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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 75, January/February 2004

NATO'S Future:
To the Greater Middle East and Beyond?

Nicola Butler

The US has set out an ambitious and controversial vision for NATO's future role in the "greater Middle East" in the run up to the Alliance's Istanbul summit in June 2004.1 The Bush administration is aiming for a new NATO with "new partners, new members, new military capabilities, and a new strategic mission".2

Early in 2003, NATO experienced unprecedented divisions, when France, Belgium and Germany blocked Alliance deployment of missile batteries to Turkey in conjunction with the war on Iraq. The United States is now attempting to edge its reluctant allies towards an "expanded role" in Iraq and to move to an increased Alliance focus on the Middle East, Central and South Asia, and North Africa. Washington wants a future role for NATO in building partnerships with other states in Central Asia and the Mediterranean, and, further in the future, perhaps even a role in peacekeeping in the Middle East.

The Istanbul summit will be the second NATO summit since George W. Bush became US President, the first having taken place in Prague in November 2002. The Prague summit made a number of key commitments to "transform" NATO to meet the new security threats following the September 11 terrorist attacks. These commitments included: the establishment of a NATO Response Force designed to be a flexible, quickly deployable force encompassing land, sea and air elements; a streamlined military command; a commitment to improve military capabilities including strategic air- and sealift and air-to-ground surveillance; and a military concept for defence against terrorism, which was accompanied by a range of initiatives on weapons of mass destruction, including a missile defence feasibility study. The Allies also declared themselves to "stand united" on Iraq, albeit with a carefully worded statement committing themselves to UN Security Council Resolution 1441.

At Prague, as part of the second round of NATO enlargement, seven former Eastern bloc countries were invited to join the Alliance: Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. By the time of the Istanbul summit these countries should all be full members of NATO. A NATO-Russia Council had also been established six months before the Prague summit with the objective of strengthening NATO-Russia cooperation. Although this round of NATO enlargement is now a "done deal", Russia remains "calmly negative" about the implications for its security and its relations with these states.

The Istanbul summit will be an opportunity to review progress of some of these developments and also for NATO to set out its strategic vision for the future. It comes at a time of diminishing US interest in "old" Europe and increasing focus on the Middle East. Whilst still consulting with allies on this subject, Washington is planning concurrently to "realign" its forces as part of a worldwide reorganisation. This is expected to entail fewer forces in Western European countries (especially Germany) and more forward deployments into the territories of new NATO members.

Declaring that "Istanbul, as the site for NATO's next summit... affords a symbolic opportunity for NATO to reach out to the greater Middle East," US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman outlines the US vision for NATO's future as follows: "Threats to the security and prosperity of the Atlantic Alliance can come from anywhere... NATO must have forces that are prepared to deter wherever the threat arises.3

NATO is currently in a period of transition with Secretary-General Lord Robertson having stood down in late December 2003. He was succeeded by Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, formerly Foreign Minister of the Netherlands and Chairman-in-Office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). De Hoop Scheffer is generally regarded as a traditional Atlanticist, and as such is acceptable to the Bush administration.

NATO held its biannual Defence Ministers' meetings on December 1-2, followed by Foreign Ministers' meetings on December 4-5 in Brussels. At these meetings, the US lobbied hard for a greater commitment from NATO allies to help deliver its policy objectives. In particular it is pressing for a greater commitment in Afghanistan and Iraq, thereby sharing some of the burden of these two protracted conflicts. Traditional internal NATO disagreements were also in evidence at the Ministerial meetings, with continuing controversy over European Union (EU) defence plans, and the Americans highlighting an increasing spending and capabilities gap between the US and its allies.

From Istanbul to the Greater Middle East

The US objectives for the future of NATO have been outlined in a series of speeches by senior administration officials with responsibility for NATO and European relations. Reflecting decreasing US interest in European security, American officials emphasise a role for NATO in the "greater Middle East".

In testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, America's Ambassador to NATO, R. Nicholas Burns, argued: "NATO needs to pivot from its inward focus on Europe - which was necessary and appropriate during the Cold War - to an outward focus on the arc of countries where most of the threats are today - in Central and South Asia, and in the Middle East."4 Ambassador Burns continued: "NATO's mandate is still to defend Europe and North America. But we don't believe we can do that by sitting in Western Europe, or Central Europe, or North America. We have to deploy our conceptual attention and our military forces east and south. NATO's future, we believe, is east, and is south. It's in the Greater Middle East."5

Assistant Secretary of State William J. Burns told a conference on the role of the Transatlantic Community that the "great majority of threats" to NATO members will in future come from "in Central and South Asia, in the Middle East itself, and in North Africa". He specified four policy challenges that the US and Europe must tackle in the greater Middle East: building a "unified, stable and prosperous" Iraq; making progress in the Israel-Palestine peace process; terrorism, state-sponsorship of terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction; and economic and political reform of countries in the region. Highlighting a growing divergence between many Europeans and US policy on Israel, he said: "Recent polls showing a majority of Europeans believing that Israel now poses the greatest threat to world peace are as troubling as they are ill-founded... Gaps between Europeans and Americans in viewing many Middle East issues are widening, not narrowing - even as our stake in addressing these issues is growing."6

These objectives for NATO involvement in the greater Middle East reflect the current US focus in this area, following the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. In his 2004 State of the Union speech President Bush said that the United States is "pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East."7 It is looking for allies to support its work in this area, both on the diplomatic and the military front.

In a speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Vice President Dick Cheney outlined a three-pronged approach: "First, we must confront the ideologies of violence at the source, by promoting democracy throughout the greater Middle East and beyond. Second, we must meet these dangers together. Cooperation among our governments, and effective international institutions, are even more important today than they have been in the past. Third, when diplomacy fails, we must be prepared to face our responsibilities and be willing to use force if necessary. Direct threats require decisive action."8 Cheney praised movements towards "reform" in Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, saying that these "historic steps" demonstrated that " true reform and democracy must come from brave and forward-looking people in each country." Afghanistan and Iraq were hailed as the "most dramatic recent examples of democratic progress", whilst Iran was warned that Europe and America would "stand as one in calling for the regime to honour the legitimate demands of the Iranian people."9

Afghanistan and Iraq

While NATO's official representatives have been reluctant to make any commitments on Iraq, anxious to avoid reopening previous fissures in the Alliance, Lord Robertson and others have prioritised NATO's role in Afghanistan. According to a NATO spokesperson, Afghanistan is now the "key issue" for the Alliance.10

In August 2003, NATO took over command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, which operates under a UN mandate. At the December ministers' meetings, NATO announced that it will now pursue the "progressive expansion of ISAF beyond Kabul in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions", by gradually assuming military command of provincial reconstruction teams. On December 19, NATO authorised the extension of Alliance peacekeeping forces, for the first time beyond Kabul. ISAF will oversee a German-led reconstruction team in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan.

More controversially, US Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell used the NATO Ministers' meetings to propose that NATO take over "all military operations in Afghanistan", including merging the Alliance's Afghan security force operations with the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (the US "war against terrorism" in Afghanistan) to form a single NATO command in Afghanistan. This would involve NATO absorbing up to 11,500 US-led coalition forces and would clearly remove a burden from the United States, but is it a burden that NATO is ready to assume?

According to the NATO spokesperson, the Alliance has been suffering "shortfalls" in its requirements for the ISAF peacekeeping mission in Kabul, in particular in helicopters, intelligence officers and operators to run Kabul airport.11 At earlier NATO meetings Secretary-General Lord Robertson sought commitments from European allies to plug these gaps, but was only able to secure discussion "in principle" rather than any details of how it might be carried out".12 The US proposal is now, however, on the table for further discussion, although NATO's December communiqués stated only that it would be necessary to "ensure close co-ordination and co-operation between ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom."13

While hinting that "no-one is ruling out a wider NATO role [on Iraq] when the time is right", Lord Robertson emphasised NATO's commitments in Afghanistan, where the Alliance is facing one "of the biggest challenges that it has taken on in its whole history". Robertson underlined that the allies have made it clear that Afghanistan "has to be the major priority at the moment" and the "only reason for involving NATO more than it is at the moment in Iraq, is if there is genuine added value." Everybody at NATO wanted to make sure that the Afghanistan mission was "successfully grounded before we start to look at any other possible missions for NATO." In addition, Robertson echoed France, Germany and Belgium's concerns, saying that NATO might get involved in Iraq, "if the time is right and the circumstances are right as well. And those circumstances might involve a different UN environment." 14

