No Increase in Solidarity Without Democratization and the Media
While NATO requires solidarity to guarantee an effective defense of the West, it suffers from a lack in democratic structures. In addition, missions that could serve as examples why NATO is necessary outside its eastern borders are not communicated properly. Without an increase in democratic voting structures and the focus on NATO's humanitarian efforts, long-term NATO members might lose interest in deploying forces to countries whose interest in détente is low.
Over the last years, solidarity between NATO states saw a decrease that went along with the fragmentation of NATO's activities after the fall of the Iron Curtain. One central reason for this might be that preparatory actions aimed at strengthening defense are regarded worse than making diplomatic agreements with other countries – even though certain agreements rather represent diplomatic concessions. This decrease in solidarity might be rooted in NATO's own history and raison d'être.
What has been established as a defensive alliance between non-communist countries under American supervision, now faces questions as to whether it and its bodies are legitimate with regards to democratic decisions. NATO itself does not have direct links to democracy or to promoting democracy. While its Kosovo operations might indicate such links, failure to change the tone in talks with Turkey indicates the opposite.
This situation is understandable given the fact that the highest-ranked objective at the time of NATO's inception was the creation of a powerful and therefore militarily strong bloc to deter Warsaw Pact activities. Nowadays it obstructs NATO's attempts to increase public support – it will not increase unless such issues are tackled. NATO should therefore democratize certain structures. I have previously referred to equipping NATO with its own funds, such fund usage would be an example for the necessity of decisions that are reached in a democratic process.
NATO furthermore suffers from increasingly operating outside its members' national boundaries even though it was not designed to do so. Operations outside these boundaries only started with the end of the Cold War with the first military intervention having happened 46 years after NATO's creation (Operation Deliberate Force). As this mission supported UN objectives, NATO's intervention may be understood as engaging with international mandate, aimed at ending a war. The same applies to ISAF and Libya, where there has not been a direct conflict of interests between NATO members and other UNSC permanent members.
The public situation is, especially in Europe, that not only different threats are considered by the various nations. Furthermore, responses to threats are considered to be different. In this context, countries refer to historic relationships, such as Germany with regard to Russia. France sometimes shares this view, however to a less dovish extent. Between those who urge for stronger answers and those who urge for détente, the gap runs approximately along the former Iron Curtain and it is not just a gap in terms of how to deal with aggression. The question is not only how to reply to aggression, but also what shall be deemed aggression at all.
One solution is to give NATO itself a stronger voice and allowing NATO to make decisions based on democratic voting when it comes to responding to threats outside member states' boundaries. For the West, NATO must become more relevant. Otherwise, any attempt to increase spending or to deploy forces will fail. This should not be reached by increasing Russia's perceived threat level, but instead by making NATO worth supporting.
With public opposition to Eastern European states' plans to increase military presence and to use NATO as a means of doing so, NATO itself is threatened as support will decrease. A clear way to support this is to connect countries and their people. Increasing common European activities and strengthening European bonds might be a way to do so.
Nevertheless, NATO has never had the objective of being a defensive alliance aimed at fostering friendship between their member states. It is neither necessary nor possible to strengthen Western European understanding for Eastern European issues to an extent that makes Western European people publicly support Eastern European claims.
NATO should increase its military presence in Eastern Europe and must, at the same time, require states such as the Baltic states and Poland to increase diplomatic contact with Russia. While it is reasonable to feel threatened, these states are likely to change their tone in communication. They disallow NATO from encouraging détente by boosting strong words. Obviously, NATO's role is strengthened by increased demand in military presence in Eastern Europe. Recent statements by Eastern European politicians might exceed the objective of encouraging NATO presence though – strong statements might be understood as playing with fire.
Solidarity between NATO countries and their people must arise from encouraging common values. Such encouragement may happen internally, e.g. by hosting talks, supporting youth exchanges and by cooperating in organizations that are already in existence (such as the EU). Especially EU cooperation might require other objectives than the one of an "ever closer union" to be supported, as some nations do not share this objective. Instead, the personal and monetary value of open markets and open borders could be encouraged.
External encouragement requires NATO to increase its humanitarian activities and to improve public communication of such activities. With regards to recent operations such as the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone in Libya, it was not the zone itself that was receiving permanent media coverage. Instead, media focused on problems that arose while enforcing the zone and on the abstaining votes of Russia, China and Germany, a temporary UNSC member at this time.
NATO is already quite active in such activities and in protecting people outside open conflicts. Its participation in establishing a secure environment in Kosovo is noteworthy, as are the missions targeted against piracy off the coast of Africa and against illegal migration off the Turkish and Greek shores. However, NATO appears to fail in communicating such missions effectively or with positive connotations. As NATO's public diplomacy division might simply not be manned by a sufficient number of people, its members must either promote such activities themselves or allow NATO to be able to communicate more effectively itself. While both solutions would increase spending, the latter option would indicate that member states are ready to equip NATO with sufficient funding.
Lukas Posch is a law student at Bucerius Law School in Hamburg, Germany. He is engaged in US-German relations as a member of the "Young Transatlantic Initiative".
This article has been submitted outside of the "Shaping Our NATO: Young Voices on the NATO Summit" competition. However, it looks to answer the questions set out in category D "Increasing Solidarity in the Face of Divergent Threat Perception", so comments are most appreciated. You can also read the other articles in this category. Category D marks the end of the competition. We would like to thank all participants and members who have submitted op-eds and/or provided comments.
Learn more about this competition.
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