Enhancing NATO's Political and Operational Effectiveness by Consensus
The discussion in the transatlantic community has focused much on the budgetary issues NATO members are facing and the implications for the alliance. Discussions centered on burden-sharing, the mismatch of intelligence expectations, and the purported U.S. pivot to Asia have damaged trust across the NATO alliance.
Re-emerging conflicts on Europe’s borders and the omnipresent worldwide terror threat serve as constant reminders of the unassured and unstable global security outlook. It is exactly because of this that the transatlantic bond should focus on how we reach common goals, share the burden, and bring capabilities to the table on a collective basis. It is crucial to strengthen the transatlantic bond by addressing critical challenges and responding to possible opportunities included in a two-tier approach: first, by re-building trust amongst the alliance on a political/policy level; and second, by focusing more on the operational level: continuing or amplifying current capabilities and enhancing mutual understanding between the allies.
This two tier approach is interconnected but not mutually exclusive, and should not be pursued individually. At the political and policy levels, there should be more attention given to effective NATO diplomacy, internally as well as externally. This would mean the strengthening of Article 4 consultations both internally and towards trusted partners, where legally possible. Moreover, it would be interesting, taking into account several ‘frozen conflicts,’ to find ways of intensifying cooperation with partner countries such as Sweden and Finland, bringing them closer to NATO without undermining Article 4.
Additionally, the alliance should place more emphasis on streamlining the internal common threat perception, which could enable responses on a more coherent basis, and also allow for the prioritization of capability planning. With regards to the operational side, much is connected to funds that are not available for the required capabilities and training. While working towards the 65th anniversary of NATO, addressing this situation demands a different mindset in order for NATO to remain a valuable security provider.
Because of the diverse background of the alliance, there are still considerable cultural differences to overcome in the military aspect of the transatlantic relationship both in terms of expectations and operational reliability. In order to deepen military conceptual understanding between the various armed forces within Europe as well as in the U.S., a concrete solution would be to undertake a large-scale NATO exercise on U.S. soil. Up until now, these exercises have largely been confined to Europe, most recently with the 2013 large-scale Exercise Steadfast Jazz.
It would be constructive for forces to pursue common exercise planning and would indicate a political commitment among European forces to share the burden the U.S. has been shouldering. Moreover, it would have an impact on re-enforcing the mutual and conceptual understanding on both sides of the Atlantic at all levels, politically as well as operationally.
Finally, it is important for the transatlantic community to look for creative and innovative ideas. It remains crucial to honor the essential role of working on the basis of consensus, taking into account the effectiveness of initiatives as well as their financial feasibility. Ideas must be stimulated and circulated within the alliance (and amongst its partners where appropriate) in order to have the potential to be carried through by a broad consensus. In the future, the transatlantic community should not forget to reach out to players and partners beyond NATO for innovative ideas and to cooperate on field-specific and also cross-cutting issues such as cyber and nuclear security.
Karlijn Jans, a Policy Adviser at the EU Office of the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), is a member of GMF's Young Transatlantic Network.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.