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The role of NATO in the Contemporary Security Environment

With the end of the Cold War at the beginning of the 1990s, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) found itself in a curious dilemma of identity. While it no longer had a common enemy, member states found themselves entrenched in a treaty-based association which had brought many benefits for them through years of cooperation. In the past, most military alliance tended to fad into history with the diminishment of a common enemy. However NATO was unusual, in that it was a complicated military and political alliance with more than just purely military goals. Although heavily focused on military deterrence during the cold war, NATO was also a defensive political union, which used many means, including diplomacy and military deterrence, to ensure the security of its members. And so, given the unique nature of the alliance, NATO did not simply dissolve with the disappearance of its arch-rival, the USSR. It found a way to adapt its role in the new, post-cold war security environment, as an instrument to protect the emerging security concerns of its member states with preventative actions. When NATO was first established, its primary goal was deterrence of Soviet aggression. Given what they knew of the Soviet Union, Western European states felt insecure with the balance of power that existed in Europe and the United States felt that its economic and political interests were best served by way of an advance defense in Europe. Given the Soviet Unions predisposition to use violence in political disputes, such as that within Hungary, the West felt justifiably concerned for its security, and formed NATO as a collective security measure against Soviet aggression. However, while there is a strong military nature in this structure and logic of alliance, the written purpose of NATO was not to counter any aggression of the Soviet Union, but rather to ensure the preservation of peace and security for member states, and, so as to be consistent with the UN charter, was committed to peaceful as much as military means in protecting their security. This goal of ensuring general security through both political and military means lain out in formal treaty, rather than a pure military alliance against one specific state, allowed NATOs transition from cold-war military alliance to a modern security political and military alliance. With the collapse of the cold-war framework, under which international relations operated under, new, broader and radically different security challenges emerged. Threats to NATO members security were no longer blocs of hostile states with large numbers of tanks, soldiers and nuclear weapons, i.e. threats to the existence or fundamental well-being of the states themselves. Rather, security became increasingly concerned with threats to the conditions of existence of these states, such as criminal and terrorist organizations, influxes of refugees, humanitarian problems and human rights violations, environmental degradation and economic problems. While problems such as criminal and terrorist organizations transgress national boundaries, others, such as large influxes of refugees, present problems to the economic well-being of states. But the common link between these problems, is the requirement for collective action to help resolve such trans-national situations: to catch a terrorist or inter-state criminal requires cooperation between the intelligence and enforcement agencies of states; to aid refugees in nearby states requires collective action to restore order and help people home. As these problems become more and more international, multilateral solutions and cooperation become more and more important to the security of all states. They also require proactive solutions to resolve the

underlying concerns before they manifest themselves as large security problems that greatly threaten a states borders or interests. This new and challenging nature of security has thus brought about a somewhat new role for NATO; preventative security actions. Since the end of the cold war, NATO has engaged itself in a multitude of operations which often are more concerned with humanitarian motives than military ones. Actions such as the recent deployment of aid to earthquake-stricken Pakistan, rarely involve the use of military force, but rather involve the use of efficient military capability in an attempt to quickly and efficiently resolve impending humanitarian disasters and prevent future problems arising from them which will infringe upon the security of NATO states. Those actions that do involve military force, such as peacekeeping in Afghanistan and the Balkans, are undertaken with regional stability in mind as well as with stopping underlying humanitarian problems, such as genocide, repression or gross economic mismanagement. In Bosnia, for example, NATO attempted to resolve the conflict with a more forceful hand than the UN could have, and conferred upon itself a peacekeeper role to maintain regional stability in the wake of massive ethnic violence. The fear was that ethnic fighting and an exodus of refugees would spill over into neighboring states, several of whom were NATO states. This new strategic focus of NATO points to a greater realization on the part of the alliance that concerns of security are not just those of hard military power, but also those of non-military concerns, and that understanding security in todays world is dependant on understanding both dimensions to security problems. It has also learned that, given the increasingly interdependent nature of the world, there will still be many ways in which Western interests can be threatened by developments in the third world. Lessons to this effect were taught to NATO nations by disasters such as September 11 2001, which demonstrated that nations such as the United States were very vulnerable to small groups such as Al-Qaeda, who were able to flourish in the conditions of impoverished, repressive and unstable Afghanistan. The response to this tragedy was a multilateral declaration of support, through the collective-security clause found in NATOs founding treaty, and a subsequent US invasion and NATO occupation of Afghanistan. The ISAF (International Security and Assistance Force) led by NATO is presently engaged in helping to develop the political, social and economic institutions in Afghanistan. ISAFs role is to assist the Government in Afghanistan and the international community in maintaining security within the forces area of operations. ISAF supports the Afghan Transitional Authority in expanding its authority to the rest of the country, and in providing a safe and secure environment conducive to free and fair elections, the spread of the rule of law, and the reconstruction of the country. In the former Yugoslavia, NATO intervened militarily because of the threat to its European members caused by ethnic conflict which threatened to destabilize the region and was producing huge numbers of refugees. Thus, NATOs military occupation and political reorganization of Afghanistan and the Balkans is helped by the idea supported by Barry Buzan, that military means can dominate the outcome of all other types of security: political, economic, societal and environmental. By removing the political structure whose harmful effects which created security threats to NATO members and implant troops into the state, NATO aimed to promote political,

