The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) when signing the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949 declared that the organization would diligently work towards the unification of their combined defense in the preservation of peace and security.1
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The utmost danger to these goals was an armed attack by an unfriendly power. The insight resulted in the treaty’s most renowned provision as entrenched in Article V. It states that the parties to the treaty had concurred that a military attack against any of the members in Europe or North America would be regarded as an invasion against them all.
However, the purpose for creating NATO has been objectively investigated by several interested parties of researchers and academicians including Lord Ismay to examine if NATO has a future given the contemporary security environment.
In fact, Ismay formulated that the main objective of founding the alliance in 1949 was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”.2 Six decades later, the mission has been achieved. However, the modern democratic Germany does not present any security threat.
The effective collapse of the Soviet Union has resulted in a Russia that is incapable of presenting substantial military or conceptual threat to Europe effectively making NATO unnecessary from this perspective.
The United States has played a vital role in ensuring that its national interests are permanently protected. Some quarters have suggested that the US has played its part in the alliance and should now leave. At the same time, NATO has achieved its mission in accordance with the treaty that created it.
The accomplishment of these important missions somehow leaves NATO close to obsolete. NATO consequently requires restructuring and revamping to reflect on the realities of the 21st century.
Evidently, the role of NATO remains important in view of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and increasing terrorism activities that threaten its members and non-members in equal measures. The security concerns of the 21st century and interconnected aspects offer NATO a new lease of life and a future.
During the final decades of the 20th century, NATO was faced with a paradox. “The battle that the alliance had created to confront and conquer known as the conformist conflict in Europe terminated without bloodshed”.3 This almost made NATO irrelevant.
Strangely, when the alliance relaxed, armed chaos exploded in the Balkans. As a result, Europe was caught in the violence. NATO’s response appeared to be sluggish given that the enormous task of merging the expanse increased with the flop of Yugoslavia.
In a timely manner, the alliance made the right resolution by intervening to terminate a violent war and remaining to maintain peace. The alliance assumed the responsibility of reconciling the former rivals into the transatlantic fold.
This was a feat and the realization of one of the objectives of the European unity as stipulated in the Treaty. Reaching an agreement on both counts was taxing. However, the leaders of the alliance fixed the course of European history in a style that would offer enhanced safety, refuge and opportunity for all.4
The alliance is inherently faced by another paradox in its operation. The key member of the alliance in terms of finance and military capability enabled the United States to accomplish its mission as envisaged in the formation of the alliance. It has secured its interests globally by using the provisions of the treaty.
Besides, it has managed to neutralize major threats to its national and regional security through ISAF and direct military actions. The paradox that faces the alliance emerges from these facts and demands gallant and extensive resolutions.
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The transatlantic region is less susceptible to conformist conflict now and in the foreseeable future. Since the alliance was designed to protect the community and the region from threat, it is still busy pursuing this mission despite lack of any potential threat.
However, renewed threats to the region took a twist though not directly after the 9/11 attack on the American landmarks. Citizens of ninety countries died during the attacks on the Pentagon and New York. The consequences were economically felt globally.
Through ISAF, NATO’s responsibility expanded to the global arena through the deployment of troops to Afghanistan to combat terrorists responsible for the attacks.
For a number of countries, the shift to democracy has progressed in fits and starts. These include NATO’s neighbors. Economically weaker states face the hitches of controlling their areas and affording urgent needs for their populations.
Under the umbrella of ISAF, NATO has a future as its assistance is required in these countries and regions. Terrorism mushrooms in these weaker countries. If first world countries are to effectively defend themselves against terrorism, they must support NATO in its endeavor to eliminate terrorist shells in these emerging economies.
This globalizes the increasingly multifaceted threats. The 2004 Madrid and 2005 London and multiple deterred attacks illustrated what transnational radical groups pursue to spread across the multiple verges of shared transatlantic region.
The unwelcomed visitor of international terrorism accompanied by social, racial and spiritual strife is augmented by other threats. There are other threats that are creating their course towards the transatlantic zone from unanticipated quarters.
The dangers touch all countries similarly and no country is immune.5 This realization requires the partnership with NATO giving it a new role in future.
The origins of these threats cling to globalization and shrouded within the economic networks that fuel the engines of global economy. For example, the essentials to construct biological weapons and the resources for their delivery possess a trend of masking behind millions of ordinary vessels meant for genuine trade.
Computer-generated networks transmit novel ideas and chances at immeasurable speeds yet prowling in the data streams are fresh susceptibilities to trade and national security. When the Alliance was formed, cyber-crime and related threats did not present the region with substantial threats.
These dangers advanced by technology require the alliance to review the mandate of NATO. In so doing, NATO will have extra responsibilities in future. Technological threats are currently the most probable source of global insecurity.
