NATO at 70: Staying Transatlantic – Becoming More European

01.04.2019 - Article

4 April 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Washington Treaty. In the seventy years since it was founded, the Alliance has played a crucial role in peace and stability. Our firm place within the transatlantic alliance underwrote our security while the Cold War persisted.

by Ambassador Hans-Dieter Lucas

4 April 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Washington Treaty. In the seventy years since it was founded, the Alliance has played a crucial role in peace and stability. Our firm place within the transatlantic alliance underwrote our security while the Cold War persisted. In the Cold War, it helped alongside détente and the CSCE process to make peaceful reunification possible for Germany and Europe. Thereafter, from the start of the nineties until the early years of the present decade, collective defence took a back seat. The focus lay instead on partnership with Russia, stabilisation among our neighbours and crisis management outside Alliance territory. Welcoming 13 new members and engaging in operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan are the key milestones of that era.

Since 2014, chiefly due to Russia’s policy of aggression vis‑à‑vis Ukraine, the Alliance has entered a new phase. Its original remit – collective defence – is to the fore once again. In addition, the Alliance is facing entirely new challenges, with the collapse of state order and terrorism in the arc of crisis to the south as well as hybrid challenges in the grey area between internal and external security, from disinformation campaigns to cyber attacks.

NATO is surrounded by more complex and diverse threats than ever before, though this may not always be at the forefront of people’s minds. This means the transatlantic Alliance has to constantly adapt to a rapidly changing security environment. So given this threefold challenge, what should “NATO 3.0” look like as we enter our eighth decade?

First, we need to preserve it as a political alliance. NATO is essential to our protection but no less essential as a political platform for what will soon be 30 countries. There is no other multilateral format in which not only 22 EU member states and the US but also important countries as varied as Canada, Norway and Turkey coordinate security policy on a day-to-day basis. NATO has always been more than just a military alliance. Ever since its beginnings 70 years ago, it has also seen itself as a political alliance of nations which are committed to the same shared values – to freedom, democracy and the rule of law. That political core needs to be preserved, notwithstanding any notes of discord in some areas of transatlantic relations.

Second, we need to keep our transatlantic outlook. Our connection to the United States, our most important ally, remains crucial. NATO and the key role played by the United States will remain indispensable to European security for the foreseeable future. For all the tweeting, the US is unwavering in its sense of responsibility for European security. Since 2014, the Administration has even increased its support for its European allies, providing more personnel, material and exercises. The US Congress is a strong advocate for the Alliance, as recently demonstrated by the House of Representatives’ recent adoption of its NATO Support Act and the overwhelming  bipartisan support for Secretary General Stoltenberg’s speech from the two Houses of Congress on the occasion of NATO’s 70th anniversary.

Third, we need to strengthen the European pillar within NATO. The US has for many years been calling on the countries of Europe to increase their defence efforts and help ensure that the defence burden is shared in a more balanced manner. There have also been growing signs that the US will no longer get involved in every crisis or conflict arising in our neighbourhood to the same extent as it once did. The upshot is that Europeans need to shoulder greater responsibility for security and defence. This means developing the necessary military capabilities.

This is why the EU has intensified its efforts to create a European Defence Union by, for example, setting up the European Defence Fund to finance the development and procurement of new capabilities and establishing Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) – endeavours by EU member states to develop and use joint capabilities in areas like military logistics. There are two aspects to European capability development: strengthening the European pillar within NATO and ensuring that the EU is better able to pursue its security interests in its neighbourhood – particularly in cases where NATO does not step in. The primary focus is on preventing crises, crisis management and stabilisation, such as is currently under way in the Sahel. It goes without saying that all of this is on the assumption that European capabilities will complement NATO, avoiding unnecessary duplication.

Enhanced European capabilities will require increased defence spending. In 2014, all NATO Allies committed themselves to move towards the guideline of spending 2% of GDP on defence by 2024 and to invest 20% of that in up-to-date equipment. All the Allies have made substantial progress on that score. Germany, too, has significantly increased its defence expenditure; it is set to reach 1.5% of GDP by 2024, which would mean an 80% increase in defence spending compared to 2015 and make Germany’s defence budget the largest in Europe. This is not about doing the US President a favour. It is about putting the Bundeswehr in a position to properly defend our country and to live up to its responsibilities in NATO and the EU – in a manner befitting Germany’s position as the Alliance’s second-largest and second-richest member.

