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  'All Dressed Up With Somewhere To Go: NATO and Out of Area Peace Operations.' Gareth Evans Address to NATO Conference "Securing Peace: NATO's Role in Crisis Management and Conflict Resolution."
16 October 2003

George Robertson has always been a hard act to follow: whether at the University of Dundee, where he must have been the only student activist in the world in the 1960s – and as one of them, I  speak with some confidence on  this subject – to always wear a suit and tie (his only concession to the revolution being, I’m told,  that his tie was always red); or as Boilermakers Union representative for the Scottish Whisky industry; or as a key player in Labour’s clamber back to relevance in UK in the 60s; or as an enormously effective UK Defence Secretary in the late ‘90s; and now as  NATO Secretary General  since 1999.

If, in terms of the advertised title of my talk, NATO is now all dressed up with at least the appearance of readiness to go somewhere, and if it does now have at least some idea of where it needs and wants to go, after a decade of post-Cold War feeling its way, then that is a formidable compliment to George’s charm, energy, persistence, imagination and optimism.

As an Australian outsider, I have been able when Foreign Minister, and now as head of an international NGO, to enjoy the transatlantic spectacle without being either bored by the endless jurisdictional wrangling or bloodied by the periodic knife-thrusts. And it has been absolutely intriguing to watch NATO work through the process of reinventing itself  –  from its 50-year Cold War role of massive strike force facing off against massive threat, to the much more sharply defined operational role in peace enforcement, peacekeeping and peacebuilding that evolved in the Balkans in the 1990s, to the new commitment to some kind of global force-providing role that has begun with the takeover of the Afghanistan ISAF mission this year.  

But while things have come a long way, I don’t think anyone doubts that there is a considerable distance yet to go in conceptualising NATO’s future out-of-area role, working out what that might mean in institutional terms – not least in relation to other intergovernmental organisations – and actually implementing it. So let me give you my outsider’s take on this work in progress, beginning with a quick word on the global context in which it is occurring.

The good news, globally, is that – although it might not feel like it - the number of conflicts, between and within states, is declining; the number of terrorist incidents is also declining; and so too is the overall number of people being killed in battle or by terrorist incidents.1   As bad as conflict and mass violence continues to be, it is significantly less bad than it was a decade ago; governments and intergovernmental organisations, maybe with a little help from NGOs like ICG, are getting better at conflict prevention and resolution, and there are plenty of grounds for hoping that new conflicts can be prevented and old ones resolved by essentially political and diplomatic means.

The bad news, however, is that security problems we have left are very big ones indeed: the growth of international terrorist networks with deeply frightening agendas and capacity; the new risk of nuclear proliferation, with the new accompanying fear of supply of weapons or fissile material to terrorists; and the continuing existence, and emergence, of too many fragile, collapsed and internally warring states constituting a major threat to the country’s own people, or by virtue of the people they harbour or the general chaos they create, to others.

And the bad news is compounded by the reality that our capacity as a global community to deal with these problems seems, if anything, to be diminishing. There’s a weakening of confidence in the rules that are supposed to govern the use of force, and uncertainty about who should be making them.  And there’s huge uncertainty about which institutions should be doing what to effectively enforce such rules as there are. 

About the only thing on which there is agreement these days  – even on what passes  for the political Left – is that at least some kinds of military force have their place as wholly appropriate responses to different kinds of security problems:

  • From the perspective of conflict prevention, nobody could doubt the utility of the preventive deployment of troops by the UN with UNPREDEP in Macedonia (subsequently followed up by NATO’s own Amber Fox and Allied Harmony operations, now being continued by the EU as Operation Concordia).

  • In reaction to violence or aggression, either across borders or within them, and for the purposes either of self-defence or the defence of others, peace enforcement has often been widely accepted as appropriate: for example Iraq in 1991, Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s (if only we had done it early and effectively enough), Afghanistan in 2001 and Eastern Congo in 2003. (But many other cases of peace enforcement, including NATO’s in Kosovo in 1999 and the US-led coalition’s in Iraq in 2003, of course remain intensely controversial, with their legality or legitimacy or both called into question.)

  • And following conflict, there has been an increased willingness to grant quite robust peacekeeping mandates, to enable ceasefires and peace agreements to be effectively enforced, would-be spoilers dealt with, and the political and economic conditions to be built in a way that sustains peace and ensures conflict does not recur: NATO’s mandates with SFOR in Bosnia and KFOR in Kosovo, and now with ISAF in Afghanistan, are of this order, as is the ECOWAS/UNMIL operation in Liberia.

All Dressed Up

Congenital optimists though we all need to be to survive in the security business, we  have to assume that in the years ahead, even if overall conflict and victim numbers continue to decline, that there will be a steady trickle of suitable cases for military treatment in all these different categories.

