18 November 1994 - 20 November 1994

The Future of the North Atlantic Alliance

Chair: The Rt Hon The Lord Carrington GCMG CH MC PC

“Whither NATO?” has been a conference staple almost throughout the Foundation’s existence. We had not however addressed it directly since the demise of the Warsaw Pact and the break-up of the Soviet Union. A formidably distinguished attendance now testified to the subject’s continuing interest - and the Bosnia situation gave it, as so often happens at Ditchley, an unpredicted and in this instance uncomfortable topicality.

The underlying question was a familiar one of recent years. Without plausible immediate threat, what adequate impulsion was there to keep the Alliance together? and for what purposes persuasive to voting and tax-paying publics? The continuing community of basic political values was not in question; but that did not immediately generate an obvious community of specific tasks, a shared practical agenda.

For the United States, so it was powerfully argued, there remained major practical interests in NATO as legitimising United States presence and involvement in Europe, as providing forward bases, as reducing military costs and multiplying force effectiveness through the mechanisms of alliance. It was in the United States’ interest to see a more cohesive yet not anti-American Europe, to head off any re-nationalisation of European defence, and to extend confidence and stability eastward; and for all these purposes NATO was the available, established and natural instrument. Despite the worries which commentators distilled from recent Congressional election results - a resurgence of “gut-feeling” isolationism; waning interest, in at least some quarters, in global issues; impatience with international institutions; suspicion of European Union trade behaviour - there remained well-rooted basic support for NATO. For Europe, the underlying arguments equally still held. US involvement in European security was a vital European interest, for reasons beginning with the continuing albeit now latent need to ensure a counterbalance to Russian strength, but by no means confined to that. We were crisply reminded (by a European) that the peace and freedom of Europe had been secured in the Atlantic context, not in a Europe-only one; and that the remarkable recent success of the West in handling such diversely challenging issues as German reunification, Soviet and Communist breakdown and Iraqi aggression had turned centrally upon United States involvement and leadership. For both sides of the Atlantic, then, there was a powerful convergent desire to sustain the alliance, even though - as several participants urged - it might need increasingly to be linked with, and seen alongside, a more effectively and consciously fostered partnership in the economic and trade fields. We were reminded, in this last regard, that US economic affinity with Europe still surpassed quantitatively and qualitatively that with any other region - and that early ratification of GATT by the US Congress remained of first-class importance.

We acknowledged that, from the perspective at least of NATO members, the alliance embodied an extensive and unique set of assets (founded on common values and interests) built up carefully over many years - practical structures and procedures for joint military action; settled habits of political consultation and co-operation; the permanent accommodation of Germany in a security environment comfortable for all; an ingrained acceptance that military conflict among members simply need not be thought of; a deep sense of sharing a common security space (and one within which, it was observed, it would be foolish now to introduce a deliberate European sub-division). One participant noted that NATO was the best-equipped, best-organised, best-led collective defence instrument anywhere in the world; another that there was no global issue that would be more easily handled if NATO faded away. The central issue was how far, and how best, this set of interdependent assets could be matched to the changed tasks of the post-Cold War world.

We found no full consensus on this issue. An articulate minority argued for a closely-defined role (“minimalist” would no doubt be an unfair word) relating NATO’s future to the stark ultimate responsibilities imposed by Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty - the “attack on one, attack on all” direct protection of members’ territory and independence; going beyond this, the case ran, would simply import dilution, confusion and likely failure. Most participants however regarded this as much too narrow a concept. In an increasingly complex world and amid a widening concept of what security meant, so the counter-case held, attempted distinctions between vital interests and merely “strategic” ones could not be dependably sustained; the Article-V-only view would make too little use of NATO’s assets; publics, especially but not only in North America, simply would not understand so confined an approach, nor accept it as adequate reason for sustaining NATO. There would of course be risk and stress, and learning still to be done, in regard to wider tasks; but NATO could not reasonably retreat into a secluded comer, leaving admittedly-difficult problems to be tackled by less effective instruments or by none.

This wider view accepted that NATO had had much adaptation and re-orientation to do; and there was much evidence of progress accordingly, for example in the changes made and the further ones set in train by the Alliance summit meetings of the past two years. A substantial agenda had been agreed by all sixteen members (aided by increasing flexibility in French policy), and useful new instruments - the North Atlantic Co-operation Council, Partnership For Peace, the concept of Combined Joint Task Forces (CJTFs) which could co-ordinate components not only from NATO members but from external contributors - were at work or under development. This agenda still needed much effort, but there was no reason to abandon it or to slight its value.

But the operational problems to be tackled were indeed difficult, as the post-Yugoslav shambles daily and painfully reminded us. The international community of nations was still groping for agreed concepts of what its objectives should or could be in such situations, and of how they could realistically be pursued.

