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Food for Thought


NATO is Still Fit for the Job and Continuous Adaptation is the Right Call for It - Ümit Pamir

The international system is in flux. We have seen the end of the
bipolar world order and the unipolar moment also seems to fade away. Geopolitics are back and we are witnessing the emergence of a multi-polar system. This in turn creates a more fluid and volatile international environment. Therefore, one of the main tasks for any major player in the international security field is to help overcome the complicated-than-ever challenges during this era of radical changes when the current security environment is characterized by uncertainty and unpredictability. Todayʼs security challenges exist in many forms and at several levels including national, regional and global. They are mostly interrelated. Some are military in character, others non-military and many of them are hybrid.

Despite the fact that likelihood of total war between major powers has never been lower, there is only little real ground for cheerfulness. Terrorism, proliferation of the weapons of mass destruction and their delivery means, failed/failing States and regional conflicts, trafficking in drugs and human beings, piracy, cyber terrorism, proliferation of ballistic missiles are real threats and they need to be addressed. Unlike the past when we lived in a world with threats on the other side of the border, we now live with threats without borders. Security has gained an even broader scope and content involving new elements, such as energy security, climate change, environmental degradation, water shortages, scarcity of resources, retreat of the Arctic ice, poverty, infectious and epidemic diseases and, to stretch it a bit, even the economic downturn affecting populations across continents. The security environment has become so unpredictable that, analysts are able to analyze at best the past, get close to assessing the current day, and maybe to predict not the future but perhaps the future landscape. Predicting tomorrow proves to be a tall order if not an outright impossibility.

Let’s take the Arab Spring or better the Arab uprising as an example that is still in the making. The events of the past year have been a total strategic surprise to any leader in the world, particularly for the very leaders who have been unable to assess the situation in their own nation carefully in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. 2011 will be remembered, as the year of mass protests across the Arab world. It all started by rallies in Tunisia, sparked by the self-immolation of a market boy upset at police mistreatment. When he died, thousands took to the streets which eventually led to the toppling of the longtime president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali out of office. Encouraged by the events in Tunisia, riots soon began in Egypt. It was truly spectacular to see Hosni Mubarek having to cede in to the persistence of the Tahrir Square. In Libya Muammar Qaddafi rejected calls for him to step down. This sparked a terrible civil war. A clear mandate by the UN Security Council for intervention followed by the NATO Operation Unified Protector eventually secured the ouster of Qaddafi in a graphically dishonorable fashion. However, in places like Yemen, Jordan and Morocco rulers swiftly agreed to reforms introducing a more democratic way of life, albeit still far from Western standards. On the other hand, the Arab Spring encountered the stiffest resistance so far in Syria where protestors are still oppressed brutally and killed by the numbers by the regime of Bashar Assad. We are yet to see the end of this Syrian episode. However, in the long run the odds are not favorable for Mr. Assad if he continues to follow the current irrational path.  

While all attention is focused on this strategic surprise engendered by the Arab Spring, elsewhere issues of no lesser importance linger on, causing concern for the international security. American troops have just left Iraq in a not so promisingly stable situation. Only history will tell if Iraq will be able to stand on its own feet as a successful State or get dragged into a quagmire. The picture in Afghanistan is still gloomy. It is true that after almost a decade of American and NATO-led intervention, Afghan security forces are finally able to take over the security responsibility in a number of areas. The deadline for this process to achieve completion and for NATO forces to start withdrawing is 2014. In the security field, The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are already increasingly taking the lead in joint operations in the most challenging areas. ANSFs are on track to reach 300,000 by the end of 2011 and are improving in quality, notably through the NATO Training Mission (NTM-A) in Afghanistan. The ANSF growth and development is at the core of the ISAF mission and essential to a sustainable transition. However, it is quite disturbing that it is still not possible to tell from today if this colossal collective effort in Afghanistan will lead to any sustainable progress be it in terms of security, be it in terms of human development which is particularly so poor in this country. At the NATO Summit in Lisbon, Allies and Partner countries, contributing to the UN-mandated ISAF in Afghanistan, agreed on a clear vision for sustainable transition to greater Afghan security responsibility. This decision was backed up by the signing of a long-term partnership between NATO and Afghanistan which reveals NATOʼs long-term commitment to Afghanistan.

