Book Chapter

Defining NATO's Purpose

| 1999

Defining NATO's Purpose

William J. Perry, Ashton B. Carter, and Hilary D. Driscoll

NATO serves a vital purpose in post-Cold War Europe. NATO should not, as some argue, be disestablished now that its founding purpose of deterring attack from the Warsaw Pact has been fulfilled. On the contrary, NATO provides much of the security framework for realizing at last George Marshall's vision of a Europe united in freedom, peace, and prosperity. NATO anchors the United States in Europe to the benefit of both Europe and the United States. It constitutes the world's only standing, readily usable coalition of military capability, which is critical to defeating Iraq's Saddam Hussein in Desert Storm and bringing peacekeeping to the Balkans. It exercises a stabilizing influence on current and future members as their militaries learn to plan together rather than against one another, thereby avoiding the nationalization of defense across Europe. NATO is the expression of the shared values and interests of a community of member nations.

As a matter of principle, NATO's membership rolls have never been closed and never should be closed. But while enlargement of NATO's membership has benefits, it also carries costs and risks. Adding members is a grave matter and should not become automatic or routine. The U.S. Senate rightly ratified the addition of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic to NATO, recognizing that to do otherwise would have been a major setback to U.S. credibility and to the U.S. position in Europe. Even the most pessimistic estimates of the risks and costs of expansion portrayed in the Senate debate could not justify such a setback. But the next steps in NATO's future adaptation to the post-Cold War world should be analyzed and debated openly before being taken, and a clear course with broad bipartisan and international support should be charted.

Adding new members is not the only, or even the most important, adaptation of NATO to the post-Cold War security environment. A much larger issue looms for the Alliance: What is NATO's purpose? In fact, NATO does not serve a single purpose; it serves three purposes, the first two military and the third politico-military. First, and originally paramount, is territorial defense, enshrined in Article 5's pledge that an attack on any member "shall be considered an attack against them all." Second, deriving from Article 4 as well as Article 5 is NATO's provision of a standing mechanism for the rapid formation of combined military forces with prearranged mechanisms for command and control and for a habit of working together. These forces can be mobilized to protect common interests either in Europe, as in the Bosnian peacekeeping force, or outside Europe, as when the U.S.-led coalition that defeated Iraq in 1991 drew upon forces and habits of cooperation forged in NATO. Third is NATO's historic role of drawing members together, encouraging them to resolve disputes peacefully, causing them to plan and work with rather than against one another, and fostering respect for democratic values and institutions.

The relative emphasis given to the first two military roles for NATO is changing in response to the changing security environment of Europe and the needs of its members for combined military capabilities. This evolution results because the requirement for the first role-territorial defense-has decreased, while the requirement for the second role-coalition operations in pursuit of common interests-has increased.

NATO needs to adapt its military strategy to today's reality: the primary danger to the security of NATO's members in this historical era is not potential aggression to their collective territory, but threats to their collective interests beyond NATO territory. These threats require attention to preventing deadly conflict, restoring and preserving peace, preventing regional conflict, stemming proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ensuring supplies of key resources such as oil, and responding effectively to transnational dangers such as terrorism. NATO's principal strategic and military purpose in the post-Cold War era should be to provide a mechanism for the rapid formation of militarily potent "coalitions of the willing" that are able to project power beyond NATO territory. In NATO parlance, such a power projection force for "out-of-area" operations is called a Combined Joint Task Force. Shifting NATO's emphasis in an evolutionary manner from defense of member territory to defense of common interests beyond NATO territory is the strategic imperative for NATO in the post-Cold War era.

Such a shift in military mission would not supplant territorial defense. Defense of members' territory, according to Article 5 of the NATO treaty, would remain a solemn commitment of Allies. But NATO territory-including the territory of its new members-is not threatened today. Nor is it likely to be in the foreseeable future. Russia has neither the intention nor the prospective military capability to threaten the Alliance. In the absence of imminent threat, American and allied publics will not continue to support an Alliance-enlarged or unenlarged-that appears to focus on nonexistent threats of aggression in Europe rather than on today's security problems.

Neither will a shift in emphasis in NATO's military strategy from territorial defense to power projection supplant its important politico-military role. Indeed, this role deserves strong emphasis in the next phase of NATO's history.

The evolving emphasis in NATO's mission from homeland defense to coalition operations has two important consequences for relations with Russia. First, because territorial defense is not currently at issue, it should be clear that NATO is not drawing new lines across Europe nor is it directed at Russia. Second, because "coalitions of the willing" organized by NATO will include some-but not necessarily all-NATO members, and will generally include nonmembers drawn from the Partnership for Peace (like Bosnia's peacekeeping force), the distinction between full membership and partnership will be less important in the new NATO. In particular, Russia can and should be an anticipated partner in future coalition operations.