Public attitudes - the support of which was the ultimate precondition of successful action - still found difficulty in replacing the familiar simplicities of winning/losing, friends/enemies, by the complex ambiguities and imperfect compromises of the peace-keeping task, and in accepting also the fact that lives would still often be lost in the latter. Common cause among NATO’s members was harder to find and sustain amid the ambiguities; and the task was made harder still when, as in Bosnia, NATO was in effect a sub-contractor to the United Nations - not in ownership and charge of the mission, yet with its prized international credibility imperilled in public perception, NATO being seen as having failed in its first-ever “real” operation. There was much learning evidently still needed on both sides of the UN/NATO partnership; from NATO’s standpoint, effective input into Security Council deliberations remained imperfect, and the whole UN organisation and culture seemed poorly fitted to practical leadership amid the harsh realities and urgent dilemmas of such a situation as Bosnia (an examination paper which, we were ready to admit, any candidate might reasonably find too severe). As regards the impact within the Alliance, it was fully understandable that deepening dissatisfaction should be felt with outcomes on the ground, but disturbing - not only to European members - that this should have very recently have become focused upon NATO in a manner which saw the Alliance’s leading member appearing to distance itself unilaterally in some degree from tasks collectively agreed; and concern was earnestly expressed on all sides that the US Congress should understand clearly and in advance that any similar distancing from a difficult and dangerous operation to extricate UNPROFOR, should that become necessary, would be calamitous for the Alliance’s future.

Ought NATO to see itself, in tasks reaching beyond Article V, as essentially a provider of military services in support of other collective political institutions - the UN, or perhaps the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe? This last was however neither an alternative to nor incompatible with NATO’s contribution. Most of us felt strongly that the “sub-contractor-only” role was too restrictive and indeed demeaning an approach, and one which would wholly underplay the Alliance’s political weight and value. UN legitimation of NATO military action however might well normally (it was clear that several of us would not accept “always”) be appropriate, and CSCE was capable of useful further development.

We found the CJTF concept highly interesting, and saw the value of flexible structures in which not all NATO members were bound to contribute to every operation. But we recognised that military abstention could not be the same as political hand-washing. Even when the operation itself was to be undertaken by a “coalition of the willing”, it was essential that NATO political acceptance of the task should rest on, at minimum, the acquiescence of every member - not only for general political reasons but also, as Bosnia might yet uncomfortably bring home, because others might have to be drawn in if the initial enterprise escalated dangerously. The CJTF concept required also, we were reminded, that even non-participating members should accept the involvement of their personnel committed to functions in the pre-formed Headquarters.

The enlargement of NATO naturally attracted a great deal of discussion. Some argued that this task, especially eastward, was the most important and positive item on NATO’s future agenda. The enthusiasm of “Visegrad” candidates for early entry had been made clear. At the same time, we acknowledged that any enlargement opened up new and awkward line-drawing questions to which our discussions reached no ready answers - the small Baltic states? Rumania and Bulgaria? the Ukraine? even (one or two voices suggested) Russia itself? The nature of extension also raised issues. Would any additions be more “special-terms” members? - some of us argued strongly that to add to the existing number of such members would dilute the Alliance’s assets to the disadvantage of all. And how readily would the US Congress be brought to accept the wider US commitment implicit in bringing new countries - as was inherent in membership - into the Article V bargain?

Russian attitudes and future relationships were plainly an important dimension of this question, even though nothing so cut-and-dried as a Russian veto on NATO membership could be acceptable (or indeed was being sought). Much Russian opinion, for example in the Duma, was minded to resent any eastward expansion of NATO as an unreasonable sequel to Russia’s accommodating behaviour since 1989, and to regard it in Western-sphere-of- influence terms; from this standpoint, to make the question any more salient in advance of the 1996 Russian elections - where it might only too easily become the main external policy issue - might work against the liberal reformers and so against long-term Western interests; might it not be wiser to give Partnership For Peace longer to develop and yield dividends? Some participants were not disposed to accept such considerations as a brake upon enlargement, and argued indeed that enhanced stability and confidence among westward neighbours - and lowered incentive to independent military insurance - was in Russia’s own interest. No clear conclusion was agreed; but the importance was generally accepted of involving Russia in close and open dialogue with NATO itself - and also of avoiding, in presentation of the continuing value of NATO, any high- profile appeal to arguments (however valid we thought them, as many of us did) based on underlying insurance against events going seriously wrong in Russia. Ukraine we recognised as a potential complication, on any view of enlargement. We arrived at no clear diagnosis of its implications, and recognised that the country’s future stability rested primarily not on external frameworks but on economic and social developments.

