Select Committee on Defence Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 77-79)


9 OCTOBER 2007

  Q77 Chairman: This is the second evidence session in our inquiry into the future of NATO and European defence. Welcome to our witnesses this morning. The purpose of our inquiry is to look very broadly at the role of NATO, at the sorts of challenges that NATO faces and how it relates to the European Security and Defence Policy and we expect to have further evidence sessions during the course of the next few months, including with the Secretary of State, and we hope to publish our report in the New Year ahead of the NATO Summit in Bucharest in April. This morning we have got a panel of very distinguished academic people, and I wonder if you could possibly begin by introducing yourselves, saying where you work and what you do.

  Dr Allin: I am Dana Allin and I am a Senior Fellow for Transatlantic Affairs and editor of our journal Survival at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

  Professor Cox: I am Professor Michael Cox, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics.

  Dr Eyal: I am Jonathan Eyal, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute.

  Dr Niblett: I am Robin Niblett, Director of Chatham House.

  Dr Webber: I am Mark Webber, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Loughborough University.

  Q78  Chairman: We have a number of questions to ask you and, first, I wonder if we could ask what the role and purpose of NATO actually is. I know that is a huge question, but I wonder if you could try to condense your answers into a few sentences.

  Dr Webber: It is a difficult question to answer and no doubt the hearings here are partly spurred by the fact that NATO itself is uncertain of its role and purpose. Its role and purpose today is clearly different from that of its formation during the Cold War. NATO's own self-estimation of its role is very widespread, partnership, counter-terrorism, enlargement and so on, but I think that is a discourse which hides a considerable degree of uncertainty as to what its current role and purpose is. In essence, I think one of its most important roles at the moment is simply to ensure its own relevance and that has been a spur to its activities in the last ten years or so and sometimes, I think, mistakenly.

  Q79  Chairman: So its role is to exist?

  Dr Webber: Yes. In some senses, its role is simply to ensure its survival and to accrue certain functions in order to justify its continued existence.

  Dr Eyal: I must admit, I disagree. I do not think that NATO is an amoeba which has to grow because it has to grow because it has to grow. I would say, without descending into the cliche«s of the 1940s about why it was created, that the main purpose is to prevent the renationalisation of its Member States' defence policies, to maintain a formal, explicit, enshrined-in-treaties link with the United States of the kind that Europe is very unlikely to get even on paper or in theory in Congress today, and increasingly also to prevent a knee-jerk reaction in the European security arrangements if NATO were to disintegrate tomorrow. There is an additional element which we tend to forget and we tend to dismiss which is that the new Member States from Central and Eastern Europe are still looking upon this organisation as the ultimate umbrella organisation for defence purposes and they still feel quite vulnerable. There is no other institution in the Euro-Atlantic area that could provide, at least on paper, the security guarantees and the security framework, the habit of negotiation and dialogue of the kind that NATO can.

  Professor Cox: I think there is a simple answer to your question as to what is its current purpose and that is to win in Afghanistan and if it does not, then NATO may be dead, and I think that is where you have to begin, ie, where it is currently deploying 35,000-odd troops in the most important part of the world now facing global security. That is the simple answer to your question. I think the second answer I would give is that it has got to provide some role for the United States because the United States for all sorts of other reasons is still the only hegemon left in the world and nobody is going to replace it for a very long time, despite China's rise and all the rest, and thus if NATO is irrelevant to the United States, it is not relevant at all. Therefore, what the United States is seeing NATO as being is essentially as a global player. It has to provide global security and a global role and the United States thinks post-9/11 that it has got to be global, so regionally its first task is Afghanistan, but that has global implications, and, secondly, it has to look relevant to what the United States wants, and what it wants from NATO effectively is a global perspective and indeed a global role.

  Dr Niblett: I think I would agree with some of the points raised by Jonathan Eyal, so I will not repeat those. For me, NATO has a fundamental purpose and I would just pick one, which is to maintain the transatlantic link on security issues between the United States and the nations of Europe. I think that remains a highly valid and important purpose in a world that is dangerous in different ways from the ways that it was when the Alliance was formed, but where I think both the United States, Canada obviously and the nations of Europe are far more secure by being organised around a treaty-legally-constructed organisation in which they work together on security questions in today's world and I would put that at the centre and I think the rest in a way moves around it.

  Dr Allin: Well, its purpose is clearly more fuzzy than it was in the Cold War and I think that the diversity of answers you have had from my colleagues suggests that. I think all of the answers my colleagues have given are plausible, but they are not obviously compelling in the fundamental way that mutual defence against a Soviet threat was. For example, security guaranteed for East and Central Europe is very important for East and Central Europe, but it is not going to be the animating purpose for much of the rest of the Alliance. The transatlantic link, formalising the transatlantic link, that is obviously important and I think it is very important as we have seen in the repair or the recovery of transatlantic relations and the sort of transatlantic spring and it is important to elites in Europe, but it is not, judging by the polls, an entirely compelling purpose as far as the European public are concerned. I do not think it is threatened not just because of institutional inertia, but because it does have many purposes that are valuable, but it is problematic that the purposes are so difficult to describe. The role, which is a slightly different word, is obviously currently that it has a major project in Afghanistan and more broadly I have heard it described, I think, very well as a kind of military services organisation that brings together militaries very good for force-generation purposes, the best organisation in the world for force-generation purposes, to serve the purposes of the various Western allies when they are common and they can agree, but the agreement is not pre-programmed, which is the point, and it is always going to be more difficult, more ad hoc, case by case.

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