And of all the military organisations in the world, all the regional organisations, all the permanent alliances, there is not much doubt that NATO – with the U.S. alone spending nearly half the whole world’s defence budgets, and the other NATO members nearly half the rest – is far and away the best equipped to do whatever military or quasi-military job that needs to be done.

NATO has formidable planning capability, for both contingencies and real world situations as they arise, far in excess of any other multilateral body. Its rapid response capability, when the just-established NATO Response Force is fully up and running, will be considerably greater than its still largely notional EU equivalent is likely to manage for many years (by reason, if nothing else, of the  lift capability which only the US seems capable of supplying); and far greater than the UN itself will ever be able to manage, even with its SHIRBRIG (Standby High Readiness Brigade) facility as used to kick-start the UN Ethiopia/Eritrea operation in 2000.

So far as other regional organisations are concerned – like the OAS, ECOWAS, SADC, ASEAN Regional Forum and the EU itself through its ESDP - there is certainly scope for them to play a beneficent force-providing role. But outside Africa (and to a much lesser extent Latin America and Europe) there has been a real difficulty in finding the political will to mobilise available resources for even for the most apparently deserving cases, and a conspicuous lack of such resources anyway on anything like the scale able to be mobilised by NATO.

I’m not suggesting there won’t be operational difficulties. There is a big gap overall between capability and deployability, with NATO having far fewer personnel immediately at its disposal at any given time than the total numbers would suggest; there are very big variations in the capabilities of different NATO members, with the US out on its own by a distance that should concentrate even more minds than it does on both sides of the Atlantic;  there is  a congenital shortfall in particular forms of capability which would be very useful in a number of peace operations, e.g. military police, civilian police and carabinieri-style paramilitary police in between; and, for all these kinds of reasons, even when there is agreement from everyone for NATO to take on a task – as with ISAF in Afghanistan, and its long desperately necessary expansion outside Kabul – that is likely only to be the beginning of further arguments as to how and by whom within NATO the job gets done.

And, operational issues apart, the bottom line is always political will. There may be of course, and I’ll come back to this central issue, no relationship whatever between the availability of all this military clout and the willingness of its own members to allow NATO to use it, or the willingness of  other members of the international community to see NATO use it.

Somewhere to Go

But with NATO as well dressed as it is, there are plenty of invitations that it could – and in my view should – be getting to contribute its massive resources and expertise to not just  defending its members against attack from within or without, but preventing and resolving particular security problems around the world, and not just in the Euro-Atlantic area.

In addition to its former preventive deployment role in Macedonia, and its continuing important peacebuilding roles in Bosnia and Kosovo,  NATO is already playing an important – hopefully soon very important – stabilising role much further afield in Afghanistan; it has also been playing a small but useful role in post-conflict Iraq supporting Poland in intelligence, logistics and communications.

If an Israeli-Palestinian  peace settlement of the kind contemplated at Camp David and Taba can ever now be negotiated (something still not impossible if the U.S. engages intensely, even-handedly and in a way that focuses on the endgame, rather than on incremental steps always hostage to extremists – but those are three very big ‘ifs’),  it is generally acknowledged that there will need to be positioned in the West Bank and Gaza, for a transitional period and beyond, a strong multilateral force led by the U.S.,2   and NATO is the most obvious candidate to supply that force.

In Africa, where NATO has not yet had any presence, it could perhaps have saved many lives this year by supporting – more than the U.S. was ultimately prepared to – ECOWAS in Liberia (where, by the way, the UN operation will still not be fully deployed until next February) , and the French-led EU operation in Northeastern Congo; it could also support, or help support, the impending major peacekeeping operation that will be needed to immediately follow a successful peace negotiation in Sudan.  In each of these cases there is no need for the commitments to be endlessly protracted – what matters most is the potential to be on the ground fast, settling down situations while the lengthy task of assembling UN teams is undertaken.

The greatest need of all is for NATO to be prepared to play the role of emergency force provider in conscience-shocking ‘humanitarian intervention’ situations, where the international community has so often in the past – most conspicuously in Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in 1995 – failed to meet its ‘responsibility to protect’3  the citizens of a country finding themselves in grave peril following the abdication of any such responsibility by their own government.  

Just a month ago, a memorial to more than 7,000 massacre victims at Srebrenica was opened across the road from where a UN base used to sit and where many of those men and boys who were killed in those ugly days unsuccessfully sought sanctuary. It was the hard crucible of the Balkans that brought NATO into the modern age, and it is the experience gleaned there that could usefully guide a broader global role for NATO in the 21st century. No other combination of countries is capable of responding as fast and as decisively in situations crying out for quick and determined action.

