When the Arab Spring broke out over a year ago, it touched not only every state in the Middle East but also each of NATO's partner countries in the Mediterranean Dialogue. NATO should not ignore this reality. Rather, it should act to support the people of these nations in attaining their goals of reform and democracy. NATO can take action by facilitating the development of civil-military relations in these nations, which would go a long way in ensuring a stable and secure region. This can be done in the following three ways:
- By creating NATO committees dedicated to facilitating the transition to more democratic governments in regional partner countries, with biannual summits between NATO countries and partner nations to oversee the transition process and improve upon it;
- By allowing both present and future leaders of partner countries see and experience democracy first-hand in the capitals of NATO nations through state visits and internships;
- By building temporary NATO military bases in one or two partner countries that will not only provide security for these fledgling governments but also become learning centers for security and defense methods.
However, none of these proposals can work without a stronger Mediterranean Dialogue. Currently the MD has little support amongst NATO nations as a whole. Since both the Mediterranean and the Middle East are on NATO’s doorstep, NATO must be unified in its obligation to help the people of these countries achieve their goals. Their desire for democratic reform fits not only with NATO's goals of promoting the growth of democracy in this region, but also with the goal of a more secure and stable Mediterranean, an outcome all NATO nations should desire and seek.
First of all, NATO nations through the MD should establish committees that would reach out to specific partner nations and provide support to their young governments. These committees would monitor a specific partner country’s democratic efforts, pinpoint weaknesses in the government system, and formulate solutions these nations could utilize on their own to build up their states. Furthermore, NATO nations and partner countries themselves would meet biannually to see the progress each partner state has made toward reaching its goals. At these meetings both sides can determine which methods work and which do not, using their findings to improve their efforts toward establishing more stable societies built on the basis of civilian, rather than military, control.
This method would allow the partner nations to have NATO’s support while transitioning to more democratically minded governments on their own. Also, both NATO and the partner nations would grow in their unity of purpose through the conferences: to see more stable countries in the Mediterranean.
A second way NATO can help these young democracies is by inviting both present and future leaders of regional partner countries to NATO nations’ capitals, providing these individuals opportunities to witness democracy at work. For present leaders, this can be done through state visits that emphasize introducing the leader to a nation’s civic practices and methods. For younger future leaders, internships can be provided through NATO that would give them a hands-on approach to learning democracy in ways they could later implement in their home countries.
Such investment in these nations could show their leaders the benefits of civil-military operations in government and how it operates on a daily basis. Also, this would help create more democratically minded governments as well as assist in furthering this region’s future stability.
Thirdly, NATO can establish temporary NATO military bases or "learning centers" in one or two partner states as a means of promoting security in these areas. These would greatly ensure that the transition from dictatorships to civil-military governments is successful. However, these bases would not simply be a NATO presence in these areas. Rather, these bases would become centers where NATO advisors and troops could help the people of these nations grow in their knowledge of weapons, security, and defense. These would only exist for as long as the partner nations need NATO’s support in this regard.
This measure would strengthen these nations’ own security and defense while helping ensure a more secure Mediterranean. This would also further the partner nations’ growth as civil-military governments and allow them to flourish in a more stable environment.
NATO's regional partner nations within the Mediterranean Dialogue responded to the Arab Spring with the desire of forming more democratic societies. In response, NATO as a whole should dedicate itself to supporting these countries and their goals. One of the main ways NATO can help is through measures that would allow partner nations to establish civil-military governments and facilitate the growth of these systems. By following the methods proposed above, NATO can support its partner countries as they develop more democratic governments and see a more stable and secure Mediterranean.
Karen Harriger is an undergraduate student at The Master's College in Santa Clarita, California. She is a history major with an avid interest in Middle Eastern affairs and spent three-and-a-half months studying in Israel in 2010.