Further NATO Expansion?

NATO should, in principle, remain open to membership by all states of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council without exception, contingent upon their meeting NATO's stringent standards for admission. But no additional members should be designated for admission until the three candidates named at Madrid are fully prepared to bear the responsibilities of membership and have been integrated into the Alliance.

Therefore, other security relationships and structures designed to extend stability to non-NATO members are of the highest importance and require more attention than they have received. This is particularly true of the Partnership for Peace (PfP), which has consistently failed to receive the resources and attention it needs to succeed.

NATO-Russia Relations

Russia's relationship with the West cannot and should not be seen apart from NATO's own evolution. The success of Russian democracy and reform is profoundly important to the NATO allies. But because of NATO's importance and the burden posed by a history of antagonism between Russia and NATO, forging a productive NATO-Russia relationship will require imaginative policy followed by vigorous implementation.

The NATO-Russia Founding Act provides an important vehicle for pursuing the NATO-Russia relationship. Implementation of the political provisions of the Founding Act will require responsible actions by NATO Allies and Russia. But implementation of the Founding Act's military provisions is less problematic and can provide strong benefits in both the long and short terms. Moreover, military implementation is, in effect, already under way in Bosnia. The objective of implementing the military provisions of the Founding Act should be the establishment of military-to-military relationships modeled on those forged between the NATO and Russian contingents in Bosnia. Practical cooperation in dealing with real-world problems of mutual concern is more valuable than meetings and councils. Military-to-military cooperation changes attitudes by creating new, positive shared experiences to supplant the historical memory of dedicated antagonism between NATO and Russia. Military-to-military cooperation also engages critical constituencies in the formation of the new Eurasian security order: the Russian and NATO militaries.

To make the NATO-Russia military cooperation forged in Bosnia broader, deeper, permanent, and institutionalized, the following steps need to be taken:

- Completing the posting of Russian liaison officers at each of NATO's major headquarters, including, in particular, at the planning cell for Combined Joint Task Forces, with NATO sharing the cost of such postings with the Russian government;

- Posting of reciprocal NATO liaison officers at corresponding Russian headquarters;

- Deepening cooperation in the fields of hastening nuclear reductions, ensuring safety and control of nuclear weapons, counterproliferation, and emergency planning;

- Coordinating support for and assistance with Russian military reform, using Western experience and example, where applicable;

- Continuing efforts to involve Russia in CJTFs, when and where appropriate;

- Establishing an initiative to work with Russia on enhancing the competence of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in resolving regional conflicts, such as the struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh;

- Ensuring an "open door" policy for Russian arms and spare parts sales to Central and Eastern European states;

- Encouraging Russia to participate more vigorously in Partnership for Peace (NATO should be prepared to help defray the costs of Russian participation in PfP's exercises and other activities); and

- Continuing and enhancing U.S.-Russia bilateral military cooperation, including those initiatives that were overseen by the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission.

NATO's Relationships with Other Non-Members

Only three of the twenty-three members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council are being admitted to NATO. The security concerns of the great majority of the new Eurasian states will need to be addressed outside the context of membership. But the United States and NATO will play a crucial role.

As with Russia, military-to-military cooperation is a central mechanism by which stability can be extended eastward to states and regions not designated to join NATO. NATO's principal mechanism for military-to-military cooperation is the Partnership for Peace, which should receive attention comparable to that devoted to enlargement. In particular, PfP should receive substantial additional funding from NATO members at the same time they provide funds for enlargement.

Moreover, PfP's military content should be enhanced beyond today's emphasis on peacekeeping. The objective of PfP should be to prepare partners to operate alongside NATO members in "coalitions of the willing" that cover the full range of NATO's new power-projection missions. NATO's objective should be to make the experience of PfP membership for non-NATO members as similar as possible to the experience of NATO membership.

The NATO-Ukraine Charter, like the NATO-Russia Founding Act, should be vigorously implemented with an emphasis on practical military cooperation. NATO should continue to encourage and support regional military cooperation among PfP members, such as the Baltbatt, the Centrasbatt, and the Polish-Ukrainian joint peacekeeping battalion.

The United States should strengthen its bilateral programs of military-to-military cooperation with PfP members who are not members of NATO. These relationships were inaugurated with great vision, but the resources devoted to their implementation have not been commensurate with the stakes that the United States has in Eurasia. In addition, the United States should continue to encourage good relations between nonmembers and Russia.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Carter, Ashton B., William J. Perry, and Hilary D. Driscoll. “Defining NATO's Purpose.” 1999.