As both videos entitled "Public understanding - simplicity is genius" on the website of NATO made clear, the New Strategic Concept of 2010 (hereinafter referred to as NSC) is a tool which policy makers and politicians of the respective members of NATO may use to communicate the purpose and objectives of NATO to their populations. The NSC is meant to give the "suspicious" public a clear and concise explanation of NATO, thereby raising support for the organization and its purposes. The civil population from both sides of the Atlantic is critical: while many Americans believe NATO does not serve US interests anymore, many Europeans actually think NATO is not a true alliance but "an embodiment of US presence in Europe."
The scepticism from the American and European public is strikingly similar to neorealist critique on NATO. One of the main proponents of neorealism, J. Mearsheimer, has contended that NATO only served US national interests during the Cold War because the US used NATO to improve its relative power position vis-à-vis the Soviet Union. As there is no common enemy after the Cold War, there is no need for NATO to exist anymore.
The only way to address the existential crisis of NATO, and encouraging ownership and identification among the public of the member states, is to show the relevance and purpose of NATO in the twenty-first century. This may seem obvious, yet as Ivo Daalder already stated it is much more difficult to pinpoint an identifiable ‘threat' for which NATO can offer its members security. It is, however, a fundamental mistake to only justify the existence of NATO based on external threat or challenge. The focus needs to be on NATO itself, i.e. its purpose and identity, to counter the arguments of neorealists who assert that NATO will be dissolved as there is no common enemy anymore against which to balance.
According to the constructivist M. Williams's argument, what held NATO together, was the common fear of a return of military conflicts among the member states (as had happened in the first half of the twentieth century). NATO is an international organization of which its purpose is to promote unity and discourage fragmentation among its members, thereby providing international security. Although the Soviet Union has been of great importance for the foundation of NATO, one must not obscure the intent of its policy makers to assure peace among its member states by means of establishing a security community. Moreover, it is only the latter that can account for the existence of NATO today.
Yet, as can be seen in the criticism of many European and American citizens, this reason has seems to have been forgotten. The fact that NATO has also brought reconciliation between former adversaries (most notably France and Germany), promotion of renewed cooperation between states and prevention of isolationism on the part of the US should therefore be emphasized by policy-makers and politicians to their respective publics. The politicians of the member states should point to the dual role of NATO, providing collective defense and peaceful relations among their members as reflected respectively in Articles 5 and 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty (1949).
In addition to pointing out this dual role of NATO, national politicians should also be able to tell their citizens why peaceful relations have existed between the member states by referring to NATO as a ‘democratic security community'. NATO only consists of member states that are relatively stable democratic societies. Kant's democratic peace theory asserts that democracies are less likely to engage in conflict with other democracies. NATO's success in providing peaceful relations among the member states can thus be explained by the values that are adhered to and shared by the member states as stipulated in the North Atlantic Treaty.
If we follow this logic, then absence of such values in certain regions can constitute a form of instability and, consequently, a threat to regional/international security. Recent events in the Arab world seem to confirm this. What national politicians and policy-makers of NATO must thus convey to their citizens is that NATO's relevance in the twenty-first century is twofold: NATO provides for a continuous peace among its members and that there are still common threats/challenges to international security that are better addressed within the cooperative framework of the organization.
René van Eijk is a recent graduate at University College Maastricht (UCM), the Netherlands.