Robertson also suggested that question of NATO involvement in Iraq was likely to be on the agenda for Istanbul. Colin Powell arrived in Brussels determined to win over the remaining objectors within NATO, emphasising that "America believes in partnerships."15 "As we prepare for the Istanbul Summit, we urge the Alliance to examine how it might do more to support peace and stability in Iraq, which every leader has acknowledged is critical to all of us," he said.16 The NATO spokesperson described Powell's suggestion as "an interesting new departure for the Alliance". Noting that "nobody dissented" from Powell's suggestion, he said that it was an issue that the Alliance would return to "in the New Year", but that the Ministerial meetings "didn't make any new decisions". "First," the spokesperson emphasised, "it's important that we get Afghanistan under control... We have to succeed at one mission first and foremost, rather than disperse our resources unsatisfactorily across two missions." NATO would have to be "crystal clear" that its member nations would be willing to "put the capabilities behind" any new mission.17

The United States, for its part, is keen to emphasise that 18 out of 26 of NATO's members and prospective members present at the Ministerials are now represented on the ground in Iraq and that at the meeting "not a single member spoke against it or talked about reasons not to do it".18 Spain (which will take over leadership of the multinational division next) and Poland both immediately supported Powell's request, as greater NATO involvement would allow them to bring some of their troops home. Italy also gave its backing. NATO's involvement in Iraq is currently limited to supporting Poland's leadership of a multinational division. Washington is pushing for NATO to play an "enhanced role", but has not yet made any specific proposal. One option thought to be under consideration is for NATO to take over leadership of the multinational division, and gradually to increase its involvement thereafter, as it has in Afghanistan.

In his speech to the North Atlantic Council, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin pointedly did not mention Iraq or the greater Middle East at all, focusing instead on NATO's missions in Afghanistan and the Balkans and NATO "transformation" following the Prague summit (including development of the European Security and Defence Policy).19 Germany's Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, also made no public comment on the US proposal. Reportedly, France and Germany would not accept a direct NATO role in Iraq unless it was independent of the US-UK occupying authority. "Silence does not mean assent," one diplomat noted.20 Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel was more explicit. Referring to the lack of clarity over the UN's role in Iraq, he warned that the conditions needed for a wider NATO role in Iraq "don't seem to be in place".21

Germany and France also emphasise the need for a strong role for the United Nations and for a swift transfer of power to Iraqis. On a visit to the US shortly before the NATO meetings, Fischer stated: "Despite these differences, it holds true today that we must win the peace together. We are convinced that the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis and a central role for the UN are crucial."22

Powell, in response, ruled out the need for a new UN resolution. "There may come a time when another UN resolution might be appropriate but we see no need for one now," Powell told a press conference. Existing Security Council resolutions provided for "individual nations or any alliance" to make contributions to a multinational force in Iraq "so anyone wishing to make a contribution could do it under that authority," he said.23

Refocusing on Central Asia and the Caucuses

The US is also advocating the idea of "refocusing" NATO's Partnership for Peace programme (developed to enhance cooperation and integration of Eastern European countries into NATO after the Cold War) on the "countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus."24 A potential lucrative market and future source of oil, these countries are positioned strategically to support military operations in Afghanistan.

Although Washington is not calling for the Central Asian republics to become NATO members any time soon, it is keen to develop relations, seeming to ignore their questionable human rights records. According to Marc Grossman, "These countries have been very important for the efforts in Afghanistan. They don't share all the democratic values that we share - we in the Atlantic Alliance - but they share a strategic perspective that they want to be part of peacekeeping, and they want to be part of conflict prevention. And so, they're our partners, and we ought to work to build that up."25

The US is also currently discussing realignment of its forces in Europe, with an emphasis on downsizing and/or closing bases in countries such as Germany, in favour of establishing a greater presence further to the East. The US presence at bases in Central Asia that were set up for the war in Afghanistan may consequently become a permanent fixture.