NATOʼs long-term partnership with Afghanistan and the transition process are interlinked. Transition will further NATOʼs efforts to help the Afghan people build a durable and just peace paving the way for a robust, enduring partnership which complements the ISAF security mission and continues beyond it.

Another longstanding issue of concern for the international security landscape is nuclear proliferation. On top of the formally registered nuclear powers and the unregistered Israel, there are two new nuclear states, Pakistan and North Korea. Combined with the alarming fact that neither of these two countries are anywhere close to stability, this nuclear dimension causes great apprehension and for good reason. And then there is the emerging nuclear Iran. There is a strong disagreement among major powers as to how to convince this country that it is following the wrong track. Talk of an imminent Israel-Iran armed conflict causes alarm bells sounding in a number of capitals.

Against this backdrop, another phenomenal process is taking place which will inevitably have far reaching implications for the international and regional realignment, security, economy and trade relations. The global center of gravity on all walks of life is moving eastwards at an amazing pace. European Union is experiencing the most painful economic crisis it has ever endured. There are even questions marks as to whether or not it still has what it takes to remain as a union and leave behind this bitter chapter of its history. It is no longer the dynamic economic power house it once was bar a few nations Germany first and foremost. The flag of demographic and economic dynamism is not being held by the “West” as we know it. A couple of decades from now and it will most probably be irrelevant even to use this term. On the other side of the coin, “emerging economies” like Turkey, China, India and Brazil are about to “have emerged”, gaining economic and consequently politico-strategic prominence and greater clout by the day.

Where does NATO stand against this overwhelming background? Interestingly, but definitely not as a conscious response to the coming events of the Arab Spring, the Alliance happened to be strategically prepared, including for the relatively unknown. There could not have been a better timing for the adoption of the new Strategic Concept. When the Heads of State and Government agreed in Lisbon in November 2010, they did not have the slightest idea that colossal tectonic movements would commence in the Middle East and North Africa in about a month’s time.

NATO has a splendid virtue: It knows how to remain relevant. Surely, this is not its fundamental purpose per se. The Alliance is the sum of the parts that make it up, namely the 28 Allies. Those nations are well aware of the fact that NATO has been and will be for the foreseeable future a golden tool to project security and stability on a global level, in a volatile environment. Based on shared values and principles, NATO has been and it still is the main Euro-Atlantic forum for consultation on security and defence issues. As the security environment continues to evolve, so does NATO. Confronted by new challenges, the Alliance has already undergone a fundamental transformation process after the end of the Cold War. NATOʼs transformation process has two main aspects: internal and external adaptation. While the internal adaption involves transformation of NATOʼs means and capabilities with a view to responding to the requirements of the new security environment; external adaptation relates to promoting wide-ranging partnerships, cooperation and dialogue with other countries in the Euro-Atlantic Area and beyond. This continued internal and external adaptation process has made NATO the most successful defence alliance in history.

There are some important topics which will dominate the agenda of NATO in the coming years. These are well defined in the new Strategic Concept. The Concept could be read as a compilation of strategic opportunities and challenges. It is surely not too easy to differentiate between opportunities and challenges. NATOʼs opportunities can actually turn into its challenges. Likewise, if managed well, challenges could as well turn into opportunities. It has been proved at the Lisbon Summit yet again that Allies have a sound understanding of where they stand in 2010, what kind of a security atmosphere they will breath in and also what type of specific issues they need to work on for collective defense and, more and more, collective security in the years ahead.

Better yet, NATO has shown once again that on top of its ability to read the overall international security map, it also has a sound game plan. In sheer military terms, the Alliance has agreed through its new Strategic Concept its “operational plan” for the next ten years. This is, in itself, a commendable achievement. Self confidence for the future is the greatest opportunity and there is self confidence among Allies in NATO. The Alliance’s swift intervention in Libya has shown that this was not words only but deeds as well.

