Since it's founding, NATO has taken a leading role in promoting freedom and deterring conflict. Today, however, the most pressing issue for NATO member and partner countries is not the potential outbreak of global violence, as it was during the Cold War Era. The current economic crisis has weakened every member state. While the rising threat of international terrorism has provided NATO with the chance to demonstrate its military capabilities, there now exists a unique opportunity for the transatlantic partnership to demonstrate its commitment to the shared value of the prosperity of democracy by taking a leading role in economic recovery. This will show the citizens of its respective countries that NATO still has relevance today.
The cornerstone of a successful democracy is a vibrant economy, and the strength of the alliance depends on the wellbeing of individual economies. According to the World Bank, levels of wealth inequality in the United States have surpassed those of Egypt and Pakistan, and the near collapse of the Eurozone has weakened Europe. Citizens of these countries are aware of the growing income disparity, lack of jobs, and most importantly the fact that NATO member countries have had to cut defense spending across the board. In 2010, 1 of the 3 core tasks of the New Strategic Concepts noted was crisis management. This term should not only refer to humanitarian disasters, but to the current economic crisis.
The major flaw with current policy has been a result of the 2010 dissolution of the NATO Economic Committee, followed by the subsequent reorganizing of the Defense and Security Economics Section (DSE). This lack of emphasis on the shared value of economic health by NATO could lead to a furthering of the gap of spending and commitment between the US and Europe, with the US being forced to take a larger and larger portion of the burden.
There are, however, 2 steps that NATO policymakers should consider to revamp a shared sense of community among NATO members. First, NATO must commit to making Article 2 of the North Atlantic Treaty a priority. Economic collaboration is the single most important community-building tool for the transatlantic partnership. The DSE should organize conferences not only between divisions of international NATO staff, but also between finance ministers of member states. Article 2 of the treaty should be a strategic priority rather than a secondary concern, as the primary tasks of NATO depend on its member states' economic prosperity.
Next, NATO must demonstrate the ability to avoid both unnecessary commitments that would use up valuable resources and taking on and duplicating roles that could otherwise be fulfilled by organizations such as the UN or EU. This means placing emphasis on wrapping up the mission in Afghanistan while avoiding becoming entangled in other regional conflicts, such as the current uprising in Syria.
By being seen to play an active role in financial stability, NATO can restore a sense of unity among its member states while at the same time contributing to its core mission of transatlantic security. The shared value of democracy demands healthy and vibrant economies, and while in the short term the creation of a new committee or working group might require initial spending, it should be viewed as a mutual investment safeguarding the financial security of member states as a prerequisite to military security. NATO was built on the idea of a shared mutual security between the United States and Europe, and the fact that this security is threatened by the global recession should be viewed as nothing less than an opportunity to renew the bond within the alliance.
Joshua Shainess is an undergraduate student of International Affairs at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts.