"The Grass Won't Grow Any More Quickly if You Pull At It."
- Vaclav Havel
We might be witnessing the fourth wave of global democratization, currently under way throughout the Middle East. The critical question stands: where do we look for inspiration and experience when something extraordinary like a systematic transition of the whole region happens? The pragmatic answer would be to look at the last occurrence of a similar phenomenon. East and Central European countries transformed from fierce military and ideological enemies of the West to its partners twenty years ago. They have useful experience to share.
Three years ago, I had a chance to attend the ceremony for Vaclav Havel's Honorary Doctorate at the Science Po in Paris. Havel's fundamental reflection of the transition of former communist states to free societies was that during the first few years after the revolution nobody was prepared to be a politician and nobody knew how to manage a democratic government properly. Much patience was needed, both domestically and internationally. In my opinion, Havel's experience applies today too. NATO countries need to be very patient in dealing with states in the Mediterranean region going through difficult years of transformation. Any change of this kind takes time.
Partnership For Mediterranean Peace
However, we can also find more specific inspirations from the early 1990’s when NATO was looking suspiciously at Poland, the Czech Republic and others and considered them as recent enemies who cannot be trusted completely. Newly freed countries wanted to have good relationships with their neighbors and needed security assurances. Western Europe on the other hand wanted to promote security and democracy in its immediate neighborhood and make it stable in the long-term. I see similar interests also in the Mediterranean region. NATO should look at its successful Partnership For Peace program that enabled former communist states to build up their confidence and acquire experience to become trusted partners. NATO should offer Mediterranean countries the opportunity to prove their commitment to security and to have relations based on mutual respect.
The Partnership For Peace Program is still working and there are many states like Azerbaijan or Georgia involved having access to the “menu” with some 1600 activities and tools for cooperation. But NATO should be more focused on specific needs of Mediterranean countries. NATO should re-open its Individual Cooperation Programs concluded with former autocratic regimes and should start Individual Partnership Action Plans with every newly transforming country in the Mediterranean region. NATO's Mediterranean Dialogue should keep following its fundamental principles of inclusiveness, non-discrimination and non-imposition, but it should also foster mutual understanding by very specific programs. I recommend one concrete example the newly negotiated partnerships should foster.
As a Fulbright Scholar, I can see practical benefits of exchanging ideas between people from different cultures and traditions. The opportunity to talk to a Syrian Fulbrighter, whose family lives in the endangered city of Homs, changed my perspective on the conflict in Syria. It was also great experience to talk to a Pakistani Fulbrighter from a prominent family who shared his insights about Pakistani politics with me. These experiences and an opportunity to attend first-rate educational institution make programs like Fulbright invaluable for fostering understanding between people and between states as well.
Partnership For Peace already offers for example Professional Development Program, the Education and Training for Defense Reform Initiative and other programs focused on education and training of decision-makers, civil servants and representatives of civil society at institutions such as the NATO School in Oberammergau in Germany. I am confident that these kinds of programs would be of great value to new elites in the Mediterranean countries. It is only one aspect of a long-term strategy in how to promote cooperation in the Mediterranean region, but it is a very important one and should not be underestimated.
Why do I also mention democracy when we talk about NATO and its security strategy? As I wrote in my post for the Atlantic Council blog a few years ago, democratic governance is messy and difficult, but it is the best form of government we know so far. Moreover, democracies do not wage wars against each other and they tend to cooperate with their neighbors. Promoting democracy is the best strategy for bringing more security and stability to our neighborhood. Helping others to understand democracy through education and training programs is a crucial part of the job.
As Vaclav Havel knew, new elites in Mediterranean countries are inexperienced and want to rush to improve their societies and will make a lot of mistakes. NATO has to be patient. It should convince its neighbors that our interests are often compatible. NATO should help new decision-makers learn critical skills in order to promote a stable and secure Mediterranean neighborhood.
Lukas Hoder studied law and international relations in the Czech Republic and Norway. He is currently a Fulbright Scholar and an LL.M. candidate of International Legal Studies at Georgetown University Law Center