The Strategic Concept is surely a statement for the unity of purpose among the Allies. But this issue of unity of purpose will keep surfacing as it did for two decades. Strategic Concept is a compromise document. It has strong wording on the unity of purpose, but it is a compromise of, at times, differing visions for the future. We all know that threat perception among Allies do and will differ in reality to a considerable extent despite clear wording in key documents. Threat from the Soviet Union was clear and loud and quite visible. This is not the case for some time now. The Strategic Concept spells out, for example, terrorism as a common threat. This is true, but it rings various tones of alarm bells in various capitals. Likewise, not everybody perceives an imminent threat at the same level or intensity from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, it will be a challenge to keep an Alliance of 28 sovereign nations with 28 distinct threat perceptions focused on a single cause, particularly in the absence of a visible, tangible one. Yet, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Despite all the modern challenges, one may claim that the world is becoming a safer place as no more total wars are waged and there are more and more democracies around the world. It still holds true that two democracies have ever gone to war against one and other.

Another challenge to indicate, maybe in cruel terms, is that there is no money in general! This has far-reaching implications on defence capacities and therefore nations’ ability to project security at distance both individually and collectively. European economies are in gigantic debt and budget deficit paralysis. They are not growing and it things look grim for the foreseeable future. It is neither reasonable nor realistic to expect that this situation will change anytime soon especially in the face of a lack of a single overarching threat that aims at everyone. Defence budgets will continue to shrink. Political leaders will have no choice but give a clear priority to major strands of human development such as health-care, education, justice and development in general. These will continue to take precedence over defence, and, particularly the defence from the unknown.

There is no magic and quick fix to this problem. There are only some ideas and good wishes which will take time and painful effort to put in practice. Allies are now trying very hard at least on a conceptual basis to mitigate the negative effects of the current trend. The new catch word for this collective effort is Smart Defence. Spelled out for the first time by the Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Rasmussen, at the annual Munich Security Conference in 2010, Smart Defence calls for enhanced multinational cooperation in the development of defence capabilities, better prioritization of scarce resources and role specialization in capability development especially for small and medium size countries for whom acquiring the full set of military capabilities is a tall order, if not impossible. First results of this initiative are foreseen for the post-Chicago Summit in May 2012. A lot of paper work is underway. Yet, conventional wisdom still dictates that we should not hold our breath too long in the expectation that Smart Defence will be the cure for all defense budget constraints. NATO still needs to do much more through common funding. It is simply unacceptable that we should have NATO as an invaluable security provider and yet keep it sickly underfinanced. 28 nations that make up NATO allocate collectively only less than 0,5 percent of their combined defense budgets to the Alliance common funding. Smart Defense will never be able to cure such an anomaly. 

Closely linked to the issue of finances, it is a disturbing, yet daunting fact that the divide between the US and European Allies in terms of military capabilities and volume of defense budget is widening at a worrisome pace. One of the main lessons learned from NATO`s recent operation has been already a lesson not learned at all since the Kosovo war: That is the Europeans neither possess the will power nor the finances to match US military capabilities. In Libya this was once again so obvious as the major European powers who championed the military intervention in the first place there had to beg for at least some specific US assets such as precision guided munitions and ground surveillance capabilities that are so critical for conducting a sophisticated military operation. 

Let us continue with opportunities: One is definitely the unprecedented environment of peace and stability in Europe despite some lingering hiccups here and there. The picture was not this rosy in 1999 when NATO agreed its previous Strategic Concept. This new reality helps NATO concentrate its efforts more on crisis management around and beyond its borders and also on cooperative security. This is well reflected in the new Strategic Concept. The emphasis on collective defense remains. And it should remain indeed steadfast. Yet, we now have the luxury, albeit with limited resources, to address common security concerns far away from our doorsteps that may nevertheless have implications at home.

In the span of a decade or so NATO moved from an absolute collective defense organization to one that resolutely added crisis response operations and cooperative security to its main tasks. The new concept of Comprehensive Approach is of critical significance  for NATO`s future success in conducting effective operations and also partnering with other actors, nations around the globe and prominent international organizations who deal with various aspects of international peace and security. Comprehensive Approach calls for a sophisticated line of action particularly in terms of crisis response operations, including both military and civilian assets of multiple actors. At the end of the day there is a clear consensus that complex problems require equally complex remedies. In this respect, the new Strategic Concept highlights what NATO is ready and able to do alone and expects other actors with equal determination and stake in expanding security and stability through coordinating efforts with NATO. It also implies what NATO should not do. The line between these situations is sometimes blurred especially in post conflict scenarios where security and development are closely interlinked.

Yet, NATO should not act too conservative especially in acquiring some civilian capabilities or tapping into those capabilities available in the inventories of individual Allies.  The new NATO perspective to make use of civilian capabilities is truly a welcome opportunity. NATO is known for its hard power. However, after two decades of experience in operational theaters we now know that this alone does not suffice and it is a good thing NATO decided to develop a much more qualified approach by coordinating with others while developing the appropriate level of core civilian capabilities to be able to act independently when necessary.

NATO`s partnerships are also an essential ingredient for the vision of the new Strategic Concept. For the last two decades partnerships already flourished becoming a major security providing asset for everyone involved. The new Strategic Concepts puts an even stronger emphasis on it. Partnerships should not be seen exclusively from the standpoint of partner contributions to NATO operations. It is, and it should be, much more than that. Of course, with such a close engagement with partners it will also be necessary to involve them in key decisions such as those taken in Afghanistan. It goes without saying that NATO already has a very inclusive and transparent approach towards its partners and to make a comparison it is probably a light year ahead of the EU in terms of the progressive working culture it developed vis-à-vis its partners during years of acting together with them and the constant feed-back process it employed to involve its partners even better in its decision making process.

NATO`s partnerships should be flexible making it possible to tailor them according to distinct requirements of each partner and situation. This will be a major line of work in the run-up to NATO`s Chicago Summit as it is already known that partnerships will be high on the agenda. It is particularly important at a moment when at the height of the Arab Spring there is consensus among Allies that NATO should reach out more particularly to the countries of the region through longstanding formats such as the Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative as well as flexible formats based on the need of dialogue on a case-by-case basis.

Another development which will mark the next decade is missile defence. At the Lisbon Summit, Heads of State and Government took a historic decision to develop a robust NATO Missile Defense capability. This political decision will be an important factor as the Alliance will adapt its policies and forces to meet the risks and challenges of the 21st century in light of the new Strategic Concept.

Nevertheless, pursuing a missile defense capability to protect all NATO European populations, territories and forces will have potentially far reaching and multi-dimensional strategic and political implications within and beyond the Alliance. In line with this, the missile defense system should be a capability based on generic security considerations. The military capabilities that NATO develops in general are always generic in nature despite the presence of agreed Alliance threat assessments and contingency planning. Missile defence should not be an exception to this. It would definitely not be a smart move to pinpoint a few nations as “the” threat. True, proliferation of ballistic missiles is a serious threat and it should be addressed. This is exactly what NATO decided to do. But it must continue to stay away from a vicious circle of “naming and blaming” exercise. Political correctness is still a valuable virtue in international relations. While aiming to reinforce the Alliance defense as a long term project, this system has also the potential to contribute to a common perception of security around the Alliance, as well as to regional peace and stability. Of course, the issue of risks and responsibilities arising from a NATO missile defense capability will need to be examined carefully. Those risks and burdens, as well as the benefits it offers in terms of collective defense and security, should be shared equitably with regard to the principle of Alliance solidarity and indivisibility of security.

NATO should also continue to seek cooperation with Russia in this field as it is a major partner for the Alliance. Yet, Russia will have to come to terms with the fact that it is not a NATO Ally and therefore a fully combined NATO-Russia joint missile defence system is just not feasible for a host of reasons.  Russian insistence for legal and technical guarantees will only hurt the relations.