Many of us saw a clear natural connection between entry into NATO and entry into the European Union - there was arguably an inherent and proper congruence, and one moreover which could both substantively and presentationally simplify the management of the former. A declared prospect or even promise of blending the two, if entrants so wished, might ease the pressure of demands for early NATO entry; and, from a different angle, its availability might help valuably to seal off the possibility that some countries might harbour the notion - untidy at best, and some participants characterised it much more sharply - of joining WEU but not NATO. WEU itself, albeit now the agreed instrument for European co-operation within NATO, was not much discussed, for want of time; we managed to do little more than recognise a familiar division between those who aspired to a European defence capability going well beyond the better-co-ordinated aggregate of current national provision, and those minded to regard this as neither a necessary goal nor one compatible in any foreseeable timescale with the domestic political realities of defence budgets in most major European countries.

It is not easy to single out one theme as envoi to an especially rich and candid interchange. But our closing session highlighted the risks that NATO might needlessly talk itself into self-destruction, with lack of confidence or clarity - or premature and excessive expectations in an awkwardly novel world - inserting between its member countries the wedges which Soviet Communist effort had so signally failed to drive. New generations might not understand the Alliance’s merits as readily as older ones had done, and moulding public opinion might well need re-directed and more skilful effort. But to fail in this would cast away irreplaceable assets of massive long-term utility to both sides of the Atlantic.

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 Rt Hon The Lord Carrington GCMG CH MC PC
Director: Christie’s International


The Rt Hon The Lord Chalfont OBE MC PC
Life Peer (Cross Benches); Chairman, VSEL Consortium pic

Sir Ronald Grierson
Until recently Vice Chairman of The General Electric Company pic
Mr G W Hopkinson
Assistant Under Secretary (Policy), Ministry of Defence, London

Mr David Manning CMG
Head of Planning Staff, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Miss Pauline Neville-Jones CMG
HM Diplomatic Service; Deputy Under Secretary of State and Political Director, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Miss Alice Perkins
Under Secretary, Defence Policy Manpower and Materiel Group, HM Treasury

Mr J M Stewart CB
Second Permanent Undersecretary of State, Ministry of Defence

Field Marshal Sir Richard Vincent GBE KCB DSO
Chairman, North Atlantic Military Committee, NATO HQ, Brussels

Sir John Weston KCMG
Ambassador and UK Permanent Representative on the North Atlantic Council

Mr Robert M Worcester
Chairman, Market and Opinion Research International (MORI);

Major-General Jean E J Boyle OMM CD
Associate Deputy Minister (Policy and Communications), Defence Canada

Dr James Taylor
Former Canadian diplomat

HE Mr David Wright
Canadian Ambassador in Madrid

Ambassador M Jean-Marie Guéhenno
Ambassador of France to the Western European Union

M Francois Heisbourg
Senior Vice President, Strategic Planning, Matra Défense; formerly Director, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London

Vice-Admiral D’Escadre Ghislain de Langre
French Navy

Dr Josef Joffe
Foreign Editor, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich

Ambassador Baron Hermann von Richthofen
Permanent Representative of the Federal Republic of Germany on the North Atlantic Council

HE Dr Ferenc Somogyi
Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Administrative), Budapest Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Administrative), Budapest

Dr Stefano Silvestri
Vice President, Istituto Affari Internazionali, Rome

Ambassador Gebhardt von Moltke
Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Brussels

Dr Andrzej Karkoszka
Director of Strategic Planning, Ministry for National Defence, Warsaw

HE Mr Vitaliy Churkin
Ambassador to Belgium and NATO

The Hon Robert D Blackwill
Lecturer in Public Policy and Chairman, Executive Programs for Russian General Officers and for members of the Russian State Duma, John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Dr Arthur Cyr
Vice President and Program Director, The Chicago Council on Foreign Relations

Ambassador Richard Gardner
US Ambassador to Spain

Dr Walter Goldstein
Professor of Political Science and of Public Policy, Rockefeller College, State University of New York at Albany

Professor David C Hendrickson
Associate Professor of Political Science, Colorado College

Mr Barry Hillenbrand
Time Magazine: London Bureau Chief

Dr F Stephen Larrabee
Senior Staff member, International Policy Department, RAND, Santa Monica

The Hon Charles McC. Mathias Jr
Former United States Senator (Republican, Maryland) (1968-84)

Mr George Melloan
Deputy Editor (International), The Wall Street Journal, Brussels

Dr Andrew J Pierre
Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peac

Mr Donald H Rivkin

The Hon William H Taft IV
Partner, Fried Frank Harris Shriver and Jacobson, Washington DC

Mr Alan Tonelson
Fellow, Economic Strategy Institute, Washington DC;

Senator John Warner
Member, United States Senate (Republican), Virginia

Mr Thomas G Weston
Director of Studies, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University