What strategy for the next decade is NATO about to adopt? The alliance was built to repulse an invasion of any of its members by the Soviet Union, in a bipolar world very different to today’s. Now NATO must modernise its armed forces to meet new threats, as no one imagines mass tank battles will be fought again on European soil.
The World Trade Centre attacks illustrate the dangers of the 21st century. The terrorist attack triggered the alliance’s article five, which calls on allies to mount a collective defence when one of them is attacked. But is article five still valid today in the way it is written down?
How to respond, for example, to a cyberattack? Estonia fell victim to one in 2007, and the alliance was caught napping. The problems of such attacks are clearly identifying where they come from, and who is behind them. It is just one from a group of new threats the alliance must deal with in the future.
NATO is also going to have to face the fact that there is a proliferation of new military technologies. The new reality is that there are missiles out there capable of hitting targets on NATO territory.
According to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, more than 30 nations have this technology, notably Iran.
Another hotspot worrying NATO is nuclear weapons. When President Barack Obama spoke in Prague about a world without nuclear weapons, he stressed America would not be giving up its arsenal until a global deal was reached:
“So today I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” he said last year.
Encouraged by these words Germany’s Liberal leader Guido Westerwelle, later to become Germany’s foreign minister in a centre-right coalition, said this:
“It would be reasonable, and we want this, to have talks to remove the last nuclear weapons still stationed in Germany. They are cold war relics.”
Since then Germany, along with the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, and Belgium has called for a debate on the future of nuclear weapons in Europe. But for the moment it appears NATO will follow the advice of the president of the committee of experts drawing up the new NATO strategy, Madeleine Albright – keep the nuclear deterrent along with conventional forces, and an anti-missile defence.
NATO at crossroads faced with new threats