Additionally, piracy, which for hundreds of years has been consigned to irritating levels, is on the increase. Illicit networks traffic artilleries, drugs and human are forming long vague shadows traversing international boundaries.
The doubt of consistent energy provisions has the prospect in the disruption of livelihoods and trade at an extraordinary measure. Above this milieu of threats is a financial crisis of momentous degree.
These emerging challenges to safety and security offer NATO a lifeline. Piracy activities have seemingly subdued contemporary measures by security agencies. This offers NATO a chance to help the world deal with piracy in collaboration with the agencies and nation-states.
The NATO leadership is alive to the emerging realities and challenges of the 21st century. NATO is re-inventing itself to deal with the threats to its interests in economic and security frontier. In the last five years, NATO forces have been deployed in its largest operation in history.
The alliance has trained over 150,000 police and army forces to combat ferocious insurgence in Afghanistan, which is more than five thousand kilometers from its headquarters in Brussels.6 This is a departure from the initial objective of the Treaty and evidence of embracing global responsibility.
In Balkan, there are various martial personnel devoted towards advancing firmness and amity.7 NATO ships prowl the high seas off the East African coast to combat the increasing piracy menace associated mostly with the Somali instability.
Although the United States has played a vital role and close to accomplishing its mission with NATO, it remains an important partner in the role played by NATO in securing its interests globally. Its interest particularly in East Africa has been a target by terrorists who find it difficult to execute their mission in the American soil.
As a result, withdrawal from the alliance in pursuit of other commitments would have dire consequences for the US.8 The intensive investment in training and deploying of troops to different locations further indicates the alliance members’ intention to ensure that NATO continues to have a position in the global security sphere.
The rate of operation by NATO demonstrates that even though the world security setting has altered, the alliance’s raison d’etre has not. It is the continuing responsibility of transatlantic community to assist nations, the alliance and entire world in addressing the grave and frequently detached threats that endanger the world.
In this view, NATO will remain a beacon of unwavering peace and liberty in Europe as was the case in the 20th century. In an address to the NATO members, the Secretary of State named Hillary Clinton informed that the alliance was being challenged by circumstances to deal with greater challenges in the history of mankind.
The secretary stated that to meet the challenges the alliance needed to renovate and fortify their partnerships.9 The challenge by the secretary was positively received by the 28 leaders of the alliance.
In November 2010, the leaders undertook the bold and enormous role of setting forward the vision on how the alliance through NATO would confront the security tasks of the present and the future effectively offering a future to NATO.
In order to modernize and strengthen NATO, the leaders began with the development of a new Strategic Concept. The concept was launched on the platform of the initial premise offered by the earlier transatlantic visions, which included that the Transatlantic Alliance is a society of associates organized by a set of shared beliefs.10
The NATO leadership realizes the need to develop a concept that will reflect on the changing security environment and reinvent the alliance to face the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. The strategy is composed of two fundamental and sturdy pillars.
The first pillar is combined defense called the pledge (preserved in Article V of the Washington Treaty) meant to react to the aggression touching one as aggression touching all.
With the Balkans and neighboring countries joining the alliance, the responsibility of NATO has been increasing despite the fact that the region does not face immediate threat.11 The collective defense precept means that NATO will remain an essential alternative in case of imminent threats.
The second pillar of the alliance is co-operative security. The leaders appreciate that security issues need to be addressed proactively as opposed to being ready and reacting to threats that may ensue. Such cooperation is particularly important for the security agencies. The agencies need to work in tandem and synergically to forecast probable security scenarios.12
In implementing the strategic plan of the alliance leadership, NATO has in the last two decades been extending the ideology of partnership. Observably, the scope and value of the alliance’s partnership has remarkably improved. This has enabled NATO to increase its presence in the global security arena.
In an array of ways, NATO is regaining its relevance in the international security community through renewed commitment to partnering with compatible countries and security agencies on shared security concerns. This approach is important in differentiating the NATO of the Cold War era and subsequent years from the NATO of today.
This is an affirmative leap forward for the future of NATO. The partnerships have enabled NATO to correctly construct the right competences, logistical and structural capacity in addressing security concerns of the present and the future.13
With the strategic concept in place, nations inside and outside the transatlantic zone are regaining their confidence in NATO.
In recent years, NATO in collaboration with likeminded countries effectively created a no-go-zone in Libya that culminated in the ouster and consequent killing of one of the Africa’s most intimidating autocratic President called Muammar Gaddafi.
This demonstrated that NATO still has a role to play in enhancing global security. Without the intervention of NATO, the war propagated against civilians would have spilled to the neighboring countries and probably to the entire African continent.
The dismantling of piracy cartels along the coast of East Africa signifies that NATO still has a future. It has a role in stabilizing diverse world locations.
