NATO's Biggest Mistake and Lesson Learned

Shaping our NATO: Young Voices on the Warsaw SummitLike any other organization, NATO has made mistakes. What is crucial is that the Alliance recognises what it did wrong and why, thus avoiding these same mistakes in the future. In order to understand how the young generation views NATO's past, we asked:

What do you consider to be NATO's biggest mistake in the last 25 years? What lessons should be drawn and how to prevent similar mistakes in the future?

We received 30 submissions from 13 different nationalities. Topics covered range from humanitarian intervention in Kosovo and Libya, to enlargement, policies towards Russia and terrorism, and public engagement.

We now need all our members' help to take the debate to the next step. We encourage you to provide feedback and give counter-arguments, point out the articles' weaknesses and highlight strengths. If you are not yet a member, you can join for free with just a few clicks. By contributing to and enriching the discussion you will be extending a helping hand to young voices from the NATO Alliance and have the chance to influence the Atlantic Memo. After July 3, the shortlisted authors will write this joint policy paper to be presented to decision-makers.

The competition has been made possible by generous contributions from:

NATO     Konrad Adenauer Foundation     Foundation for German-Polish Cooperation

EuroAtlantic Institute

Redefining Relationships Inside and Outside the Alliance

Memo 51: In order to learn from past mistakes, NATO should seek to bring Russia into the fold of European security, refrain from humanitarian missions better conducted under UN auspices, sanction non-compliance to the 2% defense spending promise, and strengthen its democratic norms. View

NATO is Synonymous with the US. Europe Must Be Included

People do not see NATO as just a defense organization: people still feel the tension between the US and Russia. The feeling that US soldiers are tantamount to NATO forces is widespread across Eastern Europe, particularly the Czech Republic. Few there feel that NATO represents their interests. Before a sense of unity and cohesion can be achieved, NATO must change. View

NATO's Greatest Mistake was Libya: the Alliance Should Have Nothing to do with R2P

As a collective security organisation for its members NATO overreached its purview and the spirit of its treaty mandate by intervening in Libya. The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) principle adopted by the UN in 2005 should not partner or utilize with NATO’s operational capability to be able to intervene in states outside of the North Atlantic Treaty. NATO should stay clear of becoming an operational arm for liberal internationalism and re-consider its humanitarian role. View

West in the Middle Earth: Between the UN and NATO

Since 1989, the US has become the world’s policeman. This situation has put NATO in several unnecessary international conflicts as it has often taken the UN’s place internationally. Does the West really need NATO? Which can be a possible solution? View

Turkey: An Inconvenient Tie Between NATO and the EU

The admission of Turkey into NATO structures was not the mistake, it was the result of contemporary circumstances. The common failure of NATO (as well as of the EU) was the inability to keep Turkey in the discourse of democratization – which is a cornerstone of NATO’s internal integrity and solidarity. View

Brexit and the End of Europe's Golden Age

Britain’s vote to secede from the European Union poses a greater existential threat to NATO than any foreign military. In leaving, the United Kingdom has accelerated the political disintegration of Europe and threatened to rob NATO of the prosperous European economy it relies upon. Consequently, NATO must fully transition to a new role it has only just discovered: that of a politico-economic confederation, not just a defensive organization. View

The Post-Cold War NATO: Decoupling Regime Change and Human Rights Promotion

NATO's biggest mistake in the past 25 years is that in its search for a post-Cold War raison d'être, it has taken on roles as both an instrument of regime change and of humanitarian intervention. Humanitarian work and the protection of human rights is a noble pursuit that NATO should continue to undertake; regime change and the imposition of democracy from above is not. View

Why NATO Must Revert to Basics and Adapt to Russian Aggression

With the risk that the EU will collapse following the UK's decision to leave, it is a pivotal time for NATO to assume responsibility for the unity and security of Europe. NATO's biggest mistakes have been its commitment to widen its scope both globally and in terms of its activities pursued, whilst failing to deal with the Russian security threat. NATO must simplify and return to its core objective of collective security and propose Russian integration into the Alliance. View

