23 October 2008 - 25 October 2008

The future of NATO, in Europe and globally

Chair: The Honorable Nicholas Burns

Ditchley’s conference on the future of NATO, organised in cooperation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was deliberately timed to sit between the Bucharest summit of April 2008 and the 60th Anniversary Summit in April 2009.  The aim was to look at the fundamental question of what NATO is for and how the Alliance can achieve the objectives it sets itself.  This very broad canvas was an ambitious target, even more so when we had to consider the significance of the American Presidential election.  Afghanistan loomed large as NATO’s first ever full-scale ground operation, with some significant problems visible.  We were also conscious that the efforts begun earlier in this decade to transform NATO for the new century and to settle questions about a wider membership had not yet been worked out.  In other words we were looking at a stark crossroads:  atrophy or renewal? 

We had around the table an enormous strength of NATO experience.  The debate ranged across a massive amount of territory, some of it in compelling detail, to which this Note cannot do justice.  So it is worth setting out the questions which became our principal themes:

  •  What are the most relevant threats to members’ security interests?  What priorities should be given to territorial  defence? And what to the broader problems of proliferation, terrorism and organised crime, energy security and other ‘globalised’ threats? 
  • To what extent should NATO now act on a global basis, as opposed to concentrating on Europe and its immediate margins? 
  • What are the criteria for future enlargement?  Should there be explicit limits?  What other partnerships should NATO pursue? 
  • What should NATO’s policy be on Russia and can all members subscribe to it collectively? 
  • How can NATO achieve its objectives in Afghanistan?  Can the different approaches of member states be made to converge? 
  • Can NATO and the EU work out a settled relationship, with proper division of functions?  In this context, can the problems presented by Turkey be solved?
  • What capabilities does NATO truly need?  Do they cover a wider range than an effective expeditionary capability?  To what extent should NATO’s capacities link up with the civilian areas of police, administration and economic development? 
  • In considering all these questions, is there a need for a new strategic concept for NATO?  And do the public understand what they are being asked to support and finance?

Afghanistan was prominent in this discussion.  One participant wondered whether the choice before NATO was not atrophy or defeat.  A good deal had gone wrong in Afghanistan, much of which could be laid at the door of confused objectives and disunited commands.  The question could even be asked:  was Afghanistan going to be the death of NATO, or was it the decline of NATO that was causing the problems in Afghanistan?  We were also concerned that public opinion in NATO countries remained unconvinced that Afghanistan was, as the rhetoric often put it, the front line in our defence against terrorism.  It would be hard to develop a unity of purpose there unless the Alliance was collectively clear about the strategy.

It was brought home to us that NATO on its own could not win in Afghanistan, though the Taliban could.  The Alliance was there to prevent a Taliban victory, but only Afghans could achieve political stability within their own country.  That was the only satisfactory exit route.  Yet the international community’s support to enable Afghans to do this was poorly coordinated.  Even the American effort was divided between different objectives for different American inputs.  Several participants called for a fresh injection of US leadership which took account of the whole strategic picture.  Even if this was provided by the next Administration, the first six months of 2009, leading up to elections in Afghanistan, were a crucial period.  We were warned that the only path to defeating the forces that would encourage terrorism there was to have a successful political structure both in Afghanistan and across the border in Pakistan.  If progress was made in that pivotal area, then second-order issues would fall into place.  These would include a more effective linkage between military and civilian efforts;  the careful preparation of the elections themselves;  engagement with the tribes and the local communities on security and effective administration;  and the development of Afghan leaders who could handle both security and political matters effectively.  If these objectives could be set out clearly, then perhaps the contributions of NATO and EU member states to the work involved would be more readily forthcoming.  No-one disputed that there was no alternative to pressing on.

