As the principal members of NATO meet in Lisbon to discuss current security matters, a broader shadow hangs over the future of the NATO alliance.
The beginnings – from the ashes of Europe, NATO is formed!
NATO was formed in 1949 in the ruins of Europe that had been torn apart by a six-year world war.
In the face of a growing Soviet threat, the old Allies formed an alliance that would provide collective protection. The Korean war of 1950 forced the political alliance into a military force that would continue to the present day. The polarised position of the cold war ensured that NATO would continue to play a significant role and would eventually emerge as the most important military alliance after the demise of the Soviet Union.
Business of today
The Lisbon conference will discuss and agree an exit strategy to the long and difficult Afghanistan mission. The aim will be to achieve a measured and well-balanced transition of security provision to organic Afghanistan forces. The time line for this ambitious transition will commence as early as 2011 with the aim of complete withdrawal of ground troops by 2014. The 48 members of NATO have ambitious plans for providing an integrated security network that would provide protection for missile attack to all member states. The development of this “shield” capability would require significant investment and broad ranging agreements to provide standardised interconnected network enabled systems. This latter challenge should not be underestimated as it has proved to be significant obstacle in the past.
Extending the hand of friendship to Russia
The NATO alliance will look to extend the hand of friendship to Russia as a critical partner in the development of the NATO anti-missile shield project. So, could this be the beginning of a process that could lead to an invitation to Russia to join NATO as a full member? Russia joining NATO would help to breed new life into the Alliance. But, would it make it's purpose and relevance any clearer?
The problem with NATO
NATO is facing a crisis of confidence and many ask the simple question, what is it for? Following the end of the Cold War, NATO now needs to determine a new and relevant role for itself, for now and in the future. Many countries in mainland Europe would like to see a military force being based upon the European Union, drawing forces and funding from the member states, with the primary objective of providing security for these trading nations. Although this seems like a natural transition for NATO, this would also exclude the involvement of the USA within the force. The USA is the principal contributor to the NATO force structure and has played the pivotal role in providing military and logistic capability to NATO operations. NATO is seen as a significant vehicle for the USA to influence mainland Europe and would place significant strain on future relationships between the EU and USA if the demise of NATO were to take place.
Duality of capability
The European Union is already beginning to form dual structures to NATO. An EU battle group has been formed and some commitment has been obtained from member states to provide future military capability to an emerging European military capability. The recent agreements between the UK and France to share military resources is further evidence of this growing interest in new force structures beyond the NATO framework. With the emergence of a more European focused force, the question would be raised as to whether this would prove to be more attractive for a resurgent Russia.