Future Role and challenges



As an intergovernmental military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty, NATO was established on April 4th 1949 and it played a tremendous role in stabilizing the global political strategy. After succeeding in balancing and deterring the formidable Soviet Union's (and her allies) military power during the Cold War as well as stopping Soviet aggressiveness in expanding communism in Europe continent, the existence of NATO has been debated by many scholars since the end of the 20th century. It started since the collapse of the Soviet Union which was followed by the disestablishment of Warsaw Pact and the end of Cold War. The first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, stated that the organization's goal was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down"[1] which means, by now, NATO's original goals have been achieved. Scholars said the absence of Soviet military power as the main raison d'tre erased the need for NATO, furthermore, NATO's function should taken over by other European organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Western European Union (WEU)[2]. Thus, for some, NATO already has been destroyed; its only chance for it is to be rebuilt. Although, it was doubted by many people, in fact NATO has survived and still exist today, almost two decades since the disestablishment of Warsaw Pact--her traditional adversary. The ability to survive makes NATO not only the most successful alliance in history but prove the predictions of pessimists wrong. Not only is the alliance still alive and well, but since the end of the Cold War, NATO has experienced a transformation. NATO has been conducted many significant changes to the organization and it was also made two vital decisionsthe enlargement of NATO's membership by inviting Central and East Europe (CEE) countries to become her permanent member and development of out-of-area operations,[3] (deploy their military power beyond Europe continent). Because of that, some scholars believe that the prominent international relations thought, realism is obsolete[4]. They claim that realism's concepts of an anarchy international system, state interest priority and balance of power have been displaced by changed conditions. So, what should the role of NATO over the coming years? And what are the challenges?

To answer such questions, this paper will prove that NATO is still needed and identify the key factors of NATO's persistence. It will begin with NATO persistence and purposes, the new common potential threats to NATO, NATO's enlargement and eastward looking, challenges and finally a conclusion.

NATO Persistence and Purposes

Some factors can be cited as the reasons of NATO's persistence. First, unlike former members of Warsaw Pact who willingly quit from such Pact, none of NATO members intend to dismiss. They believe that NATO is still the better arrangement than any other alternatives[5]. Its members enjoy NATO's usefulness and became their common interest to maintain the Alliance particularly the vital relationship of the United States. As commonly understood United Stated provide a security umbrella for whole NATO's members. The collective defence approach has rejected the uncertain and expensive renationalization of defence[6].

Second, beside the goals stated by Lord Ismay that I eluded at the introduction, NATO's original purposes are written at the preamble of the North Atlantic Treaty (NAT) "They are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. They seek to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area" and "They are resolved to unite their efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security". It is clear that NATO's existence not to balance the Soviet power only, but also to promote their western values. Following the Cold War NATO's members realized that their territory's relative peace and stable, but at their flank, the CEE countries which were in process of transition from communist to liberal countries, could be the source of threat. At the time, it was important for NATO to push and to guard the liberalization of the CEE countries in order to promote their values of democracy and liberalism. As Immanuel Kant argued in his essay Perpetual Peace written in 1795, democratic countries are less likely to go war against each other, so if the transformation of the CEE countries from communist to liberal is successful then there is less threat from them.

Third, commenting on the need to hedge against an uncertain future as Former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher remarked, "You do not cancel your home insurance policy just because there have been fewer burglaries on your street in the last 12 months"[7]. This perspective is plausible; no one can guarantee the sleeping Russia with thousands of nuclear warhead will not rise in the future.

Finally, NATO which laid a solid structure and large bureaucracy, both military and political bodies were able to adapt and find new missions and role in order to retain its importance[8]. The political side has decided the centre of gravity of security have been shift to non state actors and non traditional security issues such as the proliferation of Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN), terrorism, trafficking of human beings, illicit drugs, Small Arms and Light Weapon (SALW) as well as the abuse of human rights, while the military side conducted internal transformation to obtain flexible command structure which are able to deploy military forces rapidly in and beyond Europe soil[9].

The New Common Potential Threats to NATO

The absence of Soviet military power as the main raison d'tre forced the NATO's leaders to define new threats in order to retain its relevance. There are five things considered as threats. The first of this is the Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN). In addition, the falling of Soviet Union cause anxiety of mismanagement on their WMD, even allegedly, sells to non state actors. This point shows in NATO's Alliance Strategic Concept as "some countries, including on NATO's periphery and in other regions, sell or obtain or try to acquire Nuclear Biological and Chemical (NBC) weapons and delivery means [...] non-state actors have shown the possible to build and operate some of these weapons". Furthermore, according the United States Secretary Albright, "The combustible combination of technology and terror, the possibility ... those weapons of mass destruction will fall into the hands of people who have no compunction about using them." Then, Secretary Albright obviously stated that the WMD and NBC threat is coming from Middle East and some of former Soviet countries (Eurasia) as she said, "Such threat which originates largely from the Middle East and Eurasia ... is the overriding security interest of our time"[10].

