The uprisings of the Arab Spring have changed the realities for millions of peoples who used to live under authoritarian regimes. Adjusting to new rules and policies has also influenced the way countries interact with the new evolving governments. Up until the national struggles began, NATO and other states relayed on partnerships that were based on shared interests with leaders who for the most part did not represent the will of their people's.
Today, dealing with cross border challenges and opportunities such as: migration, terrorism, economic cooperation, development, weapons proliferation and more, requires designing a new strategy that will suit this new situation. Whether the governments of countries as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia will be more attuned to maintain the old ties with western countries remains unknown. Facing this unpredictable future, NATO as other countries and institutions, should relay on the assumption that the foreign policies of those countries will from now on be more reflective of the peoples will. Therefore, NATO should pursue a new policy that will aim to address the dire needs and interests of the peoples.
Acknowledging the new reality, NATO should adopt a new public diplomacy approach that will be implemented using the tools of Soft Power. The policy's main goals should be to learn in depth about the new liberated nations and increase engagement with them, emphasizing shared interests and values.
In practice, I would suggest that NATO will establish an "Arab Spring Public Awareness Department" that will be part of its Public Diplomacy Division and will be responsible to achieve the above goals. This department should aim to interact with three main target groups in countries that have been or going through a transition: civil society leaders, youth and students and the rural/tribal populations. The strategy's agenda should aspire to reach the following constructive goals:
- Listen and learn: perform research and conduct public opinion polls that will seek to know what are the most basic needs and wills of people and how they see future relations with NATO and the West.
- Increase mutual flow of information: enhance foreign language learning, promote satellite broadcast of public TV channels and radio in different languages; make use of influential printed and official and unofficial (blogs, social networks )online media to reach all target groups. Conduct face to face encounters such as joint professional conferences and delegations, educational exchange programs and joint problem solving professional workshops and conferences.
- Create Joint Civil Society Mechanisms that will work together to promote regional security and stability. NATO specialists and local professionals should work together in joint frameworks and suggest policy recommendations in specific topics.
It is important to note that the "Public Awareness Department" is not intended to promote democracy or secularism. To avoid such interpretation by officials (as one might say happened with the American NGO activists in Egypt), the strategy should be implemented in full cooperation with the forming governments. Another potential difficulty is measuring the effectiveness and outcomes of this strategy which is designed to have a real impact mainly in the long run.
Despite such difficulties, it is essential to start and promote a "bottom up" approach to improve regional security and stability. The de-unification process we have witnessed since the end of the Cold War and the recent global wave of social protests, stresses that security should be addressed through the perception of a nation-state rather than a state. NATO and the west have an opportunity to contact nations that were living in the shade of dictatorships for years and take part in shaping a new free and stable future for them.
Arik Segal is an Israeli-Canadian independent conflict management consultant based in Tel Aviv. He initiates and directs track 2 diplomacy projects in platforms that impact decision makers and civil society.