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NATO Updates Strategic Concept

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Sept. 8, 1998 – In meeting after meeting, the allied defense experts work through the document word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page. They have to get it just right so all will agree. Otherwise, they'll have to go back to the drawing board in 16 nations.

Consensus is everything at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Whether updating a policy document or deploying forces, the United States and other NATO members are equal partners when they make decisions and set policy. Each nation is bound by a treaty commitment to defend each other and years of promoting mutual security interests.

At present, a NATO policy committee is updating the Strategic Concept, the document second in importance only to NATO's founding treaty.

"The Washington Treaty of 1949 is NATO's cornerstone; the Strategic Concept is its framework," explained U.S. Air Force Col. Chris D. Miller. "The treaty sets out why you have an alliance. The Strategic Concept sets out what the alliance is, where it's going and, in a very top-line, general way, how it's going to get there."

Miller, a former deputy commander of a B-1 bomber group who holds an Oxford master's degree in international relations, serves as defense planning policy adviser at the U.S. Mission to NATO in Brussels. After a year on the job, the American officer said he's still awed by the amount of painstaking work involved in such NATO endeavors.

"We had one meeting for three and a half hours mostly talking about one sentence," he said. "But it was an important sentence that distilled some very important policy direction on NATO enlargement."

The United States and its NATO allies must agree on each word, each comma, of the Strategic Concept's 60 or so paragraphs, Miller said. This time-consuming process is "sometimes very painful," he said, "but the strength of it is, when it's done, it really does mean something. What's there, people feel compelled to support."

NATO's Strategic Concept is designed to provide the political and military background for the alliance strategy. It also provides guidance to alliance military authorities on how to implement that strategy. Originally classified, the concept became a public document when last updated in 1991.

In July 1997, the leaders of the 16 member nations directed NATO authorities to examine the Strategic Concept to ensure it is consistent with Europe's new security situation and challenges. NATO expects the concept update to debut at its 50th anniversary summit in Washington, D.C., in April 1999.

NATO's security environment has changed considerably since 1991, Miller noted. "NATO's old Strategic Concept has some simply outdated language, such as references to the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. The size and character of conventional risks to European security are different. The potential risk posed by proliferation is different."

NATO itself has changed, Miller said. It has opened the door to new members, created the Partnership for Peace and the Euro- Atlantic Partnership Council, and developed new, positive relationships with Russia and Ukraine. And for the first time, the alliance conducted military operations outside NATO territory.

In Article 4 of the treaty, the allies agree to consult on matters of concern or threat to their security, Miller explained. Until Bosnia, no Article 4 consultation had ever led to a NATO military operation, he said.

Bosnia represents NATO members' realization that outside engagement is sometimes in their best security interests, Miller said. "You don't always just lock your doors and close your windows and let things go by in the world outside. Sometimes the best way to take care of yourself is to work with neighbors to improve your neighborhood," he said.

The new Strategic Concept will acknowledge that the alliance can, in certain cases, take action to maintain security outside members' territory, Miller said. The concept will allow NATO to prepare to act in a variety of situations.

"It should allow us to be flexible, and it should give us the capability to act where the political will exists to do that," he said. "Making provisions for situations like Bosnia is probably the biggest real change between the 1991 and the 1999 Strategic Concepts."

The new strategy will not be a radical change from its predecessor, however, because the goals of the alliance remain fundamentally the same, he continued. In the 1991 concept, NATO's broad approach to security involved dialogue, cooperation and collective defense.

"Those are just as valid today as they were in 1991, because the alliance continues to do things in all of those areas," he said. "What is different and worth noting is that we have taken cooperation and deepened it dramatically. We created the Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, and we cooperate now with many nations with which NATO had no relationship during the Cold War. These are very positive developments."

The Strategic Concept will ensure NATO allies continue to defend each other and that they're prepared to act outside allied territory if necessary, Miller said. It will reflect a NATO that's "better prepared to make the right decisions using the right folks to do the right thing at the right time," he said. American service members and other NATO military personnel can rest assured, "if they have to go to something like Bosnia, they'll be there for a good reason, with the right stuff to get a job done that's worth doing."

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