In The Whirlwind of Change

NATO and Transatlantic Security

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Refueling lifeline of US, NATO air ops
In The Whirlwind of Change : NATO and Transatlantic Security - Marten van Heuven

While Europe is focused with hope and mixed uncertainty on the appearance of a common currency, the ratification of the protocols enlarging NATO by three countries has focused the American debate on the Alliance. Thus, it is appropriate to go back to the basic questions: what is NATO doing, and what are the implications?

First, NATO is enlarging. What a year ago looked conjectural is now becoming a fact, with bipartisan support in Congress. The almost certain accession of Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary in April 1999, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, will be a matter of profound satisfaction to millions of East Central Europeans. Without effective voice since World War II, these people see joining NATO both as a symbolic recapture of their Europeanness, as well as a practical step to assuage their historic security concerns. They instinctively share the position of NATO that enlargement will enhance stability in Europe.

Second, in 1994 NATO embarked on a Partnership for Peace (PPP). Initially, the Partnership opened the door to formal relationships between NATO and individual Partner countries. Key elements of these partnership agreements were practical military cooperation and exercises. Overtime, NATO developed a pattern of meetings with all PPP countries. The program has been highly successful. At present, there are 27 Partners. Last year, at Sintra, Portugal, NATO created a Euro-AtlanticPartnership Council (EAPC). The essential role of the EAPC will be to manage an enhanced PFP program. The EAPC charter is comprehensive. It is to "provide the overarching framework for consultations among its members on a broad range of political and security-related issues." These include but are not limited to "political and security related matters; crisis management; regional matters" and a list of other specific topics.

Third, NATO has taken on military and other duties .in Bosnia pursuant to the Dayton agreements. Fifteen PPP countries are now contributing forces to the NA TO-led Stabilization Force (SFOR) in Bosnia. Even Russia, a PPP member, has forces in Bosnia, under special command arrangements. These activities are a first for NATO. They amount to an out-of-(NATO) area involvement pursuant to an international agreement, with the approval of the UN Security Council. This is not merely a stop-gap arrangement. NATO forces have been in Bosnia for over two years. They are likely to stay for some time to come. The NATO force presence has made a significant contribution to peace and stability in the area.

Fourth, NATO is bringing Russia into European security arrangements. In the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security of May 27, 1997, NATO and Russia established a Permanent Joint Council (PJC). The central objective of the PJC is to build trust, unity of purpose, and cooperation. The mandate of the PJC, like that of the EAPC, is extensive. It will be the mechanism "for consultation, coordination and... for joint decisions and joint action with respect to security issues of common concern." It will be the "principal venue of consultation" between NATO and Russia "in times of crisis or for any other situation affecting peace and stability." In rough parallel to the Founding Act and the PJC, NATO has also established with Ukraine a Charter on a Distinctive Partnership and a NATO-Ukraine Commission, focused on Ukrainian security.

These four activities are hardly business as usual for NATO. They represent new directions that even a few years ago would have been hardly conceivable. For each of these four activities, the year 1997 was a milestone: the signing of the enlargement protocols, the establishment of the EAPC and the PJC, and the decision to keep NATO forces in Bosnia (rebaptized from IFOR to SFOR). These NATO decisions point to the vigor of an organization that a few years earlier seemed to have run out of purpose and direction. However, these NATO actions also have consequences and raise new issues.

