No one deserves more credit for the Arab Spring than the youth of the region. Young Arabs - mostly under the age of thirty - bravely stood up to men who had ruled since before they were born, risking their lives to demand freedom. The older generation reacted with surprise, pride, and a bit of envy, as they themselves had never challenged the system in such a way.
Understanding this aspect of the Arab Spring is vital for those who hope to forge enduring bonds with the post-revolutionary societies - a goal larger than partnerships with mere governments, which as the Arab Spring has shown, may come and go. No matter the current distribution of power, NATO and its member states must focus on mentoring and partnering with those born in the 1980s. Even if they do not lead their respective nations today, these movers and shakers will someday be known as the "Greatest Generation" of the modern Arab world, as there is little doubt it will be they who shape the region for decades to come.
How can NATO foster a positive working relationship with the younger generation of Arabs that helps meet NATO's long-term security needs? The key is endowing them with the skills to lead a state that is both prosperous and stable. I propose that NATO create two initiatives aimed at preparing members of this generation for the leadership challenges of tomorrow: endowing young Arabs with the skills necessary to govern effectively, both in a technical and philosophical sense.
The first program could be called the Security Sector Guidance Initiative (SSGI). As leaders have fallen throughout the Greater Middle East, so too have their regimes' security apparatuses, which had long operated with the primary goal of stifling internal dissent. Yet as people around the world rightly cheer the downfall of dictators like Muammar Gaddafi, we must be wary of the risk of the security situation deteriorating as it did in Iraq after Saddam Hussein's downfall. In 2003, the de-Baathification of Iraq created more problems than anyone had anticipated. Dissolving the security apparatus and firing its workers led to national chaos, leaving former officers on the streets and no one qualified to replace them.
In countries such as Libya, perhaps soon Syria, the post-revolutionary security situation appears vulnerable, while in Egypt and Tunisia, the security apparatus remains intact but many officers have yet to learn how to police in a free society. NATO needs to take the lead on ensuring that these countries have police forces that can preserve budding democracies. The SSGI would have two components. One, it would offer assistance in retraining current police forces both in Arab countries and abroad. And two, it would help facilitate the training of new police officers, drawing on the generation of young Arabs eager to shape their nation's future. Such a program should be modelled after the success of US Lt. General Keith Dayton's work with the Palestinian Authority security forces, which drastically improved the security situation in the West Bank.
The second recommendation is the establishment of a Bureaucratic Development Program (BDP), which would focus on fostering a competent and trustworthy bureaucracy. Arab youth took to the streets in part to protest the rampant corruption that plagued their countries and their lives. Now NATO has the opportunity to endow those same youths with the skills necessary to serve the democratic governments they helped bring about. NATO should facilitate a mentorship program that brings Arab students and emerging public servants to NATO countries to learn how government ministries function there. While language and culture may both serve as a barrier, the use of French in several North African countries makes France, Canada, and Belgium ideal program locations. Bureaucrats from NATO and member states would also conduct training programs in Arab capitals, working with the new governments to make this possible.
The foundation of these two initiatives is the idea that education is the key to good governance, which, combined with democracy, is the recipe for a stable and prosperous future. No one can doubt that the young people of the Greater Middle East care deeply about their future and are motivated to actively mold it; yet without help from partners like NATO, they may lack the skills to do so. Thus in tandem with the SSGI and BDP outlined above, it is imperative that NATO states strengthen and expand their existing educational programs which bring education to Arab states or allow Arabs to study abroad; the Fulbright Fellowship and Peace Corps are just two American examples. If existing programs cannot expand to fit this role, NATO itself should take the lead in educating future leaders. By doing these things, NATO will not only ensure stability, but will show young Arabs our desire to be their partners in forging a better future for all.
Geoffrey Levin is a graduate student concentrating in Middle East Studies and International Economics at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Bologna Center. He completed his undergraduate studies at Michigan State University and currently works at the Center for Constitutional Studies and Democratic Development as a researcher for the Arab Spring Regime Analysis Project.