For and Against a Global Role

The arguments for and against NATO conceptualising its role in out of area peace operations in global rather than familiar Euro-Atlantic terms are finely balanced. The centrality of the U.S. role  (with some going so far as to suggest that ‘NATO’ stands for ‘Needs America To Operate’)  obviously counts for NATO in terms of its capability, but against it in terms of its global acceptability, given current anxieties about Washington policy being both too unilateralist and too potentially trigger-happy in relation to perceived terrorist threats, nuclear proliferation by hostile states and maybe failed states as well.

Beyond that, the key arguments on the  pro side go something like this:

  • An important reason for NATO seeing its role in global, not just mutual defence and regional, terms is that it has always been a partnership of values and ideals as well as a military one. States across central and Eastern Europe have wanted to join the alliance not only because of its important cloak of collective defence, but because joining NATO represents membership in a group of democratic, market-oriented states willing to make the world a better place. Preserving that image of fundamental integrity is as important to the Alliance’s goal of expanding the number of like-minded states as is its military capability.

    That is why it is so important that NATO not simply sit on the sidelines when security concerns arise outside the transatlantic theatre. What message is sent to the rest of the world when an alliance of the world’s most important military and economic powers does nothing when selective engagement can work? What kind of alliance would be content to let UN blue helmets be deployed under conditions that were sure only to guarantee failure?

  • The alternatives to effective NATO engagement are often so poor that NATO countries or NATO itself simply end up getting involved at a later – and uglier – stage of conflict.  The Balkans offers good examples in this regard, but the lesson is of wider application. UNPROFOR was such a disaster in Bosnia that it deeply undercut the effectiveness of the UN, allowed the conflict to grow dangerously out of control as ethnic cleansing went unchecked and convinced leaders on both sides of the Atlantic that NATO needed to lead, not just because a European disaster was impending but a human one.

  • On the question of institutional cooperation, NATO could conduct out of area operations in a way designed to ultimately boost the capacity of counterpart out of area regional security organisations rather than in any sense undermine them.  NATO could work with ECOWAS, SADC or the OAS, in the same way it has used the Partnership for Peace to help groom NATO aspirants. Many of the non-NATO militaries that have been involved in NATO-led peacekeeping operations have viewed this as invaluable experience in terms of fostering professionalism and inter-operability. This would also speed the hand-off of local operations to regional partners, an important exit strategy for over-stretched NATO militaries. The training-in-the-field component would also take some of the sting out of NATO operations for critics like China and Russia by making sure there is a wider array of flags on the ground.

 Arguing against NATO seeing its role in primarily global terms are these considerations:

  • NATO’s self-conscious status as a standing alliance of like-minded, democratic, free market states, while a source of strength to the organisation, also makes it difficult to contemplate it playing any general role on behalf of the UN, which is not quite the same kind of animal. It is one thing for NATO peace operations to have the legal and political endorsement of the UN Security Council, but quite another to think of it as the first operational port of call for the UN.  Both China and Russia hated the Kosovo operation, and UN support for the Afghan operation may best be seen as something of an anomaly due to the historic moment. NATO members viewed 11 September as an attack on a member state, and the UN was not about to be seen as obstructionist as the rubble still smouldered in New York. Many states, including some powerful ones on the Security Council, remain quite leery of NATO developing a global operational role. As Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was fond of saying during 1999, “We have many Kosovos in Russia.” Implausible though it may be, the fear that NATO will eventually target other great powers remains significant, particularly among communist die-hards in Russian and Chinese power ministries.

  • It’s not yet possible to brush over the institutional rivalry between NATO and the EU, and to come up with some model along the lines of NATO operating globally and the EU attending to more narrowly focused European issues, with Macedonia the first example of such a handover. “Concordia”, has managed to follow NATO without major interruption, but the experience does highlight the potential tensions between European structures and NATO. Great power tensions over Iraq, tense NATO-EU talks over “Berlin Plus” cooperation arrangements and most recently, a sharp dispute over the International Criminal Court, have spilled over into the on-ground relations between the EU force, the U.S. and NATO.

    Senior EU officials see the elaborate, dual chain organigrams agreed during Berlin plus talks as cumbersome and unnecessary.  NATO officials say the EU doesn’t respect the chain and instead, reports on national lines, and has  questioned the EU’s performance in the field. And it  doesn’t seem likely that the EU will regard the by-and-large successful French led-mission to Bunia in Northeastern Congo recently as the ESDP’s first and last military engagement outside the continent of Europe.

  • A more fundamental issue is the likely difficulty of winning consensus – even the kind of forced consensus, with or without ‘constructive abstentions’ that has become rather a NATO specialty – about whether or not to engage in peace operations, particularly peace enforcement  ones, in the first place. Kosovo still stands as a watershed moment for peace enforcement by NATO, and we need to recall how it was handled, not only within the UN, but in NATO itself.  At the time, Kosovo was widely viewed by alliance governments as something of a near death experience (although they all speak of it glowingly in retrospect).