Expanding Mediterranean Dialogue

The US is looking to "expand cooperation" with Mediterranean partners at Istanbul. According to Assistant Secretary of State William J. Burns, the US and Europe, "should think ambitiously about how to engage more seriously with these countries."26 The US is interested in the Mediterranean area for a number of reasons including the presence of oil, hardline Islamic groups and terrorists, and weapons of mass destruction in the region.

Since 1994 NATO has operated a "Mediterranean Dialogue" programme, which currently involves non-NATO members in the Middle East and North Africa: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia. The US now hopes to "expand" that dialogue in a number "to have a greater concentration to seek political dialogue with the Arab countries, and with Israel," and "to make more of the military content, in terms of training and exercises, with those countries."27

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

The Bush administration has not made any specific proposals for NATO involvement in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the emphasis on the Alliance's future role in the Middle East implies a possible NATO interest at some point in the future. As Assistant Secretary of State William J. Burns states, "nothing is more important to long-term transatlantic interests in the Greater Middle East than the realization of the President's vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace, security, and dignity."28

The issue of NATO involvement was, however, raised by Senator Chuck Hagel (Republican - Nebraska) on a visit to NATO Headquarters in January. Hagel, who is a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence, argues that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is interlinked with NATO efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and calls for the Alliance to "begin to plan for a role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict... a NATO peace-keeping mission may eventually be called upon to help secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace... NATO is the only institution with the credibility and capability to undertake such a critical mission."29

Whilst acknowledging that "the time is not yet right for this development", Hagel called for NATO to begin "to move our thinking, policies, and planning in that direction" with "more focused military-to-military contacts with Israel and the Arab countries of the Mediterranean" and by considering "formal military training relationships with other countries throughout the Middle East."30

Relations with Russia

Despite some progress through the establishment of the NATO-Russia Council, Russia has repeatedly declared itself to be "calmly negative" in recent months about the implications of ongoing NATO enlargement. In an article for the Russian journal Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn, Andrei Kelin, a Russian Foreign Ministry official writes, "To put it briefly, there is nothing good in the NATO expansion for Russia. And we have both military and political objections." 31

Russia is particularly concerned by "the growing dependence of our neighbour European states on NATO's system of decision making, both in the political and in the military fields." Russia also highlights NATO's increasing involvement in "out of area" operations (i.e. operations conducted outside the borders of NATO countries). According to Kelin, "The NATO 2002 Prague Summit actually legalised the carrying out by the alliance of any operations outside the totality of the territories of its member countries and at a considerable geographical distance... Even though the UN Security Council is mentioned in the documents, there is no reference to the need for its mandate for the sanctioning of military action any more." 32

In addition, Russia is worried by the realignment of US forces, the impact of NATO enlargement and the US plans to develop closer relations with countries on its southern flanks in the Caucuses and Central Asia. The US has indicated that it plans to move its military capabilities further to the East and South. According to US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, Washington's key purpose is "to push increased capabilities forward, which is crucial to the security the United States and of our allies and friends."33 To accomplish this, it is now seeking legal agreements with host countries limiting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court with respect to the activities of US forces. Deployments in new NATO member countries are clearly on the agenda, as Feith comments, "The recent expansion of NATO ... is an important new reality... Adjustments are going to have to be made to take into account that the alliance is larger than it was a few years ago."34

As the latest round of NATO enlargement will bring NATO right up to Russia's borders, including in the Baltics, Russia is clearly worried. In Brussels for the NATO-Russia Council meetings that follow NATO's Ministers' meetings, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov told the media, "Any plans to bring the NATO infrastructure closer to our borders prompts an absolutely understandable, explicable concern."35

Partly in response, Russia is calling for the agreement on adaptation of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) that was agreed four years ago to be enacted. Russia's Permanent Representative to NATO, Konstantin Totsky, insists that US basing plans, "should not run counter to the obligations of the parties under the adapted CFE Treaty and the agreements which we have worked out over the last few years within the framework of cooperation between Russia and NATO."36