NATO's Biggest Mistake? Public Relations

In order to stay ahead of a changing world, NATO must increase its visibility to the public. As populist "independence" movements are on the rise, the future of the Alliance may be in jeopardy. As it stands now, NATO is failing to show the public the good it does. Allowing voters to remain ignorant of the Alliance could hamper future military capabilities. View

Moving Beyond the 2 Percent Promise

NATO's member states failed to abide by the solemn promise to spend 2% of their GDP on defense spending. Jumpstarting NATO resolve while understanding economic constraints requires a strategy that advocates pooling and sharing and cooperation among member states. View

Russia: The Threat NATO Created Itself

Over the past 25 years NATO has isolated Russia, preventing it from influencing European security. As a result, Moscow is demonstrating its determination to become a global power through aggressive policies. Only an open acceptance of Russia as a global power and respect for its interests can prevent further security escalation in Eastern Europe. Thus, NATO must stop further enlargement. States that perceive Russia as a threat should be able to get protection outside of NATO. View

The Moscow Integration That Never Happened

NATO’s failure to proactively include Russia after the collapse has led to 25 years of ongoing conflict. By examining history, the organization is a fundamentally anti-Russia group focused on surrounding, isolating, and deterring aggression from a country different to its late Cold War identity—the USSR. The introduction of a formal military agreement and a change in NATO’s image, led by Western leaders, are necessary to rekindle relations. View

From Opportunity to Crisis: NATO's Eastern Perception Problem

With its rapid eastward expansion following the Soviet collapse, NATO lost an unprecedented opportunity for east-west cooperation. Since then, its rhetoric and further expansion have only entrenched its negative perception in Russia, which the Ukraine crisis revealed to be problem a serious danger to European stability. In future, NATO must make accession process more selective and weigh geostrategic concerns more carefully. View

NATO's Missing Member

Criticism of the eastward expansion of NATO misses a crucial mistake: the failure to map out a plan to incorporate Russia as a member of the Alliance. It should have taken more concrete steps toward ensuring Russian cooperation, providing plans for Russian and NATO engagement leading toward a goal of eventual membership. View

Winning Asymmetrical Warfare with Economic Policies and Measures

When facing asymmetric warfare conventional military measures are often highly ineffective. Thus, incorporating well-thought-out market and economic policies and measures into NATO’s politico-military “toolbox” seems essential. Failing to do so, and failing to understand or comprehend market realities might even be directly harmful to NATO’s goals as demonstrated by the case of Afghan drug industry and by the counternarcotic eradication programs in this article. View

The Obstacles of Managing NATO: A Way Forward

NATO’s biggest mistake in the past has been to permit the citizens of its Western European and North American countries to fall into a feeling of complacency, ignoring the very prominent fear Eastern Europeans feel due to Russia’s threats of invasion. NATO must put an emphasis on crisis education within its countries so that the organization can confidently right wrongs done by Russia's military. View

Containment Is Dead. Long Live Containment

They say old foreign policies never die, only fade away. Three decades removed from the height of the Cold War, American troops are heading back to Europe: the next war is no longer a matter of if, but when. From the day NATO opened its doors to the East, could we have expected anything different? View

Lessons from Libya: Indecision, Air Power and the Light Footprint

The fall of Colonel Gadhafi’s regime in Libya, brought about in part by a sustained NATO air campaign, was lauded as a triumph by the international community. However, as with every intervention of this kind in recent memory, what replaces such violent rule is the crucial determinant of success. This is where NATO fell short in Libya. Its failure represents a threat not only to the stability of Libya as a nation, but also to the stability of North Africa and the Middle East. View

Why We Should Build a Bridge of Trust Between NATO and Russia

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization must extend its hand towards the Russian Federation to avoid further military conflict and sow the seeds of future cooperation. A bridge of trust must be built between NATO and Russia in order to mitigate the effects of future harm in the case of continued tension and rivalry. View

