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Future of NATO: Can it stretch beyond Europe


Article number 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty states that an armed attack against one or more parties of NATO will be considered an attack against them all and in response it can exercise military powers to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area. This article, laid down in 1949, could not foresee the threats of globalized world it is facing today. Probably no-one can argue that instability or conflict beyond NATO borders can directly threaten alliance security, although most violent conflicts and instabilities are today happening beyond its borders. Since most of its members have a colonial past, trouble from far away Asia or Africa can head towards the foothills of Alps and can surprise. 


The question of how to adapt to the demands of the globalized world and maintain the security in the region has been a key challenge for the organization throughout this century.

Evidently, it is for this purpose that it should re-evaluate its position and role in the world and apparently it has opted with an intention to move towards becoming a worldwide organization.

Not seeking just the territorial integrity of its (geographical) member states but endeavouring for global alliance by establishing partnership frameworks around the world and bilateral agreements on individual basis with non-European democracies and other countries declared to have areas of mutual interest with NATO, such as Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

While the question of how far from “home” should NATO operate is vividly argued both inside and outside Europe, and brought arguments and counter arguments. One can examine NATO operations outside its territory, in Asia and Africa, to understand the efficiency and effectiveness.

Its mission in Afghanistan fulfilled the objective after the death of the Al Qaida chief, Osama bin Laden, who was killed a decade after the operations. Nevertheless, when one evaluates the mission’s steady goal in the region’s stability, there can be no doubt that the mission has failed.

Similarly, its mission in Libya clearly showed the weaknesses in the military alliance and lack of coordination between European members and United States.

The US in the midst of the conflict withdrew from the frontline role and minimized its contribution. On the other hand, the mission considered as a success upon its termination, has proven to be another failure in the light of current events and ongoing instability.

NATO’s ability to remain relevant to global policing role would depend how effectively it can act and coherently hold together as one alliance as varying interests and priorities of its 28 member states will bring stupendous challenges.

Despite sharing the same values and many of the security concerns, it is still an alliance with member states of different priorities, also of different military capabilities. This will pose serious challenge to a standard operational parameter and adopting same strategic perception towards an emerging threat.

At the same time, due to its insufficient presence and engagement with other continents, NATO is lacking understanding of Asian or African security challenges. That will harm its missions while operating outside Europe.

Even the former US commander, General Stanley McChrystal has admitted publicly that the US began the war with frighteningly simplistic view of Afghanistan and that the knowledge is still not sufficient to end the conflict efficiently.

Globalized world brings global challenges, yet not necessarily a global alliance can give the needed response, particularly when the integration, interests and capabilities of this alliance remain fragmented.

NATO should thus primarily maintain its purely defensive purpose against direct threats towards its member states.

In regard to its security policy, it should intensify cooperation with the EU and particularly in conformity with the Common Security and Defence Policy, in order to act with more integrity and in mutual support, as well as minimize duplication and maximize effectiveness.

At the same time, rather than taking up missions outside its territory not in response to a direct attack on its territory but in the name of global security, it should seek to enhance cooperation with other regional organizations, such as African Union for example, offering them support if needed, yet not taking the lead in these operations.

The best way forward for NATO could be while working with emerging nations or regional groups outside Europe, it can seek to forge a global consensus on common security challenges such as terrorism and piracy and push for collective security mechanisms.

However, it can share its expertise with others to bring about continental power blocks such as Asian NATO or African NATO in line with collective security ideas in which regional players can play active role to achieve similar objectives for which NATO may not have to spend its resources.