As populations across the globe rebel against corrupt, authoritarian leaders, they are calling for the establishment of governments that are free and responsive. During these transitions, fledgling democracies, developing nations and even established governments must look critically at their futures; without leadership and guidance, this period of transition is apt to lead to conflict and instability. Though the autonomy of these developing nations is paramount, NATO is uniquely situated to provide advice and guidance on the road ahead. Accordingly, as NATO seeks to support the long-term transition process, it should help its regional partners craft strategies, which emphasize foundations for democratic good governance. In particular, NATO should stress the importance of the rule of law in partner nations as a precondition for future development.
The rule of law is increasingly recognized as integral to the protection of human rights and the just nature of a country's government. Since it is necessary for everything from protecting property rights and enforcing trade to preventing violent crime, a country's success is, in many ways, predicated on a solid foundation for the rule of law. In supporting the growth of a country's rule of law, NATO should expand its own rule of law initiatives (such as the ROLFF - Afghanistan) in coordination with programs in member nations (such as ABA ROLI in the US) to provide developing nations with the tools and expertise necessary to rebuild their own governments. The focus ought to be on vibrant, stable legal systems consisting of a judiciary based on the protection of due process, respected constabulary forces and a body of judicial ethics and norms.
First, the protection of due process is broadly accepted as a goal of national judiciaries and recognized in various human rights treaties as a universal right. In a country where due process is not upheld, citizens' rights are subject to the whims of officials. Justice determined by whim, prejudice and personal opinion is no justice at all, and citizens should not have to be concerned that they will be treated unfairly or unjustly. Ensuring due process ought to be a fundamental concern of any government's transition and NATO, in seeking to promote successful transition, should help nations prioritize this concern.
Second, in nations trying to establish a secure and stable environment, there is tremendous pressure on police forces. Imposing law and order can lead to dangerous abuse of power if not checked properly; mentorship from more established forces can help strike that difficult balance through dialogue and training. In addition to supporting due process, police forces are the public's most visible, frequent interaction with their government. Helping to promote trust between protectors and protected is necessary to ensure that the people have faith in their government.
Third, effective judiciaries are premised on a body of norms and ethics. It is impossible for a judiciary to remain credible and respected without this foundation, but often times this ethical trust takes a long time to develop. A revamped NATO legal team could go a long way toward resolving these issues. By emphasizing legal and ethical norms for judicial participants, developed nations can offer lessons learned from their own history grappling with these issues. None of this is to say that domestic nations would be incapable of resolving these issues individually, only that advice and training will help provide information necessary to help these nations move forward.
Successful judiciaries provide long-term stability and security to NATO and partner countries. A Rule of Law program would establish a trust between citizenry and government, a necessary component of stable governments. If rights are legitimately protected and complaints honestly heard in courts, then violent protests are unnecessary. In addition, this stability provides several returns to NATO nations. Nations with a respect for the rule of law have common norms and alternative means of conflict resolution. Rule of law provides security and stability as an established institution respected both at home and abroad
In promoting the stability of partner governments, it is imperative toward NATO's relations abroad that it no longer is seen as imperialist or overbearing. Accordingly, actions that NATO takes must place the interest of the developing nations first. Programs viewed as an imposition of western ideas will never build long-lasting ties. Fortunately, a rule of law program implemented with sincere motivations and a broad, long-lasting partnership in mind will build security, stability and cooperation with soon-to-be flourishing democracies.
Without the foundations of a free and fair judiciary, even the most promising democracies are unlikely to succeed. The peoples of partner countries possess the vision and goals for their countries. As we hear their cries for freedom we cannot, and should not, force our vision on them. Instead, we should share the tools necessary to seize the political space they have opened for themselves
Rob Hurd studies International Relations and Human Geography at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The views presented in this essay are the author's own and do not reflect those of the US Military Academy at West Point, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.