The Arab Spring, which broke out more than a year ago, has clearly shown that the NATO Mediterranean dialogue's primary aim of contributing to regional security and stability completely failed. NATO’s leadership, realizing that political leverage to prevent a destabilizing situation had been exhausted, initiated direct military engagement in Libya under the UNSCR 1973 in order to stop violence and stave off the danger of instability across the Euro-Atlantic zone. Despite its success, it became evident that new mechanisms of further cooperation with the regional countries are highly needed to enhance security and provide higher stability in the North Africa and Middle East.
First of all, in the changed environments, NATO is unlikely capable to further the goal of restoring regional stability through acting unilaterally, if it failed to implement this aim earlier under more favourable conditions. This is confirmed by the fact that it is still considered to be a regional organization trying to complete its transition to functional alliance in the nearest perspective. That is why, if it is interested in the soonest stabilization of the region, it must get all the parties concerned involved in the effort to restore the peace in the Middle East and North Africa. Involvement of such actors like Russia, China, OSCE, EU, League of Arab States and African Union (who are not less concerned about the development of regional situation) and common elaboration of a comprehensive agenda or a road map in close cooperation with them within an interim coordinating body would certainly increase chances of bringing long-lasting peace in the region.
Moreover, NATO could contribute to regional stabilization through fostering Mediterranean dialogue in a completely new format. In this perspective, implementing the three following goals would be of critical importance. First of all, transition from mostly military to political dimension according to the decisions of the Summit meeting in Istanbul in June 2004 would create a platform for common discussing and solving burning political problems in the region. Then, active implication of new regional partner countries in the dialogue would help to reach consensus on how the current situation could be stabilized and further destabilization prevented. And, finally, establishing a permanent body consisting of all the member countries on the example of the NATO-Russian Council instead of rare meetings could contribute to continuity and sustainability of mutual dialogue and decision-making procedure.
NATO, being a successful military-political alliance, still lacks one important feature – effective initiatives in post-conflict regulation that is crucial in the region in the wake of recent violent events. Pursuit of a more responsible policy in this direction must be realized through establishing a functioning internal committee on post-conflict regulation, direct involvement in the process of regional stabilization and thus sharing this task with the UN and other international bodies. All of these would help achieve several goals: enhance the international role of NATO as an effective peacekeeping structure on the one hand and build a positive image of the Organization among the regional countries on the other. Thereby, urgent post-crisis activities will facilitate increasing influence of the Alliance both on the international and regional level.
The first distinctive feature of the Arab spring last year was rapid extension of violent protests in the region that local authorities failed to respond to quickly. Thus, it means that the system of emergency and crisis management, as well as civil defense were absolutely ineffective if further destabilization could not have been prevented. NATO, possessing extraordinary capabilities and experience in these spheres, could establish a new dimension of cooperation with regional countries on all these issues by providing assistance in re-construction and improvement of the national emergency forecasting and crisis management, training national security forces and organization of a new system of civil defense. Thereby, implementing all these measures with direct NATO involvement not only intensifies the process of stabilization, but also considerably contributes to effective prevention of possible crises in the future.
To end with, it is worth mentioning that regional stabilization and further successful development of the Middle East and North Africa to a large extent will depend on the international assistance, where NATO could play a decisive role. This process is unlikely to be quick and trouble-free, but it should be kept in mind that providing comprehensive support means investing in the future stability of the region itself as well as prosperity of the Euro-Atlantic zone. That is why all the measures mentioned above could be taken into consideration while elaborating a common international agenda for the region.
Dmitriy A. Burov is an undergraduate at the Moscow State University of International Relations, specializing in the Euro-Atlantic region and NATO-Russia relations.