NATO and Global Challenges: The Limits of Military Interventions

The following text is a background paper for a speech given at a conference in Macedonie on the topic

NATO summit in Warsaw: Implications for the Alliance and Western Balkans

Hotel Granit – Ohrid, 26-30 August 2016


The conference in Ohrid organised by the Marshall Centre Republic of Macedonia, NATO Public Diplomacy Division, NATO Defence-College, European Centre for Security Srudies "George C. Marshall" was taking place for the 4th time. It was intended to provide a platform for decision-makers and experts- mostly from the Western Balkans - to discuss actuall developments in the region and its possibilities of alliances with the West, especially with NATO. The opening speech was held by the actual Minister of Defence of the Republic of Macedonia, Dr. Zoran Jolevski. The IIP was represented via its president Hannes Swoboda, who's remarks you can read above and Ms. Stephanie Fenkart.



1) The need to adapt


Any organization must challenge itself in view of new developments. And things are changing permanently, in Europe, in our immediate neighborhood and globally. So NATO - like the EU - must keep its original tasks but also must think how it can adapt to new challenges. We live in a world where the distinction between war and peace is not as clear as before and where globalization is bringing all conflicts into our households via television, internet and other means of communication. We live in a continuum where peace and war are at the end and we move ourselves between these two ends. At the same time we still have traditional concepts of "good" and "bad" on our mind and do not look into the many and complex roots for conflicts and wars.



2) Not more but different risks


Many think our time is much more risky and full of wars. In reality in the years after World War II many more people have been killed by conflicts and wars than in recent years. But certainly there was a change in the structures and characteristics of many of those conflicts. Today traditional conflicts between clearly identifiable actors are often substituted by grey zone conflicts. We have many hybrid wars, where we have different "enemies" of military, para - military and civil nature.


3) How to deal with terrorism


We must be realistic and we should neither exaggerate the dangers for our citizens not deny them. And we should also be aware, that many conflicts cannot be easily solved and especially not by military means. That is especially true for terrorism, which brings conflicts into the heart of our cities. We need a multi- faceted approach instead of simple reactions, which may even enhance tendencies for violence. The much discussed ban on burqas and burkinis is a typical populist diversion to look to the roots of terrorism and the failure for integration of Muslim migrants and their descendants into our societies.

4) The end of history?


The big difference is not so much between a peaceful past and a crisis ridden present than between hopes for a permanent peace - at least in Europe - after the break down of the Soviet Union on the one hand and present disappointing realities on the other hand. Unfortunately the breakdown has been interpreted by the West as a clear cut victory of the liberal market oriented systems. This "end of history" did not afford any serious considerations how to integrate Russia into a European economic and security system. Certainly it would not have been easy, but it was clear that the neglect of Russian interests and cultures should have long lasting negative effects for peace and stability in Europe and its neighborhood. We see now the result of that "arrogance" which missed thinking about a common "European House" as it was formulated by Gorbatchew.

5) Only the West expanded


Instead the West - NATO and EU - were expanding strongly towards the East, which of course was in line with the wishes and desires of the population of the respective countries. Nevertheless - seen from a Russian power perspective - the Western Hemisphere was and still is the winner of the end of Communism and the Soviet empire. But this process has for the moment been stopped or at least slowed down in view of Russian actions (Eastern Ukraine and especially Crimea ) and threats.


So it's not so much that Russia with Putin as autocratic leader is trying to re-establish the Soviet Union. We see rather a reaction to a successful expansion of the Western sphere of influence. We see it as an expansion of democracies, Putin as an intruding into the Russian sphere of influence and as a policy of putting pressure on the present governmental system in Russia. It is much too ideological when we see Russia's action just as an "enduring existential threat to the United States, its allies, and the international order". With such an approach as expressed by Phillip M.Breedlove in his recent article "NATO's Next Act" in 'Foreign Affairs" we cannot find a solution for the present crisis in Europe.


We cannot easily overcome these different perspectives, but nevertheless we have to find a new balance between security interests for Europe as a whole and the right of each individual state to choose its security and defence-allies. The most important task would be to preserve the status quo and come to a settlement concerning Eastern Ukraine along the lines of the Minsk agreements. And of course parallel to that: NATO has to stay vigilant and be prepared also military. On the other hand the West has to talk with Russia on issues where we need Russia to solve conflicts and to stop wars like the dreadful war in Syria.

6) Rising China


The other superpower which is generally seen as a threat to the West is China. China is more and more a global power by building worldwide connections and distribution lines for imports of natural resources especially energy but also basic food and exports of goods. The concepts of a "New Silk Road" and "One belt, one Road" are particular interests for the present leadership.China is also trying to enlarge its dominance on the neighboring sea. This is in contradiction to traditional sea law interpreted by International Courts. But Chinese aspirations and demands could be justified in view of its relative small access to the neighboring waters in relation to its population and in comparison to other countries including the USA.


