NATO should substantially increase its diplomatic presence in Mediterranean Dialogue partner countries. This expansion would show commitment by NATO to transitioning states, give these partner countries more international legitimacy, and allow for increased communication between governments. Supporting this long-term transition process will significantly further the goal of regional security and stability.
Opponents of this strategy may argue that host governments could perceive an expanded diplomatic presence as unwanted foreign intervention, perhaps even a violation of state sovereignty. They may fear that NATO would seek to impose a foreign, Western agenda, disregarding the needs of the countries’ citizens. Others may conclude that shoring up diplomatic posts is a misuse of taxpayer money, which could be better spent on military expansion or pressing issues at home.
Increasing a state’s diplomatic presence in a partner country is not violation of state sovereignty at all, and should not project any negative messages, if communicated properly. On the contrary, states in transition often seek international recognition to legitimize their governments and generally welcome strengthened diplomatic efforts as a sign of commitment to their countries. Furthermore, NATO members cannot expand their existing diplomatic missions without approval by the host government, because foreign governments purchase land for an embassy, consulate or post, from the host country.
Additionally, if Mediterranean Dialogue participants allow NATO to enlarge its diplomatic ties within their countries, they invite NATO to invest in their future. NATO supplies approximately 70% of the world’s defense spending, and diplomacy is the first line of defense. NATO seeks to foster security and stability in the region, and their Mediterranean Dialogue partners desire continued international legitimacy. Therefore, investment opportunities and mutual interests exist for all parties.
What would an increased diplomatic presence from NATO look like, and how could it effectively function?
In transitioning countries, one large embassy per NATO member state is insufficient. Rather, smaller posts in non-capital cities and villages would enable NATO member diplomats to engage with more citizens, closely monitor internal stability, and offer assistance in a targeted way. NATO could model the largely successful Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs), which the U.S. Department of State employed in Afghanistan and Iraq to encourage local authorities to accountably govern their people. PRTs include military personnel, foreign service officers, and reconstruction advisors in a variety of fields.
Initially, NATO could support a country’s long-term transition process by offering voting assistance as citizens carry out free, open elections. NATO states could share best practices of election procedures, while underlining the importance of public awareness and involvement. With representation from each member state, NATO would project a united front against potentially corrupt, unfair elections. If requested, NATO could offer a security perimeter around polling stations on Election Day to provide protection for citizens. A NATO review panel could assess the validity of elections and offer feedback on the election process. NATO cannot enforce fair elections, but it can certainly encourage them.
Secondly, NATO should reinforce the importance of these countries’ democratic institutions. NATO diplomats should meet with the newly elected state officials to discuss their country’s democratic structures, and analyze the need for potential changes to the current system, such as constitutional amendments. NATO should also encourage a strong system of Checks and Balances and address the role of the military in the country’s political structure.
Within these diplomatic posts, NATO member states could also offer practical training for leaders and constituents, alike. Some newly elected leaders may lack extensive experience in fields like Leadership and Management, and NATO has resources to support them in these efforts. It could also consider initiating an open-door education policy to enable easier access for scholars to education from a NATO member state. NATO is historically an organization with a strong military component, and could consider support and training to partner militaries, as well.
NATO has a wide range of roles with varied capabilities. From sending trainers to Iraq, to aiding in counter-piracy operations, to enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya, NATO has demonstrated its flexibility and adaptability to the current world environment. Dynamic diplomatic engagement within Mediterranean Dialogue participants is a smart next step, with a long-range focus. A stronger diplomatic presence will allow NATO to better communicate with leaders and opposition, and to gather an informed sense of the country’s progress, setbacks and areas for improvement. This shared effort should strengthen existing partnerships between NATO and Mediterranean Dialogue participants, and contribute to increased regional security and stability.
Sarah Schill is currently living and working as a Fulbright Scholar in Germany. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs from Miami University (OH).