Go to Home Page
  :: Treaties The North Atlantic Treaty, Statement of Dr. F. Stephen Larrabee, April 21, 1999

NATO's Adaptation and Transformation:
Key Challenges Prepared Statement of
Dr. F. Stephen Larrabee

RAND Washington, D.C. for a Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations
Subcommittee on European Affairs

Printer Friendly


United States Senate April 21, 1999

Mr. Chairman, I welcome the opportunity to share with you and your distinguished committee my views on the key challenges facing NATO at the Washington Summit and beyond. This is a large and complex subject. To do full justice to it would require more time and space than permitted here. In my testimony, therefore, I would like to concentrate on what I see as the three main challenges facing NATO at the Washington Summit and beyond:

-- First, to adopt a new Strategic Concept which will prepare NATO to meet the challenges it is likely to face in the coming decades.

-- Second, to manage the enlargement process in a manner that enhances European stability.

-- Third, to achieve a satisfactory settlement of the Kosovo conflict that ensures the realization of NATO's principal objectives and preserves the cohesion of the Alliance.

Let me address each of these issues separately.

I. The Strategic Concept

I believe that the main focus at the Washington Summit should be on deciding NATO's strategic purpose(s) in the coming decade. The summit provides an important opportunity to articulate a bold vision of NATO's purposes and to restructure its forces to meet the challenges it is likely to face in the coming decades. Many of these challenges are on Europe's periphery or beyond Europe's borders. The Alliance therefore needs to develop a broader definition of the threats to its interests and restructure its forces to adequately address these new threats and challenges.

NATO must change because the nature of the security threats and challenges has changed. During the Cold War NATO faced a threat of a massive invasion from the East. Its defense posture was structured to deter such a threat. Today NATO faces a much more diverse set of risks and challenges. These include ethnic conflict, threats from weapons of mass destruction, terrorism.

The locus of these threats and challenges, moreover, has shifted. Today they are no longer on the Central Front--as was the case during the Cold War--but on Europe's periphery and beyond Europe's borders. Thus the Alliance needs to develop the military capability to deal with this broader range of threats and challenges. In particular, this means that NATO has to acquire the capability to deploy and sustain troops outside NATO territory.

Some critics argue that NATO does not need to change--that it has worked well for fifty years and we should not tamper with it. In short, "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" But this view ignores the significant changes in the security environment that have taken place since 1989. I do not believe, Mr. Chairman, that it will be possible to sustain public support for NATO over the long run, either here or in Europe, if the Alliance is primarily designed and configured to defend against a threat that has largely disappeared while at the same time ignoring the most pressing threats to allied security, especially those in Europe. This, in my view, is a recipe for the atrophy and disintegration of the Alliance, not its revitalization.

At the same time, the nature of the U.S. relationship with Europe needs to change. We need partners willing and capable of sharing the burdens of responsibility. Our European allies need to be able to share more of the responsibilities, including the military sphere, to deter threats to our common security interests. As noted, many, if not most, of these threats are beyond NATO's borders.

This is not a question of Europe needing more forces. Europe today has more than enough forces. The problem is that European forces are not structured to deal with the type of security threats that the Alliance is likely to face in the future. Most European forces--Britain and France excepted--are still configured to defend Alliance borders which are no longer threatened. They need to be reconfigured in order to be able to project--and sustain--power beyond the Alliance's borders.

The forces also need to be interoperable--that is, they need to be able to work together effectively as part of a coalition. Thus we need to ensure that as these forces modernize they do so in ways that allow them to operate effectively together. However, true "force compatibility" requires not just compatible military forces, but the development and refinement of a common operational doctrine. This is one of the goals of the Administration's initiative on a "Common Operational Vision."

The new Strategic Concept, to be adopted at the Washington Summit, should be seen against this background. It needs to identify the new challenges that the Alliance is likely to face in the coming decades and to provide NATO planners with guidance on how NATO forces should be structured to deal with these challenges.