Unique capability for security organization
The parties that are members of the transatlantic alliance possess huge economic, political and military potential. With the largest percentage of its military and structural organization being funded by the world’s most influential economy, NATO has a unique capability for organizing security and operating in any environment through the marshaling of influential forces.
This means that like-minded countries are keen to ensure that NATO remains as a partner in global security issues. While the security setting has altered significantly, the core ideals, the roles of collective defense and cooperative security, as well as the shared capabilities continue to be the essential basis of the alliance.14
With more countries around the world sensing the increasing threats from different corners including terrorism, the role of NATO will become relevant and necessary in future. These countries will be willing to assist and cooperate with NATO to improve security.
They will offer financial and military support to the alliance. The departure of the US from the alliance will have an impact on NATO, but countries which feel that being affiliated with NATO is beneficial to their security will join efforts to fit in the US position in the alliance.15
Strategic Concept adopted by NATO leadership with a global aspect with the transatlantic zone acting as a security hub indicates that shareholders in the security region are keen to actualize the role of NATO in future. The future of sponsored organizations heavily depends on the well-wish of the partners.
The suggestion by the stakeholders to realign NATO structures is a clear indication that it has a future. They are ready to investing in capabilities, training and mutual command structure that interlink the partners into a cohesive whole.16
NATO requires the assistance of security agencies and military support from outside the transatlantic region to avert security threats emanating from continents such as Asia and Africa propagated by terrorism networks like AL Qaeda.
Such cooperation will ensure that the endeavors as envisaged in Article V are attained.17 The restructuring to involve international players is an indication that it has a future full of responsibilities that require distribution of responsibilities.18
The United States has for decades played a dominant role in NATO. It has committed its economic and military power to the preservation of peace, stability and security in Europe after the destructions of the Second World War.19
The termination of cold war, the downfall of the Berlin Wall and the breakdown of Warsaw Pact obligated NATO to discover a new responsibility to remain relevant in the eyes of the sponsors. By the end of the 20th century, the welfares of the US in the European continent had been entrenched firmly on irreversibility.
Economically, Europe provides a rich market for the United States. The US economy will not succeed without an affluent Europe and vice versa.
Although majority of the alliance members are cutting on defense spending, withdrawal of funding by the US as having accomplished its mission within NATO poses a major threat to the security and economies of the two continents and the world in general.20
NATO is a major conduit for the US in Europe hence America’s withdrawal and ‘returning home’ is ill-advised with dire consequences. For all intents and purposes, the US is virtually a member of the European Union without formally stating so in the treaty.21
There are strong indications from President Barrack Obama administration that the US is committed to fight emerging security threats through NATO. The fight against terrorism is complex.22
It requires expert approach. NATO offers sufficient expertise to execute the responsibility consequently earning a future in global security responsibilities. Given the history of NATO, it is easy to build new capabilities through it as opposed to establishing an entirely new organization.
In this view, having accomplished the mission in Europe, it is the interest of the US for NATO to advance geographically as threats become spread outside Europe but with the same impact as if the threats were directly emanating from Europe.
The EU has made significant steps in ensuring that the presence of the United States is not far-reaching. The countries have grown militarily and politically in leaps and bounds. They now have the capacity to stand on their own without essentially having the US partake in main or trivial roles.23
The European countries now admit that peacekeeping in the continent is their key responsibility. However, the economic interests of the US in Europe do not allow it to withdraw from the continent in totality. To safeguard its interests in Europe, the US will have to engage the services of NATO. This is yet another reason why NATO has a role to play in future.
The US will employ the tactic of retrenching from Europe in a setting that it remains a partner and can send its military as well as offer support but cease running the show and bearing the risks. As has been the case in the recent years, the US will continue to expand the NATO mandate to other global locations to safeguard its interests.
The US engagement with NATO will increase irrespective of the security environment and the funding will most likely increase. However, the engagement with Europe will be based on the needs of military backing. Irrespective of the need for backing, the US will ensure that NATO is well funded to effectively handle any unpredicted security threat.
The US appears to continuously underline the criticality of subsidizing NATO activities and tackling 10-vital competencies. Key among these capabilities is warhead defense, computer-generated and civil-military cooperation.
This approach in altering and increasing the responsibility of NATO while the leading sponsor gives it a future full of global responsibilities in countering threats as opposed to being restricted to transatlantic roles.
“The 21st century dangers of extremism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and cybercrime further justify the continuity of NATO into the future.”24
The non-member countries require to be assured by NATO that despite their non-membership to the alliance, NATO will reciprocate assistance when needed in order to maintain global peace and security.
