The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) served its founding base of the Washington Treaty well during the Cold War years. By the end of the Cold War, the role and the capabilities NATO started to be debated to suit it the new global security and political environment. New challenges together with new opportunities arose in this environment and new policy recommendations are needed to tackle challenges and to make profit from opportunities.
To begin with, the alliance must be supported with political values and a set of legal texts so as to empower the organization in the long-term, to encourage identification and ownership, to enhance the cooperation between allies and to reduce the differences between them. If the alliance is not supported by a set of political values, some problems may arise. And as a major problem, the differentiation in foreign policy approaches by member countries is likely to occur. And that differentiation poses a real threat because it hinders the decision-taking capability of NATO at organizational level. The problem can be clearly seen in the Libya 2011 case when the operation of supporting Libyan reformers was first launched not by NATO but by a coalition of a few NATO member countries. In the Libya case, the problem was overcome later but that may not be the case in future. If preventive measures are not taken, it will become more and more difficult for NATO to produce quickly one-voice and a common action against sudden conflicts inside or outside the Euro-Atlantic area. Therefore, member states must be encouraged to establish their foreign policies on a set of common political values so as not to let that dangerous foreign policy differentiation among allies happen. As a cure to the problem, I advise all member countries of NATO to sign and ratify the United Nations human rights treaties. By doing so, deep foreign policy differentiations between Allies will be prevented. Most of the security challenges to NATO territories and populations come from undemocratic regimes. And by signing these treaties, it would become more difficult for a highly democratic NATO country to develop close relations with these undemocratic regimes. As a consequence, it would not be hard to establish a consensus between Allies when an urgent action is to be taken against one of these undemocratic regimes. Consequently, NATO's decision-taking capability will be affected positively by all these developments. There will be some other positive implications of signing the UN human rights treaties. With this step, the Alliance will truly become an Alliance of democratic countries and a community of democratic nations. The democratic identity of NATO will therefore be empowered. Moreover, signing the UN treaties will lay a better ground for development of economical and political relations between same-minded highly democratic Allies.
Apart from addressing the problem of foreign policy differentiation, there are a few more steps that will empower NATO and encourage common identification and ownership. Emphasizing the shared history of Allies under NATO roof might have a positive impact regarding the ownership sense among the populations. In this regard, I believe that a NATO museum is a suitable option for that purpose. A NATO museum will be a direct contact point between NATO and member countries' populations. The museum can also run mobile programmes in different member countries to meet with greater public. Another step that might encourage ownership is to organize NATO Summits or other low-medium level NATO meetings not in the capital or most populous cities of member countries but in less significant cities of member countries. For the residents of these less significant cities, large media coverage of their cities and high-level political figures in their cities will be an unimaginable change in their ordinary life. This step may well result a higher ownership sense among the ordinary citizens. The last step that will encourage a sense of ownership is to protect NATO's territorial identity and to make people realize in this identity. As a European & north American organization, the territorial link is a highly important part of NATO identity. Although this territorial link is not realized and appreciated well by NATO's own members and populations, it is quickly realized especially by people and countries outside of NATO. The territorial link is therefore important and interactions with other countries and populations will raise the awareness of that territorial identity among NATO populations.
In today's world, there is not a constant visible threat to the populations and territories of NATO. Being a mere military cooperation organization is therefore not enough to carry NATO into the future. With the steps mentioned above, common identification and ownership will be encouraged and the alliance will be empowered.
Abdulhakim Altunkaya studied Political Science and International Relations at Yildiz Technical University, Istanbul and Universidade do Minho, Braga, Portugal.