Center for Strategic Decision Research


How Can NATO Increase Security?

The Rt Hon Michael Portillo, MP
Member of Parliament, UK House of Commons
Former Minister of Defense


I believe that most of us agree on the sorts of threats we are now facing:  the proliferation of nuclear weapons, terrorism, and the results of organized crime. But as I think about these things, I wonder, "How does NATO measure up against these new threats?" Traditionally at these meetings we say that NATO is the cornerstone of our security and our defense. It strikes me, though, that perhaps we have not modernized this concept nearly enough. What role can NATO play countering proliferation?  What role can it play countering terrorism? What role can it play countering organized crime? During the time I was a NATO minister, we used to talk about the modernization of NATO in terms of changing our headquarters' arrangements and introducing new members. I have a funny feeling that the same discussions may be going on today, and that we are still not talking very much about how to put NATO at the center of all the issues that are actually the main threats to our security. 

If you look not so much at the means of attack but at the possible causes of future disputes and conflicts, there are several key scenarios: border disputes, principally in the Middle East and India/Pakistan and Southeast Asia; inequalities of wealth that can be the cause of future tension; and struggles about water, for example, which might be the cause of future tension in Africa. With those possibilities in mind, I say again, what is NATO's role? What political representation does NATO have that will make timely intervention possible or even timely guesses that will increase our security so that we will not have to face the consequences of the new kinds of instability? 

Working with Russia

On the positive side I would say that there is a very clear point of interest on these matters between the United States and Russia as well as between all NATO countries and Russia. And it makes me very optimistic to know that the U.S. and Russia share the common goals of combating terrorism, combating proliferation, countering organized crime, understanding what is going on in Islamic countries, discussing the role of economic inequalities in future instability, and securing natural resources.  The obvious interest that both countries have in these matters seems a strong basis for a very enduring partnership. And I believe that though there was a very pronounced disagreement between Russia and the United States over Iraq, the result has been a relatively small ripple in their long-term relationship. 

Strengthening Capabilities

It is worrying that NATO is not very able to conduct an aggressive strike operation such as the one against Iraq. Leaving aside the question of political disagreement for the moment, although it is an important question, in what way could NATO have been organized to undertake that military operation? Clearly the United States believed, in the case of Afghanistan, that it would not be useful to work with the Alliance. I suspect that even if there had been more political agreement about Iraq, NATO would not have been wanted there either. And when it comes to peace enforcement, which is something that NATO has been discussing for a very long time, it is not clear to me that the Alliance is particularly brilliantly positioned. Yes, NATO forces have been deployed in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, but again I am not sure that we can really be satisfied with the numbers of troops that are available and the quantity of resources we are in a position to put together. 

One thing that truly worries me is that there is an unholy alliance operating against this Alliance. For example, the United States is now talking of working with allies but not with the Alliance; it wishes to choose its allies on an "ad hoc" basis for each operation. That obviously undermines NATO. For another example, France, to choose a country at random, also wishes to see alternatives to this Alliance. Such approaches make NATO's road potentially quite difficult. 


From my point of view, I think we should not underestimate the dangers of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, our enemies show signs of regrouping, of regaining some of their strength, of being able to mount operations against us. In Iraq, the United States is offering a very tempting target for terrorists-Iraqi and otherwise-and is quite rightly extraordinarily concerned about it.  

However, from what has happened in Afghanistan and Iraq the political willpower of the United States and, I would say by extension, the world community, is no longer in doubt. For 10 years following the Gulf War, I believe the willpower of the United States was very much in doubt, since the country failed to respond effectively to both the escalating terrorism against it and the escalating defiance of Saddam Hussein. But the danger now is that unless the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are brought under control, the renewed belief in U.S. willpower will again wither away. Many may come to think that the U.S. and its allies are overstretched and fatigued by their commitments. Already there is evidence that the U.S. and most other countries don't have the capabilities to get involved in other world trouble spots, such as Liberia, Congo, and Zimbabwe. 


I would like to conclude by saying that I think it would be very unfortunate if the United States has to withdraw from either Afghanistan or Iraq before the job is done, or if the U.S. and its allies decide they have so much to do already that they cannot contemplate operating in any other future sphere of difficulty. The willpower of the United States has been renewed since September 11, 2001, and it would be extremely detrimental if in the coming months either Al-Qaeda or any rogue state around the globe concluded that the U.S. had become too bogged down to deal with any future challenges. 









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