Experts' advice to NATO: Slim down, scale back, and pass the ball
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright chaired a commission charged with reviewing NATO's "strategic concept." Last revised in 1999, the strategic concept is "an official document that outlines NATO's enduring purpose and nature and its fundamental security tasks." On May 17, Albright's "Group of Experts" released its report, which forecasts the security environment through 2020 and lists recommendations for how NATO should respond. The group's conclusion? NATO should slim down, scale back, and pass the ball.
Albright's panel called on NATO to adjust to the modern threat environment. According to the group, NATO needs better preparations against cyberattacks, ballistic missiles, and unconventional threats. The report noted that many member states -- their defense budgets weighed down with excessive personnel costs -- are spending too little on new military hardware. And NATO headquarters, with a bloated staff and far too many generals walking its halls, is itself due for slimming down.
But looming over the panel's effort is NATO's inheritance from Afghanistan. Following a review of lessons learned in Afghanistan, the report calls for guidelines on when and where the alliance will again operate outside its borders. The authors remind readers that "NATO is a regional, not a global organisation; its financial resources are limited and subject to other priorities; and it has no desire to take on missions that other institutions and countries can be counted upon to handle."
Although the report left open the hypothetical possibility that NATO could engage in another out-of-area mission, it also plainly discussed the political limitations that member states will put on the organization's ambitions. Those member states with detachments in Afghanistan will no doubt be eager to join the U.S. caravan that will begin departing in 2011. After that, crushing fiscal retrenchment and sour memories of Afghanistan will likely leave most member states in Europe incapable of any significant military expeditions.
Finally, the group reviewed the importance of NATO's many partnerships, which include relationships with the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, the Black Sea and Caucasus regions, Central Asia, and Africa. The report also discussed the need to improve NATO's doctrine for operating in partnership with civilian NGOs. The authors noted, "NATO is strong and versatile but it is by no means well-suited to every task." The report was an invitation for NATO to use its relationships to pass off tasks to others.
The report's lengthy discussion of these partnerships, combined with the inevitable decline in NATO's military capacity and its members' low enthusiasm for new expeditions, point to the alliance's evolving role. NATO's days as an armed-to-the-teeth phalanx blocking the Soviet Army are now in the misty past. After Afghanistan, NATO's military character will shrink, making way for a more purely diplomatic role. The staff in Brussels -- those who remain after the pink slips -- will spend more time coordinating NGOs and contractors than directing tank brigades.