During the events of the revolutionary situation in Libya, the role of NATO has yet to be decided. While the present political leadership desperately tries to take a stand against the events, Western society faces prismatic problems concerning the matter of support, intervention and the fear of an unpredictable course of events in the radical currents.
"We have to try and help those who are offering an alternative future to Libya,” says US Senator Joe Lieberman. “We cannot allow them to be stifled or stopped by brutal actions of the Libyan government.” But what is this help supposed to look like? A no-fly-zone to prevent Qaddafi from bombing citizens might be efficient but nevertheless an act of war, which needs a UN-resolution. Just like the dilemma of the 1990s in Rwanda and Bosnia it seems that the US-lead NATO is still the most effective military power worldwide. And just like in the 1990s, when the EU was neither cohesive, nor powerful, the US will evaluate "a range of options, including potential military options" according to President Obama at a March 7 meeting
The central question is and has been whether it is legitimate to intervene in a civil war. Which principle is more important, protecting human rights or respecting state sovereignty? Considering the brutal crimes committed already in different civil wars, the call for an intervention seems rather understandable, just like the principle to develop some mechanism to emulate global police. Regarding the transformation of NATO, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it appears that the alliance of Western countries under US leadership is indeed stuck with the role of world police without the backing of the important leading states, like China and Russia.
The constitution of NATO was the reaction to a specific threat scenario deriving from the rise of the two super powers after World War II. The question of whether capitalism or communism was the "right" system, led Western society to define itself as a community of values that was to be protected from the Soviet Union's claim to power and influence. The deeper meaning of the bond that was closed on April 4 in 1949 with the NATO treaty becomes more obvious when considering its timeless character.
After 1989 and the alleged win over the Warsaw Pact, the treaty had to be renewed because its central enemy was lost and its right to exist and act was undermined in the general diffusion of power. In the aftermath of the civil wars in former Yugoslavia and especially in Kosovo, NATO gave itself permission to intervene in civil wars and violate state sovereignty. As the war on Milošević was not mainly of economic interest, but geostrategic and legitimate, NATO was able to win the face-off against Russia and to re-establish its main task from the cold war: protecting western society. The task remained the same until today, but the territory and the objects have changed. 40,000 Russian tanks in the area of the Helsinki accords are not the main concern anymore, but the protection of vital economic interests like the supply of resources or security of investments, especially regarding the competition by China and other emerging powers, are a concern.
Lack of Legitimacy
20 years after President George H.W. Bush proclaimed the "New world order" it seems that the alleged hegemony of a US-dominated NATO is neither conclusively legitimate, nor disposable as it still guarantees stability in Eurasia. Due to the American lack of authority following the highly problematic operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the question of how long the Western societies will be able to maintain their economic and political hegemony over the world, while preserving their liberal and democratic values remains unanswered. Apart from the rise of China and the general shift of power towards the developing world, it is rather important for NATO to regain legitimacy in order to preserve the current stability, while at the same time being able to engage in international operations to secure the vital interests of the member states and the Charter of the United Nations. The 2010 Lisbon strategy states that NATO aims to use its military infrastructure in order to "prevent, manage and stabilize" looming or ongoing international conflicts concerning the security interests of the treaty. The political, social and ecological stability within NATO's security environment, which today clearly exceeds the geographical borders, is a prime concern of the treaty, since only this stability opens the perspective of achieving NATO's mentioned goal superiority in economics and intelligences. Economic superiority is in turn the foundation of military might, while intelligence superiority, a term which also includes net-centric warfare, ensures that diplomatic and military means are applied in an appropriate and efficient manner.
Negotiating a Global Treaty
Legitimation is of high relevance to the stability of a community and the world, and will be increasingly so due to technological integration. Using the military infrastructure of NATO to intervene in civil wars and catastrophes must be of high concern. In order to gain legitimacy, it is important to integrate semi-democratic states such as Brazil, South Africa, India and even non-democratic states such as China. Furthermore, it is necessary that the EU takes responsibility to speak with one voice and one army. Nevertheless, renaming is a relevant option - transforming the relict of the cold war into a modern, effective and democratic organization, which makes a fundamental democratization and renegotiation of the treaty necessary. In short: A new treaty, that defines and demands the inner democratic status of the members as well as the cooperation and global responsibility towards resources, human rights and environment.
Furthermore the new role of this new-negotiated NATO will have to be diligently chosen and legally backed. It must be based on a well-established and carefully balanced relationship between the NATO and the UN. The UN with its Security Council is the only organization that can grant the authority to engage in action by tapping on chapter VII of the UN Charter.
Julia Ulrike Schramm has a MA in political science from Bonn University.
This article was submitted for the atlantic-community.org's competition: "Empowering Women in International Relations." It coincides with the 10th Anniversary of UN resolution 1325 calling for an increased influence of women in all aspects of peace and security. The contest is sponsored by the U.S. Mission to NATO and the NATO Public Diplomacy Division.
You can read more submissions from the competition here.