The Future of NATO: More Than Just Collective Security
Over the past two decades, NATO has faced the question of its relevance, entered into military interventions, and recently proven itself necessary again through the surprising events on Europe’s eastern borders. Despite how clear NATO’s importance might seem now, the critique of its agenda seems to grow stronger in light of the transatlantic rift caused by the NSA revelations. So what does NATO have to do to secure its relevance once the Ukraine crisis has been resolved? For over four decades during the Cold War, NATO was successful in its central task: avoiding conflict through a system of collective security. With the end of the Cold War, NATO entered into an existential crisis because there was no need for such a system, arguably until 9/11.
Yet during this time, NATO carried out other missions, such as the humanitarian intervention in the former Yugoslavia. While the system of collective security can undoubtedly be seen as a success, the assessment of Yugoslavia proves complex. This demonstrates that NATO should primarily focus on what it does best: collective security. Times have changed since the Cold War and the demands for military capabilities are different today than 60 years ago. This offers a unique opportunity to NATO members: the development of new technological systems. Apart from the economic benefit that joint technological innovations in complex systems such as missile defense provide, true cooperation on these sensitive issues is also a measure of trust building amongst partners—an invaluable contribution to NATO’s ideal of a community of values. Success in collective defense is mainly measured by deterrence, the absence of conflict. NATO, however, also needs to promote an active agenda. Even though not a NATO member itself, Cyprus would prove an excellent opportunity to showcase NATO’s problem solving abilities. The NATO members, including Greece and Turkey, should be encouraged to support negotiations between the parties on the island to achieve reunification within a foreseeable timeline. NATO should challenge itself to enable its members to achieve more than collective security, the added value of something often taken for granted. In order to maintain its relevance, NATO should focus on its core mission—collective security—and use this to enhance technological cooperation. This will stimulate NATO members’ economies and strengthen trust.
Missile defense would be a suitable – but not the only – possible point of focus, with benefits in economic terms and transnational trust building, reinforcing NATO’s self-perception as a community of values. On top of this, NATO should also deliver the political asset expected of a modern institution: political problem-solving.
Thomas Fröhlich, a 2012 Manfred Wörner Seminar participant, is a Ph.D. Candidate at King’s College London.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.