The future of NATO, and the power it must rely upon – By Andrew Sklover

30 Apr

The future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s power lies exclusively with neither the hard nor the soft power of member states, but rather in an equally inclusive “smart power.” This all-inclusive and ever expanding organization faces many problems in the coming years. With a potential fiscal meltdown in Europe, differing defense spending goals, and a power sharing disparity that continues to weigh heavily upon the US, NATO members clearly have their work cut out for them. However, while the alliance will face numerous challenges in the future, not all is gloom. After a successful intervention in Libya just over a year ago, when 14 member states participated, both these members and other supporting countries proved that they can indeed come together to protect freedom when the situation warrants it. However, this level of cooperation must become the standard, not the exception, in the future.

With an economic meltdown currently underway in Europe, the fiscal austerity programs of many states begin with their NATO contributions. This is easily verifiable, as only four states (Britain, France, Greece, and Albania) presently meet the goal of contributing 2% of their GDP to defense spending. Many European states contribute to their own militaries first and only secondarily to NATO infrastructure and intelligence. While there is no problem with respect to their individual military forces, the NATO umbrella develops holes due to a chronic lack of resources. With the US having been relied upon for over 75% of intelligence gathering and essential support aircraft in Libya, an unequal power balance is evident.

The Partnership for Peace, as well as the Istanbul Cooperative Initiative, demonstrates the significant support that exists for NATO outside its member states, who should take this as encouragement to continue working together as the protectorate of the free world. While there is little doubt that NATO is the premier defense projection agency of the free nations, how will such an organization move forward with such daunting financial and organizational obstacles in its path? Through a two-fold approach aimed at deterrence and protectionism, while relying on equal contributions from all member states.

Joseph Nye establishes “smart power” as being an essential tool for all nations in the 21st century, and NATO must seek to emulate that approach as well. With the trimmings coming off NATO faster than a turkey on Thanksgiving, it must learn to cope with its restrictions. Through a combination of soft and hard power, member states can promote freedom while simultaneously making a pledge to stand ready to protect it at all costs. Through coercive diplomacy (the threat of force) linked with a vigilant, robust defense capability, NATO can lower its operating costs while continuing to be the guardian of freedom.

The democratic peace theory holds that democratic states do not fight each other. While not an absolute, it is fair to say that the probability of democratic states engaging in combat is significantly lower than scenarios involving non-democratic regimes. In an age where the power of public opinion has the ability to bring governments to their knees, as seen in the Arab Spring, it becomes strikingly evident that soft power must increasingly be targeted at these publics. As R. S. Zaharna states, “networks first establish the structure and dynamics for effective communications channels, then members collaborate to craft the message” it is precisely these networks that member states must concentrate on building. By spreading the good word of freedom through public diplomacy, short term costs may initially experience a spike due to the price of liberation, but long terms costs will likely be reduced with the increasing number of democracies involved. NATO must place an emphasis on this type of soft power as a way of legitimizing its long term interests.

On the flip side, soft power cannot exist without a hard power foundation. The threat of force is only good so long as it is believable and legitimate. As NATO has repeatedly proven in the past that it is not afraid to intervene when necessary, it should take advantage of this demonstrated credibility standard. As Latvia and the world took notice of Russian field exercises being performed in 2009, the deployment of NATO troops inside Latvia to guarantee its protection and demonstrate member states’ support was both wise and essential. In an organization where an attack on one is an attack on all, the placement of small numbers of forces in troubled areas of the world acts as a not-so-subtle directive of coercive diplomacy. Wielding hard power in this fashion, rather than by deploying entire divisions, acts as a guarantee of protection and deterrence against potentially hostile forces.

While these strategies may prove effective, they will be useless if member states do not take the initiative to work together on the issues of funding, infrastructure and the development of cohesive operating systems. States need not see funding as a battle between their own militaries and NATO. “Member states can invest through NATO and other multinational programs, saving money, promoting cooperation, sharing capabilities and demonstrating solidarity” claim Ivo H. Daalder and James G. Stavridis. It is this type of cooperation states must look forward to in the 21st century. By combining resources and sharing military capabilities, European states will not only improve their own respective militaries but also increase the overall operating capability and effectiveness of NATO.

With the Chicago Summit rapidly approaching, the fiscal situation and economy in Europe will no doubt be an area of urgent discussion. With words already coming from Rasmussen to the effect that “economy and security are interlinked, and a weak economy means that we have less resources for security,” NATO has no choice but to learn how to operate in a new economic climate. Simultaneously, Rasmussen is also stressing “smart defense” and says that “in Chicago I want Europe to adopt a new mindset for how to re-approach security, making cooperation on defense programs a priority rather than a last resort, and that is what we call smart defense.” It looks like Robert Nye may be an honorary attendee.


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