Second, the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 in the United States, NATO gave positive responds a support President Bush Administration. At the first time article V of NAT has been used, the North Atlantic Council determined that the attacks was conducted by a terrorist group namely Al-Qaida headed by an Arabic, Usamah bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, who allegedly is supported by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan[11]. Since that time NATO puts terrorism as one of its priorities. Thus, NATO conducts an operation in Afghanistan as their war on terrorist campaignfar away, beyond of Europe continent. Also, terrorist is considered as non-state actor.

Third, the Balkan war, particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a result of the instability in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, and due to the involvement of some countries on the Bosnia and Herzegovina's periphery such as Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro[12]. Such instability could be endanger Western Europe territory, this perception caused NATO had conducted the Bosnia Herzegovina operation in 1995 (Operation Deliberate Force), the first operation out of their territory since the end of Cold War. Operation in Bosnia Herzegovina is followed by the Kosovo operation, and today's south-eastern Europe is largely stable. Although, NATO's involvement in Balkan created several criticisms but Balkan's situation nowadays could not have happened without NATO's security guarantee.

Fourth, non traditional security issues such as human trafficking, illicit drugs and weapons is another threat to NATO. Based on United Nation definition, Human Trafficking is "The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation". It is a generally condemned crime and a serious violence of human rights and NATO, share a responsibility in supporting efforts to eliminate this new shape of slavery[13]. Based on Istanbul Summit 2004, NATO stated a zero tolerance policy on human trafficking. Also it does not see itself as the primary body to combat the human trafficking, but is running to add value wherever it can[14].

The fallen of Soviet Union followed by end of the Cold War brought peace and stability in security of the region overall, but it also left a dangerous legacy of aging Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) as a result of economic constraint and weaponry mismanagement in the former Warsaw Pact members. Aligned with this NATO and its partner launched a program to avoid, fighting and eliminate the illegal traffic in SALW[15]. The program called Trust Fund project, the objective of the project was to assist NATO's partners to deal with such legacy problem. Recently, this project has destroyed more than 1.5 million SALW; 145,000 tones of munitions and explosives; 1,000 MANPADS; 1,500 tones of dangerous chemicals, including rocket fuel[16].

The last threat is the resurgence of Russia. No one argues that Russia with active soldiers for about 1,037,000 and approximately 16,000 nuclear warheads[17] is a sleeping giant that could wake up at anytime. Especially in Putin era, Russia showed her aggressiveness by invaded Georgia in 2008-2009. Because of that NATO takes a serious attempt to conduct a cooperation with Russia. I will elaborate this matter further at the next section.

NATO's Enlargement and Eastward Looking

As aforementioned, one of NATO's purposes is "to safeguard and promote the Western values of democracy and liberal". In order to implement this purpose as well as to comply with article ten of North Atlantic Treaty, NATO expanded its membership by inviting some of the former Warsaw Pact's members to join as new members. Although, many people criticized such expansion arguing that the task of building democracy is not a military one[18], and that NATO should remain a political-economic organization but NATO continued with the plan. At its Madrid summit in July 1997, NATO invited three central and eastern European (CEE) countries to accession talks: the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. On March 12th 1999, these countries obtain NATO's membership. Then, as a result of Prague Summit November 2002, seven CEE countries namely, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania joined NATO. Finally, Albania and Croatia became NATO's member on April 1st 2009[19].

The motivation of NATO's concern with the enlargement of its membership was clear. NATO is determined to strengthen liberal democracy and multilateralism and to build, in central and eastern Europe, a stable peace based on these values and norms[20] by encouraging their respect for human right, including the right of national minorities[21], democratic civil-military relations and military reform among new members[22] as well as to ensure and to hamper the resurgence of Russia and her Warsaw Pact. If so, what is the motivation of the new members? One of the reasons the CEE countries strived to join NATO is because of Russia's (Soviet) aggressiveness in the past. Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia will not forget when Soviet invaded their countries in 1939 (Poland) and 1968 (Czechoslovakia). By joining NATO, they will enjoy the security guarantees of collective defence as stated at article V of NAT.

