Canada must speak out at NATO summit
Supporting The Canadian Forces
Next week, the leaders from the 26 member countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will meet in Riga, Latvia to discuss the future of the alliance. Canada needs to pay attention;relations with our NATO allies are more important than ever, and yet reaching consensus on NATO’s future may be harder than ever.
The Riga summit will be dominated by discussionof the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan. NATO currently has 31,000 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan on a mission far removed, by geography and by mandate, from its Cold War endeavors.
Those countries Canada, the Netherlands, Britain, and the United States .. losing soldiers in the unstable south are rightly frustrated by their allies’ persistent refusal to deploy their soldiers to these more dangerous combat zones.
Also on the agenda, though more implicit, will be the future of the allianceitself. How far should NATO extend its membership? Is NATO a club for statesthat share the values described in the organization’s charter: democracy,liberty, and the rule of law? Or should it be restricted to the democracies ofthe North Atlantic area? In short, is NATO aglobal alliance, or an alliance with global reach?
The questions of Afghanistanand NATO’s future are tightly connected. NATO’s founding concept was mutualdefence: Under Article 5, each ally agreed to come to the assistance of another if it was attacked.
NATO first invoked it on Sept. 12, 2001, long after the Cold War had ended. Inthe face of persistent doubts about NATO’s relevance in a post-Soviet securityworld, the war on terrorism seemed to infuse the alliance with new purpose.
However, it also put into question the tacit bargain that had allowed the NATO allies to defend themselves against the Soviet Union even as they disagreed on a range of other policies.
During the Cold War, an informal agreement guided how member states co-operated on missions, like the invasion of the Suez Canal or the Vietnam War, that were beyond the North Atlantic region and on which not all the allies agreed.
The allies tacitly agreed never to make these out-of-area interventionsmake-or-break questions for the alliance. They would always be secondary tomutual defence; allies could participate if they wished, or take up the slack of defence in Europe in order to allow another member to shift its troops abroad.
But since the Cold War’s end, NATO’s mandate is less tied to mutual defence. In Bosnia and Kosovo the NATO allies acted to stop ethnic cleansing; on the U.S. Gulf Coast NATO co-coordinated the delivery of aid to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and in Afghanistan, NATO is charged with providing the security necessary to allow reconstruction.
This blurring of the line between the primary mandate of mutual defence and the secondary one of intervention means the tacit Cold War rules on contentious policies no longer apply. In a way that earlier interventions weren’t, Afghanistan is being portrayed as a decisive mission for the credibility of the alliance.
The alliance is thus charting new territory. Part of the reason the issue has been so fraught is that today debates about the future of the alliance are not buffered by the mandate of mutual defence.
NATO’s future matters to Canada beyond the immediate question of Afghanistan. How NATO “goes global” will profoundly shape Canada’s foreign and defence policy.
In Riga, the allies will discuss the importance of building effective operational relationships with the European Union, the African Union, and the United Nations. This networked strategy is one Canada must support.
Partnerships will allow NATO to act globally, while continuing to focus on its transatlantic core.
Canada needs NATO to be more than a forum for states with shared democratic values. If NATO becomes too large to allow for effective political and military co-operation, or alternatively, less operational and just a talk shop, its members will stopinvesting time and effort into it.
The Europeans will co-operate among themselves, and the Americans will directad-hoc coalitions as they are needed. The organization would fall into disuseand Canada’svoice on the international scene would be smaller and quieter.
This is what we risk if NATO does not work out its differences over Afghanistan.
For Canada,NATO must remain a transatlantic institution because, as a small country, weprofit from both the predictability of an institutionalized setting and aframework that amplifies the international impact of our influence and resources.
NATO needn’t be the world’s police force, or the army of the community of democracies. It remains, however, Canada’s best venue for co-operating with the allies with whom we share history, identity and a track record of working together.
In the late 1940s, Canada helped create an organization that gave us a voice in Europe for more than 50 years.
At Riga, Canada should again make its voice heard, to ensure that it will be heard in Europe and on the international stage for another 50.