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August 31, 2010 |  Print  Your Opinion  

Topic Public Diplomacy in the Greater Middle East

Member deleted In the specific context of the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, NATO’s new Strategic Concept should focus on the role that the Alliance plays in the Greater Middle East. A multilateral policy approach and a revitalized public diplomacy campaign are required in order to overcome current obstacles to cooperation in this region.

Since the end of the bi-polar confrontation, NATO has been in search of an identity that will guarantee its future survival. The main aim of the Alliance is to provide a structure for increased global cooperation while making the transition from a collective defense organization to a collective security organization. The fact that NATO has evolved from a Euro-centric defense alliance to a global security provider has blurred the lines between the various requirements of security, deterrence, defense and stability.

As a consequence of this identity reformulation, two fundamental issues have emerged that must be addressed within the new Strategic Concept.  On the one hand, there is the urgent need for the Alliance to define its role within the international security environment. On the other hand, NATO must continue to promote public support for security policy needs in order to legimate its existence.  These two challenges hold a place of central importance in the development of partnerships between the Alliance and the states of the Mediterranean and Middle East.

NATO is currently engaged in the Greater Middle East with two initiatives: the Mediterranean Dialogue (MD), initiated in 1994 with the states of Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia; and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative (ICI), initiated in 2004 with four of the six Gulf Cooperation Council member states (Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates). Despite having the same objective of creating strong ties based on trust and cooperation between NATO and the countries of the Greater Middle East, the MD and the ICI take two different approaches. The MD offers participants the choice between a multilateral dimension or a bilateral approach, while the ICI offers only a bilateral dimension. The new Strategic Concept must strive to further define NATO's role in this region in order to improve the public perception of the Alliance within Muslim countries.

As a first step, the multilateral approach should be promoted within the ICI, establishing a political dimension in the relations between the West and the Gulf States. Additionally, the existing multilateral dimension within the MD framework should be implemented with concrete actions. In both cases, the search for common threats and shared interests between NATO and its MD and ICI partners would serve to improve the implementation of the frameworks while helping to further define the role of the Alliance in North Africa and the Middle East. Terrorism, religious extremism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction constitute as much a threat to the southern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries as to NATO and the West. The multidimensional character of the security environment in the Greater Middle East suggests the need for a comprehensive vision of security and a shared problem-solving approach. One immediate way to implement this theory would be the engagement of the MD and ICI partner countries in Afghanistan.

The promotion of common actions in a multilateral dimension is strictly tied to the perceptions that Muslim countries hold about the Alliance. In this context, it is necessary to draw up a Strategic Concept that considers public diplomacy as a central pillar. In the post-Cold War era, in which there exists no clearly identifiable adversary, public diplomacy is a fundamental function of the Strategic Concept. It must define the Alliance and its purposes to the world in order to mobilize support at home and prepare the Alliance for engagement in an unpredictable and demanding security environment. In the case of the MD and the ICI, a strong public diplomacy initiative could improve the perception of NATO in the Greater Middle East through media and information campaigns. Providing more materials on the Internet about NATO and its activities in the Arabic language would help, as well as organizing regular annual seminars. Within the framework of the new Strategic Concept, NATO must develop a better communication strategy that contains the potential to win the battle of narratives.

Donatella Scatamacchia graduated from the University of Naples with an MA in international relations and has currently a PhD offer by King's College London in Middle East and Mediterranean Studies, with a research project on the policies of NATO in the Mediterranean basin.


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