Relations between the US and Russia have recently been strained. Early in the New Year, the US Ambassador to Russia, Alexander Vershbow, highlighted the ongoing war in Chechnya, the arrest of Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovskiy, and the OSCE's findings that the recent Duma elections fell short of OSCE and Council of Europe standards. Vershbow told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace that "recent events reinforce the impression that...[Putin] favours the values of order and control over freedom and growth -- or at least that he does not perceive a trade-off between them, as do many in the West."37 The tone of Vershbow's remarks was markedly critical, warning of the risk of a "values gap" developing between the US and Russia. According to Vershbow, "America's relations with such traditional allies as Britain, Germany and Japan are anchored by common civic values that enable the relationship to weather the occasional sharp difference of opinion. Many observers believe that the US-Russian relationship still lacks such an anchor." 38

European Defence

The role of European defence in relation to NATO has been a divisive subject for many years within the Alliance. Historically, France and Germany have been at the forefront of efforts to develop European defence capabilities as a counterweight to the US's sometimes overwhelming influence within NATO. The drive for European defence gained impetus following disagreements between the US and its allies, over the conduct of the war over Kosovo and similar disagreements have emerged following the occupation of Iraq.

In December 2002, NATO and the European Union adopted a Declaration on the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) to provide a formal basis for cooperation between the two organisations in the areas of crisis management and conflict prevention. The declaration covers what are known as the "Berlin Plus" arrangements (based on paragraph 10 of the 1999 NATO Washington Summit Declaration), including: assured EU access to NATO operational planning; presumption of availability to the EU of NATO capabilities and common assets; NATO European command options for EU-led operations, including the European role of Deputy SACEUR; and adaptation of the NATO defence planning system to incorporate the availability of forces for EU operations.39

This was followed by a number of further agreements in March 2003, including the hand-over of NATO's mission in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the EU, and an agreement on Security of Information. The Declaration and agreements essentially cover access by the EU to NATO's assets and capabilities for EU-led operations and allow NATO to support EU-led crisis management operations in which the Alliance as a whole is not engaged.40

In April 2003, Belgium, France, Germany and Luxembourg held a "mini-summit" on European defence, which came up with a number of proposals, including for a "nucleus collective capability for planning and conducting operations for the European Union", effectively a European HQ to be installed at Tervuren by summer 2004.41 These proposals were swiftly condemned by Washington, which said that it would "change the deal from one of NATO-EU cooperation to one of competition and costly overlap." Ambassador Nicholas Burns called for this "new brand of European unilateralism... [to] be repudiated by the majority of European countries that want to preserve NATO as the preeminent security organization on the continent."42 He continued this theme at NATO's informal Defence Ministers' meeting in October, where he reportedly described the EU's defence plans as "one of the greatest dangers to the transatlantic relationship."43

An unnamed US diplomat called them a "threat to NATO's future".44 In late November France, Germany and the UK reportedly reached informal agreement on defence plans to be presented to EU partners including a smaller planning "cell" of perhaps a few dozen people. At Britain's insistence, the EU text would state that, "commitments in this area shall be consistent with commitments under NATO, which, for those states which are members of it, remains the foundation of their collective defence."45

At the NATO Ministers' meetings in December, Rumsfeld and Powell avoided criticism of the EU plans, focusing instead on winning allies' support in Iraq. Rumsfeld refused to comment on whether the EU needed its own military planning capability, saying only that he was "confident and hopeful that things will sort through so that we end up with an arrangement that is not duplicative or competitive."46 Similarly Powell would say only that "The United States cannot accept independent EU structures that duplicate existing NATO capabilities."47

Although Lord Robertson welcomed proposals based on the French, German and British compromise deal, tabled at the EU's Brussels summit on December 11, tensions within NATO over European defence look set to continue. Whilst the EU has generally limited itself to "peacekeeping, humanitarian and crisis management questions", the EU's draft constitution includes a mutual defence clause, which states that, "If a member state is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other member states shall give it aid and assistance by all the means in their power, military or other, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter."48 Implementing such a commitment would clearly require greater EU planning and military capabilities, potentially independent of NATO. The EU constitution has yet to be adopted (the Brussels summit broke down in December, over the issue of states' voting rights when the EU expands from 15 to 25 members in May 2004), but the question of European defence seems likely to remain an area of contention for both NATO and the EU.