Why Kosovo Matters

Kosovo, Europe's youngest country, is also the capital of Europe's organ and drug trafficking market. Less than 20 years after NATO's occupation, bombing, and liberation of Kosovo from Serbia, the region has become poorer than ever. The policies the West enact in response to each misdiagnosed nation leads to further hostility and distrust by Balkan citizens, thereby hindering NATO’s credibility in the region. Why does Kosovo matter and how does the West fix it? View

We Must Modernize NATO

In our modern, civilized world we are always speaking about organisations which have an impact on the Earth's future. However, do we speak about the mistakes of these alliances? This is the main question that needs a perfect answer. View

Promoting NATO's Mission and Vision at the Grassroots Level

Due to the lack of recent conflicts on European soil, people have forgotten about NATO's relevance. Consequently, European leaders do not dare spend more on defense capabilities. The lack of support for NATO funding is an easy target for nations seeking to destabilize the Alliance. Improved Public Relations can help NATO member states reach their 2% of GDP benchmarks. Not all armies seek to destroy but rather to protect: it is time that NATO shows people this side of the Alliance. View

NATO's Article V: Iron Clad Commitment or Paper Tiger?

NATO's "Ironclad" Article V is referred to when any threat is made to an ally or the Alliance. Yet, Russia's hybrid warfare in Ukraine, coupled with Article V's ambiguity and NATO disunity, brings into question Article V's reliability and function. To deter anyone from testing its validity, NATO should pursue proactive forms of collective defense. Given the meagre response to the 2% pledge, a stance based on increased cooperation and integration between the EU and NATO should be adopted. View

Vigilance Through Encouragement During a Time of Torment

While NATO should remain vigilant of terrorist activity and weaponization spurring from immigration volume, it is also imperative to realize the fact that most refugees are innocent families fleeing violence in their home country. The way NATO has essentially ignored this issue could be the Alliance's biggest mistake in recent history. NATO should employ Civil Response Teams to help with logistical planning and relief operations to ameliorate living conditions for refugees. View

NATO: Losing the War of Narratives

This is the era of wars of narratives rather than conventional military clashes. NATO has to endorse its narrative better and create a united front in diplomacy. View

NATO’s Failure to Tackle Extremist Ideology

Violent extremism has become the most destabilizing threat facing NATO has faced. There has been no coherent, international strategy to counter the narratives that perpetuate the ideology and the violence is causes. We need new structures in NATO to address the ideology as well as a global commitment on education and governance, equipping states to effectively tackle extremism at its roots. View

How NATO Underestimated Russia

NATO redefined itself by expanding its membership in three waves, but underestimated Russia's future capabilities. These waves of enlargment provoked Russia, which responded through a first step of testing the Alliance, in 2008, through the Georgian war. Putin continued with the decision to test at a fully-length pace, NATO's response, through the annexation of Crimea and the start of the Ukrainian war in 2014. View

NATO's Mistrust Crisis

NATO has changed over the last 25 years. Nevertheless public opinion on the Alliance has stayed the same. The North Atlantic Alliance is facing a massive mistrust crisis. People are starting to distrust and question the organization: the main reason for this lack of trust is that the general public does not know exactly what NATO does. View

Facing Decreasing Support, NATO Must Motivate the Home Front

What has supported democracy in Europe in the presence of communist autocracy, faces decreasing approval rates throughout the last decades. With NATO’s solidarity in danger, keeping quiet and staying out of public discussion is no longer an option. By increasing its efforts to put public attention on NATO’s importance in keeping not only Europe safe, it must show that it has not become obsolete following the demise of Soviet communism. View

Enable German Rearmament to Kickstart NATO's Transformation

To transform NATO, rearm Germany. The Euro-Atlantic security community should welcome Germany's military growth, and help turn it into a wider process leading to a necessary and long overdue shift of security responsibilities away from the U.S. and towards major European powers. View

Shaping our NATO: Young Voices on the Warsaw Summit 2016

Our new policy workshop competition gives students and recent graduates the opportunity to reflect on the most pressing issues facing NATO today and to shape the future of the Alliance. Five winners will receive a trip to Berlin to present the collective ideas to decision-makers. View