The conference devoted a fair amount of time to the NATO-EU relationship.  Some participants felt that there had been no noticeable advance from ten years ago, although the atmosphere was better than three or four years ago, largely owing to the French President’s declared intention to bring French forces back into the integrated military structure.  Others were more confident that the general mood favoured convergence, with a good deal of mutual understanding when it came to crisis issues.  No-one could deny, however, that theology crept back into the argument from time to time;  that issues surrounding Turkey were causing a real headache;  and that European defence budgets were too small to cover an adequate defence against 21st century threats. 

Added to those points were issues of political approach.  Policy on Russia was a primary example, because the national interests of certain European states tended to soften or harden their views of Russia more than NATO-wide or EU-wide considerations.  Thus Germany was more conscious than many of Europe’s, and its own, dependence on Russian gas exports;  Poland and the Baltic states held a more immediate interest in territorial defence against a resurgent Russia.  Meanwhile, the United States retained a global perspective of greater depth than most Europeans, but also strongly tinged with its own national requirements.  Afghanistan, Iran, missile defence, the Middle East (though Iraq was noticeably less a bone of contention with Russia than previously), all tended to assume a greater importance for the US than strictly European issues.  One American participant suggested that the US could be seen as having had more of a national than an Alliance motivation in its security missions overseas since the end of the Cold War.  This gained resonance around the table;  and it added to the perception that, given NATO’s still very high expenditure on massive armaments, for example main battle tanks and strike aircraft, to defend broad swathes of territory, there was a fundamental need to design a set of concepts for the whole transatlantic area which would better fit with 21st century politics, threats and requirements. 

Nevertheless many participants believed that the Europeans could not just ask for a strategic review.  Such a proposal too often suggested a basic disagreement which would have to be addressed before any review made sense.  But European members of the Alliance, or of the EU, would need to earn any American rethinking of strategy through an enhanced contribution where it mattered right now.  Afghanistan was the priority area.  Kosovo was also relevant.  Without that, American leaders and public opinion alike might lose interest in the long NATO-EU debate if it appeared to be going nowhere.  We could not be certain that this would be a high priority for the next US President.  More probably, the Americans would assume that they had to do the job themselves.

NATO enlargement was also relevant in this context.  Differences of view at the Bucharest Summit on enlargement to Georgia and Ukraine had never been resolved.  Firm views were expressed that NATO ought to return to its earlier clear criteria for membership qualification, with the interests of the Alliance as much at heart as the interests of a new member.  The majority at this event appeared to come out quite strongly for a more cautious approach to membership, or even a forward action plan, for Georgia or Ukraine;  though others made the point that neither could they be abandoned to Russia’s inclinations.  Perhaps the European Union should be regarded as the right organisation in the long term to guarantee the political security of the evolving democracies in Eastern Europe, so that military security would not need to be seen as the first resort. 

On the NATO-EU relationship overall, most people accepted that the two organisations were, or should be, complementary to each other, that there was a growing capacity in Europe to supply more of the civilian components of a complex operation, that France had taken an important political step and that there was an opportunity now for greater pragmatism all round.  If the Europeans could develop a better structure for the Union’s strategic interests, as the Lisbon Treaty had promised, that would help further.  But there was quite a long way still to go before this company could feel optimistic.

These discussions of detail fed into our deeper debate about the modern purpose of the Alliance.  Most of the participants at this conference had shaped their careers alongside the commanding strength of the Alliance, as representing a shared sense of values and beliefs as well as a powerful military organisation.  But the world had changed and it was right now to ask what it was all for.  The feeling of a partnership amongst member states remained important and strong, dedicated to the protection of our pluralistic way of life.  We had to use that collective strength to redefine our capacity to make our systems effective in the global context.  But perhaps we had to acknowledge that NATO could not do this on its own.  It was one of a series of effective instruments for managing our collective interests world-wide in the face of a different set of threats from those of the Cold War. 