Turkey once again has a unique position here. There is no other Ally with a similar status. Both Russia and Iran are its neighbors with close relations including the gigantic trade volumes it is enjoying with these countries. Therefore it is only normal for Turkey to sound the voice of caution and wisdom when it comes to the issue of missile defence, particularly at a time when it decided to host an early warning radar as part of the NATO missile defence system.

Where does Turkey fit in the overall picture drawn above? It is located at the epicenter of "old" and "new" set of challenges. Moreover, it is a part of the strategically important regions, such as the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East. These are also the regions to which Turkey has strong historical, cultural and economic links. This gives Turkey a unique responsibility and a 360 degree horizon of opportunities to make an impact both as a NATO ally and individually.

It is clear that Turkeyʼs pivotal location makes it a critical player in many respects in coping with current challenges. This is why Turkey pursues a pro-active foreign policy so as to prevent conflicts and help maintain regional peace and stability. The objective of Turkish foreign policy is to help create an ever widening zone of prosperity, stability and security stretching from the Balkans and Caucasus through the Middle East and Central Asia. Since the early years of the Republic, Turkeyʼs defence and security policies have been characterised by dialogue, cooperation and multilateralism. The change today lies in the dynamic and interactive way in which Turkey pursues these policies. 

As a member of the community of advanced democracies, Turkey has longstanding, deep ties with her neighbors and the region at large.

Fully aware of today’s requirements in terms of responding to new and evolving challenges, Turkey pursues a comprehensive security policy. With the understanding that Euro-Atlantic security could be ensured by providing security in other parts of the world,   Turkey bases her regional policies on the principles of "security for all", "political dialogue", "economic interdependence" as well as "cultural harmony and mutual respect". In this regard, Turkey keeps building strategic relations and partnerships with other regions. It looks for more security and stability through membership in international organizations or other formations both at global and regional level.

In that sense, one may with ease argue that Turkey has already embraced the concept of Comprehensive Approach long ago. Its foreign policy has been employing a broad spectrum of peaceful means through extending humanitarian aid and assistance to the less fortunate, participating in peace-keeping operations and contributing to the resolution of disputes, as well as post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction efforts all at the same time.  In the military sphere, as well, Turkey has a long list of contributions to peace keeping operations conducted under the respective mandate and auspices of the UN, NATO, EU and the OSCE. They highlight Turkeyʼs stabilizing role in a geographical scope well beyond its neighborhood, from Somalia to East Timor, from Kosovo to Lebanon, to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The total number of Turkish troops that has been assigned to such peace keeping operations is well over 10.000.

NATO occupies an important place in Turkeyʼs approach to international security affairs. This is with good reason. NATO is the essential forum for transatlantic security affairs. This was reiterated once again in the new Strategic Concept. Over the last 58 years as a member of the Alliance, Turkey has not only profited from NATOʼs security umbrella, but also contributed immensely to the security of its Allies and to NATOʼs efforts to projecting security in the Euro-Atlantic geography and beyond.


NATO launched a comprehensive transformation process in order to adapt itself to the current conditions. The new Strategic Concept is a testimony to NATOʼs resolve to maintain its relevance and ability to respond to modern security issues in modern times. The Alliance has proven its value as an organization in projecting security and stability to the wider Euro-Atlantic geography from Central Asia to the Gulf region and the Mediterranean. It is operating in an unprecedented pace in six different regions: Securing stability in Afghanistan, keeping peace in Kosovo, patrolling the Mediterranean in an anti-terrorism mission, training Iraqi forces, supporting the African Union and countering piracy off the Horn of Africa and developing a wide and strong network of partnerships around the world.

The long-lasting peace in the Euro-Atlantic region and beyond is our common objective to which Turkey will further contribute faithfully. Sixty-one years after its creation, NATO has a time-tested value as the most successful political-military alliance in history.

NATO remains a community that embraces values such as democracy, rule of law and human rights. Founded on the principles of indivisibility of security, solidarity and cohesion, it will continue to rise against the challenges it faces, and prove as it did for more than sixty years that it is not a mere “geographical expression.”