Building a community is like building a house; strong, safe and reliable. If some cornerstones are neglected however, it will collapse ingloriously. It is therefore desirable for NATO to adopt a multilevel approach to community building, which would simultaneously engage the cornerstones of decision makers, policy makers and the general public of its member states, connecting their internal interests with foreign policy interests.
Decision makers require a rational approach. They act in the present, when it is too late to build and adopt new values and a sense of community, if they are not in possession of one already. The maximum NATO can hope to achieve with those who have not developed this appreciation yet is to increase cohesion within the alliance. Practice has shown that the cohesion of a group is most efficiently achieved when there is a common threat to fear or a common goal to achieve. While there was a consensus among allies during the Cold War with the Soviet Union depicted as the greatest threat, an attempt to establish international terrorism as its replacement has been less successful. The reason for this should be sought in the fact that not all of the member states perceive the threat of international terrorism to the same degree, nor do they all recognize terrorist cells as a clearly defined and tangible enemy.
Therefore, instead of promoting individual states' hierarchy of threats over a common one, a greatest common denominator (threat) should be identified and used to increase cohesion. As common goals, maintaining or enforcing the peace beyond NATO boundaries are less visible in the contemporary society of the allied states. Their vagueness to member states' populations increase the internal political costs decision-makers have to pay for supporting ‘dubious' NATO activities. This does not only weaken links between allies, but also diminishes the efficiency of NATO's decision-making process. NATO public diplomacy should, therefore, be oriented to assist in decreasing these political costs in every member state, by taking a proactive role in representing and justifying all new steps made by the NATO alliance.
Engaging policy makers is the second step that NATO should make. It requires investment in academia, think tanks, NGO's and governmental institutions. Scholars and policy analysts should be stimulated to make a shift from destructive to constructive critique regarding NATO community building. In order to stimulate them to do so, NATO should invest more in programmes such as Science for Peace and Security, and accompany this investment with advertising and strengthening its social sciences research dimension. Furthermore, the distribution of scholarly work supported by NATO should refocus from passive to active and from recipients already declared as interested in the topic to all of those potentially interested. Scholars and policy analysts' engagement in debate should not be left simply to themselves but rather institutions they are affiliated with NATO or member states themselves should engage with them, this could be initiated and organized by NATO PDD. It should also support the work of value-oriented NGO's and charities and establish a multi-fold channel of communication which would enable them to discuss, share experiences and make their voices heard throughout the Alliance.
Finally, community-building on the third level presumes a dedication to grow and cultivate the NATO community at large. It should include the entire public of a member country. Tailored communication strategies targeting doubts and distrusts in each member state should be created and applied by the NATO PDD. The alliance should open up to the public more by organizing widely advertised events in order to allow not only already interested individuals to attend, but also those who barely know NATO exists. Instead of bringing people closer to NATO, bring NATO closer to the people.
An important step in this process would be paying more attention to the youth (especially of high-school age), educating them as well as giving them a chance to be heard. Most of the existing opportunities are reserved for a relatively small number of already active youngsters. Enabling a larger number of young people to obtain information about the NATO alliance in an appropriate language and age setting, as well as encouraging them to voice their views will help build awareness and support among them.
Jelena Petrovic is a PhD candidate at War Studies Dpt, King's College London, specializing in NATO conditionality as well as in political and security developments in the Western Balkans. She participates in Young Atlanticist Working Group.