Besides inviting 12 CEE countries to become its members, NATO has also cooperated with non-invited CEE countries such as with Ukraine, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Moldova. This two-tracked strategy caused some criticism from scholars and mistrust from Russia. Furthermore, Alexei K. Pushkov as Director for Political and Public Affairs of the Public Russian TV and columnist for Moscow News stated the NATO strategy of combining enlargement with a parallel enhancement of cooperation with Russia could bring negative effect, because in Russia views it was an obvious contradiction.[23]


As a redefinition of the new threats and the enlargement as well as the cooperation with non-invited states will cause some consequences to NATO, its challenges can be delineated in the following ways.

First, the eastward enlargement of NATO may be the most important decision had been taken after the end of Cold War, but it is not an "end in itself". It is only one of the means to boost stability and security in the whole Europe Region[24]. Such policy may decrease cohesion among members and makes it harder to get a consensus. On the other hand, the CEE countries must fulfil some requirements such as military reform. In the former communist countries, the armed force was not under civilian control. When these countries became NATO's members their military must conform to the western concept which is to come under the civilians' accountability. Moreover, whole post communist armed forces face two challenges of decrease in their defence budget and the need to restructure themselves to meet NATO's requirements. Such conditions caused militaries to risk frustrations in their goals and purposes.[25] Other problems concern civilian control due to the lack of defence expertise from civilian side because during the communist era defence matters were dominated by the militaries. For example, in the Slovak Ministry of Defence in 1990's, they found some difficulties in developing a coherent and realistic national security strategy[26]. However, today, such problems do not seem to exist. The military is totally controlled by the civilians and with no objection from military side.

Second, the enlargement also caused some difficulties in weaponry system interoperability, as we know the CEE countries' weapon made in Russia is not compatible with western ones. Besides, there was also incompatibility due to the capability gap between old and new NATO members. For example, Czech Army's equipment was old and close to obsolescence, the training of Hungarian pilots fell far below NATO standards[27]. How could the CEE countries develop their military while cutting their budget? In order to restructure their military and meet the NATO requirement which emphasises on quality personnel and equipment, some of CEE countries reduce their military size, such as Slovak Republic's armed forces which was reduced from 41,000 in 2001 to 24,500 by 2010[28] and Bulgarian also reduce its army from 77,000 to 45,000 by 2004. This reduction needs to be addressed comprehensively. Otherwise it will cause a new social problem and endanger the region. To deal with this problem, NATO has been conducting a retraining assistance program to more than 5,000 former military personnel from its Trust Funds defence reform projects [29].

Third, new Euro-Atlantic security architecture should be built, in order to rearrange such security architecture NATO must set a position for Russia to play its role in the same as what had been done for Germany after the Second World War period[30]. This is because the enlargement that alienates Russia if not handled properly, risks contaminating the relationship between the West and Russia for in the future[31]. Thus, Russia with their nuclear capability is still considers a threat. It is important for NATO to maintain the partnership cooperation with non-invited countries particularly with Russia Federation.

Finally, as is commonly understood, there is a gap among NATO's members. There are two kinds of capabilities gap and diversity of perspectives among them. First, the gap between new members (CEE countries) and old members (Western Europe countries) pose a problem mentioned above. Second one the gap between the United States and the Europe serves as a hindrance. The vast majority of European NATO members remain a fundamentally European security institution whose focus is on, in, and for Europe[32] while in the United States' perspective, as Warren Christopher and William Pearry stated, "the danger to the security of its member is not primarily aggression to their collective territory, but threats to their collective interest beyond their territory"[33]. It is clear that even the United States and Europe have shown their harmony in the International Relationship milieu for decades. However, during the Cold War, there is an obvious gap among them. Such diversity is illustrated by Kagan: "When it comes to setting national priorities, determining threats, defining challenges, and fashioning and implementing foreign and defense policies the United States and Europe have parted ways"[34]. It is important for NATO to overcome this fundamental divergence of perspective[35]. Besides the perspective diversity between the United States and Western Europe, there is a capability gap among them such as Europe's contribution on Kosovo war when only 4 percent of the aircraft and 4 percent of the bombs were dropped[36]. As an European leader argued, "NATO is consist of 15 Europe countries, every country with their own foreign and defence policy orientations, each with a specific command structure, headquarter, training infrastructure and logistics organisation. There are also various national defence manufactures. As a whole, the result has inevitably been duplication of attempt and industry, lack of coordination in policies, and higher costs all of which make it almost impossible for Europe to commensurate US advances in military equipment and weaponry development as well as defence procurement"[37].


