Mr. van Steeg is responding to Atlantic Memo 38, "One NATO: Strengthening Unity through Transparency and Engagement."
First of all, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to react to your Atlantic Memo. To me this memo in itself, as well as the broad discussion you want to launch, contributes to the goal of strengthening NATO as an international alliance. I believe that it is very important to continue discussing the future of NATO, especially when we look at the world we're living in and how fast it is changing.
The words Robert Gates spoke last year about NATO still resound in Europe. His worries about the future of NATO and division "between members who specialize in 'soft' humanitarian, development, peacekeeping, and talking tasks, and those conducting the 'hard' combat missions" caused some awkward feelings for some European NATO members. And, as Gates put it, "This is no longer a hypothetical worry."
For me and the Christian Democratic Party (CDA) in the Netherlands, NATO is first and foremost an alliance based on common values. With NATO, we insure we are able to protect these values. And these basic principles that distinguish our nations from the rest of the world should lead to a feeling of solidarity and burden sharing. Until these imbalances between NATO members, which we inherited from the Cold War, are solved, discussions about what solidarity and burden sharing means in practice will go on.
From that perspective, I think the recommendations on transparency can help because they make these differences more visible and open up the discussion we're already having. But I am not sure if it is necessary to create new commissions to get this done. In this discussion, I believe the focus should be on balancing the amount different allies contribute to their defense. Of course other contributions are also important, especially in a world where an integrated approach is more and more valued, but I think, in the end, there will always be discussion about participation in “hard” missions, as long as this isn’t balanced better.
Some alleviation of this issue can be expected from the integration of European armies. With Europe in economically hard times, many countries are cutting their budget and defense is no exception. It gives an incentive to cooperate more and more with other likeminded countries. Effectiveness will grow and eventually NATO can profit from this.
Having an active public diplomacy about what NATO does and why is also important, especially because it can help to increase public awareness about the importance of NATO. This does not mean every subject should be discussed in the open. I think it is more important to get the message across to citizens why NATO is vital for our security.
Collaboration in cyber security is crucial if we want to cope with these problems in an effective way. The extent of the threats coming from other countries, like China, makes it very clear that we need collaboration on the level of the European Union and NATO. And I think the approach of raising awareness among citizens should be part of an effective cyber strategy.
At CDA, we value the importance of NATO. The proposals in the memo all have the goal of "strengthening unity" and this is a goal we endorse wholeheartedly. In this light, I think starting a NATO academy would be an interesting step. These are ideas we can put up in the different debates we are having in the Dutch Parliament. But in the end it is up to all allies to show that they value NATO as much as they say they do.
Bert van Steeg is a Policy Advisor on Foreign Affairs and Development Aid for the Christian Democratic Party (CDA) in the House of Representatives of The Netherlands.