Posts Tagged ‘NATO’s Role’

Brzezinski’s NATO

August 21, 2009

In an op-ed piece published in the New York Times yesterday (, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski presented his vision of how NATO should proceed in the coming years.  His proposal has four main elements: define and pursue a politically acceptable  outcome to the mission in Afghanistan; change NATO’s decision-making process by replacing the “consensus rule”, which requires unanimous agreement before the alliance can take action, with a majority or super-majority voting system, and limit the ability of member states to place restrictions on the types of roles its troops can perform in areas-of-operation; draw Russia into a closer association with NATO via a security-cooperation agreement with the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization; and create a NATO-Shanghai Cooperation Organization council to promote  joint security undertakings with Asian powers.

Each of the four pillars of Brzezinksi’s proposal are weak.  Defining and pursuing a politically acceptable outcome of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan will be problematic because European members are in more of a hurry to end their commitments to the unstable nation than the US, and they may exit before conditions that American policymakers consider prerequisite for withdrawal exist.

Changing NATO’s decision-making rules will also be difficult.  It is certainly true that restrictions placed on the use of deployed soldiers by their governments have hampered NATO’s ability to combat the Taliban; however, preventing governments from limiting the scope of their troop commitments will simply discourage them from making any boots-on-the-ground contributions to dangerous warzones.  Eliminating the consensus rule is a good idea, but it is uncertain if such an amendment would be acceptable to current members, especially if the ability to delineate mission roles is restricted.

It is doubtful that Russia could be drawn closer to NATO on any substantive level for several reasons.  One is that some NATO members, especially those in Eastern Europe, still view Russia as a hostile power in a historical light.  Russia also strongly distrusts the Western powers and believes that the West is trying to curb Russia’s influence, a belief which is not unfounded.  Another obstacle to cooperation is that Russia and the West have different interests when it comes to Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.  Russia considers Eastern Europe and Central Asia part of its sphere of influence, whereas the US and its NATO allies want those regions to have more autonomy for strategic and ideological reasons; and unlike the Western powers, Russia benefits from instability in the Middle East because the resulting higher oil and natural gas prices inject billions of dollars into the Russian economy.  Russia and the US do share certain strategic goals, such as preventing Islamic terrorists from obtaining nuclear materials and reducing nuclear stockpiles, but those objectives can be attained through bilateral agreements.

It is unclear what the benefits of creating a joint security council with the Shangahi Cooperation Organization would be.  America’s alliance with Japan and South Korea has already stabilized relations between them and China.  When it comes to the North Korea issue, the six-party framework has established as much cooperation as is possible between the nations involved.  Tensions between China and the US over Taiwan are best held in check by the existing “one-China” policy and America’s military deterrent.  On a broader geo-strategic level, it is not in America’s interest to encourage Asian powers, even friendly ones, to develop overseas force-projection capabilities that could fuel intra-Asian rivalries and reduce America’s influence in the world.

Clearly, NATO needs to define its role in international affairs, as Brzezinski astutely observes.  However, his recommendations ignore differences in strategic interests that limit NATO’s ability to establishment meaningful and mutually beneficial  relationships with other military-political alliances.