After the Cold War, despite the fact that Warsaw Pact as the NATO's traditional threat was disestablished in 1991, the political situation of Europe and Russia has changed, it was too early to judge that the existence of NATO is meaningless. Currently, NATO has other roles within Europe continent and beyond. Instead, NATO has invited Central and East Europe countries to be permanent members in order to ensure and hamper the resurgence of Russia and her Warsaw Pact as well as maintain the stability and security in the region. Concurrent with the enlargement of NATO, it has also developed cooperation with Russia and other ex-Soviet countries which are not part of NATO membership. Other security issues such as terrorism, Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD), disaster relief and non traditional security threat (e.g. human trafficking, illicit of arms and drugs) become new considerations for NATO. On the other hand, NATO has to redefine the new threat and its enlargement will cause some consequences such integration cost. In addition there is a need to harmonize the weapon system between old and new members. Also, closing the capabilities gap between European NATO and the United States must be taken in a serious manner. Furthermore, mistrust between NATO, Russia and the non-invited countries in the region need to be handled wisely and comprehensively. Another challenge NATO faces is how to make CEE countries an integral part of NATO forces in order to conduct collective defense (including in new members territory) as part of the implementation of chapter V NAT. The objective of this is to have shared democratic and liberal values among new members. These consequences need to be examined comprehensively. Otherwise they will cause new problems. Furthermore, one of NATO's measures is to close the capabilities gap by promoting defence industrial cooperation.

[1] David Reynolds, The origins of the Cold War in Europe. International perspectives, 1994. P.13

[2] McCalla, Robert B, "NATO's Persistence After the Cold War," International Organization, vol. 50, no. 3 (Summer 1996) p. 446

[3] Barany, Zoltan and Rauchhaus, Robert W., Explaining NATO's Persistence: Is International Relations Theory Useful?, 2009. p.2

[4] Legro, Jeffrey W. and Moravcsik, Andrew, "Is Anybody Still a Realist?" International Security, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 1999), pp. 5-55

[5] Frydrych, Eunika Katarzyna, The Debate on NATO's Expansion, The Quarterly Journal, Vol. VII, No. 4 (Fall, 2008) p.7

[6] Pellerin, Alain, NATO Enlargement Where We Came From and Where It Leave Us, 1998.

[7] McCalla, Robert B. opcit. p. 455

[8] http://www.brookings.edu, NATO in the 21st century, March 2001 p.6

[9] Ibid, p.7

[10] http://www.brookings.edu, opcit p.20

[11] Christina Torsein and Ian Davis, The 'Old Cold War Dog' and the War Against Terrorism: Continuing NATO's Shift Toward Collective Security?, 2001

[12] www.wikipedia.com

[13] Speech by Ambassador Jiri Sedivy at the Vienna Forum to Fight Human Trafficking, 2008

[14] www.nato.int

[15] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_52142.htm?selectedLocale=en , 2009

[16] ibid

[17] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armed_Forces_of_the_Russian_Federation

[18] Ikenberry, John. G, America unrivaled: the Future of Balane of Power, 2002. p.47

[19] http://www.nato.int/ Timeline of key milestones.

[20] Schimmelfennig, Frank (1998) 'Nato enlargement: A constructivist explanation',Security Studies,8:2,198 234. p.199

[21] Strobe Talbott, "Why NATO Should Grow," New York Times, February 18, 1997, p.A25

[22] Edmund, Timothy, NATO and its New Members, Survival, vol. 45, Autum 2003, pp. 145-166. here p.145

[23] Alexei K. Pushkov, NATO Enlargement: A Russian Perspective, 1995

[24] Pellerin, Alain, NATO Enlargement Where We Came From and Where It Leave Us, 1998

[25] Edmund, Timothy, opcit. P.146

[26] Maribeth Peterson Ulrich, 'Developing Mature National Security System in Post-Communist States: The Czech Republic and Slovakia', Armed Forces and Society, 28:3 (Spring, 2002), p.417

[27] Edmund, Timothy, opcit. P.155

[28] Armed Forces of Slovak Republic: Force 2010 (Bratislava: inistry of Defence of Slovak Republic, 2002), p.4-6

[29] http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/topics_52142.htm?selectedLocale=en , 2009

[30] Pellerin, Alain, opcit

[31] ibid.

[32] http://www.brookings.edu, opcit p.20

[33] http://www.brookings.edu, opcit p.16

[34] Kagan, Robert, Power and Weakness, Policy Review, Jun, 2002

[35] http://www.brookings.edu, opcit p.20

[36] Kagan, Robert, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, 2003, p.46

[37] http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2002/issue3/english/art1.html, autumn 2002

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