Monday, September 6, 2010

NATO wants Russian superpower but Russia says no

More than 60 years after the foundation of the Alliance, NATO has reached a turning point. The fears of the Cold War era have been swept away, and a changing, global world holds new challenges and risks. A new Strategic Concept for the "modernized Alliance" will serve to lay the groundwork for the long term.

1. Public Image

Let’s make it clear: NATO has an image problem. The Alliance began its operations in 1949 with the aims of providing safety and protecting freedom. It has had great success, making an excellent contribution to the creation of a world of peace, security, stability and prosperity for its member states. However, since the end of the Cold War, some are asking why it still exists. In a world of steady budget cuts, taxpayers want to know exactly how their money is being spent and what NATO can provide better than others. The Alliance must provide answers to these questions in order to avoid an identity crisis.

The work of the NATO Public Diplomacy Division must be expanded. Right now, the Division concentrates too much on specialist circles and not enough on the general public. The NATO/NewsMarket Channel project, for example, marks a step in the right direction. Here it is also important to let the public know that NATO has a Civilian Structure. The Civil Emergency Planning Committee (CEPC) and Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) have helped on many occasions of natural disasters.

2. Military Reform / Nato Response Force

The world has moved on in military issues. In the days of the Cold War, creating large bodies of troops was a sensible military tactic: they achieved deterrence and signaled military superiority in a war that was more than likely to take place on the territory of a member state. Today, military operations are usually out-of-area missions and threats require flexible, technically advanced troops. Interoperability is just as important as tactical logistics capacities. For that reason, the NATO Response Force (NRF) was founded. However, two serious problems may be seen in this case.

First, the current NRF troop strength is inadequate: 25,000 soldiers are far from sufficient. In almost all countries that contribute troops to the NATO Response Force, technology and interoperability requirements cannot be met. It is necessary for member states to rethink the practice of funding large standing armies which are no longer contemporary for modern warfare, where quality holds priority over quantity. NATO’s member states, especially the European members, should considerably reduce the number of their troops (as has been recently discussed in Germany), allowing existing troops to be trained and equipped in the best possible way.

Second, there is a problem with financing. Donald Rumsfeld has already demanded the joint-financing of NATO missions and a more equal cost distribution. But NRF military operations are still financed according to the principle of "costs lie where they fall," which means that each member state pays for its own contribution. As it is, there are often firm commitments for financial support that are never realized, as NATO lacks an instrument to create pressure to fulfill financial obligations.

3. Bring in Russia

The NATO-Russian Council kicked things off, but in the long term, NATO needs to seriously consider membership for Russia. This solution will not of course be achievable in the next few years, as the Georgian conflict and some of the comments at this year’s Munich Security Conference have reflected too much of the old rivalries. Why is it nevertheless preferable to think about it?

There is no doubt that NATO member states and Russia hold different opinions on a number of points. Still, there are far more issues where NATO and Russia share strategic priorities and face similar challenges: counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the expansion of radical Islamism, just to name a few. In Afghanistan, Russia’s geostrategic situation and its previous experience gives it an advantage in dealing with the challenges there. Obama’s dream of global zero can only come true with the cooperation of Russia: membership could simplify or remove the need for nuclear deterrence. NATO eastern expansion will also require Russian cooperation. Last but not least is the issue of China. The emerging superpower may be on its way to a dominant position in international and economic relations - NATO needs Russia on its side. The Alliance must ask itself now whether it can risk giving the cold-shoulder to Russia any longer.

Klaus Spiessberger studied political science, law, philosophy, organizational psychology and economics in Munich and Hagen. He is a member of the German Council on Foreign Relations and is currently working for PHOENIXgroup.

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