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August 29, 2010 |  Print  Your Opinion  

Topic Three Bold and Innovative Ideas for NATO

Ian Davis: NATO’s new Strategic Concept should make a political commitment to investigate allegations of WMD use by members of the Alliance, refocus the Response Force toward humanitarian missions and establish a common helicopter pool, and require parliamentary ratification by all 28 member states.

1. Submit the Strategic Concept for Ratification by Member State Parliaments

I have been arguing ad nauseam that to live up to the reason for which it was created, NATO must be open, transparent, and accountable to the public. The Strategic Concept review process gave grounds for cautious optimism, with the Secretary General declaring that it was the "most transparent and inclusive in NATO's history." And NATO has generally surpassed expectations by organising a series of Harmel-plus type consultations, with the eminent persons group headed by Madeleine Albright at its heart. However, having published the Expert Group's analysis and recommendations, the transparency door appears to be slamming shut during the drafting and negotiation phase.

The assumption is that the whole drafting process will be secret: the draft(s) will not be released until agreement at Lisbon. While there may be a case for allowing governments to discuss finer points in private, not least to enable consensus building around some of the more contentious issues, it does threaten to undermine the whole transparency exercise. Moreover, while the summit programme is not yet finalised, indications are that as little as 90 minutes may be set aside for substantive discussions on all issues - the new Strategic Concept just being one item on an agenda that is also expected to include Afghanistan, missile defences and NATO-Russian relations. This is woefully inadequate executive oversight. If NATO is unwilling to publish a working draft of the Strategic Concept (for example, after the mid-October NATO Council meeting), it should instead call upon Member State Parliaments to ratify the document agreed to in Lisbon, and require ratification by all 28 Member States before it comes into effect.

2. Establish a Mechanism for Investigating Allegations of WMD Use by Member States

Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) weapons, as well as the widespread proliferation of conventional weapons, will remain a real threat to the transatlantic area and beyond. NATO has conducted exercises to deal with the CBRN threat and has overseen the destruction of thousands of conventional weapons, including small arms and light weapons in the Balkans. Given NATO's skills and concrete results, and the ongoing threats that these weapons are likely to pose, the Alliance should continually seek more opportunities for weapons collection, destruction and other coordination activities, as well as the universalisation and strengthening of multilateral arms control agreements.

A less well worn path is the potential use of WMD by NATO Member States. Unthinkable? Well, leaving aside for a moment NATO's controversial nuclear mission (which as I have argued elsewhere, NATO should draw down and eventually abandon), it has recently been alleged that Turkey's military used chemical weapons against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkish officials deny the allegations, which are not new – similar accusations were made in 2006. Existing investigatory mechanisms within the UN and Chemical Weapon Convention need to be triggered by a state request, and none has been forthcoming. Given the seriousness of these allegations, and the potential for similar contentious charges in the future, NATO ought to agree to a political commitment (in one of its summit communiqués) to investigate any allegations of WMD use by a member state using an appropriate international compliance mechanism. In addition, the Alliance might consider developing its own independent investigatory mechanism, which would cooperate with an appropriate international body (in this case, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons).

3. Create an International Disaster Response Force

The humanitarian crisis from the floods in Pakistan — over 20 million people affected (12 percent of the population) — is part of a rising trend of people distressed by conflict and natural disasters. And more large-scale, erratic weather related events are predicted as a result of climate change. Pakistan requires a relief effort of epic proportions, but as Hillary Clinton said on World Humanitarian Day, the "combined efforts so far pale against the magnitude of the challenge." NATO's contribution is particularly underwhelming: three flights to deliver relief goods donated by Slovakia and Germany, and the use of the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) at NATO Headquarters in Brussels as a clearing house for international humanitarian assistance offered by Allies and partner nations.

Helicopters are the single most urgent need to reach stranded victims and to deliver supplies. On paper, the members of NATO potentially have over 3,000 helicopters, although of course, not all of these are available to support flood relief operations in Pakistan. There are currently 21 US military and civilian aircraft doing so, and other non-NATO nations (such as Japan) have sent helicopter support. NATO could and should be doing more in Pakistan and in disaster response more generally. Providing humanitarian aid to help rebuild lives should be a core commitment. While civilian agencies will ultimately take the lead in coordination of these activities, NATO can offer capabilities that other organisations simply are unable to offer. The NATO Response Force should be retooled for humanitarian missions and a common helicopter pool established. In addition, the EADRCC should be expanded and more adequately resourced.

Dr. Ian Davis is the founding director of NATO Watch and is a Senior Advisor to ISIS Europe.

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