What is the vision for NATO today? On July 4, 2012 NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen outlined his vision: A NATO that derives its strength and vitality from engaging with partners. An alliance situated at the center of a wide ranging security network, detecting risks and threats early on, and being capable of fighting these challenges cooperatively. To accomplish these goals, NATO has to work toward interoperability with partners, be they countries or institutions.
Although partnerships are currently at the top of the agenda, they have been around for more than two decades and proven of great utility to achieving NATO’s goals. Just as NATO transformed over time, so have its partnerships. After fulfilling a more political role to enhance the prospects of a “Europe whole, free, and at peace,” partnerships began to foster stability outside of Europe and offered NATO options for burden-sharing and sustained strategic reach. Today, NATO vaunts that it has created formal partnerships across the globe to increase security for the North Atlantic area.
This essay analyzes the transformation of NATO partnerships and the issues the concept faces in today’s globalized security environment. It compares the more recent development of global partnerships to the process of working toward an undivided and democratic Europe, in which partnerships and the enlargement of membership played a key part. The paper argues that the new partnerships lack focus and purpose, running the risk of becoming a costly end in itself and turning NATO from a security into a service provider.
Partnerships for Consolidation
NATO partnerships are an invention of the early 1990s. When the Iron Curtain fell, allies’ objectives were twofold: Preserving NATO and supporting European integration. These objectives were seen as interdependent. By transforming the Alliance into a more political organization, NATO would find a role in the European integration process. It would work toward dialogue and cooperation with former adversaries. Preserving NATO projected stability by keeping the United States engaged in Europe and allowing for the political transformation of NATO to take place. Despite the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty area with German reunification and Article 10 of the Washington Treaty, which allowed NATO to invite other European countries into the Alliance, NATO did not aspire to enlargement. NATO would only project stability by political means and leave the transformation of Europe to other institutions, i.e., the European Community/Union and the Conference/Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. To provide its own means to help consolidate the shared vision, NATO established the North Atlantic Cooperation Council (NACC) in 1991. The NACC offered a platform for political consultation with former Warsaw Pact members. In 1994 NATO added a framework for practical cooperation open to all European and Eurasian countries, the Partnership for Peace (PfP).