Several issues are important in this regard:

-- The increased importance of non-Article V missions. Collective Defense (Article V) should remain a core Alliance mission. But in the future most of the challenges that NATO faces will be non-Article V challenges and will not involve a direct threat to NATO territory. Thus the Alliance will increasingly need the capability to deploy forces outside NATO territory. This will put new demands on NATO defense planning and will require forces that are more mobile, flexible, sustainable, survivable, and interoperable.

-- Reharmonizing U.S. and European Strategic Priorities. Second, and equally important, the new Strategic Concept needs to reharmonize U.S. and European strategic priorities. These priorities are increasingly out of sync. U.S. force planning is driven by the need to prepare for high-intensity combat, particularly in areas beyond Europe. European forces, on the other hand, are largely focused on defending borders that are no longer threatened and on peacekeeping.

The Strategic Concept provides an important opportunity for addressing these deficiencies. While not abandoning collective defense as a key mission, the Strategic Concept should emphasize the need for the Alliance to be able to deploy forces outside NATO territory--which is where most future threats are likely to be located. As noted, this will require more mobile, flexible, sustainable, survivable, and interoperable forces.

Moreover, these forces will need to be able to conduct a full spectrum of missions, including those in high-intensity conflicts. A new Strategic Concept that limits NATO to just peacekeeping missions will not reharness overall U.S.-European strategic priorities. Nor will it address the "mission gap" between the U.S. and European forces. Unless this gap is diminished, it will be increasingly difficult for U.S. and European forces to operate effectively together.

-- The Mandate Issue. Finally, the Strategic Concept needs to preserve NATO's freedom to act in a crisis. While it is preferable that NATO obtain a mandate from the UN for any non-Article V actions, there are some instances--such as Kosovo--where military action on NATO's part may be required even without a UN mandate. Such actions should be the exception and not the rule. But it would be unwise to include language in the Strategic Concept that would prevent NATO from acting without a UN mandate. The Alliance must preserve the right and freedom to act when its members deem, by consensus, that their security interests are threatened.

II. Enlargement

The second key challenge NATO faces is managing the process of enlargement in a way that enhances European stability. At the Madrid Summit in July 1997 the Alliance not only decided to invite three new members to join--Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic--but it also agreed to maintain an "open door" to future members.

I believe that the decision to maintain an open door to new members beyond the first three was historically right and justified. However, the process of further NATO enlargement will have to be managed prudently. NATO will have to balance five competing demands:

-- The Need to Maintain NATO's Cohesion and Military Effectiveness. As NATO enlarges, it must be able to maintain its core competencies and military effectiveness. New members need to be able to contribute not only to NATO's old missions but to new ones as well. Collective defense (Article V) will remain a core mission. However, most of NATO's operations in the future are likely to involve crisis management missions. Thus, one of the key criteria for selecting new members ought to be how well candidates can contribute to the full spectrum of new missions. This would help to give NATO enlargement a stronger strategic rationale as well as preserve NATO's core competencies.

-- The Need to Keep the Open Door Credible. NATO will need to find ways to ensure that the open-door policy remains credible. If NATO postpones a second round of enlargement too long, many prospective members may begin to lose hope of ever attaining membership. This could undercut democratic forces and slow the momentum toward reform in these countries.

-- The Need to Digest the First Round. The fate and timing of the second round will, to a large extent, depend on how well NATO succeeds in integrating the first three new members. If they perform poorly and do not live up to expectations, this could diminish the willingness of NATO members--and particularly the U.S. Senate--to support a second round of enlargement. Thus a lot will depend on how well the first new members meet their membership obligations.