social and economic change which would eliminate support for and the causes of terrorism. While all of these developments have posed various risks to the security of NATO countries, and as such, NATO has recognized them and adapted its role into one of stabilizing the politics and problems of the regions involved to prevent them spilling over and causing security problems for member states. These lessons and the responsive actions taken have also undoubtedly influenced NATOs current actions in Pakistan and Iraq. In Pakistan, NATO is presently involved in providing humanitarian relief for the many people left homeless and impoverished in the wake of a recent massive earthquake. This tactic, of trying to prevent a massive humanitarian catastrophe before it develops, is more evidence of a forward-thinking strategy in advancing the security agenda of NATO, as well as an understanding that, to address many modern security problems, a comprehensive understanding of non-military problems is needed. In Iraq, NATO is involved in training the Iraqi national defense forces to enhance the ability of the state to handle both internal and external threats. Given that a basic measure of a governments capability to claim legitimacy and a measure of the strength of the state is how well it can control the use of coercive measures within its borders, NATO has a vested interest in seeing the Iraqi defense forces develop capacity relatively quickly. Weak states pose a problem to the NATO allies, as, in weak states, many problems that tend to proliferate, such as terrorism, international criminal organizations, regional conflicts, out flux of refugees and humanitarian disasters often emerge. This is especially true in Iraq, given its location in the middle east and the recent rise of Islamic terrorism. NATOs actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Balkans demonstrate its modern role as a proactive organization that tries to either stabilize problematic situations, or stop them from even beginning. While it might be tempting to call NATO a peacekeeping organization in modern times, it must also be remembered that NATOs actions and stated intentions are designed to provide security for its members by way of systematically targeting problematic areas which show potential for causing security problems which threaten NATO countries. While NATO does adhere to the principles set forth in the UN and has collaborated with the UN in peacekeeping operations , NATO primarily undertakes operations in theatres in which it can affect its members security positively. NATO is, after all primarily still an alliance whose stated goal is to advance the security interests of its member states. One must not confuse the humanitarian consequences of many of NATOs present operations, with the security-minded focus that guides NATO action, even although frequent humanitarian outcomes are consistent with NATO goals. Thus, while NATOs goals, and the outcomes of its missions are humanitarian, this does not change the fact that NATO, in the modern era, is still an alliance whose primary concern is the security of its members. In view of the recent actions undertaken by NATO in the past 15 years since the end of the cold war, as well as its lack of a formal enemy, it has also been suggested that NATO, while formally a military alliance, is perhaps more of a strong security community. However, this distinction glosses over the very nature of the association, which still has a very important military component in its command structure, as well as clauses in the alliance framework which lend it to military cooperation if needed. It might more accurate, then, to include the idea of a security community into the description of NATOs newfound role as a military-political

alliance which uses preventative measures rather than reactive and defensive measures to enhance its security. Over the past 15 years, NATO has evolved greatly, Surviving the type of crisis which caused many military alliances to break up and become merely a part of history. It has been able to do this because of the political nature that guided its formation, and the political structures built into it, by way of treaty. In one sense, NATOs role has changed very little: it ensures the security of its member states through collective action. But in a much more complex and thorough sense, NATOs role in the international community has greatly evolved and changed. No longer is it a defensive, reactionary organization, with the unstated sole purpose of deterring a specific state. Rather, it is now a pro-active alliance, responding to contemporary security problems, which often arise from weakness in foreign political and state structures, through a variety of preventative political, military and humanitarian responses.

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