NATO's New Strategic Concept: A Partnership for Crisis Management
NATO's New Strategic Concept: A Partnership for Crisis Management
Trump, Biden and the Future of U.S. Multilateralism
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Speech / Global 8 minutes

NATO's New Strategic Concept: A Partnership for Crisis Management

Presentation by Donald Steinberg, Deputy President, International Crisis Group to the NATO Conference on the Comprehensive Approach, Helsinki, Finland, 4 March 2010.

Your Excellencies:  It is an honor to address this session of the NATO’s review of its new strategic concept.  Even as the NATO alliance celebrates six decades of helping bring peace, security and democratic transformation to the north Atlantic region, there is an urgent need to re-assess the future contribution that NATO can make not only in its primary theatre of operations, but throughout the world.  The discussions are addressing weighty, even existential, issues: what is NATO’s purpose in a world where the principal threat to Europe and North America have little to do with troops movements around the Fulda Gap, and much to do with global terrorism; trafficking of persons, arms and illegal drugs; refugees flows across borders and even oceans; cyber-space security; disruptions international trade and investment; pandemic disease; and even piracy.

Much of our discussion here today has been about NATO’s response to fragile and failing states and the challenges of modern peacebuilding and stabilization efforts.  NATO’s so-called “Comprehensive Approach” is primarily directed toward these types of operations, which are increasingly of an integrated civilian-military character.  The Comprehensive Approach anticipates partnerships between NATO institutions, member governments and militaries, civil society institutions, and non-member states.  NATO’s leadership structure has recognized that this must be a respectful, cooperative effort in which NATO goals – primarily related to peace and security – are meshed with those of its partners.  In Afghanistan, for example, gone are the days when NATO commanders referred to humanitarian and other NGO workers as “force multipliers” in its counter-insurgency efforts.  Today, such collaboration is intended to address not only the urgent and immediate military goals of battlefield victory, but also the broader restoring human security, building a responsive political framework, kick-starting the economy, ensuring a balance of reconciliation and accountability, promoting civil society, and getting the regional context right.

Acting on New Realities for Global Security

In addressing these challenges, there has been a promising intellectual acceptance in NATO of new premises guiding our actions, but regrettably, too little of this realization has been translated into tangible changes in force structure or mandate.  For example, most NATO commanders accept the idea that the traditional dividing line between “hard” issues of national security and “soft” issues of human security have become hopelessly and permanently blurred.  Today’s challenges include prevention of genocide and mass atrocities, achievement of the socio-economic progress identified in the Millennium Development Goals, addressing the status of women impacted by armed conflict, and providing humanitarian assistance.

But if you go to the planning cells at Mons, or to the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and ask – 16 years after the Rwandan genocide – whether there are battle plans or training programs to stop such a genocide, the answer will be “no.”  Similarly, despite new attention to abuse of women by government and rebel forces alike during conflict – including the pernicious pattern of rape used as a weapon of war – we have seen far too little protection for women on the ground.  Despite the presence of large international forces in each setting, we still see massive and increasing numbers rapes in eastern Congo and acid thrown in the faces of young girls daring to the return to school in Afghanistan.  You still hear commanders describe efforts to stop these and other atrocities as “peripheral duties” in contrast to the more pressing, strictly military requirements associated with international peace and security.

Further, we frequently hear political and military leaders speak about the constraints placed on their actions by public opinion in their countries.  In the face of increasingly dangerous and costly missions in such places as Afghanistan and the Balkans, we hear, the European and North American publics are growing increasingly skeptical about engagement, and political will to support these operations is hanging by a slender thread.  Instead of seeking to build public support for these actions through complex but essential explanations of the links between these actions and Western security, prosperity and humanitarian interests, the only response coming from political leaders seems to be that such actions are needed to keep the subway systems in London, Madrid, Paris, Toronto and New York safe from foreign terrorists.    

Finally, gone too are the days when the international community could ignore or run roughshod over the priorities of its local partners.  Too frequently in the past, it seemed that NATO, as well as bilateral donors and international financial institutions, treated conflict countries as laboratories to test out their latest theories of counter-insurgency or nation-building.  In fact, we have found that local ownership is the sine qua non for success, in the form of executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, community councils, institutions of civil society, and the people themselves.  But we have yet to develop plans of action to mesh these realities with the need to insist on respect for vital universal principles, such as transparent governance, accountability and basic human rights.  Yes, local empowerment may work well when that leader is Nelson Mandela or Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; it is far different when the leader is Robert Mugabe or a Charles Taylor.

