2 – Rethinking Strategy: NATO and the Warsaw Summit
BSSB.BE brage.bibsys.no 14.07.2016
Tenet 4: Strategy involves a narrative Every strategy involves storytelling and it is only as compelling as the story is believable. During the Cold War we told ourselves that the internal contradictions of the Soviet system would lead eventually to its collapse.
The Soviets, for their part, told themselves much the same story about us: the internal contradictions of capitalism would prove our ultimate undoing. In short, there was no reason to precipitate a war. But what story do we tell ourselves about ISIS?
- We probably face a protracted period of turbulence in the Middle East. We do not know what the internal contradictions of Middle East politics actually are.
- We do not know who is on the right side of history in the Middle East: Iran or Saudi Arabia; Islamism or non-religious politics, authoritarian rule or democracy?
- As a result, it is very difficult to craft a convincing story.
- And in the absence of such a story we lack self-belief: the self-belief to commit ourselves to using force if and when appropriate.
Tenet 5: Every strategy involves a paradigm A paradigm is a way of looking at the world. Sometimes a paradigm shift can be dramatic. The three Strategic Concepts that NATO adapted after the end of Cold War, respectively in 1991, 1999, and 2010, were all about collective security. And what characterised them all was a new security concept: risk management.
Every president, for example, who took his country to war since Woodrow Wilson in 1917, promised a New World Order. George W. Bush did not: After 9/11 he told the American people that they were likely to live for the foreseeable future in a ‘global disorder’ that bred terrorism and gave it a global reach.
Bush’s job was to manage it: to produce not security, but an acceptable level of insecurity. Or as the 2016 German Marshall Fund report describes it: ‘durable chaos’ (Baranowski & Lété, 2016). Secondly, in the Cold War we defended ourselves against threats that were predictable and measurable.
We were able to measure the capabilities of the enemy with a fair degree of accuracy, and to ascertain its intentions with a fair degree of confidence. After 1991 we had to secure ourselves against risks that were by their nature unpredictable and unmeasurable. Thirdly, in the Cold War we deterred states from attacking us, or in the case of North Korea and North Vietnam, we engaged them in battle.
The problem was that NATO kept piling on the risks from cyber-terrorism to piracy, which appeared for the first time in the 2010 Strategic Concept. The failure to prioritise was inevitable by virtue of the exercise itself. Risks are inherently subjective. If you are Italy, you will be most concerned about migration; if you are the UK you may consider the Global War on Terror to be the main priority. If you are Norway, you are most likely to be concerned about Russian activities and objectives in the High North.
Since 2004 we have gone back to collective defence against both Russia and ISIS. In fact, the Alliance now seems to be applying two different paradigms at the same time: Threat management against clear or present danger; and risk management in the case of migration, referring to the 1,000,000 migrants who entered Europe in 2015. Interestingly, the rest of the world is still in the risk management business.
- Take this year’s Davos World Economic Forum Global Risks Report. The strategy is simple but radical at the same time. It is networked and focused on impact. What is the most immediate problem? Migration. What produces it? Political instability, especially in Syria where 450, 000 people have died. What produced instability in Syria?
- A four-year drought. In other words, the Syrian Revolution is at least in part the outcome of climate change. The idea is to target the problem that has the greatest impact: environmental damage.
- This has a seductive simplicity. Sure, we face a variety of environmental threats, including carbon emissions, floods, droughts, sea-level rises and collapsing ice sheets. But they are all symptoms of one problem: burning fossil fuels. And they all have an impact because they are globally networked.
- Could NATO come up with something so deceptively simple? It has tried to network risk management with Partnership for Peace countries, but it has not taken the exercise as far as it might. Or is the Davos strategy politically impractical for an Alliance such as NATO?
Tenet Six: Strategy is simple ‘Everything in war is simple, but the simple is increasingly difficult’. Those familiar with Clausewitz’ writings will recognise that I have slipped in the word ‘increasingly’ into the quote. Complexity has become the prism through which we interrogate ourselves and the complexity of the world creates one outstanding problem: we may be the greatest risk to ourselves.
‘Uncertainty is not merely an existing environmental condition; it’s a natural by-product of war’(United States Marine Corps, 1996). The term of art is consequence management. This is at the core of the US Marine Corps Doctrine.
- Once you commit forces, everything changes. Because others will react to it no strategy, when implemented, is without consequences. After all, the Russians like to claim that we invented hybrid warfare.
- They cite our attempt to ‘destabilise’ the neighbourhood through the Orange Revolution and Maidan Protests in Ukraine. They cite our propaganda attempts via social media and the internet to subvert the Russian state and attempt regime change.
- This was certainly not an intention or policy, but if it had been, we would be reaping what we have sown. Sometimes we can indeed be our own worst enemy. In crafting any strategy, we therefore face what sociologists call the ‘risk trap’. A good example is the West’s strategy towards Iran.
- Doing too much (bombing nuclear installations); or doing too little (no sanctions) would both have been harmful. Allowing Iran to get the bomb or preventing it by military force could both have been dangerous: the former in the long term, the latter in the short. Our intention was always to steer a middle course.
Obama’s policy in Iran may be considered by historians to be the greatest success story of the administration, or it may not. Only historians will be in a position to tell us. It could be argued, nonetheless, that the penalties on Iran worked, especially the threats to Russia that were made behind the scenes for breaking the sanctions regime. The deal with Iran is not optimal, but it is probably the best that we could have got in the circumstances.
Norwegian Institute of International Affairs
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*Youtube – NATO Summit Results: Ukraine gains strong Alliance support at summit in Warsaw. 18 presidents, 21 Prime Ministers, 41 Foreign Ministers, and 39 Defence Ministers of NATO member states and partners unanimously agreed a full-fledged comprehensive assistance package aimed at making Ukraine’s defence and security institutions more effective, efficient and accountable.
*Youtube – NATO Secretary General press conference following NAC on Projecting Stability- Press conference by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Heads of State and Government in Resolute Support format – Questiand and Answers, 09 July 2016.
*Youtube – Warsaw NATO Summit and Beyond: Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken Address. Please join the CSIS International Security Program and Europe Program for a keynote speech and discussion with Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on the strategic importance of alliances in advance of the upcoming July NATO Summit in Warsaw.