-- The Need to Maintain a Viable Partnership with Russia. As in the first round of enlargement, NATO will need to take into consideration the impact of enlargement on relations with Russia. Moscow will need time to adjust to the new strategic realities and NATO should be careful not to overburden the Russian political process. This could spark a dangerous backlash in Russia. At the same time, NATO will need to maintain momentum in the enlargement process and ensure the credibility of its open-door policy. If NATO acquiesces to Russian demands or accepts Russia's attempts to draw new "red lines," this could have a negative political impact on many prospective aspirants, especially the Baltic states, and reinforce imperial nostalgia in certain parts of the Russian political spectrum.

-- The Need to Maintain Internal Consensus. Finally, NATO will need to maintain an internal consensus within the Alliance. At the moment, there is no consensus within NATO about who should be included in a second round or when the next round should take place. Some members, such as France and Italy, have pressed for the inclusion of Slovenia and Romania in an early second round. Others, such as Denmark and Norway, favor including the Baltic states. NATO will have to balance these internal pressures to forge an Alliance-wide consensus. But as the process of enlargement unfolds, NATO should not lose sight of its larger interests. Enlargement should not simply be reduced to a game of internal "horse trading" devoid of a larger strategic rationale. Otherwise it could end up weakening rather than strengthening NATO.

Enlargement and New Missions

There is, moreover, an important linkage between enlargement and NATO's new missions. If it is to live up to its promise--and maintain public support, especially in the United States--NATO needs to remain an effective military alliance. That was one of the key messages that emerged from the Senate debate on NATO ratification. Thus NATO needs to both enlarge and take on relevant new missions. This is the best way to ensure that it remains a militarily effective alliance well into the 21st Century and also to disarm critics who argue that enlargement will dilute NATO and turn it into a talk shop.

Clarifying NATO's strategic purpose will also help manage and structure the enlargement process. Potential new members will not only have to be able to contribute to NATO's traditional missions such as collective defense but also to NATO's new missions such as crisis management and peacekeeping. Thus one criterion--but by no means the only criterion--for judging potential candidates for membership ought to be how they contribute to NATO's new as well as its traditional missions. This would provide a yardstick for measuring aspirants' performance and readiness for membership.

A candidate's performance alone, however, does not automatically ensure membership. It is a necessary but not sufficient condition for membership. Membership also needs to be in NATO's strategic interest. Some candidates may score well in a number of key areas--democratic reform, viable market economy, civilian control of their military, etc. However, a good "scorecard" alone does not automatically guarantee membership. There still must be a strong consensus within NATO that admitting a particular candidate is in NATO's strategic interest.

Timing of the Next Round

NATO needs to ensure that enlargement remains an open process. There should be no arbitrary "red lines." No country should be excluded simply because of geography or because it was once part of the Soviet Union. At the same time, there are strong reasons not to rush the next round of enlargement.

-- First, digesting the first three members is likely to be difficult. There is a growing recognition that digesting the first three members is likely to be more difficult than originally assumed and that they will need considerable time before they can make the adjustments needed to be fully capable allies. It is important that the first round goes well and is perceived as having been successful. Otherwise, it will be difficult to get support for a second round.

-- Second, at the moment there are no clearly qualified candidates for a second round. Slovenia is the best qualified for admission on political and economic grounds. But it adds little to the Alliance's military capability. Romania looked like a strong candidate for a second round at the time of the Madrid Summit. But its chances have actually declined since Madrid as a result of its internal difficulties, especially the slowdown in economic reform. By contrast, Slovakia's chances have improved since the former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's defeat in the September 1998 elections. The new Slovak government under Mikulas Dzurinda has put renewed emphasis on joining NATO and the EU. But it is too soon to tell whether its performance will match its rhetoric. Austria may eventually apply for membership, but not until after the next election, at the earliest. Besides it would have to significantly increase its defense spending--which is well below the NATO average--before it could be seriously considered for admission. The last thing the Alliance needs is new "free riders." Lithuania's chances have improved lately, but it still remains a long-shot, especially because of the possible impact of its admission on relations with Russia.