From the Missile Gap to the Spending Gap

Another perennial NATO debate that has re-emerged in the run up to Istanbul is the spending gap between the US and other allies. The spending gap has been in evidence for many years but has been heightened by dramatically increased US defence spending under the Bush administration.

The difference in spending and capabilities is highlighted by Ambassador Burns: "Let me give you two figures. President Bush has received $376 billion from the US Congress for our defence budget in 2003. Our 18 allies combined this year will spend $140 billion. Now, that huge capabilities gap in spending has existed in the Alliance since 1949. It's not new. But what's new is that the premium in military capability is now with advanced technology. It costs more. So, the actual gap in capabilities is expanding greater than the defence-spending gap. That's a true crisis in the alliance. It has to be closed."49

The US is attempting to shift away from Cold War doctrine based on large US troop deployments in Western Europe, equipped with heavy conventional weapons such as tanks. Instead, the US is looking for NATO to acquire greater capabilities for power projection, more high-tech equipment and greater expeditionary capability, i.e. the ability to deploy quickly and at greater distances. This means a focus on capabilities such as strategic lift, air-to-air refuelling, secure communications, precision-guided munitions, and more and better-equipped, special forces.

The US would like its NATO allies to increase their defence spending and to buy more high-tech military equipment, which would also benefit US arms companies. Lord Robertson argues that NATO's "credibility is in its capability" and emphasises the importance of "usability" of forces. The reality is that few European countries have an appetite for increased defence spending.

Whither NATO?

NATO has been rocked in the last year by disagreements and disputes on a level not seen since the 1960s, when France under Charles de Gaulle ejected NATO's HQ from Paris and withdrew from the Alliance's integrated military structure, as a result of dissatisfaction concerning the US "leadership" role and NATO nuclear policy.

In recent years, the US has been able to use its political and military strength within NATO to ensure that key US policies are carried through, such as NATO enlargement and the conduct of the war over Kosovo. This has not been without a price, as some allies have become increasingly unhappy with the US approach (for example the US decision to overrule allies and target civilian sites in Kosovo such as communications facilities and bridges). This, in turn, has given impetus to efforts to develop a European defence policy.

Despite attempts to paper over the cracks at the Prague summit, prior to Spring 2003 some key NATO members had signalled clearly that they were not willing to participate in a war with Iraq without UN authorisation. Indeed NATO had never previously given its backing to requests from the US and Britain to support earlier bombing raids against Iraq. These warning signs were ignored, as the US evidently thought that it could either exert sufficient pressure to force allies to back down, or conduct the war despite allied opposition.

Many Europeans remain concerned by the concept of military action without an explicit UN mandate and emphasise the importance of abiding by international law. In December 2003, the European Council called for "an international order based on effective multilateralism". The policy drafted by EU High Representative (and former NATO Secretary-General) Javier Solana states, "The development of a stronger international society, well functioning international institutions and a rule-based international order is our objective... We are committed to upholding and developing International Law... The United Nations Security Council has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security. Strengthening the United Nations, equipping it to fulfil its responsibilities and to act effectively, is a European priority."50

Nevertheless, all parties present at the December 2003 NATO Ministers' meetings were anxious to put the past behind them and to build bridges after a difficult year. A softly, softly approach is now underway in Afghanistan and Iraq, gradually easing the allies towards greater commitments in both areas. New NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer states that his number one priority is Afghanistan, but that priority number two is "to ensure that NATO is prepared, if called upon, to play a greater role in Iraq."51

De Hoop Scheffer emphasises that any decision for NATO to do more in Iraq is "a decision for the Allies themselves to make."52 It does raise the question of whether it is a good idea for NATO to become more involved in two increasingly protracted conflicts, outside its borders. If NATO is struggling to plug shortfalls in its capacity in Afghanistan, it is hard to see how it would extend to cover missions in Iraq and the greater Middle East, without seriously compromising its credibility.