With nuclear proliferation still an existential threat, we agreed that deterrence remained an important concept.  Afghanistan showed, at least to most of us, that expeditionary capability needed to be evolved and improved.  There was real value in the process of transforming NATO, which had perhaps lost momentum since 2002.  This meant a continuing focus on developing capabilities in military planning, peace-keeping operations, action on failed or failing states, surveillance, new forms of partnership or ad hoc cooperation, military-civilian linkages and security diplomacy, not least with Russia.  Within all this, a decision would need to be taken whether to save the NATO Reaction Force, which was wilting because of the lack agreement on an overarching principal for its use.  Once we were clearer on the appropriate list of capabilities, decisions on procurement and logistics should follow.  Even the command structure, for so long the glue of the Alliance, might need to be reworked.  Perhaps French reintegration would kick-start this.  There might even be room for an EU-NATO experiment in joint command, perhaps in the Mediterranean or in Africa.  Given this list of requirements, even NATO’s decision-making process, currently regarded as unwieldy, might need to be reformed.  Many participants welcomed the thought of a new model for the future.  Nor should NATO’s capacities be ignored in the context of the work of the United Nations on the maintenance of peace and security worldwide, a point we came to late in our discussions but which was regarded as relevant, whatever happened to UN reform. 

The conference did not explicitly set itself the task of making recommendations for next April’s summit.  But we regarded that meeting as an opportunity not to be missed if NATO’s value to its members was to be preserved into the future. In that context, the following areas came out as the most significant: 

·             The summit must counter the risk of atrophy in NATO.  Incremental improvements in its activities would not be enough.  The analysis in previous reviews had not turned into effective delivery. 

·             The summit should set out transparently what NATO was there for, in a way which public opinion would understand in member states.  Transatlantic security interests were primary and crises had to be dealt with;  but the world was presenting new threats which also had to be addressed.  The combination of deterrence and resilience might form the bedrock of this presentation.

·             Not least in the context of a new US President’s outlook, the summit would need to decide whether or not to engage with Russia.  That issue above all would help to settle the context and the criteria for further enlargement. 

·             Even before the summit, work was necessary on a clear strategic concept for Afghanistan.  A structure would need to be promoted to weld the military, civilian and political elements together. 

·             Decisions in these areas would set the context for the development of the right capabilities, budgets, burden-sharing principles, and division of functions between NATO and the EU. 

·             These tasks should be addressed on the understanding that NATO was a very important, but not the only, organisation that defended members’ security interests.  A better balance would be needed between collective and national priorities. 

·             Some compromises would be needed on what, in the wider scale of things, were second-order issues, such as those surrounding Turkey, in order to develop a clear priority for first-order issues. 

The scale of these requirements were, we agreed, quite daunting.  In the nature of political decision-making, Afghanistan might have to come first.  Failure there would kill NATO more quickly than anything else;  and action was urgent.  We were nevertheless comforted by the thought that, if NATO did not exist now, it would be necessary to establish an organisation that forged the security interests of the United States, Canada and Europe together in a powerful way.  NATO did exist and it could still serve that purpose after 59 years.  In that sense, this conference ended on a note of relative optimism. 

Ditchley is grateful for the strong interest shown in this conference by so many participants with senior experience of NATO and its work.  We were fortunate in having a chairman who not only possessed that, but also guided our discussions with a sensitive feel for NATO’s global context and the challenges which lay ahead.  If clarity on the concepts for NATO’s next steps can be conveyed back to top-level decision-makers, then we might feel more confident that the 60th anniversary summit will breathe new life into the Alliance. 

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


Chairman: The Honorable Nicholas Burns
Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Politics, Harvard University, John F Kennedy School of Government (2008-).  Formerly:  Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, US Department of State, Washington DC (2005-08);  US Ambassador to NATO (2001-05);  US Ambassador to Greece (1997-2001);  Spokesman and Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, US Department of State (1995-97);  Advisor on Russian Affairs to Presidents Clinton and Bush, National Security Council, the White House (1990-95).

