Errant European

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NATO is watching us watching them.”

Such was the sentiment – confirmed by the impressive NATO presence, including several Assistant Secretary General (ASG)-level officials – at the end of this week’s two-day “NATO Shadow Summit.” The event, the first of the name, inspired in part by the new organisation “NATO Watch” (along with principal partners ISIS-Europe, BASIC, and the Bertelsmann Stiftung), was a perfectly-timed prelude to the real thing about to unfold in Strasbourg.

Officially subtitled “Options for NATO: Pressing the Reset Button on the Strategic Concept,” the conference attracted a wide variety of observers and actors in the security community, garnering the wisdom of an impressive array of speakers, including NATO Policy Planning Director (and better known as former Spokesman of the Alliance) Jamie Shea. But there were contrarians galore, and the list of “what NATO can’t do” (or perhaps “shouldn’t try to do”) was long.

The words Strategic Concept may sound wonky, but need not. Lord Ismay, NATO’s first Secretary General, put the first strategic concept this way: “Keep the Americans in (Europe), the Soviets out, and the Germans down.” Mind you, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and the dawn of the Cold War, things could be as simple as that. If only the world were still as simple.

If there was a single unifying notion to the “Shadow Summit,” it was that NATO had somehow gone astray, that amidst the hoopla over 60th birthday parties, there is a crying need to involve citizens (or at least civil society, represented in part by the self-selected organisations present) in determining what NATO should stand for.

This elaboration of a new direction has taken the form of a “Citizens Declaration on Alliance Security,” which was presented in draft form at the Shadow Summit and will undergo further iterations based on input from participants. It would take NATO in a general moral direction (R2P, “Responsibility to Protect” civilians in conflict zones, best explained here by one of its prime proponents, the International Crisis Group). Muscular, in that NATO’s quasi-monopoly in the world’s political-military alliance game should mean something. And multilateral, well, because after George W. Bush gave unilateral and “coalition of the willing” such bad names, collective security is back in play.

“Tough love” for NATO was the reigning mindset. This was not the “NATO Game Over” collection of pacifists of a few weeks ago, nor the inevitable civil disobedience “Block NATO” movement converging on Strasbourg. Far from it. There were NGO veterans of Afghanistan, who may be against war and who may not appreciate Taliban targeting of soldiers and aid workers alike, but who recognize that organised, civilised peace enforcement is often a necessity.

The conference was rich in content, and this post only gives you a taste. Its organisers promise an annual event; indeed one slide imagined “NATO At Seventy” ten years hence. Still in crisis, still posing existential questions. Now, at least, there is the beginning of a citizens’ forum to help the summiteers along.

ISIS-Europe promises a full report in due course.

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