(Un)sustainable Peacebuilding: NATO's Suitability for Postconflict Reconstruction in Multiactor Environments

By Williams, M. J. | Global Governance, January-March 2011 | Go to article overview

(Un)sustainable Peacebuilding: NATO's Suitability for Postconflict Reconstruction in Multiactor Environments


Williams, M. J., Global Governance


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, NATO has progressively adapted itself to the new strategic environment. This has meant a shift from a defensive posture to a more proactive risk management strategy. A key component of this mandate is contributions to international peacemaking and peacebuilding operations. In both the Balkans and Afghanistan, NATO has worked to utilize its military assets to create and maintain peace so that civilian organizations can administer aid, development programs, and good governance projects. These multifaceted operations, however, are complex and rely on well-structured relationships between the different civilian-led international organizations on the ground and NATO. Sadly, as the case of Afghanistan illustrates, these organizations have proved woefully inadequate in terms of providing sustainable peacebuilding. The hypothesis is that international organizations do not play well on the ground in conflict or postconflict environments because they were meant to manage a balance of power, rather than an absence of power. These organizations are more worried about their bureaucratic turf than they are sustainable outcomes. KEYWORDS: NATO, peacekeeping, Afghanistan.

SINCE 1989, THE WEST HAS BEEN CONFRONTED BY THE STARK REALITY THAT weak states can pose as great a danger to international stability and security as a strong state. If the balance of power was the preoccupation of strategists in centuries past, it is the lack of power that concerns most today. From the Balkans to Africa, across the Middle East through South Asia and into the Pacific, weak states have resulted in conflicts that have regularly dragged the international community into their quagmires of death, destruction, and stagnation. Originally created in 1949 as a defensive military alliance to maintain the balance of power in Europe, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) finds itself increasingly acting as a proactive risk manager--first in the Balkans and, most recently, in Afghanistan. But how sustainable is NATO's involvement? This question is especially pertinent considering that the main challenges facing weak and failing states--a lack of governance, poverty, endemic crime, shadow economies--are far beyond the reach of NATO's warships, tanks, and missiles.

NATO can, of course, utilize its soldiers in a stabilization operation to help create security, but even that depends on what kind of security is sought. When the dominant conception of security in the North Atlantic Area was the territorial defense of Europe and North America, NATO was created as an organization that could help standardize equipment and operational protocol among several different countries to provide an effective deterrent against Soviet invasion. In this period, NATO's naval-, air-, and land-based military assets were perfectly well suited to the job of deterring and, if necessary, responding to a Soviet attack against a NATO ally. Furthermore, NATO's presence in Europe also helped to foster trust and confidence building between the countries of Western Europe, thus reducing and eventually helping to eliminate the balance of power logic in Western Europe that had been dominant since 1648. Today, however, the international security environment is radically different. If weak states and an absence of power are more often than not the locust of concern, then NATO's traditional military and security resources are of diminished value in this new environment.

The challenges in the new security environment require more than just military capacity. A multitude of problems such as a failing economy, a lack of governance and the rule of law, disease, and the like require more than simply military force. Consequently, they necessitate the involvement of other actors such as the UN, the European Union (EU), and the World Bank at the international level as well as development agencies such as the Department for International Development (DFID) in the UK and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) at the domestic level. …

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(Un)sustainable Peacebuilding: NATO's Suitability for Postconflict Reconstruction in Multiactor Environments
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