Decades ago, at the height of the Cold War and with the threat of global warfare hanging in the air, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was not only a mutual defense pact between Western countries, but also a means of advancing the common goals of international security, political stability and freedom of governance.
Unfortunately, today NATO is, in many ways, bereft of this focused purpose. While the ideals and values shared by member and partner countries remain intact as guidelines for alliance responsibilities, they lack intersubjectivity. In other words, citizens of different member states increasingly view the actions of NATO, well intentioned as they may be, as a function of the desires and needs of others. It is clear that steps must be taken to remedy this fragmentation of perception in the NATO community.
In some ways, this shortfall of internationalism is not surprising. The long-term involvement of the alliance's most powerful patron and its closest allies in two distant conflicts over the past decade has stood in stark contrast to the priorities of NATO's newer members, many of whom see threats to national interests and security in a different, more proximate context than do the ‘old guard'. Considering this, it is easy to see how such reduced focus on utilizing NATO processes to benefit member states has led to a fragmentation of collective interests that has had far-reaching effects on the alliance's community structure. Though membership certainly still has its benefits in terms of trip-wire defense and security, diminished expectations about the role that the organization will have in securing individual state interests has actively limited the incentives that smaller and newer members have to subscribe to the particular values and practices that define the Eurocentric actions of NATO's westernmost countries.
And yet, NATO's recent activities in helping resolve crises in the south and east demonstrate that the organization can still be a catalyst for inspiring stability and cooperation in the international community. Support for Libyan and Egyptian revolutionary movements shows that member countries and their partners may still, so long as the organization can effectively unite to secure the European periphery, have strong incentives to invest in both the capabilities of the alliance and the values-based community that allows for such collective successes.
But if the past decade's intra-organizational fragmentation has been one of different national perspectives and political inaccessibility, then it is clear that steps must be taken to encourage widespread involvement on policy matters, to institutionalize access to the organization, and to build interest in the community's guiding values. As many of the challenges facing members are ones of modernization and regional instability, NATO must also take specific steps to ensure that the community's next generation has both the skill set and the interests needed to push the organization into missions of universal benefit.
To do this, NATO should undertake an overhaul of its methods of outreach in member and partner states. Fellowship programs and multilateral hiring regimes do currently exist to involve the best and the brightest from across the alliance, but such programs could be enhanced to become defining institutions of the NATO community.
In collaboration with member countries, NATO should offer a sizable range of scholarship opportunities to individuals at the undergraduate, graduate and young professional levels. Unlike traditional scholarship programs that arguably would do little to directly aid integration within the broader community however, such opportunities should be directly linked to the establishment of centers of learning and policy formulation in countries across the organization. At the most basic level, such programs could help expose citizens of member states to new perspectives by encouraging both study- and work-abroad opportunities related to NATO, for young individuals both in and out of university.
More specifically, institutional coordination with universities in Europe and across the Atlantic would result in the emergence of NATO ‘centers,' where traditional undergraduate academic offerings could be supplemented both financially and by the addition of curriculum and work experience in international politics, economics and more. For graduates and young professionals, such ‘centers' could support advanced education studies by establishing NATO-funded research think tanks, giving the community's next generation the means and outlets through which to influence debates on the policies, challenges and values of the organization.
While such educational investments may not seem like the type of policy that can galvanize an entire community into participation, the fact is that wholesale investment in the social processes of member countries is needed if internationalism is to be rekindled and encouraged across NATO. With current outreach practices doing little to disseminate the guiding alliance values of political stability and security, educational reform provides a way to encourage social and financial investment in the causes and mechanisms that, ultimately, turns "they" into "we."
Christopher Whyte is an MA candidate at George Mason University in Virginia studying international security affairs.