Mr Leonard Edwards

Deputy Minister, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Ottawa (2007-).
Mr Eric Lerhe
Doctoral Candidate, Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, Dalhousie University (2003-).  Formerly:  Canadian Military (1967-2003).
Ambassador Dr Robert McRae
Canadian Diplomatic Service (1981-);  Permanent Representative of Canada to NATO, Brussels (2007-).
HE Mr James R Wright
Canadian High Commissioner, London (2006-).  Formerly:  Assistant Deputy Minister and Political Director, International Security Branch, Foreign affairs Canada (2005-06).  A Governor and Member of the Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundatiion.

Professor Frédéric Bozo

Professor, Sorbonne (University of Paris III, Department of European Studies), Paris.
Ambassador Benoit d’Aboville
Senior Auditor, French Cour des Comptes;  Member, National Commission on National Security (2007-08);  Member, Advisory Board, French Military Academy of Saint Cyr;  Adviser, French Foreign Ministry Planning Staff.
Dr Nicolas Niemtchinow
Deputy Director for Strategic Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Dr Karl-Heinz Kamp

Director, Research Division, NATO Defence College (2008-).  Formerly:  Head of Foreign Policy Unit, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Berlin (2003-08).
Dr Henning Riecke
Head of Program, European Foreign and Security Policy, German Council on Foreign Relations (2000-). 

Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola

Chairman of the Military Committee, NATO (2008-);  Italian Navy (1963-).  Formerly:  Chief of Defence, Rome (2004-08);  Secretary-General of Defence/National Armaments Director, Rome (2001-04).

Lt Gen Karl Eikenberry

Deputy Chairman of the Military Committee, NATO;  Member, Council on Foreign Relations.  Formerly:  Commander, Combined Forces Command, Afghanistan.

Professor Adrian Pop

Professor, Faculty of Political Sciences, Natiional School of Political Studies and Public Administratiion, Bucharest (2007-);  Scientific Director, EURISC Foundation, Bucharest (2003-);  Member, Scientific Board, National Institute for the Memory of Romanian Exile (2002-).

Professor Michael Clarke

Director, Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, London (2007-);  Senior Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons Defence Committee (1997-);  UK Member, United Nations Secretary-General’s Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters (2004-);  Visiting Professor of Defence Studies, King’s College London.
Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles KCMG LVO
HM Diplomatic Service (1977-); HM Ambassador, Kabul (2007-).
Professor Alex Danchev
Professor International Relations, University of Nottingham.
Mr Jonathan Day CBE
Policy Director, Ministry of Defence (2008-).
Ms Mary Dejevsky
Chief Editorial Writer and Columnist, The Independent;  Regular Broadcaster on UK and US radio and television;  Contributor to specialist and online publications;  Member, Valdai Group;  Honorary Fellow, University of Buckingham.
Mr Chris Donnelly CMG
Senior Fellow of The defence Academy of the UK (2006-);  Co-Director, The Institute for Statecraft and Governance (2006-).
Ambassador Stewart Eldon CMG OBE
HM Diplomatic Service (1976-);  UK Permanent Representative on the North Atlantic Council (2006-).
Dr Liam Fox MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, House of Commons (2005-);  Member, Shadow Cabinet (1998-);  Member of Parliament (Conservative), Woodspring (1992-).
Mr Chris Holtby
Deputy Head, Security Policy Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London (2007-).  Formerly:  Policy Adviser, Policy Unit, EU Council Secretariat, Brussels (2002-07).
The Hon Bernard Jenkin MP
Member of Parliament (Conservative), North Essex (1997-), Colchester North (1992-97);  Member, House of Commons Select Committees on Defence (2006-);  Arms Control (2008-).
Mr Daniel Lafayeedney
The Pluscarden Programme for the Study of Global Terrorism and Intelligence, St Antony’s College, Oxford.
Mrs Mariot Leslie
HM Diplomatic Service (1977-);  Director-General Defence and Intelligence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London (2007-).
The Hon Sir Michael Pakenham KBE
Senior Advisor, Access Industries (2004-).  Formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1965-2003);  Ambassador, Warsaw (2000-03);  Chairman, Joint Intelligence Committee, Cabinet Office (1997 2000).
General Sir David Richards KCB CBE DSO ADC Gen
Commander-in-Chief, Land Forces (2008-).  Formerly:  Commander, Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (2005-07);  Commander, NATO International Security and Assistance Force, Afghanistan (2006 07).
Sir Peter Ricketts KCMG
HM Diplomatic Service (1974-);  Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Head of the Diplomatic Service (2006-).  Formerly:  UK Permanent Representative, UK Delegation to NATO (2003-06).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
The Rt Hon Lord Robertson of Port Ellen KT GCMG Hon FRSE
Chairman, Cable and Wireless International;  Deputy Chairman, TNK-BP.  Formerly:  Secretary-General, NATO, and Secretary of State for Defence.  Vice-Chairman, Council of Management and a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr John Weston CBE
Chairman:  Insensys plc (2007-), MB Aerospace plc (2007-), University for Industry Learn-Direct Limited (2004-), Acra Controls Limited (2003-);  Vice-President, Royal United Services Institute.  A Governor and Member of the Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundation.