Strengthening European capabilities doesn’t mean writing NATO off. After all, NATO and the United States remain indispensable for collective defence. The Lisbon Treaty also sees NATO as retaining exclusive responsibility for collective defence. Furthermore, developing autonomous European defence capabilities in the broadest sense would cost far more than the 2% defence expenditure guideline we are aiming for within NATO. It should not be forgotten that, following Brexit, 80% of NATO defence spending will come from the budgets of non-EU member states. For nuclear deterrence too, Europe will have to rely on the US nuclear umbrella for the foreseeable future. For that reason, linking European security to American security is in our own European interest.

Fourth, we need to strengthen NATO-EU cooperation. There is a lot of potential for more synergy – whether in building resilience to hybrid threats and cyber attacks, enabling partner countries or enhancing military mobility, an area that has long been neglected and which is crucial to our ability to deploy and therefore essential for a credible defence posture.

NATO and the EU have different strengths and capabilities. While NATO’s core remit is collective defence, the EU possesses specific capabilities and experience in crisis management, crisis prevention and post-conflict peacebuilding. We should work on dovetailing these skill sets even more closely. NATO and the EU have agreed an action plan for this and are in the process of implementing it together.

Fifth, we need to stick to the Alliance’s dual-track approach to Russia, maintaining our deterrence and defence capabilities while at the same time keeping the door open for dialogue with Moscow. In illegally annexing Crimea and destabilising eastern Ukraine, Russia showed that it is prepared to wield military force to achieve its political objectives. The Alliance has responded by engaging in its greatest collective-defence effort since the end of the Cold War. Germany is making a major contribution to that effort – for instance, by assuming the role of framework nation for a multinational battlegroup in Lithuania as part of the Alliance’s enhanced Forward Presence. That presence on the NATO border makes clear that, if and when a crisis arises, the entire Alliance is involved. At the same time, NATO is willing to maintain dialogue with Moscow via the NATO-Russia Council as well as direct military contacts. Germany has repeatedly been one of the chief advocates of this approach since 2014, and we will continue to defend it. Dialogue is essential, particularly in times of heightened tensions, whether to address the crisis in and around Ukraine, to ensure military transparency or to prevent unintended escalation.

Sixth, NATO has been the key forum for coordinating arms control and related matters of European security since the seventies and eighties. It was the North Atlantic Council that adopted the NATO Double-Track Decision and nurtured the negotiations that led to the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. That very treaty is now on the verge of collapse because of Russia’s violation. NATO is united in its response to Russia’s treaty violation. The Alliance stands by its aim of saving the treaty – but if Russia does not resume compliance with it, then NATO will adjust to a post-INF world, though without mirroring Russia’s actions. The United States, for example, has made it clear that it does not intend to station new intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. The NATO foreign ministers also reaffirmed their commitment to arms control as a central element of Euro-Atlantic security at their meeting in December 2018. Ensuring that we remain united on these issues in future will be crucial to upholding the Alliance’s credibility.

Seventh, NATO must not look only to the East. Given the threats emanating from the South, it needs to continue developing its policy of projecting stability along its southern periphery. This means assisting or enabling partner countries in our neighbourhood in their management of crises and the fight against terrorism. The focus is on political dialogue and tangible support, primarily for partner countries such as Jordan, Tunisia and Iraq, on training their armed forces and building defence capacity and institutions. NATO should cooperate closely with the EU on all of this. Furthermore, NATO engagement in Afghanistan will remain essential until a comprehensive peace agreement is concluded.

Eighth, the Alliance needs to adapt to new challenges arising in the grey area between internal and external security: cyber attacks and hacking, disinformation campaigns and a range of other hybrid measures of unknown origin which remain below the threshold of armed attack. A lot has been achieved in this area since 2014, but much remains to be done. The Allies’ resilience has to be improved, in terms both of their critical infrastructure and of their political resilience. A number of Allies, now including Germany, have also declared their readiness to provide the Alliance with offensive cyber capabilities should the need arise.

There is no lack of challenges for the Alliance as it enters its eighth decade after the meeting of foreign ministers in Washington in early April. Its success in tackling them and continuing to play its established role in security and stability will not least depend on whether the Allies can continue to reach consensus and take joint action. They have always managed to so far, when it really mattered, despite the undeniable difficulties in transatlantic relations.

The times we are living in are characterised, to a far greater extent than the Cold War era, by immense strategic uncertainty and unpredictable events. In such dangerous and tumultuous times, we need institutions like NATO more than ever. The Alliance binds nations together on the basis of shared values. Over seven decades, it has proved its worth as a central multilateral institution in which we exchange views in which we sometimes disagree but which is always there to facilitate and legitimise joint action. It thus helps enhance reliability and predictability. In its eigth decade, NATO must remain a crucial pillar of the rules-based international order that is so fundamental to peace and security.

The article was first published by the Magazine 'Eurppäsiche Sicherheit und Technik“ and can be found on the website of the Atlantic Community.

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