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Guest Contributor
Steven Brooke

Steven Brooke is a program assistant at The Nixon Center.

A 21st Century NATO

Changing the alliance's mission...

[Steven Brooke and Nicholas Howenstein] 7/7/04

When NATO ministers met in Istanbul, the topic of reform was heavy in the air. In a recent interview, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer proposed a “shake up” of the alliance lest it become irrelevant. But his proposed alterations to traditional NATO priorities will only ensure that NATO remains on the margins of the 21st century security environment. Mr. De Hoop Scheffer must concentrate not on stretching NATO and its missions wider, but on making NATO deeper by adding new responsibilities in intelligence and law enforcement.

Instead of the Warsaw Pact armies NATO faced during the Cold War, threats now come in the form of terrorism, human trafficking, failed states, international crime, drug syndicates, and weapons proliferation. Occupying the gray area between classic military prowess and law enforcement, these asymmetric threats have become interwoven, creating a witch’s brew that is neither domestic nor foreign, requiring neither strictly judicial nor military means.

States and institutions struggle to confront these threats, which often germinate in their own backyard. National intelligence and police services struggle to cross boundaries. Transnational agencies are too often felled by internal bickering or riddled with concerns over information-sharing. Collaborative bodies like INTERPOL are only relegated to gathering “criminal intelligence” and lack enforcement and decision-making authority. Terrorism is only one portfolio of many, and the legal and/or political chasm between “criminal intelligence” and terrorist intelligence can be too large to bridge.

Meanwhile NATO – a tried and true security alliance – twists in the wind, wracked by questions about its relevance and changing defense priorities among member states. NATO must evolve beyond a traditional military security alliance to keep pace with the evolving threat environment by establishing a new toolkit of permanent law enforcement and intelligence capabilities.

In the United States, there is at least a modicum of support for the idea. FBI Director Robert Mueller testified in March of this year that the establishment of a “NATO-like” structure within which to share information about law enforcement and intelligence operations would increase cooperation between agencies. Later that month, a top Justice Department official told a congressional committee a NATO-like structure for sharing intelligence is “a terrific concept… we are committed to trying to make this concept work.”

In Europe, the case is trickier. While Europeans have a general affinity for NATO, concerns over privacy and information-sharing loom large. But despite this, many European officials share the American assessment of the rising gray area threats and agree that greater cooperation is needed. Given the litany of tasks that fall under the Serious Crimes unit of EUROPOL, it is evident that Brussels considers a concerted response to these threats the best policy.

But melding these two views and forging NATO’s new role will require a renewed and more aggressive transatlantic dialogue. The United States has already missed one chance. Instead of taking the opening provided and engaging in post-Madrid security dialogues with the Europeans, U.S. officials were content to sit back and issue vague statements and pronouncements congratulating Europe on its commitment to counterterrorism. Unfortunately, NATO’s response to Madrid did not offer much more. The joint declaration issued by the ministers on April 2nd contained few new measures. Even Mr. de Hoop Scheffer acknowledged "more will have to be done.”

Mr. De Hoop Scheffer must take the stage provided by Istanbul to “do more” by proposing a truly revolutionary role for NATO in promoting peace and security. A good place to start would be a reorientation and fortification of NATO’s basic mission, which is provided for in Article 12 of the North Atlantic Charter: “After the Treaty has been in force for ten years … the Parties shall, if any of them so requests, consult together for the purpose of reviewing the Treaty, having regard for the factors then affecting peace and security in the North Atlantic area.”

He must also realign the backbone of NATO’s counterterrorism strategy, the Threat Assessment on Terrorism, which currently only makes a provision for attacks “directed from abroad.” The new threat posed by Islamist terrorism, especially originating from within Europe, demands a new approach.

Mr. De Hoop Schleffer can advocate utilizing the Terrorist Threat Intelligence Unit, which is scheduled to be operational in time for the Istanbul Summit, as a prefabricated mechanism to foster intelligence-sharing and cooperation. He should propose creating a counterterrorism coordinator post, directly under the Secretary General. The coordinator will draw on the resources of the Terrorist Threat Intelligence Unit but also on the resources of member intelligence and law enforcement entities. Rather than reporting up or down the NATO chain of command, the coordinator will be tasked with facilitating law enforcement and intelligence cooperation between member nations. Likewise, this coordinator should be able to draw on a permanent staff of law enforcement and intelligence personnel from North America and Europe, utilizing assets comparable to domestic agencies.

A final and fundamental step should be the insertion of an additional article into the North Atlantic Charter, formalizing intelligence and law enforcement cooperation as well as institutionalizing cooperation and intelligence-sharing. While NATO strictly regulates the capabilities of armies, compatibility of weapons systems, and other defense protocols, NATO currently has no concrete requirements pertaining to the sharing of intelligence. An article in the Charter governing the sharing of intelligence will be the best way to formalize NATO’s new evolution.

NATO’s transformation will also give a new face to fledgling NATO relationships with Russian and Partnership for Peace participants. With Russia embroiled in its own terrorism threat – and as a pipeline for WMD components – and the prospects of militant Islamism and drug trafficking rising in Central Asia, there these relationships will need to evolve as well. As NATO’s hand extends to these friends and allies, it will also pass on expertise and capabilities relevant to the threats facing these nations.

But NATO’s new role will also bring new problems – disagreements over the common parameters of terrorism perhaps being the most prevalent. This is a particularly tough question that will have to bring both American and European conceptions into the mix. Second, what will NATO require of its aspiring members in the areas of law enforcement and intelligence? With NATO having recently inducted seven new members, member states will need to consider (and possibly alter) the criteria candidate states have to meet for accession.

Changing NATO’s mission will not be easy, but it is doable. Bureaucratic inertia must be overcome and barriers to sharing broken down through bold and reciprocal steps that overcome differences simmering since the war in Iraq. U.S. and European officials should not be content to remain cloistered within their own systems. The global threat environment is changing rapidly, and NATO must follow suit. CRO


Steven Brooke is a program assistant at The Nixon Center. Nicholas Howenstein is a graduate student at the Elliott School of International Affairs in Washington, DC.

This piece first appeared at In The National Interest






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