NATO from Berlin to Bosnia: Trans-Atlantic Security in Transition

By Drew, S. Nelson | McNair Papers, January 1995 | Go to article overview

NATO from Berlin to Bosnia: Trans-Atlantic Security in Transition


Drew, S. Nelson, McNair Papers


"THE BONFIRE OF THE CERTAINTIES"

In mid-September 1994, North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces deployed to Poland alongside troops from seven former Warsaw Pact members to conduct the first joint peacekeeping exercise under the mantle of the newly formed "Partnership for Peace." Exercise "Co-operative Bridge 94," as it was called, involved less than 1,000 military personnel--not a particularly significant deployment in purely military terms. But in political terms, it was, according to General George Joulwan, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, "a truly historic occasion." (1) As German Defense Minister Volker Riihe noted, "Anyone who knows even a little bit about history knows this is not a routine event when Polish and German soldiers are working together." (2)

Certainly this was not a "routine" event by any standard. It was, in fact, an event that less than five years ago would have been considered unthinkable. But since the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989--described at the time by a NATO officer as "the bonfire of the certainties" (3)--events in Europe have moved so rapidly that even the unthinkable has become reality in security affairs. During this period, even the "routine" functioning of the Alliance has ceased to be routine, and the nature of the American leadership role has been called into question on both sides of the Atlantic. From the fall of the Berlin Wall through the first use of NATO forces in combat in Bosnia in 1994, NATO has found itself in a race to keep up with these dramatic changes in the trans-Atlantic security environment.

The growth of a NATO role in peace support operations such as those in Bosnia, and, within the NATO framework, the development of the NACC (North Atlantic Cooperation Council) Ad Hoc Group on Peacekeeping and the Partnership for Peace (PFP), are examples of this phenomenon. Yet the pace of these breathtaking developments has not been maintained without cost. The ability of NATO, NACC and the PFP to play an effective role in promoting peace and stability in Eurasia has been complicated by the rapid and sometimes disjointed manner in which these institutions have been forced to evolve.

Indeed, while many of NATO's new "partners" have expressed concern that the "Partnership" has not evolved far enough or fast enough, a convincing case can be made that the events of the past five years may have outstripped the capabilities of trans-Atlantic and European security institutions--and the political will of their members--to adapt to them. The resulting roles and limits associated with potential NATO, NACC, and PFP involvement in future operations can best be understood in the context of NATO's original attempts to respond to the unanticipated requirements for a revision of the Alliance role in meeting the security and defense requirements of its members in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War.

... AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN

NATO itself was certainly not prepared for the pace of change that followed the fail of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. In the fail of 1989, as the Berlin Wall was coming down, a survey of over 30 NATO and SHAPE staff officers could find only 2 who were willing to consider adopting a new NATO strategy to replace MC 14-3's twin pillars of "forward defense and flexible response" within the next decade in response to the changes underway in Europe. "After all," it was explained, "MC 14-3 took seven years--and the withdrawal of France from NATO's integrated military structures--to gain Alliance approval even when there was consensus about the nature of the threat." It would be "too difficult" to attempt to craft a new strategy--NATO would just have to make do with the old. (4)

Yet little over half a year later, the NATO heads of state held a momentous meeting in London; there, noting that "the walls that once confined people and ideas are collapsing," they directed the Alliance to undertake a "fundamental" revision of NATO's strategy and to "build new partnerships with all the nations of Europe" by reaching out to NATO's former adversaries in the East and extending to them "the hand of friendship.

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