are ready to hit anywhere and everywhere, especially when exists vulnerabilities, of any type. And the biggest vulnerability is the lack of solidarity, augmented by wariness, admonishment and de-contextualization. As a consequence, defending the mutual interest area cannot be made but in common, with firmness and through any legal methods.

Despite all the obstacles, the most viable and solid security construction and common defence proved to be North Atlantic Alliance. It is the moment for the member states to rebuild mutual trust and to reaffirm its cohesion, to prove that NATO is not an anachronism and NATO’s extension was not a mistake. Contrary, it is necessary that anywhere in the euro-Atlantic spreading area to exist no abstain in affirming that NATO passed with success the test of time.