NATO Confronts the Bear and Mosquitoes
Byline: Yonah Alexander, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Russian-Georgian crisis, the latest tug-of-war for regional dominance, and the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan have once again underscored NATO's old-new challenge in the 21st century. After all, NATO was initially created to confront the Russian Bear as a strategic alliance that guaranteed its members military support in the case of aggression by a third country.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the traditional NATO mission is now more relevant than ever. The Russian armed attack against Georgia, a candidate for joining the 26-nation Atlantic alliance, also opened a serious rift between the Alliance and Moscow, threatening security concerns in Europe and beyond.
Indeed, the NATO ambassadors recently met in an extraordinary gathering of the NATO Atlantic Council (NATO's top decisionmaking body) to deplore Russia's excessive, disproportionate use of force and to support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, a respected partner and friend. Moreover, NATO foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels to discuss the implications of Russia's policies and actions to consider a range of options to respond to the perceived aggression.
Though it is premature to determine what specific measures the Alliance will undertake, such as suspending or abolishing the NATO council devoted to relations with Russia, it is crystal-clear that Moscow would not have dared to initiate military action had Georgia already been a member of NATO like the other former Soviet Republics in the Baltic States.
The other major challenge to NATO is its evolving role in combating terrorism, both nonstate and state-sponsored. The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks unmistakably provided a wake-up call to NATO to redefine its post-Cold War mission.
More specifically, within hours of the Sept. 11 attacks, Article 5, the mutual defense clause of the North Atlantic Treaty, was invoked for the first time in the Alliance's history. This was not only a symbolic confirmation of NATO's solidarity with the United States but a signal that the alliance was prepared to adapt to the emerging international terrorist network challenges, conventional and unconventional.
Thus, in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the character of NATO's missions was fundamentally changed. As a globally operating security provider, it swiftly responded to the American request for assistance and contributed AWACS aircraft to control the U.S. airspace. Subsequently it provided air surveillance for high-profile events like the Olympic Games and the soccer World Cup. The Navy launched Operation Active Endeavor to patrol the Mediterranean Sea and disrupt maritime logistics of terrorist organizations in the region. No longer confined to traditional spheres of influence, NATO also increased cooperation with non-member states like Russia, Ukraine and the Maghreb countries to counter transnational terrorism.
During the November 2002 Prague Summit, NATO officially declared its newly adopted role in actively combating terrorism and protecting both armed forces and the civil population of member states against terrorist attacks. This broad strategic readjustment included a new military concept for defense against terrorism involving both offensive and defensive capabilities. The most recent NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008 added to Alliance counterterrorism tasks such as cyber defense measures, infrastructure protection, and comprehensive weapons of mass destruction counterproliferation policy.
To be sure, the United Nations provided the legal framework for NATO operations that are not considered as self-defense, according to Article 51 of the U. …