We have to recognize that China has to "feed" a vast number of people, create jobs for them etc. and that this is also a risk factor if China is not succeeding in doing it. As Stephan D. Krasner and Amy B. Zegart wrote recently in an article in " The American Interest' with the title "Pragmatic Engagement": "China might pose the greatest threat to American interests if it begins to decline rather than if it continues to grow. The Communist Party has based its legitimacy on the claim that it can provide material prosperity and defend China's national pride. If economic growth falters, nationalism will become more important for the party's survival." And by the way that may be also true for Russia. 

7) These days very often migration is interpreted as a major risk factor. Wars, hunger, poverty and environmental degradation (sometimes in connection with each other) are major push factors for people to leave their countries and move into neighboring countries and/or to Europe. Immigration becomes a security issue if it surpasses certain numbers and challenges, the limited capabilities of the host countries in view of economic conditions and welfare to its "original" citizens. And while it is clear, that the vast majority of the refugees are fleeing into poor - neighboring - countries, the biggest opposition against refugees is in richer countries.


The establishment of welfare systems with its nevertheless limited resources in the North is causing opposition to share the benefits with newcomers which would reduce the benefits for the existing population. Even if in the long run the net benefits for the receiving countries would be positive, the short time perspective and the populist political propaganda is creating a negative climate towards immigration in general.

8) Immigration


Most of the root causes of mass emigration cannot be solved militarily or at least not only military. The lack of success and maybe even the extraordinary failures realized in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are clear evidence of failure not only in implementation but in concepts. These interventions were done without regional knowledge, sensitivity and a clear exit strategy. In addition, the environmental reasons for existing and future emigration cannot be solved by military means and to be quite fair we have to accept that especially Africa is not the continent most responsible for climate change, but experiencing its effects the most.


If the EU and the US do not want to become "fenced communities" as proposed by Donald Trump and many right wing populists in Europe we need a long term strategy of development alliances and partnerships. We must share our wealth of - not only financial - resources with the poorer part of the world. If we do not want to share it principally by too many migrants coming in we need to invest into the future of these countries, especially in Africa, In order to give their people a chance to stay and earn a decent income in an acceptable environment.

9) A comprehensive strategy is necessary


Any successful strategy would need a comprehensive concept of how to combine civil and military actions and activities. Either the military itself is fulfilling civil tasks and crosses its traditional limits, or the cooperation between military and civil is put on a new and more productive level. The first concept was elaborated during the Afghanistan war by some US militaries, especially by General Osierno. For him it was important, that there would be "regionally allied forces" (RAF), forces which would have particular geographic combatant commands with a long term geographic/cultural relationship.

The idea was as Rosa Brooks , a former high ranking legal expert of the US Department of Defence expressed it in her formidable book "How Everything became War and the Military became Everything", alas critically: "We need an Army, in other words, that can do everything, everywhere- in a world where war may be everywhere and forever." This is also the danger: if NATO would develop a policy of full engagement including "out of area" military activities. If every threat from unstable regimes and ungovernable spaces is seen as a threat for the "western world" NATO becomes a globally responsible and active organization which may create new risks and wars instead of preventing and limiting conflicts.

10) Knowing its limits, NATO can be more successful


The concept of giving the military full and comprehensive task to deal with conflicts according to the concept of "regionally allied forces" was finally seen as not very effective by the US themselves. To give the army civil tasks is neither good for the army not for the civil forces and creates mistrust by NGOs and the local population. Consequently a better coordination between military and civil approaches should be preferred.

The problem is the big gap between the civil and the military financial resources. And that demonstrates the importance given to the different approaches by politics today. As long as this neglect of the civil approach from prevention to thereconciliation in the aftermath of conflicts will be so dominant we cannot hope for a more peaceful world. In this respect we have also evaluate the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). The military must be used very carefully and the balance between the possible outcome on people killed and the destruction by the intervention with what could be prevented must be clear and analysed before intervening.



Neither the US nor NATO alone can solve all the problems of our world and meet the complex challenges. We need two approaches. On the one hand we need a comprehensive policy which looks into all the roots of conflicts and wars. Only then can we prevent many conflicts. We need civil expenditures into a just economic and social development. We need a redirection and redistribution towards "peace expenditures".


Secondly we need a more realistic approach to geopolitics. The West cannot decide alone how the world should develop and in fact it never could. As Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote recently in an article with the title "Toward a Global Realignment" in:" The American Interest" , it would be necessary, that " at least one of the two potentially threatening states ( Russia and/or China) becomes a partner in the quest for regional and then wider global stability..."


NATO is a very important instrument to defend the interests of the "West" and is indispensable. But it can only fulfil its task if it is embedded in a more comprehensive civil policy and sees other powers not as threats and main enemies but as competitors with their own interests and rights. Containment is part of the job, but also cooperation and alignments.