In short, there are no clear-cut candidates for a second round. All the leading candidates have some liabilities and will need time to improve their qualifications. Thus NATO should not rush into an early new round of expansion.

-- Third, there is no consensus within the Alliance for an early second round. With the exception of France, and to a lesser extent Italy, there is no support within the Alliance for issuing new invitations or singling out prospective candidates at the summit. Indeed, some members, especially Britain, are strongly opposed to an early second round. Thus any attempt to push for issuing new invitations at the summit would meet strong resistance within the Alliance and could result in the emergence of a disruptive dispute that could make it more difficult for the Administration to get support on other important issues such as the Strategic Concept and DCI.

-- Finally, Russia will need time to adjust to the new strategic realities. While Russia should not be given a veto over further expansion, proceeding with a second round too quickly--before Russia has had a chance to digest the impact of the first round--could inhibit, rather than facilitate, this process. This is all the more important because Russia is nearing the end of the Yeltsin era. His successor may not have the same stake in good relations with the West that Yeltsin had. Hence Russian sensitivities will need to be carefully managed.

Maintaining the Credibility of the Open Door

These factors argue for a deliberate, measured approach to further enlargement--one that gives NATO time to sort out its strategic priorities and digest the first round and also gives Russia time to adjust to the new strategic situation, while making clear that NATO enlargement is a continuing process.

At the same time, NATO needs to enhance the credibility of the open door. Otherwise many aspirants will lose hope and their incentive to continue to pursue domestic reforms could be weakened. In particular, NATO needs to lay out a clearer road map at the Washington Summit which identifies concrete steps that will be taken to ensure that the door truly remains open.

NATO should announce at the summit that it will review the performance of aspirants at a special summit in 2001, with an eye to identifying specific candidates for a second round if their performance in the interval warrants it. Foreign and defense ministers should be tasked with preparing a progress report similar to the Report on Enlargement published by NATO in September 1995, which could be presented at the ministerial meeting prior to the special summit. This report should assess the progress made by the aspirants and identify potential candidate-members for a second round. Invitations to new candidate-members could then be issued at the special summit. The new candidate-members could thus formally join the Alliance some time in 2002.

Such a procedure would help enhance the credibility of the open door and give prospective candidate-members an incentive to undertake the necessary reforms to improve their chances for membership. It would also buy time for NATO to digest the first round and give Russia time to gradually accustom itself to the fact that NATO enlargement is an ongoing process.

III. KOSOVO and NATO's Future

The third and most pressing challenge facing the Alliance is successfully managing the conflict in Kosovo. Kosovo is a defining issue for the Alliance. How the conflict is eventually resolved will have a major impact on NATO's future, especially NATO's ability to carry out its new missions. A failure to achieve NATO's objectives in Kosovo would undermine NATO's credibility and ability to act as an effective security manager in post-Cold War Europe.

In my view, NATO was right in undertaking the current military action in Kosovo. If the U.S. and its allies had sat idly by and done nothing to stop Milosevic's campaign of ethnic cleansing, NATO's credibility and effectiveness would have been seriously undermined. Many Europeans and Americans would have asked: What good is NATO if it cannot deal with the most pressing security problem in Europe? Moreover, this would have been a serious risk that the countries of Southeastern Europe would have eventually been destabilized. Thus NATO had to act, both for geostrategic as well as moral reasons.

At the same time, I think there is a need to reassess NATO's strategy in light of the new realities. In my view, airpower alone is unlikely to achieve NATO's objectives. Eventually ground troops may be required. But even if NATO ultimately can achieve its objectives without the use of ground troops, we should at least begin preparing for their possible use--NOW. This would send an important political signal to Milosevic about NATO's determination and could affect his willingness to comply with the objectives NATO has set out.

In addition, we need to do more to improve the situation of the refugees currently camped in Albania and Macedonia. They represent a potentially explosive political problem. If their plight is not eased soon, both Albania and Macedonia could be destabilized, creating the very situation we ostensibly intervened to prevent. Thus stepping up humanitarian relief for the refugees--including temporary relocation, if necessary--must be a top Alliance priority.

