NATO summit reality check: Brilliant policy vs. real world resistance
The NATO summit laid out excellent plans for ongoing security, including Afghanistan and Russia. It's brilliant policy. There's just one problem: implementation happens in the real world – where countries are slashing defense budgets and publics resist ongoing military engagements.
The recently concluded NATO summit did all the right things: outline an ambitious role for NATO in a complex world; renew and recalibrate NATO’s role in Afghanistan; relaunch the NATO-Russia Council; and even move the ball forward on missile defense. This will now be followed by negotiations on implementation documents. To someone who has worked on these issues for over two decades, it is hard to think of anything that should have been done differently.Skip to next paragraph
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In principle, this is an extremely strong set up for NATO and the future – as long as the real world doesn’t intrude. But that’s always the problem: the real world does intrude. And in 2010, the gaps between the vision held by transatlantic security experts, and the actual beliefs and actions of Allied publics and governments is as wide as it has ever been. Until we are able to confront the real world, the best-laid policies will remain just that.
Intelligent balance on security issues
Start with the new NATO Strategic Concept, replacing the one agreed upon in 1999. The document strikes an intelligent and responsible balance on a number of issues:
• Home and away – i.e., affirming that NATO is concerned with both Article 5 territorial defense (including against missiles), and with crisis management outside NATO’s territory, such as in Afghanistan;
• Old threats and new – i.e., being prepared to deal with traditional military threats (even nuclear deterrence) while integrating civil-military capacities and facing new challenges, including cyber and energy security;
• Reassurance and engagement: i.e., assuring NATO’s eastern Allies that we are committed to their defense, while simultaneously reaching out to Russia as a strategic partner.
Right idea. Who will implement it?
This is a demanding set of missions for NATO, and fulfilling it will require massive amounts of sustained political, military, civilian, and financial investment. But there’s the rub: despite the words on the page, in practice, NATO nations are slashing defense spending and seeking to limit their engagements. This may soon include the United States, where we are debating the withdrawal of combat brigades based in Germany, and where efforts to get America’s deficit under control will not leave defense spending unscathed.
Publics in western Europe perceive no threat to their security other than the economy, and publics in Central and Eastern Europe – though worried about Russia – are in no financial position to underwrite NATO. The American public, partly reflected through a Tea Party lens that thinks Washington is out of control, is feeling less expansive about foreign engagements. The vision in the NATO Strategic Concept is the right one – but who will implement it?