Countries shouldn't have to invest resources into other countries without gain. Arguing that NATO should selflessly help the Arab world through diplomatic programs is unrealistic, unsustainable, and ineffective. Instead, we should focus on how to further integrate Western interests with the interests of the Arab peoples. I propose that this would come through increasing economic ties with the people.
The NATO intervention in Libya was made possible by economic ties between Libya and NATO countries. The intervention was not motivated by a desire for "regional security and stability" as most people would conceive it, but by a need to protect western interests. The countries that were the most avid supporters of intervention, France, Britain, and Italy, all imported a significant amount of their oil from Libya. The intervention was not about oil, but without incentives, it would not have been economically or politically feasible. Moreover, if the NATO intervention was as altruistic as it's portrayed, why hasn't there been a similar operation in Bahrain, Yemen or Syria? Why was it that NATO never paid attention to Arab protests before?
I say NATO should create ties with "Arab peoples" rather than countries or governments because we should not make the mistake of aligning with autocratic regimes. Even though the Arab Spring movement has made progress towards representative governments and human rights, there are many legitimate reasons to be wary of the new governments. Although it is easy to be content with "stability" guaranteed by autocratic regimes, we must turn towards real, long-term stability. This can only be bought by creating many "small" ties. Investing only in the governments would make the new governments look less credible and would make them less responsible to their people. When a government doesn't need to rely on their people for cash flow, it becomes much easier to ignore their rights.
Currently, the western powers that drive NATO policy have economic ties only with small groups that run the country. Many argue that this is why many protests before the so-called "Arab Spring" were totally ignored by the west: we simply didn't need to pay attention. It was only after our economic stability was threatened that NATO became involved in Libya. It is only after the west becomes more economically concerned about other Arab countries that they will receive our help.
Admittedly, NATO is not primarily an economic organization. However, the importance of economics as a driver of policy and stability is widely recognized. Moreover, NATO is already becoming involved in economic incentive programs in Afghanistan. For instance, NATO troops in Afghanistan sell their boot contract only to Afghanis. A similar contractual, incentive-based, program is possible in the Arab world. However, such a program would only be effective if it focused on spreading business opportunities to smaller organizations. Doing so would essentially increase the middle class and create connections between people in the Arab world and NATO. In turn, this would stimulate economic growth across the lower classes, encouraging democracy. Also, a larger middle class would make the middle class more powerful and the government more responsible to them, essentially encouraging a sustained democracy. More importantly, however, encouraging ties between NATO countries and Arab countries would force NATO to care more about what happens in the Arab world.
Ultimately, I argue that the only way NATO can try to help budding Arab democracies is to align its own interests with those Arab countries. The simplest way of doing this is through investing monetarily in the Arab society. Not only would that create more interaction between the cultures than any diplomatic program ever could, financial investment would appeal to the selfish interests of NATO and the Arab governments.
Keri Majikes is a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.