Interlocking Challenges

It is understandable that in this environment, NATO’s primary goal in a situation like Afghanistan is a successful counter-insurgency effort.  And it is admirable that NATO commanders understand that this goal is not achievable without addressing vital “hearts and minds” issues of political legitimacy, human security, economic recovery and social advancement.  But in its dealings with local and international non-governmental organizations in particular, NATO must understand as well that counter-insurgency is viewed by these groups as only one aspect of achieving the broader goal of long-term peace, prosperity and justice.  Just as NATO’s comprehensive approach now accepts that international organizations and NGO’s have vital “experience and skills in areas such as institution-building, development, governance, judiciary and police,” NATO must consider how it is prepared to support the broader efforts on these organizations to meet their goals of restoring state and human security, building a responsive political framework, kick-starting the economy, balancing national reconciliation and the need for accountability for past abuses, promoting civil society, and addressing the regional context.  I would like to address each of these challenges briefly.

On security front, international peacekeepers can provide a buffer, but credible local security forces – both defense forces and polices – must quickly take over to provide stability, normalcy `and rule of law to everyday life.   International support for security sector reform is essential to ensure that forces are well-trained, disciplined, and adequately paid so that they do not abuse the populations they are supposed to protect. There must be effective programs to disarm, demobilise, and reintegrate ex-combatants, including militias.  Civilian populations must be disarmed, and child soldiers must put down their AK-47s and pick up schoolbooks.  

The second challenge is to restore a legitimate political framework. We must help build credible governance at national and local levels; transform armed movements into political parties; and ensure that effective legislatures and judiciaries counter-balance the power of the executive, which grows during conflict periods.  The quick-fix of creating a government of national unity including all competing forces is rarely a viable long-term solution.  Similarly, the premature holding of elections can create a winner-take-all power dispensation that is itself a prelude to new conflict from disempowered minorities.  A culture of accountability and transparency must emerge in government, along with an effective system to protect human rights.  Decentralization and local empowerment must be balanced against need for strong central authority in fragile states.

Economic renewal is often defined in strictly physical terms as the rebuilding of roads, clinics, schools, power grids, and houses.  In truth, long-term development means reviving agriculture, creating conditions needed to attract local and foreign investment, ensuring greater equality in income distribution, and creating jobs.  In societies facing massive youth unemployment, it is little surprise that renegade leaders have lured disaffected young people with a siren song that offers quick if venal empowerment.

The fourth challenge is coming to grips with past abuses and atrocities. Nations and individuals who have suffered from grievous treatment must balance accountability and national reconciliation, but too often, peace agreement provide blanket amnesties in which men with guns forgive other men with guns for crimes committed against women and children.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to transitional justice: whether it is action by local courts, the International Criminal Court, a truth and reconciliation commission like in South Africa, the gacaca community court system in Rwanda, or ad hoc international tribunals in cases where local courts are inadequate, ensuring accountability is essential to rebuilding rule of law and eliminating a culture of impunity.

A fifth challenge, often ignored, is re-creating of civil society.  Groups of academics, lawyers, teachers, unions, and women are the glue that holds society together and serve as safety valves to permit the peaceful redress of grievances.  Such groups are frequently polarized during conflict, often due to conscious "divide-and-rule" strategies by national or factional leaders.  Women in particular are not only the primary victims of conflict, but a key to peace consolidation.  Bringing women’s groups to peace table improves the quality of agreements reached, and involving them in post-conflict governance reduces the likelihood of returning to war.  The single best investment to revitalize agriculture, restore health systems, and improve other social indicators after conflict is girls' education. It has been said: "educate a boy and you educate an individual; educate a girl and you educate a community."

The final challenge is getting regional context right.  Comprehensive peace-building must recognize differing yet often synergistic roles to be played and interests to be pursued by neighboring countries, each with its special relationships and contacts with key actors. It is often useful to have formal structures: ad hoc "friends groups" or conflict resolution committees of such regional and sub-regional organizations can serve this purpose.

Building the Domestic Constituency for Engagement

In conclusion, I would like to return to the question of political will and public support in Europe and North America for these kinds of action.  In this regard, I want to suggest that we too frequently underestimate the ability of our fellow citizens to understand and support the multiple purposes served by such engagement, and I will conclude with a final story.  In October 1993, I was serving as deputy White House press secretary at the time of the “Black Hawk Down” disaster in Somalia.  In response to the deaths of 18 American servicemen in Mogadishu, there was a firestorm of calls from Washington politicians for the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Somalia.  While President Clinton resisted this call, he decided on a six-month timetable for their removal.

In March of the following year, when the troop withdrawal was complete, President Clinton traveled to Fort Hood, New York, from where the troops had originally come.  In a private meeting with the families of servicemen, one woman stood up and asked in a very aggressive manner, “Mr. President, what explanation would you have for a wife whose husband died in Mogadishu?”  As the President started to respond by citing America’s strategic interest in the Horn of Africa, another woman got up and said, “Mr. President, I can answer that.  You should say that the woman’s husband died a hero, in the finest tradition of the U.S. military and the United States, helping save the lives of hundreds of thousands of starving Somalis who couldn’t save themselves.”  When she finished, the whole room broke out in applause.

Our fellow citizens get this agenda.  They can connect the dots – frequently better than we can – between our strategic, security, and humanitarian interests.  We underestimate their commitment and concern at our peril.  Thank you.

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