NATO's new Strategic Concept must focus on the the Alliance's activities with partnership states and the development of meaningful relationships outside of full membership. In my opinion, NATO should prioritize nine key issues going forward:
- The management of the Alliance should be streamlined to increase efficiency. Central to this reform is a smaller, simplified bureaucratic infrastructure.
- A concrete strategy for the South Caucasus and Central Asia must be determined. NATO must clearly define the limits of its relations with states within these regions, as well as the role that these states play in the Alliance's Afghanistan mission.
- The thesis that potential NATO membership should be the primary goal that drives cooperation with the Alliance must be eliminated.
- Bilateral agreements should be signed between NATO and partner countries that cooperate actively with the Alliance. The responsibilities and commitments required of both partners, as well as a security guarantee, must be clearly stipulated in these agreements.
- A new structure must be established regarding partner countries. A "safety zone," similar to the European Union's "Neighborhood" policy, should be created to engage countries which do not have priority for membership but wish to have a security guarantee. The "safety zone" should target countries that have shown a willingness to work closely with the Alliance and should be structured around the aim of deepening this cooperation.
- NATO must be given the competency to act as a potential mediator in the settlement of frozen conflicts, including within the South Caucasus region. The Alliance should reaffirm its commitment to the principles of absolute territorial integrity and sovereignty and annul the restrictions that preclude a path to membership for states with existing conflicts.
- It is necessary to increase the participation of NATO in the security of energy projects within the South Caucasus region.
- The content of existing partnership agreements must be modified with the goal of achieving better implementation of plans in a more timely fashion. Agreements that should be reviewed include: Partnership for Peace (PfP), Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), PfP Planning and Review Process (PARP), and Membership Action Plan (MAP).
- Azerbaijan should be given a special partnership status, as it can serve a strong role in mediating relations between NATO and Islamic countries.
NATO's new Strategic Concept cannot overlook the development of East-West relations, and the South Caucasus region holds tremendous potential in this respect. Azerbaijan is an energy-rich state with access to the sea and serves an important transit function in the Russian and Iranian neighborhoods. A fair settlement of the conflicts within this strategic region must be given a high place in NATO's list of priorities.
Jasur Sumerinli is the head of the Doktrina Center of Journalist Union on Military Research in Azerbaijan. He also serves as Editor-in Chief of Milaz Military News Agency and is a military analyist for Zerkalo (Mirror).
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