A Stabilization Strategy for Southeastern Europe

Finally, the U.S. and its European allies need to look beyond the current conflict in Kosovo and develop a comprehensive, long-term stabilization strategy for Southeastern Europe. This strategy should have a political-economic and security component and should be designed to integrate Southeastern Europe into a broader Euro-Atlantic framework.

The European Union should take the lead in promoting the economic component. This should include a broad plan for the economic reconstruction not just of Kosovo but of the entire region. Particular emphasis should be put on developing the transportation and communication infrastructure throughout the region. The end goal should be closer association and eventual economic integration of the region into the European Union.

Participation in this reconstruction plan should be open to all governments in the region willing to commit themselves to the establishment of a viable market economy, promotion of democratic reform and the protection of minority rights--including Serbia. While Serbia would not qualify for such reconstruction assistance unless there were to be a significant change of regime in Belgrade, no stabilization of Southeastern Europe will be complete over the long run without a democratic and stable Serbia.

Including Serbia in the reconstruction offer would provide an incentive for internal change in Belgrade. As other countries in the region begin to prosper and be more closely integrated into a European--and Euro-Atlantic--framework, many Serbs are likely to ask why they should be left out from sharing the economic and political benefits of closer ties to Europe which their neighbors are enjoying. Thus, such an offer of assistance--predicated on the conditions outlined above--could serve as a stimulus for internal change in Serbia and contribute to the overall stabilization of the region over the long run.

This stabilization strategy should also contain an important security component. Once the Kosovo conflict is over, the U.S. and its allies should consider stationing a stabilization force not only in Kosovo, but also in other countries on the periphery, especially Macedonia and Albania (provided those countries wish such a force).

This stabilization force, which could be NATO-led, would be designed to provide reassurance and establish a security umbrella under which these countries could carry out a program of comprehensive economic and political reform. Without such an umbrella many of the governments in the region may not feel confident enough to embark on the necessary political and economic reforms or may feel compelled to divert scarce resources into the military sector, especially if there is a non-democratic, hostile government in Belgrade.

As in Bosnia, the majority of the stabilization forces could--and should--be provided by America's European allies. They have the greatest stake in security in the region. Moreover, they have been clamoring to assume more responsibility for alliance security. This would provide an important opportunity for them to give substance to their ambitions.

The U.S., however, should also contribute to the stabilization force. We cannot expect to claim leadership in the Alliance unless we are willing to share the risks with our European allies. And, like our allies, we also have a strong stake in ensuring stability in the region.

Some U.S. troops could be redeployed from Germany to participate in these stabilization missions in Southeastern Europe. With the end of the Cold War and the entry of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic into NATO, the U.S. no longer needs some 60,000 troops stationed on the Central Front to defend borders that are no longer threatened. Indeed, it may be time for the U.S. to consider a general redeployment of some of these troops in to Southeastern Europe. After all, this region, not the Central Front, is where the most serious security problems in Europe are likely to be in the future.

The U.S. and its allies should also strengthen regional cooperation, such as the Southeastern European Peacekeeping Brigade (SEEBRIG), which is composed of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, and Turkey. It will take a while for the multinational brigade, which will initially be stationed in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, to become a credible military force. However, such regional structures have an important political as well as military function and can help promote trust and cooperation among the military establishments of the region, thereby contributing to overall regional cooperation and stability.

Such a comprehensive stabilization strategy obviously can not be carried out overnight. It will take time--and a significant commitment of resources, both on the part of the U.S. and its European allies. But the price tag--in lives and treasure--is likely to be significantly higher if such a comprehensive effort is not undertaken and the problems of Southeastern Europe are allowed to fester or continue to addressed only piecemeal.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions related to my testimony
.