Enlargement will affect the politics of the Alliance. With still more members, consensus decision-making will not become simpler. This will be true even before the three invited members formally join. Moreover, given the state of their defense establishments, it is not yet certain to what degree these perspective "consumers" will also be "providers" of European security. Furthermore, the effect on Russia of the enlargement process will remain to be tested further. For now, Moscow will accommodate itself to NATO's eastward extension. Objectively, Russians know - or should know - that NATO is no more a threat to their country than it ever was to the Soviet Union in the days of the Cold War. However, the issue is largely one of perception, and perceptions can be changed in the course of Russian domestic politics. Finally, the strategic issue how far NATO enlargement can ultimately go is left open. This should not be a cause of concern now. In times of rapid change, flexibility can be useful. The answer to this question will be shaped as the situation in Europe evolves. Leaving the question open, however, will contribute to some sense of uncertainty, particularly on the part of the Baltic countries. They very much want to join NATO but worry that this day may be a long time off. Meanwhile, the active interest in their future on the part of their Scandinavian neighbors and the Charter of Partnership with the United States will substantially but not wholly assuage Baltic concerns.

EAPC will also affect the politics of the Alliance. Before, NATO dealt with each PFP country individually. Now, the group of 27 Partners outnumber the 16 members of NATO. This creates the possibility that, if organized, PFP countries as a group can exercise greater influence than they could individually. Also, while in the past NATO was in the driver's seat for PFP, enhanced PFP will have many masters in the EAPC. Furthermore, given the mandate of the EAPC under its charter to deal with European security issues in the widest sense, there is a potential for diluting the role of the North Atlantic Council (NAC). To be sure, NATO has made it explicit that the new arrangements do not derogate from the competence of the Council as exclusive NAT O agent to deal with issues of NATO security. Nonetheless, the new arrangements now put the EAPC alongside the NAC. And while Article 5 of the NATO Treaty commits only members to respond to an armed attack, nothing prevents a Partner from acting as if Article 5 also applied to it. Finally, how Article 5 should be applied in practice under the entirely new circumstances in Europe today is likely to be determined by the circumstances of each case. PPP countries will almost certainly have a role in this process.

The Bosnia experience has put NATO in a new role. For the first time, NATO is out-of-area, albeit close to NATO territory in Europe. However, the successful deployment of the NATO-led successive IFOR and SFOR - the NATO force has been crucial to setting the stage for implementation of the Dayton agreements - should not lead to the assumption that it will be a precedent. The current Kosovo crisis is a case in point. Long regarded as a potential flashpoint, Kosovo has now crossed the threshold of violence. NATO intervention, however, is unlikely, despite all the lessons that have purportedly been learned from the Yugoslav breakup. Bosnia was an internationally recognized state. Kosovo is a part of Serbia. The UN Security Council authorized NATO intervention. As of this writing, the Council has not acted with respect to Kosovo. Indeed, Kosovo is not even on the Council's agenda. In Bosnia, NATO forces entered to implement an international agreement. There is no such agreement with respect to Kosovo. Thus, the NATO deployment in Bosnia is not a precedent, nor a harbinger of future NATO deployments in and around Europe whenever there is a need to prevent or to quell violence. This conclusion applies a fortiori to any possible out-of-area deployments of NATO-led forces outside of Europe.

Finally, Russia now has a place in the European security system. In fact, it has several places: permanent membership in the UN Security Council, a long-standing membership of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a seat on the Contact Group for Bosnia, membership in the new EAPC, and membership in the PJC. The issue is not whether Russia is part of the European security structure. It is. The issue is rather how Russia will play its role. This Russian role will be determined by a number of variables, key of which will be Russian domestic imperatives, and the Russian assessment of national interest. This is not to say that the United States and other Western countries are without leverage. Russia needs the West. Russia's role in European security, however, is hard to predict and will be situation-specific.

In conclusion, NATO has created new tools and set out in new directions. Whether or just how it will succeed will depend on many variables. Key among them will be NATO cohesion, leadership within the Alliance, the role of Russia, and the nature of the challenges that may lie ahead. Finally, the record so far suggests that, for better or worse, a leading American role will continue to be an indispensable ingredient to NATO success.

Marten van Heuven is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officerand former National Intelligence Officer for Europe. He is a graduate of Yale and the Yale Law School and has a master's degree in International Affairs from Columbia University. Currently, he is a Director of the Atlantic Council of the United States and a Senior Consultant at RAND.