A post here earlier this week detailed a conference on homeland security taking place in the Middle East next month. I suggested the U.S. should be more proactive in engaging that region on such issues as protecting civilians as a means to bridging a perception gap about the threat of terrorism made worse by the Iraq war, among other things. That we have an attachÃ© attending the conference in Abu Dhabi, whereas the British and Spanish are dispatching senior officials, represents an important missed opportunity.
Some readers â€“ only half joking â€“ thought we wouldnâ€™t have much to say of value at the conference anyway. We have a lot to gain from sharing what we do know about protecting the homeland, especially with governments in that region. However, doing so would benefit greatly first by deploying multilateral mechanisms for engagement. NATO is ready for such a role.
NATOâ€™s unique map of nearly sixty countries represents the only multilateral consultative environment in the world wherein the U.S retains a significant â€“ albeit underutilized â€“ political advantage. Creative U.S. leadership of NATO in the 21st century can foster a better consensus between the U.S. and the many other countries within that framework for how to combat the evolving threat posed by terrorism. This would include a targeted mix of security cooperation efforts, deeper dialogue on counterterrorism best practices, and capabilities training. Ultimately, such leadership would serve as the basis for greater cooperative efforts in crucial regions that serve U.S. security and foreign policy interests.
While the very purpose of NATO was questioned after the Cold War ended, many observers expected the post-9/11 security environment to offer the Alliance a lifeline, if not a renewed raison dâ€™etre. Ultimately, uneven U.S. engagement of NATO in Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), combined with the deterioration of U.S.-European relations in the lead up to and conduct of the Iraq war, fed doubts about NATOâ€™s relevance as the 21st-century security environment took shape. Without an engagement of NATO that redeploys the non-military legitimacy and outreach of the Alliance, the U.S. risks finding its cooperative security options unnecessarily limited when they are needed most.
The first seven years of the war against terrorism demonstrated the importance of developing trust and confidence with non-traditional allies, namely those in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. U.S. national and homeland security interests would benefit from developing innovative security assistance relationships here as it would garner more confidence and trust among countries that, while not pro-American, have not assumed entrenched anti-American positions. NATO offers the potential to assist in developing capabilities for counterterrorism (defeating terrorists) and antiterrorism (protecting civilians) as the new currency of cooperation.
The current level of political engagement of NATO by the U.S. obliges Western policymakers to pursue a less unified â€“ and suboptimal â€“ approach to working with important countries in the Mediterranean and Middle East, which includes approximately fifteen countries within NATOâ€™s Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperative Initiative. The U.S. can focus resources that reinforce a relatively pro-American political environment without forcing nations of the region to choose between the U.S. and Europe or spurn regional allies by appearing overly pro-western if we engage them through such consultative mechanisms as the Med/D and ICI.
This initiative would enable the development of policy options to help pursue U.S. homeland security and counterterrorism interests while cultivating a more productive dialogue between the U.S. and critical countries in the Mediterranean and Middle East. This includes maximizing or augmenting current NATO programs such as the Program of Work on Defense Against Terrorism, NATO Security Through Science, and the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center. Each of these efforts contributes greatly to U.S. interests. Yet the U.S. has allowed or even led efforts to cut funding of some of these most essential programs.
Certain perennial challenges would complicate an effort by the U.S. to recalibrate engagement of NATO in this way. First, EU leadership remains reluctant to encourage members also belonging to NATO to support a more substantive NATO role in protecting civilians as well as troops. This â€œEU Blocâ€ in NATO can be formidable: France, Belgium, and Germany, among others, regularly obstruct efforts to broaden NATOâ€™s non-military engagement. France routinely objects to â€“ and almost as often succeeds in preventing â€“ proposals at NATO to focus its existing capabilities on homeland security requirements.
This proposed initiative should identify ways for the U.S. to neutralize â€“ or at least offset â€“ unnecessary competition with the EU. One model might employ the NATO â€œQuad,â€ whereby political directors from Germany, France, UK, and the U.S. work together on an ad hoc basis to identify shared objectives and negotiate acceptable solutions on a wide range of security concerns through NATO. The tensions surrounding the Iraq war left the Quad to languish, but U.S. leadership to reinitiate this dialogue could generate useful progress.
A second problem is in Washington: Disunity between the U.S. Homeland Security Departmentâ€™s objectives and the Departments of State and Defense further complicates the use of NATO for these purposes. After more than three years since its creation, DHS runs few, if any, coordinating efforts with State or Defense at the U.S. NATO mission.
Failure to change course from the currently constricted approach to NATO risks denuding this historic alliance that has served American interests for over fifty years, while severely limiting U.S. freedom to develop broader consensus in the war against terrorism, deeper cooperative engagement with the Middle East and Mediterranean region, and a more durable dialogue with the nearly sixty countries under NATO.