    I am told by those very close to the action that if NATO had been forced to go to a ground war, it could have well brought down the German government and political apprehension was high in all the respective capitals. The Germans, Italians and French were certainly not happy to have so much political capital tied to an intervention that they viewed as peripheral to their fundamental interests, and this will not be an easy legacy to overcome. As NATO’s membership continues to grow, getting across the board support for peace enforcement activities within NATO could well become even more cumbersome, and NATO is still very much in the process of getting the bugs out in terms of how it actually functions as a fighting force.

Winning Agreement on the Rules of Force

This last point, about consensus and the difficulty of reaching it, raises one final theme on  which I will conclude: the crucial necessity for us to reach, as an international community, more agreement about when it is actually right to take military, particularly peace enforcement, action. There isn’t much point in NATO or anyone else having the operational capacity to put troops in the field in five days, if it is going to take 50 days of argument as to whether they should go there.

Arguments about who should be engaging in what peace operations – NATO, the EU, some greater or lesser coalition of the willing, UN blue helmets or anyone else -  are really logically secondary to arguments about whether anyone at all should be engaging in them.  If we can get broad consensus within the wider international community about when it’s right to fight, it’s a lot easier to get consensus about who should be doing the fighting and what form that fighting should take.

The  trouble is that in recent times, there has been growing scepticism and cynicism about the international rules, such as they are in the UN Charter and elsewhere, governing the use of force – whether in self-defence, against a state posing an external threat, and against a state posing an internal threat to its own people. There has been an increasing tendency for states, under the guise of meeting threats of one kind or another, to make up the rules as they go along, going to war when they shouldn’t be, and not going to war when they should.

Quixotic as the effort may seem, we have to try to reverse that trend, and reach consensus on a set of guidelines which would form a common, accepted frame of reference for addressing, every time the issue came up in whatever context, whether it is right to fight. The ICISS Commission which I co-chaired recommended to the Security Council (in the context of internal threats but they are perfectly generalisable) a set of six principles: they owe their intellectual origins to just war theory, but as we found in our consultations, have plenty of intuitive acceptability around the world.

This is not the occasion to spell out all the detailed supporting argument: I’ve already done too much to imperil your digestion. But in short, to make the case for war, there should be affirmative answers to all, or at least most, of the following six questions:

  1. Just Cause:  is the harm being experienced or threatened  sufficiently clear and serious to justify going to war? 

  2. Right Intention: is the primary purpose of the proposed military action to halt or avert the external or internal threat in question, even if there are some other motives  in play as well?

  3. Last Resort:  has every non-military option for the prevention or peaceful resolution of the crisis been explored, with reasonable grounds for believing lesser measures will not succeed?

  4. Proportional Means: is the scale, duration and intensity of the planned military action the minimum necessary to secure the defined human protection objective?

  5. Reasonable Prospects: is there a reasonable chance of the military action being successful in meeting the external or internal threat in question, with the consequences of action not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction?

  6. Right Authority: is the military action lawful? 

Nobody, least of all me, could be naïve enough to suggest that consensus on the right questions, if it could ever be reached, will produce consensus on the answers. Human judgement doesn’t work like a slot machine; political judgements and values always intrude. But I am naïve enough, or optimistic enough, to believe on the basis of long experience in international negotiation, that it helps enormously to be working with the same concepts, the same language and the same basic frame of reference.

These issues – these questions, this frame of reference – are in fact being discussed by the Security Council, and while the proposed guidelines are never likely to be formally adopted, they are starting to have their practical influence. I don’t think they have yet been debated much, if at all, by NATO ambassadors here in Brussels, but it may be helpful if they were.   The collegiate spirit which prevails here, with people living alongside each other  and endlessly discussing these sorts of issues together, gives a much better chance for sensible ideas to evolve and be refined than when people fly in and out for setpiece exchanges.

Perhaps, as my very last word, I can stimulate you to undertake this task with the rallying cry I often used with my departmental troops in Canberra when,  as the Foreign Minister of a not very significant country in the global scheme of things, I was encouraging them to embark on some new policy adventure:  “Let’s get to it– we have nothing to lose but our irrelevance”.


1 The trends referred to here will all be fully documented in the first annual Human Security Report, to be published by OUP early in 2004, produced by the University of British Columbia Human Security Centre, directed by  Andrew Mack ( Director of the UN Secretary-General’s Strategic Planning Unit 1998-2001 and formerly Professor of International Relations at the Australian National University )

2 See ICG Middle East Report No.3, Middle East Endgame II: How a Comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian Peace Settlement Would Look,  16 July 2002.

3 As defined in the report by that name of  the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS)  which I co-chaired in 2001 with Mohamed Sahnoun, available at www.iciss-ciise.gc.ca

16 October 2003


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