In this respect, NATO needs to review its objectives with a clear consideration of the changing security environment since the contemporary threats extend beyond ‘armed aggression’ as described in Article V. This way, the countries will give NATO logistic, military and financial support, and an operational future.
America would readily approve such a move. Inevitability, the US is focusing its attention from the transatlantic region to combat contemporary threats of terrorism and cybercrime that mainly originate from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
NATO’s failure to embrace increasing global security responsibility will likely see the US losing interest in investing in the alliance’s future with NATO.25
NATO should partner with likeminded countries to effectively execute its global security mandate such as Australia and Japan.
When such non-member countries provide significant military support, they should form part of the operative planning procedures even though they have no vote in the considerations.26 This way, NATO will have a busy future with mandate beyond that stipulated in the Treaty and particularly Article V.
Conclusions and recommendations
The future of NATO is increasingly challenged by social, economic and political factors. The future of the alliance is gradually being influenced by the diminishing security threats in the European continent. The stability and diffusion of threats has been facilitated by NATO which has played a central role for decades.
The end of cold war, the collapse of the Berlin Wall and stability in the region has placed NATO in a paradox as to what role it should play having accomplished its initial mission of collective defense and security cooperation. Additionally, European countries are increasingly becoming militarily independent.
Most countries in the regions have attained military capacity to defend their homeland from external aggression. The threats that had brought the countries together in an alliance have significantly decreased.
The threats are spread to other global locations. This waters-down the role of NATO in the transatlantic region. However, the future of NATO is still promising given the changing security environment.
In order to maintain its relevance, NATO, its members and leaderships require adapting to the current and emerging security threats of the 21st century. The leadership and members of the alliance should seek ways to restructure NATO command to accommodate membership with a global representation.
The dangers that are likely to threaten the transatlantic alliance will emerge from outside the region. The move by NATO to increase its security surveillance in Africa, Middle East and the coasts off East Africa is commendable but it requires increasing its presence to the global arena.
It is also imperative for NATO to combine its identity of ‘defensive alliance’ with ‘instrument of intervention’ in Europe and afar. In view of the ongoing crisis in Syria, it is evident that the US is a key player in NATO. The Barrack Obama administration has neglected the humanitarian crisis in Syria by refusing to offer extra funding to NATO.
Evidently, the departure of the US from NATO will create a global crisis in security. It should hence be the responsibility of NATO leadership to ensure that the relationship between the US and the transatlantic alliance remains intact.
The members should, therefore, commit to funding NATO’s operations to avert security threats that may spill to the region.
Currently, the US population feels that the alliance members have neglected their responsibility by cutting on military funding thus effectively leaving the US taxpayer to bear the burden. Despite these circumstances, NATO still has a future in combating emerging global security threats.
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1 NATO Public Diplomacy Division, NATO Handbook.
2 Manea, O., Lord Ismay, Restated, p. 1.
3 Daadler, I., A New Alliance for a New Century, p. 6.
4 Daadler, I., A New Alliance for a New Century, p. 6.
5 Daadler, I., A New Alliance for a New Century, p. 6.
6 Racius, E., Lithuania in the NATO Mission in Afghanistan: Between Idealism and Pragmatism, P. 188.
7 Rostoks, T., Baltic States and NATO: Looking Beyond the Article V, p. 2.
8 Kashmeri, S., NATO: Reboot or Delete? p. 48.
9 Daadler, I., A New Alliance for a New Century, p. 7.
10 Kashmeri, S., NATO: Reboot or Delete? p.56.
11 Yost, D., NATO’s Evolving Purposes and the Next Strategic Concept, p. 491.
12 Pachoud, J., Has NATO Outlived its Usefulness? p. 3.
13 Simon, J., The Future of the Alliance: Is Demography Destiny? p. 201.
14 Curtin, M., The Role of NATO in Today’s World, p. 1.
15 Pachoud, J., Has NATO Outlived its Usefulness? p. 4.
16 Curtin, M., The Role of NATO in Today’s World, p. 1.
17 Michaels, J., NATO after Libya, p. 58.
18 Karl, K., Does NATO Have a Future? For Better or for Worse, p. 1.
19 Nesnera, A., NATO/US Role, p. 1.
20 Erlanger, S., Shrinking Europe Military Spending Stirs Concern, p. 1.
21 Brook, T., NATO Still has a Vital Role, Secretary General says, p. 1.
22 Michaels, J., NATO after Libya, p. 59.
23 Nesnera, A., NATO/US Role, p. 1.
24 Goldgeier, J., The Future of NATO, p. 4.
25 Hallams E. & Benjamin, S., Towards a ‘Post-American’ Alliance? NATO Burden-Sharing after Libya, p. 320.
26 Hallams E. & Benjamin, S., Towards a ‘Post-American’ Alliance? NATO Burden-Sharing after Libya, p. 320.