Mr Douglas Saunders

Chief, European Bureau, The Globe and Mail, London.

Ambassador James Dobbins

Director, Center for International Security and Defense Policy, RAND Corporation.  Formerly:  Bush Administration First Special Envoy for Afghanistan;  Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State for the Balkans;  Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director, National Security Council Staff (1996-99).
Dr Stephen Flanagan
Senior Vice-President and Director, International Security Program, Center for Strategic and International studies (2007-).
Ambassador Richard N Gardner
Professor of Law and International Organization, Columbia Law School;  Senior Counsel, Morgan Lewis LLP.  Vice-President and Member of the Board, The American Ditchley Foundation, Author.
Professor Sebastian Gorka
Assistant Professor of International Security Studies, National Defense University, Washington DC;  Associate Fellow, Joint Special Operations University;  Founding Director, Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security, Budapest.  Author.
Ambassador Marc Grossman
Vice Chairman, The Cohen Group.  Formerly:  US Foreign Service (1976-2005);  Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, US State Department (2001-05).
Professor Charles Kupchan
Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations;  Professor, International Affairs, Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service and Department of Government, Georgetown University.
The Hon Franklin Miller KBE
Senior Counselor, The Cohen Group (2005-).  Formerly:  special Assistant to President George W Bush and Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control, National Security Council Staff (2001-05).
Major General William Nash USA (Ret)
Senior Fellow for Military Affairs and Director of the Military Fellows Program, Council on Foreign Relations (2001-);  Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University (2002-);  Visiting Lecturer, Princeton University (2004-);  Military Consultant ABC News.
The Honorable Nicholas Rostow
University Counsel and Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs, The State University of New York (2006-);  Universit Fellow, The Levin Institute of International Relations and Commerce (2005-).  Member, The Advisory Council, The American Ditchley Foundation. 
Dr Kori Schake
Senior Policy Advisor to McCain-Palin 2008 Presidential Campaign;  Principal Deputy Director, Office of Policy Planning, US Department of State.
Mr Zachary Selden
Deputy Secretary-General, Policy, NATO Parliamentary Assembly (2008-).
Dr Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall
Senior Research Scholar, Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University;  Adjunct Senior Fellow for Alliance Relations, Council on Foreign Relations;  Founding Senior Advisor, Stanford-Harvard Preventive Defense Project.  Author.
Ms Julianne Smith
Director and Senior Fellow, Europe Programme, Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Mr W Bruce Weinrod
Secretary of Defense Representative Europe and Defence Advisor US Mission NATO.  Formerly:  Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy.