With no enemy countries in its immediate proximity, a risk of terrorist attacks at home thus far under control and the controversial deployment of German troops in Afghanistan, there are doubts about whether the transatlantic alliance is still important for Germany. Is the concept of NATO passé?
Absolutely not. We are still vulnerable. There are many new security risks that present dangers for Germany and international order. These include the proliferation of nuclear weapons, such as nuclear armament in Iran and its neighbouring countries. Unstable states such as Afghanistan in the past, Somalia at the moment and perhaps Pakistan in the near future present a risk because radical groups can use them as a space to regain strength. Energy security is not only endangered by power-obsessed countries which are providers: when terrorists carry out attacks on gas pipelines or pirates take control of our trading vessels, it affects us directly.
For these reasons NATO needs a new strategic outlook. The most important aim of the 60th anniversary summit should be to gain political consensus among the member states for setting future objectives. How should we react to the new security risks? Where does NATO bring additional value and where should it be active? These questions should be asked and discussed in a reasoned fashion. In the future, NATO must play a greater role as a forum for dialogue between the Europeans and their partners across the Atlantic.
The change of government in the United States offers good opportunities to find such consensus, because President Barack Obama is seeking agreement with the allies and wants to pursue a unified approach to solving crises. This is more acceptable for Europeans; however it also means they have to show more willingness to act. It is important for Germany's role in Afghanistan that a flexible approach is taken to decisions about dispatching troops. In addition, more money and personnel need to be invested in training Afghan security forces.
France's return to the alliance strengthens not only NATO but also Germany's position. Germany and France agree on many issues. For example, they are sceptical about eastern and functional expansion: together they can lobby more strongly in those areas.
Russia however is providing cause for concern. President Dmitry Medvedev's announcement that Moscow is planning to modernise its army, navy and nuclear weapons arsenal is aggressive and threatens the Eastern European alliance partners. This stance is however also directed inwards, as a reaction against the loss of influence since the mid-1990s and the eastern expansion of NATO. The fact that the member states agreed on the admission of Georgia and Ukraine at the Bucharest summit might place a heavy burden on relations with Russia. The NATO members should ensure that the conditions do not make Russia feel threatened. This could be achieved through agreements on armaments control, or by accepting negotiations on parts of a new European security plan, which Medvedev suggested.
Germany can make a contribution to finding the right balance between partnership and containment with Russia. Germany has a good relationship with Moscow and is taken seriously – we can use that. In the future, the German government should also take a more active role as mediator, for example between those members who want to retain a European focus and those aiming for a global orientation. In Germany there are too many reservations towards military measures – here we need to take a much more pragmatic approach.
Dr. Henning Riecke is a security policy expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. Translation by The Local.