NATO has effectively adapted to changes in international pressures since its inception, responding to nuclear threats, humanitarian crises and global terrorism. Modern threats, however, cannot be dealt with through security policy alone. Increasingly evident is that security, economic prosperity, and environmental stewardship are inextricably linked to one another, and a solution to one cannot ignore the other two. By partnering with other international organizations, NATO and its members can leverage their knowledge, foster a smarter community of 'we', and build comprehensive solutions that deal with global security issues at their sources rather than solely defending against the symptomatic threats they pose.
The global economic crisis has demonstrated the link between economies and security, not only in terms of funding, but also in border security and, more subtly, affecting the political cooperation of nations under economic duress. Crises at NATO's borders cause migrational waves suffering economies cannot easily absorb, leading to feelings of xenophobia and intense nationalism. Such movements have broadened across many NATO countries as a result of the economic crisis, aimed even at other members of the organization. These groups undermine NATO's goals by promoting in-fighting, placing blame, and preventing cooperation at times when direly needed. NATO should work to mitigate the security threats posed by economic crises, both within its member states and outside its borders.
In addition to the effect economic despair that the crisis places on each member states' politics, environmental issues can cause overreaching problems. Most of the world's poor rely on resources provided directly by the environment and disruptions to that process will bring destitution. Developing countries at NATO's borders hard hit by the economic crisis will be the first to suffer from environmental losses as unsustainable business practices consume their remaining natural resources. Lack of environmental resources with which to derive economic value can drive many facing destitution to illicit or illegal markets in drugs or human trafficking, disrupt political stability, or even cause mass migrations. Short-term economic gains are precluding future economic opportunities and ensuring the long-term failure of the development project and consequently threaten global security itself. Therefore, by collaborating with international organizations, not only should economic goals be considered as described above, but economic goals that are environmentally sustainable should be pursued.
Through these means, NATO can develop its values as a community and promote security on more than just a defense level. Focusing solely on defense, NATO risks ignoring opportunities to develop relationships among its members and promote clear, coordinated, multi-disciplinary policy efforts aimed at not only defending against attacks, terror and other physical threats, but also advancing a community whose members identify with the organization and its common ownership as well as its common defense. This is not to say NATO should engage directly in green technology research or fund environmentally friendly economic initiatives. NATO is, to be sure, a defense organization and its resources should by and large be so used. However, it must broaden this concept of defense and promote intellectual capital which can identify and subsequently mitigate modern causes of insecurity.
NATO is excellently recognizing new types of threats that members face. It should, therefore, work with other international organizations to identify those threats and support solutions that not only provide defense but actively promote the security of member nations. NATO should encourage cooperation among member nations and international organizations so as to not only encourage a Smart Defense system, but also sustainable economic development and moreover a smart community whose collaborations drive new levels of security by eliminating the causes of the threats, not simply the missiles they let fly.
Only through coordinated, interconnected, multi-disciplinary responses to the complex challenges of the 21st century, can the global community hope to mitigate the problems we see developing now. This task cannot fall solely to NATO, but NATO can be integral in shaping the future of collaborations and a start for smart global problem-solving where security, economics, and environmental sustainability are each taken into consideration as inseparable aspects of one security issue to determine preventative measures that can be implemented by an interconnected, strong community.
NATO has an opportunity to choose to be either a community engaged in both the prevention and defense of security threats, or simply a treaty organization reliant on its most powerful members. The threat is real, the situation dire, and indeed the alternative grim. Cooperation must be strong, responsive, and effective or the consequences will strike at environmental conditions, economic prosperity, and, in the end, our physical security.
By collaborating across nations and with international organizations to solve the roots of the issues that cause insecurity and thereby necessitate defense, NATO can achieve higher levels of security by focusing on core problems rather than symptoms. This can additionally provide the opportunity to unite its members in a community of 'we' as opposed to 'they', in effect, achieving Smart Defense through Smarter Community.
Bill Gugerty is a Fulbright Researcher and Master Lecturer at the Free International University of Moldova. His research interests include the sustainability of microfinance in economic development.