News | Oct. 1, 2003

Dual-Track Transformation for NATO

By Hans Binnendijk and Richard L. Kugler Defense Horizons 35


Dual-Track Transformation for NATOOverview

Recent strains between the United States and some European allies have raised concerns that NATO is becoming irrelevant or even headed toward extinction. A breakup of NATO would severely damage the United States and Europe as well as prospects for global peace. As an urgent priority, NATO must restore its unity and strengthen its capacity for common action in the Greater Middle East. But how can this goal be achieved in today’s climate? 

The solution is for NATO to pursue a new dual-track strategy of military and political transformation that could be launched at the Istanbul Summit next spring. The military track should further strengthen efforts to field a NATO Response Force and otherwise prepare European forces for expeditionary missions. The political track should aim to create a common transatlantic vision for the Middle East, while enhancing NATO’s capacity to act flexibly and constructively there in peace, crisis, and war. 

Such a NATO strategic realignment is not mission impossible. NATO has survived previous trans-Atlantic stresses by adopting dual-track strategies that harmonized American and European interests. For example, almost forty years ago the Harmel Report reconciled detente with deterrence and defense. A new Harmel Report is needed to forge a similar reconciliation of U.S. and European policies toward NATO’s role in the Middle East. In addition, the Istanbul Summit can take other practical steps: e.g., a NATO resource commitment to increase defense investments as force structure is reduced, a NATO defense transformation roadmap to guide force improvements, and a new “Partnership for Cooperation” that would pursue ties with friendly Middle Eastern militaries. A bold Istanbul agenda of this sort offers NATO an opportunity to replace recent debates with a common approach for making the alliance more secure and effective in a troubled world.