Questioning NATO's New Rationalization
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has been seeking new legitimacy and rationality for its existence in a unipolar world. The disintegration of the Soviet Union signaled the end of bipolarity and destroyed any semblance of balance in the system -- with the US emerging as the sole superpower, determined to establish global strategic structures attuned to its policy goals -- and there was and continues to be little room for hostile states in this new design.
The tools also altered -- and these altered much before 9/11. For instance, deterrence (reflecting maintenance of the status quo) was gradually being pushed into the background with the advent of the notion of Missile Defense; and the notion of collective security was fast degenerating into a collective defense system for the pursuance of the US strategic agenda -- as reflected in the manner in which UN sanctions were used in the case of Iraq and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
9/11 merely accentuated these trends, with the US moving towards a new concept of collective action -- through a notion of the "coalition of the willing" which directly challenges the UN's collective security system. In fact, one can identify four major trends that came to the fore with the end of bipolarity and which became more pronounced in the wake of 9/11.
First, the disintegration of the Soviet Union physically altered the Asian map with the creation of a whole set of new states in the Caucasus and Central Asia. These states, with heavy structural and economic dependencies on Russia, created a region of strategic vulnerability, especially since many of them had old historico-political cleavages within them that came to the fore with independence. The war on terrorism, which brought in external military forces into the region, added to the instability of the Central Asian region.
Second, along with the post-bipolar geopolitical change, the dividing regional lines between the various Asian sub-regions -- such as South Asia, West Asia, and Southeast Asia -- also stood dissipated, with the advent of medium range missiles in the arsenals of some of the states of the region. Post-9/11, the parameters dividing South Asia from the neighboring Asian regions have further weakened -- especially with both Pakistan and India becoming part of the international coalition's war on terrorism and the presence of external military forces not only in Central Asia but also in the Indian Ocean. Drawing the Central and West Asian regions more directly into the South Asian strategic milieu have been the various schemes/proposals for oil and gas pipelines.
Third, and adding to all these regional changes, was the already strategic shift in US policy. The US legitimized state intervention through the pre-emptive doctrine at the economic, military and political -- that is regime change -- levels. A major global theme that is evolving is the notion of "coalitions of the willing" -- which effectively is a direct challenge to the UN system, especially the notion of collective security.
It is in this new milieu that NATO is seeking to re-legitimize itself. After all, NATO was rationalized post-WWII as a collective defense system with the North Atlantic and Europe as its operational milieu. Within this framework, it acquired legitimacy under the UN Charter's Article 51. The context of NATO was regional both in terms of membership and operational milieu. So, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, questions were beginning to be raised about the continuing rationale for NATO.
NATO, however, began seeking a new validity almost immediately with the setting up of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council as a forum for consultations between NATO members, East European states and the former Soviet republics. Since then, NATO has begun to focus more on bringing into its fold the Eastern European states, initially through its Partnership for Peace initiative of 1994, as well as providing a certain, limited access to Russia through the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council set up in 1997.
Despite all these developments and efforts by NATO to find a new relevancy, debate intensified by the time NATO reached fifty (in 1999) about its continuing validity. But to some extent, the sheer weight of its bureaucratic and organizational structures accounts for its continuing survivability. That is why NATO is looking for political rationalizations for its sustenance. In the process it is undergoing a transformation from its original shape and purpose into a wider politico-military institution that seeks to encompass a wide range of agendas -- from peacekeeping to anti-proliferation of WMD to disaster relief.
While NATO may well have been effective in complying with its new multitasking agendas, a shift in its basic collective defense identity to something more encompassing raises some serious issues in terms of the basics of international relations and the laws, norms and principles that govern these relations. To begin with, while the NATO agenda has expanded, its membership remains confined to Europe and the US -- a sort of bridge between the North Atlantic and Europe. So, if it represents collective interests, these are the interests of these two geographical entities. Yet, its theatre of operations on the ground has become increasingly Asian -- a region that has little say in the NATO agenda or functioning. Unless NATO alters its very identity through Asian members, it will by definition be plugging US-European agendas in Asia.
Closer to us in Pakistan, the NATO presence in Afghanistan raises a host of questions including whether this presence is going to be a permanent one? If the answer is yes, then it will raise security concerns for countries like Pakistan, Iran and China because our national interests may not always coincide with US or NATO interests.
Even more troublesome at a basic conceptual level is the idea that NATO is being transformed from a collective defense organization (Article 5 of the NATO Charter is surely in the context of collective defense?) to a collective security organization to serve the interests of future "coalitions of the willing". There is no legitimacy for any collective security organization other than the UN with its universal membership. Will NATO now push itself as a collective security organization promoting the values of the Atlantic-European community?
Internationally, there is no legitimacy for such an organization because Article 51 (Chapter VII) of the UN Charter provides a very clear and limited framework for collective defense organizations. Article 52 (Chapter VII) of the Charter relates to regional arrangements in connection with maintenance of peace and security and talks in terms of these organizations coming into being "as are appropriate for regional action." Also, under Article 53, there can be no action without authorization of the Security Council except against an enemy state as defined in Article 53:2.
Is NATO going to be an alternative to the UN system of collective security, peacekeeping, and so on -- just as the notion of "coalitions of the willing" is a direct alternative to the UN and its Security Council? If that is the case, then NATO is functioning in a legal and moral void especially given its continuing limitations in terms of membership.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)




Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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