Monday, February 06, 2006

Restoring Trust in Munich: NATO Out of Area or Out of Bounds?

The Munich Security Conference was again the scene for another attempt at Trans-Atlantic reconciliation. Over the coming months, the US wants the alliance members and Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand to study the possibilities for a closer cooperation between the four and NATO. Following in the wake of the introduction of the concept of the Long War to describe the continuation of the Global War on Terror, with both the early release of the 2005 QDR and President Bush's State of the Union speech, the proposal is both functionally logical for the disinterested observer and instinctively problematic in some ways for the Europeans.

So why would the Europeans oppose this development? For two reasons: 1) They do not see a vision, and they don't like to change the status quo just for the sake of change. For the Eastern Europeans, NATO still serves as a security guarantee against Russia and turning toward a more clear global role aimed at Out of Area operations they fear that NATO will lose its focus. 2) They have seen the vision, and they don't like it, or -- more probably -- they have seen the vision, they accept it to some degree, but they want a) to be consulted on policy choices, not be a tool box for Pentagon planners, and b) be sure that political means are given the proper weight.

Reconstructing the Trans-Atlantic trust is about more than unruly Europeans. There is a clear feeling in some European policy circles that the US refusal to let NATO get involved up front in Afghanistan was motivated by a "unipolar hubris", which now, because of the magnitude of the challenges ahead has passed -- for want of resources, not for ideological reasons or as a strategic choice. The US will need its partners for a lot of operations in the Long War, but they will want to be consulted before delivering. Right now they do not really trust the American return to dialogue. This is at the core of the German call for an assurance that NATO be the premier forum for policy choice discussions:
Leading European members of the North Atlantic alliance warned the US at the weekend that Nato could not become a global policeman, but must be used by both sides as a political forum to debate and agree on significant security issues such as Iran, the Middle East and energy security. Angela Merkel, Germany’s new chancellor, led the European calls for continuing reform of the organisation, with a plea to expand its political scope to co-ordinate strategy between Europe and the US outside the Nato area.
Even if the call for NATO as a forum at the face of it confirms the American problem with NATO as a talking shop, the Germans did point to the big question: How to balance the need for leadership with honest partnership? This is the essence of the challenge to America: not because the Europeans are annoying or selfish, but because this is the difference between leading and dictating.

The second part of the European hesitation has to do with a profound distrust, not the military means, but in the American preference for it. Kagan's Mars and Venus all over again. Why is this still really, really important? Because the Europeans, for operational reasons, are more right than maybe could be expected, although maybe not as right as they would like to be. The Long War, if it is to be, will not primarily be fought with military means, even if these may be more important than the Europeans are ready to acknowledge. Conceived of as a global counter-insurgency campaign, the political reality has to take precedence over military logic.

In a long-term counterinsurgency campaign where the goal is to accomplish a sufficient reduction of terrorism the means will be successful, legitimate states whose citizens choose opting into the state project.
As Bruce Hoffman (RAND pdf) notes: "At the foundation of counterinsurgency is the salience of the political dimension—in doctrine, planning, implementation, and, most importantly, operational coordination." In strategic terms: in counterinsurgency the center of gravity is not so much military capabilities as it is the hearts and minds of the population.

If the Americans are to convince the Europeans about the strategic vision of the Long War, they will have to not only address the challenge of honest partnership, but also deliver a convincing vision that includes more than the military perspective. We still need political policy proposals that takes better into account the convergence between security and development. Of course, one might naively hope, the Europeans could produce the ideas themselves, but this does not look set to happen: the policy ideas production industry is almost absent from the European continent. But why that is is another question.

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