The New Secretary-General clearly intends "to work hard to put transatlantic security cooperation back on a more pragmatic, realistic and trusting footing."53 If trust is to be rebuilt, then this cannot mean a return to business as usual with the US dominating NATO decision-making, taking little account of its allies' views. Whilst all parties are attempting to repair the damage caused over Iraq, there are still underlying differences of approach on fundamental issues.

There is public opposition in many European countries to some of the Bush administration's aims in the Middle East and Central Asia. The US interest in these areas is perceived to be driven by oil requirements, rather than human rights or security interests. Many Europeans see a double standard between the US turning a blind eye to human rights abuses by allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, whilst branding Iran as part of the "axis of evil".

The prospect of greater NATO involvement in expeditionary operations further and further "out of area" undermines NATO's traditional role as a defensive alliance. There is little support in Europe for the US policy of "pre-emptive war", especially following the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

In the past, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has stressed the role of multilateralism. In September 2003, in a speech to the UN General Assembly as Foreign Minister of The Netherlands, he called for "clear rules and strong institutions. Institutions that ensure that the rules of the multilateral game are respected, strengthened and enforced." He also cited the International Criminal Court as an "example of how to ensure that international norms are upheld in cases where national governments fail to do so."54

In a speech as NATO Secretary-General de Hoop Scheffer has underlined his concern that it is a "dangerous illusion that the US can, and should, go it alone when it comes to security. Iraq should demonstrate the impossibility of that approach."55

To date, few allies have commented publicly on US calls for a new NATO role in the greater Middle East. The US would like to be able to call on NATO's support and capabilities in delivering its objectives in the greater Middle East. As they prepare for the Istanbul summit NATO members should ask some hard questions. Will NATO involvement in the greater Middle East enhance or weaken the allies' security? Does NATO have the capacity to engage in such a strategy, along with possible enhanced missions in Afghanistan and Iraq? How will Alliance involvement in the greater Middle East fit with NATO's central purpose of collective defence?


1. At the time of writing (end January), NATO had not yet publicly confirmed the exact dates of the summit.

2. 'Burns Outlines NATO's Future in the Greater Middle East', U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns in Prague, Washington File, October 19, 2003.

3. 'State's Grossman on Expanding, Refocusing NATO's Mission', Washington File, November 11, 2003.

4. 'Statement On the Future of NATO to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,' U.S. Ambassador to NATO, R. Nicholas Burns, April 1, 2003.

5. 'Burns Outlines NATO's Future in the Greater Middle East', U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns in Prague, Washington File, October 19, 2003.

6. 'U.S., Europe Face Four Policy Challenges in Greater Middle East,' Assistant Secretary of State William J. Burns, Remarks to the Conference: The Marshall Legacy: The Role of The Transatlantic Community in Building Peace and Security, Washington D.C., November 12, 2003.

7. 'State of the Union Address by the President', January 20, 2004.

8. 'Spread of Freedom Needed to Combat Terrorism, Cheney Says', Address to World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 24, 2004.

9. Ibid.

10. 'Briefing on current issues by the NATO Spokesman', Video Briefing, 17 December 2003, http://www.nato.int.

11. Ibid.

12. Press Conference by NATO Secretary General, Lord Robertson following NAC Defence Ministers, December 1, 2003.

13. Final Communiqué, Meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Defence Ministers Session held in Brussels on Monday, 1 December 2003, NATO Press Release (2003)148.

14. 'Statement to the Press by Secretary General following NAC Foreign Ministers meeting', NATO Speeches, December 4, 2003, http://www.nato.int /docu/speech/2003/s031204b.htm.

15. Christopher Marquis, 'Powell Begins Trip to Europe and Africa, Seeking Cooperation', New York Times, December 3, 2003.

16. Christopher Marquis, 'Powell Asks NATO Allies to Consider Expanding Iraq Role', New York Times, December 4, 2003.

17. 'Briefing on current issues by the NATO Spokesman', December 2003.

18. Press Conference by U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of NATO Foreign Ministers, December 4, 2003.

19. Conseil de l'Atlantique Nord Reunion Ministerielle, Intervention du Ministre des Affaires Etrangeres, M. Dominique de Villepin, December 4, 2003.

