Forty years after the foundation of NATO, the adversary has disappeared and many former foes have become allies, like Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states. Following the Arab Spring, there is a need for NATO to re-consider itself and its aims both internally and externally.
People of the Member States (MS) understand what NATO is, but do not feel connected to it, primarily due to its military nature. This article outlines two solutions to bring the Alliance closer to the people: 1. allow people to turn NATO's attention towards issues that concern them personally by collecting enough signatures NATO-wide; 2. assign the task of explaining NATO to a different country quarterly.
NATO's New Strategic Concept outlines the aims of the leaders of MS regarding, inter alia, what to do against terrorism, nuclear weapons and energy security and how to handle relations between NATO and non-NATO countries. What it lacks is the involvement of the people. This does not mean that there is a ‘democratic deficit' in NATO, but it should underline the need to turn the New Strategic Concept around and put more emphasis on the notion that NATO is also for the people.
Under the Lisbon Treaty, EU citizens have the chance to raise awareness EU-wide regarding a particular issue, if 1 million signatures (ca. 0.2% of total EU population) are obtained from at least 9 EU MS. Bearing in mind NATO's total population of about 885 million people, and that one third of these people are one ocean apart, the following could be applied to NATO: at the initiative of minimum 0.6% of the total population of NATO (5 million), at least one third of which (0.2%) is from overseas (US and Canada) and representing minimum 10 MS, the transatlantic alliance would consider taking certain steps with the cooperation of other international organizations, NGOs and think-tanks to find a solution to the issues raised.
Problems that would prompt citizens to use this tool might be Iran's nuclear program or the situation in Syria. Whatever the level of efficiency of these public debates would be, the people would already feel more connected to NATO, appreciating that their voice was heard.
Henry Kissinger's question, ‘Who to call in Europe?' has only been partially answered with the Treaty of Lisbon. The EU Presidency is no longer responsible for the external representation of the EU, nevertheless, holding this post gives enhanced international visibility to that country and raises awareness about the EU domestically.
The answer to the Kissinger question in NATO is evident: it is the Secretary-General. The unity represented by him should not be disrupted at any cost, but the burden of promoting his organization could be taken off his shoulder.
Assigning the task of promoting NATO to a different country is a method that could bring people closer (like in case of the EU) to the transatlantic alliance. This could run under the auspices of a new program, ‘NATO and the Peoples', in which everybody is involved, not only within, but also outside the Alliance. The MS in charge of this program would be responsible for holding lectures, seminars and other events primarily NATO-wide, secondly, outside of it with the extensive involvement of national and international experts, diplomats and veterans. The biggest challenge will be to present and promote the Alliance in a non-repulsing way, i.e. to avoid the suspicion of propaganda, especially in non-NATO countries.
Principle target areas of that program should be the countries participating in the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, as well as their neighboring states. ‘NATO and the Peoples' would be a good opportunity to get the former members of the Warsaw Pact more acquainted with NATO, bearing in mind their potential for becoming NATO MS one day. The delicate NATO-Russia ties could also be ameliorated via public dialogues under this program's auspices.
The role of NATO needs to be re-considered in the light of current changes and developments. Bringing NATO closer to the people is not an impossible task: by allowing the population of NATO MS to raise awareness by collecting enough signatures and turning certain issues into a public debate is one clear way to do that. Another method is assigning the task of explaining NATO to experts of MS and, thus, getting the peoples of that particular country, as well as of other (non-)MS, more acquainted with NATO itself, its values, aims and future outlooks.
Bringing NATO closer to the people is a quite possible task, but the methods, tools and resources must be chosen wisely. I believe that NATO can benefit from the notions outlined above, to stay the most successful political-military Alliance amidst today's intellectual, political and military challenges.
This article was written by Balazs Kos, currently studying BA European Studies at Maastricht University.