20. Arshad Mohammed and John Chalmers, 'U.S. Presses NATO to Step Up Role in Postwar Iraq', Reuters, December 4, 2003.

21. 'Under-pressure US sounds out NATO for help in hotspots', AFP, December 6, 2003.

22. 'Europe and the Future of the Transatlantic Relations,' Speech by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer at Princeton University on November 19, 2003.

23. 'Powell: NATO can do more in Iraq without the U.N.', Reuters, December 4, 2003.

24. 'State's Grossman on Expanding, Refocusing NATO's Mission', Washington File, November 11, 2003.

25. 'Burns Outlines NATO's Future in the Greater Middle East', U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns in Prague, Washington File, October 19, 2003.

26. 'U.S., Europe Face Four Policy Challenges in Greater Middle East,' Assistant Secretary of State William J. Burns, Remarks to the Conference: The Marshall Legacy: The Role of The Transatlantic Community in Building Peace and Security, Washington D.C., November 12, 2003.

27. 'Burns Outlines NATO's Future in the Greater Middle East', U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns in Prague, Washington File, October 19, 2003.

28. William J. Burns, 'U.S., Europe Face Four Policy Challenges in Greater Middle East,' op. cit.

29. 'Hagel Urges Greater NATO Involvement in Middle East', Speech to U.S. Mission to NATO's 2004 Security Seminar in Brussels, January 23, 2004.

30. Ibid.

31. 'Article of Andrei Kelin, Deputy Director, European Cooperation Department, Russian MFA, "A Calmly Negative Attitude to NATO Expansion," Journal Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn, December 31, 2003.

32. Ibid.

33. 'Remarks by Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to the Center for Strategic International Studies,' December 3, 2003.

34. Paul Ames, 'U.S. Discusses Europe Troop Realignment', December 8, 2003.

35. Barry Schweid, 'U.S.-Europe Split on Iraq Takes New Turn', Associated Press, December 10, 2003.

36. 'Article of Konstantin Totsky, Russia's Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, "Russia-NATO: Cooperation Prospects," Published in 2003 Diplomatic Yearbook,' January 27, 2004.

37. 'Vershbow: U.S. Watching Russia's Course in Wake of Elections', January 8, 2004.

38. Ibid.

39. 'NATO-EU: a Strategic Partnership', NATO Issues, December 11, 2003.

40. Ibid.

41. Catriona Mace, 'The defence mini summit: Deepening division or enhancing co-operation?', European Security Review, May 2003.

42. 'The New NATO: Healing The Rift', Remarks by R. Nicholas Burns U.S. Ambassador to NATO for the Konrad Adenauer foundation, Brussels, May 27, 2003.

43. Chris Lindborg, 'NATO Ministerial Meetings in Brussels: Looking Ahead to the Istanbul Summit in 2004', BASIC Briefings, December 3, 2003.

44. 'EU reassures US over defence', BBC News, October 17, 2003.

45. Angus Roxburgh, 'EU's defence plans baffle Nato', BBC News, December 3, 2003.

46. 'US 'confidence' over EU defence', BBC News, December 1, 2003.

47. 'Bush reaffirms warning against undermining NATO', AFP, December 4, 2003.

48. Angus Roxburgh, 'EU's defence plans baffle Nato', BBC News, December 3, 2003.

49. 'Burns Outlines NATO's Future in the Greater Middle East', U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns in Prague, Washington File, October 19, 2003.

50. 'A Secure Europe in a Better World - The European Security Strategy', approved by the European Council held in Brussels on 12 December 2003 and drafted under the responsibilities of the EU High Representative Javier Solana.

51. 'Speech by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the National Defense University', January 29, 2004.

52. Ibid.

53. Ibid.

54. Netherlands Address by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands H.E. Mr. Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, 'Making Multilateralism Work', 58th session of the UN General Assembly, New York, September 26, 2003.

55. 'Speech by NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer at the National Defense University', January 29, 2004.

Nicola Butler is Research Associate and Web Manager for the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, and an independent consultant working on arms control and disarmament issues in the United Kingdom.

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